The Magic Bullet and The Ant: A Brief Exposé

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By Rose Ottosen

You might be thinking to yourself as you read the title to this little essay, “What in the world does a magic bullet have in common with an ant?!

My answer: absolutely nothing. That is both the bad news and the good news. Let’s start with the bad news first, and explore the phenomenon of magic bullets. Then we will examine the ant and give ourselves the option to end on a positive note.

Magic bullets intrigue me. Though they remain illusionary, they seem real. I have been looking for them since I was a young girl. However, though my searching has not ever turned up one, some days I continue my quest, undaunted, just hoping I will be the person, at last, to discover this fast track to success. What is a magic bullet, you might ask?

For me, a “magic bullet” is the one thing that instantly will bring some longed-for reality into my life—the one thing that will usher in a sudden turn in my life’s journey that will then hand me the fulfillment of my deepest wants, needs, and greeds—my personal Aladdin’s lamp, you might say. A magic bullet is the precise incident, person or possession that will appear and guarantee me a “happily-ever-after” phenomenon and forever remove the humdrum effort required from me. 

For example, I recently was quite embarrassed to admit that I ever thought there could be a magic secret potion that would provide physical fitness. I have abandoned that unreal quest and finally started to take more responsibility for my health and to get fit to my absolute core, slowly, one grinding day at a time. Also, I have given up my search to find a formula—perchance once known and now hidden, that could make me an overnight concert pianist, or better yet—a world famous harpist. On a simpler plane, I even have wondered if, perhaps, there is some kind of magic wand that I can invent and then wave as I walk through the house and make all my dust bunnies disappear, a wand that would also do laundry and even wash windows. I have even dreamed of being a published author, just waking up one day and being on the New York Times Bestseller List. Have you had that dream, too? Wouldn’t that be amazing?!

From my experience, though, I must admit that a life of sudden and ongoing success, of effortless voila, isn’t for this world, apparently. This is especially true when it comes to becoming and remaining an accomplished writer. Here is the reality: Good writing takes consistent effort. No, Virginia, magic bullets do not exist.

However, here is the good news: ants do exist, and they will help guide our way.

Across the world, scientists have discovered ants, millions of them, in the wettest tropics, the driest deserts—and even in the arctic climes. Over five thousand different kinds of these insects have been cataloged. However, I do not want to digress and turn this commentary into a scientific analysis, but rather a word map, using ants as mentors to help point us in the direction of our goals as writers: starting, completing, and publishing our voice, ultimately adding something meaningful to life’s printed conversations. 

Ants, like committed writers, are tangible, real beings. Their lives are anything but magical. Their days are filled with tedium and routine—just boring repetition to those who watch them. Day in and day out, season after season, they are determined to fulfill their heart songs, many of them carrying a single grain of sand over hill and dale to deposit in a small heap that will one day become a big anthill. To us humans, they often look like they don’t know what they are doing or know where they are going, as they plod back and forth, back and forth. 

Unlike writers, however, ants are not tempted to ask, “How much l-o-n-g-e-r do I have to do this? I am getting bored. I am tired. I wonder what all my other friends are doing? I want to have a cup of coffee now. I want to sleep in. I have been doing this so long, and it isn’t amounting to anything significant—is it?!” 

I picture ant conversations as being very different from the way we, as writers, talk to ourselves. How do I know this is true? Simply, as stated before, ants continue their mundane tasks, century after century, across the world, working faithfully in the hidden places, to build those anthills, no matter what. No excuses. No procrastination. No compromise. Just watch them. Look at the results.

As a wanna-be published author, I suddenly “saw the light” recently while I was watching an ant tussle with a stubborn grain of sand in our yard. I followed him and discovered a monolithic ant hill, burgeoning with life, in the forest. After musing on this simple yet profound scene, I learned a great lesson. I discovered the undeniable difference between a magic bullet and an ant. I am inspired and ready to put my hand to pen and paper again, content to produce one letter at a time, like the ants’ grains of sand, which, added to over time, will become words, words that will grow into sentences. These sentences will then give birth to paragraphs. These paragraphs will evolve into chapters, and the chapters will blossom into books. 

Yes, indeed, ants are determined. In addition to their innate tenacity, all ants are also social. I look forward to seeing you at the writing conference in Kalispell in September—and also at the Montana Women Authors monthly meetings, starting again in the fall. We need each other! Write on!

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Books Are Life, Books Are Soul

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By Rose Ottosen

I thought I had decided to become a minimalist. I was delusional, apparently.

In this stage of my life, I crave order and simplicity. I want my house to look like the inside of a home decorating magazine—a place where I can move from room to room without distractions taking me on mental detours. I want a sanctuary with eye candy in every corner. No dust bunnies. No cobwebs. No disheveled shelves of books. However, recently, as I moved from room to room, boxes and bags in hand, scrutinizing my possessions with the hawk’s eye of a Ms. Sherlock Holmes, I encountered a personal Waterloo—my library.  Purging my overstuffed library of the books stacked six and seven deep on shelves and desktops, I discovered, is not the same thing as discarding long-held garments from an overflowing closet.

Getting rid of last year’s fashions is easy. I can buy more.  But, for example, I cannot part with my scruffy 1918 copy of Joyce Kilmer’s Poems, Essays and Letters, or my 1828 tome Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language. Surely, all writers understand this dilemma. Once books are gathered in our arms, held in our hands, carted home and placed on our shelves, they become like friends and family members. They are not disposable commodities, inanimate objects made of paper and ink. Books are life—books are soul.

Each early morning when I slip into my office library holding a cup of steaming coffee, I enter my home’s sacred place. Though the rest of the house is as silent as a tomb at this hour, as an avid reader, researcher and aspiring writer, I can almost hear the welcoming, whispering voices of my ever-burgeoning community of books. Each volume seems to have a greeting, calling me to insight or adventure.  I hardly know where to start, which one to choose! I walk from shelf to shelf, pen and clipboard in hand, moving quietly back and forth between my desks, savoring the opportunity to review what I know and to satisfy my curiosity for learning something new. A large library affords me a daily threshold to grow.

Though the shelves and desks in my current library, now groaning under the weight of  many thousands of books, are a continual source of inspiration, they have often been a source of embarrassment for me, as well. My embarrassment took root, decades ago, when my previous library of a few hundred books occupied a mere hole in the wall (my pantry). One afternoon, my mother-in-law startled me by asking a simple question, “Have you read all of those?”  Read them?  Until then, I didn’t think I had to have read them all—not yet. Many of them were encyclopedias, dictionaries, commentaries and how-to tomes, books that were not meant to be read, exactly, but only visited, now and then, with my usual cup of coffee in hand, as one would query an old friend over the back fence for a bit of advice, or listen to an acquaintance share an interesting story or two.

I would venture to say aspiring writers are all bibliophiles, to a certain extent. We love words on the printed page and savor even the sound of words. Further, we want to create word portraits that showcase  life as it is and as we hope it will be. We want to learn and to share what we learn. Writers are curious people, and as long as we have an inkling of unsatisfied curiosity, there is need for and room for one more book in our library. No matter that we have books that have been waiting for years to be read. No matter, either, that, at times, our libraries may look like proverbial rats’ nests.

As authors, our passions to read and to write are unstoppable. We want to join the conversation of writers across time and add our viable voices to their dialogue. We want to synthesize threads of thought throughout all the generations and present new possibilities. We want to write the books that bring insight, hope and joy to our generation—and beyond. And because we want to make that positive difference, each new book we add to our library, whether it is read right now—or not, represents potential for the birthing of our books.