Quick Hit


The day got away from me. I never started what I hoped would be a thoughtful post about Toni Morrison. So today I leave you with an insightful quote from Robin Williams. He no doubt knew the truth of it from personal experience:

I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anybody else to feel like that.

RIP, William Zinsser


zinsserMost of the world has probably never received the wisdom of this consummate instructor. Writers know who he is. Any writer who does not should buy or borrow On Writing Well right now. One can read it front to back, but opening the odd page can bring wisdom. I opened to Chapter 2, p. 7 of the fourth edition. It’s classic Zinsser.

Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.

As I read and then typed that quote, all I could think of was Albert Benzwie who ran Theatre Center Philadelphia where I worked in the 1980s. He helped aspiring playwrights, mostly by repeating the word “clarity.” That’s the call of great teachers everywhere.

Or again in Chapter 9, p. 60.

Unity is the anchor of good writing. It not only keeps the reader from straggling off in all directions; it satisfies the reader’s unconscious need for order and gives reassurance that all is well at the helm.

That image of the writer steering the ship of the book through waters with the aid of the anchor of unity has kept me on an even keel — just to prolong the metaphor.

Zinsser’s life was full of writing, and he inspired any number of others to do the same. One friend and former colleague made weekly trips from Connecticut to New York to learn from him.

Tonight I learned that the latest edition of On Writing Well contains a chapter on writing memoirs because Zinsser said he kept encountering people who had said, “I wish I had asked Mom … or Dad.” I’ve just ordered a copy of the newest edition so my education will be up to date.

Thank you, William Zinsser, for improving writers everywhere.

What I’m About To Read

ohioProfessor Edward Clark’s third volume of A Man From Ohio: Home in the World arrived in the midst of the message meltdown. I was immediately transported to all of those glorious October days that keep New England folk in place despite blizzards, hurricanes, and various other meteorological insults.

The symbolism is obvious: this is the last part of a story that spanned the early years of the Depression, to World War II, to the upheaval of the Civil Rights era, and on into the 1980s.

Here are the links to my commentary on Volume I and Volume II.

Because of their long relationship I of course had to find Ann Petry in Volume III. Ed includes the fabulous “Reason for Nomination,” which he wrote to ask Suffolk University to award my mother an honorary doctorate. I love the descriptions: “distinguished,” “impressive body of work,” and “dedication to the craft of writing.”

Having cleared my brain of technical detritus, I will this evening begin what I know will be captivating, educational, and fully engaged in all things “in the world.”

What I’m Reading Now


Another in an occasional series. Actually another book I’ve just finished reading and another that doesn’t live up to its promise.

Rosa Rankin-Gee sets the opening chapters of The Last Kings of Sark on an island near Guernsey that abides by feudal rule.

This is an excessively  British work, and the names evoke literary figures. Jude has been hired by Eddie as a tutor for his teen-age son, Pip. Eddie learns once the deal is done that Jude is a young woman, not a man.

The set-up is straight out of Rebecca and Jane Eyre: high-powered pater familias who leaves for extended periods, insecure son who displays some autistic tendencies, and the illusive mother, Esmé (French, not Salinger’s British teen). She’s not in the attic but tucked away in a room with bottles and bottles of water and almost no food.

Rankin-Gee populates the island with Eddie’s other employees, especially the irrepressible cook Sofi, who can’t convince anyone that she’s a Brit and not Polish; some seasonal worker guys; and outside help in the form of store clerks who serve the day-trippers. In that way Sark matches pretty much every good summer work/play story.

Somewhere about 75 pages in, though, I began to lose interest. I  decided I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. In this case, the ending differed from Gone Girl and California in being utterly predictable.

Early Happy Mother’s Day


As I prepare for “Designing Women,” my talk at Russell Library tomorrow (hope to see you there at 2 p.m.,), I’m wishing all Happy Mother’s Day and posting this for my mother and for Ma, who welcomed me into her family.

The lilacs are making their appearance just in time as they fill the yard with heaven scent again.

At Last


After a chat session that ended somewhere around 11:30 p.m., I dreaded following Apple’s instructions to contact my carrier, in this case AT&T. If Apple is large and slow moving, AT&T is Gargantua, right?

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I finally cleared the decks and checked through the online troubleshooting. Five steps took about five minutes and didn’t work. So I crossed fingers and dialed. Linda, a real person with a soft southern accent who complained that she can’t Facetime with her son any more, took basic information and pulled up my account. She said she wasn’t sure she could help but would take a look. About a minute later she said, “You have no text plan.” I said, “What?” She said, “When you bought your phone, it wasn’t included.”

Now I had a distinct recollection of the conversation with the trainee and the supervisor – at the Apple store. First I couldn’t remember whether the plan on my old phone included unlimited texts. He asked if my bill fluctuated. I said, “Only when my husband goes over the data plan.” They laughed.

I told them that I didn’t want unlimited because I didn’t have that many contacts without iPhones, that I would take pay per message.

This all occurred at the beginning of March, so it’s a testament to my lack of texting that I only noticed it last week.

Linda had me turn off the phone and restart it. We tried test texts, but my friends were at work or otherwise occupied. A bit later I received answers. Yes!

Never thought I’d say this but thank you, AT&T!

So here’s the bottom line: I wasted two days and suffered much aggravation, including an insult to my MacBook, for something that was Apple’s fault all along.

Let’s see if FB links to this post, unlike the last one.

On My Own


Dear Apple Support,

You’ve created more problems than you’ve solved. I wasn’t receiving certain messages. Some were iMessages, others SMS. I tried to fix  messaging by going off the network and coming back on.

When I tried to type my Wi-Fi password things locked up. I contacted you about network and messaging. “Ruth” (but for the typos I thought she was a robot. Do you build in errors?) had me wipe my phone, which involved a four-hour reboot.

At the end I was able to type in the password, but I still could only access some messages.

I went online and found a helpful site that suggested I check which the email “where I can be reached by message.” It included two Apple-related, which I don’t use. I switched to the original one and – voilà! iMessage came back.

In the midst of all this, my usually reliable and stable MacBook started freezing on Internet searches and buffering on audio.

A return to Apple chat resulted in the same reboot script, this time from “Dustin,” no typos. He wanted me to do various things, many of them identical to what failed before, including retyping that 26-character Wi-Fi. I said no. He wanted me to contact my carrier, but since my phone wasn’t locking up, nor was Larry’s, I was pretty sure it didn’t have to do with the signal. Dustin and I were negotiating a “callback” when the chat locked up, and I couldn’t type.

Another perusal of the many forums where people complained about the Wi-Fi dropout kept coming up with a Bluetooth reference. It occurred to me that it might have activated when I had to plug the phone into the computer to restore it after the wipe. I don’t use Blue on any device, so I thought that might be the problem.

So I disabled it on laptop and phone, and lo! it came to pass that the Internet is working perfectly, audio as smooth as that to which I had become accustomed. Pardon the biblical and legal speak.

Now if I can just figure out why I can only send iMessages.



Best Walk

Proof: Liz and Christy at the tower.
Proof: Liz and Christy at the tower.

Internet connectivity seems to be OK but the browser isn’t co-operating. Audio feeds drop out – on iTunes and on Safari. Note to Apple: you may have given me back my phone but the rest of the “experience” isn’t good.

Nevertheless I’ll embark on a discussion of the best Twain-Twichell (“End to a Perfect Walk”) walk ever. I know I said that last year, but this time it was true.

First, Steve ordered up idyllic weather. About 50 when we started, 70-ish at the end. Clear until we headed back down the trail when some puffy clouds appeared. Whatever rain might have been lurking stayed away because I brought a waterproof jacket.

The late spring meant that instead of lilacs we saw forsythia and daffodils, plus the now-beloved trout lilies. The bird population was in full throat, except for the hawk. Our experts weren’t sure if it was a red-tail or red-shoulder. The bluebirds seemed to be absent from their apartments.

Each year I learn something new, and this year it was presence of an old marker indicating directions to Bloomfield, Hartford, etc. There were two almost next to each other, one knocked over.

We were a small but enthusiastic crowd of mostly seasoned walkers – the only exceptions were the M-T House’s new curator and her boyfriend. She said she’d never walked that far in her life. He rides mountain bikes, so we knew things would be OK.

The only negative: the traffic has increased by factors of five or ten. The drivers display arrogant aggression toward us and each other. Evidence of recent collisions strewn along the roadside made us even more wary.

Steve gave the best reading of letters between Mark Twain and Joseph Twichell. And mercifully did not read the “ear worm.” The rest of us began our campaign for a repeat next year, since he had said this would be the last hike.

We all welcomed the off-road portion even though it’s seriously uphill. The trail needs some grooming, and even though we haven’t had rain in weeks, springs still presented the occasional challenge. But mostly the rocks were dry. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing like hiking uphill on wet rock.

The beautiful day drew many, many people to the trail, who park at the back end and take the short hike. On the way up we encountered a few serious hikers. On the way down, there were a great number of casual walkers, including families and people in flip-flops, poor souls.

We’ll work on Steve to organize yet another walk.

Tech Hell


What’s going on? At instructions from Apple, I wiped my phone yesterday, then restored it. The process took better than five hours, and I  still can’t send iMessages to some people SMS to others.

I try to keep phone and computer segregated, but there may have been some contamination. Today I sent an email from the MacBook at 11:35 a.m. It arrived at 8 p.m. The Wi-Fi cut out at about 7:15 p.m. for no reason, though there may have been interference from the Frontier trucks down the block. It’s obviously back up now but was crawling until a few minutes ago.  All Things Considered cut off twice.  I gave up.

So much for my plans to post one of the following: 1) Twain-Twichell walk, which was the best EVER; 2) the joys of unwrapping and glancing through Volume 3 of A Man From Ohio: At Home in the World, Ed Clark’s gorgeous autobiography; 3) what I’m reading now; 4) reactions to the interviews of Toni Morrison in Mother Jones and the NYTimes; 5) the distressing story of how The New Yorker’s Joe Mitchell fabricated much of his “nonfiction.”

I’m shutting down the computer and me for the night.

Celebrating Twain and Twichell


On the eve of the twentieth Twain-Twichell walk, here’s a bit of history on the transition from Samuel Clemens to Mark Twain from Poynter of the Twain part. I know our leader Steve Courtney will take care of the Twichell part tomorrow.

Favorite line (from the Hal Holbrook video): “I didn’t want to work so I became a newspaper reporter.” And sometimes he worked only by exercising his vivid imagination. This is one aspect of Twain’s career that contemporary journalists should not imitate.