To Write, Get Your Mind Right

Me, realizing there are still some cookies left

Ahh, such a breezy, casual time, of jokes among friends, neighborly relations, and genial harmony within and without the nation.

Not.

If you’ve paid attention and swallowed the acid flush of the news over the past year and a half (and some therapists suggest not swallowing), you know there’s no joy in Mudville. Societies can’t patch up their wounds because the bandages never arrived, and the bullets keep flying.

Even though we’re not actually post-pandemic, the malaise that happens after trauma, the numbness that follows shock, the blur in trying to focus—that’s here. That’s real. As with millions of others, my personal losses have been high, and our collective losses only pile on more bodies.

Doesn’t help much with writing. My work over past months, scattered and sputtering, ain’t nothing to holler about. Whimper about, yes.

So I’m not going to get into any elements of writing craft or craftiness in this post, or enumerate my own efforts at climbing publishing’s walls. Instead, I’ll let some publishing curation speak for itself, things I’ve found helpful in my own recent pursuit of peace of mind.

May you be wearing the best roller skates in your own pursuits, and let’s meet at the finish line and have a martini.

Linkability

Here are a few of my recent articles, followed by some from other writers, mostly on the mental health front, and which have been helpful in these unhelpful times.

Cocktails During the Pandemic: Bitter and Sweet
Hunkering down with my galpal during the pandemic made for some fancy cocktailing, with wistfulness one of the main mixers. (After reading this again, I don’t like how overwritten the first two paragraphs feel, but it’s out there, now. Good lesson in developing crisper intros.) Published in May 2021 on The Bold Italic.

Whiskey History Revived As Leopold Bros. Goes Old School With 3-Chamber Still
A piece on a Colorado distillery that commissioned a modern still from 19th-century designs that—with great care and attention—produces whiskey with flair and flavor. Published in May 2021 by the WhiskeyWash newsletter.

How Tiny Ocean Microorganisms Could Kill Your Plastic Fork
I wrote this Popular Mechanics piece about Newlight, an interesting company that “harvests” a plastic-like but organic material, PHB, from microorganisms that consume methane and CO2 and produce the polymer. The material can be shaped into all kinds of things, from straws to sunglasses, and it degrades naturally in the ocean without harm. Their production processes (and every single product path) are all recorded in a blockchain, and it’s all carbon-negative. Published in May 2021 on Popular Mechanics magazine.

Brother’s Bond: Bourbon Is Thicker Than Blood
Who knew that vampires prefer bourbon to blood? The former stars of “The Vampire Diaries,” Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley, make a bourbon. And they are mighty serious about it. Published in April 2021 by the WhiskeyWash newsletter.

Other People’s Posts

The Mental Benefits of Being Terrible at Something
“Vanderbilt makes a compelling case that learning something new has myriad advantages, including promoting the brain’s ability to rewire itself, connecting you to new people and new communities, and reengaging our innate curiosity and open-mindedness.”

6 Principles for Navigating Challenges in Life
“A far better approach is what behavioral scientists call tragic optimism: learning how to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite acknowledging inescapable pain, loss, and suffering.

Laws of Emotional Mastery
“If, for example, you’ve developed a thought habit of believing that anything short of perfection is failure, then you are bound to judge yourself a failure often, thus experiencing psychic pain. Your actual problem is not imperfection—which is merely a condition of all humanity, excepting Beyoncé—but the distorted automatic belief that perfection is the only form of success.”

This New Book Has A Tip That Will Change Your Life
“Selective ignorance is not the avoidance of learning,” Hardy says. “It’s simply the intelligence of knowing that with certain things and people, the juice will never be worth the squeeze. It’s knowing what to avoid.”

Anti-Fragility as We Train Ourselves to Improve
“See opportunities in everything. It’s an anti-fragile idea to take advantage of opportunities. When good opportunities arise, be able to take advantage of them. For training, it’s good to learn to see opportunities to practice in everything, and then take advantage of those practice opportunities as much as we can.”

The Mother of All Books

 

From my early boyhood, I always wanted to be a pro baseball player. When my limitations as a ballplayer became more evident, I thought that being a writer would be just as good (and you didn’t have to try and hit a curveball). I don’t have to search around for why I wanted to be a writer—the answer is as easy as the one for why I’m around: my mother.

Since I was a toddling thing, I saw my mother reading. I saw her reading magazines and newspapers; I saw her reading books. And she wasn’t reading dime-store westerns (though that would have been fine too), but big novels, books that thumped when she set them down on the living room tables. I saw her reading books, enjoying books, getting more books.

My deep thoughts at the time: “Mom likes books. Books are good.”

Reading, Writing (and No Rithmetic)

So, I started reading too. She was right: books are good. The more I read, the more I wanted to write, so I started writing too. Writing is good. (Except when it gives me, as Mark Twain would say, the fantods.)

My mom continued to love reading until about 10 years ago, when her macular degeneration made words on the page a blurry mess. For a while, because she still hankered for that mess, she read with a giant magnifying glass, slowly but steadily, until that became too hard as well. I’ve written a number of books, and she had them all, even those published after she’d stopped reading. She loved books, after all.

She died at her assisted-living home in mid-June, after a stroke in late April. She was a remarkably kind and good person, funny and chatty, and fond of social gatherings and people in general. Even though she was 97, and lived a long and good life, it’s still a shock to have her gone. Whatever part of her I have is the best part of me.

Here’s the obit my sister and I wrote, which gives you a bit of her character:

Eileen Agnes Bentley

Thanks mom, for opening up the world of words, and all of their enchantments, to me. I hold you in my heart forever.

Chew Your Words Twenty Times Before Swallowing

I was a weird kid, living high in my head, with odd habits and interests. I already wrote about my bloodshot-eyed, jonesing-junkie sugar addiction here on the good Dr. Wilson’s blog, so I won’t go deeply into that. But strange things gave me pleasure, like sitting in those artificial environments created in furniture stores, where there might be a coffee table, couch and chairs with room dividers, with bookshelves holding books and limply “elegant” tchotchkes on the end tables, a strange simulacrum of a living room or den.

Whatever chink in my character, I enjoyed sitting in those airless regions and pretending this was my life, looking over my books and my staid furniture, while actual adult customers (and the salespeople) would eye me with mild alarm. Another thing that interested me back then was nice glassware, to the extent that I bought a HUGE brandy snifter, one that my 16-ounce RC Colas would barely make a dent in. At 10, I’d walk around my parents’ house, swirling my sweet beverage, hoping that someone would notice just how sophisticated I was.

That’s a long lead-up to what I actually wanted to discuss, which is loving words. In this case, I’m not talking about meanings; I’m referring to loving the feel of a word, its texture, whether it’s silky or scratchy, the odd combo of visual/visceral sensation you might get in your head from processing the very spelling of a word. That kind of word sensitivity started young in me too—maybe it was all those ice-cream brain freezes.

The Weight of Words
Anyway, I had an early awareness of the weight of words, and some I gravitated to some more so than others. For instance, words with “x” in them, like bollix or flummoxed. Do those give you the little frisson I’m alluding to? And how certain words feel just right in their denotation: queasy has that little lurch or drop in its letter construction—in its stomach—that is carried through in its definition. Or a word like morbid: it has a deliciously dark feel.

I’ve heard it said by some comedians that some words, by their letters alone, are funny. Words that start with “k” or the k sound, for instance. Probably why I like the sound of the word crapulous—or maybe it just harkens to my Coke-crapulous days behind a gargantuan brandy snifter.

Digging Through Your Dictionaries
I wrote an essay a while back for a magazine called Verbatim, about the crazy collection of dictionaries I had, and how fun it is to just flip through them and look for words that have a furry feeling, or a sinister sparkle, or a wry rictus. It’s a challenge to look through any dictionary page and not see some words that make you squint or grimace or grin.

Like your words ‘lectronic? There are bunches of word sites, but here are a couple of fun ones: wordnik and wordoid. Wordnik has a nice interactive aspect where you can upload your own usage notes, comments and citations to their word examples. Wordoid lets you play with made-up words. But don’t let your mother catch you.