musings, thoughts, and writings of Barbara W. Klaser


September 2, 2007

Right outside my door

When I stopped commuting to a busy office and switched to staying home most days, I worried a little whether my new life would be too quiet or uneventful to suit me. But I’m never bored, and I’m sometimes amazed how much can happen right outside my door. I’ve been able to slow down, tune into the seasons, and let them slide gently past. I can be a mushroom, staying indoors and focusing on my inner world, as writers do when we’re working, or I can step right outside and find endless variety, especially in the forms nature takes.

I posted earlier this summer about hummingbirds. There have been lots of birds this summer. The mockingbirds twirled in cartwheel displays, showing off the white of their wings, and flew in wild, veering trajectories to catch cabbage white butterflies. They sang for hours on end, and swooped at anyone who ventured within range of their nests. A nearby rooster crows most mornings and sometimes all day. I’ve seen a phainopepla, a few hawks, loads of crows, orioles, black phoebes, brown towhees, and house finches. My husband saw a California thrasher, who sadly chose a rare time when I was at the post office to stop by for a snack of insects. Now and then a flock of common bushtits flies through, chittering in light tones. They never seem to sit still, and I like their tiny, perfect round shapes, so like the birds in picture books that I read as a child.

We’ve seen butterflies of all varieties this year, as well as plenty of bees, lizards, bats, and the tarantula hawk, and the summer has seen a variety of mushrooms sprouting in the yard, which seem to be able to blend in with their surroundings. (Click on images to view full size.)

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Our daily visitors include the ubiquitous scrub jay.

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I’ve noticed that a variety of clouds can inhabit different parts of the sky in the same moment.

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I even got to thinking about the little fuzzy-edged ones, and wondered if painters who pour watercolor ever pour white gouache to make clouds. That sent me on a lazy search that introduced me to the work of artist Vickie Leigh Krudwig.

We’ve had our hottest weather of the year in the past two days, and today promises to be even hotter. Thirty minutes ago it was 97 degrees Fahrenheit outside. As I write this, it’s 99. Yesterday’s sighting of a swallowtail butterfly almost as big as my hand, and this morning’s sunrise, almost make up for the heat.

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I’m attempting to ignore the fact that the sunrise was followed a few hours later by a 4.0 earthquake about 40 miles north of us, which jolted us to our feet. As I write this, thunderheads are forming just east, which looked like this an hour ago,

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and like this half an hour later.

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I don’t expect a triple whammy day of heat, earthquake, and thunderstorms. I’m looking for the next butterfly. But I may close the car windows just in case.

— Barbara @ rudimentary 1:35 pm PST, 09/02/07

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 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

July 11, 2006

Order and chaos

The cat’s litter box is clean. That mundane detail isn’t your favorite sentence I’ve ever written, I’m sure. Mine either. But my day often seems to revolve around whether that task has been accomplished, and what comes after it. I go through a list of chores, on the days I think to make one, eventually reaching the line that has to do with writing, after checking off a lot of other stuff. Today writing comes after important things like the cat’s box, which is of utmost importance to her, though slightly less to us except through our affection for her, since we don’t use it and it’s out in the garage, easy for us to forget. Vacuuming comes next, mostly pet hair this time of year. That task must be accomplished while the day is still cool enough to have windows open, or not at all. A late-in-the-day shower will be in order, after all the creepy stuff on the list is done. (Bear with me, I do have a point here, this isn’t merely a run-through of my chores.) (more…)

— Barbara @ rudimentary 10:57 am PST, 07/11/06


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