If you ever happen to channel Emily Dickinson — do not listen to her.
This is Memorial Day. We honor the dead with flowers on graves. We remember a touch; we recall the bravery and the last smiles of those who have died. Love becomes bittersweet; we love the ones we lost to death and allow that love is now redefined.
As a little girl my mother took me to Terrace Heights on Memorial Day. Grandfather Anderson is interred at this cemetery. The tall iron entry gates opened, the road narrowed, and to one side I saw a lovely pool where a lone swan lived by the mausoleum. Ma told me the story about how when a swan loses his mate, he remains alone ever after. This swan’s mate had died at the hands of pranksters. I always felt so sad for the swan; a beautful melancholic memory.
The little road wound through the manicured acres of graves, and our first job was to find the gravestone for this man I never met, but still and all he was Mama’s father. There was an entire area of Swedes, all early immigrants to the Lower Yakima Valley where Grandfather Anderson homesteaded in the early days of the 1900s. So Mama said, ‘There’s the Bensen’s’ or name another neighbor from Sunnyside who now was close to where her Papa was buried. She dug up the little vase buried next to Charlie Anderson’s grave, and filled it with the flowers we stopped to get on our way to Terrace Heights. I went to a spigot lost to my memory to fill the vase that we stuck back into the ground with flowers.
As we walked to the car, Ma told me the story about how Grandma upon one of these occasions in the cemetery had her take a pot of geraniums that were looking poorly from an unkempt grave. She knew they would soon die, and why should they, if she could bring them around? Ma never did anything illegal in her life. She was a little woman who ran on nervous energy; I could see her grab those geraniums and head straight for the car a look of fear and awe on her face, with the agility of a professional athlete in her step. The memory makes me smile as I write.
Both of my parents are interred at the mausoleum. Their name plates are high on the wall as you go in the door. I will not be there today, to listen to the stories whispered in the breeze ruffling the water of the swan pool nearby. A pair of swans now swim where once the lone swan lived; the dead make way for the living.
As for Emily Dickinson, that’s another post. Stay tuned.
A lot of people strive for perfection in their writing.
Perfection, thwarts creativity. Creativity is messy; sometimes it is punctuated but often it comes out in bursts. Giving passion or an insight over to words, I find daunting. On the rare times that I expected perfection from a flurry of words on paper, I was disappointed. Often half of my idea remained in my brain or if from my heart — lodged in an artery. It wasn’t on the paper.
We tend to judge our abilities quickly, and if the phrases are not balanced and the heart expressed in Hallmark words and it looks to you, hopeless, realize this:
The art of writing is in the rewrite; it is in the appreciation of the heart, soul, and mind given to turn its revelations into words. It is in believing that what you have to say — what powers your imagination — or empowers your walk in life is worth going through that first wonderful burst and finding the poem or the story.
Perfection has nothing to do with this; not any of it. If what I am after is to be absolutely sure I have written something perfectly said and suitably noteworthy, I have a book of quotations.
I suggest reaching beyond by going inside. Perfection is not the goal. A good editor will help with the final clean-up, and from my own experience I can say revelations happen in the editing, as well.
When I was a little girl I was told you could hear the ocean inside a shell. Maybe it is more eternal the sound you hear from within the shell. Perhaps if you listen closely the shell reveals mysteries. Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know I am drawn to stories that bend my idea of what is real and what is not. In my research about the Kalahari I found some fascinating legends about a city, a grand city lost in the Kalahari.
Secret places and hidden realms — the stuff of sheer imagination?
The Tibetan Buddhists have a name for places where the spiritual and physical worlds overlap: beyul. According to what I am reading in Ian Baker’s book The Heart of the World, you can be in one and not know it. Perception and spiritual development are key to realization. If you think this sounds like quantum physics, the Dalai Lama does too. The idea that there are multiple universes and parallel dimensions is not new to His Holiness.
Do such spiritual shenanigans only happen for spiritual super stars in the Himalayas? I do not think so. The Buddhist approach to problem solving and mind development is one of practice. There is a lightness and humor in the Buddhist way that appeals to me. And while the realms imagined may not be realized they feed the spirit. Ian Baker talks about beyuls he discovered.
I am writing a story; the novel I allude too, and the concept of the beyul is central to the plot. Research to me is honey. It sweetens the process; it encourages and guides and opens doors only seen some say in twilight.
I hear her sometimes in the depth of a dream; she fills me with wild-eyed imaginings where chasms in the Himalayas and lions on the Kalahari slip one into the other and dissolve in morning light, but I’ve changed somehow because each time I allow myself to be drawn into this flight of fancy led by Gaea’s siren song my perception alters and the garden I waken in is never the same after.
I write from the inside out. From the outside I bring in the factual and the fanciful. We sit upon an Earth that has a schedule of her own. She sails in a Universe; she sings and she is filled with heat. She is the mystery.
And perhaps we are just a toy in the pocket of some genius a dream away.
Yesterday I actually cleared off the mantle; I am looking straight at the batik I described: the African mother with her two children. I had it framed over thirty years ago; it was a gift from a cousin from his travels in Kenya.
Sometimes writing is a voluptuous flurry; images so rich and mind-embracing, you only want to linger and to taste. Aunt Famie comes to my mind. My mother called her older sister the most beautiful woman in the world. Her dark shoulder length hair curled over creamy shoulders. She had large blue eyes and a rosebud mouth and a voice that crackled. When my brother and I were small and visited Aunt Famie she would wrap us up with her under a leopard print quilt in her huge brass bed and tell us jungle stories. Dad’s Root Beer floats were part of a visit at Famie’s.
Men adored Famie; a carpenter friend built a fountain for her in the basement of her four story Victorian home. The basement had three bedrooms, and each one had a brass bed. She loved garage sales and would buy entire collections of jewelry from estate sales. A lot of it was junk; she loved it all. Diamonds or glass; if it was pretty to her, it had value. She showed me drawers of jewels, fake and not, and said of the sparkling treasures in that crackling voice, “When I die they can get a truck and dump it all.” She loved her stuff.
I remember going downstairs at Famie’s into what looked to me like the Kontiki Restaurant: the fountain going with little lights put in especially for Famie from Bob, the carpenter. A ton of Yorkshire terriers toured right along with me. Famie loved dogs, a family trait. Her ‘Bewear of Dogs’ sign on the gate outside her house, still draws a smile to my face. So the Yorkies followed me about as I sneaked a peek into Famie’s bathroom at all the jars of potions and skin lotions. She smelled so good and her skin was porcelin.
She never cut her hair and she did invest in wigs as she grew older. Over the wigs she wore scarves and on her fingers she wore diamond rings. Her nails were painted red well into her 80s.
She loved me; truly loved me. She filled me with stories and root beer floats, and no way would I ever edit her clutter. Her clutter was magical.
You know after I thought a little more about it; I put back some of what I edited from my mantle yesterday. When I go, someone can get a truck …
In writing one rule does not apply to all projects.
I’m looking at my mantle. I have 8 candles on it; a display of rocks and little native Alaskan soapstone figures intermixed, and some Swedish painted horses, cast about. Centering the mantle is an African mother with her children, a lovely framed batik in front of which is a wind-up red heart with feet. A pewter bell on a ceramic plate is to the center right on the mantle.
I removed the candles, the soapstone Eskimo and seal, the Swedish painted horses and the wind-up heart with feet. I can now see the batik. This is a graphic lesson in details and a mini-course in editing. Sometimes finding a story inside the words feels daunting. Sometimes a story is lost in the flowery words. Adverbs and adjectives are called helpers for a reason; traditionally they are used to pump-up weak nouns and verbs. However, strong nouns and verbs lose their impact when deluged with decorative language.
My mantle is cleared of clutter; the framed African batik now draws my attention; the candles that remain flow with the batik. The Swedish painted horses need a place of their own. The mantle is nicely focused.
I’m now looking at the table by the window with 5 candles and 3 vases … we are works in progress. I’m keeping the wind-up heart with feet.
I’m thinking about the good people I fell in with; particularly the two guys who put this web site together for me. Andrew Lahmann is a young film maker and director. I came to know Andy as my tenant; he rents the lower half of my house. Andy gained approval from the resident ghost and my canine crew, and became a friend to us all. He is responsible for this web site. I had an idea, and he took that idea and showed me how we could make it possible. Accolades go to him for his creativity, photography, and direction. His friend Matt McDaniel is a photographer. His vision is edgy and dramatic; and his use of lighting is superb. Matt’s photographs tell stories. He offered technical support throughout the process of getting this site going.
How great is this? Such wonderfully talented young professionals fell into my life. My gratitude to Andy and Matt is mighty. I’m mighty grateful guys. Thank you.
I look for signs. I’m an optimistic person, and I look for signs to rationalize decisions I make. When I negotiated the buying of my big wonderful house, I thought at first I should not proceed with the sale. The living room and dining room were mixed up in my mind, and to me the house became, ‘dumb.’ The ‘dumb’ sign was my indicator that I could get out of the sale. I am grateful to the Realtor who didn’t burst out laughing at my condemnation of this turn of the century house. He allowed me to change my mind with my dignity in tact.
We’re painting the house twenty years later. You can see me in front of the house with a big smile on my face like I knew every minute that this house was my destiny.
I love the surprises. This was a sign, maybe this morning. The porch light fixture blew off the ceiling of the porch; the whole thing in one neat lump by the railing. The light bulb shattered. Does that mean that my idea for the Independent Writers’ Studio blog is dumb? Have the painters who stopped painting the house while the winds and rain took command offended our resident ghost? Or could it be: Sometimes rain and wind blow loosen fixtures from their normal places?
Does that mean that my idea for the Independent Writers’ Studio blog is dumb? Hell no! We’re creating Clover, an amazing literary rag, due out this summer at the studio. And group members this is your reminder to please get anything you wish to contribute to me by email.
I can post the questions that I will use in writers’ groups right here, weekly. I can also show original cards and feature photographs like the one Andy Lahmann took of me in front of my house.
Have the painters who stopped painting the house while the winds and rain took command offended our resident ghost?
Sometimes rain and wind blow loosen fixtures from their normal places?