The point system

So, the end of a year, the beginning of another; the old greybeard with the scythe teeters off, the baby with the 2007 banner across his chest crawls onstage. Which should make us all feel better, right, innocence and new slates and all that? Except with age comes some sort of wisdom, and the capriciousness of infants doesn’t always make them the best guardians of the public weal.

For me, this has been one of those “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger” years, when the hoary cliché about God not giving you a greater burden than you can handle lingers in the front of the mind, making you wonder, with a sort of exhausted curiosity, just what else God can set upon your shoulders, and which addition will smash you flat-out like Bambi on the ice, legs splayed beneath the accumulation of shit. There was plenty more that could have been piled on, and the knowledge that my own load would have seemed light to some people merely made me nervously wondering just what would be chosen next: the son in Iraq, the daughter driving the freeways, the precarious state of publishing contracts.

But 2006 did not (quite) (yet) reduce me to a state of gibbering idiocy, or more prosaically give me a stroke as an excuse to turn the world off for a while. I wrote a book, I put meals on the table, I met most of my obligations, I supported an ill husband for 365 days and nights. I cried, yes, but I laughed as well, and I managed to cut myself a break most of the time and remind myself that there was a bigger picture, even if I couldn’t see it all the time. I relied on the generosity of friends and especially family, and that alone made me a better person.

I’ve decided that the reason I feel good about the year comes down to the point system. The television comedy My Name is Earl rests on this system, the setup being that a redneck troublemaker named Earl discovers the idea of karma, and has to work his way through a list of past wrongs in order to feel right.

A silly program, nicely acted, it stands, as most good comedy does, on a serious foundation: when you crap in your neighbor’s yard, your own shoes are apt to stink.

But the point system works beyond the idea of compensating for past wrongs. You get points for doing things right—points not with God, not even in the scorekeeping of others, but with yourself. Women, I think, tend to be particularly versed in the point system, taking quiet pride in managing to cope with burdens that would flatten most men, whose strength is not in endurance.

You get points for politeness—and the harder it is, the more the points. You get points for expressing love. You get points for taking a walk or a run or just a few minutes to appreciate your surroundings. You get points for saying Thank You, bigger points for meaning it, even bigger points when you don’t mean it but manage to sound like you do (this is called sarcasm, and it has the added benefit of amusing you at the same time it puzzles your target), and mega points by expressing your thanks in a manner that makes the other person feel good about him or herself. You get points for singing—and if your singing annoys, well, the other person gets points for putting up with it. You get points for walking the dog, and more for not making the kids feel small for not walking the dog. You get points for earning money and for cleaning the house and for running the family business (or running the family as a business) and for thinking creatively about the future and for making decisions that balance responsibility with fun.

Some days, you get points just for remembering to breathe.

So, adding up the year for Laurie King: On the professional side, I get points for finishing (more or less) a book, more for writing a short story, a few for writing this blog (something that’s fun as well doesn’t count as much), a few for touring (same reason), and a bunch for sitting down and answering fan letters. I get tons of points for the wifely thing, and a bunch more for maternal duties that ranged from airport runs at inconvenient times to keeping my mouth shut until asked for advice. I get points for not beating myself up over failures, points whenever I treated my body and spirit with compassion and understanding, and a few points for being a decent daughter most of the time.

In all this, if we were deducting points it would be over this last role, because my mother has got the short end of the stick when it came to my time and energies. I would like to be able to say that I’d done as much for her as she deserved, or as I felt I should have.

But—and this is key to the system—we don’t deduct points. We don’t obsess over the things we ought not to have done, we don’t beat ourselves up over things we should have done and didn’t, we don’t have a list like Earl’s that needs to be balanced.

In this, we’re more like another comedy program Who’s Line is it? (the British version, not the one with that oaf Carey.) Points are given, but in fact, the points don’t matter. It’s the giving of the points that counts.

So to all of you who have read this, who have read one of my books, and especially for anyone who has plunked down hard-earned cash for one of my books, I make you a New Year’s gift: An armload of points, to start the year off well.

And may that rambunctious baby who’s about to take over treat us all gently.

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  1. Anonymous on December 30, 2006 at 6:34 pm

    As someone who reads your blog regularly, but almost never post a comment, I just wanted to say thank you. The point system sums up a philosophy of life that I endeavor to embrace. 2006 has been a year where my points from the past seem to have brought me many, many blessings.

    I can only hope 2007 will be kind to us all, and especially to you. Your books have brought so much joy to so many. May your points continue to multiply and bring you peace and joy.

    “…the girl with the strawberry curls”

  2. Patricia Mathews on December 30, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks for blogging. Know I read the blog regularly and am looking forward to whatever else you choose to write. And because you wrote a novel about a cult based on alchemy, you might be interested in the “Alchemy & Harry Potter” essays in “The Leaky Cauldron.”

    About the points system, you said “But—and this is key to the system—we don’t deduct points. We don’t obsess over the things we ought not to have done, we don’t beat ourselves up over things we should have done and didn’t, we don’t have a list like Earl’s that needs to be balanced.’

    If you were brought up Episcopalian, as I was, you do indeed deduct points. “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done.” Maybe it’s time I stopped? Except that Sloth is my biggest vice. Certainly not yours!!!

  3. wildoakvirginia on December 30, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    And, dear author, what do you do with all your accumulated points? What do they add up to or for? What do they really stand for? Gratitude is such a awesome state of grace. Maybe that is what the points add up to: a certain state of grace.
    Love your blog. Happy New Year, best to you and those you love.

  4. Anonymous on December 31, 2006 at 8:35 am

    Points: for you, for this tremendously entertaining and surprisingly helpful blog. For me: exercising restraint with myself, and with others, when my instinctual, rather habitual, reaction is to react, over-react, with anger. I spent most of yesterday crying and feeling sorry for myself and hurting; I read your latest blog entry and started toting up points. Thank you for re-directing me.

  5. Tori K. on January 1, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Happy New Year Ms. King!
    I pray for health and safety for you and especially your family in this year to come.
    Thanks for all of your hard work; your fantastic books which I look forward to w/ much anticipation, your entertaining blogs, and your devotion to answering fan mail, signing books, and touring in general–all of which I have happily experienced!

  6. WDI on January 1, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks for the points, Laurie. And for your post. I reminded my daughter, as she was remarking about what a rough year this has been for all of us (she’s quite right about that), that we all get huge points for hanging together as a family and being good to one another through all the travails. It was a nice gift to be able to give her, and I don’t know that I would’ve thought of it that way on my own.

    Happy New Year!

  7. Maria on January 1, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    Happy New Year!

    Ahh…I get points because I brought three of your books last month? WoW! They have brought me much joy and entertain and even inspiration for writing fictions (yes the scientific crap gets tedious after a while.

    Triple points to you for this wonderful blog and staying in touch with your fans and readers!

    Pray be well and best wishes to you and your family!

    Best New Year greetings!

  8. Roxanne on January 2, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Whew! I return to work after the holiday break to find 62 comments attached to the “Miss Manners” post. Pretty impressive. I will have to catch up on my reading of everone’s comments a little at a time.

    Ms. King, although you have not yet solicited questions for the month of January, I will ask one anyway: what is the title of the story mentioned in one of the aforementioned 62 comments, described by the writer as “the pot smoking lady-in-pain?”

    I (,too,/too) often feel “flat-out like Bambi on the ice, legs splayed beneath the accumulation of shit.” I hope this New Year brings us all fewer burdens to be borne, greater strength to deal with the aforementioned “accumulation,” and friends to help us carry the load.

    Thank you, Ms. King, for your blog. Your postings are thought-provoking, so often educational, and always enjoyable.

    And I would like to thank your community of “commentators.” Happy New Year to all.

    P.S. For what it’s worth, I am a cataloguing librarian by profession. I would have catalogued The Art of Detection with the following additonal subject headings: Lesbians; Gays; Holmes, Sherlock (Fictitious character). I would not have listed these as a warning–but as “access points”–so that interested readers could find these books.

  9. Anonymous on January 2, 2007 at 7:26 pm

    Dear LRK,

    I’ve read all your books. I’ve bought them all. Thank you so much and Happy New Year.

  10. YourFireAnt on January 2, 2007 at 9:44 pm

    Oh, this was delightful! I laughed and I loved it. I took it to heart and to the office. I’m sending it (or your blog address) to my sister, whose points sensibility is very much like yours and will relish the post. I’m glad I earned so many points for buying/reading your books, though the immense enjoyment might lop off a few in the long run. In the short run I’ll take all the points I can get. And offer you bonus points for the gift of your words on whatever page they land on.

    Happy New Year!


  11. 2maple on January 3, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    Funny how the opportunity to gather points shows up when least expected. On the next to last day of the year my husband gathered some hard to get points from our daughter. She came home from work, bringing with her another young woman who’s car had slid of the road in an unannounced snow storm (the second complete miss out of only two storms by the weathermen this season!). He dropped what he was doing and off they went in our old truck. He pulled her car back onto the road, rescuing a damsel in distress, saving her tow truck fees and being that hero who can fix any situation that little girls always thing their dads are (and teenage girls rarely acknowledge, but count on to be there just the same).

    Here’s to next year having more good than bad!

  12. Anonymous on January 3, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    Happy New Year to LRK, but also to all you wonderful commenters. We are a motley bunch. Points unlimmited all around.

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