Friday, December 21, 2012

Milk and Elves

We have only three days left until Christmas eve. Three days to make pierogi, finish shopping and present-making, and finish my pre-Christmas cleaning. Cleaning before Christmas is essential - a clean house on Christmas Eve will make everything easier throughout the year. I also wake up especially early on Christmas eve, and avoid as many frustrations as possible to keep the year peaceful and to keep myself from sleeping late all year long. There’s a lot of pressure packed into one day, so today, while I can, I’m going to put my feet up and drink some ‘magic milk’. I don’t have a consistent recipe for my magic milk - a drink I discovered at a cafe in my hometown. They used milk, almond milk, saffron, cardamom, nutmeg, and vanilla (I think). I use whatever I happen to have. Today it’s a small pot of milk, with almonds, a vanilla bean, cardamom, nutmeg, and just the tiniest amount of cinnamon steeping together on the stove. When it’s hot, but not boiling, I take out the almonds and the vanilla bean, froth the milk and pour it into cheerful blue and white cups.

I’m rereading a story my husband read to me last weekend - "The King of the Elves" - about a tired old man who lends a hand to a troop of tiny elves and ends up their king. I loved the whole of it - from his desperate attempts to explain his new role to the other men to the needy, peevish uncertainty of the elves. It’s a story ideal for reading aloud in the evenings - not too long with visually satisfying characters and just enough excitement. But nice for quiet reading as well, on a Friday afternoon while snow blows outside and hot milk steams on the stove.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflection: Art and Motherhood

The week off has been good for my writing, and for the Christmas projects, now almost done, Yarrow's red dress is only waiting for embellishment. I drove everywhere Friday, picking up the meat, storing it, bringing my husband to and from work, yet somehow I spent most of the day in happy ignorance. When I learned what had happened I was overwhelmed. My prayers go out for all those poor babies, their families, and for the killer.  I was more than usually grateful for my quiet home, for a weekend - extended by storms through Tuesday,  for the wood piled high beside my stove, and for lots of time to think.
In times of reflection, I often retreat into Rilke whose poetry captures so perfectly all the nuances of the soul.  Rilke, who believed that women artists should forego motherhood for the sake of their art, that the creation of art was incompatible with motherhood. I've been thinking of this often - he believed this, primarily because he saw motherhood itself as an artistic path, and felt that each artist must commit himself (or herself in this case) to a path without dividing the creative passion. It is one of the reasons he also struggled with faith.
I can see the either/or aspects of art in motherhood, but I think there is room for them to coexist. The artistic life is a challenge to anyone who pursues it. Unmarried, an artist has more freedom and fewer distractions than married - if like a priest he is able to give his art a position of primacy. Married, the artist has more to overcome: I know that one of my primary distractions is my housekeeping. I don’t like to work, and often I can’t work when things are out of place. Some days the house is a constant frustration, failing my ideal again and again until it’s time to make dinner and go to bed - unorganized firewood really shouldn’t prevent me from working, but too often it does, and once the firewood has been rearranged, the bits of wood need to be swept up, and then the rugs should be shaken out, and then the disorder of the yard comes to my attention, until the stove needs to be tended again - leaving tiny bits of wood on the floor again and leading me to notice that the walls really are dirty…

Motherhood, of course adds to the distractions of the married artist - now in addition to this particular artist's intense dislike of mess, there is a mess-making little one: destroying the neatly swept piles of tiny wood-bits, delighting in destruction, and encouraging the dog in her evil tendencies - Rilke never mentions the effects of a dog on the artist, he should have, they’re even more distracting - children may possible nap or play quietly at the right time, a dog is designed by nature to discover a menace hiding in the trees every time the artist settles down to work.

I do think that Rilke missed the art producing aspects of motherhood. The inspiration children bring, and the possibility that each daily task - whether mothering or straightening the rugs which the dog insists on putting out of order - is capable of producing beauty, nourishing the artist’s other children : her poems or pots, canvases or stories. It may be that I just don’t like seeing limitations in life but I believe that art and life and faith all feed each other, and I hope that, while I may lose the moments that might have been spent writing or throwing feeding croissant dough to Yarrow, who can’t help but share with Luba, the long, lovely days when nothing is written are more creative than all the hours spent scribbling when I was single and free to ignore everything for the sake of a line.
Any thoughts of your own to share?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tea Retreat

Jenna and I are retreating from our discussion for the season. We have plans to pick it up - less often and refreshed, after Christmas. For the rest of this month, I’m pursuing other projects. Christmas is fast approaching - I have a little dress to make, presents to wrap, pork to collect from the butcher, and so many winter plans to bring to fruition. We have an icy layer of snow on the ground, it’s a loud walking under the stars, when everything else is silent.

I’m planning my own retreat from Cyganeria for a week or so, because our last discussion of the distractions inherent in our technological world has reminded me of my own tendency to become absorbed in the world online. So I’ll be writing more, praying more, reading more, and putting my snow-covered yard in order this week, all while hopefully building those daily habits of beauty that I so desire to make a part of every moment.

Enjoy a week of tea and reflection, with a good book or two, and some homemade croissants. A delightful accompaniment to snowy afternoon reading is a drink called London Fog: early grey tea, steamed milk (or light cream) and just a hint of vanilla (I like tossing half a vanilla bean in the milk as it heats on the stove). It’s lovely with croissants, or Russian tea cakes (if you don’t put any sugar in your tea).

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Delayed Discussion - More on Books

I’d like to continue last week’s conversation on the importance of books. Jenna’s response last week was delightful, and I couldn’t help but think it over again and again, along with the comments George left on my own post. Jenna is right, we don’t need books themselves anymore than we need writing at all. We exist without them, but do we thrive without them? But printed pages and pretty bindings have as much to do with aesthetics as practicality. We are creatures made for beauty and substance - for an experience that unites the senses, as a good book does.
I realize that I’m biased. That, while I’m not anti-technology, I’m also not a lover of all things new. And ebooks are completely impractical in my life, more so than my little laptop and my solar-powered Christmas lights. But that’s one of the glories of books themselves. Physical things, requiring nothing but a willing mind, they transcend so many boundaries. I can lend and borrow books, I can nestle beside my window with a book and not worry about finishing it before the battery dies. And I worry a bit, because now, when we travel, people bring along an ipod packed with days of music, a ebook loaded down with potential, and there is less and less space for human contact. When I travel, and am tired of Rilke and whoever else I’ve brought along, I’m forced to see the people around me. I’ve had my palm and birth-date interpreted by an Indian musician, I’ve listened to a paroled drug-dealer tell me all about his adorable pet bunny, eaten grapefruit in the rain with a man who ‘just needed a million dollars’ to make his life right, and laughed with a drunk Irishman on his plane-ride home. Each conversation started because the few books I could pack didn’t hold my attention and the world woke up around me. If I’d had my entire library along, they would never have been, and I would be without those people in my mind.
I know that the loss of human contact in our culture is not the fault of the ebook, and I have no problem with it’s existence, I just worry about it’s effect. George, Jenna, does this worry you at all? What do you think, everyone, am I just ridiculous to want a physical thing that can be asked about and then set aside? Is there a way to share ebooks? Do you ever regret having too many choices?

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Tomorrow is the beginning of the new liturgical year; yesterday was the feast of St. Andrew, the end of the old season. I love St. Andrew’s eve, but tend to forget him on his day; the eve is full of mystery and hints of the future, the day is a reminder that all things pass away. On the eve of St. Andrew (Andrzejki) tradition calls for dripping wax into a bowl of water by moonlight and reading the shapes to find out what will be. Dreams are important on St. Andrew’s as well, and I’m grateful to have had good ones this year, it gives me a good feeling for the coming year. My dreams have been rambling and uncertain in November, they leave me unrested and unprepared for dawn; but Saint Andrew’s eve brought hope and peace.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why do we need books?

Why does the world need books?

      When I answered this question last week, I wasn’t thinking of books as objects, I was thinking of literature, specifically. When Jenna responded, she mentioned that this question deserved a discussion of it’s own; so now I’m starting that discussion by looking at why the world needs books - not merely writing or literature, but the books themselves.

I don’t own an e-reader: a kindle or a nook or whatever other brands have come out. I don’t like reading from a screen enough to want one and I don’t need another thing to plug into my cigarette lighter. But apart from that, I don’t own one because I really like the feeling of holding a book. I like the texture of pages - thick, cream-colored journals or barely there Bible pages. I like the scent of books, old and new. Books give us something e-books can’t: a sensual connection to the words. I’m not anti-technology, I love blogging and facebooking, I like the ability to connect to people across the country quickly. But I don’t have an emotional connection to my laptop like I do to my books, I can’t fold down page corners and write in notes in my margins. I think we need books to continue connecting our minds to our senses and to have something meaningful that lasts when technology fails.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving..and the discussion

It’s Thanksgiving. And yesterday I was busier than I am today, baking the pies and tarts and bread for today. This morning we had apple pastries with caramel sauce and whipped cream for breakfast, with black coffee to cut the sweetness. The turkey is ready to go in the oven, but it’s a bit early yet, so I have time to post the discussion I failed to write yesterday, which is another list, longer than last weeks, in honor of the holiday:
1. If you could escape into just one story, what would it be?
I think it would be … I really don’t know. I don’t think I want to escape completely into any story..

2. What book do you think should be mandatory for writers?
I don’t really like the idea of any book being mandatory, I think reading in abundance should be, but not any specific book…If I had to choose, I’d lean towards Tolstoy’s Human and Divine collection, there is so much that is universally good in those stories, which might help in giving direction.

3. What movie do you think should be mandatory viewing for writers?
..again with the “mandatory”..but I would push Babette’s Feast or Pan’s Labyrinth on anyone. I would also push Serenity on anyone, but not necessarily because it would help with writing, just because I’m obsessed.

4. Do you ever take drugs, smoke, or drink to ‘encourage’ your imagination while writing?
No. But I loved hearing one writer (I wish I could remember who) say that after reading Hemingway, he announced to his class that he wanted to be an alcoholic when he grew up ( so he could write like Hemingway..

5. Why does the world need books?
I’m stealing this directly from the website that gave me this list (and Hemingway) “ make things truer than if they actually happened.”

6. What part of the process do you find most difficult?
Editing. It’s not at all based on mood and inspiration, but on discipline, and I’m lacking a lot of that discipline. That said, I think editing is where most of my writing goes from pathetic to likeable.

7. What books have scared you the most?
As far as books that freak me out, I had a little, old book written in German that terrified me for no known reason. I couldn’t read it, and it always seemed to be turning up in new places, I hated it, but it took me a few years to actually get rid of it. A part from that, I really can’t think of one, though I’ m sure there were a few that gave me trouble sleeping..

How about you? And Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Weekend Tea

My mother gave me the tea the came with her tea set, a British ‘weekend morning tea’. I drank it Saturday morning with cream and a bowl of oatmeal. Delightful. The house is all out of order from our days at home doing nothing. It’s nice to do nothing some days. Saturday we went nowhere. I made whole wheat bread and set ciabatta to rise, I threw a bowl, edited a poem and read with my feet tucked up on my rocking chair. On Sunday, we woke early enough to eat before Liturgy and still keep the fast. We had eggs, bacon, coffee, bread, and butter in the cold pre-dawn.
After mass, and still full from breakfast, we watched the frosted ground soften and my husband began making a nativity set while Yarrow chased Luba with her tiny broom and I filled my mind with herbs and tinctures. We ate bacon tuna melts with leftover creamy potato-broccoli soup for dinner, with Yarrow refusing everything but avocado and croissant. She would eat avocados forever if we had enough of them, washing them down with heavy cream until her fatness made the burden of clothes impossible.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Discussing Lists..

Because I love lists, I’m stealing this week’s discussion straight from Spinning Straw Into Gold:
Three things that have made me a better writer..

1. Honestly, and not just in an attempt to tie in to last weeks discussion: obsessing over writers I love. Picking them apart and analysing the text. Jenna’s right when she says analysis is supposed to influence and encourage us. It does, and who better to find encouragement in that the stories I can’t live without! Analysing them, specifically is a way to focus in on what is so attractive to me about certain authors. It also helps me realize when my own style is being over-run by a new favorite, so I can step back and re-evaluate.

2. Blogging. I know I don’t edit nearly enough here, and that my spelling is embarrassing, but I really do think that blogging itself, as well as the community I’ve discovered here has improved my writing, and encouraged me to keep at it. It’s like having constant, but not at all overwhelming pressure to perform, just a little bit; to reflect just a little bit more than usual, and also to open my writing up a bit more for criticism..which is something I’ve always had trouble doing.

3. Living Intensely. Life itself, with all it’s joys and sorrows, really is the best teacher. Nothing forces me to write honestly and passionately more than deep pain or overwhelming happiness, and each day I live I learn anew how many experiences are beyond my understanding. This opportunity, to learn and suffer and grow as a person as well as a writer is the best formation we have, and I’m grateful as I learn to take my life and form it into many tiny pieces of beauty.

What about you? They don’t have to be different, we can agree. Or maybe there is something else entirely for you?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Elections and the Exhausted Fan

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m nursing a post-election hangover..
Not because I stayed up late to hear the results come in, I didn’t, we went to bed before eight last night actually, though the pigs woke me up at 12:30 (I’ve no idea why, I think they were mad that their water froze) -just in time to feed the stove and hear the election results. I’ve got a hangover because ‘election day’ is so full of emotion for everyone around me. So many people pinning their hopes and dreams on one person. Facebook is full of argument and exultation.

I’d like to keep it light today. Jenna’s post last week was delightful! Reading about Jenna’s Harry Potter fandom always makes me want to go to one of the fan conventions, I know I wouldn’t really belong, but I’d like it if I wasn't alone. Jenna, if there’s ever one on the east coast, you can stay with us, and we can go together. I won’t think or say anything snarky, I’ll just enjoy myself.

Jenna mentioned textual analysis in her post on fandom. Analyzing the texts we love is a big part of loving for many of us..(and not just in literary fandom, my husband and I have talked for hours about various hidden beauties in Firefly!) So when we analyze how often to we critique? Or is it just all affirmation (for me, it is mostly affirmation..I like to defend my favorites, even against my own mind). But occasionally, I’ll be tough. I think. Maybe…hmm..I can’t really think of a time, but I know they exist. I’ve thought that Tolkien should have had longer appendices, that he could have included more of the daily-life of the various races, that he might of added more history..nothing that actually would have increased the popularity of the books, I’m sure, but things I would have preferred. Textual analysis of my favorite books is almost always submissive to The Fan Instinct, but it is a delightful aspect, and the language of Tolkien allows me to analyze as I would myth or hagiography, instead of fiction - dorky, I know, but absolutely delightful. I like grand themes and minutiae, I like character histories, but not too much information. I like mystery too.

How do you analyze your favorites? What aspects do you find most intriguing? How does it develop your relationship to the text?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints

The day always feels like vacation. A chance to catch up with old friends. A time to apologize for missing feast-days and thank under-appreciated ones for secret support. And it is a day of preparation. A day to look forward at the new-born month with eagerness. There is so much potential here! I may have spent my October in a many colored haze of leaves and earth and dark skies, but November is here, and it demands a different rhythm - a bundled, reflective, and slow-moving rhythm. I’m drinking less coffee these days and remembering to feed the stove, even during the day. I’m wearing bright colors outside and lighting the lamps in early evening. The days are shorter and darker.

I’m planning sewing projects for the month: a wool skirt for me, a cushion cover for the rocking chair, pillow-cases, and curtains. Easy projects with straight lines while I learn to love working on my beautiful machine. I’ve similar plans for my kick-wheel: easy projects: sake cups and soup bowls, while I fall into the rhythm of kicking and working, working and kicking again. Hard work, but worth the effort - like everything in life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Fan..

I thought we’d talk about literary fandom this week. Last week, I linked a post I’d found about the fans of Twilight. It was interesting, in that it gave an idea of how we tend to dismiss Other Fans as ridiculous without looking for the shared experience. The blogger is not a Twilight fan, neither am I, and it’s true I have trouble understanding why fans of the series don’t see the issues I see in the books, but the post had a tone that tended toward unkind. Not being a fan of the series, I missed a lot of the attitude in my first look. But I can catch it in any review of Tolkien because I'm fan. Not the dorky kind, the one who names her kids after characters or watches the awful movies Peter Jackson made from The Lord of the
Rings over and over. I’m kind that learned elvish and Old English in College, studies the Appendices and can tell you all about the First Age of Middle Earth. So, the dorkier kind, I guess. I never really put myself under the label: Tolkien Fan until I caught myself correcting someone on a tiny detail from the Silmarrillion, my husband looked at me and grinned, knowing I’d have to see it now. So I’m developing a sympathy for Harry Potter fans, and Twilight fans. It’s not Tolkien, but there is something similar in the way all fans relate to their books. For me the real relationship was possible because there was a whole mythology, there was depth and meaning and intention, along with a story to follow and characters to love. I like knowing that there is information I’ll never know, I like the grandness of it all and the obsessiveness of the author. I like being able to fall into a world that is real enough to believe in. But there are other reasons books have fans. What is similar? What’s different?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fourth Friday Fairy-Tale prompt (from Spinning Straw into Gold)

(I almost gave up month, because I'm not happy yet with this one, and I generally don't like sharing poems I'm not completely happy with, but the prompt is designed to encourage us to open up a bit writing-wise with each other, and so here it is, warts and all. Be kind with criticism, please, but do give it!)

Why do you call us
angels? Laughing at our bird’s wings
The river gave us?

You, smelling of incense and dark, earth-
birthed greens. Soft-eyed
boy under dying tree; thoughts
like early apples bursting in the sun-

              nearer. It will be

a baptism with us, while your eyes
reproach and tiny wings
sop the blood.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I’m sorry, I didn’t post in the discussion yesterday. I thought about it, but then I got absorbed in cleaning behind the woodstove. Then I went online determined to post and I ended up wasting the battery on facebook. I guess this isn’t the week for me, writing-wise, I haven’t written much at all this week; my mind’s been full up of other things. How often does that happen to you? Instead of writing, I’ve been setting up for winter. We’re going to cover two of the windows, to conserve heat this winter, and curtain the others, so they can allow light, but can also be insulated. I’ve patched a bad spot in the road, prepared a space in the yurt for a bathtub (one of those old claw-foot beauties!) so that we can have long, warm soaks after a cold day outside, I’ve become comfortable with my sewing machine (at last!), enough to make a cover for the feather bed, and I’ve been taking my turn at sifting the soil in the front garden - a hard job, especially with Yarrow eager to help.
So Jenna, enjoy another Monday off while I try to re-balance my daily life. Next week I’ll probably have burned myself out on autumn work and be writing like crazy.
 But here's a link to an interesting little post reviewing a book on fan-culture, because, sometime soon, I think it'd be fun to discuss fandom in the book-world.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Our Happy Dead

October is the dying month. My beeches are dry, earthy gold, rustling and clicking in the wind. The days are as haunted as the nights. I have candles burning all evening for all my many intentions, on the altar where St. Francis refuses to look away from Christ, a bundle of twigs at his feet to remind the saints of the coming winter. The burnt Virgin looks tired, watching the fire all night while St. Anthony spends his time hiding earrings and spoons. 
There are so many happy signs around us this week, I’m collecting them for understanding later. I watch the crows gather and play while Petka waves welcome to them, we watch the falling leaves and the shooting stars, bless our days with beads and water and wait for clarity. Good days are building in the slow month before All Soul’s.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Anonymous Author

I’m opinionated. My mother has used words like harsh, judgmental, and critical to describe me in the not-too-distant past (last month), and sometimes she’s right, I’m a snob. I like good books, books that don’t read like a fifth-grader’s first draft, books that don’t make me wonder if the entire world is illiterate. I like good coffee, not weak decaf, gas-station pumpkin spice, or burnt beans. I try not to be harsh about my preferences, but sometimes - like when people claim Dunkin’ Donuts has good coffee, or that The DaVinci Code is a “smart, smart, book,” I do get vocal.
    Jenna recently sent me this article, by an author I’ve never read, about the affect the public persona of an author has on the reader. It’s not something I’ve thought much about before, but I realized that I do judge authors by the way they present themselves. I can forgive a good deal of disagreement on politics, religion, life-in-general, but I have stopped reading author’s whose tone is condescending, who doesn’t seem to respect the reader, or who doesn’t seem honest in relating to the public. And sometimes, I’ve stopped reading an author because I can’t get past the bad back cover photo (if that isn’t harsh I don’t know what is).

There is a danger in becoming too public as a personality, devoting too much time to blogging, tweeting, interviewing, and entertaining. ‘Being an Artist’ can take up all the time that used to go toward creating art. Camus has a fun little story “Jonas, or The Artist at Work” about a man who becomes overrun by the distractions of Being an Artist. There’s something off-putting about back-cover photos - they always fall short of the image I’d like to have of the author, and if he goes online to discuss his opinions of the election, praise writers I’m convinced are bad, and update me on his daily weight-loss regime, I might lose the ability to see him as anything but a sweaty jogger in obnoxious t-shirts. In short, writers should think before they build a public image. They should be honest in blogs and interviews, but the sort of honesty you bring to a first date, not the sort you share with old friends on a drunken weekend. Because they are crafting an image - and it shouldn’t be completely unattractive, right?

Friday, October 12, 2012


      I’m thankful life doesn’t turn out as expected. I thought about it yesterday, on my knees in the dirt while a pig gnawed at my pant-leg and Petka clung to my arm, trying to hammer together the pallets that make up their pen. I could never have imagined myself so.. rugged. Even the activities I’d imagined for myself -writing and cleaning, throwing and baking are different. Full of the tang of reality. I think I’ve found my niche - found, not settled in - perfection is a long way off.

My house is a beautiful mess this morning, everything scattered because my mind is on other things: the child and dog competing for scrapes of breakfast, and half formed poem, the wind around the house and the cold air it brings. I’m writing - one eye on the greedy ones - at a table with cold coffee and candles stubs, empty glasses and misplaced spice jars form last night’s hot cocoa, the remains of which have just been discovered by Petka, abandoning breakfast for something better. I like having a home in the disorder, it fits me, perfection is something to strive for, to build up in dreams and slowly pursue. I’m going to spend the day bringing order to my candle stubs, leftovers, and loose papers, enjoying the process, and the inability to succeed.

Monday, October 8, 2012


The sun is autumn-bright, pine-needles make the path to the outhouse slippery for the tiny moccasined feet that follow me out and back again. I’m planning black coffee and fig-jam filled pancakes for tea and cleaning up the messy that’s collected this past week. Petka is napping. I spent the morning prioritizing my nap time activities - the poem I’m trying to finish for this, the article I’m working on for that, pilates and letters and here I am, posting a blog - which is actually on the list, but lower down, because Yarrow doesn’t make blogging impossible so much as she slows it down. I could use a lesson or two from her. She likes things to be slow and peaceful, my little elf. She likes the long days at home, and the hour long strolls up and down the driveway, stopping to pick up a stone, a leaf, a stick; stopping to write out her magic in the dirt and laugh up at the sky. She likes the days with no visitors, and she likes to watch her bushia’s truck pull up in the yard, wave and smile.

    Jenna is taking the week off, to do the things in life that pile up when priority goes to the computer, our discussion will return again next week. There’s no rush, we have time. I might do the same, spend this week mainly off-line, canning apples and making jams, putting the gardens to bed and stacking wood. Finishing poems. Sewing. Reading Each Peach, Pear, Plum again and again to the girl who enjoys repetition almost as much as her beloved Baby Jesus. But if I can, I’ll wake up early to post things and enjoy the wider world. It will be my gift to myself for learning again to love the dark autumn morning.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ways and Means

This week we’re going to continue discussion technology and it’s effect on writing with another of Jenna’s suggestions. I tend to write my drafts with a pen. Ideally a very nice, black pen, able to make a nice, dark line on the paper. I don’t generally like lined paper, except in journaling, and hate writing in pencil. I used to type my edited poems on the typewriter, but mine is having trouble now, so I tend to just rewrite. I love handwritten drafts. The look, the feel, the scent, and all the crossed out bits that I can rediscover later and edit back in. A computer doesn’t allow me to have the crossed out sections, so when I write on the computer I tend to delete whole pages in a fit of simplification only to discover later that I really wanted one partially remembered bit back. Those are my reasons for writing by hand. But do I think it has an impact on the final product, in general, not for me specifically? I don’t know, I think it must, but I wouldn’t go so far to say the impact is good or bad. I can’t usually tell the difference between a typewritten or handwritten final draft. The impact is less on the outcome than the process. I think typing everything on the computer leads to a more transitory relationship to the words themselves, they are so easily deleted, they haven’t ‘bled’ on the page the way written words do, but that impermanence gives the writer more freedom while editing to completely transform the piece.
I do wonder, in my more judgmental moments, whether writing solely on the computer has contributed to the huge number of badly written, barely edited books coming out on the market. I know I edit less when I see my writing on a screen instead of a page, and I know that the ability to put so much done, so quickly, with no fear of running out of space has encouraged me to over-write at times. But I don’t know how much of this is due to my own personal weaknesses as a writer and how much is due to the influence of technology. I’m interested to see the response here, because I don’t have a set opinion, so much as a collection of muddled feelings and impressions.

What do you think? Do we need to reclaim the written word, abandon our computers and return to a place without screens and humming monitors? I don’t think so, but I would argue for keeping the texture of writing alive in some way, in typewriters, inky pens, and coffee stained pages that can be finalized on the computer, but have lived in some way without it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Media Junkie Learns the Value of Moderation

Jenna’s given me some great topics to pull from for the next few weeks. Some relate well to what we have been discussing, but because I’m still on the high of at home internet, I’d really like to talk a bit about Silence and creativity. Not that my life is really silent, even without the computer. Luba likes to wait until something important is happening - something requiring silence - and only then discover the monsters that hover around our house. They’re always just out of sight, but she knows they’re there, waiting to kill us all if she stops barking. But the article isn’t talking about silence so much as it’s referring to peace. A peace that can actually be had in the midst of barking and birds and whatever other sounds fill your day, but can’t be had on Facebook, or on the phone, or in front of the television. It’s coversation, and the conversation hybrids that slip in through the media that break the silence. Maybe because our minds want to treat them like a real discussion, and who can create art in the middle of a conversation? Maybe because everything is in snapshots and sound-bites.

That’s not to say real silence, in which dogs don’t bark, sirens don’t scream, and radio’s don’t play the same political clip over and over again, isn’t necessary as well. I love the time spent in silence - real silence -and solitude, but often a bit of sound is helpful to creation, if it’s the right sound. My husband playing guitar or piano, rain on the roof, wind in the trees, the soft voices of strangers on a train. Pure silence isn’t essential to me, but media silence is, I think, essential to art itself, because it breaks up the flow of images and thoughts. It creates too broad a collection of tiny pictures in my mind, and none of them can grow. Like the seed sown among weeds in Christ’s tale, art is like faith, it’s chokes on distraction.
The question for a lot of us,though, is how to respond to this. Media is not an essential, I'm learning that very few things are essentials, but it is helpful. I know the blogging world has been a lovely, virtual coffeehouse for me, an opportunity to meet people whose thoughts inspire and challenge me, who pursuits are similar and whose guidence is valuable. Media connects us to each other, and if it is given it's place, and not allowed to overwhelm us, it can be an absolute blessing. I can easily get addicted to facebook, to pinterest, to blogger, to youtube, but fortunately, my life sets pre-existing boundaries. If I have a fully charged computer, with nothing attached to it, I have about two and a half hours of internet. If, like today, I'm charging my phone off the computer, I have less. I could spend the evening in the car, charging and surfing the net, if my husband wasn't such a fascinating person to spend time with, but my days are still limited. Two hours, and then I'm alone with my barking dog, chatting daughter, and squealing pigs, all much better suited to encouraging art than Facebook. How other's deal with media, I don't know, I was an addict before I went off the grid, not everyone as lacking in self discipline.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tattoos, Headscaves, and Long Halls

We attend mass at the Basilica in town. It’s a big, beautiful old gray-stone church. Light, open, and Eastery. The early morning mass is the Extraordinary form. I prefer our liturgy to the novus ordo, primarily because I can’t resist the over-abundant ritual, but also becuase, like Flannery O Connor,"I do not like the raw sound of the human voice in unison unless it is under the discipline of music." . Our priest is a dual-rite Byzantine , and that is another benefit to me, as I miss the Liturgy of John Chrysostom.

       One thing I love about old churches are the long aisles lined in stained glass. I like the sound of my shoes on the tile as I walk. I like the saints with their votives watching from the walls. Visually, the church raises me up, even when Yarrow is being decidedly unpious, or when I’m too tired or preoccupied to hear the words from the altar. Our mass community attracts me visually as well. I love watching them trickle in. The Large and Confusing Family in twos and threes, the Somber Family already at prayer, the exuberant family, the fashionable couple, the mournful couple, the man with the lawnmower tattoo just above his receding hairline. The variety is thrilling, and so is the common enthusiasm.

Most of the women wear headscarves, at least part of the time, and it delights me to not be an oddity, to seethe diversity of scarves come in. I covet some of them, and simply admire others. I like the mystery the scarf gives to the wearer. I love the whole drama of the liturgy, and my own part in it as well

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My siblings have been pressuring me to start an online bookclub. The plan is to read a short story or an essay every two weeks, and discuss. It is not limited to family only! Please join us, if only to break up a fight or offer a slightly less biased opinion. We’re setting it up at The Coffee Cup, so please come by!

The plan right now is to give all of the regular readers a chance to pick short stories or essays for us to read and discuss in two week intervals, with lots of time for the reading and discussing, as not everyon has unlimited reading time and easy access to a library - I know I don't. But it should be fun, I have to figure out what to start with by tomorrow, and I'm still undecided.

I have candles everywhere tonight. They make the house warmer. The stove is on, the laundry is done, and we have a votive in front of St. Joseph at the Church in town, burning merrily.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Challenging Beauty

There is a preying mantis climbing the rafters above my head. Yarrow is sweating her way through dreamland with a fat smile and a tight fist. I spent the morning coffee-free , baking muffins and picking flowers. We have a frost advisory for tonight. I don’t know how that will affect our sunflowers. I’m transferring poems for further editing, and making lists. I am not writing a discussion post. It isn’t in me today, not with the wind and the falling leaves and the autumn air. But Jenna’s response last week was fantastic, and I have to respond a bit:
“The idea that anyone's highest calling could be to Fix Other People And/Or Society isn't just a wrong notion; it's dangerous.”

You can happily call me a nerd, but I’d encourage anyone interesting in pursuing this idea to watch the movie Serenity, or better yet, the whole Firefly series and Serenity. It’s a great look into what the attempt to ‘Make people better’ creates.

“Artists have one first and foremost purpose: to create beauty.

Out of ugliness, beauty. Out of chaos, order. Out of confusion, meaning. Out of despair, hope.

Out of darkness—and here I don't refer so much to the darkness of ignorance as to the darkness of faithlessness, hopelessness, and lovelessness—the lighting of a single candle and the placing of a mirror behind it. The pulling back of dusty curtains to reveal, if nothing else, the light of the stars.”

And this, Jenna, is just beautiful. Lovely writing, lovely imagery, lovely message. It makes me smile and treat myself to another whole cup of coffee. We agree so completely here, that I don’t even want to move on the the little disagreement..The challenge of beauty. But I will, because to write a response requires a bit of thought, and thought requires another cup of coffee, and I might as well finish off my whole pot at this point anyway, right?

I don’t think it’s a complete disagreement. I do think there is a place for accessible art (and even for accessible non-art), and Jenna’s right when she says that the shallow end is a good place to begin, but sometimes we get too comfortable there. We hold tight to our happy Bouguereau peasants and never wonder what Cezanne was doing with all that color, or we become like the late Roman poets, just reforming old phrasing and old ideas into tired old imitations, while Augustine is making the whole world new. And really, it’s the not wondering that worries me, the lack of interest in exploring, in challenging ourselves. The deep end might be too deep for some, but with water wings and a little floaty inner-tube, we can all wander a little closer to the middle. And that, I think, is the natural challenge inherent in beauty, from the fully accessible to the dangerous, it leaves us with the desire for something good just out of reach.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Looking Forward

There is a lot I need to be doing. Autumn is a busy season for us. I have the stove on this morning, a long list of “Things to Do”, and a mug of hot tea sitting just out of Petka’s reach. I’ve already fed the animals, prepared for the code-enforcer’s visit by emphasizing the ‘shed’ aspects of the kitchen building, checked my e-mails, and said the angelus. There is so much more to do, but I like to guard my early mornings. They’re comfortable, slow.

I write best in autumn, in the snatches of time between harvest fairs, canning, winter preparations and long leafy strolls. I have a small stack of autumn poems already awaiting editing. Almost all my poems are autumn poems. But today, now that this lovely, slow early morning is ended, I won’t have much time to write, I have the code man, the road, the fence, and dinner to deal with. But night is the best for writing anyway, so I can’t complain.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Artistic Distortions and Shock Value

Last week, in the comments Jenna wrote "So I saw something that made me fighting mad the other day, and thought it might inspire you blogalectically. It was a quote that went, roughly, "The highest calling of an artist is to challenge people's views and test the boundaries of society".

Like Jenna, my reaction is "No!"

No person's higest calling is merely to 'challenge people's views' or to 'test boundaries'. Those can be a part of an artist's calling, especially an artist who has been made very aware of some societal failing, but the artist's highest calling as an artist is the shaping of beauty and the conveying of truth.  I would add that the second is submissive to the first, and dependant on it. If he cannot make a thing of beauty in his art, he will be unable to share truth; if he succeeds in beauty, truth will be a part of the art, with or without his consent. 

Beauty and truth are challenging, for sure, to everybody's views in some way. I do believe that art must challenge us, in some way to grow. Art that is completely 'accessible' flounders a little in the shallow end of things, trading in it's ability to impact it's audience for the comforts of mass appeal. Society's boundaries should always be tested, but only in the pursuit of beauty.

Artist's have a tendency - I like to imagine it's common to everybody - to get wrapped up in the details. We like to paint ourselves as a sort of artistic ideal: the bohemian poet, the tortured intellectual, the drunk playwright, the distracted all of these little ideals lives the desire to "challenge people's views and test [society's] boundaries", but these ideals and desires are only a tiny part of the artistic calling. They can be an aspect of the whole-hearted pursuit of beauty, or they can be an idol, calling the artist away from his vocation, into certain failure. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Time and Opportunity


This is what Yarrow does in her spare time..and being a baby, it’s all spare time! Isn’t that a fantastic thought.

I've been spending time on little poems recently, which is actually a distraction, I'm supposed to be writing for money. Real Simple Magazine has a contest - prize $3,000, for an essay on Regrets, but the contest ends on the 14th apparently, and I'm slow at finishing things..still, $3000 should be motivation enough. I don't mind competition though, if anyone is more likely to get an essay actually finished in time!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Value of Education - A response.

Jenna’s response, and Christie’s deliciously long response in the comment section give me a lot to respond to regarding College education. Both remind us of how very burdensome the cost of college has become. Thanks to scholarships, and generous family, my husband and I managed to get though with minimal debt, so I don’t always think of the actual cost of education. But it’s a looming weight to many students. Many students forget, until it’s too late, the mountain of debt waiting for them when they graduate. And often, going to college is a means to an end - we go to have the college experience, to get a degree, to land a job, to turn that job into a career and settle in for the long haul. College often becomes just another stepping stone on the path to Success, and success is required to pay off the debt. When I began as a Theology major, we were all given a lecture by the head of the department: “This degree will not get you a job,” a disappointing reality that led a few to re-evaluate their direction. One of the positive parts of a college writing program is that the majority of the students and professors understand that their degree is not in pursuit of a career so much as it’s in pursuit of knowledge, the lecture is unnecessary.
I tend to romanticize my college days. Days and nights spent immersed in study, pursuing wisdom, and discussing the intangibles late into the night. I went to school with no intention of using my degree in the traditional sense. I wanted to educated, but I wanted education for it’s own sake, as undisciplined as my own interests. In reality I spent much of college immersed in the petty dramas that immerse many students, discussing in-depth the confusing behavior of the man I loved (now my husband - still loved, and only slightly less confusing). I generally focus on the intellectual highlights when I look back, but the social life is a huge part of the true value of higher education. I met many of my dearest friends in College, I learned a lot about myself, and I began to develop my interests as an adult. All good and helpful things, and all fascilitated in some way by college life.

“Not everyone is suited to the format and demands of university, and as things stand, the debts generally incurred in the obtaining of a degree are terribly burdensome.”

Jenna is right, not everyone is suited. And I’ve seen some sad results when people are thrown into the college system without the desire or ability to do well there, but only the vague notion that they ought to be in school. But my own experience of schooling is not at all to the point of regretting at any level, my college experience. I know I would be nowhere near where I am in my writing and intellectual life -not to mention my personal life- without my time at school. I don’t even regret my time skipping from program to program, it’s a path to degree I would love to give anyone - a B.A. in Random Information Ending in Passionate Study. An ideal degree. My senior writing professor had more influence on my education than any teacher up to that point. Her advice, guidance, affirmation, and critique alone was worth the cost of the entire degree. 
Neither my husband, whose degree is in Anthropology, nor I use our degrees in any professional sense. But neither would trade the education, which formed us well for life. That said, I think Christie’s experience is common, in part because, in trying to make college accessible to everyone, schools often hire professors who are unable to teach and guide their students past a stage of competence and into creativity. This is especially problematic is programs that ought to be creative, like writing.
Attempting to send all Americans to college is unfair to everyone involved. The students, both those who want to be there and those who don't, and the professors. The assumption that higher education is necessary for success, especially in the creative sphere is frustrating and unhelpful, but understandable when we have a bias against self-education. It gives us a standard, at least to measure against, but as it becomes more and more common to read books and articles written by B.A.s, M.A.s and PH.ds that read like high-school essays, the importance of a College education may dwindle.
I realize I didn't really add much to the 'discussion' aspect, so if you have nothing much to add, feel free to boil it all down and just write on what you think the benefits or detriments a College writing program would be for you as a writer right now (as a more 'formed' writer). Do you think a program now would be more beneficial or more frustrating for you? Though I'm sure it would depend on the program...My writing professor would love you!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

3 Things

3 Habits I wish I had:
Correspondence: I long to be one of those people who write letters, real print letters, to friends all across the country. Thoughtful letters. Letters that belong in books after my death. I long to be one of those people who devote an hour in the morning, at least once a week to letter-writing. I am not that person. I try, sometimes, but it hasn’t worked out yet.

Walking: It seems so attractively ‘country’ to go for a walk before or after lunch - and not just to get the mail and back, but really ramble around for a while. I do this occasionally, but a regular walk to think and to enjoy the world would be a fantastic habit.

Journaling: I have about five journals. I write in them often, but I don’t have what I would consider a consistent journal. Each of mine begins well, flounders, is lost then found again, changes purpose, and finally is abandoned. I want to journal well, reflectively, consistently, and always with a very good pen. I would like to write in the morning about the dreams I had the night before and the plans I have for the day ahead. I would like to write in the evening about the day that was, and about the day to come. I don’t, in part because it’s hard to find a nice pen in the evening.

3 Habits I wish I didn’t have:

Procrastination: The primary reason I get very little done until the absolute last moment.

Justification: “Well, really, since I’m putting it off til tomorrow, there’s no reason I shouldn’t just run down to the store to check fact, I’m pretty sure there’s something I needed to check online..something…Oh, that recipe I wanted to save, that’s right, I might make it next month, I really should write it down today..” The foundation upon which all procrastination rests.

Spooking myself at night: If my husband is up, I’m fine, but if he’s sleeping, I suddenly remember every nighttime warning I’ve ever known: Don’t brush your hair before a mirror after dark, you’ll see the devil there. Don’t look in a mirror either, you’ll welcome him in. Don’t leave out milk our you’ll meet the dead, don’t go out between 12 and 3…It makes the night a bit creepy at times.

3 Habits I’m glad I have:

Tea in the afternoon: There is nothing better than sitting down with a hot cup of tea or coffee and a boursin & homegrown tomato sandwich..or just bread and butter, or even just the tea and a book, or a husband, or a greedy child, and relaxing.

Running: I just started, so I can’t say it’s a full-blown habit yet, but it’s an embryo-habit, and that’s something. I love the whole experience.

Coffee and writing in the morning: Either alone before everyone is up, or while Yarrow shoves fistfuls of oatmeal in her face, the morning routine is a blessing.

What about you? Habits you hope for, habits you hope to conquer, habits you cherish?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thoughts on Clothes, Culture, and Impressions

I read an article recently that lamented our informality. People used to dress up to go out. To travel. To shop. People used to have a sense of the social importance of dress. I’m all for dressing well, for dressing with intention. When I’m not feeling inexcusably lazy, I like for my clothes to speak for me in a way. But I can understand the cultural laziness. The article mourns our lack of respect for the ability to dine out - to be waited upon; but when I go out, I’ve noticed a difference in the attitude of restaurants. We aren’t being waited upon so much as we are consuming, and the role of the consumer is not a respected one. The article “Modern Guide to Dressing Up” in the Catholic Register, made some good points about the trend toward casual dressing, and her focus was more on the “blase attitude toward our daily activities” that is “at the root of our modern blase attitudes about dress and manners,” but I think it’s important to look at another reason for dressing down in restaurants or airplanes, stores, and churches, the attitude of those serving - the waiters, stewards, shopkeepers, and even ministers is not one to inspire a feeling of formality or respect in us. In our consumer society, where the goal is to ‘process orders’ and increase profits, relationship between people is diminished, we are formed “to live lives of detachment” from the people around us. And so the waitress doesn’t wait on diners so much as she “takes care of table 25” and when the diners attempt a leisurely dinner, she may be encouraged to “move them along”. Because dining out isn’t an occasion, it’s a business, and diners aren’t people as much as they’re consumers.
We don’t always recognize the depersonalization of the experience consciously, but it affects us on some level, and we dress accordingly. Why bother pretending this is special? Why bother enjoying the experience when the restaurant makes it clear that you are just another number. Not all restaurants, not all shops, and certainly not all churches fall in to the sin of depersonalizing, but it’s common enough to alter our cultural experience. And it isn’t just the fault of restaurants and airlines, the trouble is everywhere. It isn’t so much a loss of gratitude, as the author of the article claims, it’s a loss of the awareness of being a person. A lost sense of self. Which might be one reason we eat out so often, we’re hungry for recognition and respect. We want to experience a moment when we are seen as real people, not just characters on television or numbers in a profit margin.

The discussion of a “blase attitude toward our daily lives” both fascinates and horrifies me. It’s something that I am trying to weed out of my own life. To view each day as whole within itself, a gift, a sacred space. A superstitious tendency to avoid planning too far in advance, lest my certainty in my own future tempt God to teach me otherwise is a part of my make up, but so is the habit of living the past, present, and future in a jumbled mess all at once. Neither is ideal for creating an attitude of contentment in the moment. I fall too easily into Rilke’s words; “desires are just memories from our future”, living both the long and the actualization at once, and so failing completely to work at attaining in the time at hand. At the same time, I am absorbed with the desire to ‘‘make each hour holy’’; so absorbed, in fact that I often fail to make anything of any hour. The present is pushed away for tomorrow. I wonder if this attitude is more common than I think. Perhaps we are all planning to make tomorrow holy, passing by the present in our minds in search of a moment when we are ready to truly being living.