Tag Archives: Writing 101

A Box Full of Treasures

box and burn barrel
Treasure was shipped for Mom by a moving company, handled with care as labeled.

Tidying up the music room I’m determined to deal with each unpacked box as I come to it. Don’t just move it somewhere else, but find a place for the contents, even if that place is another box that goes to the thrift store or the burn barrel. This is not the last of several boxes of cards and letters my mom kept from 1977 through 1999. I brought them home when she died in 2006 and I’ve gone through them a little at a time. They’re time capsules.

I spent a few hours sorting this box, making piles to burn, keep, or send to my stepsister or kids or cousins. And as I reflect on these old hand written messages, I’m tempted to pull yet a few back from burning.

We seldom write or keep correspondence today, sent through the mail. Social media has taken the place of hand written letters. Letters, to me, are treasures of my family’s development, markers of growing together through life stages and historical events, signs of what was happening in my country and how people felt about it.

Reflecting on why Mom kept these, why they mattered to her, why they still matter to me, takes time. I don’t take it lightly. Here’s a short list of some things I like from this box of treasures.

I like

  • that Mom’s best friend’s cards and mine have the same style. No wonder and I’m named for her, too.
  • photos that I can hold and touch, not on my computer screen
  • my parents, our family, and their friends have a hilarious sense of humor
  • letters from my kids when they were very young to their grandparents
  • memorial cards from Grandma’s funeral, and those of other relatives who grew old
  • wedding and graduation announcements and thank you notes
  • cursive hand writing, like hearing the sender’s voice speaking to me, I recognize the characters
  • newspaper clippings with pictures and stories of my son and my parents
  • my favorite uncle’s signature initials in beautiful cursive or like our family’s ranch brand
  • my history, even the uncertain times and secrets, and all the love shared through letters
  • news and notes and jokes from all my aunts and uncles and many many of my parents’ friends
  • when people sent letters to say they have nothing new to tell, but wanted to remind us they love us

Today, no surprise, a friend brought me another letter with photos from 1976. I had to take time to think and feel about crafting this writing because after I sorted the letter and photos, making one of the stacks for a cousin, he called. He told me that another cousin’s wife died that day. She died while I was reading through the box of cards and letters, and her memorial will be on Mom’s birthday Saturday. Things like this happen to me often enough that I don’t even question the connections any more. I’m just happy that I am aware and that I recognize what a treasure my gift of connections is. All we have to do is pay attention. This experience was designed to happen the way it did.

In Writing 101 from Blogging U we were assigned to write and post a list, and in another assignment to select one word from a list of six and use it as a prompt. This posts meets both those assignments.

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I write because

first letter

Why do I write? I consider this question several times a year. Why do I write now when I’m not getting paid for my work? And writing is work, regardless of how enjoyable it might feel.

Today I write because it takes me away. Whether fiction, poetry, or nonfiction in those moments while I am writing I’m not here; I’m somewhere else. Something of a meditation, writing pulls and pushes, sorts, brings forth and reveals thoughts and feelings. It’s cleansing. Writing sets me right with myself, puts things in order in myself.

Today I write because my readers respond. Your feedback inspires me. Your appreciation of language encourages me to keep writing, keep exploring ways of using language. Everybody likes praise, right? It’s like applause for a performance, the interchange between musician and dancer, the interaction between writer and reader.

Today I write because I can construct worlds, places, characters, and events. I write to clear my heart and my heartache. Most of my writing doesn’t get read and usually that doesn’t matter. The act of creating is stronger than the need for showing. But, oh, to have audience and feedback, that matters, too.

Today I write because I love the art of language. I love the challenges of using nothing but language to express a scene with sensory images, to show a vignette or a feeling.

Today I write to explore genres, to bend and reshape genres, to break the rules. I write for the trial. I write to keep my mind in practice and focused.

Today I’m not writing to be published; I’m not writing for pay. I write because I can communicate with those people who will take the time to read, who have enough endurance to stay with words and ideas. I write because Uncle Clarence and my grandparents wrote letters to me since I was a child and they read my letters and responded, as if what I wrote was important, as if it mattered. Connecting with people, with family and strangers, that matters.

I write because it matters.

This post is my response to today’s writing prompt in the Writing 101 course, challenging me to write a post a day. The photos are my contribution to this week’s photo challenge: connected. The poetry magnets poem is “connected” to my fridge and more words connect my guests with me as they leave unique word arrangements for me to find after they’ve gone. The hand written letter is the first of many that my grandfather wrote to my grandmother, courting her during World War 1. I started a story stimulated by the series of letters, the Cat Rock Letters. I haven’t progressed very far with that project but I hope to get back to it this month. 

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a blogger, a writer. So tell me, please, I want to know why do you write?

compost pages

IMG_1334

She put a page of monologue notes into the draft on her computer and then crumpled the crisp yellow paper and let it drop at her feet. Another page, same thing. One after another she crumpled the hand written notes after she added them to her story. It felt so good to make progress a little at a time and to hear the sound of destruction as she dismissed used up ideas. Ah. And what to do with the little pile of crumples? She rocked in the old stuffed chair where she worked on her deck. Aimlessly she tossed the pages over the rail onto the garden, letting them fall with the breeze. Food for the compost pile. Paper is good for compost, right? Aren’t our ideas worthy of decomposing and nourishing the food we eat and the muse that drives us to create? Ideas and words and stories grow like straberries, and mustard, and chard, and weeds. They thrive in manure and mud. She watched the wind lift a page over the garden fence and carry it off across the river, down the valley, over the hill, into the ocean, and down the throat of a bad-child-eating-sea-monster. Every story knows where it should go. A writer needs know when to let it wander, not that it’s gone stray, just finding its way.

Write more of that

“You know that part of your writing that you question – that’s weird and doesn’t fit neatly into a genre or a mold? Write more of that. Please.” Richard Thomas

I needed to see this advice, or permission, today. I wouldn’t say I have writer’s block, more like writer’s ennui, boredom. Fear of starting or moving the story or poem further. Fear of critics?! Eeeee gads! My local writers group convenes monthly to share our writing and “give and get support, constructive feedback”. I’ve decided to take a break from the group precisely because I am exploring writing that is weird, that doesn’t fit the mold, and – they don’t get it. They coach me to stay in the mold, don’t stray outside the familiar. To me, when I am exploring, I don’t want “moldy” writing. I’m not submitting my exploratory drafts to a publisher, for Pete’s sake. I’m just “messing around” with ideas, words, voice, style, and yes – bending genres and molds. My local writing group doesn’t advise me or permit me to explore. Today I use Richard Thomas’ words to give myself permission to explore. Advice to explore, even.

I’m bored with most of the structured traditional forms and content in the writers group, maintaining tight formula beginning, middle, and end, explaining everything for the reader so he or she doesn’t have to, or doesn’t GET to, imagine any details. Teaching literature and structured writing forms perhaps has shown me too much formula in basal readers that students can analyze and use as models for their compostions. Creative writing classes have diminished dramatically in American schools in the last five years.

That local group of writers may be right when they remind me that most people don’t want to think very much about their reading, they don’t want to reread a paragraph or section, even a sentence, to get the meaning, or deepen the meaning. Readers, they say, don’t want to imagine what Harv looked like or how he dressed. They want the writer to tell, or show, them details, details, details. I believe it. ELABORATION is the key to getting higher scores in state standardized writing assessments. And layering ideas is a bonus, too. I am happy to see the Common Core state standards across the nation demanding that students read literature with more complexity and stretch themselves with their writing. Sure, we still use models to teach reading and writing, but now we encourage readers and writers again to try writing “that’s  weird, that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre or mold”, to find their voice. I taught verbally gifted or talented kids and I thought all kids should be taught to think about their reading and writing in more depth. To try out new ways of showing their ideas. All kids, all of them. All of us.

 The local writing group has no tolerance for my writing where I ask the reader, or listener in storytelling, to use his or her own imagination, where characters and settings, like in Harv, are not always elaborated with details. Another reader, not in the group, said everyone knows a Harv. Don’t describe him, let us imagine the one we know. That’s storytelling, the oral tradition genre, using stock characters liked Raven, Coyote, Hercules, and Harv. Everyone has their own image for stock characters, whatever their names. My local group is uncomfortable with my writing where forms are not fully formed like the spirits emerging through the portal, through the veil from their mystical world into our mortal material realm in the beginning of my LaWrynn Stories.

 Today is as good a time as any to write without questioning what’s weird and doesn’t fit a genre or mold. Edgar Allen Poe is known as the “Father of the Short Story” and Walt Whitman is known as the “Father of Free Verse or Blank Verse” poetry because they invented new literary forms, unfamiliar to their contemporary readers. Bram Stoker introduced the setting and  mood in “Dracula” by showing the reader unformed forms in his beginning pages. It takes courage to read unfamiliar literary forms and more courage to draft it.        tff

Show Me a Writer Actively Practicing the Art

On a coffee break today, I reviewed my list of blog followers. I wondered when you each started following me and why. And I really want want to know who you are and how we connect.

I scrolled down the list and began exploring profiles behind the gravatars. Many of my followers are also writers and photographers. Alieen Hunt’s “about” page shows me a writer actively practicing the art. She lists her literary submissions and publications. She also has links on her “about” page, one for Tumblr. I know practically nothing about Tumblr so I clicked her link and found such a wonderful new experience, I want to share it with you.

The photos hooked me right away. Below them I became engaged with her list of 12 Essential Essays for Writers. I recognize the authors Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, and many more. I can’t wait to read these essays and apply their wisdom to my own writing.

Today, I want to share Aileen’s “about” page and her Tumblr page with you. If you are a writer I think you, too, will be interested in the essays for writers. It will take more than a coffee break for me to read all the essays. I doubt I can understand how to create my Tumblr account over a cup of java, but it looks like it will be worth a try.

Here are links to Alieen Hunt’s “about” page on her blog, and to the 12 Essential Essays for Writers on her Tumblr account. 

Aileen Hunt’s “about” page.     http://aileen-hunt.com/

Aileen Hunt on Tublr       http://aileenhunt.tumblr.com/

12 Essential essays for writers.         http://tetw.org/Essays_for_Writers

Episode 1, In which LaWrynn pokes through the portal

LaWrynn picked herself up and stumbled to hold her balance against the gusts. “Crap!” she thought. “If I had claws I could grip onto . . .” Thunk! Something slammed into her. She wobbled but this time she recovered more quickly. She reclaimed her space only a little further down the corridor.

“Not on the ground. Definitely not on the ground”, she muttered, sensing that there was no up or down in this blasting wind. She hovered for a moment, the best she could, and then stretched for the edge, any edge out of the way of oncoming forces. Incomplete forms whirled in circles, those unsettled souls so ungrounded they constantly twirl about as spirits, like they did in their lives. She needed to hang back and take stock of her situation.

She had been pushed before onto paths she wished she hadn’t taken, though she was glad for many of those wayward trails. This push felt more like a pull growing ever stronger, pulling faster and faster like a current in a rip tide. LaWrynn felt she was being sucked into a vortex she could not resist.

“If I can dodge thingamabobs that come hurling through this ruckus and keep myself steady, I’ll like to see where I can go”.  She considered a new adventure. She felt the mightiest draw to jump back in and let the speed and danger dash her to the other world. She hoped this time for a chance to live in that tangible place  again. She had peered at it many times before through thin veils between her spirit world and the world of mortality. But she doubted she would touch it once more. She felt she could not inhabit that world one more time. It was like looking through a window and not being able to join what she saw. And not certain she wanted to go there.

How long had she dwelled in the world of souls and spirits and sprites, of angels and demons, and things that were things and yet had no identity? An instant? An eternity? Time had no meaning, and all those things, including LaWrynn, had no form. It was what she knew and felt she understood.

She let go her grip. Now she tossed and thumped in a current she could not control. Thingamajigs heaved through space; things with shapes and substance.

Her world had no real forms. Material things simply were not present and not needed. Macaroni, socks, tea cups, bicycles, hammers  – what need? No obstacles to being, just being, that was her reality. Her world was without surfaces and shapes and forms and weight; without bodies; without hunger, hurt, and hindrances.

Smack! “Ow!” The sensation of pain! Whack! She grabbed onto the spinning water can that had smacked her, lifted herself up its slippery round side, and clung to its handle loop. It was spilling water, real water, not the idea of water, the real stuff. She had seen water before but now she could feel it. Cool, wet, what a feeling!

LaWrynn rode the can in the flurry, wind tumbling with water, spinning too fast for her liking. She held tight with one hand and reached out with her other arm for a hold on the next open door in the passageway. “Get me outta here!” she screamed and let go of the handle to use both arms on the door jamb. She swung her leg out and pulled herself through the portal, away from the swirling force.

Dizzy, she lay in darkness on a cool damp mound of dirt. Ground! “On the ground? Definitely on the ground!” she assured herself, free from the disturbing uproar. She had poked through the portal, back into the world of humanity once again.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Read more stories about LaWrynn here.

https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/lawrynn-storie…nd-celtic-lore/

LaWrynn Answers the Proust Questionnaire
https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/lawrynn-proust/

The Haunted Palace

old shack near Lapwai
What is your vision of a haunted palace? Illusion, reality, memory? Photo by Kay Addington MacDonald

by Edgar Allan Poe

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion—
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow,
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago,)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne where, sitting
(Porphyrogene!)
In state his glory well-befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh—but smile no more.

Washtucna, No Town for Old Dogs

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Washtucna, Washington, USA. We pulled over for coffee at the highway stop shop where they also offer a menu of hot dog dressings and sell antique dishes. Hot dogs on  a road trip? Let’s see if we can find an interesting locals diner in town instead.

The welcome sign at the edge of town invited us to cruise Main Street and shop local businesses. The whole town was closed, many buildings boarded up, something like a ghost town! We spotted Sonny’s, the only place open in town, and determined it was not the cafe-tavern for us. The only people we saw were the two coming out of the tavern, a driver watching wild turkeys from his car parked by a stream in a park, and one woman in bright pink pajama pants who stood on her porch and yelled at us to get off unmarked private property, a scrubby deserted lot across the highway from her home. We didn’t even see a dog. But we did find plenty of subjects to photograph before we ate hot dogs and hit the highway again.

We drove to the not-so-far end of town and made our way back to Highway 26. Looks like population 100 or maybe less. Stark! Washtucna has at least 5 tiny parks, put in so they could qualify for a grant. Nobody we talked to at the highway stop remembered anything else about the grant.

We toured town in gusty wind, and then ate our hot dogs in the parking lot of the Sunflower Park next to the highway. There, four signs warned us that dogs are not allowed so we kept the German Shepherds in the van. After lunch I photographed the four signs and more. When I walked through the little grassy area I discovered why dogs are banned. And possibly why there are no dogs to be seen in this ghostly town, except hot dogs.

Here is my photo tour of Washtucna. Click the first photo to start the slide show. Look for silos in the background, signs of the grain industry that thrived here almost a hundred years ago. Today I get hints of a setting for a horror or sci-fi tale, or maybe an unlikely romance story. Zombies…and dogs…lots of dogs…

To see my photo-journal of my autumn trip across the Pacific Northwest click this link.  https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/pacific-northwest-autumn/

For another town tour go to Aberdeen, Scotland with Rachel. http://rachelsquirrel.com/2014/10/06/footdee-aberdeen/

Show me your town or one you pass through on your travels. You can send me a link in comments. Happy trails!

LaWrynn Answers the Proust Questionnaire

red haired imp
I inspired the LaWrynn character. (snort)

LaWrynn and her stories were inspired by this illustration created by Lorie Davison http://loriedavison.blogspot.com/

Look for stories with LaWryn on Sky Blue Daze’ blog, right here, emerging soon.

I started writing stories about a tiny fantasy spirit inspired by Lorie Davison’s fantastic image. Today LaWrynn answers the Proust Questionnaire. You can get a link to the questions and interview yourself of anyone you know or create. It’s at the bottom of today’s post. Enjoy!

LaWrynn answers the Proust Questionnaire

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

What a perfectly stupid question. There is never true perfection in anything. I feel happy when things are in harmony, in balance. No, wait, is that more like content than happy? There’s a difference.

What is your greatest fear?

I fear getting stepped on by a non-mindful range cow. I’m afraid The Great Horned Owl will swoop me up, too, when I am not being mindful. I’m afraid I won’t ever find the portal back to the other side and I’ll be stuck in this material world forever. Yuck! That’s my greatest fear.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Letting things happen. I can’t control everything, but I might try harder.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Meanness.

Which living person do you most admire?

Well, I don’t know very many living people so I can’t answer this, having only lived on this side for a little while. I admire a lot of people, spirits, really, on the other side. There are so many living people in the world to admire, so I’ve heard. What is the world population now anyhow?

What is your greatest extravagance?

How can I be extravagant? I don’t own anything. I did decorate the mouth of the mound I live in, so that might be extravagant. But I have to keep it camouflaged for protection, so even that is not really what I call extravagant. Perhaps the pile of leaves I sleep on is extravagant with the colorful fleece cover. I borrowed some hand dyed wool from the lady of the farm’s knitting basket. Really warm and pretty.

What is your current state of mind?

Oh! Crap!

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

                Cleanliness. Let’s face it, when you live in a badger hole how can you really be expected to keep your clothes and hair dirt free all the time? That would just take way too much time. So inconvenient.

On what occasion do you lie?

If I tell you, everyone will know when I am lying. Duh! (giggles till she snorts)

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

My size. Being small enough to fit in a cow’s ear is a pain. People don’t take me seriously. And my feet are too big.

Which living person do you most despise?

There’s this deranged man that lives up the road from the farm where I nest. He’s just mean for no good reason.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Really?

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Non-competitive loving sisterhood. Period.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Oh, man! Really? What’s that about? Right?

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

You mean this life or a past life or the next one in line? I love roasting marshmallows. Right? (sniggers or snickers?)

When and where were you happiest?

I was happiest on the other side, always. Living has so much drama, annoying drama. On the other side, it’s all cool. We don’t have emotions there, we just exist, let it be.

Which talent would you most like to have?

It’s not really a talent, but if I could fly it would sure help. And I wish I could know things like how to get back to the portal I used to enter this side.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My size. Whose idea was it to put my spirit into such a small body? It’s just not working. Sheesh!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?         

In this life, I haven’t achieved it yet. I think it will be when I can find the portal to the other side again and get outta here.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

Which time? I’ve been a fish, a dragon, a sunflower, a spider, an amoeba, and many more mortal life forms. I’ve been a human, and I never want that curse again. I’d be anything but that. So much drama. If I come back again, could I just be a cloud?

Where would you most like to live?

On the other side again, but if I have to live in the material world, I liked living in the ocean once. I like living on the farm at the edge of the woods. I don’t like living in the badger hole but it’s pretty safe.

What is your most treasured possession?

 My smarts. If I didn’t have intelligence, I’d be dumbfounded living on this side. But for real things, like things, you know, you’ll find out when you read my stories. OK, a hint…I need a key and I need to find out what it unlocks. I need clues. There. Don’t tell anybody. Don’t ruin the stories.            

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Loss and extreme loneliness. Like you lost a relationship that was feeling good, and then it’s gone. You’ll never get it back the way it was. It’s like smashing a wine glass in a trillion jillion pieces, you can’t ever put it back as good as it was. Or someone you love, or a place you love, it leaves or you leave, or even someone or a pet dies and you are left here, in the finite material world to go on without it all your days and nights. That’s loss. That’s loneliness. That’s misery.

What is your favorite occupation?

What I like to do, to occupy myself, is go to a river bank and just be there. Look at what’s around me, even if I’m not at a river. Notice and pay attention to where I am in the present moment. That occupies me. If you mean occupation like a job, that pays people, I think I’d like to be a waitress at a ski resort.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I’d say my size, so minute. Others remark about my wild hair or my long pointed ears. I wish they didn’t stick out so far. If I could fly with them….And I have a nice smile. It just happens.

What do you most value in your friends?

Fun and loyalty. They have to be loyal, and they have to like to have fun.

Who are your favorite writers?

I like Kay Addington MacDonald. She’s the one writing this interview and my stories. I also favor  A. A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh) and Lewis Carroll (The Walrus and the Carpenter) and Kurt Vonnegut.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Tarzan, for today. But he’s be nothing without Jane. Or Lemuel Gulliver (Gulliver’s Travels). He’s dorky.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Queen Hatshepsut the first woman pharaoh.

http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/hatshepsut

Who are your heroes in real life?

Bridgette, my badger friend, and Mayhem, my Stellar Jay friend. You’ll find out why when you read my stories. Oh. Do you mean this life or those in my past and future?

What are your favorite names?

The names of emotions and good things to have like Hope, Faith, Happy, Penny, Treasure, Jewel, Summer, Autumn, Dawn, Wag, Mayhem. Like that. And Max. If I had a brother, I’d name him Max. But would that be up to me?

What is it that you most dislike?

Right now I most dislike how long this interview is taking. How many more questions are you going to ask me? And I dislike confrontation. I bet you couldn’t guess that.

What is your greatest regret?

Once, a long time ago, I lived in the material world, one of my lives. I had a swell beau and I let him go. Another girl snatched him away and I didn’t try to get him back. See what I mean about how I sometimes let things happen when I could take more control? I just hate the drama of life on this side.

How would you like to die?

Are you kidding? Really? Oh, man! What’s that about? Right? Who likes to die? I’m seeking a way to get back to the other side without the pain of death again. So, if I have to die again, make it not painful this time. And let me feel that the people I love know I love them. I just want to feel that it’s all good next time I die, whether it is or not. That’s a good way to die.

What is your motto?

 Oh! Crap! I don’t have one. You mean like, “to infinity and beyond”?  Ask me again after I’ve experienced a few stories about me. Maybe I’ll have one by then. You are going to read my stories aren’t you?


Read more LaWrynn stories here:

Chapter 1, In which LaWrynn pokes through the portal  https://skybluedaze.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/lawrynns-portal/

The Proust Questionnaire:     http://thewritepractice.com/proust-questionnaire/

David Bowie answers the Proust Questionnaire: http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/07/10/david-bowie-proust-questionnaire-vanity-fair/

White Lady

I am happy to promote a new book. You have a chance win it. Here’s the deal.

http://www.jessicabellauthor.com/white-lady-blog-tour-participants.html

And here is Jessica’s blog site where you can find all sorts of interesting reading and inspiration for the writer in you.

http://www.thealliterativeallomorph.blogspot.com/

I found a book. It hasn’t yet been written.

old letter in cursive
The first letter, exuberant after the dance.

I found a book. It hasn’t yet been written. But it has begun. And I am the writer. After Mom died in 2006, I emptied her house and put it up for sale. She had tons, really tons, of clutter. Sorting took months. She kept everything! I found some treasures in the slow thorough process.

In her basement I uncovered her desk, the one she used for her church secretary work. It was heaped with papers and file folders and books, a knitting project, plants, and too much more to remember. Inside a deep drawer, in an unlabeled folder mixed with church papers, I found photocopies of letters.

They were written in 1918 and 1919 by my grandfather, courting my grandmother. I found the beginning of their relationship right up to the day he married her. I found the story of families living in the Pacific Northwest during World War 1, haying with horses, building the railroad, and joining the army. I found a book to write, based on the courting letters.

The letters document the influenza epidemic, boats stuck in the river by deep ice break ups, barn dances, a locomotive derailed by a mud flood and much more. Most importantly, they reveal human hopes and struggles, concessions, forgiveness, and celebrations.

The storyline moves along the tracks of the traditional plot diagram. It has complexity in its conflicts. The action rises to the turning point and ends with resolution. It’s so ready to write.

My problem is how to develop the details, how to bring the characters and setting to life for modern readers. How do I write the story so readers will care and get a deeper understanding of their own lives from the book? Each letter gives enough information to inspire creative writing. What is really the story behind the story? How can I tell it?

I am a storyteller, a performing storyteller. I know a lot about folklore weaving magic into tales. I teach writing, literature, and history. Now, I have a book to write, one letter at a time. I’m scared. Can I practice the crafts I teach? It’s a challenge I give myself, to write creative non-fiction. How do I even categorize the genre? Could it be a novel of poetry telling the story like Out of the Dust? Will I write chapters? How about short vignettes? How will I link the ideas together? How long will the book be? Will anybody be interested in reading the story, the little stories within the stories?

I have a lot of research to do. How did men work hay fields with horses when tractors were just emerging into the industry? What was the sphere of devastation by the influenza pandemic in the Pacific Northwest? What was transportation like then? The letters stand in place of telephones and texting.

How can I show, don’t tell, the depth of humanity revealed within the letters? I’m going to need a lot of feedback as I progress, a lot of help. I am asking you to follow my postings as I write this story. Please tell me what you think of my writing, what changes I should make, what’s written just as it should be. How is the story affecting you?

I posted a first draft of the first page yesterday in Cat Rock, the First Dance. One blogger, gave me powerful feedback in her comment. Thanks Wendy! http://wendybarronwrites.wordpress.com/

That’s what I’m looking for. Will you help me?

What do you think right now about this story idea? Please tell me.

Cat Rock, the First Dance

This is the first piece for a book. When my mother died, I found a series of courting letters from my grandfather to my grandmother. The letters began after their meeting at a dance. They end with their marriage. I am using each letter to inspire vignettes of what Grandpa wrote about. I use their real names for the book. Cat Rock is a rock formation that resembles a cat overlooking a river. Grandpa worked and lived at the railroad section house at Cat Rock when he wrote the letters.

July 5, 1918

The First Dance

Edith reached for her paring knife from a group of them behind the sink. This one fit her left hand the best.  She began skinning a large lumpy potato but her mind was not on her work.  She was reliving last night’s dance, twirling and reeling cross the hard packed barn floor. Her chore was familiar and the brown peels flew into the wash basin while her heels and toes tapped the kitchen floor boards. Bouncing, jigging, hopping, she danced to the lively rhythm  that pulsed in her mind. Dancing made life spin by with abandonment. When she felt the music and let her body move with it, she knew she was in tune with all that gave freedom to that moment. She tossed the slippery peeled potato in the air, caught it and flipped it into the bowl with a thud. She picked up the next potato and took the knife in her other hand.

She hummed and swayed in time with her peeling. What was the song? The fiddler had played it as if the instrument was dancing with her, guiding her moves. She heard it for the first time at the dance but it seemed like she had always known it, had danced to it often. And the fiddler. The fiddler. She knew he watched her swinging to the music he played, the jigs, waltzes, fox trots, and reels.  Something in the way she caught him looking at her, when she had tried to steal glances at him, made her smile as she worked at preparing dinner. His name was Frank.

He had brought her home after the dance with his brother, Tom, on a big hay wagon drawn by two sturdy black horses. The wagon was packed full with her two chatty sisters and their husbands and a party of people who were staying on for the long ride home to Middle Valley. It was late when she got off the wagon with her family at her father’s farm. Tonight she would make his favorite fried chicken dinner to thank Papa for staying home with her baby.

From the Backside

I am drawn to making portraits. I create them with words and pictures. Photographing and drawing people challenges me. Portraits that are not face on call me back to reflect deeper. I look longer at people pictured from different view points, especially from behind. Let’s consider point of view, the perspective of the camera or sketch pad. Here are some pieces I am working on, probably going to draw them. Below these samples are links to other blogs with inspiring portraits from uncommon viewpoints. If you have some samples for me to see, please leave your blog address in the comment. I’ll check in.

man portrait
unfinished lesson to draw eyes, charcoal and prismacolor
Ricky & Phil fishing
Looking from behind , I feel like I’m back stage of my subjects
Nathan bike Loon Lake
I’m there with the men, gazing at the landscape, and at them gazing at the landscape.
my back walking down trail
When a far away friend saw this she commented, “I’m walking with you.”

Inspiring art blogs I follow

I follow these blogs for art inspiration. Take a look.

Scrapbook portraits. I’m not a scrapbooker, but Lori Davison creates kits that I’ll probably start using. Why not put my subject in from a back view? If only my studio were as roomy and organized as the one in this portrait.

Here’s Lorie’s blog address. You can see her kits on the sidebar, and link to her sale site. She has some pretty darned good landscape photos at the top. Scroll down about halfway to see how people have used her kits for portraits, some from the backside.

http://loriedavison.blogspot.com/

The Goat that Wrote. The backside of The Goat That Wrote. Here’s hiker who definitely gets down, or up, a lot more trails than I’ll ever see. And he posted a photo from the backside, in his pack, of course. Now how do you get a selfie like that? Check out his blog with writing and photos from walking on several continents. Really worth the read.

Your turn. In the comments please share a link to your art showing people from the back side. Happy Trails!

 

 

Hugh’s Sour Dough Starter

sourdough starter
A little jar of starter ready to make a sponge.

Hugh Addington, born in 1894,  began cooking sourdough biscuits and hot cakes for his family’s sheepherding trips in Idaho’s Seven Devils Mountains when he was a boy. He continued using sourdough all his 84 years. A staple in the camp box, and later in his kitchen, he kept his starter fed and ready. If he ever ran out he made more with this recipe.

I am his grand daughter and I won’t tell you how many years I have been making more than biscuits and hot cakes with his starter. If you want some of my favorite recipes for what to do once you have the starter, just ask.

What you need:

small glass jar with lid

pot for boiling potatoes

small crock or glass mixing bowl

1 or more potatoes

1 cup reserved liquid from boiled potatoes

1 cup flour, all purpose flour will do but you could try whole wheat flour or bread flour

What you do:

Boil the potatoes until soft, making sure you will have at least a cup of water left when done. Leave skins on if they are organically grown. Drain, reserving liquid. Use the potatoes for any recipe you like. Cool to room temperature the reserved liquid that the potatoes have been boiled in.

When liquid has cooled to room temperature, measure 1 cup of it. Stir the cup of liquid into to the cup of flour in a small crock or glass mixing bowl. Don’t use a blender or mixer for this, stir by hand.

Cover the crock or glass bowl with a paper towel or light dish cloth and let it sit on the counter for 24 – 48 hours. It will gather yeast from the air and begin to ferment. You will probably see the hooch form on top of the batter. Hooch is the fermentation, rather ugly and brownish.

Gently stir the starter, pour it into the glass jar, put on the lid and store it in the fridge until ready to use.

To use the starter, take it out the night before. You have to make a “sponge” or “freshen” it. Put a half cup of starter in a crock or glass mixing bowl. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup warm, not hot, water, cover it lightly and let it sit for 6  hours or longer.

Feed the starter every week or two. I feed mine almost every time I use it so I don’t run too low. Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water to the starter, stir it in to mix. Or take some of the sponge and stir it back into the starter. Store it in the fridge until you are ready to use it again. If you don’t use the starter within 2 weeks, add flour and water to keep the little yeast organisms alive.

Here is my recipe for whole wheat sourdough bread baked in a 3 quart cast iron sauce pan.

The story of sourdough, and all the recipes, fascinates me. I could write too much about it. Search the web and you will find plenty of help. Here is my source for learning more about starters and recipes. If you click the link at the very bottom in this source, you will find really good easy recipes.