Atavistic Dreams

Atavism is the idea or concept of a throwback.  A recurrence of a trait that (genetically, say)  had not shown up in a few generations.

I tripped over the term earlier this year.

I’d stopped into a yarn shop to see what blends they sold of angora yarn, and to buy a pattern.  My girls were with me (we’d just come from a baby shower), and between us we started talking with a woman who was probably in her 50s.

It came out that we raise rabbits, that I spin their wool and knit and love old stories– the old tales where spinning and knitting could be critical elements.

“Ah,” said she, “so you’re atavistic.”

I’d never heard the word, and asked what it meant.

“It means you love the old ways,” she said.  “Traditional things.”

I really enjoyed being given a useful new word (I had her spell it for me).  It is used more frequently in an evolutionary context, but her explanation is still solid. (The word is related to the word for ancestor.)

Anyway, all that to say, that I’ve been looking for a focus on Untangling Tales, and this might be what I end up with.

I do not automatically agree with Older-Is-Better (expect a post on that, eventually), but I am also against reinventing the wheel.  Such a waste of time.

With such a full life, I often think about time and how we have to make the most of it.  One of the ways I look at frequently is How did other people manage?

There is nothing new under the sun,” and that concept gives me hope: I don’t need to know everything, or even figure out everything. If our generation has fewer physical resources because of the “depletion of the earth,” we can at least benefit from the many generations that have come before us.

Stories, songs, skills, delights: What a gift that we are not limited to ourselves– the past or the present.



Apparently they aren’t just about saying *no*.

I pretty much have that down (despite it making me feel like a jerk sometimes), so I’ve not paid close attention to the topic when it comes up.

The study of boundaries (or rather, the person teaching about them) also suggests that I, like everyone, am continually teaching people how to treat me.

Last week I went off on an unorganized verbal riff with a total stranger (that is, we’d just introduced ourselves to each other as we worked in the same garage).  Toward the end I felt embarrassed at her patience and made a joke about how “I’m just thinking with my mouth open, feel free to walk away any time.”

But for real, that’s the worst thing she could have done.  That’s the sort of thing that completely burns me, and I only said it because I was trying to absolve my felt-foolishness.

Later that evening, in a different (and more organized) exchange, she did just what I had “taught” her and decided it was time for her to leave (albeit, more graciously than just walking away). I had “taught” her that I didn’t care if she listened (or participated) or not, and that was untrue.

But this also means I need to consider how I want to be treated, and subsequently how to convey that.

For me it means being not-flippant, and treating as serious the things that are serious to me.  I often criticize (or redirect) Natasha for using “baby talk” when something is disproportionately important to her, or she’s not sure how I will respond.  But I think I do the same thing: trying to hold lightly to something when I’m not sure my listener will equally share the weight of it.  I make a joke out of something important to me, then feel wounded to watch it tumble.

This is something I want to work on.

Another angle on boundaries that isn’t just saying no, it’s also not saying anything I’m not comfortable saying, or just don’t want to say.  The idea that I am allowed to not-share certain thoughts with anybody. (This in contrast within both Christian and the modern culture’s emphasis on being “real” or “genuine” at any/all costs.)

A commenter on this short and thought-provoking post called authenticity and transparency “the most important thing about social media.”  Yikes.

But it’s my tendency to agree, and not just about social media. I’ve always acted as though it was my purpose (or at least my job) to be transparent as possible.

A healthy sense of boundaries teaches that nothing about me is public property, or available for mistreatment.

An interesting aspect of The Perilous Gard is how the main character, Kate, refuses to push another character for the inner workings of his (obviously troubled) mind. She feels there ought to be one person in his world who lets him choose how much he’s willing to share. But it’s not like she enjoys it.

“Though she honored his privacy, she resented it very much, always to be shut out…”

This story was the first time I’d ever thought of feelings or inner battles as private property.

And I wonder a bit if any of that came from my time working with foster kids. “Use your words” was the cure-all/preventative for most behavior issues, so openness with everything was strongly reinforced.

But these two new ideas have made me curious to pull out my old book (that I’ve started ~ five times and never finished) to see what else I’ve missed.


“Wow,” my mom said when I told her. “I though you had to be way older. That’s really cool.”

Last week someone was describing first-impressions and one of the words he used for me was eccentric.

I mentioned this after church, and one of the women seemed to grow offended or anxious for my sake.

“Did he really know you?” she asked. How could he say that? was all over her tone.

“That wasn’t the point,” I tried to explain, not sure how to say that no matter how he meant it (and I was convinced he meant it in a neutral way), I felt honored by the word.

You see, though I didn’t have the label for it yet (that came about two days later), I was sure eccentric meant strong. It takes a distinct measure of strength to continue to be notably different from the world around you.

I’ve expressed how thankful I am that I was homeschooled, because it meant that I wasn’t pummeled into some standardized mold by my peers.  I don’t think I would have been this strong then.   And I rather like who I’ve grown into.

When I meet (usually in a story) an individual that is both weird and attractive, I just assume they’re good at something. The Bunny-Ears-Lawyer can get away with anything because they are. that. good. so no one forces them to change.

But I have a few people in my world that are just weird. Not the eccentric + attractive combination that is necessary to assume skill.  So I was sort of putting myself down, putting myself in that (“merely weird”) category, when, two days after I found the label, another recent acquaintance spontaneously addressed this.

I’ve gotten the distinct impression, on reviewing this last week, that God has been telling me over and over again, You have value.  A message I needed to hear.

“I remember seeing you at the last potluck,” the new woman said.  It was the first time we’d spoken much. “I saw you talking with all this energy and information– you had so much information– and there were people around you, and they were listening to you. And I thought, I want to sit near *her*.

Many many times I’ve been afraid of burning people, vaguely aware that my intensity is higher than, well, what people expect.

Whatever that means.

And I forget that God has placed people in my world who actually enjoy the way I am.  Including my eccentricity.

And that I’m allowed to enjoy me too. :)

Words are a part of my identity. Even when I get them wrong.

I self-identified as a novelist today– for kinda the first time, and it was totally natural.

I’ve bemoaned before that I’m a compulsive explainer, seeing it as a character defect: why do I have to explain/justify my existence/choices?

Well, it turns out I’m just assuming others are as shallow as me.  That is,  I’ve been shown I revise my opinion of someone based on increased information, and by giving more information I’m hoping to project a more accurate image of myself.

If they still don’t like me, I don’t care, but I can’t stand someone being mad at what they think I am/have done.

So I ran into this woman I haven’t spoken with in years, and we did a quick catch-up on kids, ages and church.  And I corrected her “Oh yeah, I know where that is,” before I even asked her what she thought she knew.

You see, no one in our town knows what church I go to unless they have personally visited it.  It’s that invisible.

I was right, but that’s small consolation if it destroys a relationship so I jumped into damage-control, blaming it, very naturally on being a writer. (For the record, she was totally cool with being corrected.  Not offended at all.)

What entertained me so much was my explanation (this is part of why I write: it’s insanely easy for me to entertain myself).

It went something like this:

Sorry, I’m not really trying to be rude, but after years of thinking in terms of conveyed information versus received information I’m constantly thinking on multiple levels of communication. Miscommunication is a useful literary device, but nothing to tolerate in real life.

Not that I always have a choice, but we can set our own standards, right?


I am calling my 2010 NaNoWriMo effort Shaddow.

Yeah, with 2ds.  It’s a nod to when I was starting the first version of this book (Shadow Swan) and was trying to track down the novel Shadow Spinner and could not figure out why the book never showed on any search.

Yeah, because I spelled shadow phonetically. That’s a short-a, folks.

Sort of like the counter intuitive desert/dessert weirdness.  I love English.  I really do.

Notwithstanding the one semester I started German and a guy studying Spanish asked in horror, “Why would you do that? It’s, like, the one language in the world uglier than English!”

In the end I’ve simply returned to English, and find it beautiful.  Not the least because I understand it, and it submits to me.


Along those lines, it’s fun to say I’ve built a bit of a reputation in my church.

This was a rough week for me.  I came to church thinking about genuineness, and how what some people disparage as “masks” might more accurately be communicated as an effort to encourage other people or focus less on oneself.

I knew I was going to be asked how I was, and that I wouldn’t lie, but I hated thinking of the exchanges that would be likely to follow.  So mostly I positioned myself where the flow-pattern kept people moving faster than to expect a detailed answer.

One of the neatest things about these people is that they only rarely ask empty how-are-yous.  In that place I stood I got lots of acknowledging smiles and nods, but nobody pretended to inquire after what couldn’t be answered in the space of 18-inches.

By the end of the sermon I’d forgotten my initial goal, and got cornered in the kitchen while making my double hot chocolate.

One of the best smilers in our congregation walked in as I was stirring cocoa and asked a genuine, How are you today, Amy?

I felt my throat close and my chin wobble before I got out my one word.


And that resulted in a spirit- and esteem-soothing glowfest from the two other women about how I always have the perfect words to say exactly the right thing.  And the sweet smiler asked, “Can wonkies appreciate hugs?” and I gratefully accepted the other best form of love and care she could have offered at that moment.

Random Noveling bit

My female villain’s name is Irene.

I picked it years ago, when I learn both that is means peace (and I like the irony) and that a famous Irene has killed her own son to keep the throne she held for him as regent.

So there was this great history behind the name of a ruthless woman.

And then, about a year and a half ago my pastor and his wife named their adorable little baby girl Irene.

Major bummer for me, since I feel for “all reasons of prudent policy” I need to change her name. Inspiration has not yet struck, and since it’s not generally available (i.e. to by read) yet I’ve left it for now.

I’ll take suggestions.  Listen to them anyway.  Don’t promise to actually take them. ;)


Got on a roll tonight: Cleaned 8 scenes, 32 pages.  Currently on p. 329/440

Word-count: 116,981

Another “Coined” Something

As in, it’s new to me (like this one).

It’s kind of gross, but that probably reflects my attitude toward it.

Affirmation Bulimic

I’m sure you’ve met these people, because I have; I’ve occasionally fought not to become one myself.

These are those individuals, starving for affirmation– for words of encouragement and approval– who go around with their beggar’s cup outstretched then throw back everything they’re offered.

I surmise the psychology behind these emotional bulimics is parallel to that of physical bulimics.  I’ve heard the reasons may range from self-loathing or a feeling of unworthiness to a simple matter of habit or muscle memory.

Whatever the reason, I think it’s nearly as unhealthy as the more familiar form of bulimia.  This alienates people and cuts the “sufferers” off from their increasingly narrow source of all they are seeking…

Anyway, I’m sure there are more parallels that those closer to the affliction could draw, but this is enough for my purposes– a self-warning (that I hope others will take as well) that “simply swallowing,” accepting kind words as they are,  is the healthiest response to a complement– fished for or not.



Final stats for round five: 105,576 words, 39 scenes (depending on how you count), and 358 pages.

I was making a list of words to scan through and do clean-up on, but I think I’ll do that while they’re out with the test group.  I don’t expect line-editing from them, so I can do that while they look at the story.

I’m itching to read the whole thing again before I print it out, but I fear that would be a never-ending cycle.  So… happy birthday to me, I’m printing my novel today. I mean, tomorrow.

Jay was really jazzed about doing electronic copies to everyone, but the local people all want something in their hands, so I’ll get our printer busy with that.


I want to bind them too– maybe with cardstock covers for durability/portability, but I’m afraid that will look cheesy.  Thoughts?

A New and Needed Word


Would any of you guess what that means?  It was exactly the the type of word I was looking for.

I’m hoping/assuming context will make the meaning clear.

Tykone urged his horse forward and stopped with his stirrup alongside Torbjorn’s. Somewhere he felt a small shame in forcing himself between the prince and the pretty brown-haired sarsé that was doubtless his new wife.  But blocking out every other person he swallowed his pride and dismounted, touching his forehead to Torbjorn’s boot in the traditional gesture to beg condonation.

“My prince,” said Tykone, “There is something I have done, and I will accept punishment if you require, but first I need your help.”

Saying What You Mean (and a giveaway)

At a McDonalds Playland about a year ago, my then-3-year-old carefully tipped her tiny cup of ketchup on its side, explaining, “It’s not much left, and this is how you do it.”

“Mine’s almost gone, too,” Jay said. “Would you like a refill?”

“No,” said Melody, focusing on her ketchup. “No,” said Natasha, waiting her turn.

“Maybe you should tell them what a refill is,” I suggested. And after he did, and repeated his offer to refill the answer was a chorus of Yeses.

“It’s all about definitions,” I said. “Everything in life comes down to definitions.”

I say this all the time, like it’s profound or something.  But, as Jay pointed out in that moment, it’s not really the definitions, it’s the whole process of communicating and how you choose to respond to it.

Yes. God created the perfect man for me.

It makes me think about how we can do “everything” right without being understood, because it’s not just about us, the senders of the message; it’s also about the receivers.

Years ago I was riding with a lady who’d been married just a few months. As we conversed I was vaguely aware of the conversation moving slower than I was used to, but I hadn’t pinned the feeling yet on anything specific.

“I’m so sorry!” she said suddenly. “I’ve been talking this who time like I was having this conversation with my husband.”

She went on to explain that she had used the (frequently useful) tool of “reflecting” in our conversation– the practice of rephrasing what she’d heard to verify she understood.

“He really needs that, but with you I’m basically repeating exactly what you said. It’s so different to talk with someone who says exactly what they mean!”

When I told my mom the story she agreed that was the way she talked too (I come by everything honestly), and a that her pastor’s wife, a counselor and therapist, had complimented her on it.

“Everybody knows right where they stand with you,” she said. “There’s no ambiguity or insecurity and people are so comfortable with that.”

Mom pointed out that she had plenty of examples to the contrary, and the woman amended that the positive response was the more logical.

I agree with the pastor’s wife, but take this as yet another example of how many people in this world aren’t logical.  A surprising number of people are not content with getting “The Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.), they seem to expect some kind of platinum rule (“Do unto me as I would have you do.”)


This is much harder to apply, for the simple reason that unless I really know you I have no guidelines other than my own preferences.  And like my mother I have plenty of experience with people who don’t want to be treated the way I do.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[The original post included a giveaway that is now closed.]



What do you call that texting shorthand that relies heavily on abbreviations (RU OK?) and initials (BTW/KWIM)?

I just came up with one I think is original, and whether or not it is, it is supremely appropriate for me: RAFTS

As in, Random Advice From a Total Stranger.

The internet seems made for this: we’re all throwing out RAFTS at some time or another, me (I suspect) more than many.

So there you go.  If it’s new and spreads across the net (“Hope you don’t mind RAFTS, I was just hoping it might help”), you’ll know where it started.

Or you’ll laugh at how slow I am to catch on. {shrug} As long as it’s not in my face…