Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jenna has taken the week off, and I will as well. We’ve had a few days of heavy storms this week. Storms that beat down my little lettuce plants and drowned a few of the weaker seedlings. But the sun is out today and I’m refreshed from a night of cleaning, writing, gazing at my things in the lamplight. I’d expected to be tired, but when midnight rolled around I realized that I was having one of those nights. I fell asleep at three, and woke at five to nurse a happy, well-rested little girl. Looking around this morning I thrilled again to see the results of night-time energy: a clean counter, a welcoming table, a fresh sewing table, and early drafts of articles for two little journals - one that even pays!

Since Yarrow’s birth, I rarely have the opportunity to fall into my old sleep habits. I’m hungrier for sleep now, and the late nights that used to be mine have been neglected. Each time I get a sleepless night (of my own free will) I’m grateful and refreshed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


My night was broken by our first summer storm. Almost no one on our little homestead slept through it, be they pigs, chickens, people. In the breaks between the rain, we could here the pigs grunting and cursing in their shed ; in each flash of lightening, the broken birch across the yard hung dangerously white, framed by the dark door and the vicious sky. Only my little water-baby slept serenely through it all. Nestled in blankets and lolled by the sound of wildness all around.
Today it feels as though the sun has drowned, our whole world is gray and green and dark. I’ve bundled Petka in red wool for her nap, to keep the dark at bay, but Luba and feel it weighing us down. I’ve no fire to drive away the chill, instead I spent the morning with black coffee and heavy eyes in a dark little home, aligning myself to the spirit of the day. Now, thankful for matka's ever willingness to visit the cafe's, I'm tucked beneath the library, posting blogs and feasting on online chatter.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Long Evening - Early Dawn

The sun rises early now. These past few nights, while Yarrow fusses through the witching time, I wait for the first hints of gray to tell me she’ll doze off soon. Dawn is slipping in by four, and I feel as though there’s no hope for my rest if she continues her wakefulness. Today the early clouds made the dawn a bit later, and when Yarrow finally fell into a light sleep, I was grateful that her neediness gave me a ready excuse to stay in bed. When we finally woke and went outside, I found the pigs still snoring. It was a late morning for all of us, save my poor neglected husband, who had to make his own breakfast and run out into the mist. It’s on these days especially that I’m grateful for the chance to stay home. Sure there’s work to do, animals to feed, and sure I can hardly write this morning ‘cause Yarrow wants my pen, but I had a late morning pot of coffee, and I managed to eat at least some of the eggs before Yarrow got to them, and now I get an hour in town with Matka, while he’s at work, with a helpless coworker, and a long commute. Thankfully the long evening is waiting for him, his rototiller and our unfinished scrabble game stand ready.


The sun is out. The road is somewhat dry and drive-able. The garden is growing. The pigs are happily rooting and snorting beside the kitchen. Yarrow is happy, Luba is distructive. The nights are shorter and the mornings are warm and soft-lit. I’m looking for new books to read, and eager to start using my “new” 1920s Singer sewing machine. I have my very own copy of “Harry Potter for Nerds” in the mail (with an essay by Jenna!) I’m looking forward to looking at the Potter books differently when I’m through with it. Maybe I’ll even blog a bit about what I read.

Life is good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fantasy & Folklore: the importance of belief

Last week, Jenna gave an excellent response to my post on the effect of time and culture on the writer and her audience. This week, I'm hoping to continue to look into culture, but with a focus on belief in mysteries and in magic.

“..the darkness holds it all in:
figures and flames, beasts and me,
        whatever it may catch..

It is possible there might
     be moving a power right next to me

I believe in nights.”


There is some element of the fantastic in the writing we do: Jenna, Mr. Pond, and I.  Each of us deals in myth to some extent.  For me, it is the little myths - folklore and superstitions that weave their way into my writing because they are woven through my life. “I believe in nights” and in those flourishing there; which is why I love to walk under the stars, and why I’m frightened out alone after midnight.

The writer should believe in possibilities, and the writer whose creative world is alive with the fantastic must not, in her daily life, be able to close the door leading to fairy. How she props it open depends on many things, on faith and on dreams, on the past and on the future; but the doorway must stay open. I don’t insist that we believe in everything we create, in the literal sense - or I would never write, too afraid I'd call up some malevolent being - but we should still believe in mysteries. Tales of the miraculous by jaded writers ring false, like listening to an old cynic describe his youthful ideals. It is part of my trouble with many of the writers I see, they often seem to build up worlds as a defense against a life too mundane to love; and because they don't believe, these writers don't see the value and the limits of the symbols they employ.

When the writer who believes makes a world of magic, she builds it in fear and trembling, unwilling to play fast and loose with her myths because she understands them at their core, loves them and refuses to do them harm. I’m disturbed when I see writers who scoop their myths directly from Bulfinch's; who seem to cut and paste carelessly without giving the myth a home and living with it a while in love or fear. They haven’t taken the time to let the myth become real to them before trying to make it real for their readers.

          “You see I want much.
           perhaps I want it all:
          the dark that goes with any bottomless fall
         and the sun-speckled climbing up..”

What do I ask of real writers, living and creating outside the bounds of my imagination? Simply that we who deal in fairy tales ought to believe in them. Read Bulfinch's by all means but don’t start there, or end there. Listen to old tales, live the myths. Go out hunting the fern flower on St. John’s eve, bury statues in the yard, count crows, light candles, and feel the eyes of the unseen watching as you build them up with words. Don’t sacrifice dreams for responsibility and don’t attempt to confine your miracles to the written word. And don't write to escape the mundane, write to color it with the magic you see.  Sleep on a bay leaf and write your dreams.


Yup, we're a real homestead now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Spirit of Our Times: drinking beauty from broken cups

“He never chooses an opinion; he just wears whatever happens to be in style.”

Almost, but not quite a year ago, we began our discussion with a post on taste and objectivity. In it, Jenna mentioned the effect our time and culture has on what is published and on what is loved. A commenter agreed with her, writing that her rejection of what is praised in contemporary literature is “why I have no Oprah picks on my bookshelf, but lots of good books. I like beautiful writing, but I want good story too. I'll take the second over the first.”

I’m rereading some of our old discussions, in part to avoid cycling through topics too often, but primarily in an attempt to dig deeper into some aspects that seem to have potential for discussion, and these too remarks caught my eye. Particularly the latter. Oprah’s book list is not where I would look for beautiful writing, but the commenter, Arabella, is not the only one who links the two.

“ours is the age of advertisement and publicity”

Advertising and publicity really do define our age. Oprah pushes books - calling them moving, inspiring, or life-altering, and we believe. Writers mistakenly think that over-loading on adjectives and describing in painful detail everything a character has on will make that character “real”. In a cafe discussion recently, a friend recommended a book to me as a “smart and really deep read,” I’d already read it, with the opposite reaction. When I asked what it was she liked so much about the book, my friend confessed that she hadn’t actually read it, just heard about it online. But she'd absorbed the review so completely that in a half hour's discussion, she'd given the distinct impression that she was sharing her own impressions of the novel.

So, what effect does our time and culture have on the books we write, or read, or love? The effect on my reading is often to encourage retreat. I’m not interested in shallow romances, wandering prose, or undisciplined imaginations. I’m not interested in weak images or book versions of country songs, so I sometimes fall back into isolation - reading authors I love, or authors loved my favorites. But I’m also not going to abandon my own age - there is beautiful writing being done all around us, and I can forgive an author a good deal if he can form his words well, occassionally I react against this self-imposed isolation and collect around me the books I'm told are "today's best".  But the general effect of the spirit of our times on what we read is that the overwhelming presence of media in our lives encourages our natural tendency to absorb the opinions of others. We swallow what is sold to us, without thinking and convince ourselves that Oprah’s picks really are good, that the bestseller list is the place to look for quality fiction, just as the top-rated t.v. shows are the best of television. That's not to say that popularity is always an indication of bad-quality, but sadly, in "these our times" I think it often is.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Liking, Loving, and loathing ~ a discussion of Character

One can know a man from his laugh, and if you like a man's laugh before you know anything of him, you may confidently say that he is a good man.
   ~Fyodor Dostoevsky
 "..fictional characters must be loved in order to become real, real enough to speak to people of flesh and blood."

How do we create loveable characters. Nearly every writer speaks in a voice that is not entirely her own - playing a role, creating a character. Generally, we want that character to be loved, to be embraced by the reader. With a challenging character, one full of flaws, it's not always an easy task, and our success varies with the reader. Characters like Humbert (Lolita) or Fyodor Pavlovich (The Brothers Karamazov) are easy to relate to as a reader because they're so unloveable, we relate to them as we would any villain; but other characters can cause trouble. 

Like most people, we often see personality clashes, misunderstandings, and other small resentments creep up between character and reader, with mistakes made on both sides. I can easily forgive Mitya (The Brothers Karamazov) his debaucheries, his temper, and his misdirected life because I love him; but I don't give the same leyway to Harry (Harry Potter) regarding his temper, petty cruelties, and mis-steps.  Why? I don't feel the friendship towards him that I feel toward Mitya. I am unforgiving without a second thought. Perhaps in part because of the writer's skill - it's unfair to compare Dostoevsky, whose greatest strength is in his characters, and Rowling - but more likely it's a difference of presentation. Rowling labels Harry as a hero, with a strong heart and an deep ability to love, so the flaws are jarring and harder for me to overlook. Mitya is shown as something of a wretch, his flaws blend into the background and his virtues stand out to me.  But each reader's response will be different. A reader may be reminded of a friend by Harry, and so forgive him, or overlook his flaws in light of his virtues, he may find Mitya's sins overwhelming, he might love them both.  Jenna, I know, is a friend of Harry's, and I can't help but see him in a better light for that friendship. It helps characters to have good friends on the outside, in order to allow them a chance to, as Jenna says, "become real enough to speak to people of flesh and blood".

When we write, we have to start with love - by forming a character, knowing him, loving him, and then sharing him with the world, not as creature out our own imagination, but as a friend, a child - proud of who he is, and confident in his ability to find love on his own, even amid hostility, misunderstanding, and his own inevitable flaws.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ink, Pots, and Poets

My new tattoo is lovely. I keep looking down on it with joy. I’d heard horror stories about the pain of hand tattoos, but my actual experience was wonderful, apparently it depends a lot on the artist’s skill and the quality of the needle. Yarrow had a fantastic time with the full-length mirror and the pictures on the wall. It’s definitely my most public tattoo, and I enjoy seeing the curling black lines move with my hand. I like seeing just a hint of it falling out of a long sleeve, or the small dots dancing up my arm.

I’ve pulled my half fired pots out of the shed, they’re lined up along my wheel in the kitchen, waiting to be dusted, inspected, and glazed before taking up rented kiln-space at the studio downtown. On Saturday I threw for the first time in almost two years. It will be a while, I think, before I really feel like I’m completely comfortable at the wheel again, but I was thrilled to realize how ingrained it all is. I am still a potter, my hands still belong in the earth. Throwing, my head is full of poems, and afterward, writing is easy, almost effortless for a while. I remember the poems I wrote in Pennsylvania, when I lived with my wheel, my good friend, and little else. Now we are on opposite coasts, she has a newborn son, I have a daughter who laughs with Jesus in the outhouse. Throwing again, I wonder where my life will go from here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Peacocks for eternity

       The world once knew once that peacock flesh would not decay. Death could hardly touch something so beautiful. Because of this, the peacock is a symbol of the resurrection, of eternal life. A thousand eyes watching God forever. Peacocks are good luck. I once saw one standing beside the on-ramp of I-84, watching the road I followed. His tail barely seemed cumbersome, despite it’s size, he carried it well, and I could almost feel the bad luck running south away from those eyes.

At Easter, I made the drive down to the Polish parish, to have my food blessed. My basket full of food, vodka and feathers. A woman asked it I came from Krakow. “They like peacock feathers in Krakow.” She said. We talked about reclaiming our traditions, what everyone talks about these days. We are looking for traditions to embrace. She married into her Polish culture, but her accent was beautiful, and her basket was full of good things. I think my husband has done the same. He’s taken root in a house with vodkas on the shelf and pierogi on the table. Now he knows where to tuck the straw at Vilia, and he knows when I should begin to steep the krupnik. With amber and saints all around us, we don’t need peacocks for direction, just for luck, and to remind us again that beauty is eternal.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Place to Begin

“My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.”
        ~Dorothy Day

Last week, I took a break from the discussion - counting on Jenna and Mr. Pond to forgive me. Though I was in town all day, with somewhat regular internet access, I ended up not having the time, focus, or quiet necessary to write. This week I wrote up the discussion post under the patter of late April rain, on Thursday while my family slept. This late-night, thoughtful drafting of posts is a habit I hope to continue, especially if the discussion take the slight - but not too concrete turn I hope to inspire in later posts.  Jenna reminded me last week that our discussion is reaching it’s anniversary. I honestly never expected it to go on so long. We’ve covered a lot of ground in that year, and I’m looking forward to reading over our oldest posts, to remind myself exactly how much ground. I don’t want to become repetitive. This week I want to focus a bit on beginnings, on where the stories start.

“I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever think of when I sit here. When I come back to it I never have to remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off.”
          ~Willa Cather

The writing desk I share with my husband is a good place for ideas to grow. On it are attractive things to encourage the mind, usually not too many, though it can become a place for seed packets, bills, and liquor bottles to collect. It looks out over what will be the goat pasture and into the woods. The desk nurtures ideas, but I don’t go there for inspiration, the trees themselves inspire, and sometimes all it takes is a walk among the birches, watching them sway, hearing the small sounds of the woods and letting them grow. Stories come best for me out of doors, or driving, with no way to record them. I think it’s because in the woods I am almost alone with my own mind, almost. In the woods I’m in near silence but with feeling, the energy of life all around. Like driving alone in the car, out on the road with hundreds of others, also alone.

I think the stories start in places like these because they like to be welcomed, but hate to be called. They aren’t muses exactly, but they are something; mindless hauntings that hang around in the back of my mind, waiting for a moment when I can really see them again. Beginnings can be awkward times, I'd rather start in the middle, with the opening done, but with the potential for change. I begin writing in spurts, with no commitment. It's only after a careless while I can move to relationship, to begin to love my words.