Things I learned from Agatha Christie: Never Marry a Dull Person

Something else I learned from Agatha Christie is that merely sharing similar literary taste and general good sense with a person does make them a good choice for marriage. When people in your village start collapsing with alarming rapidity, when the servants start slipping on ladders more frequently than their previous clumsiness level suggests reasonable, and when your extended family has alarming rash of car accidents, you want to be in a relationship with someone who accepts the implications.

A dull person may well just wave aside your concerns with the very sensible suggestions that you’re blowing things out of proportion.

Obviously, your chances of survival are much better if you’re working with someone who’s willing consider the clues and jump into tracking down the murderer with you.

In other words, marriage is aided by a sense of shared adventure.

This particular advice has borne out in many other stories and genres as well. If you are attacked by any type of undead creature, or transported in time or between dimensions, or start developing a superpower, you’re much better off being able to trust the person you love with this startling information.

Of course, I have the best of both worlds, as Colton and I share at least an overlapping (if not quite identical) taste in literature and movies *and* a sense of adventure. I’m pretty sure being married to Colton astronomically raises my odds of survival in case a catastrophe of any genre suddenly breaks out around us.

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Things I learned from Agatha Christie: Imagination is Vital

I’ve started rereading my Agatha Christie books. As a teenager they were one of my reading staples, and thanks to a thrift store with a good book selection and prices even I could afford, I accumulated a couple dozen of her books. Coming back to them after ten or twelve years of only sporadic reading makes certain themes a lot more obvious.

For one thing, I remember why I used to be concerned about eating food that was just sitting around, because you never know when someone might have poisoned a sandwich or a cookie or an apple in the assumption that a particular person was going to eat it, and by coming along and eating it you would throw off their plans entirely, not to mention dying in the process.

Another thing that stands out to me is the connection she makes between imagination and sympathy. A person with no imagination is pretty scary in her world, because that person has absolutely no idea what other people want or like. The kindest person, without the imagination to know what kindness is needed, becomes a frightening force.

This kind of person relentlessly bakes fruitcake for neighbors who hate fruitcake, knits ugly sweaters for relatives who are never cold and cannot comprehend a friend’s disappointment at being unable to travel, because traveling is so inconvenient, surely the friend wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyway.

And naturally, any person this annoying is eventually going to be knocked in the head with a poker or poisoned with arsenic laced fruitcake. (I learned that from Agatha Christie too.) So you can see how dangerous it is to be a person who lacks imagination!

I must recommend that every person cultivate great powers of imagination. Not only does it save the people around you great tedium and annoyance, but it may just be vital to a long and healthy life as well.

Twenty-Thirteen: A Duct Tape Odyssey

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. It smacks too much of setting yourself up to fail and feeding lame jokes. I really don’t want any part of the mass sales of low fat cheese or spandex and lycra.

On the other hand, a new year does make me pause and look at my life. In retrospect 2012 was a year of waiting. There were a lot of big plans that were going to kick into gear after a low key first year of marriage. We were going to move toward buying a house and having children, have people over for dinner more often and spend more time practicing for the rifle match. Instead, the biggest thing that happened all year is I got diagnosed with Lyme disease.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have diagnosis and therefore a treatment plan and be moving toward functioning like a normal human being. But getting diagnosed with Lyme wasn’t exactly on my bucket list, you know?

God looked at all our big plans and said ‘not yet’. I’m used to that, but I’m still not good at figuring out what I’m supposed to be doing while I wait.

Since January first I’ve made several lists of things I want to get done this year, tried to narrow them down to a small focus that can actually be accomplished, and gotten distracted by how many cool ideas I’d like to follow up on. I’ve started reading books on productivity and gotten stumped on what my area of impact actually is.

And suddenly I decided I want to be a writer.

I’ve known this since I was twelve, but I’ve never really followed up on it. I had the lightbulb explosion many years ago of being told that I am already a writer, and I’ve written enough haiku to fill a small book (if I’d ever actually collected all the good ones and published it…) , but I’ve never stuck with one project for more than a few weeks.

I’m not entirely sure what this looks like now, or where exactly it falls on that priority list I’ve constructed, but I know it’s gotten bumped up a few notches. We’ll see what happens with that…

And I still don’t know what my area of impact is.

Echoes and Arias

I’ve discovered that I like mediocre 80s movies. I’m not quite willing to call them *bad* 80s movies, because the feel that genre evokes is a bit more so than most of the movies I actually like. And technically, most of them were actually made in the early 90s (such as Kindergarten Cop and Speed), but that doesn’t change the fact that in genre they are are 80s movies.

I’ve always liked these movies, but I’ve just recently discovered that they are all, in fact, mediocre 80s movies. I can see now the pervasive bad hair, the ugly sweaters, and the horror of the inexplicable pastel-potato-sack-with-tights look. I’m even willing to admit that some of the acting is a bit stiff.

But somehow, it doesn’t really matter. Even badly dressed and occasionally awkward people have a story. The echoes of The Story that reverberate through the cheap sets are enough to pull me in. Interestingly, neither Speed nor Kindergarten Cop starts with ‘boy meets girl’. They start with ‘boy fights bad guy’ and along the way move to ‘boy will move heaven and earth to save girl *and* defeat bad guy’. It’s not quite The Great Romance, but it sure does sound a little like it, doesn’t it?

And really, I hardly feel I can blame them for being faint echoes. Some days I have bad hair and flub my lines too.

But I firmly believe that God can take my little echo and turn it into a beautiful aria. Slowly, we may someday all move past the 80’s movie stage to make better echoes of The Story in our lives and our art. But in the meantime… I’ll listen for the echoes I can hear now, and imagine the symphony it all turns into in the end.

Of Libraries

My first library experience was of dark wood and books lining shelves two or three times as tall as I was. There was a real card catalog with small drawers full of yellowed pieces of neatly typed index card. It was rarely helpful for finding anything I wanted to find, but it had that library ambiance.

When I had gathered my stack of books, stretching my arms and holding the top under my chin to keep it from toppling over, I would take it to the desk. This particular library desk was as large and formidable as a judge’s bench, with dark wood and molding, but the librarians were not nearly as scary as you  might expect.

At the desk they would take my library card, made of light blue cardboard, with a metal tab near the bottom right corner with raised numerals representing my account. They would take this card and put it in the kachunking machine.

I have no idea what this machine was actually called, and it never occured to me to call it anything at the time, but it’s most noticeable feature in memory is the ‘kachunk’ sound it made as it stamped the date onto the index card for each book. Since I always had a stack of books, the kachunking machine had to kachunk several times  as I checked out. To me, it was the sound of the library.

The day my library upgraded to computers, the familiar kachunk of checkout was replaced with soft beeping sounds, which did not sound all like a library in my opinion. No more card catalogue. No more kachunking machine. No more worn cardboard library card. Just the glow of computers, soft beeping and this thin piece of plastic that never scanned quite right.

I understood that it was more efficient. I understood that it worked better. With the new computer card catalog I could actually find books that I wanted. But… it all felt wrong. The ambiance of my library had completely changed, and I didn’t really like it.

I got a chance to revisit my old hometown library last year. It had been completely remodeled and doubled in size. I wandered around and got to tell Colton where things used to be, but in the end I had to admire it as a strange new place that I had no connection to. You can’t go back to your old library.

Of course, I’ve completely adjusted to the use of computers in libraries now, and would be somewhat taken aback I encountered a library without them. (Though I’d love to hear a kachunking machine in a library again…) Libraries now are all bright lights and computers and still stacks and stacks of books that want to come home with you. So, I wasn’t expecting even an echo of that ‘can’t go back to your old library’ feeling when I finally got to visit the remodeled Main Street branch of the Peoria library.

I wasn’t expecting to notice that the (perfectly adequate and even possibly charming) children’s section looked bleak and strange compared to the weird quirks of the original. Who would have thought I could have missed the hard-to-exit fishbowl where I browsed young adult fantasy and sci-fi and ‘babysat’ the kids while Theresa picked out books in the non-fiction section across the hallway. Who would have thought the spacious aisles in general fiction would break that cozy feel while browsing book titles. Not that I minded much… it was like visiting a whole new library, which undoubtedly, being a library, must be lovable in its own way. It was just that whisper in the back of my head, realizing I could never go back to the ‘old’ library if I wanted to.

However, changes or not, I was nearly gleeful over the check out procedure. Self checkout in a library! Scan your card, set your whole stack of books on little raised platform and the computer scans everything, displays your titles on the monitor for confirmation, and then you’re done! It was cool. And fun. It made me want to checkout again! (Okay, I’m kind of geek…) For everyday use, it may even, just possibly, be superior to a kachunking machine.

 

A Surprisingly Relaxing Day

I thought it was going to be a full and kind of crazy week. Instead, today I ended up with a mostly open day and very little unpacking and catching up left to do. After spending most of last vacationing Colton-style (i.e. run around like crazy packing as much sports and other exercise as possible into your day), I took the afternoon off my style (i.e. lots of reading punctuated by the occasional game of Bejeweled Blitz).

I’m discovering, to my relief, that there are actually a few decent non-magic fantasy books out there. Though if anyone reading this wanted to write a non magic series in the style of Gail Carson Levine and Robin McKinley, they might just have my undying gratitude. Just saying.

I also discovered the J Wesley Bush created exactly the world that I wanted to set my Nanny stories in. I had never quite managed to pin down my setting beyond some vague ideas, and after one silly but fun short story and several false starts, the idea got lost in the maelstrom of my brain. I wonder if he would mind if I borrowed just an edge of his world for some stories of my own…

Someday I would like to actually finish a novel. I should probably resign myself to the fact that I’m really more of a poems and short (very, very short) stories kind of writer, who flits between ideas far too quickly to create deep and intricate worlds with layers of plot. I prefer the idea that someday I will find the one story that I’m meant to write and I can live in its world long enough to create hundreds of pages worth of magnum opus. When you come down to it though, I’d happily settle for an obscure collection of poetry with my name on it. I  even started assembling one once, but I got bogged down in the layout.

On another day I will tackle issues of priorities and layout and time. For now I will take the remnant of my relaxing afternoon and return to my books.