Messages in a Bottle

Flannery O’Connor with editor Robbie Macauley in 1947 (Wikimedia)

Even among the literati, mothers can be difficult to impress. In a letter written to author Cecil Dawkins in 1959, Flannery O’Connor congratulated Cecil for being paid $1,000 for a story — a figure that more than doubled Flannery’s current top payment of $475. Somewhat wryly, Flannery added:

Your sale to the Post ought to impress your mother greatly.  It sure has impressed my mother, who brought the post card home. 
The other day she asked me why I didn’t try to write something that people liked, instead of the kind of thing I do write.  Do you think, she said, that you are really using the talent God gave you when you don’t write something that a lot, a LOT of people like? 
This always leaves me shaking and speechless, raises my blood pressure 140 degrees, etc.  All I can ever say is, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

I still laugh when I read that passage. Shortly after my first computer arrived, my mother began nosing around it like a wary dog circling a snake, asking questions of her own. “What are you going to do with it?”  I didn’t know, and said so. “Well, how much did it cost?”  I did know that. Despite reservations born of experience, I told her. The disapproving silence thickened. “You spent all that money for something, and don’t even know how you’re going to use it?” 

Clearly, she regarded my computer as nothing more than the newest version of the hula-hoop or Mr. Potato Head, and I was her idiot child, consumed with a child’s breathless longing to possess the same toys as my friends.

As the months passed and my mysterious toy began demanding ever more time, her perplexity increased. She’d come to understand the practicality of email and the profitability of eBay, but the hours spent on my new blog confounded her. “Why are you still on that machine?” she’d say, peering over the top of her knitting. “Who reads those things, anyway?  Why not do something productive?” 

Since she refused even to sit at the computer, I began printing out occasional blog posts for her to read. She’d murmur some nice, motherly compliment, but usually ended by asking the question that would have made Flannery O’Connor’s mother proud: “When is somebody going to pay you for all this?”

Equating dollars with quality is natural enough. The first and only local writing group I joined once published this food for thought in its newsletter:

“Never give your writing away. If you don’t receive payment, your writing is worthless.”

Everyone in the group believed that, and for months I fussed over the issue, unable to refute either the logic or the assumptions of members who kept asking, “When are you going to start doing some real writing?” The question of worth was everywhere, and many of us in an online writing group recognized the dilemma expressed by Becca Rowan as our own:

 I find it all too easy to sink into pessimism about my own writing. “What’s the point?” I sometimes find myself thinking. “Who cares what I have to say? Why bother struggling to find just the right word, to come up with the perfect idea, to create an evocative image?  What difference can it possibly make to the world?”

Reading Becca’s words, I sensed her effort was justified, as was mine.  I remained convinced  my writing was worth the hours stolen from sleep; the decisions to forego evenings out; the end of television and social media. I simply didn’t know why.

Eventually, I found the beginning of an answer in an off-handed remark made by a woman with decades of experience in the classroom. “Teaching is like throwing out words in a bottle,” she said. “Sometimes you’re lucky, and the bottle reaches shore.”

Her metaphor seemed apt: as much for blogging as for teaching. Like a message in a bottle, each post is tossed into the currents of the great cyber-sea to bob, tumble, and drift about until safely reaching shore, or being broken and destroyed on the rocks. 

For blog-bottle throwers, of course, letting go is everything. Whatever the content of the bottle’s note, its words and images will have no opportunity to touch people, to clear their vision, to bring comfort, to elicit a wry smile or a sigh of satisfaction until the bottle is set free to travel.

It does take time for bottles to bob their way to the beaches of the world.  It takes even more time for someone to find them, and sometimes it requires pure luck for the message to be plucked out and read. Today, I can’t help being amazed by how many of my own metaphorical bottles have been pulled from the surf and preserved in one way or another.

A woman in Salisbury who’d put her own writing on hold felt an implicit challenge in one essay, and began writing again.  A St. Louis executive found a lesson for the workplace in Godette’s choice of inspiration over competition.  Roger Stolle, owner of Cat Head in Clarksdale, Mississippi reprinted some reflections on their Juke Joint festival in one of his newsletters. The Moon Lake Improvement Association included my story of a visit to Uncle Henry’s roadhouse in the history section of their site. An astronomer added The Comet Watchers to his links.

Each of these connections pleased me, but nothing represents the satisfactions of blog-bottle tossing as well as my experience with “Search Pattern,” a poem written in response to the death of Roger Stone.

Safety Officer aboard the sailing vessel Cynthia Woods during the 2008 Regata de Amigos offshore race from Galveston to Veracruz, Roger lost his life while saving five crewmates from death after their sailboat capsized.

He was well known in the local sailing community, and while I’d never met him, I was deeply affected by his death.  While the Coast Guard conducted their search and rescue mission, and during its sad aftermath, there was little else I could do, so I wrote a poem titled “Search Pattern.”

Due north from south
then south again
the heart flies,
anxious in its unexpected space,
winging over absence
with an osprey’s climbing curl,
unfettered but forlorn.
From east to west
frail rising hope streams light
across conviction’s shattered hull;
love’s fruitless oars, adrift
beyond this longing reach
float half-submerged,
splintered as the fragments of a dream.
What life remains,
preserved through night’s long tumult
to wash, exhausted, onto shore?
The osprey climbs.
The oars drift on.
The heart resumes its wheeling flight
due north from south,
then south again,
across a bowl of tears.

After writing and posting the poem, I moved on. Then, nine months later, I found this comment appended to the poem on its blog page:

I am Roger Stone’s widow. I ran across this poem just now, and I want to thank you so much for it.  The introduction was so touching, too.  If I would have seen this before his service, I would have loved for you to have read it. 
I miss Roger every day, and seeing this at this time touched my soul. Thank you again.
Linda Stone

That she had found the poem at all, that she had been kind enough to comment, and that the one person I wished could read the poem had, in fact, done so seemed extraordinary. In the brief correspondence that followed, I gave Linda permission to use the poem as she saw fit.  At the time, she intended to enlarge and frame it, and then to hang it in Roger’s office in their new home – the office he never got to use.

Somewhat later, on the Mitchell Campus of Texas A&M University at Galveston, Linda Stone once again described events of that tragic day as she accepted the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal on behalf of her husband. The medal, established by Congress in 1874, is awarded by the Coast Guard Commandant to any person who rescues, or endeavors to rescue another person from drowning, shipwreck, or other peril of the sea.

Roger and his medal ~ U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy Petty Officer Patrick Kelley

Watching Linda receive the award on behalf of Roger, envisioning my poem gracing the wall of the office he never used, and still astonished by her improbable discovery of my blog months after the loss of the Cynthia Woods, all I could think was, “Some worth can’t be calculated.”  

I still believe that. Not every cause has an immediate effect, and not every hour invested brings immediate return. Only a willingness to take the longer, less calculating view of things allows any artist to keep tossing bottles into the sea ~ bottles filled with treasure that one day, some day, will wash onto a receptive shore.

Comments always are welcome.

145 thoughts on “Messages in a Bottle

  1. Another lovely and loving essay, Linda. That your poem was able to find its proper place with the widow is amazing.

    I have a writer friend who can write circles around me and I’ve been trying to get her to start a blog, but she believes in the “Never give your writing away…” philosophy. Therefore she is constantly sending essays and poems into contests, etc., and is yet to get published after a lifetime of trying. In the meantime only handful of family and friends ever gets to read her work while literally thousands of people have come to my blog to read, giving me the opportunity to connect to others. I guess it gets down to how we each define success. I hope your mom came to appreciate your writing. It has touched and enriched a lot of lives.

    1. What you say about differing definitions of success is so true. Beyond that, success and satisfaction can be quite different things. (I’m hearing Willie singing “Satisfied Mind” in the background.). Have I had a successful life? By some standards, not at all, but I’m generally satisfied, and that’s not something to take lightly.

      I listened yesterday to an interesting program on NPR. Several young women who are deeply involved in the world of social media were talking about changes coming to Instagram and Twitter that are meant to reduce people’s ability to easily compare the number of ‘likes’ and other metrics on their posts. It occurred to me as I listened that ‘payment’ comes in a variety of forms. An obsessive concern with blog statistics is far different from natural curiosity. There’s a reason the ‘blogging without obligation” and ‘slow blogging’ movements came to be.

      As for Mom? A collector herself, she came to really appreciate my china business on eBay, but she mostly tolerated my writing. Now I can see a life-long arc, and smile. After all, she was the one who convinced me not to major in English in college, because it wasn’t ‘practical.’

      1. In your mom’s generation (and my mom’s) being practical was often the difference between having enough money to live on or not. “Be an artist but develop a practical skill first you can fall back on.” That was my mom.

        1. That’s right. And there are echoes of another “just in case” conversation underlying that. The assumption was that girls would be teachers or nurses or steno pool typists until they got married — or in case they didn’t. Of course, those also were the days when college girls had 10 p.m. curfews and bed checks — that was a very long time ago.

  2. I always read your posts and love each one . . but there is something about this one that tickled me then moved me to tears! This my favorite. Just learned how to comment on your post too! I am slooow at technology, but today . . victory! love Michele

    1. Our little victories in the on-going ‘battle’ with technology certainly are to be celebrated. I’m glad you were able to comment, and I’m especially happy to know this post resonated. It doesn’t surprise me at all. Your work with the children at school, and your relationship with your children and grandchildren are proof enough that you understand how today’s efforts will bear sometimes unexpected fruit in the future.

      I know a fishing guide who likes to say of his customers, “They don’t know what they don’t know.” That’s so often true of us all. There’s a lot we don’t know — and even more than we can’t know, until some time has passed. Then,we look back, and say, “So that’s what that was all about.”. When you get right down to it, that’s part of the fun.

      1. Donald Rumsfeld “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”

        1. I’d forgotten about Rumsfeld’s expansion of that little saying. Whatever disagreements I had with him on specific policies, I think the quotation’s on target.

          Knowing my fishing guide, I don’t think he would have read Rumsfeld’s book, but he could have been aware of it, or at least of the quotation. On the other hand, discovering that many people don’t know what they don’t know happens all the time. I still remember one of my sailing students who really challenged my assumptions about basic knowledge. I asked her on the first day of classes to put a coil of rope on the dock. That’s when she asked, “What’s a dock?” Thank goodness I’d already learned the rules for situations like that: (1) don’t laugh, and (2) answer the question.

          1. Oh, boy. Keeping one’s cool in responding to a question like that is a challenge. Good on you for keeping yours. I am somewhat successful with it but when a question like that is repeated a short time later is a little tougher.

            Relating to that, I am sure a lot of criminals are in total disbelief when they are nabbed and can’t figure out how the detectives discovered their guilt. There’s always someone smarter than we are.

  3. While I don’t have your gift for writing, Linda, from time to time, someone drops me an email to let me know how much they’ve enjoyed seeing my local area through my images. The very fact they’ve taken the time to write the email when they live on the other side of the world is always heartwarming.

    1. One reason I enjoy your blog is the wonderful context you provide for your images of your world. It makes it seem approachable and understandable, despite the differences — although I will confess I still have some trouble grasping our summer/winter differences. I’m always having to do a “double think” to remember which season you’re in.

      It doesn’t surprise me that your readers reach out with an extra word of thanks from time to time. That kind of experience is what makes online life so special and, for many of us who weren’t born with an silver iphone in our hands, almost magical.

  4. Perhaps Flannery O’Connor’s unenlightened mother should be given some credit for Flannery’s strident will and profoundly evocative stories, most of which I have either read or taught.

    Your point here in this lovely lovely essay is well-taken and a timely reminder to all artists that they write, paint, compose, sculpt for many reasons, some intangible. What you have done in this post is to put to words the great intangible— the possibility that our words, our art, live on when we are gone.

    Yours surely will.

    1. Perhaps Flannery’s relationship with her mother deserves the label ‘creative tension.’ On the other hand, a kid who trains a chicken to walk backwards and then turns out to be a Thomist philosopher may have had tendencies toward distinctiveness from the beginning. I came to her through the collection of her letters, and still read them on a regular basis. Needless to say, my move to the south increased my appreciation of her perspective and her humor.

      Your comment about those intangible reasons for creative efforts reminded me of Philippe Petit’s famous words. I may not be remembering them exactly, but their essence was, “When I see three balls, I have to juggle, and when I see a wire, I have to walk.” I suspect we experience something similar. When you see the world, you paint. I photograph, or write. But the same compulsion is there — no matter the response from that same world.

      1. Yes to your main point in the second paragraph. A resounding yes!

        I almost wrote my master’s thesis on Flannery O’Connor’s work but the committee nixed the idea and felt the bulk of her stories were easily understandable.

        OK. I’d like to write on Franz Kafka and several of his short stories along with The Trial. How’s that idea?

        No. Unless you read and write German, you may not use translations the Committee said.

        OK. How about WG Sebald’s Austerlitz? He’s German but lived in East Anglia and was the head of a department at the university there where he translated his works into English.

        OK, It said.

        1. Like Miss Flannery, you have a certain feistiness as part of your nature. I suspect being on your committee would have been a memorable experience.

  5. Blogging is worthwhile on many levels, with sometimes unexpected consequences as you chronicle here. Few of us will probably have that kind of validation, although I was very happy when someone let me know that he had used one of my trip reports as his daily companion in Costa Rica and found it very helpful. That seemed like a pretty good reward to me.

    1. One of the little files I keep is of blogs that might be useful if I travel to one area of the country or another. If I ever were to expand my travels to go birding in Costa Rica, or Panama, or Canada, for that matter, yours certainly would travel with me. Of course, I’ve also found it a great asset when I “travel” to Panama via the Cornell site. Being able to profit from others’ experiences and knowledge is possible now in a way that we couldn’t imagine twenty years ago. It’s not only rewarding, it’s great fun.

  6. A beautiful post, Linda. For what it is worth, I pick up your bottles right after you toss them. You bring a perspective to living that I find uplifting. No, I don’t need help but enjoy when others share the best part of this life with others. I just wanted you to know there is not a word wasted as far as I’m concerned. Thanks.

    1. You’ve made the point regularly and in a variety of ways on your blog that this crazy writing endeavor is worth the effort we put into it, no matter how we go about it, or what we hope to achieve. When I started this blog, I thought to myself, “I’m just going to write what I want, and if someone else decides to read and comment, that will be great.” I’m always glad when you stop by, and glad that you find things here to appreciate.

  7. Bottle reverently plucked from the surf. The wine within was delicious. Keep throwing. The day before yesterday, referring to my own fledgling blog, I asked myself why do I do this? This is why.

    1. I had to laugh at your mention of wine. After hurricane Ike, a winery in my area had most of its stock swept away by the storm surge. There were bottles strewn throughout Chambers County ditches, and friends of the winery owners went out and collected them. Although it couldn’t be sold, it still was drinkable, so it was re-labeled and gained new life as a collector’s item.

      As odd as it might seem, it occurs to me that’s a decent metaphor for what we do: collecting some scattered bits of life and offering them up, not because they can be re-lived, but because they remind us of how much living we’ve done, and how much we’ve yet to do.

      1. What a story! Regarding the metaphor, there is the ever so schmaltzy Frank Sinatra song, “A Very Good Year.” That trivializes what you were saying, oh. Especially since the people he saying it to were usually 12 sheets to the wind.

        Seriously though, my wife and I were talking about your bio and the fact that you have managed to pack several complete lives into one, and you’re still going strong. We also spoke long about the careful craft of your writing. Every piece is a joy. Even if some of them bring tears. If you ever come to Northern California, you have a dinner invitation and an opportunity for long conversation.

        1. If I ever were to make it out to northern California again, I certainly would take you and your wife up on that invitation. You may have noticed on my “About” page that my favorite sport is conversation, and I suspect that we could have some good ones.

          Occasionally, I hear someone use the phrase ‘artsy-craftsy’ in a more or less derogatory manner, but the truth is that any art has to walk hand and hand with craft. I’ve often said that my work with the boats has taught me as much as anything about how to write. Perseverance, attention to detail, an acceptance of frustration, and a recognition that there is no absolute perfection work at the desk as well as on the dock.

          1. Invitation stands.

            Most dictionaries define craft as something along the lines of skill of execution. One can have all the artistic ideas in the world, but if one does not possess the skill of execution all is for naught. To my mind, all of the factors you list are part of craft, and they apply to any activity – art, writing, washing the dishes…

            Ironically, when I think of the term “artsy-craftsy” I think of not much of an artistic concept and notable lack of skill of execution.

  8. Beautiful and thought provoking post Linda.
    It seems a lot of water and blogs have gone under the bridge since we first met when discussing vulchers.
    Before I left The Gambia I did make friends with the vulchers and wrote a post with that title. The vulchers could have been a metaphor for my own fear.
    My journal comprised different phases of my trip with photograph prompts to depict each phase and I numbered the vulchers photographs amongst other prompts. I will hopefully write about my experiences.
    The bird trip I mentioned I abandoned as the local guide hadn’t arranged transport for me. Sunday is a difficult day to get taxi drivers. It was a pity as I do like to support the local guides.
    I seem to read your posts with different eyes now and look forward to reading ones in the future.
    Thank you.

    1. How good of you to stop by, Margaret. I hope you do write about your experiences. I’ve no doubt you had some extraordinary ones, but I also know that even the most mundane details of a trip like that can be fascinating — even if they were frustrating at the time. And of course, even daily life offers grist for the writing mill. A friend who died too young had a tagline on her blog that said, “Everything is story-able.” It was her rephrasing of the line that belongs (I think) to Joan Didion, who once said, “everything is writable.” That’s truer than I ever imagined.

  9. You motivated me to keep tossing bottles with notes into the aether. Advice from someone years ago said to write for yourself. Tell about what interests you. Stop for a while if you need to. Start again any time.

    I sometimes look at the statistics page to see what posts get the most looks. It is interesting what gets attention and sticks with people. The scarce comments are most welcome.

    I agree that teaching is a lot like tossing bottles. Once in a while you find that person who remembered things you said, or the way you treated the class, or the silly thing that happened. It makes it worthwhile.

    1. My most-read blog post still is one I wrote in the first year of this little effort. Of course, I had the dumb luck to write about Leonard Cohen and Suzanne, so there’s the explanation. Still, it intrigues me that something written ten years ago has enduring interest in this age of the seven-second news cycle.

      I still laugh when I remember being told in that first writing group I attended that the best way to get published was to write fantasy or romance novels. I’ve nothing against either genre, but when I asked why I should write what I don’t read, the only answer was, “Because it sells.” It wasn’t a good enough answer then, and it’s not good enough now. I’ve always figured that if what I’m writing about bores me, it’s going to bore everyone else, and that’s the last thing I’d want to do.

      As for teaching and learning, the good news is that both can continue throughout life, and all of us have the chance to be both teachers and students — if we’ll take those chances.

      1. It is a good thing our thoughts and writings have some lasting quality. Most of those that came from me have evaporated with time. Unless one is lucky enough to succeed at fantasy or romance writing, the odds are not good for them to last long. This WordPress blog thing keeps our writings up in the wind for longer time. That does help. Your boat won’t go far if the sails are not unfurled.

        I like the chances of being teacher and student. We all have a lot to teach and learn with each other.

        1. Your comment about unfurling the sails reminded me of another line I’ve had in my files for several years: “If a sail were made of plywood, it wouldn’t take us anywhere at all.” I wondered where I’d gotten that, but I can’t find it anywhere online. If it’s one of my own random thoughts, it’s a good one: the same truth you expressed, only phrased a little differently.

        1. Gretchen, it was quite an experience. There was much that was good about the format and the contributors, but eventually it was time to move on. Of course, it’s still a part of my life in a sense, since the title for this blog was taken from a poem I wrote in response to one of the group’s prompts.

  10. I truly love this post. I am one of those who write not for gain but just to toss out those bottles because I never know whose shore it may float upon just when the receiver needs it most. One of the best accolades I received was many years ago when I was a newspaper reporter/editor (and we all know, those in that profession 40 or so years ago did not earn much money). The person I interviewed was more famous for his voice than his name. I sent him a clipping of the article I wrote about him and he sent me a personal thank you telling me that he and his wife thought it was the best article ever written about him. That meant the world to me.

    1. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that some of the most interesting people in the world are far from celebrities. Many of them aren’t known beyond their communities, and some remain pretty low-profile even there. Being able to highlight them, their personal qualities and their skills, is terrifically satisfying. And, as your experience shows, even those who are more well-known can appreciate a bit of kind attention.

      I had to smile at your mention of the clipping, too. The world of scrapbooks and newspaper clippings can seem very far away, but that world still exists — just in a different form.

  11. Overheard at a softball game:

    “When you going to start writing for money?”
    “About that same time that you start pitching for the Yankees.”

    Why is it that quilters, stamp collectors, backyard mechanics, gardeners and long distance runners wonder why bloggers do what they do?

  12. Hello Linda,
    It seems a long time since I have left a comment on one of your WP entries. I do read most of them, but commenting is something I never seem to find time to do. But this one struck a nerve. The last paragraph particularly.
    I have had a bad start to the year, what with one thing and another, that my own creative endeavours have been tossed onto the “for another day” pile. You have given me the proverbial ‘kick on the posterior’ and I now promise to pick up the paints and brushes, and add illustrations to all my words (12 chapters complete) before I “toss out the bottle and hope it reaches the shore”.

    1. And I’ve kept up with you through your letter and other “news sources,” but as you say — thoughts don’t always translate into action. That’s as true with projects as with maintaining relationships. Life gets in the way, as we like to put it. Responsibilities call, unexpected events impinge, and there we are — with The Project on the back burner.

      But I still have your words of wisdom framed and sitting on my desk, and you’ve got my little ‘kick on the posterior’ for inspiration Maybe this will be the year for both of us to finally reach those goals we’ve been working toward for so long.

      1. Amen to that!
        I also have a little Waterford crystal bird that reminds me of you every time I look at it.

  13. How amazing that your poem found its way to his widow! It is another lesson that we never know what kind of effect our words (spoken and written) will have on someone. You write because you must -none of your words are wasted. Excellent post! I am always glad when your words in a bottle wash up on my shore.

    1. My grandmother, wise in a simple and homespun way, was fond of telling family and friends alike to “take the long view” of everything from personal crisis to the ups and downs of community life.

      The older I get, the more I appreciate that advice. We’re far less in control of things than we like to imagine, and sometimes our lack of control is a benefit, not a liability. We can hope for certain results, and even work toward them, but often enough to keep things interesting we’re completely unprepared for the way things actually turn out.

      Beyond that, just like a painting, a photograph, or a cloud in the sky, a given post can evoke quite different responses from different people. It’s fascinating, especially when people interpret something I’ve done in a way I’ve never thought of.

    1. It was quite an experience. Everyone who lives here and is connected to the water knows when search and rescue operations are going on. The anxiety level goes up, and in the case of a race, where people follow boats with tracking software, seeing a boat come to a halt raises questions, and the anxiety level, even more.

      I think you’d appreciate this account of events written by someone who was there.

  14. I loved this post. It’s rewarding to me to hear that others enjoy something I write. Like you, I’m sometimes surprised when something I wrote a long time ago has an effect on someone at a later date.

    1. It can be just as intriguing when an older post begins to get traffic again. I always know when drought-ridden areas of Texas are trying to figure out when the rain might arrive; my post about the so-called ‘barometer bush’ — the sage that’s said to bloom before rain — suddenly will rise to the top of the heap. Even though I haven’t a clue who the readers are, I know that I’ve written something that’s of interest.

      My guess is that you have a lot of people who browse your current blog after coming for a particular recipe or topic. I wouldn’t be surprised if some are keeping recipes, too. A blogger and friend who had a food blog is no longer with us, but I have most of her recipes in my files, and still use them. When I do, I always remember her, and the influence she had on so many of us.

      1. Yes, I think that you are right, that many of my current readers are looking for particular recipes – though I continue to be humbled by the number of readers who have been with me since almost the beginning of my blog. Bloggers are a wonderful community. It always makes me feel sad when a fellow blogger is no longer with us. It’s wonderful that you printed her recipes off. Too often I just use a website when making a recipe, and then can’t go back to it later if the site goes down.

        1. Believe me–several of us were worried that when you came to the end of your grandmother’s diary, you were going to hang it up. We were delighted with the direction you took.

  15. This is so timely, Linda. I became interested in photography because of a love of nature but after investing time and cash in that pursuit that love was pushed to the background in the drive to see a return. After years of pursuing that with little success, I decided that sharing my work would be satisfaction enough if people enjoyed what I was producing. Lately even that has not produced the results that give a feeling of accomplishment. Your example of a “Message in a Bottle” rings so true for artists. We create for our love of our endeavor and sometimes see things come back to encourage us to continue. But it is up to us to decide to carry on in pursuit of satisfaction.
    I think your poem about Roger Stone and its serendipitous journey to the best possible place teaches that one should consider “giving work away” to be an accomplishment beyond personal gain or gratification.

    1. You’ve reminded me of one of my favorite stories. Oddly, it’s found in Annie Dillard’s book The Writing Life, but it involves a photographer:

      “Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment. Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good. Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack. At length he turned to the young man: “You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I put it on the bad stack. Why do you like it so much?” The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.”

      It seems to me that the “carrying on in pursuit of satisfaction” that you mention may be akin to the mountain that young photographer was climbing. However literal the landscape he found, the broader meaning is obvious.

      Of course, that grand old philosopher, Rick Nelson, expressed it just as well:“You see, you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.”

      1. Rick hit it right on with that bit of common sense. Love that story. I am sure that in the aspiring photographer’s eyes that mountain landscape was lovely. Happens to us all,

  16. A thoughtful and profound post, Linda. Those who promote monetising blogs surely do not understand the pleasure of sharing. Some followers have asked to buy my photographs – each time I have sent a print at no charge.

    1. The question of whether to monetize a blog is interesting. Of course ad purveyors promote the advantages. Still, I’ve sometimes found that ad frequency and placement have reduced my enjoyment of a blog or website so substantially that I’ve quit reading. There’s a lot I don’t understand about the system, and it may be that the financial gain from allowing ad placement is substantial enough to warrant their inclusion. Personally, I pay the fee for ‘no-ads’ blogs happily. If I’m going to bore or irritate a reader, I want to do it myself!

      Understanding the pleasures of sharing takes time — any parent of a young child can attest to that. But as we mature and begin to experience them for ourselves, looking for opportunities to share becomes more common. It also leads to an understanding that much of what’s called ‘sharing’ today isn’t the real thing, at all. “Let me share my perspective with you” often is code for “Let me see if I can’t impose my views on you.” That’s not so enjoyable.

  17. By the way, anyone not familiar with Flannery O’Connor who looks at the caption under your leading photograph could be forgiven for thinking Flannery is on the left and Robbie on the right.

    1. Perhaps, although they’d also have to be unfamiliar with Flannery as a traditional Irish girl’s name. Robbie (or Bobbie) were common enough substitutions for Barbara when I was growing up, so it’s certainly possible that ‘Robbie Macauley’ could be interpreted as a girl’s name. Still, even though Flannery O’Connor wasn’t stereotypically pretty, she was fairly recognizable as a woman.

  18. This is such a lovely post – and it resonates with me in a special way. Stories are part of my thoughts all throughout the day. When I write them down and let my bottle drift, I am always happy in letting it go. It’s especially wonderful if my words connect with another person.

    I did not create words, nor did I design the computer or camera… they are tools to help me express. What I create isn’t because of anything special… it is simply sharing my personal perspective of nature and life.

    1. Thinking about how closely your life is intertwined with nature, and how many of your posts are nature-based, I began thinking about how many natural metaphors are used to talk about writing. We take a ‘budding’ interest in what’s around us. Our thoughts ‘flower,’ or flit from subject to subject like a butterfly. Deciding which topic to tackle next, we may make use of a decision ‘tree’ — and of course there’s always the danger of falling down one of those rabbit holes.

      As Annie Dillard says, we can travel far or we can travel deep, and your posts about your little part of the world always take us on a deep journey.

  19. Linda, I’ve read this three times. I love that poem, and this is excellent writing.
    On the other hand, whoever wrote that newsletter, advising “no money = no worth,” I’m gonna track down, and kick sand in their keyboard. (just kidding)
    How wonderful to find that the widow found your message-in-a-bottle and treasures it.
    So many times, I’ve thought of writing a “fan letter” to writers or musicians, and didn’t follow through, thinking it will just end up in a circular file at some publishing house, but this has persuaded me to actually mail some.

    1. At the time that newsletter came out, the equating of worth with money may have been offered by someone whose keyboard wouldn’t be at all bothered by sand, since many of the group still used typewriters. It seems unimaginable now, but I once gave a presentation to the group on blogging. Some had heard the word, but most never had read a blog. What a difference a decade or two can make.

      I’m glad you like the poem. I forwarded it to the Coast Guard station in Galveston at the time, as a gesture of thanks for their work that night, and for their dedication generally. Like our game wardens, their work doesn’t always show up in news reports, but the kayakers, fishermen, lost-in-the-woods-novices, and injured hunters they rescue never forget it.

      I learned quite a lesson a few years ago. I’d been intending to call a professor who was an important part of my graduate school years, just to tell him how grateful I was for all that I’d learned from him. Of course I didn’t, and months turned into years. Then, I finally made the call — only to discover that I’d called on the very day of his death. I was stunned, and resolved then to express my gratitude to people who’ve enriched me in some way more frequently: preferably while we’re both still alive.

  20. As a parent, I generally don’t suggest that children ignore their parents–mothers, especially–but I’m glad you forged ahead and didn’t let her discomfiture dissuade from your art. As well, we, specifically in the US, often place value on things that are, or can be, monetized. You might not make “money” from your blogs and writing, but you’ve enriched all who read you–myself included.

    1. In time, Mom and I came to a sort of accomodation. She figured out that I was going to keep writing, even about certain aspects of our family history, and I agreed not to post photos of her online. The agreement was supposed to continue after death, sort of like a durable power of attorney, but once she had passed, her photo went up. She’d promised that if I did that she’d come back and haunt me, but so far, no such luck.

      As for monetizing blogs and piling up bank balances, I learned a long time ago just how little is needed for a satisfying life. From time to time I wonder how I’ll work things out when age makes working impossible, but that’s far enough down the road that I choose not to worry about it. I listened to an interview today with a 95 year old who’s still flying and giving flying lessons — sometimes we’re capable of so much more than we imagine.

      A side note: I was in the hill country this weekend, and saw my first dicksissel. I heard it first, and thought it might have been a meadowlark, but once I looked at the photo, I saw that wasn’t so. Merlin to the rescue! it’s such a pretty bird, and a sweet singer.

  21. I needed to read this one today, Linda — thank you! Your statement, “Some worth can’t be calculated,” really hit home. We’re indoctrinated from an early age that our only worth is financial — how much we can make, how much we can save. How sad! Sure, we need money to live, and it would be wonderful indeed if we creatives had patrons like in days long past, but who can put a price on a symphony … or a novel … or a painting? I imagine your mother — like mine — eventually shrugged her shoulders and gave up trying to understand why they had kids who were “odd” and simply learned to delight in “my daughter, the writer”!!

    1. My mother had more trouble with ‘my daughter, the varnisher’ than with my writing, but the source of her worry was the same: that varnishing was no more capable of providing security than writing. There’s some truth to that, of course. There may be a varnisher out there with a six-figure salary — Mom’s definition of security — but I’ve not heard of such a thing. Still, I’m sure you’ve learned the same lesson I have: parental approval is wonderful, but it’s possible to live without it.

      I’ve thought from time to time what it would be like to have a year or two just to write, but I’m no longer sure I’d like that. The time I spend at work actually is refreshing; I think it’s because it’s physical labor, and because it allows for long hours devoted to thought. Time for thinking and reflection is worth a lot, too, and it’s becoming another luxury in this frenetic world.

      1. You nailed it! Time for thought and reflection (and dare I add, gratitude?!) is extra-special and so hard to find these days. Mom, too, equates a six-figure salary with “success,” but I wouldn’t trade peace of mind, doing something I love, and the freedom to choose when and where I work for it. While I like to think I’d be happy with a year or so to do nothing but write, I imagine that’s not in the cards (probably for the best!)

    1. The more I’ve thought about this, the more convinced I’ve become that we don’t have to be in control of everything. Sometimes, the universe itself seems to conspire to make things happen in just the way we would want — if only we could imagine it. One thing’s quite certain: there’s a lot of good in the world, and a lot of good people, even if the news and etc. only wants to tell us about the bad.

  22. Your “Stone” episode is fantastic. All the events in it including the poem are beyond being coincidental. Message in a bottle is an appropriate analogy. I concur that an experience like that pays off in worth beyond money. Beautiful. I’m afraid my husband still views my blogging in much the way your mother did. He values it only because it give me pleasure. Now when I write about him it is somewhat more worthwhile. That has value. Well, I agree.

    1. Sometimes, we just need a broader horizon to see the fullness of an event’s meaning. Age, time, and experience all expand our horizons. What young people sometimes consider a lack of concern usually is no more than a larger view of things. “This, too, shall pass,” my parents and grandparents said, and they were quite right.

      I grinned at your reference to Sam’s reason for appreciating your blogging. Having someone who values what gives you pleasure is special — the kind of gift that isn’t offered to everyone. I know you cherish that, just as we cherish your perspective on life, and your blog.

  23. The late husband of a very dear, long-time friend was known to answer the phone with, “Hello. I’m here. Are you there?” I think he pretty much had the right of it.

    I could hear The Great Depression in your mother’s words. I hear them in my mother’s, too. Even at the age of 95, she denies herself things she wants because she doesn’t “need” them.

    1. I love that way of answering the phone. I can well imagine he left some people speechless, at least for a few seconds. I can think of times when I wouldn’t have had a clue how to answer “Are you there?” As often as “Yes,” or “No,” a reasonable response would have been,”I think so, but let me check.”

      You’re right about the influence of the Depression. It wasn’t a state of mind, it was a combination of real events, and they left their mark. I wish I’d understood more about those years, and my parents’ struggles, when I was younger. I have a lot of questions now that I wish I could ask, but the time for that has passed. A really small family, with a tendency toward secret-keeping, isn’t always the richest lode to mine.

  24. There is a compulsion to write, to express ourselves, and to share our experiences that goes beyond dollars and cents, Linda. That’s what it means to be a writer. There is both joy and passion in the process. I am not sure non-writers get it. The concept is easily lost in a world where you are judged on your ability to make money. That writing in and of itself is a reward is almost incomprehensible. None of this means that I would object to being paid for writing, as long as I am writing what I want to write. I suspect you share this view. Reading your comments always shows how you impact people’s lives in a positive way. Hard to beat that payment. –Curt

    1. It’s interesting to ponder the different pleasures that accompany different forms of writing. There’s the pleasure of plumbing past experience, as you did in your book on Liberia, refreshing memory and seeing those years in a different and perhaps fuller way. There’s a chance to satisfy curiosity with historical research, or an almost aesthetic pleasure in arranging and re-arranging words in poetry.

      I certainly understand what you said about writing what you want to write. I’m asked from time to time, “What is your blog about?” It’s an understandable question, since there are plenty of food blogs, mommie blogs, political blogs, and so on. But I began with the same resolution — to write about whatever piques my interest — and part of the pleasure for me is the ability to roam through topics. I guess those of us who enjoy roaming always will find a way to do it, whether along the PCT or with our PCs.

    1. And I’m glad you’re still here to pluck them from the surf. I was thinking about your visits to the shore with H, wondering if you’re a beachcomber. It’s always great fun, even if its only common shells that are lying about, and it’s certainly a great way to slow down and clear the mind.

  25. isn’t that America’s culture in a nutshell? your work has no value unless you get paid for it.

    not all value is measured by how much money it makes.

    1. The reverse is true, too. Those who receive the most money for their work aren’t always providing great value. Of course employers can pay whatever they please, but there are times, as with sports salaries, that I just shake my head.

      The interesting relationship between money and value pops up in the world of high-end art auctions, too. It’s always intriguing to listen to post-auction “play by plays” and compare opinions about the prices paid. When I read your posts about your shows, I’m always intrigued by the pricing conundrum. Finding that sweet spot between a price that’s fair to you and one that will attract buyers has to be difficult.

  26. I really appreciate this post so much. Thank you. I too love writing. I had to put my essay writing on hold 2 years ago as we were in some rough waters and I had to re-prioritize; I hope to write more in the future; I think I view my dinner parties/lunches/teas like messages in a bottle, as you wrote; I hope that something in them can bless a person and help them. I often feel that people are not able to hear a lot of what I could tell them because they are just not ready but what I can do for them is feed them and give them a meal in a home that is beautiful because of the care I put into it. Your essay though gives me a bit more courage to keep working on my essays too. BTW, I very much like your writing. I really feel that I come here to reading something real and am never disappointed. God bless you dear one and do keep writing. sending a (hug) (gentle non-invasive as I have no idea if you like them).

    1. I think the meals you share with others are somewhat akin to the writing you set aside. They require thought and planning; they’re meant to bring pleasure; they nourish in a multitude of ways.

      Beyond that, they’re a way of meeting two basic human needs that were celebrated in the classic labor song from the Lawrence textile workers’ strike of 1912: bread, and roses. It’s one of my favorite songs, and it occurs to me that with your meals you provide bread, while with your writing your provide roses.

      The need for both is an old theme. One of the most well-known sayings that makes the same point has been attributed to everyone from Ezra Pound to John Greenleaf Whittier, but the original seems elusive. Still, I like the point it makes:

      Hast thou two loaves of bread?
      Sell one and with the dole
      Buy straightaway some hyacinths
      To feed thy soul.

      I hope you do return to your writing. In the meantime, I’ll keep enjoying the insights into your faith and life that you offer — and of course a loving hug is welcome!

  27. I didn’t have a mother such as yours and O’Connor’s to be courageous against, but I have felt that pragmatism or whatever it is, floating in the cultural atmosphere. If I had to make a living with my writing I would not have become even the humble blog-writer that I am. Thank you so very much for telling the mother anecdotes and for your own writing, and for eloquently expressing here what so many of us feel.

    The poem is exquisitely heartbreaking; that the widow was able to find it at just the right time was a gift beyond earthly value. May you long continue to write for the love of it and for love of your readers, and may you always have the richest rewards.

    1. I’ve been aware for some time that moving from ‘amateur’ to ‘professional’ status can present pitfalls. As you suggest, an amateur is one who loves a particular activity — writing, sailing, cooking, gardening — and there are times when deeper involvement actually erodes the pleasure the activity has brought in the past. It doesn’t necessarily happen, but it can — and I’ve seen that process work itself out enough times to be somewhat protective about activities that give me pleasure.

      I’ve always appreciated this, from Kurt Vonnegut:

      “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

      Sometimes it seems as though creativity of every sort is being replaced by consumerism in our society. I’d much rather create, for the sheer pleasure of the process. And if someone else finds value or takes pleasure in something I’ve done — that’s not achievement. It’s pure grace.

  28. How lovely that the widow found your poem she could appreciate. Your writing is quite special.

    I like the broken bottle concept in relation to blog writing. I never imagined people who didn’t know me would bother reading, much less comment on anything I might write. I pretty much just write for myself as I’ve not seriously thought selling any of my words a realistic option. Years ago I was surprised and pleased to unexpectedly hear from a widow that I had focused in on an aspect of her book pertaining to her deceased husband as had been her point. Seems that perspective had been minimized by numerous professionals plus others when her book first published due to some celebrity sensationalizing, and family differences.

    1. Isn’t it wonderful how things work themselves out from time to time? Occasionally, I’ve found myself singing that old song with the absolutely true line: “…it goes to show you never can tell.” There’s nothing more fun than a good surprise, and life is full of surprises.

      Having a different pair of eyes — and perhaps a different heart — reading your widow’s book no doubt made a difference for her. I wonder if she had done the same thing Mrs. Stone did: making one more search through the internet to see if her husband had been mentioned again. However she found you, I’m glad she did.

      1. Yes, she said because there had been so much controversy when her book was published years earlier centering around the family she was interested in what might be written thereafter.

  29. I always enjoy reading your posts. You write about such interesting topics and have a lovely ‘voice’. I am often amused by the search terms that get listed in the stats summary indicating how people find their way to my own blog. Some are obvious, but many are whimsical or obscure. How lovely that Mrs Stone found your poem. Keep throwing those bottles.

    1. There’s no dearth of interesting things to write about, that’s for sure. Most take some research of one kind or another, but I don’t mind that at all, since it’s the learning that’s part of the pleasure for me.

      Now that the search terms being used aren’t so available, I’ve found that an occasional quick skim through spam comments can be just as amusing. There are a lot of people out there wasting an inordinate amount of time on such things — or, more likely, telling their robots to get out there and get busy.

      It is wonderful that Mrs. Stone found the poem. That’s the good side of the internet, and one that I cherish.

  30. Goodness, what a fantastic post! Initially I was smiling re your mother and the new computer, then I had tears in my eyes reading Linda’s email. How amazing that she found your beautiful poem! Who knows where a blog can lead. You have given me much to think

    1. The surprises that life can offer never fail to amaze me. There are little surprises and big, good surprises and bad, but hearing from Linda was an enormous surprise, and quite wonderful.

      It’s so true that we never know where our words will land, or what consequence they’ll have. As a little example, I never see an article about hedgehogs now without thinking of you. Even hearing the word can bring the association. It’s great fun, really, to feel so connected to a creature, a country, and a caring person who’s so far away — yet so near.

  31. All I can say is WOW. This post touched me more than I can express in words!! So WOW and THANK YOU!

    1. Thank you, Valerie. Sometimes, a nice ‘thank you’ — and even an occasional ‘Wow! — is quite enough. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and found something of value in it.

  32. As someone who is going through a daily self-questioning of “what’s the point?” and “who cares what I have to say?” and “what difference can it possibly make to the world?,” I appreciate your tossing me this little life raft … or message in a bottle, I guess. I’ve picked it up and plan to hang onto it for a while!

    1. I hope you only need a metaphorical life raft this week. I was in the hill country over the weekend and had a sense that I needed to get home before Monday night. When I looked at the rainfall totals in the territory I drove through on Monday, I was more than happy not to have to deal with that. Let’s hope the bayous stay down.

      I well remember those first years of my blog — certainly the first two, and maybe even the first three — when twenty or thirty visitors was cause for celebration, and every comment was an amazement. There were a lot of people with advice on how to build a blog, but the things they recommended, like using lots of quizzes and memes, and never, ever going over three hundred words, simply didn’t appeal. I just kept writing, and I used as many words as it took for each post: sometimes fifty, sometimes fifteen hundred. Over time, things changed — but I’m as sure as I’m sure of anything that if I had gone in the direction that the ‘experts’ advised, I would have grown bored and stopped blogging.

      Your blog’s quite different from mine, but your life is different, and I so enjoy the look into your life and the worlds you explore. Sometimes I’m a little slow in commenting, because I have to push past the little rush of envy that always comes, but I’d rather fight the envy than not follow your travels. That’s how horizons of every sort get broadened!

  33. What an amazing story. Your bottle surely found the right shore. And it must have been quite a special moment when you received the return message from Roger Stone’s widow.

    1. Honestly, I hardly could believe it when I received Linda’s email. There have been a few other such responses since, but that first experience of a reply arriving, seemingly out of “nowhere,” was both a delight and a caution: we need to pay attention to what we write, for others are reading.

    1. There can be an element of catharsis, as there surely was in the post I wrote about my mother’s death. But I write for my audience rather than for myself. I certainly take pleasure in the writing process, but if I weren’t writing for an audience, keeping a personal journal would be sufficient.

  34. Love your article! I too, have been tossing bottles into the sea, though I didn’t see it as poetically as you did. No bottle of mine has reached a shore yet, but I’ve realized that it is okay. I enjoy writing, and that’s what matters to me, even though I don’t get paid for it. I’m Singaporean and my mother places a lot of importance on getting paid too. “If you’re not paid, it’s not work” is the general consensus I grew up with. But I’m going to soldier on. I’m going to keep your article in mind and keep tossing bottles into the sea. Thank you!

    1. On this American Mother’s Day, it’s worth remembering how many of our mothers’ work was devalued because they weren’t paid for it. Things have changed a good bit in that regard, and it pleases me that the work of maintaining a home, raising children, and occasionally even schooling them is seen as equal in worth to going to an office and receiving a paycheck.

      Being able to take enjoyment from our pursuits, whether writing or something else, is so important. We often tell one another to “keep writing” as a way of encouraging each other, but “keep enjoying” is just as important.

      I certainly enjoyed your comment. Thanks for stopping by, and for adding to the conversation.

  35. Well this brought tears to my eyes (thinking of Rachel Held Evans who died a week ago today. She was also someone who saved people and left us all too soon). Your poem is amazing on its own, but then the story around it adds to its luster.

    1. As strange as it may seem, I’d never heard of Rachel Held Evans, and had to look her up. I’d never come across her work, or read any notices of her death. It seems as though she was a fine person, and her story certainly is a poignant one.

      When I think of the number of ‘small’ stories abroad in the land, it really is amazing. Everyone has a story, and sometimes there’s real value in telling someone else’s story. You never know who will be listening.

  36. Now, that was inspiring! How good to reminded of the powerful worth of holding to the hope and truth of delayed gratification. As for writing for money, academics (perhaps especially theologians!) would rarely write a word if that dollars were our canon. The poem is lovely, and the story remarkable. Thanks for tossing these beautiful bottles into both salty and fresh waters.

    1. We certainly live in a world that’s losing its sense of the value of delayed gratification. Fewer and fewer people seem willing to wait for what they want, and even fewer seem able to conceive of waiting for the still undefined gifts the future has to offer. No matter. It takes only one experience of grace to reveal its existence in the world. After that, even the longest wait can be filled with expectation.

  37. The quote from Vonnegut says most of it. Being creative can be an end in itself, but it’s more fulfilling to get it out there, communicate it, and so gratifying when you get a heartfelt response.

    1. Your use of the phrase “get it out there” reminds me of the straightforward advice Chase Jarvis has offered over the years, in a variety of ways. I wrote about some of that advice five years ago, and I believe it might be time to republish it.

      Even when it comes to something as mundane as a new dish prepared for friends or family, a word of appreciation always makes a difference. You’re point’s well taken: no matter what we “cook up” with our camera or our words, the response is part of what makes the experience whole and satisfying.

      1. By “get it out there” I mean share it. I blog, I have a website, I exhibit photographs in solo, group, and juried shows. I do sell work, but I’m thankful that I don’t have to make a living at it, because I wouldn’t be as free to do what I want to do. I’ve seen sales as a way of affirming that I’ve made a good photograph, but people have varied reasons for buying photographs (and for not buying photographs).

        I like blogging because you get reactions that are outside of gallery contexts (the curator’s decision to include a piece, the buyers decision). You get reactions from a variety of points of view. I value those reactions, and I’m thankful for them. As I’m thankful for your writing here!

        1. That’s exactly how I understood your use of “getting it out there” — sharing the result of our work.

          It’s always interested me to watch people browsing and purchasing photos in different contexts. The process — or the purpose — can seem quite different at arts and crafts fairs, in museum gift shops, or in independent galleries. Your comment about reasons for buying (or not) started me thinking about the photos I’ve purchased. My first was a black and white of fog at Golden Gate park in SF. The second was of the Flatiron Building in New York, and the third was of a Kansas thunderstorm. I suppose the fact that they were purchased in San Francisco, New York, and Matfield Green, Kansas, says something about my reasons for buying.

          As for reactions, I confess that interaction with readers is a primary pleasure in blogging. I’ve experienced publishing articles in local magazines, having poetry included in an anthology, and so on — but the experience is akin to dropping something down a deep well. You can’t even hear the splash when it hits bottom. What fun is that?

          1. When your work starts a conversation, that’s where the fun starts. And the art making can itself be a conversation – people have transformed my photographs into new work of their own. And I’ve done the same by photographing the work of others.

  38. This is an issue that I struggle with all the time. Physical limitations prevent me from having a “real” job, and so I must earn money from my art. However, if I had all the tea in china I’d still need to paint. It is breathing, to me. I once saw a lady lawyer describe her experience at a paint and sip party, and she actually started to cry! I think being a lawyer forces her to focus her mind in a logical, verbal way, and the paint and sip party allowed her to be in touch with a part of herself she’d been suppressing. We desperately need good writing and good art and music, as well as the opportunity to create.
    I’m sorry to hear how misguided the group you were a member of was on the subject. That seems like a pretty toxic message to give to young writers. Thankfully, you ignored it and kept at your craft. The story of the widow finding your beautiful poem is so moving. That is a story of grace.

    1. I’d never heard of ‘paint and sip parties,’ so I read up on them. As it turns out, there are several venues offering the experience in my neighborhood. It’s an interesting concept. I did have to laugh when I read in one article that painting and drinking is “the new yoga.” Maybe some entrepreneur will make the leap to body-painting parties. But I digress. (I just went on a little search — Look at this!)

      From time to time, someone asks when I’m going to retire. It’s an interesting question to ponder, since I’m almost certain I’d keep working even if an extra million or two fell into my lap. On the other hand, that wouldn’t be the case if I still were doing the various kinds of bureaucratic work I’ve done in the past. Being my own boss, having some flexibility, and being able to be outdoors are great benefits, and it amuses me no end to know that some people take vacations to do what I do on a daily basis.

      I wouldn’t call the advice offered in the writing group ‘toxic,’ but I have had a new thought about the group. I suspect many people were there more for feedback than for tips that would lead them down the happy path to publication. We can forget what it was like to live in a non-digital age, when paper manuscripts had to be handed from person to person, and paintings had to be viewed in person. That time wasn’t so long ago — and there are benefits that accrue to all of us — like being able to see your paintings!

      1. That video absolutely blew my mind! To be able to envision how to place the bodies, and then to paint them, and to get those results-I don’t think he could have achieved that so well if he weren’t self-taught.
        It delights me that you love your work that much. Who needs to retire if they are happy? I have to admit, whenever I read your descriptions of what you do I think, “where do I sign up?”
        Your point about the internet is a good one. By far, most of my paintings are sold the old-fashioned way, in person. But I love it that my work has brought me friendships here, like your’s. It is a funny thing, isn’t it, the idea of money for writing and painting? There are certainly those who believe they are gifts that should be shared freely, and others who are more of a mercenary mind. The longer I am here at wordpress the more appreciation I have for them. I don’t know whether you get paid for your beautiful writing, but I’m glad that you are willing to share it here.

        1. We’re heading into the part of the year when enthusiasm can wane a bit. By August, I’ll be thinking about a civilized job, like greeter at WalMart. But until the real heat hits, it’s still fun.

          Oddly, it was the internet that dropped two more opportunities for sharing into my lap today. A poem that was published in our state plant society newsletter somehow was found by a woman in Minnesota, who asked permission to use it in a gardening podcast. Of course I said yes. And the youngest daughter of the artist who painted the fresco behind the altar at the Presidio chapel in Goliad found the series of posts I did about that place. We had a long chat by phone this afternoon, and agreed to work together on a project — or maybe two. On my way home from my last trip to Kerrville, I drove right past her house. It truly is a small world!

  39. You know who says that most to me — “what are you going to do with it?” Yup. Rick. Not so much with the blog. That’s concrete and he can see it and read comments so he knows it gets “out there.” But with the art, photography, painting… the same thing. And yet, it’s the same for anyone who has a passion. What is Rick going to do with his guitar playing? Hit the concert stage? No. But it is his joy. Like painting and photography and yes, the blog, are my joy. And every once in awhile, something we post resonates with someone we don’t know. Perhaps someone who has never come to the blog before and how did they know to come there that day? But they did. And they say. And we know why we blog. We know why we write. We know why we paint or shoot photographs. And it isn’t a matter of “doing” with it or not. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. I think Rick knows that now. (Of course, he’s worried about what all he’ll have to clean out when I die. Well, he should be…)

    1. I suspect you might have missed this short comment from up-thread that accords well with what you just said:

      Overheard at a softball game:

      “When you going to start writing for money?”
      “About that same time that you start pitching for the Yankees.”

      Why is it that quilters, stamp collectors, backyard mechanics, gardeners and long distance runners wonder why bloggers do what they do?

      And there it is. Why does Rick bicycle? Why do you create hand-made cards and journals? Why did my mother knit, or my aunt quilt? Why do I look for every opportunity I can find to roam with my camera? We do it because we enjoy it. Like virtue, those activities — and many more — are, their own reward, and those of us who receive those reward are rich, indeed. If money comes? That’s the lagniappe.

    1. Thanks so much. There are unexpected experiences around every corner, it seems. Some are pleasant, some not, but they all have a part to play in the unfolding of our lives. Not knowing what lies ahead can be great fun, actually.

  40. Great post.
    I have been throwing bottles out for a while now, and recently reread a few of my early efforts. What they were about was not as interesting as coming to realize that I seem to have misplaced my giggles. I shall endeavor to find them…

    1. Now, there’s a worthwhile program! Be sure and look under the passenger seat, and behind the refrigerator. For that matter, you might check any unopened boxes. As much moving around as you’ve been doing, they still might be packed.

      I’ll be sure to stop by, so I don’t miss their reappearance. And thanks, Brig — glad you enjoyed the post.

    1. I’m pleased the amusement underlying all this came through. A good bit of life is just plain funny, and being able to enjoy good humor is so important. There’s enough snark in the world — I enjoy trying to balance it out. Thanks for stopping by, and for commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece!

  41. This question of metrics comes up a lot in my role at work, in some ways my least favorite aspect of leading my team. Quantifiability seems the rule with barely a nod to other immeasurable qualities. I did smile at your mother’s approbation of your Ebay business.

    1. A decades-long collector of depression glass and various sorts of pottery, Mom never lost her taste for garage sales and antique shops, but she did think the internet was pretty cool. She was sharp enough to figure out the advantages of eliminating geographical limits to collecting — which are considerable — despite the downside of not being able to personally examine pieces.

      And I’ll confess that I didn’t really know what ‘metrics’ means as you used it, so I looked it up, and found an article on business metrics. It’s a good thing I’m not responsible for measuring such things — my eyes glazed over by the second or third paragraph!

  42. Keep throwing those bottles into the sea. You never know.
    Scribbling weekly editorials (this week the worth of supporting agencies supporting employment of people with disabilities in the greater community), I’ve been throwing a few bottles myself.
    Most recently, I did get a left-handed comment that tickled me. It referenced a kerfuffle in the community in which my editorial choices were called into question: A city council member counseled me with (I think) a WWII commander who passed on a badly-translated Latin phrase (I think): “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
    Moments like that help fuel bottle tossing.

    1. Here’s the history of the phrase. I learned it in 8th grade Latin class, although not from the teacher. That was the year I also learned the motto: Semper ubi sub ubi, or “always wear under wear.” Good advice, that!

      Bottle tossing of the metaphorical sort is great, as long as the bottles aren’t analogous to tossed bottles filled with flammable liquid. There are too many incendiary word-bottles being tossed these day, which is one reason I’ve kept my blogs free of such. People need to be reminded that life’s more than hurled insults and burning words. I’ve watched a few artists and writers be consumed by their own obsessions with what’s going on in the country, so much so that their wonderful, creative posts have been reduced to the most horrible screeds.

      I try to keep in mind Annie Dillard’s words: [The author] is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”

      1. Just the sound of the word “screeds” helps carry its meaning. I wish the English language had more flexibility to carry the nuances of the human spirit. (I continue having trouble with its limited pronouns. But, it’s the language I know. Just a cursory study of Latin (also in high school) showed me it richness. It helped to hear our Spanish and Latin teachers speaking both languages in the hall while we students labored with our stilted translations. Apparently, Latin isn’t a dead language, after all.

        1. One of the little ironies of my life has been the renewed relevance of Latin as my interest in native plants developed. All those scientific binomials are grounded in Latin and Greek, even if botanical Latin can be a little wonky.

          In truth, our language has been losing its richness over the years. I’m not even sure if vocabulary exercises are used in school these days, but from grade school through junior high, we were expected to memorize and be able to use new words every week. Some of them still are with me — like ‘screed’ — and I’m so glad. I will not use emojis. They’re the modern equivalent of pictures on the cave walls. (I know, I know. I’m old and out of touch. But I’m sticking with words!)

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