The Year of Being “Extra”

Angus isn’t high maintenance. He’s extra!

It came to my attention recently, receiving “Extra” is considered a good thing. (Thank You Great Day Houston/Princess T and Princess Pham – 2019 Hot Toys) It seems reasonable giving extra is a good thing too. But what about being extra?

Someone else started me down this rabbit hole first. I have to give credit to Louis at the blog, Learning to Write and his post “The Institutionalization of I – 90”. He found a new interest and wasn’t spending as much time on his blog. He mentioned the saying “jack of all trades, master of none.” I’m just going to come out and say it. I hate that saying. Why? Because I’m one of those people. My younger daughter told me not too long ago, “Geez Mom, you’re so extra!”

My husband calls me Rick, after the proprietor of the Las Vegas pawn store featured on the History Channel. Yeah, so? (Karl’s saying. I think I’m going to start using it on him each time he calls me that. Nothing personal against Rick.) I like knowing stuff. Why? Because there is a world (and a universe) out there full of interesting things, and I’m curious. I’ve also learned as I’ve gotten older, trying something new, even if I’m not good at it, is an opportunity to learn and grow. Growing isn’t just for the whippersnappers you know.

How Extra am I? Let’s just throw it all out there this one time. Take a deep breath before you read this. I started off drawing then grew into oils, watercolors and mixed media (fine art); discovered reading and read lots of books; enjoy history; played steel guitar and piano in my youth; like more than one genre of music (at least 6 of them); sew, knit, crochet, make jewelry and play with resin; cook and bake; dabble in photography; worked for more than 10 years as a graphic designer; have a telescope on standby for amateur astronomy; and last but definitely not least, I write. Are your eyes glazed over now? I’m sorry. I tend to have that effect on folks, and that’s without giving them the full list of things I like to do. People seem to think I have lots of time on my hands. No, not really. I’m also a caregiver, remember? This is a lifetime of accumulated skills and interests. Because I was driven to do these different things, I made time for them. I also descend from people who do/did some of these things. (My paternal grandmother was a wonderful cook, sewed and reupholstered furniture for a living.)

So, what’s wrong with being Extra, really? Since I hope we’re all friends here, let’s be honest. “Extra” people scare the crap out of everyone else. They’re ones who got burned at the stake for being witches, and persecuted by the church. I hesitate to call myself a genius, but I can certainly identify with some of them. (I remember being given an IQ test in school once and didn’t do that great. Eh, I thought the questions were stupid nonsense totally lacking logic.) Let’s start with genius #1, Leonardo di Vinci. Dude liked both art and science. Was he recognized as a genius during his lifetime? Not so much. Being burned at the stake and other unpleasant punishments were still a thing during his lifetime, if you made others feel inferior. Galileo got put under house arrest for inventing the telescope and having the nerve to report his observations, that the solar system doesn’t revolve around us. Nicola Tesla weirded out many with his out-of-the-box ideas, unless he allowed others to use his crazy to line their pockets. Einstein’s father and educators thought he was as dumb as a box of rocks. Didn’t stop him from coming up with the Theory of Relativity or becoming the Father of Modern Physics.

I’ve mentioned my habit of spoiling movie plots for my family. I figured it out pretty quickly while watching The Incredibles 2. Why? Because I could identify with them. Same with Syndrome in the first movie. The kid had a superpower. It was his brain. Let’s see, what was his favorite saying? “If everyone is special, then no one is.” Here is the conundrum for those who are Extra. None of them asked to be that way. To quote Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad, I was just drawn that way.” But since we make others uncomfortable, we have to hide a lot of it, or have very few friends as a result. Perhaps introverts aren’t drawn that way. It’s a choice they’re forced to make if they want to be true to themselves. Like Sasquatch, we learn early on to hide behind rocks and stay mischievously out of focus. (Futurama) No wonder a few of us become super-villains!

That list of things I like to do is long. However, I don’t know how to do everything. I did consider a career in Astronomy while in high school. What stopped me? Fancy-pants math. I don’t have the patience for the complicated stuff that takes pages of paper to solve. It’s not my language, and I’m OK with that. Unless I happen to get bored with my current interests. I might reconsider at that point. Trying extreme sports? Breaking a Land Speed Record? Are you nuts?! Then again, writing this post might be the equivalent of jumping off a cliff in a flying squirrel suit, without a safety parachute as backup. (Yeah, those folks are Extra, too.)

We’re approaching the end of the year, and everyone knows what that means, once the frenzy of holiday shopping is over. New Year’s Resolutions. Sure, you can try to achieve the usual goals of self-improvement. (Heck, I’m might do one or two of those, like getting back to walking the dogs first thing every morning.) I’m throwing down the gauntlet, here. I dare the rest of you to be Extra, too. Want to be special? How about earning it? Get outside your comfort zone and try something you don’t think you’ll be good at. You might surprise yourself. If not, keep at it until you are good. Then pick something else, and start over. Notice, I didn’t say “master it.” In my humble opinion, if you get good at something, you mastered it. To be truly Extra, take the Yoda approach. “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Afterward, put down the electronics and try some real social media. You know, a conversation with real people. Tell everyone you meet about your new interests and revel in the perverse pleasure of watching their eyes glaze over. Be prepared to listen politely when they get their turn, then vigorously debate why your interests are as good as theirs. You might both come away with a new hobby, and a new friend. Hey, don’t leave the kiddos out of this. When they get tired of playing with their “Extra” toys, encourage them to be Extra as well.

(Did y’all notice the word politely a moment ago? Might not be a bad idea for most of us to add the goal of being Extra Polite more frequently. Until it becomes an ingrained habit.)

Of course, since this is technically a writer’s blog, I’m also going to throw a challenge out there for both writers and readers. If you’ve never written a book over 50,000 words, dig deep and come up with at least one epic. Only write epics? Try a short story or novella. Developed your writing chops with fan fiction? (Jane Austen, Star Wars) Great! How about playing in your own worlds, with your own characters? Don’t worry about chasing trends, or if it’s your usual genre. Write that one story that has been calling to you and put everything you have in it, including excellent craft. You know, the technical stuff like grammar; extensive vocabulary, also known as coloring with the big box of crayons; proper sentence structure and punctuation; excellent plot (surprise me!); well-placed hooks and cliff-hangers; characters with depth; show, don’t tell; a satisfying and well-earned ending. That’s how you attract Extra readers to your work.

Readers, try something new. If you have never done so, read something challenging. I highly recommend Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. I read it 3 times in high school, for fun, starting my Freshman year. By the third time, I fully understood the story. It’s a classic for a reason. After you read it feel free to engage with me in a book discussion. Let’s see how much of it I remember after more than 30 years. For those of you who have watched Outlander on Starz, did you ever read the books? (I did, in the 1990s, when they first came out.) Don’t think you like to read? Whatever you do, don’t shortchange your children. At the very least, read with them and make sure they see you reading every once in a while, too.

Happy Extra New Year!

Kristal DeJong

I Like Big Buns and I Cannot Lie

The last, but certainly not the least, of my rabbits is my other English Angora. Her name is Lola Rapunzel. I brought her home at the end of Feb. 2015. She will be turning 5 yrs. old Dec. 31. How do I know her birthdate? Like Angus, she is a pedigreed rabbit. (His birthday is in March.) Technically, she was supposed to be a replacement for Angus, who was starting to show some signs of age. But he turned out to be the Energizer Bunny.

It might seem strange that someone from Texas would want longhaired rabbits for their knitting and crocheting projects. There is generally a rather short cold season for wearing knitwear. However, we’re northern transplants who moved here from NW Iowa, and I’m also a Colorado native. I still love me some, warm cozy knits. The softer the better, which is one reason I’m deeply attached to my bunnies. When it comes to domestic natural animal fibers, the Angoras are hard to beat if you like a bit of luxury.

Believe it or not, I actually purchased both my EAs here in Texas. There are not many Angora rabbit people here in greater Houston. Not surprising really, considering the heat and humidity we have 75% of the year. All my rabbits have to live indoors because of it, and cage cleaning is a daily chore. (Gets me into trouble. I do too much thinking while cleaning cages.)

Angus and Lola both came from breeders near, or in the Dallas area. Besides their location being a bit more amenable to rabbits, I think the biggest reason you’ll find the Angora breeds in certain parts of the state, like Dallas, is the big hair. When she’s fully grown out, Lola has very big hair. In the photograph featured with this post, she’s only halfway there. Even though she’s not quite 5, she is likely to be mostly retired too, since I have 2 large containers filled with Angora wool now.

Lola ended up becoming the largest of my rabbits. She weighs 8 lbs., which is one pound over the ARBA breed standard. (Angus fluctuates between 5-6 lbs.) She’s also a drama queen, not really unusual for does. Like wild rabbits, they’re solitary parents with babies born blind and helpless. It tends to make females hypervigilant about what’s going on in their environment. Even though Lola has never had kits, the instincts to be a good mother are still there. She needs gentle coaxing to get in the bunny elevator and rarely does it without rushing. Backing into a corner is a defensive behavior. She often does it when she knows it’s her turn for cage cleaning. I usually have to put my hands under her tummy, making it appear I am about to pick her up. Then of course, there is a bit of sweet talking.

(Which is needed by rabbits in general. Because they are prey animals, they will only cooperate if you keep a calm demeanor and earn their trust. Being emotionally out of control is a big no-no. Anyone who has ever owned a horse can probably relate.)

On the other hand, Lola’s not generally afraid of me, especially when I’m coming around with food and treats. She and Angus have different styles in the affection department. He’s a bit more in my face, usually rubbing his chin on me. (Rabbits have scent glands there. They use them to mark their property.) He’s basically saying “I own you, now rub my forehead.” Lola, on the other hand, just tucks her feet beneath her and settles down. To express her appreciation for the attention, she gives extravagant nose bonks.

The Hair-man of the Board

Angus, age 4 and at the height of his fiber giving powers

Today’s rabbit is my 9 ¾ year old English Angora, Angus. He’s my super affectionate mellow fellow, and is the second of the bunnies to come live with us. He joined our household in May 2013. He was three years old at the time, which is why he’s older than Buns. I would compare him to Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, except Angus doesn’t drink bourbon or smoke cigars.

For those not familiar with the Angora breeds, they are high-maintenance rabbits. Besides the companionship, there is only one main reason you bring a long-haired bunny home. It’s called fiber sickness, a malady one often develops after years of enjoying crafts like knitting, crocheting, weaving and spinning. Due to his age, Angus is mostly retired from fiber production now, and spends his time as a short-haired rabbit due to monthly haircuts. Which works best for both of us these days, because it eliminates the constant brushing. I don’t sell my Angora wool, and he filled a 30 qt. Rubbermaid container for me. I’m reasonably certain it will last me a lifetime, because there is a partner in crime who filled a container of her own. A little Angora wool goes a long way, especially since it is usually blended with another fiber which has more “grab”. (My favorite is Alpaca.) Angora is seven times warmer than sheep’s wool, even though it is very lightweight.