Category Archives: Opinion

FROM THE LAND OF SKY-BLUE-PINK

At sunset tonight, a special treat of sky-blue-pink skies lasted brief moments before turning to candle-orange and magenta and the dark of daylight-murdering skies. So many things in life go fleet-footed away from us in moments, hours and even years that can be too short. A whispered endearment. A smile on granddaughter’s face on receiving balloons.  A breeze sending autumn’s leaves scurrying to the ground.

Today had many such moments for me. Several came as my friend Robin Moore (aka Robin Cleary) read from her NANOWRIMO piece. You know, the 50,000 words in thirty days that leaves writers exhausted, perhaps frustrated and definitely brain-irrigated. Her words leapt about with emotional tension as horse and, then, man, fought to overcome nature’s fierce destructive path. I was there in the eye of the storm, wanting to make things right for the animal and horrified when the man intervenes to the detriment of both. This was very powerful writing: descriptive, bold and energetic. I didn’t gasp for breath but could have easily if the writer had gone on reading her work.

Returning Light: After the Storm by Sandra Merwin

Such is the power of words. To terrify,to entertain, to challenge. To make us laugh, cry,  frown in consternation. To cause us to argue, sympathize or become confused. And to do so much more.

When Mom’s car wouldn’t start this morning, Allie pronounced that it was out of gas…not so with this Hybrid  but how clever of the five-year-old to come up with those words to explain the problem…another function of words.

Swimming through words of confusion later, I finally understood what was being asked of me…a simple request for help. With my globetrotting daughter, briefly back in Chicago, we caught up on our mutual happenings over her glass of good wine as I did so vicariously. Our words mixed, flowed and sometimes had to be spelled out for the lousy connection we had. But, we waded through the morass of clicks, rattlings, and electronic buzzes until we reached clarity and understanding.

Words, words and more words. They make us, berate us and hammer sense out of us. Floating as sounds through the brain. Visual images to our closed eyes, landing on page or computer site until they finally evolve into sentences, paragraphs, letters, chapters, books and we think we are communicating. We speechify, narrate, listen and contemplate.

About then, a sky-blue-pink sky happens on the horizon and we are at a loss for words, It is too magnificent, transitory and there is no way for us to hold onto the magic. Except in words when we try to share the impact with others. When the poet combines images with emotions and finds the words to capture the essence of the event. The poet records it, we read it and recognize the import of his words.

And so, Robin captured moments from her experience or her imagination, fit them together with words and enticed us along for the ride, actually and figuratively. This is the epitome of the writer’s gift: to bridge reality and imagination with sparkling, emotion-ridden and exquisite language.

TO REVIEW OR NOT TO REVIEW

The more I read the more sensitive I become to writer style, voice, use of words and phrases, pacing, use of tension, story development, characterizations, etc, etc. This sentence reads like the table of contents in a writing primer, perhaps Creative Writing 101. I never took the course but had an excellent, even unparalleled, liberal arts education at Occidental College.

 I haven’t always been comfortable with pen and paper…or my mother’s old (1930’s) Royal portable typewriter. The science teacher pushed his words on me for my valedictory speech in high school: stodgy, 19th century prose that was an embarrassment. A few months later, I sat before my first “Blue Book” essay exam, froze up, wrote a tiny page and a half and got a C+. By the time I got to grad school, I could do the first and last draft of term papers on that old Royal the night before they were due. Research, of course, was sought before that date and incubated much as it still does.

While I devoured books all my life, I’d never been trained to analyze what I was reading or how the writer wrote. I escaped into the stories, their imaginary characters and settings and wished I could write, too, but knew I wasn’t worthy.

Writing was something that special people way above me did. Not something I could aspire to.

Instead, I became a social worker and learned to observe setting, behavior, character structure, family and group dynamics and write of these in case notes and other documents. Thirty years of writing court reports and occasional ventures into writing poetry and short stories gradually led me to storytelling and getting it all down on paper. Now, I am immersed in the doing of it.

So what led me to take up the topic of  REVIEW? If you’ve read my last three blogs, you know I’ve been out and about in the Great Northwest…collecting new books. Okay, that wasn’t the primary goal but it was an accomplishment. And I fulfilled it to the brim of my car trunk.

So far, in the week I’ve been home, I have read two books by Women Writing the West writers: THE GOOD TIMES ARE ALL GONE NOW by Julie Whitesel Weston, a memoir, and THE BARGAIN by Irene Bennet Brown, an historical romance. Both are exceptional writers and I decided I needed to return to reviewing books I especially like. You can find both books reviewed by me and others on Amazon and on Goodreads.

I decided that I owed it to these writers, sitting in their writing rooms with just the computer between them and their readers, to acknowledge their work with words of my own. Okay, they got a measly bit in royalties of what I spent on their book but I doubt that is reward enough. Both are prize-winners and may not need my endorsement but I’m giving it to themanyway.  Do you know what?  They each graciously thanked me and praised my use of words; one joined Goodreads and is now a follower of my blog. The other says she will use my review in her next series of readings.

For me, this is the ultimate in paying it forward among writers: to buy(or win) the book, render an honest opinion and keep at it.

When did you last write a review? 

What did you
want to share with the world about the book and its impact on you?
 

Will you do it now?

 

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Before there were blogs, FaceBook and sundry other electronic ways to communicate there was email. In years gone by, I used to labor over journal entries, sometimes transferring them into longish emails accounting for TRAVELS WITH MOSES. Moses was our Basenji, rescued from the  local pound. He was more cat than dog, short haired, pointy eared, silent–a barkless dog breed from Africa who travel on the shoulders of a hunter to find lions! Independent, obstinate and a runner, our Moses stole our hearts and then broke them when he disappeared near Tyler, Texas.

A life time later, I’m on the road again with writer friend Anne Schroeder and we’re in Medford, Oregon for the night. Do you like driving in fog, rain and sunshine? From the flats and rice fields of Sacramento through the wide open spaces of Highway 5’s lonesome hinterlands we sped, slowed, stayed close to the speed limit or not. All depended on the amount of rainfall from minute to minute, how heavy a foot hit the pedal and getting lost in writerly conversation. Then, there were the rivers, streams and arched bridges to drool over.

Passing through towns, villages and hamlets with names like Corning, Red Bluff, Cottonwood, Sweetbriar, we met up with Shasta. A heavy cloud layer sat on Mt. Shasta, the 14,000’ lovely volcanic home of Big Foot (mythic or real?) The mountain, its top half cut-off by clouds,  looked more like Acoma or
another New Mexican mesa…stately, impressive and a bit intimidating. Coffee and blackberry cobbler and pumpkin spice cake at the Hi-Lo Cafe,  in the same family for 60 years, nurtured  us well and we went on our way.

If I had taken the picture I should have, you wouldn’t be seeing so much of Mt. Shasta. ENJOY!

Now what do writers talk about as they skim mountain roads and passes at 55-75 MPH? They talk about anything that strikes their fancy. In our case, we covered family, writing and writers, books we’ve read or are reading, have written or plan on writing. Sharing horror stories about self-centered, non-reciprocating published authors kept us busy for a good little while.  As our stories grew, so did the mountains, trees and hills along our way. The sky cleared and threw out the sun from time to time, warming the cockles of our hearts and lighting our spirits. The trees came taller, wider in the colorful hues of pine, redwood, and cedar with a few autumnal oaks in changing cloaks.

When two friends venture out on the road together for the first time, there are lessons to be learned, communication problems to work through, decisions to make. Finding each other’s style is part of the process…one I last experienced when my son and family moved in with me. It is all about negotiating time, space, feelings and expectations. In the latter, I have too often lapsed in expressing myself, operating instead on assumptions. At this point, all is smooth sailing/traveling  and I fully expect it will continue to be as we head to Oregon’s Aurora Colony which Jane Kirkpatrick has written of so well and wisely.

ANNE’S TRAVEL TIP: when you’ve looked high and low for your telephone charger and it is no where to be found, check with the front desk for lost and left behind chargers. She did and is now a much happier camper.

TIME PASSES

I’ve only seen Midnight in Paris twice, so far. I’m not a fan of Woody Allen or of the theater where the film is showing. But, I broke my self-imposed boycotts
and went the first time, then had to go again. You surely know the plot, the romances, the historical characters, the incredible photography and costumes
and outstanding performances. No need to go into them here.

What I most loved was the message of time passing and our romantic view of what has come before us as we avoid, reject, or dangle in the present.

Salvador Dali

I had a birthday recently, always the start of my New Year. It would also have been our 46th anniversary if Jim had survived the last three years. My granddaughter started kindergarden.  Such is the way I have of measuring the time that passes. Landmarks,. Days on the calendar. Periods of
playing hermit. Shuttering my mind. Avoiding events, the telephone, leaving the house. Or speed-dialing along on full steam, participating fully, actively and
enthusiastically in what life brings and what I seek out.

Have you visited elderly friends as their minds retreated into yesterdays and the future held little or no promise? One friend was so delighted with the teenagers we’d brought along that she went to the piano in the dayroom and put it to use. She pounded out segments of songs from the ‘30s and ‘40s while the staff and other residents looked on in amazement. She’d lived there quite a while and no one had ever heard her play. For Bessie, time was now and she made the most of it.

It is too soon for me to withdraw from all that I love: family, writing, traveling, being with friends. As I write, today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. A day of remembrance and judgment. And, I think, of hope. Time to take stock and look to the year ahead. What does it hold? What might I make of it?

I’ll start my new year with a road trip to Seattle for the Women Writing the West Conference. My traveling partner and writing friend, Anne, is coming along. We’re in the throes of planning the trip: what to see and do along the way, in Tacoma/Seattle and on to Victoria. There’s a stop in Battle Ground, Oregon for
tea with friends; the Richard Brautigan library in Vancouver, WA; the WA State Historical Museum in Tacoma; a great conference to attend; exploration of
Seattle’s underground and hills for nostalgia and research; and onto the ferry to Victoria in search of writer-artist Emily Carr, the totems and First
People’s culture.

Emily Carr: Kwakiutl House

Do you smell the adventure in the redwood and red cedar countryside, the grey skies and our sunny expectations? Do you feel the inspiration and joy about to settle on us? The opportunities to see old friends, make new ones and spin our dreams?  Without a doubt, it will be a time to store up remembrances, fill our senses with new energy.

I’ll journal and blog from the road.

How do you
celebrate your New Year?

What do you do
to mark your time and how it passes?

CREATIVITY AND COMMUNITY

I labored over a concept this past Labor Day when I turned to PBS and caught a repeat showing of Charlie Rose’s twelfth
episode regarding the Brain (10/28/2010.) It was a re-run that I’ve now played over a couple of times in my effort to grasp what the varied contributors had
to say.  Go to: www.CharlieRose.com

Rose did the series with Eric Kandel, a Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist. The Round Table included Amy Tempkin,
curator of painting and sculpture at NY’s MOMA,painter Chuck Close, sculptor Richard Serra and neurologist and writer
Oliver Sacks.

The Charlie Rose Show tv show

Serra & Kandel

Tempkin

Tempkin pointed out that Close and Serra were at Yale together along with several other emerging artists who
subsequently moved to NYC where Serra’s “day job” was a small trucking firm at which he hired other artists, musicians, creators. At Yale, imitation of
previous generations of artists was part of working their way toward finding their intuitive creative work. Tempkin described the founding of community in which togetherness, rivalry, the desire to support one another, seeing others’ work and “talking and talking” as freeing the originality of work. A common
language evolved.

Rose & Close

Many aspects of creativity were spoken of: the little that is understood of brain biology’s role; how dyslexia, face
blindness and other compromises act on it; imitation as a route to finding one’s own expression; the role of emotion/sublimation with Sacks giving an
enlightening story on Melville, Hawthorne and Moby Dick.

Sacks (cap to protect his eyes)

I was struck by the idea of community and creativity and thought back to my own experiences with other writers. I find that a sense of unity with diversion, common ground and strong energy tends to evolve whenever two writers or more convene. Just as creative writing programs press writers to work in the style of an established writer, even to he point of simple copy typing, we read voraciously to study style, offer critiques, share information and talk, talk, talk.

As the panel noted, the days of isolation in the attic garret are long gone, if they ever truly were. Think of the Impressionists gathering at cafes, Bohemians in North Beach, etc. drinking and talking at all hours. It is in community that originality is freed to generate itself.  Mysteries abound. What motivates or drives the creativity juice. What compels one to communicate, to share even while/if narcissistic and self-involved? What determines the Eureka or Aha response?

My friend Janet Reihl (www.riehlife.com) describes creativity “…as a life force that runs through all of us” and takes hard work. As Chuck Close said,

“…inspiration is just for amateurs, the rest of us just show up for work.”

What does it
take for you to show up for work?

 

Where do you
find community and does it help the creative juices to flow?