Monthly Archives: June 2013

Look What Came in the Mail!

I just got a box from Amazon.  Three new books, and each one recommended by a blogger.  While I will still continue to read books on craft and other memoirs and poetry, these will be my fun summer reading.

Bough Down, by Karen Green, was recommended by Lynne at Free Penny Press. She encouraged me to purchase this hard cover book because of its beauty and because it is a book that “sinks into our heart, bone’s marrow and lodges back in our minds.” Lynne is right that it’s beautiful with its very special illustrations and prose poems.

The Poet’s Wife told me about Bound Feet and Western Dress, by Pang-Mei Chang, when we were discussing bound feet and literature. She found it fascinating, but said that it had mixed reviews. After checking out those mixed reviews myself, I was intrigued enough to add it to my shopping cart.

During the discussion about science after my post How and Why I Don’t Know Science, a lot of bloggers recommended various books and websites to teach me about science. I ended up purchasing Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain, which was recommended by one of my readers. I feel terrible that I can’t remember who recommended it. If you are the one and you read this, please let me know so I can give you the credit!  UPDATE:  As I’ve mentioned before, I only revise a post when I have new info to add.  Now I do.  The blogger who recommended the Carl Sagan books was Bay Ridge Writer. I hope you’ll hope on over to his blog and the blogs of the two mentioned above and say hi.

All of the smart bloggers I read contribute to what swirls around inside my brain, much to its betterment. I feel so enriched from reading and discussing in the blogosphere. And that’s a fact.  So thank you, all!

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Filed under Blogging, Nonfiction, Research and prep for writing

How Much Do You Do Before You Click “Publish”?

The other day I posted to a friend in a private forum that if I had known that my Writer Site post was going to be Freshly Pressed I might have spent a little more time on it. I could have read it with a critical eye–expanded some passages, perhaps cropped others. I could have edited more.

As I pondered this notion, I thought I could have added some research, links, more images or videos, and doodads to jazz it up, too.  Or not.  Maybe that wouldn’t have been a good idea. The story needed to speak for itself.

My mind went back and forth and all around, wondering if I could have done more.  Have you ever felt that way?  Like maybe if you could just have a do-over.

But even as I was writing and thinking (thoughts going more RPMs than the written words), I thought how spending a lot of time editing and sweating over each blog post would be like always wearing your best underwear in case you’re in an accident. Or always having the house cleaned in case you have guests. But blogging, when it’s done in a routine, is wearing your everyday underwear and allowing dust to lie on the coffee table. It’s allowing yourself to just live (or to write).

This is very different from other types of writing–at least for me.

In writing my book, which is a memoir, I revise over and over again.  I am not happy with one chapter, one scene, maybe not even one paragraph . . . yet. When I finish the project, it will have taken ten years, or so I anticipate.

I’m planning to start compiling a poetry manuscript.  The only problem is that I am not satisfied with any of my poems. I will think I am, then I get second thoughts and want to revise again. On occasion, I’ve revised the life right out of a poem and have had to delete it completely.  Mostly, the poems get better the more I work on them.

When does revision stop? I don’t know because I am still in the revision process for most of my work. Even my published poems are being revised.

Other than Spell Check and a once through for glaring errors, my blog posts don’t get revised unless I find new information that I need to add to a post, and then I make it clear that I am adding something at a later time. (One caveat: if I do a re-read after I hit “publish” and find a typo, I do correct it).

Fellow bloggers, how do you feel about revising and editing blog posts? Do you do it or just click publish after you write a draft? And if you write elsewhere, how does your blog post writing process differ from that of your other writing?

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Poetry, Research and prep for writing, Writing, Writing prompt

A Poem Whose Bony Fingers Won’t Let Go

Even if you’re not a regular reader of poetry, make sure you know the name Lucille Clifton and read a few of her poems. You won’t be sorry. Her poems are short and they don’t mess around.  She passed away in 2010, so we have a limited supply.

Here is my favorite Clifton poem (just make sure you read the title first):Sorrows by Lucille Clifton

The more I read this poem, the more I love it. It’s kind of creepy, imagining sorrows as living scars or skeletons which refuse to leave us alone. But it’s so true.

This link will lead you to her bio, a list of her publications, and links to a few more poems.

The Hurston Wright Foundation has nominated The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 for its 2013 Legacy Award.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

How Disney Made Me Worry about Pigeons

Reading some of the comments in the discussion after last week’s post How and Why I Don’t Know Science, my mind started wandering a familiar pathway: how cultures decide which are the “good” animals and which are the “bad.”  If they are bad, we don’t have to care whether they live or die or what their lives are like.  Which ones, if any, “deserve” to be dissected or even vivisected in the name of science or education.

Although I have my beliefs about animal rights and animal welfare, I’m not a raving radical, but am more the type to wonder about things, to feel sadness about things, and to recognize (and get bogged down by) the complexity and paradoxes of life.

I want to tell you a story about a lady who lives in my city. It does touch on these issues, I think.

A couple of years ago, as I was sitting at my computer, I noticed a young pigeon hopping in little circles on my porch.  He couldn’t seem to fly. On closer examination, it seemed that his wings were bunched up on his back. As I peered through my glass door, a larger pigeon fluttered down to this smaller one, coaxing it into hiding behind the urn.  Then the older bird (mother? father? auntie?) flew off to its rain gutter perch and watched over the injured bird.

I thought I understood. Every evening a brown falcon surveys the world from the gable above my bedroom.  The owl strikes in secret, so private that only three feathers are left. But I am not there when the birds-of-prey kill. I’m not a witness.

This particular pigeon circled dejectedly just a few feet from my house, behind my clay pot, not far from where I was writing at the computer. As I stepped outside, I spied one gray-furred feather on the doorstep.

Looking at the bird, which was helpless to fly away, I sighed. We’d had such a pigeon problem at the house. My roof was covered with mottled gray feathers and mottled gray shit. In large quantities, pigeons can be so annoying. I’d read up on pigeons and discovered that they like to nest on rocky hillsides, and my tile roof probably seemed like the next best spot.

As I looked at the bird, I felt the heavy cloak of responsibility settling on me. I thought of the best work of Anonymous: Some days you’re the pigeon. Some days you’re the statue. I was pretty sure that at that point we both felt like the statue, heavy and cold.  And frightened.

After all, I had no idea of how to help him.  He shivered. He bebopped. He looked as if his arms might be caught in the jacket up above his head.

Without an idea of how to help him, but a strong sense that I couldn’t turn my back and go inside, I decided to try to get help.  After calling several animal welfare and wildlife rescue organizations, I was told about a woman I came to think of as Our Lady of the Pigeons.  Call her, the woman on the phone urged me. “She’s the only one who will help a pigeon.”

I put on rubber gloves to pick up the bird. I didn’t want to pick up some kind of wild bird disease. As a kid, when I brought feathers into the house, my mother would insist I throw them away and scrub my hands free of contamination. My husband lives by those rules, too, and I’ve picked up their worries.

I placed him in a box and covered it with a towel, all the while talking pigeon to him.  Pigeon is sort of like cat or dog.  It’s a soothing sound which tells the pigeon or cat or dog that whatever you’re going to do to them will be lovely.

My son held the box on his lap while I drove to the lady’s house. She had sounded terse and difficult on the phone. She worried that a cat had pulled the wing off like they do a foot, leaving it bloodless, cauterized, and corked–a volatile champagne of eventual death.

I parked my car under the orange tree and walked in through her open garage. A dog barked from out back, and I waited at the tattered screen door for what felt like an hour, but was probably only two or three minutes. The pigeon’s feet scratched the box floor every so often, but it was otherwise silent.

The Pigeon Lady appeared at her door, staring at the box.  I don’t believe she looked at me at all. She didn’t wear a halo, but graying hair puffed out over a face which reminded me of an aging Sigourney Weaver. A hint of longjohns peeked from the top of her layered muumuus.

Without speaking, she scooped up the bird and placed him atop the hood of a blocked-up Bonneville, amidst  the curious nose of the blue-eyed half-feral cat, which jumped up in curiosity.

The woman’s man-sized hands unwrapped the pigeon’s wings. They were coiled together like two ends of a twisty. “I’ve been doing this for thirty years. I’ve never seen wings corkscrewed together. Every pigeon has his own story.” My son’s mouth hung open ever so slightly.

She scraped dried food from a clogged nostril, and said, “He can’t feed himself yet. Forehead hasn’t turned white.”

She simmered with thrill that his wings were only bruised.  “I’ll keep him until spring, when he can feed himself.  Maybe he’ll fly home.”  I pictured him flying home to my yard, being greeted by the older bird who had hid him behind my flower pot.

I asked if I could call and check on him. After all, it seemed the polite thing to do.  She said, “I have your number.”  Clearly I was dismissed.  I slipped her a $20 bill as I left and thanked her for helping.  The bird or me, I wasn’t sure. Without her, what would I have done with the bird?

She said she would use the money to feed all the pigeons.  Many of them would never be well enough to fly.

As I left I stumbled over some of the loose oranges on the ground, thinking how citrus trees attract scorpions. I realized that they wouldn’t dare bother this lady.

On the way home, my son, somewhere off with his own thoughts, didn’t speak any more than the Pigeon Lady or the pigeon. I remembered how as a kid I had loved the “Feed the Birds” scene in Mary Poppins so much. Although I was only nine when the movie came out, that was my favorite song.  The problem with the song is that it’s one that is hard to get out of your head.

This lady reminded me of that song, that scene, that woman. But with a gritty real-life edge of imperfection to her.

That was that.  The pigeon was taken care of and I could go back to my computer.  My son could go back to the TV. I tried to write a poem about her, but it wasn’t successful.  It’s hard to write about something you find a little holy and a little human.

But nothing is ever really over. A year later I came home from vacation to find a sick pigeon huddled up against the wall of my house. This time I knew the drill and took the pigeon to the lady.

A few days later she used that phone number of mine that she had kept from the first pigeon. Without any chitchat, she said, “I’m so sorry, but your pigeon died.”  I didn’t know whether to sympathize with her or to accept her sympathy and leave it at that.

She had tried very hard to save the pigeon, but without knowing what was wrong, she wasn’t able to help it. She said, “I have a difficult question to ask you.  Would it be ok with you if I do an autopsy on the bird? When they die I like to do that so I can learn more about what is wrong with them, so I can help the rest of them.”

My pause might have been a moment too long, but then I assured her that it was fine to do so. Anything in the cause of helping the birds.

When I hung up the phone I could hear that damn Disney song playing in my head again.

###

That’s the story of Our Lady of the Pigeons, the story I remembered from reading the comments of fellow bloggers about the reason I don’t know much science.

Have you ever met anybody like her?  Tell me his or her story!

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Writing, Writing prompt

A Fresh Start on Science

What a great conversation on Monday’s post “How and Why I Don’t Know Science.” Thanks to the kindness of the WordPress editor, the post was Freshly Pressed, so my story about high school science class got a lot of readers, both new and old friends.

As an aside, being Freshly Pressed is such a wonderful phenomenon. When I first started this blog, a guest post about “Lake Erie” by my good and long-time friend Wilma Kahn was Freshly Pressed. Wilma had a lively discussion that went on for quite some time. It’s so much fun talking to bloggers. Ever notice that other bloggers can be smarter and more interesting than some other people in your life ;)? Just sayin’.

Back to Monday’s post. Because I talked about giving up studying science over the thought of dissecting a cat, a lot of the discussion that’s still ongoing has been about animal dissection, animal issues, and science pedagogy. All subjects wide open for debate. All subjects which stir strong emotions in readers.

I know where I stand on those issues, as is evidenced in the piece. Where I am confused is where I stand on science and learning science at my age.

Science makes me feel stupid, and I hate feeling stupid. That’s why I long ago “liked” that page on Facebook called I Fucking Love Science (a catchy name, but one I find a little embarrassing). If you’re on Facebook and haven’t yet liked this page, run to your Facebook account and do so. It provides interesting scientific facts in bite-sized pieces. You can see a life-sized model of a blue whale heart, pictures of the penis-head fish, and other goodies. You can learn that Mars has boron which might be crucial for the formation of life.

Although I will admit to being a lifelong student, I have no intention of making myself go to school again for science. Somehow I don’t see myself in front of the Bunsen burner.

In the comments for Monday’s post, Lauren at From Screen to Words suggested a Youtube website called Crash Course. I plan to spend some time over there.

Recently my parents gave me a video course, which I haven’ t watched yet. It’s called Science and Religion and is produced by The Teaching Company. It sounds similar to the pseudo-science class I took in college–a course about science, but not science. I looked up the course offerings, and they have a lot of actual science courses. Maybe I’ll start with this freebie and then move on to the hard stuff like Physics and Our Universe, Understanding the Human Body (no dissection worries here), Einstein’s Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, and best yet, Joy of Science.

I’ve given myself a lot of challenges in the past few years: write a memoir, write a play with my daughter, put together a poetry manuscript, keep up the blogs, and other non-writing challenges such as the diet that is staring me in the face.  I’m going to add “learn more science” to my daily to do list and see how much science I can cram in this old brain.  I’ll try the video courses. If that doesn’t work, I’ll go back to my old How and Why Book filled with science experiments for children. That might be my speed.

The Joys Of Scientific Experimentation

The Joys Of Scientific Experimentation (Photo credit: spike55151)

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Filed under Blogging, Creative Nonfiction, Writing

How and Why I Don’ t Know Science

After I heard we had to dissect the body of a cat in tenth grade biology class, I requested to take a replacement course instead. Today many school districts are sensitive to this issue and students can opt out without creating a stir. But back in 1971, school administrators at my Michigan school had never heard of a college-track student requesting to skip the foundation of high school science classes—and all over a dead cat. (How and Why the cat would die wasn’t divulged). Although they were surprised by my request, they allowed me to switch over to a course called Earth Science, but the only connection it had with its name was interminable dullness like dirt.

At fifteen I saw the world through a lens like a microscope and never from the top of a cliff. My father often said, “You can’t see beyond your own nose. It’s the bigger picture that counts.” My father, though, only saw the world as if it were a coloring book—large geometric blanks to be colored in by him, sloppily, with loops passing wildly beyond the black lines.

My view worked well for the science projects I had performed at home for years. When I was nine, my mother had bought me a How and Why book with scientific experiments kids could do at home. I grew mold on potatoes, made a weather station, something different every week.

But Earth Science class turned out to be a playpen for students who would not much longer be called students, kids who had troubles at home and troubles at school. Because I didn’t have the capacity to look at the longer range consequences, I didn’t realize that by not taking biology I’d left science behind. I wasn’t able to study physics or chemistry as all the science classes were lined up like the begetters in the Bible—biology begat chemistry which begat physics.

The SAT didn’t require any scientific knowledge, and somehow, with my intuitive test taking abilities, I managed an eighty-something percentage on the science portion of the ACT. The next year I attended a college chosen for its proximity to my boyfriend and satisfied the lone science requirement by taking a course called “The History of Science,” which taught no science.

Today I don’t know much about science, but my conscience is clear where my four cats are concerned. Too bad I couldn’t have a clear conscience and science both.

Tiger Queenie Princess Mimi Josefina [ secret name]

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Photographs, Writing

My Tree Fetish

I’ve written before about how much I love trees.  Here are a list of some of my tree posts, in case you want verification ;):

I’m not sure why trees are so important to me, both as a person and as a writer.   I know I’m not the only one because when I brought up this subject in the past on this blog, I found that there are many other bloggers who feel as I do about trees.

For some reason I feel they are akin (a kin) to us, just as I feel about animals.  There is a spirit in each tree.

Many years ago a friend gave me a beautiful book by Rabindranath Tagore called Fireflies.  This is a quote from the book:

“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.”

One tree I can’t get enough of is the Jacaranda, which is found in many countries around the world.

These trees are also all over Los Angeles.  I was just there, and the trees were gloriously deep lavender at this time of year.

Although Pretoria, South Africa, is known as The Jacaranda City, Los Angeles bloomed intensely purple this visit.

These are the trees bordering the parking lot at The Huntington Library.

Underneath the trees, a purple carpet of blossoms coated the pavement and the cars.

Each blossom is itself a little beauty.

A blossom on my car

A blossom on my car

These photos don’t do justice to the way my blood vessels open wider when I look at a row of Jacarandas. Who needs a quarter aspirin a day if they have Jacaranda trees out their window?

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Photographs

We Stayed All Day

As I explained on Monday, 0n Memorial Day, I went with my family to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  We spent the day there because there was so much to see.

This museum owns 207 acres.  Of those, 120 are landscaped and divided into their various botanical gardens.

In Monday’s post I showcased the cacti and succulents and some non-desert flowers.  Today I want to share more of the gardens with you.

Their Japanese garden is gorgeous and complete with a traditional Japanese house, Zen garden, and a collection of bonsai trees.

These bonsai trees are larger than the sort you usually see at a store.  These were a couple of feet tall.

After the Japanese gardens, we visited the greenhouse and saw the carnivorous plants.

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After the greenhouse, we visited the herb garden with its calming colors and fragrances.

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At the end we took pictures on the statue-bordered lawn.  Maybe you recognize it from the movie The Wedding Planner You remember what happens to one of the statues, right?

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After we left we found a Persian restaurant for dinner. Next time we go to the Huntington, I want to take tea in their tea room.  I hope the library will be open by then because, after all, it is a library ;).

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel

Why Didn’t We Go a Long Time Ago?

Over the weekend, hubby and I visited our twenty-something kids in California.  On Memorial Day, we went to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.  Although we lived for twenty years in southern Cali, this was the first time we had gone.  I wanted to see the library, which I have heard so much about.  A few of my friends worked on their dissertations there.  So many times people have urged me to visit, and I kept putting it off. Don’t procrastinate as I did.  Seize the first opportunity to visit the Huntington! A lovely time was had by all :).

The Blue Boy

The Blue Boy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, they are working on the library this summer, and visitors were not allowed access (that will change in September).  However, they did have the Huntington collection of volumes of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species on display.  It’s hard to believe there are any others left in the world!  One row of the books wrapped around the walls of a large gallery. When we entered one of the art galleries, I spotted Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy ahead, on the far wall, and ran up to hubby, the kids, and their friends excitedly pointing out the painting.  I hadn’t realized it was at the Huntington.  We also saw Pinkie by Thomas Lawrence. Most of our day was spent in the remarkable gardens.

Sorry about the light puddles–no time for fancy stuff when strolling with the family

We saw a few peacocks at one point.  But the only other animal we saw in any quantity was the occasional small lizard.

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I hope you enjoyed the slideshow of cacti and succulents. They also had flowers which reminded me of “back east”–Michigan, Cape Cod, all my other memories from years ago.

There’s still much to share, but I’m out of time for today.  Check back later this week for more of our fun time at the Huntington.  And, yup, it definitely took me away from my writing, but it also fed my soul–and that sure helps with the writing!  Here is the link to the next post.

Every secret of a writer’s soul,

every experience of his life,

every quality of his mind

is written large in his works.

Virginia Woolf

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel