musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


February 6, 2009

On not being in such a hurry

It doesn’t seem possible that we can already be one month and six days into 2009. I’ve been posting so infrequently that the blog barely has a pulse. But it is alive I assure you. It’s just been sleeping, dreaming if you will.

It’s raining and stormy today and I’m grateful for that. I think this is only our fourth big rain of the season so far. My cat Tara had a bath a few days ago on a warm, sunny, dry day that got to 80 degrees and seems to have become typical weather this winter. At least it’s been easy on the heating bill. Not so easy on the water bill or my sinuses.

I’ve been away from blogs except to post my ramblings about Tarot at Spirit Blooms. I’ve worked off-line at my other computer on artwork, read or posted on a couple of favorite Internet forums (more than I should), and searched out alternatives on- and off-line to spending money that I don’t have on books that I dearly want. I started out reading about Carl Gustav Jung; now I’m reading the writings of Jung himself, beginning with his autobiography written late in life, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Still deep in my J. R. R. Tolkien adventure, I recently finished reading The Annotated Hobbit, and now I’m savoring The Lord of the Rings. I’m a little shocked by how much watching the movies in the interim has botched my memory of the original story. Still they’re excellent movies. One should appreciate each on its own merits, the novel and the movies as separate creative entities. To do the written story complete justice there would’ve had to be nine or more movies instead of three. Not that I would complain, but not everyone is the Tolkien fiend that I am. Up ahead I plan to continue with The Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin. Perhaps others, who knows? I’m taking my time, reading mostly late in the evening before sleep, if I’m not too tired by then.

Eric Mayer mentioned, in his comment on my earlier post about rereading favorites, that he almost never rereads books. I’ve been the same way most of my adult life. I reread a lot when I was a teen and young adult, but at some point I realized there was plenty in print to read the first time around, and life was short. I felt that I’d miss out on too many other things if I spent my time rereading favorites.

I’ve changed my attitude about that again only recently. This has to do partly with some of the newer fiction that I’ve been dissatisfied with, partly with my budget, and partly with the tiny library here in town where the tastes of the librarians don’t seem to mesh with my own — or I’m just quirky in my reading tastes. I’m sure they have some Tolkien and maybe some Jung, but I’ve come to prefer to take my time and not feel constrained by a return date anyway. I tried writing reviews here for a while, and I found that if the book was a library book I had to return it too quickly, and if I tried to write a review after that, I kept wanting to refer to the book. If I like it, I want it to stay around for a while. I also tried our library’s on-line interconnection with an ebook download system, but that didn’t work for me. Old computer or aging human brain inside user? Either way it didn’t work and I didn’t want to waste time fussing with it. I wanted to read the book. You know, just open a cover and start reading. If something is going to slow me down I want it to be the savor of words.

That brings me to the fourth reason I’ve gotten back into rereading. Mostly it has to do with wanting to read slowly. I’ve given up on reading everything out there. I’ve finally accepted that’s impossible. I’ve decided to hone down my reading list and read what I love — slowly, and as many times as I want.

When I reread an old favorite I don’t have to be in such a hurry to get to the end. I already know how it ends. There is something to the first bloom of a new story, that first time through when it’s a path of discovery, recognition, and suspense. But this time I can pause and enjoy the language along the way, let the suspense build again slowly. My old favorites have language worth pausing for. The more commercial books today tend to be heavy on suspense and bizarre plots and twists, while they seem too often short on the kind of writing I savor. Many feel to me as if they’re written in too much of a hurry, or as if the writer didn’t even like the story he was writing. The secret to great writing, I think, is for the writer to so love the story that he’s reluctant to leave it. Chances are the reader won’t want to leave it either.

But then I’m not a hurrier, never have been. I think it’s too easy to get into an “I’ll miss something if I slow down” mindset in our day and age, though it’s a valid concern to some degree. In the work world, one must hurry enough to show up when needed, and if one slows down one is in danger of not getting important work done, of missing opportunities, or of not being able to do one’s job anymore because one hasn’t kept up with hyperactive technology. There are sometimes valid reasons to hurry. I don’t want the emergency room team to dawdle, or firefighters to take their time arriving at a fire. For readers who want to keep up, there’s such a huge amount being published, in spite of aspiring writers’ concerns that no one is publishing what they write, that it’s easy to think one has no time to reread or to read slowly the first time. There are also such a great number of people who want to be writers that it doesn’t appear we’ll ever have a shortage of reading material, even very good reading material leaving out the bad. It’s a crowded world full of people with something to say, many of them excellent writers.

Still I think we miss out on too much by trying to do or read everything. I’m not well-read, mainly because I’m a slow reader. Maybe that’s why I appreciate books that take a long time to produce. I can sense the love and time that was put into them. I can linger, relish, and wonder why. I can spend a relatively equal time enjoying them, and feel gratitude that the authors took the time to do it right.

Tolkien took something like 13 years to write The Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. He took longer, when one considers all the thought prior to beginning it that he put into creating the world of Middle-Earth, from the time he was a boy, and the time between 1949 and 1954 that he worked with his publisher to get everything just right. That time shows. And it’s not as if by taking that long he missed out on sales, which seem these days so unforgiving of anyone lagging behind. The only time any of his books went out of print was during Word War II and the after-war years, when paper was rationed in England. Oh, and there was the problem of some proofs being destroyed in a bombing or a fire (I don’t remember which) that caused further delay in getting one edition of The Hobbit back into print. Of course one important factor in his print longevity was in being Tolkien. There have been many imitators and, as Eric seemed to hint in his comment, most imitations have not held up very well. Time is, I think, one reason.

I’m certain that the biggest problems with many books is that they’re devised and written in too much of a hurry, and because they aren’t true to the writer’s own creative promptings. I can see some publisher urging a writer to create something like Tolkien wrote, but to do it right now. Imitation done in a hurry can rarely hold up to the proper process of creation. Sometimes, but not usually. Imitation as a whole is an iffy and questionable practice. Readers may say they want another story like The Lord of the Rings, but they’re not saying they want an imitation. They want more Tolkien, and that’s simply the best possible compliment to the original creator, not to any would-be imitator. Perhaps we sometimes, as readers, make the mistake of confusing the two ideas ourselves and go looking for another Tolkien when we should be looking for something else that’s new and fresh, and over which someone labored long and lovingly.

It’s been said that most of a writer’s work doesn’t take place at the typewriter or keyboard, or even necessarily with paper in hand. It happens inside the mind of the writer. I personally think every writer’s workspace needs a comfy couch, or a bed, and a window with a view of a natural setting or garden, as well as an immense library. I also think it’s safe to say that most great fiction writers have lived what they write. By that I don’t mean they’ve experienced it in physical reality. I mean they have a fertile and active imagination, an ability to visualize the experiences they haven’t actually lived. A relentless imagination at that. We use our imaginations to read, but the writer uses his imagination far more, over and over again, actively reliving the scenes he writes in his mind, working them out until they feel right, until he’s ready to translate them into written language. They get to know their own unconscious realms and facets of their own characters, as well as the archetypes of the collective unconscious, even more than we do ordinarily when we dream at night.

Now I know that some writers create at the keyboard on the fly. I’ve done that too. But the stories I’ve written that I felt best about were usually those that I had in mind for a long time before I dared to put any words down. They were an integrated collection of many things that occurred to me, including some fantasies, day dreams, things I wondered about, and even whole scenes, characters, or settings that occupied my mind well before I realized they’d formed anything close to a story worth sharing or writing down. Some were ideas I couldn’t put away because they begged to be told.

Fast writing may be part of the problem. I once rewrote a novel (Snow Angels) in the course of a few weeks, retyped the whole thing from scratch, from my head. But that story had been in my mind for a long time, in various forms, and even on paper in a few forms, before I did that. I’ve never taken part in NaNoWriMo, but I think it is possible for it to produce something of value, provided there’s something already percolating in the writer’s mind before they begin, perhaps for years before they begin typing it out. I’ve done fast writing exercises, and I know they have their value. But I wonder if the trend in fast writing is the reason so many new books I read leave me flat these days.

There is fast writing that’s great, and there have been many great prolific writers. But if we make the mistake of thinking their greatness lay in their proliferation, we do them a disservice. The secret to great writing also doesn’t lie in taking forever to produce something. I’m sure there are plenty of slowly written pieces of rubbish passing for fiction. But prolific writers are the exceptions to the slow writing rule, I think, and like Mozart’s music, great fast writing is great for other reasons than its speed of production or lack of revision. Of course everyone should write at their own speed, but fast writing of a single draft usually requires slow thinking up front, and long, slow revisions afterward. If one doesn’t take the time to do it right, to follow through, to consider it worth some effort, then even that smaller portion of fast writing time is wasted, not to mention the time anyone else takes to read the result. If it’s not worth spending lots of time writing, then maybe it’s not worth reading either.

In spite of how long Tolkien’s work has remained in print, it’s still possible that work of this kind is best done for oneself, with any idea or intent of publishing as a mere afterthought. One should, after all, consider oneself worth writing well and respectfully for. From what I understand of Tolkien, he only shared what he created with a few colleagues, friends, and his children, until the friend of a friend mentioned the possibility of publishing The Hobbit. Maybe that’s why it’s so good. He took time to shape and polish it to be what he wanted for himself and those he loved. Only after that did he shape and polish it for publication. Surely that provided him a great deal of satisfaction in what he wrote, regardless of whether strangers in his own land or across the pond liked it later on. He was also a real-life expert regarding myths of a world similar to the one he created and regarding the language he used to create it. But was he an expert who happened to come up with a story he was best suited to write, or was he a writer in the making, even as a child, who lived in his head creating a world first and who worked all his life to become expert at just what he needed to recreate that world on paper? Either way, he took his loving time about it, and that’s a good thing for all of us. After all, what’s the rush?

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:55 pm PST, 02/06/09

July 14, 2008

The best laid plans or happy accidents?

I had great plans for today, because I got so much done yesterday morning, outdoors. I finally got more seedlings in the ground — not the easiest task for someone with arthritis and fibromyalgia, who’s out of shape, and who’s working in hard, rocky soil. But I paced myself, got a lot done, and I felt good about it afterward.

I was so happy with the result yesterday that I planned to do more of the same today. Then I wakened later than usual, and not in the best mood. I dealt with kitty behavior issues right away, then I went to the store instead of starting work in the yard. Finally I came home to a hot late morning promising an even hotter day. So I canceled my plans to do more spading and planting, and here I sit indoors with the air conditioner on, wondering why that seems to happen so often. Not the hot weather. That’s to be expected this time of year. But I’ve noticed with many other things I do that when I make specific or detailed plans, they often fall through. Not just gardening tasks.

I realize now that even though I fooled myself for years, dutifully planning my work, both on the job and off, I’m really, at heart, not a planner at all. I’ve told my husband time after time how I like to plan things. But truth to tell, I’ve never actually been much for committing to anything. What I was really saying was probably that I didn’t like anyone else to make plans for me that might keep me from finding my happy accidental tasks. I think it’s because plans seem so often to change — and often for the best — that I’ve discovered this. Plans change. So why bother planning? Of course in the workplace that wouldn’t have flown. In any cooperative effort, plans make sense, because we depend so much on others getting their work done on time.

On my own, who needs plans? Maybe it’s something to do with being a generalist, not a specialist. But in a way I’m like this little cat, self-directed and easily distracted — by the right distractions. Those distractions often become momentary passions, obsessions that frequently happen to turn out really well.

Yes, I could tell myself, “Just get out there and do the damned gardening, like you planned.” But then the joy wouldn’t be in the effort, and instead of feeling good about what I accomplish, I’d be dehydrated, overheated, and feel terrible the rest of the day, possibly tomorrow as well. I know better. So I threw some water on the little transplants, and came inside. Maybe tomorrow morning. . . .

Still I wonder. Why do I get the most done when I don’t plan to? When it’s a spur of the moment, “I think I’ll do this right now” kind of thing? That’s what yesterday’s effort was. I woke up, got dressed, and started right in, because that was exactly what I wanted to do that morning, as soon as I woke up. I woke up inspired. This morning I didn’t. At least not with that inspiration, not with the one I expected.

I notice this is especially true with creative work of all kinds, and with learning, where it’s not the weather that changes things, but something unknown. Just when I wouldn’t think I’d even be in the mood for it, I get a whim and do that different thing, whatever it may be, and that’s when I get the most out of it. I seem to be most productive when I haven’t planned anything at all, when I pay heed to momentary flashes of inspiration or that sudden opportunity. Happy accidents and spontaneous productivity. Do you have them? My life seems full of them. They’re what makes me happy.

Here’s the real mystery: I don’t think it’s just about my mood or how I’m feeling, or the weather. It sometimes seems almost more like a synchronous universal dance of some kind. Sometimes all the pieces are in place, inside me and outside of me.

And it’s not just me. I think there are lots of people, like me, who’ve struggled all our lives to conform to a world that likes plans, schedules, rules. So much so that I grew up, and spent thirty years of adult life, thinking I was more comfortable with plans, schedules, and rules. Actually, as a kid, I never felt right about it. As an adult, I bought into it. Had to, to keep a job. But if that’s the way we should live life, how does one explain all those happy accidents by inventors, scientists, and discoverers through the ages? Granted, a certain amount of preparation took place before those historical happy accidents occurred. But many important discoveries in history weren’t planned. Not the way they turned out. Someone happened by chance to be in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing, or paying attention to what turned out to matter most.

Were they in tune with the synchronous dance of the universe?

For some people, I know this doesn’t work. Planning works for them. That’s great, more power to them. We need planners in the world, and maybe that’s their part of the synchronous dance. Someone has to read the music and keep the time. For me, not planning works. It’s about time I realized it.

Instead of gardening today, what will it be? I won’t know until seconds before I start, or perhaps after I’ve already begun.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:10 pm PST, 07/14/08

July 11, 2008

I promised pictures

Then my computer crashed for a couple of days. Here they finally are:

Tara at nearly 15 weeks and 3.5 lbs, in a rare moment when she’s sitting still —
Tara Still

Tara as a blur (her normal state) —
Tara blur

The first tomato? We’ll see.
1st Tomato

In case anyone is thinking that my fresh interest in gardening means I have a lush, fully planted yard, I have to confess here that these photos are a cheat. They don’t show the ground still barren of any planting. We live on a granite hill, partly decomposed and partly still-composed boulders. We also live in a semi-arid, overly populated part of the country, so water isn’t cheap. I’m also lazy. I’ve planted around what my husband already planted or nursed back to health, and that might make me appear to be a more productive gardener than I am. But I love my few plants, they’re producing, and I have big plans for next year, so we’ll see.

Sunflower front

Sunflower back

As you might have guessed, part of my garden is for the birds, though I like sunflower seeds too, so even the sunflowers aren’t entirely for the birds.

I’ve read somewhere that there’s a German paper company that makes fine stationery from sunflower stalk fibers, and that gets an artsy-craftsy person like me thinking. . . .

Sunflower 01

Sunflower 02

Of the seven or so sunflowers growing in our yard right now, most face east, most of the time. There’s one near the front door that faces the door, to its north, which means I see its shining face as soon as I walk outside. It’s had the same ladybug on its bloom (below) for three or four days now. I hope she’s taken up residence and plans to take care of it and keep it pest free until it’s finished blooming.

Sunflower ladybug

Then there’s this one (below), which faces the southeast (back) corner of the yard. Is it an errant sunflower that thinks it has to stand in the corner — my generation’s equivalent of a time-out? Or does it like the chattering of the caged parakeet the neighbors down there sometimes leave out on their patio during the day? Maybe it’s made friends with the bougainvillea. I don’t know.

Sunflower 03

I almost forgot one of my favorites, a picture of the quintessential Tara — at least when she’s mellow and not stalking whatever prey or toy or window screen is available to do her destructo-cat number on. This is from two weeks ago when she still had a little kitten fluff —

Tara sleeping

— Barbara @ rudimentary 9:13 pm PST, 07/11/08

March 15, 2008

Specialist or generalist

Have you ever had trouble deciding which topic to read about next, or what to major in in college? Has anyone ever told you that you have too many hobbies? Have you ever thought about leaving a perfectly good job to look for something else that might interest you more — even if it doesn’t pay more? Maybe you’re a generalist.

This past Saturday, Dave Pollard at How To Save the World linked to an essay in his Links of the Week that he described as brilliant and liberating, and I agree.

The essay, by William Tozier of the Notional Slurry blog, is titled, There are exactly two ways: one, and many. The two ways he discusses are specialization and generalization.

William Tozier proposes the notion that we’re all evolved to be generalists, that specialization isn’t normal. I tend to agree when I consider that many of our forbears were more general in their skills and knowledge than we are. Even today, skills tend to be more generalized in humans living closer to nature, and survival in a wilderness requires a lot of flexibility.

When I think about it, the only things our earliest ancestors planned was to survive, and they were never sure how they would have to do that. The only things they finished were a good meal when food was available, or a new tool or garment when an old one wore out — often taking time to add improvements or embellishments, so even they were never finished. They paused to take in their world and observe it. They learned from everything around them. They were creative, they were nomads, and they were students of life. They paid attention to what came their way, they took them as signs of what they needed to do, for now.

William Tozier discusses the problem of explaining to specialists what we generalists do, how to label ourselves in today’s world. It can be a problem, and I think this must be why, long ago, I started to think of myself as a writer. Aside from having an aptitude for English and composition, a writer has to read and learn about many things in order to do what she does. Writing provides an excuse to research anything and everything, as possibly relevant to a project. Later still I began referring to myself as a creative person, because that can involve lots of different interests too, even more than writing. It can encompass activities that are finished when they’re finished, or never finished, rather than finished to deadlines. Of course writers have deadlines, if they hope to make money at it, and there the generalist has to adapt to the specialized modern world.

I conformed to the specialized world for years, in being a reliable employee and meeting deadlines. I glued myself to my chair and focused on my job. I met deadlines, and earned awards and promotions for my conformity and work ethic. But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t even feel healthy doing that. Eventually it became habit, and I got so I felt uneasy if I didn’t have a plan. So then I was really stuck — uneasy with my schedule and commitments, and uneasy when I didn’t have any.

After a lifetime of thinking I wasn’t doing life right, that I needed to be more energetic, and get more done, finish more things, I feel relief and satisfaction to realize that I’m a generalist and always have been — and there’s nothing wrong with that. It explains so much. Some people may think of being a generalist as a bad thing and call us dilettantes, or unwilling to commit, and some may even think it’s a sign of a problem, one of those recently defined mental disorders for which there always conveniently seems to be a new drug. (When did we start inventing diseases to match the drugs instead of the other way around?) Heaven forbid any of us should be anything but cookie cutter normal, whatever that means. In our culture it apparently means we have to specialize in something, we have to plan everything out, have goals and deadlines, in order to succeed. We have to finish long lists of things, and fill every minute with structured activity.

Today we don’t just have a work ethic, we have a work ethic on steroids.

I for one am ready to stop the madness. If we were intended to plan everything out, then why do we need artificial planners like Daytimers, Palm Pilots, and Blackberries? If we’re supposed to have jam-packed calendars and meetings overlapping meetings, then why didn’t we evolve to keep our schedules in our heads, and to be in two places at once? If we were supposed to travel the same road everyday, then why do we love vacations so much?

Unfortunately, being generalists brings some of us less material success in life, since it’s much less likely that we decide on distinct, well-defined career paths, and even if we do, we get this itch to change careers now and then. We’re looked down on when we tend not to finish things to a schedule — and I agree that makes sense when others are depending on us to finish so they can do their things. We’re often better off working on our own, to our own schedules, which are pretty much nonexistent, and without anyone else depending on us conforming to a schedule. Sometimes we’re called Jacks of all Trades.

Provided you figure out eventually that this is how you’re supposed to be, that there’s nothing wrong with you for wanting less structure and commitment in your life, being a generalist can bring a great deal of freedom and happiness. After all, what makes you happier than being yourself, no matter how many directions that may lead you?

I’m a generalist, and have been all my life. I’m grateful to finally figure this out. Thanks, William and Dave.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:22 pm PST, 03/15/08

July 7, 2007

The Universe In A Single Atom

A post by Susan at Spinning reminded me of a book I recently read, written by the Dalai Lama — The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality. The Dalai Lama has nurtured a lifelong interest in science, and this book explores the gaps and meeting places between religion and science, in what I found to be a thoughtful and profound treatise. It was interesting to read how a religious leader views science, which sometimes threatens his long held beliefs and at other times seems to support them. Granted, Buddhism is one of the least dogmatic religions, and Buddhists don’t believe in a personal God or a specific creation myth, as far as I can discern from this and other readings, so he tends to be much more flexible toward science than other religious leaders might be.

I’ve often seen science as exploring the underpinnings, materials, and physical characteristics of the same great work of art (the Universe) that religious leaders and philosophers explore the ideas and impulses behind. Both, at their best, explore the best ways to live within that great work. To me their goals seem to mesh perfectly, so long as greed, dogma, and power plays don’t get in the way. But then I don’t have a set religious belief to try to fit everything into. I think the more set in concrete one’s beliefs are, in either science or spiritual teachings, the more difficult it may be to see the common ground and bridge the gaps. Flexibility is important, and we already know that some of the greatest scientific discoveries are results of either accidents or imagination. Einstein considered imagination more important than knowledge —

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Perhaps the most important way we’re made in any creator’s image is that we’re creative ourselves. It’s that very imaginative nature that can enable us to be flexible and love the mystery of life, rather than try to impose steadfast answers on others.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 12:32 pm PST, 07/07/07

July 4, 2007

Critiques

Reenie got me thinking about critiques today, specifically peer critiques of fiction.

As a technical writer and editor, I used to give and take strong, pointed, and mind-numbingly detailed critiques. That made sense, because what my coworkers and I wrote sometimes involved life or death safety procedures, or processes in which expensive equipment could be damaged if something wasn’t done right. We had to be precise, and could not leave room for interpretation or confuse anyone. There was no gray area. So I steeled myself and went through the review process. I found I could keep my emotions completely out of it, because I knew what was at stake, and it wasn’t about me. I always learned something.

Fiction is different — except that part about always learning something. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 4:17 pm PST, 07/04/07

March 7, 2007

Words and weeds

Why is it that seeds I plant never sprout and grow the same way weeds do? They’ve sprung up since our last few rains, and the yard is now lush with their greenery. Yesterday I went out and murdered some weeds to keep the foxtails and other burrs from developing and spreading even more. I barely made a difference. I thought how my words sometimes grow the way weeds do, with wild abandon, and then have to be trimmed, uprooted, rearranged, or killed on the page, so the flowers can show through, get their piece of sunlight, and be seen by anyone but me. Sometimes both Mother Nature and I are too creative.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 11:53 am PST, 03/07/07

February 25, 2007

More poetry

Aside from the novel, I’ve been reading, writing, learning about, and pretty much immersing myself in poetry. I’ve posted some bits and pieces, mostly practice and works in progress, over at Spirit Blooms in the Poetry Sketchbook category. Feel free to drop by there if you’re curious. Though I’ve taken creative writing workshops in the past, I’ve never taken a poetry workshop, and I think I have a lot to learn before I go even that far. Right now I’m refreshing my memory with basics that I learned when I was young but are now a bit fuzzy.

Beverly Jackson has been an inspiration with her poetry posts, (not to mention her abstract paintings — wow!). She recently shared her experiences at the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway – Cape May N.J. and the Palm Beach Poetry Festival on her blog. She also provided examples and book recommendations she got from poets there. Dig into her January archive to read the first of those posts, beginning here.

Right now I’m reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I mentioned in a previous post.

HW Longfellow Postage Stamp

My renewed interest in poetry arrives just in time for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s bicentennial, which the United States Postal Service is commemorating with a special stamp — the second to bear his likeness. Longfellow is one of only two writers to be immortalized on more than one US postage stamp. Herman Melville was the other, a distinction he earned, in my estimation, with The Encantadas alone — his sketchbook about the Galapagos Islands.

The stamp displays a portrait of Longfellow, as well as a depiction of Paul Revere’s famous ride. The Smithsonian Magazine’s online biography, Famous Once Again provides lots of interesting details about Longfellow’s life. I never knew, for instance, that he was proficient in so many languages — ten altogether, at one point in his life. He’s considered the “uncrowned poet laureate” of the 19th-century US, and February 27 will be his 200th birthday.

I’m out of touch with today’s curriculums, but when I was young, just hearing or reading the first line, “Listen my children and you shall hear,” could set the cadence of Paul Revere’s Ride beating in my mind. Do kids still learn Longfellow in school? I was older when I read Evangeline, but the first verse is just as deeply embedded in my mind. I’ve since gone back for a taste, drawn in by the same first lines:

THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers –
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
(read poem)

I had no idea what a Druid was when I first read that, but the poet drew me into that forest and I was hooked. I wanted to know everything about it. I wanted to know what happened to the Acadians who once lived there.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 6:23 pm PST, 02/25/07

January 16, 2007

Pages to Paragraphs: conquering inflated word count

My weakness as a writer is wordiness. I’m painfully aware of it, and it still plagues me after years of working to improve my fiction. This is a serious problem. No one in the business will consider a manuscript over a certain length, let alone publish it, from a first-time writer. My self-published efforts don’t count. I’m a new writer to them. Printing costs money, and the greater the page count, the greater that cost — aside from causing more deaths of innocent trees. A thick book is intimidating to readers. The authors of Gone With the Wind, Moby Dick, or The Grapes of Wrath might’ve gotten away with it, but not a modern-day unknown.

Experts say that, over time and with practice, one unconsciously learns to write to length. It didn’t happen to me. I’m either word-count learning disabled, or I haven’t done enough of the right kind of writing. I never wrote for a newspaper or for magazines. My technical writing was nuts and bolts, cut-and-dried stuff, with no opportunity to be wordy. I learned a lot about deadlines, organization, and proofreading doing that, but not about writing a creative project to length. Cutting to length after the fact is time consuming.

One solution I plan to employ in the future is to write more poetry. I love it, and I can’t think of a better training process to conquer my wordiness. Poetry requires sparseness, the selection of the best word to express a thought. I plan to write more short fiction and essays, too.

In the meantime, on this project, I outlined between drafts, to help ensure the story was staying on track. I’m also employing a method that my quasi-personal-editor (husband) came up with while we got Shadows Fall ready to self publish. We call it Pages to Paragraphs. It doesn’t prevent bulk, but it helps reduce my writing to something manageable after the fact. (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 8:44 pm PST, 01/16/07

January 3, 2007

Creativity as order from chaos

My sister emailed me about my post, Interconnections, parallels, and epiphany. She got me to thinking about how individually we process things that happen in our personal lives through our writing and artwork. (Aside from teaching yoga, Helen creates paintings and collages.)

Working with people in non-fiction-related activities has fed into my fiction quite a lot. That was especially true when I worked in an office. I don’t mean anything as obvious as basing a character on a real person. I don’t think I’ve ever done that. Working with people helped me understand better how we interact, provided observations about life, and helped me train my ear for how people talk. In fact everything I experience while away from creative activity tends to feed into it. This includes all the trials, lessons, emotions both powerful and subtle, and all other information and events that life sends my way. In creative expression we have the opportunity to turn dross into riches, or one form of richness into another.

I think perhaps creativity is 50% input and 50% output, or maybe it’s a form of breath, inhaling one thing, processing it, then exhaling something different. The inhalation has to take place, or . . . you run out of air, you suffocate. It follows that the exhalation must also take place, which may be why people who experience trauma sometimes wind up with post-traumatic stress (PTSD). They have no opportunity or ability to process, honor, and exhale what that trauma creates inside them. We can get stuck in grief, too, whether it be grief for a loved one who’s died, or something else in our lives that has moved on or faded away.

Of course what we breathe in is critical to the process. But fiction and art are so eclectic, almost anything will feed them, depending on our willingness to shape the product of our creativity to fit what must be expressed.

There are times when we attempt to create but haven’t gone through enough inhalation to sustain the process. I suspect that’s the cause of many blocks we experience, except when they’re caused by our unwillingness to face whatever in us we must face to fully process it as creative product.

Now that I spend more time at home, even a walk or a drive to the grocery store and talking to the clerks or people in line can be part of that inhalation process. The same goes for reading, listening to music, poetry, interacting with neighbors or my pets.

Fiction or art — or any creative activity — is where we can take in the confusion and chaos that the world dishes out and make sense and order out of it. Creativity doesn’t have to be engaged in with the hope of making money. Perhaps in many ways it’s more satisfying when it’s not. Many people enjoy needlework, cooking, gardening, decorating, woodwork, or photography. Even self-grooming and assembling a wardrobe can provide an important outlet. I don’t think of that as vain, I think instead of hunter-gatherer clans in which self-decoration is a primary creative endeavor.

I put my own peculiar stamp on whatever I take in before returning it to the world. We all do. We might as well do so creatively, constructively, lovingly. It could be that we need this as much as the air we breathe.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 5:05 pm PST, 01/03/07


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