Farmer John Lights a Spark

The other day, Glen did a post on what started him writing all the wonderful stories he posts to his blog. He credits his father and his grandfather for reading him stories when he was a child. Glen then asked his readers what started them writing.

I had to think about this for a while. We didn’t have books in the house when I was a kid – aside from the family medical dictionary and a bible. I don’t remember owning any picture books or anyone ever reading stories to me.

Both my parents were pretty good storytellers, however. My mother’s stories were usually real life tales of woe and horror from her childhood during the war back in the old country or re-tellings of tales of woe and horror that she was told as a child. They were usually full of blood, gore, dismemberment, death, starvation, misery, pillaging, deprivation, superstition and dire warnings.

My dad’s stories on the other hand, were pure fantasy. We had a tapestry which travelled around various walls in the house,  that depicted a farm somewhere in a lush valley. There was a farmhouse and a barn, a pair of horses, a well and a farmer with his plow. I don’t know where the tapestry came from or where it went (because I would LOVE to have that now) or whether it belonged to my mum or my dad, but this thing was the focus of all my dad’s dreams and therefore the setting of all my dad’s stories.

Many nights before bed he’d tell us kids stories about that farmer, who he called “Bauer Johann.”  (Which cleverly translates into Farmer John. You’d have thought he’d have come up with a more imaginative name since he was going to all the trouble of inventing stories, wouldn’t you?). Anyway, I think Bauer Johann lived the life my dad wanted to live and I must say, it was a pretty darned good life. Bauer Johann frequently found casks of treasure whilst plowing his field. Bauer Johann’s horse sometimes talked and warned him about approaching storms and stuff so he could prepare. Bauer Johann’s fields always produced an overwhelming bounty of crops and his streams were always overloaded with fish.

Interestingly, Bauer Johann had no kids.

Anyway, when I finally went to school at the ripe old age of 7, I couldn’t speak more than maybe a dozen words of English. One of the first things they did at this school was hand out reading books (Sandy and Susan not Dick and Jane). I was really excited to have a book and even more excited to find out that I was going to learn to read the book’s stories for myself.

Not to brag or anything, but by Christmas I was the best reader in the class. I wish I still had that faculty for learning an entire new language in less than 4 months.  And I wish that had made me a special child, but it didn’t. Most immigrant children then and now are able to become fluent in their new language in a matter of months. Isn’t it sad that our brains lose so much capacity over the years?

Anyway, once I knew how to read, I read everything I could get my hands on with complete indiscrimination.  The public library became my second home and I made the poor librarian’s life hell by pestering her non-stop to get me books from the adult section once I’d finished all the stupid books in the kid’s section.

Somewhere along the line I guess I figured I could write stories as well as reading them and started churning out ridiculous  educational tales for my siblings. One of my brothers kept most of them and has them somewhere in a trunk in his house. He brought some along to some family thing once and we all laughed our asses off.

So, reading and writing has occupied most of my time since then. Since I first learned to read, I don’t remember a day in my life when I didn’t have a book on the go. And while I’ve never written a blockbuster novel or even a lacklustre novel, I have managed to earn my living, off and on, by writing in some form or another for most of my adult life. I’ve been a copywriter for an ad agency; I’ve written newspaper and magazine articles on a freelance basis; I worked as a publicist for various arts organizations writing press releases and ad copy and program notes and such; and, I’ve written a lot of really boring stuff for the government for the last 18 years.

Oh ya, and I write a blog just for fun.

So, that’s my story, Glen. As you can see it would have been way too long to leave as a comment.

I reckon most bloggers have the same passion for reading and writing or they wouldn’t be able to do it day after day. Like Glen, I’d be interested to know what sparked that passion in your life?

First Impressions


So yesterday, the Deep Friar, posted one of his usual “whiney list” posts. (ha ha…I kid… they’re very clever and funny…really) Anyhow, this one happened to be about job interviews and the many ways they are designed to defeat the interviewee. But, some of  the resulting discussion veered off into a “don’t judge a book by its cover” discussion and my comments started getting too long, so I figured I’d just carry on with a blog post of my own on the topic. The Friar and I have completely different readers, so that’s okay, right?

The question therefore is whether or not it’s okay to judge people on appearance/first impressions. I maintain that for most of life’s situations we only have a very short window of time in which to make a decision about a person, so the only thing we really can judge them on is that first impression.

This is true for everything from job interviews to first dates to hiring a plumber to choosing a dentist to letting someone cut your hair to meeting someone at a party. Yes, in most cases you’ll also have some sort of frame of reference for them, but your real judgment will be made when you first meet them.

How a person chooses to present themselves to the world says a lot about a person and not necessarily what they are actually trying to tell the world about themselves.

It may be unfair but we humans like other humans who are attractive.  We are programmed to believe that someone attractive on the outside will be attractive on the inside. Studies with young children, who have no deeply ingrained prejudices, show that even children are drawn to and respond more positively to attractive people.

Of course “attractive” is a subjective thing.  And can encompass more than just being pretty and slim and well-dressed.  An air of confidence and comfort with one’s self goes a long, long way in making a person seem attractive who may not necessarily be a great beauty. And, some features are more important to some people than to others, but in general, attractive means someone who carries themselves well and looks like they have respect for themselves. Someone who looks after themselves and has made some sort of effort to look their best before putting themselves out into the world. Someone with a pleasant countenance.

We’re not looking for perfection. In fact, perfection can be off-putting because we tend to assume that really, really beautiful people are lacking in most other areas. We think they are probably arrogant, vain, self-absorbed and unintelligent. And we are very often right;  which is why we keep believing it.

When we judge someone on their appearance, we are also judging them on decisions they’ve made about how they choose to present themselves.  You make a decision to spend tens of thousands of dollars in surgery and cosmetic products to perfect your features, your hair, your physique and more money to clad yourself in only the finest designer duds – well then don’t complain if people liken you to Paris Hilton.

You make a decision to tattoo your face and shave one side of your head, dye the other side blue and wear orange garbage bags duct-taped to your body. Don’t complain if people think you’re a nut and won’t give you a job.

If you show up on a date dressed like a hooker, don’t complain that your date wasn’t at all interested in your mind.

If you’re 40 years old attend a fairly formal Christmas party in a Megadeath t-shirt and ball cap, don’t complain that all the chicks at the party were stuck up.

Underneath it all, these might all be very nice, caring, intelligent people, but how are we supposed to know that? We meet lots of people at parties, job interviews and in the general course of our lives. There’s no way we can spend weeks really getting to know all these people. So, we choose who we want to get to know or hire based on their appearance.

And, by the way, I also always judge a book by its cover for exactly the same reasons. Experts put a lot of time and effort into making book covers that express what we should expect from the book. There are millions of books on the shelves. So I choose ones that do not have Regency-era women in ripped bodices on the cover. I don’t choose books that are pink or bright blue or lurid black and red. I do not choose books whose covers are cleverly cut out to show a glimpse of something shocking underneath.

And, like with the people I meet, I am almost always right in my first impressions.