Rarely has a chapter of my life had such a clearly defined beginning and end as did the last year and a half. It opened with high hopes, a move, and the start of my husband’s new career as a State Park Ranger: his aspiration for as long as I have known him. It closed with state budget cuts, his getting laid off, and our moving back to Spokane. Of course, much happened in between, including my scrambling for a job and finding one that I loved, missing my friends and making new ones, adopting two shelter dogs, and living out in the middle of nowhere. Now, being back in Spokane I appreciate so many things, like living two minutes from a grocery store, having friends nearby who come save me when my car breaks down, and being able to access pretty much any amenity imaginable. I didn’t even realize how much I missed the bright colors in my house and the mismatched architecture of my neighborhood, or how much my feet enjoy the cool smooth slope of our old porcelain tub and the uneven expanse of parkay wood floors. I’m surprised how much my senses have celebrated our return to the little brick bungalow.

But there is something a little “off” about a journey that ends in the same place that it started. You’re left with a lingering “what was it all for?” even though you can point to things you’ve learned, people you’ve met, and places you’ve seen that you wouldn’t have otherwise. It also has a fairytale flavor leaving you wondering if it all really happened, since you’ve woken up in the same bedroom as you fell asleep in before.

Each new beginning offers so much possibility. I am once again looking for work, but this time a different kind. I am looking forward to a struggle while I should be wishing for security. I want to make something big happen with my life, and I think now is the time. I don’t know what this year will bring, but for better or worse I’m home.

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Dear Book Customers, whom I gratefully serve,

Thank you for your appreciation of fine literature, or at least diet books and Playboy magazines. I feel that our common love of reading binds us in an invisible bond of friendship that will last a lifetime (mine or yours, whichever is shorter). Hurrah!

This letter is to thank you. Because I know that, as a lover of reading, you cherish books as much as I do. You would never set your coffee cup on our new arrivals table, leaving a nice brown ring on the face of a new hardcover (that must have been a movie renter passing by). Nor would you ever take art books or bibles out of their shrink wrap, leaving them without price tags and vulnerable to damage; the written word is too precious to you, surely. That’s why you always watch your children, too, and never let them rip, bend, throw, stick in their mouth, or remove pages or accessories from any book. Thank you, friend. Because of your unfailing efforts as a parent, our children’s section is the absolute most fun to maintain.

I also want you to know that I’m completely understanding of your never putting books back the same place you got them. After all, books are special and unlike all other things on this planet they don’t take up physical space and therefore don’t leave a visible gap where you removed them from. Also, you can’t be expected to master the complex organization method of shelving books. It’s not like we all learn the alphabet in school or anything! Besides, my associates and I are all psychically linked to each and every one of the tens of thousands of items in the store so, don’t worry, we’ll be able to find the item you misplaced the next time someone else is looking for it.

I hope you know how much I enjoy helping you to find the books you’re searching for, and maybe a few that you aren’t. You are so much fun with your incomplete titles and misremembered authors, I feel like I’m not only a bookseller but also a detective, the fulfillment of a childhood dream! It makes me endlessly happy to know that there are others like me, for whom movies and video games cannot replace reading a good book. My dear customers, this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for you!

~Mallory

A couple of nights ago I needed something new to read before bed, so I picked up an old favorite, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia. Though it’s a young adult book, it is one of the most beautifully written stories that I’ve read, and the author’s mastery is further evident by the book’s brevity. I wanted to reread it for two reasons: to once again taste Paterson’s transporting descriptions and careful plot revelation, and to have a good cry. I wasn’t disappointed. As I read the last pages while eating a late lunch in my backyard today, I sobbed freely, with snot and tears and everything.

And that wasn’t my only cry time today. Earlier, on my drive into work, it was a country song on the radio that set me off. I’d never heard it before and the lyrics snuck up on me. Next thing I knew I had a lump in my throat, my eyes were welling up, and a sad rattling sigh escaped my lips. I had to turn off the radio mid song else completely lose my composure as I turned into the company parking lot. My relief from the song was short-lived though, as it played again on my drive home and this time I listened to the whole thing, and cried some more. I guess it was just meant to be one of those days, one for cleansing tears.

But all this crying made me wonder… why do we seek out art that dissolves us into salty puddles of emotion? Is it a way of preparing ourselves for the intense emotions that accompany tragedy? And why do we create art with the intent to draw out those emotions? I’m not quite sure, except that perhaps we need to remind ourselves that we can feel… simply that we can feel.

And isn’t it magical that a book, an inanimate object by all accounts, can bring us to tears? A song at least is being communicated by another person who conveys emotion with their tone, inflection, and sometimes even a crack in their voice. But a book only has words printed on a page, black and white symbols representing ideas passively and with room for interpretation. While some readers may not be swayed to tears by the same material as I, I really feel that is something to be in awe of that art can do that to us, that we as humans can relate to a fictional character enough that we are emotionally affected.

I’ll never forget my first memory of this experience, and it wasn’t my tears that fell but those of my first grade teacher, Mrs. Morinaga. She was reading aloud to the class a story about a boy in a dog sledding race (from some quick research, I think it was probably Dog Runner by Don H. Meredith). The boy needed the prize money for his family and against all odds he was actually leading. But just as he neared the finish line, his favorite dog died (her “heart burst,” I can remember that from the first grade). My teacher was sobbing, tears running in rivers down her face as she continued to read to us. I remember getting up and going to the back of the room to get her a paper towel (I was such a teacher’s pet). I remember the end of the story too, that as the boy mourned the loss of his dog and berated himself for pushing her too hard, his competitors caught up to him: one man in particular who was favored to win. The man, instead of going for the blue ribbon and the prize money, stopped and left his sled, picked up the body of the dog, and walked the boy across the finish line.

That’s why I want to be a writer. I want to weave a story that packs enough punch that a first grader will remember it for the rest of her life.

By the way, this is the song (don’t play unless you’ve got tissues handy):

Today was my day off, and rather than spend it alone with my cats doing dishes and laundry I decided to hit the road and traverse the spanning wheat fields to visit my alma mater and my close friend Kimmee who is currently studying there. She has only one class on Mondays, Entomology (the study of bugs), which she let me attend with her.

While listening to the lecture on the grasshopper digestive system, I took in the room that I’d had classes in a whopping five years ago, including the only class that I ever fell asleep during. As the professor clicked through his PowerPoint presentation, unnecessarily emphasizing his bullets with a laser pointer, I felt academically naked not taking notes. Every time he posed a question to the class, I felt myself wanting to answer, to participate, though the topic of grasshopper digestive tracks was totally new to me (did you know that their foregut is lined with exoskeleton? I thought exoskeleton was only on the outside!)

But most students don’t share that sentiment. Just as it was when I was there studying, questions posed to the class received only timid responses, usually after a long uncomfortable silence that teachers must build up a superhuman tolerance to. This is the case even when the answer is painfully obvious and everyone should be jumping out of their seats, hands stretched toward the ceiling Hermione Granger style. What is it that makes people so nervous to answer? Are they worried it may be a trick question? Or that it’s purely rhetorical? Or is it experiences like the following that make people wish they hadn’t spoken, and therefore clam up for the rest of eternity?

After explaining that the tiny hairs on insects are connected to their nervous system, the professor asked the class a simple what if question: what happens if you swat a fly? Silence from the class. It gets squashed, I think to myself, internally praising my fly swatting ability.

“It’ll fly away,” says a small voice toward the back.

“Well,” the professor says as he moves up the aisle. “Imagine the fly is this button, and I were to bring my hand down really fast, like this, what would happen?”

Silence. Then another small voice, “It would fly away.”

“Really, really fast,” the professor clarifies.

Now several voices in chorus “It would fly away.” Groan.

“Okay, okay,” the professor says, and though he’s standing behind me I imagine him waving his hands in exasperation. “Let’s reverse this. Let’s say the fly is this button and I bring my hand closer slowly like this, pushing the air toward the fly, what would happen?”

“It would fly away.”

“Right! Now, if I went like that really fast, so fast the fly wouldn’t have time to react, what would happen?” Without giving the class a chance to answer this time, he says “It’d get smashed, right?”

Silence.

The professor quickly moved on, back to grasshoppers.

While flies can be difficult to successfully swat at times, and I don’t know why the professor counterintuitively illustrated a fly getting smashed right after describing their super sensory skills, I hope for the students’ sake that that question doesn’t make it on the final.

The experience of being back on campus, back in a classroom setting, inspired me to question many things (which is the goal of higher education, no?). For instance, “how many televisions does a student lounge really need?” And “why did they remodel the CUB to look like an airport terminal?” And “why does an Asian Studies major have to spend time and money learning about bugs anyway?”

Do you know? (Hint: the answer is not “it would fly away.”)

For nearly the entirety of my employment at the gallery, I regularly asked my boss to change my job title. “Book Manager” just didn’t encompass my varied responsibilities and it completely ignored my work with the art. Yes I ordered the books, yes I merchandised the books, yes I organized book related events, but what about all the other stuff? When I gave notice that I would be moving away, my boss finally changed my title to Art and Literature Manager. But my relief from my original title was short-lived. I am happy to announce that I am once again a Book Manager, this time at a major entertainment retailer in Moses Lake. Squeeee!

The relief I feel is indescribable, not only to have a job again but to be able to continue working with books! I didn’t want this blog to turn into a less funny version of The Office, and with how many administrative and office assistant jobs I applied for it was looking like a serious risk. I applied for Book Manager online not imagining that They were actually hiring and was pleasantly surprised to get a call for an interview. There I was informed that They were only hiring for part-time “associates” but maybe I’d be able to grow into the book department. It wasn’t until after I came in to sign papers that They informed me that my passion for books had made such on impression at the interview that They opened the Book Manager position for me! That means books, full-time employment, and, as a little bonus, I don’t have to wear the company polo shirt because I’ll be management (I’m so glad that my necessary three interview blouses won’t go to waste).

Ahhhh… Life is good again.

I woke up this morning to my radio alarm blaring the news (I never get to wake up to music. Why do no Moses Lake radio stations play music on the hour? Don’t they know that’s when people set their alarms?). Apparently there were 37,000 new first time unemployment filings this month, the highest since February. Now, I was half asleep when I heard that, so forgive me if the number is off slightly, but… depressing much? Not only does that mean that there are 37,000 more people now out of work, without a paycheck to count on, but also there are 37,000 more people now in the ring with the rest of us fighting for the few jobs that there are.

Here’s an illustration. One of the several jobs that I’ve applied for in the last couple weeks was for a part-time front desk position at a to-remain-nameless healthcare provider’s office. Last week, I receive a call for an interview (yippee!), and am given the choice of two different slots, of which I choose the latter. I dress nice and professional-like, grab an extra copy of my resume just in case, drive the required thirty minutes to get from my house to ANYWHERE, and make it to the office fifteen minutes early. As I give my reflection a quick glance in the rearview mirror I notice something: a nicely dressed, middle-aged woman walking down the sidewalk with a conspicuous white piece of paper flapping in her hand. She could of course be headed to the bank nearby, but I suspect something else entirely. I take a deep breath and exit the car, making my way to the office, and I open the door to find my suspicions confirmed! At least sixteen other women, all dressed varying degrees of professional-like, are seated in the lobby of the tiny office, whose air conditioner is proving to be less than adequate with that many bodies to cool and the afternoon sun pouring in the windows. I sign in at the front counter and take a seat in one of the few remaining chairs, which is, of course, right in front of the window. Everyone is looking at each other nervously. A few more women come in. A girl fresh out of school takes a seat next to me.

“Full house tonight, huh?” I say conversationally.

“Yeah,” she says, looking nervous. “I wasn’t really expecting that.”

“I don’t think anyone was,” a lady across from us says loudly. There is a murmur of agreement, and the woman at the front desk doesn’t meet anyone’s eye.

“Well,” I say, forcing a smile. “Everyone looks very pretty.” Which earns me a laugh from the room.

Soon a doctor comes out and gives a description of the job, afterward inviting anyone who doesn’t think it’s for them to leave. I don’t think anyone will, but one woman thanks him and goes. Then we’re given two writing assignments. We’re asked to write out #1 Why we want the job, and #2 Why we should get it above all the other applicants. We’re told that there were over 200 applicants and we were the ones who passed Spell Check, and I can’t help but think of the other time slot I was offered and wonder if there were this many people there too. Then everyone waits for their turn to be interviewed. I wait for over an hour, and my face is red from the heat by the time it’s my turn.

This initial interview experience is appropriately summed up by this clip from the movie Fun With Dick and Jane:

A couple of days later, I get a call for a second interview, which was scheduled for this past Monday. I was given six timed tests by the front desk lady, who timed me with a stop watch. A typing test, a sans calculator math test (when’s the last time any of you did long division involving decimals?), a filing test, and a few personality tests. This was for a PART-TIME job, people! Then I had an interview with both doctors, which went really well. I got asked an array of challenging questions, with the exception of “which color would you say best describes your personality” which kind of came out of nowhere (answer: purple). As I left, I recognized a gal from the previous interview waiting in the lobby for her turn.

On Monday evening I got a call to schedule a third interview! Apparently, it’s down to me and just one other person (yippee!). The third interview is scheduled for Wednesday (yesterday), and I do a little victory dance and am grateful that I have a third Interview Shirt thanks to a shopping trip with Mom.

On Tuesday, while I’m in the lobby of the local movie theater, about to go see The Last Airbender with Husband (celebrating the impending end of my job search, you know), I get another call. They’ve filled the position. So I don’t have to come in for the third interview “um, if that’s okay.” I swallow and thank them for letting me know, but really I want to say “No! How is that okay? I have an interview tomorrow! How can you have decided already? Why didn’t you pick me?!” Phone closed, eyes welling up, all I can think is “Wow. All that and second place.” No consolation prize either, except for an encouraging email waiting for me from the doctor titled “Apologies,” which was really nice of him to send, really.

It’s Thursday now, and I’ve applied to seven more jobs since then. I’ve got a preliminary phone interview tomorrow for another part-time job. I’ll let you all know how many rounds there are on that one.

Cynthia was my dogwood tree. I’ve always been a fan of trees, but I’ve particularly admired dogwoods, and when David and I bought our house in February 2009 one of the first things we did to make it our own was plant a dogwood tree in the front yard. Her name was Cynthia. I say this purposefully, that that was her name, not that “I named her Cynthia.” Well, in the violent wind that struck Spokane on the 12th, she perished, blown over and snapped from her roots about four inches from the ground. Actually, it looked like she’d been run over by a car, and with my friend’s Jeep parked on my lawn a few feet away, that was naturally my first thought. But it was the wind, and for that I am glad because you can’t waste your energy being angry at the wind for blowing, because that is simply what the wind does. But I am sad for Cynthia. Disproportionately sad.

You were a beautiful tree, Cynthia, torn down in your prime. You will be missed.

I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post. What’s happened since then has been a blur of working, traveling, packing, driving, house guests, not enough sleep, high emotions, missing my friends and my family and my house, and being excited about my new surroundings but too tired and distracted to really take them in. Since my last post there were the ten days in Egypt with the day of travel on each side (pictures coming!), then three days of hard work at the gallery to hang the next show and get ready to leave (though I’m not all the way gone) while my hubby packed up the house, one day to move, one day to unpack, and then ten days of house guests: my five-year-old stepson and his grandparents. Today is that tenth day and I’m reeling, though everything that has passed has been a blessing. When I stop spinning I will write more. There is certainly a lot out here to inspire one to write.

By the way, long live the Tin Pencil!

Things are a-changin’. Very soon I will no longer be an indie bookseller or managing an art gallery. Hopefully I’ll be a full time writer and artist myself, and who knows where that will lead. Being a chronically busy person, I know I’ll be piling as many new hobbies and side business ventures on my plate as I can when, in two and a half short weeks, I’ll be moving with my hubby to a remote state park where he finally got his dream job as a Ranger. I’m going to have to learn to fish…

Oh, and between now and then we’re going to Egypt for ten days.

I’m sure to have plenty to write about and plenty of time to write it once we get settled in sagebrush land. I’ve been told to pack plenty of bug repellent, that our adventure sounds like the beginning of a horror movie (thanks Ric), and that we’re going to go crazy out in the boonies. But I’m excited! Change is always fun and I’ll finally have no excuses for not pursuing my dreams.

As the weather has turned more summer-like over the past week I’ve been drawn to work outside and, since I don’t yet have a garden to speak of,  the lawn has dominated my attention. Fortunately for me, I guess, it needs a lot of work. It is overgrown with crabgrass, clovers (which I don’t mind as much), various kinds of moss, and of course dandelions. And not the normal dandelions. We’re talking ginormous dandelions, like the ones that were exposed to “ooze” in the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. And as I stooped over to pull one of these freakishly large weeds out with the help of a very cool stabby tool, I was struck with a thought. “To make this a really nice lawn,” thought I, “all I have to do is get rid of everything that is not the lawn.”

And then I had an even bigger aha moment… That’s just like writing! To craft a really great story, you must get rid of everything that is not your story. Usually that means cutting unnecessary words or sentences. Sometimes it means striking chapters. As I worked, I was struck with more lawn maintenance/writing analogies. Morbidly curious? Read on!

1. Flowery words, like dandelions, are best removed before they take over.

2. A lawn looks best when it’s mowed, but not when it’s too short. The same goes for wordiness. If you can say it in fewer words, do. But don’t strip your prose down so far that all you can see is dirt.

3. Fixing the punctuation in your manuscript before taking care of major plot issues is like weeding a patch of lawn that you’re going to tear out the next day to build a planter.

4. Even if your house is really really great, it’s hard to see it past a lawn like this:

There are just some writing rules that should never be broken. Like proper punctuation, spelling, and capitalization. You can say that those things are the editor’s job to worry about, but I’m pretty sure most editors and agents aren’t looking for manuscripts that need quite that much work. A lawn that needs to be edged and mowed, maybe, but not a yard full of weeds.

5. When you’re pulling dandelions, make sure you get the roots too. If you don’t, they’ll just grow back again and again. In other words, when you receive feedback on your work, don’t just blindly make changes without finding where the problem is stemming from. If it’s good advice, break it down to its basic elements and incorporate it into your writing philosophy so it doesn’t keep popping up (some examples of this that I’ve seen are the misuse of it’s/its, there/their/they’re, etc.; the writing of characters that lack logical motivation; and being repetitive and redundant in an attempt at being descriptive).

And…..

6. If there are just too many weeds, it may be best to just kill everything and start over.

Mallory Battista’s Blog

Notes from an aspiring author, artist, and occasional gluten-free cook.

Storytelling isn’t just a thing to do, it is a way of seeing the world.

I am a storyteller. I live as though I am a hero on a quest and I strive to treat every person that crosses my path as the main character of an equally complex and exciting story. I find joy when their paths overlap with mine, and though some encounters are fleeting and others last a lifetime, I see the importance of each one to the continuation of Life's plot. I am grateful for the adversity that is set before me, as it makes me a more well-rounded character and adds challenge and excitement to my journey. And I always, ALWAYS have faith in happy endings.

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