Reality Is Dull and Writing Is Hard: A Rumination

Hey, Fickle Readers! You might remember me from my last post, in which I said I would try to post more on a regular basis. Well, here I am on a slow Saturday night, honoring my promise, even though I would rather play baby name games on Sporcle. Any of you out in Fickleland ever try Sporcle? It’s a quiz site that tests you on every trivial subject you could possibly imagine. For those of us who loved school and were nerds and who still get our jollies out of displaying knowledge in a limited period of time, Sporcle is the ultimate black-hole time-waster. My area of expertise/obsession is Baby Name Quizzes. They mostly show up in the Miscellaneous section. And because I’ve played so many of these quizzes over the years–sometimes dozens and dozens of times–I have to scope out the new selections, or at least the ones I can’t remember, to find something that satisfies my craving. Today I found a good one: the Top 200 Baby Girls’ Names from 1988 That End with the Letter A. This type of quiz is more of a challenge compared with those that just ask you for a certain number of names from a given year. It’s too easy to memorize the most popular contenders. Which I have done–oh, yes indeed. If you ask yourself why a middle-aged woman with two Master’s degrees and a PhD candidacy that’s 80% done (and will be so forever) would devote any brain capacity to remembering when Dorothy, Ruth, and Helen were popular (around the 1910s and 1920s), as opposed to Gladys (1930s), as opposed to Carol and Linda (1940s), as opposed to Angela, Christine, and Lisa (1960s), then I envy you. Because you’re obviously immune to one of the basic facts of civilized life: reality is dull.

On any given day, there’s really not much to write about. You wake up, you eat, you wash, go to work (or, if you’re like me, you go nowhere and try to get something done in between the family errands, the appointments, the phone calls and bus pick-ups), come home (or stop working), watch TV, read a book, play with your kid(s), brush your teeth, go to sleep. I could slot a lot more personal detail into that basic structure, but I have no way of knowing if any of those little stories are going to be of interest to anyone besides me. And if they’re not, of course, I have to make them more interesting using writing. And writing is hard. It requires energy, and forethought, and attention to make it work. When none of that is in abundance, it’s much easier to slide on over to Sporcle and start thinking of names people might have been giving their baby daughters in 1988 that also end in -a (Amelia, Amanda, Patricia, Melissa, Jenna, Shawna…).

Today, we had a significant break in our routine, so I have more material than usual to work into a post. Today, we finally made it to the PetCo and bought fish for the fish tank that Little Fickle got last spring for his birthday. My husband, Inspector Spacetime, discovered that the Internet aquarium-owners’ consensus is that when you’re starting up your first fish tank, you should buy danios, because they’re tough and they help establish the mini-ecosystem that other, more delicate fish need. So that’s what we bought: three zebra-striped danios. Little Fickle decided on the color. Each fish is about the size of a paper clip and almost as thin, translucent except for two silver stripes along each side. It took about half an hour to perform the rituals that the Internet told us were needed to acclimate our three new pets, the first we’ve ever had, the only ones we can have, since the Inspector is horribly allergic to fuzzy creatures. But now three tiny, striped fish are darting around in the dark of our son’s room, a totally alien landscape that the newcomers have no control over. At the same time, we have no control over them. We’re hoping they’re not dead come morning. I’m hoping that one or more don’t wind up being food for another–or even worse, that L.F. doesn’t wake up with the sun only to come upon a cannibalistic orgy in his peaceable kingdom, where tonight he showed his new charges (through the glass) what a sock and a shoe is, where he told them not to worry, that we would take care of them in their new home.

We’ll see what happens in the morning.

This is about as exciting as we get.

Of course, not everyone in the world, not even in our supposedly civilized country, gets the benefit of dullness. When life is exciting, more often than not it’s the bad kind of exciting: stressful or painful or terrifying. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, and if I could give anyone out there the peace of a dull life, I would.

I’m also not saying I need or want round-the-clock adventure in my own life. Dull is fine. Dull is civilized. Dull is what we all need to get by. But writing simply won’t accept dull as a topic of conversation. Good writing has to be elevated somehow, and great writing has to be elevated well beyond that. All I’m doing is trying to get people to read what I’ve written, but the tugs of ego and what I only can call identity affirmation are always there. Hey, everyone! I’m a self-proclaimed Great Writer! Pay attention to me! Watch me Write Things! Click on my blog so I can validate my existence on this earth!

And so it goes. Today the most exciting thing I have to share is the arrival of three small tropical fish. Hopefully, this will be enough to hold everyone’s interest. If not, I can always check to see if there’s a new quiz on 1988 baby girls’ names ending in -e.


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