The Common Herd

Dorothy Cannell: Several years ago I was invited to a drinks and ‘horseydervy” party Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 3.23.58 PMwhere other than my husband and hostess I didn’t know anyone present. As a result, the latter took me round the room and made introductions. Husband, true to form, merged into a group of men talking about tools and their reverence for Home Depot. During my circling I heard several people say how wonderful it was that – let’s call her ‘Estelle’ – had come. Such a surprise! So rarely did she socialize. Couldn’t afford to take time away from her life’s work.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 3.23.05 PMGlances were cast in the direction of woman standing in a corner. I won’t describe her other than to say she was approximately my age and she had that clever way with floaty scarves that I have never managed. I was intrigued and a little intimidated when my hostess brought me up to her. What could this life’s work be? Something scientific, or math related perhaps. Having never grasped how electricity works and having long forgotten how to do fractions, I have always thought people of that turn of mind brilliant beyond belief. It was a shock when my hostess announced after making the introduction that Estelle and I had something in common.

“You both write.”

“Oh! So nice to meet you!” I said on a gulp of relief. This did make things easier. “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your last name. What’s your area?”


“Dorothy does mysteries,” contributed our hostess.

“Really?” Estelle stared over my head as befitted someone on a higher plane. Understandable, of course! After all … genre fiction! The fact that people read it by the droves only proves how tacky it must be.

“I’m afraid I haven’t heard of you,” she continued, “but then I wouldn‘t have even if you were a name. I haven’t read a novel in years, even of the critically acclaimed sort. I can’t allow another’s prose to cloud my own, to infect my vision … the luminosity that must pervade not only every sentence but every word.”

“Estelle has been working for years on this book,” beamed our hostess, “so it is bound to be incredibly significant when finished and will win all the coveted awards. The Pulitzer, the Booker …”

“I’d rather not say anymore about it,” said Estelle, meeting my eyes for the first time. “I don’t want to sound rude, but I get tired of fending off questions about the concept – I suppose you’d call it the plot.” She could have been speaking to a toad.

I didn’t ask if it was her first. Had to be if it’s her life’s work. I caught sight of my husband Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 3.26.45 PMand murmured that I’d better join him before he bored people talking about the fence he was building to keep in the dog. He can go on a bit about ‘Do it yourself’ challenges, but I was suddenly eager to have him enchant me with a monologue on hammers. They make such lovely murder weapons. Everyone has one, so hard to identify if you get the blood off right away. I wondered, as I sped his way, how many people had been tempted to give Estelle a mortal clout to the head. This summer I have thought several times of that encounter with her and I have to say that her isolating herself in her ivory tower, far from the common herd, has grown in appeal.

I’d be much further ahead with Peril in the Parish if not having spent a lot of time with family and friends, either at home or on excursions around Maine. Perhaps if I’d proclaimed that I was writing a significant book, one certain to set the literary world ablaze – that would have Austen, Dickens and Tolstoy turning in their graves in envy, they would have insisted on my having months … years of alone time with my masterpiece. I do hope Estelle’s was not destined to languish in a drawer until it turned to dust and that she has not come to regret not mingling more with the common herd.

I’ve found there’s a lot of grazing to be done – helpful to propelling my storyline forward when living life at its most wonderfully interrupted.


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19 Responses to The Common Herd

  1. Jewel Hanley says:

    Love your humor.

  2. Hi, Dorothy,
    I was immediately suspicious of this woman at the mention of her floaty scarf. I can’t make one look good to save my life. Of course, that’s unfair stereotyping on my part. Our own Kate Flora wears scarves with verve and panache and she’s about as far from being a literary snob as anyone I know. Thanks for the early morning chuckle.


  3. Wonderful post, Dorothy. My favorite line: She could have been speaking to a toad.

    I suspect her masterpiece will be sitting in that drawer until not only it – but she – turns to dust.

  4. Hi Dorothy! Your post gave me a chuckle this morning. I attended a literary party a few years ago among the Denver Literary elite (snort). I was surrounded by floaty scarf ladies and gentlemen who thought it was hilarious to call me “Proser.” Poet joke. I was the only one in the crowd who wrote (gasp) vulgar genre fiction (Horror and Fantasy). I guess these floaty scarf folks are everywhere! LOL

  5. Dorothy says:

    Glad you enjoyed the blog. My scarves permanently reside in the closet.


  6. MCWriTers says:

    Dorothy, you’ll be amused to know that one of the exercises I give my writing students is a scenario where they are at a party, and someone asks what they do. Taking a chance, they declare that they are a writer. The other person inquires: Are you published, and when the answer is no, the person walks away. Assignment: Write what comes next…I get some really interesting responses to the exercise. In this case, of course, you walked away.

    BTW, I do have a link to a video about how to tie scarves, in case you ever want to let them “out of the closet.”


  7. Triss Stein says:

    The solution is: put her in a book. As the victim. Or the villain. (I”m sure you’ve thought of it already)

    As to those floaty scarves, yes, indeed. I have and wear lots of them. They always end up looking like part of a Girl Scout uniform. No pizazz whatever. Sigh.

  8. MCWriTers says:

    Okay. I can’t help myself. Here’s the little video that will bring all our scarves under control: More ways to tie a scarf:

  9. Barb Ross says:

    You also had me at the floaty scarves. Sadly I have purchased and then finally donated far too many. I can barely keep my clothes from hanging off me funny. Why I ever think adding more layers to the mix will be sustainable…sigh.

    I, too, have met floaty scarf lady (or a floaty scarf lady, not that floaty scarf lady). I hope her children bury her with the manuscript when the time comes. After all, it clearly meant more to her than the human people.

  10. Edith says:

    What wonderful observations! I, too, am of the “wear a scarf in winter because it keeps my neck warm” population.

    Too bad your hostess didn’t mention how many books and stories you have out there with avid readers clamoring for the next!

  11. Thank you for a wonderful laugh. I loved how she doesn’t read novels….

  12. Nancy martin says:

    I have DRAWERS full of scarves. I’ve decided I can tie them together and use them to rapell out of the second floor in the event of a fire. (hello, dear Dorothy! I still think of you guiding me through the labyrinth of Crystal City!)

  13. A good laugh, thanks.

  14. sandy gardner says:

    what a wonderful post! And so true (about genre fiction). Some so-called “literary” people are snobbish to a fault. (but I bet most of them are secret genre readers…..)
    However, I do wish you’d got hold of that hammer or any other would-be weapon and…..
    thanks for this!
    Sandy Gardner

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