New normal means new habits

It takes anywhere from eighteen to two hundred fifty-four days to break a habit, say the experts, though depending on how entrenched the habit, it could take longer.

More than ten weeks have passed since we’ve been stuck in phases one and two of our state’s virus response, but some old habits linger. I have not completely absorbed the rules of the new normal.

We do fine with friends. Our patio is a safe zone and we’ve had a few individuals and small groups here to dine. But those huggy greetings we were used to?  Long gone. The walk through my house to reach the patio? Take the outside path, please. Now we mask up, pace off the distance between us, and enjoy a glass of protective bleach together.  No. that’s wrong. I was riffing on the suggestion of our president that perhaps drinking bleach would kill the virus.

My friends know the rules, but with strangers that’s not always the case. Last week, my husband and I drove to a nearby city looking for a medical equipment supplier. We got lost. My phone refused to help. I did what I normally do when lost:  ask another human for directions. I shouted to a maskless man walking across a parking lot; he rushed over to our car.  I panicked. Wait. I have to find my mask.  Who told you to come up to the car window? Oh, that’s right, I did. After carefully studying his phone map, the Good Samaritan sent us on a wild goose chase. Not only were we still lost, but possibly exposed to the virus.

While continuing to cruise around in despair over not knowing where we were or where we were headed, I asked someone else for directions.  Not only did this guy — also determined to be helpful — stick his unmasked face into the car, but he took hold of my phone with all ten fingers.

In the end, his directions were accurate and we found the business we’d been seeking. It  was closed. One failed mission that increased our chances of being exposed to the virus.

Since we’ve been told that nine or ten days after exposure, we’ll know whether we’ve been infected, in situations like this, I count the days up to ten, and think, We’re good if we can survive until a week from Saturday.

Despite a few incidents of forgetting, I’ve made big changes in my behavior. A neighbor offered me dahlias from her yard and we met in the middle of the street, both wearing masks. My husband and I walked out of a shoe store because the mask-wearing clerk was talking annoyingly loud and we weren’t sure how many layers of protection stood between his mouth and ours.

A bizarre consequence of our semi-quarantined life occurs whenever I open a new book which, inevitably, has a scene involving people moving about in restaurants, theaters, on sidewalks, in planes, and I cringe. Then I remember that the book takes place in a fantasy world, where people are going here and there in groups like we used to.

Perhaps if I were younger, I’d feel differently. Seniors are not only at greater risk of dying from the virus, we’re also victims of virus-related scams.  A friend of my husband’s emailed him a notice announcing that the federal government was sending $750 a week to all seniors to stay home during the pandemic.  Of course it was a scam.  I don’t know anyone my age who’s not staying home. And we’re already getting a federal subsidy. It’s called Social Security.

Today I read that Europe’s opening to tourists (not Americans; we’re banned) has led to large increases in cases.  We’ll not have tamed this pandemic until we have vaccines, two per person, and many arms vaccinated. By the time we join a crowd for anything, we’ll have broken the habit of wanting to be anywhere near strangers.

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Virus and politics lead to new health challenge

When no other photo comes to mind, insert “cat contemplates disturbing news updates.”

My most recent post, the last of three blogs written in an attempt to add humor to lives quarantined for two months, appeared on May 12. By mid-May, I’d stopped laughing. It’s mid-July now, and little has changed beyond more coronavirus cases and a suspicion that we might be semi-quarantined a year from now.

I have spent my time well and not-so-well.  In the “well” category, I’ve walked most every day, created some interesting meals, kept in Zoom contact with a few friends and my long-time writers’ critique group, and taken four Zoom-delivered classes. I’ve finished the first draft of my novel. In the current phase, I read, add, delete, read again, regret having deleted something, and rewrite or move on.

The “not-s0-well” category has been more troubling, that is, until I read an article by Brian X. Chen, originally published in the New York Times,  titled, “How to snap out of your ‘doomscrolling’ habit.” Doomscrolling, now considered “internet lingo,” describes “the experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news.” Brian has my number.

And doom-and-gloom news is as prolific as the rabbits reproducing in my neighborhood. An icon on my computer dock, with the dangerous name, News, invites me to catch up on the latest via Politico, PBS, HuffPost, CNN, The Hill, and more. Reading these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner determines my mood for different segments of the day.

I’m thankful that I am not alone and that the writer turned to medical experts to help those of us addicted to “digital candy.” Treat it like a food diet, one doctor says, and don’t take that second helping. Or decide you don’t want to live your life as a hamster. This could help with not only the news diet, but the diet diet, because hamsters eat seeds, fruits and only the occasional burrowing insects. The experts also confirmed what I already knew: scrolling can increase anxiety, anger and depression. I have anxiety without scrolling and I don’t need to make the situation worse.

The experts recommended meditating, making a schedule, connecting with people we care about. I’ll add “no midday chocolate bars” to this list. I appreciated the advice of Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Change:  Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World: think about people who have helped you in the past and express positive wishes toward them. (If not in person, then silently.)

The former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, recommended spending time each day to make a connection to a friend.  This reminds me of phone calls I received a week ago from two friends I haven’t seen in years.  Not emails, not texts, but phone calls. I can’t remember the last time my phone rang and it wasn’t an IRS agent threatening to send the sheriff to arrest us or someone assuring me my Microsoft product was seriously flawed and I needed to share my credit card number for it to be repaired.  Neither of the legitimate calls I received began as attempts to make connections.  One woman asked if I had messaged her asking for the number of her bank account, and the other inquired about the death of a mutual friend.  Both calls lasted well beyond my answers and left me smiling. (And please let me know if you receive a message from me asking about your bank account.)

Before I started writing this, I checked News and two other news websites.  It’s going to be tough to stop feeding out of the troughs of new virus case numbers, presidential idiocies,  feelings of shame about my country’s failures to corral the spread, and predictions of stay-at-home measures extending well into the future for the over-sixty crowd. But I am determined — reminds me of January 2 and my weight-loss resolutions.

Dr. Murthy has inspired me to go through my computer address book and start contacting people I haven’t spoken to since last year. And from the writer and the resource people he interviewed, I’ve decided to spend more time dreaming up blog posts than agonizing over which countries with sane leaders might accept me for the next few years.

Posted in blogging, current events/themes, humor, personal reflections, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Life in a virtual world

Me, waiting for the hair salon to open

Two months into semi-quarantine, and it’s impossible to ignore the changes around us. Including my hair color.

Recently, I stopped fondling the broccoli at my grocery store and took a moment to look at the people around me. Everyone was wearing a mask. If anyone had asked us in February to predict this change, we would have shaken our heads and hurried to escape  from the person asking the question.

Another change is the number of outdoor exercisers, especially since temperatures have been warming. In my neighborhood, people who used to exercise at work or in a gym are pounding the pavement; hurling balls and frisbees across playfields, primarily, to force their dogs to move; and kicking soccer balls against baseball backstops.

Given our state’s plan for a measured reopening, which calls for seniors to stay home until the last phase (the plan’s last phase, not seniors’ last phase), I have come to revere the creators of Zoom. For many groups of people, those who work in offices and those who have retired from jobs in offices, life has become less cloistered thanks to videoconferencing.

Like everyone, I’m missing our spending time face-to-face with friends. Still, thanks to Zoom, the mere fact that life can become virtually semi-normal at this time is a boon.

Before quarantining, my husband and I took a class called “chair yoga.” It’s like regular yoga, except that we can grab hold of the chair, whenever our tree pose starts to resemble a birch in a windstorm. Now we take chair yoga from the same instructor via Zoom.

Then there are the board meetings via Zoom.  Business-like and professional, I’ve noted only one person sipping wine. And the two writing classes I’ve taken. Both so good I plan to sign up for a longer course this summer. Even the book group at my library, which hasn’t met for several months, will soon re-Zoom.

My writers’ critique group is a stunning example of the benefits of meeting on-line. When we met in person, we ate together, discussed the food, and interrupted the meeting to go to the kitchen for seconds, offer dessert or pass the wine. Our critiques are much stronger now that we can still eat and Zoom, but different meals in different places.

Then there’s my fun Zoom gathering with long-time friends.  It’s more casual than all the others, as in the question someone asked at our last session. “Roberta, are you wearing your bathrobe?”

This bit of news is not something that occurred to me, but I read an article in The New Yorker about videoconferencing “changing the dating game for the better.” Apparently, singles are having serious conversations and getting to know each other before sleeping together.

Nine years after retirement, I’m still compulsive about completing projects. Part of my attraction to videoconferencing is that now, I can engage in multiple projects, including the second draft of my novel, and never have to spend hours sitting in traffic or waiting for a bus. And I can keep in touch with many people along the way. I believe videoconferencing will be essential if we seniors are to have any kind of social life over the next few months.

The one service I can’t get on Zoom is one that involves changing my hair color.  My last appointment was in February.  Tentatively, my next one is June 2, and if the salon is open, my appointment will not be virtual.





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The odd things you can find in your pantry

Unlike many friends, we haven’t yet felt the pull to clean out closets, the garage, or bookshelves — all of which need attention — during this period of semi-quarantine. But recently, shelves of canned and dried foods — piled, stacked, and stuffed into the pantry — got my husband’s attention. His exercise in culling led to many difficult questions.

Why do we have two containers of powdered sugars, one of baker’s sugar, one of turbinado sugar, one of brown sugar, one of raw sugar, and one bag, and one box of granulated sugar?

What drove us to collect short-grain white rice, long-grain brown rice, regular black rice, glutinous black rice, red rice, and basmati rice? Other questions that arose in the process of cleaning out cupboards were more esoteric. How do you judge the shelf life of unopened catsup, salad dressing, and exotic vinegars if you can’t find any “Use by…” information on their containers?

In today’s local paper, I found the answers from a Washington Post article titled, “How long are condiments supposed to last in pantry/fridge?” The writer followed the recommendations of various university extension services in compiling a list. Here are a few examples of items I chose because they matched those breeding in my fridge: chutney (unopened), one year, (opened and refrigerated) 1-2 months; hoisin, 18-24 months, 3-6 months; and barbecue sauce, two years, 6-12 months.

The best news for me is that vinegar can last indefinitely. This means I don’t have to throw away my white balsamic, red wine, rice, black fig, apple cider, dark chocolate balsamic, white vinegar, and fig balsamic vinegars any time soon. After giving the official line, the writer admitted that these rules could be difficult to enforce. She must know that most people can find food lying around at the back of the cupboard that is ten years older than their children. The key is if a food item has a blue-green tint and/or stinks, it’s time to kiss it goodbye, metaphorically speaking.

I enjoyed the appearance of the peas, also the taste.

Among my husband’s other finds were black-eyed peas and two kits of ingredients to make okonomiyaki, which Wikipedia describes as “a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients in a wheat-flour-based batter.”

During this period, when going to the grocery store can be dangerous, we eat whatever we find in our kitchen. I have no idea why a bag of black-eyed peas (really beans) has been lurking undetected in the pantry for years. But I managed to locate a couple of recipes, we dug out our rarely-used pressure cooker and created a tasty stew. I would even buy the pea/beans again.

Japanese pancake from kit

If there were pull dates on the okonomiyaki kits, I wouldn’t know because I don’t read Japanese. However, there were pictures and directions inside. “Hello people of the world! Everyone can enjoy an “Okonomiyaki Party” at home.” Given the coronavirus restrictions, we enjoyed a party for two. The kit consisted of wheat flour, yam flour, crunchy “tempura crisps,” and seaweed flakes. To this we were to add cabbage and pork. I’d eaten the pancakes before in Japan, and they were delicious. These results didn’t live up to my memories. Still, we used up one of the kits. One package gone, and I know someone who might like the other one, leaving more room in the pantry for rices and vinegars in the future.









Posted in health, humor, personal reflections | 3 Comments

Masks for safety, comfort or style

art by Sat Ichikawa

To wear or not to wear a mask? Like to be or not to be, that is the question. Our president is unwilling to commit. It is up to us to decide.

As I’ve said before, trips to the grocery store, especially to ones with narrow or crowded aisles, make me nervous.  Which is why I choose to wear a mask to shop.  My husband and I searched on Amazon and found a five-pack of masks that would provide reasonable protection. After placing our order, we received the bad news.  Delivery will occur by May 18.

We plan to go shopping long before that date and need our  masks now. I’ve seen the easy-to-make masks that only require fabric and pony tail holders. But I’m not yet desperate enough to cut up a table cloth to make my first one. And with no pony tail I’ve haven’t laid in a supply of holders.

Monday morning I ventured out with a facsimile of a mask. Admittedly it would have looked more appropriate for a stagecoach holdup then a shopping trip to Whole Foods.

We were encouraged yesterday when Mr. I-save-everything-because-someday-I might-need-it found two money belts in his chest of drawers left over from a trip to Europe… in 1969. If you held one up to your face, it covered both nose and mouth and had zip-up pockets for adding extra layers of cloth. The tricky part came when trying to attach it with a strap normally used to wrap around your waist. It seemed like a good idea, but unless you walked around with both hands pushing the money belt into your face, it didn’t offer much protection.

A third option didn’t make it to the starting gate. It’s a hand-me-down from my father-in-law, protection appropriately worn during the London Blitz. And we only have one of these.  We’d be fighting in the produce aisles over who got to wear it.

Today we’re closer to a solution: a real dust mask which only requires the replacement of decades-old elastic bands for a more snug fit. 

We hope in the future for a better supply of masks manufactured in the twenty-first century.


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Hoarding strange teas and other consequences of Covid-19

It’s been a hundred fifty-one days since restaurants and various sources of entertainment began closing and I’ve become a cranky shut-in.  All right. It’s only been two weeks, but it feels like many more.

The highlight and the most fearsome aspect of the day or week is the trip to the grocery store, because you never know who else might be there and what they’re carrying besides a boatload of toilet paper. Someone told me that at one Costco in the area, off-duty police are working to prevent TP wars in the aisles.

I read today that many of us have turned to Cheez-Its, Doritos, peanut butter-filled pretzels and Cadbury eggs in response to boredom and anxiety over spending so much time with our families (I meant being stuck indoors).

My husband’s and my current diet is a combination of 1) uber-healthy, which consists of a little protein and many fresh vegetables, literally so many that they spill over the edge of the plate onto the floor where the cat refuses to lick them up, accompanied by 2) many homemade treats where sugar is a key ingredient.

We’re trying to cut back on grocery store visits. Meanwhile, I keep looking for a safe time to go. Last week we went on Saturday morning and that was too crowded; so this week we went on Friday morning and that was too crowded, especially in the produce section. In the store where we regularly shop I’ve not noticed empty shelves where Cadbury eggs were once laid, but I have had to fight for the last broccoli floret.

still a few cans of                    red  beans left

Stores are cutting their hours to give them time to stock toilet paper and canned beans. I believe the popularity of the latter might acccount for such TP anxiety.  The photo here shows the shelves of a store that didn’t start stocking early enough.

Other than shopping, my other entertainment involves the daily arrival of jokes that have had time to travel from one end of the world to the other and back. Everyone,  I’ve memorized the one about Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg.  And I think I’m ready to act out the old scene from “Cheers” with subtitles in English and (I think) Chinese. This is not to say that there’s not room for some new ones.

I still haven’t had much of an urge to clean house, but I have checked cupboards for duplicates. That’s when I discovered I’d apparently been hoarding ginger tea and ginger/turmeric tea. What an amazing collection! It was too large to get all the boxes in a photograph.

I decided I’d better drink it, if for no reason than that I’d have space on the shelves for popcorn and other treats. First, I had to find out what this heady combo was good for.  As it turns out the answer is it’s good for everything, from possibly increasing one’s lifespan to working as an anti-inflammatory, to boosting brain repair and preventing Alzheimer’s. And no matter how long the social distancing lasts, it will be another hundred and fifty one days before I’ll have to buy more.

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Life in Ground Zero

Several weeks ago, or was it several lifetimes, Washington State became Ground Zero in the U.S. for the corona virus, now known as COVID-19. I’m thankful I haven’t caught the virus, since I’m in the age group that is suffering and sometimes dying from it.

I’m happily healthy but still aware that life as I know it has changed.

Early on, I received countless emails from government officials telling me to wash my hands.  Now I’m receiving countless emails from arts organizations asking me to donate the ticket money I will be not be using due to the cancellations of their plays, exhibits, and other programs.

My critique group spent an hour and a half trying to get everyone set up with Skype last week and another hour telling each other, “I can’t hear you; you sound like you’re underwater. It’s so quiet.  Is anyone there?”

Before downloading Skype I downloaded ZOOM, which is billed as the latest thing for virtual meetings. Then I learned that Skype was to be our preferred meeting tool, so I dumped ZOOM into the trash can.  A few days later, a class I signed up for notified me we would not be meeting in person. We would be using ZOOM.  So out of the trash can that will come. Here’s hoping it works better than Skype.

Then there’s the issue of toilet paper.  We have enough, but I heard from a friend who went to Costco last week that the lines to buy toilet paper were out the door and the manager told her they didn’t even have any in their warehouse.  Another friend emailed yesterday that Safeway also had had a toilet paper purchasing explosion, so I was happy to inform her that Home Depot was currently stocking the TP that Safeway was missing.

Movie theaters are still open, which would allow us to leave our homes for a few hours a week, except that the only new movies arriving in town should be rated R for Reject. Might as well stay home with Netflix.

Grocery stores are still open.  We make a point of making a trip a day; it’s become our entertainment. My husband fears they’ll soon run out of brussels sprouts. I worry more about Trader Joe’s pesto sauce. Other friends have turned house cleaning into their daily amusement.  I haven’t yet reached that level of desperation.

I told myself that with all the time I now had, I could finish writing my novel. And I think I will, but it would happen sooner if I didn’t spend half of each day looking at the latest news about the virus and its spread.

I know I have it good.  I’m not worried about eviction, lack of health insurance, having to go to work, especially in a hospital, and childcare now that schools are closing. And those situations are all part of what are turning this into a new and different world.

Stay well, everyone.  We will get through this, though we will all be changed to some extent.  If nothing else, we’ll be talking about this for years to come and we’ll make sure we don’t ever run out of toilet paper.






Posted in current events/themes | 8 Comments

The collector’s burden

Living in ground zero of the U.S. coronavirus infection made me think twice before posting a blog on something frivolous. Then I decided that people might benefit from a short break from newspaper and TV news that focuses almost exclusively on the illness. Plus, I have a cold and don’t want to be reminded in every email I now receive from the city, county, state, my medical provider and church that age sixty is the number one risk factor. Here goes.

A recent visit to Seattle’s Burke Museum, with a mission to care for and share collections, inspired me to think about the role collections play in our ordinary lives. Many museums, including the world-renowned British Museum, started with someone’s collections. They’re just lucky the early collectors didn’t have access to troll dolls, back scratchers, umbrella sleeves, Star Wars memorabilia or coke cans.

Starting with the legendary Noah, people have been collectors. Most of us began as children and usually grew out of the collecting bug or out of collecting bugs. As a child, I bought spoons at gift shops when we went on road trips. Either the road trips ended or little spoons lost their charm, because my collection ended at three or four spoons.

People are more likely to start a collection if they have two of the same items, which is frightening when I consider the pairs of things I now own, besides shoes and reading glasses: combs, broken pencils, Spanish dictionaries, and gardening gloves to name a few.

Psychologists say we collect for fun, prestige and nostalgia.  Recently someone bought the car driven in a chase scene by Steve McQueen in the movie Bullitt, providing that buyer with $3.4 million of all three things. The list of nostalgia picks includes: matchboxes, erasers, miniature chairs and napkins.

For a while, my husband and I collected Mexican masks. We still have two we display. The rest are in a bin in the garage. We also have a box of my husband’s grandmother’s shell collection. My grandfather gave me his stamps, which sit in the box they came in. My husband reminded me that years ago, after three or four trips to Copenhagen we acquired a collection of Royal Dutch Christmas plates. For the first time in many years, we found these in a box in a closet. Boxes of things in someone’s garage are examples of what happens to collections after the collectors have died.  Their kids and grandkids get them and store them in their garages. Generations later, garages are too full to house cars.

Also, younger generations often inherit china and silverware, knickknacks and unidentified photos of their ancestors’ friends.  Something to think about before one starts a collection or draws up a will. The trick is to get rid of stuff while you can, a challenge most of us can’t face.



Posted in aging, friends and family, intergenerational, personal reflections | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Paid to promote: today’s influencers

influencer from the 1950’s
From Foundation Tanagra: Art, Mode Culture

A paragraph in my local newspaper introduced me to yet another occupation, along with water slide tester and professional bridesmaid (these are real jobs), of which, sadly, I’ve been clueless. The job is “influencer.” And this job pays much more than just about anything else I can imagine.

To be fair to myself and everyone else my age, “influencer marketing” only took off in 2018. Without teenage grandchildren it can take several years before I hear about anything that is “the latest” and by then it’s old.

Back to influencers.  Depending on their total number of followers they may be nano influencers, micro-influencers or power influencers. I couldn’t find the numbers for my category called “fun-size Liliputian microscopic” influencer.

What do the power influencers earn?  Kylie Jenner, allegedly the top paid Instagrammer with 147 million followers, averages $1.2 million per post. What can anyone write about for that kind of money? I regret I can’t make myself follow Kylie to find out.

One marketer says, “… for 100,000 followers, you can probably charge between $1,000 and $2,000 for an Instagram post.

To think that all my cat and flower pix have gone out for free. Just as well. For the few Instagram followers I have, I’d have to pay them to look twice.

If you happen to be curious about influencers in the lesser categories, check out this link from Huff Post with examples of four clothing influencers and the posts for which they were paid. You might be surprised at what a business will pay $1,000 for.

About the same time I learned about professional influencers, I learned about influencer fatigue. This happens when too many people are pushing the same brand and the influencer starts to question whether getting fewer and fewer likes from strangers is worth the effort. The one featured in the link above discovered she liked working in a real job where both emotional and monetary rewards were more satisfying than “likes.”

This leads me to the 2019 article that started my on-line journey. Quoting from “Consumers, especially younger ones, are losing trust in paid influencers…”

Great.  I just learn about influencers and they’re on their way out. It seems that Gen Z and millennials want to get recommendations from their own “tribes,” which typically don’t include screen or music stars. Or they’re looking to follow peers who break the rules.  I’ll spare you the link to the next wave of influencers who post dopey-looking selfies to great fame and followership.

For those authorities on their way out, I just learned of another influencer that will always be operating, whether in style or not. A Los Angeles Times commentary by David Lazarus names an individual who, after buying a tool on Amazon, received what appeared to be an Amazon $20 gift card. To use the gift card, the buyer had to write “a positive 5 STARS review.”

Lazarus says that “as of Feb. 3, more than 300 ratings for the tool were five-star reviews.  Maybe that reflects an overall high level of customer satisfaction. Or maybe it represents a whole bunch of $20 payoffs.”

The good thing about missing out on a trend is that these days the trend can be gone before you ever knew it existed. You’ve saved yourself time that you might have spent learning about the trend or following the trendsetters and saved money you could have spent purchasing whatever they were touting.





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Nancy Drew was responsible for my love of mysteries

I read everything, but I’m always drawn to mysteries. My first detective hero was Nancy Drew.  

How could one not look up to her after reading her bio? Says writer Bobbie Ann Mason, “At sixteen she [Nancy] ‘had studied psychology in school, and was familiar with the power of suggestion and association.’ Nancy was a fine painter, spoke French, and had frequently run motor boats. She was a driver who at sixteen ‘flashed into the garage with a skill born of long practice.’ The prodigy was a sure shot, an excellent swimmer, skillful oarsman, expert seamstress, gourmet cook, and a fine bridge player.”

Details I remember:  she owned a roadster (an open-top car with two seats), was very independent, and never seemed to lack money. Sometimes her lawyer father asked for her help on his cases. The latter does suggest I was quite gullible as a child, but then most of her readers probably were.

Nancy didn’t stay too long in my pantheon of heroes.  By the time I was her age, I’d replaced her with American Bandstand stars. But she reigned for at least four years.

According to Wikipedia, Nancy had many devotees including Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Edward Stratemeyer, aka Caroline Keene
By Unknown – Public Domain
Wikipedia Commons

I don’t know how many Nancy Drew novels I read.  The first one was published in 1930.  I started reading them in the 1950’s and by the end of that decade there were thirty-six.  At the time, I admired the books’ author, Carolyn Keene, but found out much later that Carolyn Keene didn’t exist. The Hardy Boys series publisher Edward Stratemeyer wrote the outlines of the books and hired writers who all wrote under the name of Carolyn Keene. There were seven different ghost writers, sometimes co-ghost writers, and at least two were men. With such a stable of writers, the Nancy Drew books just kept coming. By 2001, the total was one hundred seventy-five.

This week, I checked out Nancy Drew book number two, The Hidden Staircase, from the library. Its first copyright date was 1930.  I expected it to be poorly written and a dreadful read. It wasn’t, just a slow one. And that was probably why Nancy’s investigations didn’t cause nightmares in her young readers.

Carolyn Keene loved her, I mean his, no, their adverbs. This is not about gender fluidity, only the mix of folks who wrote the books. (This passion for adverbs is not a love most writing teachers share. In fact, an instructor I had for two years forbade them. She had the same distaste for exclamation marks.)  In Nancy’s life many events happen suddenly. Characters are extremely frightened.  In half a page Nancy speaks of waking up instantly, crawling into bed noiselessly, and immediately asking someone for details. Characters speak sleepily, sometimes laughingly and watch hopefully.

The moments of tension also are very short. A truck without a driver flies toward her and her father, lands in a lake and in three short paragraphs they dive into the water and “come back to the shore,” where Nancy begins an immediate search for footprints. No trauma at nearly losing their lives, only disappointment over the damage to Nancy’s pump shoes.

Compared to contemporary sleuths, Nancy is rarely in a hurry. Someone is in danger but she’ll think about the situation over dinner, maybe overnight. These rest periods help stretch out the thrills to just under two hundred pages.

In a more modern age and with new writers Nancy changes. She becomes less of a daredevil.  “Nancy said sweetly,” and “Nancy said kindly” did not appear in earlier books but become more common later. Over time, she kowtows more to men, and enjoys shopping and romance more than sleuthing. “Nancy also becomes more vulnerable, being often chloroformed into unconsciousness, or defenseless against chokeholds.[60]”

From these descriptions, I’m glad I grew up with the slower acting, yet bolder Nancy Drew and happy I’ve never lost my love for mysteries.










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