December 07, 2009

Standing Next to Genius--The Original Christmas Carol posted by Leann Sweeney While I was in New York City last year, I had a wonderful museum experience. We went to the Pierpont Morgan Library. Pierpont Morgan collected first edtions and there was so much to explore in what was once the Morgan family home. Like a handwritten original copy, one of only four in the world, of Milton's Paradise Lost. One bedroom size room was taken up with this display. But I kept returning to one small spot in the original library with its floor-to-ceiling book shelves: a small glass display case holding the original draft of Dickens A Christmas Carol. I saw his very readable handwriting and the leather journal where he wrote one of the most socially significant books ever written. I saw his line edits, line edits not different at all from what I have done on my drafts. Oh how I wished I could take that book and hold it in my hand for just one second. He wrote the book after a falling out with his publisher, whom he believed had cheated him out of profits from his previous book. He chose to publish A Christmas Carol on his own, staying in control of every aspect of its production. Not so different than the route some writers are taking today, and have taken for as long as books have been written. Contrary to what many believe, the book was an instant bestseller. He sold 6,000 copies the first week. But it was not enough to offset the costs he incurred in publishing the book himself. I'll bet that sounds familiar, too. Every year, part of the minimal decorating I do for the holidays is to take out my copy of A Christmas Carol and place it where I can see it. What better way to decorate a house than with a book? And what a book it is. A ghost story, a mystery and a tale that some say created our modern Christmas. One wonderful day of celebration with good food and loving family. By the time Dickens wrote the story, he was celebrating Christmas with a happy family. But, as I shared a few weeks ago about my own unhappy early years, Dickens had a miserable childhood. When he wrote about how the Industrial Revolution harmed children, he was speaking from experience. He had been placed in a home while his father served out a term in debtor's prison. Miserable childhoods are nothing new, either. But Dickens made a difference for me as a little girl. I related to that book the first time I read it ... no devoured it. What Dickens taught me is that a book with a real plot, with a beginning, a middle and an end, can shine a bright light on how our society works or doesn't work, as was the case in England in 1843. He wrote that masterpiece in six weeks. Six weeks. And I got a chance to stand next to it and examine his writing word by precious word. I felt the ghost of a genius standing over my shoulder--and he was smiling.
Maid In America Posted by Lorraine Bartlett For years, I've been teasing my husband with a line from an old "Bickersons" comedy routine. (No, I'm not old enough to remember them first-run; I got an old cassette out of the library and learned the routines playing them over and over again.) In it, Blanche wails, "Why can't I have a maid?" When I lived in a small bedroom in my parents first house, it was easy to keep tidy. Same in my first two (small) houses. But then I got married and moved into a sprawling contemporary ranch house. (The original owners had expanded with four additions, and finished off three-quarters of the basement, too.) We, therefore, essentially have four living rooms (it only took 11 years to furnish this place), and we rotate their use on a regular basis. I don't know how I kept the place clean when I worked a full-time job and had a booth in an antiques co-op (for 12 years), and wrote (but not published) books, as well, but somehow I managed. Now that I don't have to squeeze cleaning and laundry into my life, it's gotten out of hand. It's been a stressful year, and cleaning the house was not on the top of my to-do list. So, after talking about it for months (okay, really, a couple of years), we bit the bullet and called a cleaning service, and then stressed about it or a whole week. I'd always heard of women who clean before the cleaners come. "That won't be me," I said. I lied. Two hours before they were to arrive, I found myself on my hands and knees cleaning the bathroom floor. Decluttering took the better part of an hour. Everything got stashed in my already messy office, which we hadn't contracted for them to clean. I had to leave to run an errand, so I wasn't there when the two ladies showed up, and wondered if I could find a way to STAY away while they were there. No such luck. They were here for over three hours. It turns out, I'm not the only writer around who has someone in to clean. One of my (very successful) author pals said hiring someone to come in and clean her house on a regular basis was the best thing she ever did for her writing career. It freed up hours and hours every week, giving her more time to devote to her career. (And she has a REAL career.) Still, I can't help feeling guilty. Why do women feel they should do it all? My husband quit cutting the grass three or four years ago. Same with snowblowing the driveway. Gutters? There's a guy for that, too. Wanna dig up the garden in a big way? Just pick up the phone. We both work from home--and usually seven days a week--and he doesn't feel a lick of guilt over no longer doing his "home chores." So why should I feel like I'm not holding up my end? Will somebody tell me it's okay to have the house cleaned on a regular basis -- and not by me? (And by the way, it really is nice to have a clean house!!!)

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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