Category Archives: Blogging

Writing Advice from Annie Dillard

I hope to be back soon, yakking away. In the meantime, here’s a little writing advice from Annie Dillard:

When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things. Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split it up the middle–or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse, and you do not know about it yet, quite.

The Writing Life

Where she uses the word “book” you can substitute article, short story, poem, or blog post. It’s true for them all. The advantage to a blog post, of course, is who cares ;)? If you split your post, your readers will be willing to split with you (because they know you and are hanging out by the coffee pot, teapot, or Mountain Dew with you) or they will stop reading at the split and, if you’re lucky, drop by another day.  But in more formal writing, you have to create a beauty of unity every time (even if it does so by disunity).

The structure of my life is temporarily forked, fractured, and threatening collapse, but I might be melodramatic because on top of everything else this month, I’m drinking all liquids today. Guess what for? Haha, that’s right. The dreaded C-word. It’s my first colonoscopy, y’all!

Have a great week and TTYL!

Princess Kana and the Pea

on 20 mattresses and 20 feather-beds

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Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Nonfiction, Writing, Writing Tips and Habits

A Pica Named Tiny

Catharina Lind is a Swedish journalist, a published author, and a fascinating person. We met through Ancestry.com because Catharina’s husband wanted to discover what happened to a relative who immigrated to the United States. It turns out that this relative married my father’s first cousin. My dad’s cousin’s husband (called Swede by everyone) is someone I knew as a child–and I played with his daughters.

Before I even knew Catharina was a writer, she wrote me a charming story about her favorite pica (magpie) in a conversational email (not a formal story). Magpies have always fascinated me, although we don’t have them in Arizona, so I was particularly tickled to read about Tiny. In fact, I wrote about my love of magpies on this blog 3 1/2 years ago. Catharina lived in the United States for awhile because of her husband’s job, but they are back living in Sweden–with a pica named Tiny.

baby Tiny

Teeny Tiny: last summer

We have between 20-23 hours of daylight during the summer–around the solstice it’s never really dark. Another thing that I miss from Dallas: warm, dark evenings with candlelight dinners.

I’m sitting by the kitchen windows, and my “little” Pica Pica almost crashed into the window right now. The snow is picking up and it’s rather windy. He is a magpie, similar to the Black-billed magpie. He is the toughest bird I have ever met.

He was born last year, a tiny, tiny little magpie with a damaged wing. Our house has two additional wings on each side, and there is a yard between the three houses. The fourth side has a very large hedge, so it’s secluded. He was such a little bird, so we named him Tiny. We fed him cat food, or more exactly the leftovers from our spoiled cat. According to a website that’s supposed to work for a Pica as they need protein and veggies.

Stefan had left some branches in a pile and Tiny moved in underneath them. Most of the days he walked around the yard, eating and poking around. When he got scared he either returned to his pile or sprinted into the hedges; he didn’t fly. We don’t know if he fell out from the nest or if it was a birth defect. His wing has a very strange angle and he can’t stretch it.

He wasn’t forgotten though–a few times per day his parents and siblings came by, spent some time with him on the ground, and then flew off. We weren’t sure that Tiny would survive the winter, but he did. He learned to fly a little, 10-15 feet at the most; but he flew. When the snow fell he sat on a lamp, curled up next to the wall.

Tiny is still living in our yard, but I think we gave him the wrong name. Imagine the largest magpie you can think of and add a big white belly. Then add an extra inch around the waist and you have a gigantic magpie with an obesity problem; that’s Tiny.

He’s getting better and better at flying, but he doesn’t fly much. He spends most of his days eating around the yard–hence the big belly. He and our cat have great respect for one another and they help each other by chasing away neighboring cats, especially the big, red nemesis next door.

Then in August something special happened: he got a girlfriend. Magpies mate for life, so I really hope this works out. We call her Tina and she is an adorable, little girl; though shy and scared of us. They are so cute together. They spend their days poking around the yard. Then she flies up into a tree, teasing him to follow her; but she is never out of reach.

His flying skills have improved tremendously since Tina came into the picture. They don’t fly far, nor high. She is a few feet above him, flying as slow as she possibly can. Sometimes she makes a loop so he can catch up. He, on the other hand, flaps his crooked wing as hard as he can and you can see how tough it is for him to keep up, but he doesn’t give up. A few times per day she needs to stretch her wings properly, so she flies high and he sits in his little tree looking at her. That bird has such a strength in him and he never gives up, regardless of the odds.

I really hope they have a nest next year.  It’s going to be interesting to see if their kids will live on the ground or fly like regular magpies.

Now this became much longer then intended, but that’s what happens when one’s favorite Pica almost crashes into a window. With flying difficulties comes bad aiming and a strange landing tecnique.

Upper left:  from last winter, with Tiny on his lamp post next to the house

Upper right: a little earlier this autumn

Lower left: Tina (on the left) with her love Tiny

Lower right: Tiny, taken just the other day

If you loved Tiny’s story, please check out Catharina’s blog! Who knew that this new relative-by-marriage was a blogger?!

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Filed under Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Have you visited Paula Kuitenbrouwer’s art blog? She creates delicate drawings; many of the subjects are birds and flowers. Her most recent work is of “still lifes with Killiney Beach stones, succulents, and blue ceramics.” I’ve been a fan for several years now. The other day I picked up my mail only to discover a special gift from Paula, sent from Ireland: a packet of her beautiful note cards. I was so excited I even showed my cats!

 If you visit Paula’s art shop you will see that she has quite a variety of artwork available, including from Buddhist to Pagan to Christian and Jewish holidays.  She even has a lesbian bird couple.

Thanks so much, Paula!

I’m moving forward on the memoir–I’m up to page 130 of 162 (or SO) in streamlining the change in structure. It feels strange to be enmeshed in the story again . . . .

I went to the doctor this week to get my toenails cut (you can stop reading if this “grosses you out”). I had a toe injured a few years ago when my son was dating the wrong person (he’s now engaged to the right person), and I was so discombobulated and clumsy that I banged my toe really really hard and permanently disfigured the toenail.  You should have heard me yell, by the way. Anyway, with my primary lymphedema (which makes me very susceptible to infections), my antibiotic allergies, and my post-tumor foot reconstruction, I figure that I really need the medical help with the old toe nails. Well, they kicked me out of Mayo. I can no longer get my toenails clipped there. And why? They have no room for me. I am considered “moderate risk,” and they only want “high risk.” Notice my tag of #patientabadonment. Well, darn them.

At least they had pretty flowers–a bit on the going out side, but still cheerful. I can probably take them as a metaphor.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Art and Music, Blogging, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, Memoir, Writing

A Wonderful Meeting

My vacation started off with a very brief visit to the Big Apple to see my daughter perform in a new musical at a big musical theatre festival in the city. After a series of travel misfortunes, it didn’t look like the gardener and I were going to make it in time for the show, but a kind Southwest Airlines employee found us the last seats on an American flight. Our luggage went Southwest, and we went American. That was not the last of our travel woes, but we did make it to see daughter perform in a very unique and gorgeous show. Yes, she was amazing; thank you for asking ;).

At the performance, I met two very special audience members–two writers I greatly admire. Almost 2 1/2 years ago, I read Carolyn Quinn’s biography of Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, Mama Rose’s Turn. 

Mama Rose's Turn

My review of her book can be found here: Memoir’s Cousin. Fascinating story of a fascinating woman. Carolyn blogs about an array of fun topics at Splendiferous Everything

Carolyn has written a new book for middle-grade students about the friendship between two girls – one American, one Japanese – during World War II. I can’t wait to read it. With my interest in children’s literature, my Newbery book collection (mostly books for middle-grade to middle school students), and my interest in WWII memoirs, it ought to be something I will really love.

About a month before my review of Carolyn’s book, I had written a review of a book that has been very special to me for many years. I posted my review in Teaching the Holocaust to Children and Teens. The book is The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss. Johanna, a Dutch Jewish child, lived for 2 1/2 years in the home of a non-Jewish Dutch family, hiding in a room upstairs. Johanna’s book was a Newbery Honor book, so it rests on my collection shelf.

Johanna wrote a sequel called The Journey Back, which I have also read. It really works best as a true sequel: read The Upstairs Room first.

It turned out that Carolyn and Johanna are besties, and when she found out I was coming to NYC, Carolyn arranged for the two of them to see my daughter’s show and for us to meet in person. They turned out to be so much as I had imagined them to be by their books. Carolyn is a warm and gracious woman, and Johanna is exactly the sensitive, sweet soul I had envisioned in all my readings of The Upstairs Room. How very special to meet them both and to share in such a special show experience with them.

The lighting was lousy in the tiny lobby of the 42nd street theatre where we met, so I had to really lighten the photo. Sorry it’s not better quality!

Carolyn Quinn, Johanna Reiss, and me

Just before I left for New York, I discovered that Johanna had also written an adult memoir, A Hidden Lifeso I ordered it to read when I came home. Now that I’ve finished it, I can tell you that you will want to give yourself some space after reading The Upstairs Room before opening A Hidden Life. I’m not yet prepared to write about this memoir because of its emotional impact, but I will mention that the book is written in a stream of consciousness style that is very difficult to write. Virginia Woolf is the writer who most comes to mind when one thinks of SOC. The style works very well for A Hidden Life because it forces the reader down into the emotional turmoil Johanna experiences after the death of her husband. Read the Amazon blurb to see the heart-breaking situation the story reveals.

For years, Johanna Reiss’ American husband, Jim, encouraged her to return to Holland to chronicle the two years, seven months, and one day she had spent hiding from the Nazis in rural Usselo, Holland. In 1969, she finally made the trip.

Accompanied by Jim and their two young children, Reiss intended to spend seven weeks researching the book that would eventually become The Upstairs Room, her Newbery Honor–winning account of her time hiding in the attic of a farmhouse in which for a time a contingent of Nazi soldiers was billeted.

But unknown to the millions of people who went on to read her beloved classic, behind the dark and painful story of the book was a still darker tale: Reiss’ husband returned to America early and committed suicide at age thirty-seven, leaving no note.

For Reiss, an ongoing reckoning with universal tragedy becomes particular: she is forced to reckon, too, with Jim’s death—and explain it to her children. Subtle and disturbing, the book is a powerful consideration of memory, violence, and loss, told in a stunning and sparse narrative style.

Johanna Reiss is the author of the classic young adult title The Upstairs Room, which Elie Wiesel praised in The New York Times Book Review as an “admirable account . . . as important in every respect as the one bequeathed to us by Anne Frank.” She is the winner of the Newbery Honor, the Jewish Book Council Children’s Book Award, and the Buxtehuder Bulle. She lives in New York City.

Read more about Johanna on her website.

What a wonderful meeting. How blessed I was to meet these two women.

 

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Filed under Art and Music, Blogging, Book Review, Books, Children's Literature, Memoir, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

It’s Only Summer Once a Year

Go enjoy summer. Get. off. the. computer.

You could say that those words are meant for ME. Because I need them more than anybody does. My Vitamin D level is too low–presumably because I don’t get enough sun. That’s why I am still on blogging break!

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Filed under Arizona, Blogging

Pliers Lined Up by Size

My son has a cat stroller he uses to take his cats for walks. It was quite pricey, so although he encouraged me to get one I didn’t for over a year. But then I saw one at 1/3 the price online, so I ordered it. It arrived in great need of “putting together.”

I left it lying on the living room floor and every time the gardener asked me why I hadn’t put it together yet, I explained how busy I am. (I am busy; that’s not a lie).

Finally, he started putting it together himself.  [Big winky face]

But the instructions were not correct and the gardener is not a patient person. I could hear him complaining to beat the band, so I offered to help. He asked me to get a long skinny screwdriver and a pliers with a regular style jaw in a medium size. When he started to explain a little more, I had to remind him: “I’m my father’s daughter, remember? I was raised alongside Dad’s workbench.”

My father had a workshop in our basement, and when I was younger than six I could often be found at his feet as he toiled at his building, fixing, creating. I loved the vise, the lathe, and all the different tools lined up by order of size on the pegboard over the workbench.

When I was six, my father built a bomb shelter out of his workshop–and moved all his stuff out to the garage. This “poem start” (not a completed poem, but a first draft) documents that first workshop and its disappearance.

Winter

 

A small, square space at the bottom of the steps.

One casement window ajar

just below

the ceiling hinting

at the black and unknown winter.

 

The man working, a little girl,

face like a cup,

watching his arms crank

the vise handle,

tighten the grip

like Superman.

 

False walls invoke a room from

the open basement.  The workbench

so like that of the elves,

its thick wooden surface scarred

slick by hammer blows.

 

He presides over the saw

with precision, aiming

for the pencil line, sawdust

falling away on each side

like the snow from a plow.

 

A rack of baby food jars

containing nails and screws

revolves overhead, and at the back

of the planked surface families

of pliers and screwdrivers line up

by size like Goldilocks’ bears.

 

The girl sits behind him

the chilled concrete twanging

her backside through her thin

pajamas.  She pounds the

wooden posts in her little workbench

all the way through and then

flips it and pounds them back again.

 

Everything in its place.

His sleeping bag and snowshoes

from the war

hang from the rafters.  The caricature

of the man pinning diapers on her,

her head bald except for

two hairs sprouting heroically

as Tweety Bird.

 

He carries the contents she thinks

are the room

up the stairs and out to the garage.

The claw and the ball hammers, all

the members of the pliers and screwdriver

families, the cardboard box

of sandpaper.  Sleeping bag and painting.

 

After much labor slabbing mortar,

constructing dual-layer cinder block

walls, the man rests

his chin on the ladder rung, surveys

 

a small, square space at the bottom of the steps,

dark and cold.

 

On the way out, he slaps

a fallout shelter decal

on the door he has just hung.

 

The man toils over his bench in the garage now.

She’s not allowed.

The space heater is too dangerous.

For a couple of years I couldn’t follow my father into the workshop the same way. The coziness and security were gone. But then we moved when I was eight and he created another wonderful workshop in the basement.  He did so everywhere he ever lived.

Designing the Butterflies are Free set in Dad’s workshop–11th grade

When my father was dying he gave me a beautiful set of wrenches to take home. As I tried to get through security at the airport, TSA took the wrench set from me. I never saw it again.

After Dad’s funeral, family members and friends began plundering his workshop of its tools and gadgets.

What place reminds you of your father or mother? My grandmother’s kitchen reminds me of her, and my other grandmother’s sewing room expresses her spirit. My grandfather’s place was his vegetable garden.

###

For the rest of the summer, I plan to blog once a week instead of twice. I’m behind in my conversations with y’all and want to catch up! I’ve got some new eye problems, so I’m trying not to spend as much time on the computer, writing and reading, and then, after all, it is really really hot here.

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Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

The Staircase #liminality

This week’s liminal photo has a name. Haha, pretentious, considering the quality of my photography? Much. But it still has a name: “Stairway to Heaven.”

I like this photo because a perfectly liminal space is that between life and death, earth and heaven.

Have you been watching for #liminality? What have you found?

Here is a poem by H.D. that I thought of because of the record heat wave in Arizona this week. Hilda Doolittle is a poet whose poems I worked with for my dissertation. Ultimately, I dropped her as one of my subjects, choosing to focus on Jorie Graham, Sylvia Plath, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, and Linda Hogan, for the most part.  Her work was so precise and crystalline and so focused on her classical allusions, that it wasn’t warm enough for me (sorry for the pun). But this poem perfectly captures the heavy hot air. The air that makes it difficult for the lungs to expand.

Heat

H. D., 18861961

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.







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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Blogging, Liminality, Writing

Liminality and the Lake

Last week I posted about liminality, defined as a space between or on/in a sensory threshold. A transitional state. You can read more about it here.

When I traveled to my home state in October 2014, I had not visited Michigan for quite some time, and it was a very intense, emotional  trip for me. Although I’d spent a lot of time with my parents out west, I hadn’t been to see them on the land where I grew up.

There is a way that I could think of that visit as a liminal space because it was the threshold that led into my father’s illness and eventual death in May 2015. It was the last time I saw my father before his illnesses, although he might have already been sick at the time–and nobody realized it. Our relationship began to change after this trip.

I found a photo from that visit that I find to be symbolic of liminality: the dock at my parents’ home. The dock is a passageway between land and water. If you walk off the dock into the water, you had better know how to swim or be wearing a life jacket.

I wasn’t prepared for walking off the dock that fall, but luckily I had had swimming lessons as a kid.

By the way, that wire across the top of the photo? I thought about cropping it out, but it seems important somehow.

Have you found any liminal spaces?

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Filed under Blogging, Family history, Lifestyle, Liminality, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

In the Between

I’ve always had a thing for liminality. Yup, liminality. Doesn’t it feel good on your tongue? According to Merriam-Webster (remember her?):

Definition of liminal

  1. 1:  of or relating to a sensory threshold

  2. 2:  barely perceptible

  3. 3:  of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition :  in-between, transitional<in the liminal state between life and death — Deborah Jowitt>

I love that in between space there. You know, anywhere. Passageways like cupboards and rabbit holes and wardrobes.  The place of process, like focusing on the process of art instead of the finished product. The place of change where you are different at one end than you were at the other.

I thought I’d let my camera start searching for some of those liminal spaces. If you find any, please share!!!

This one is at the Virginia Dare office and shopping center in Rancho Cucamonga, California.

On Monday I have such a deal coming for you! Watch for it!

In the meantime, life with Slupe is sweet.

 

Did you think I’ve forgotten about Kana and Tiger (and Pear and Felix)? Nope. I think I have mentioned that Tiger has a little window seat that is all hers. It’s her happy place. I put an X of double faced tape so that Kana can’t lie there and annoy her. She has an ice cube tray with toys so that I can hide treats under the toys. And I placed a mini litter box behind my antique trunk in case Kana blocks her from the ones in the laundry room. Lots of quail and bunnies and lizards for Tiger to watch.

Tiger has a little squeak like a mouse and runs from Kana which prompts Kana to chase her. Sigh. I guess it’s all that liminal space ;).

 

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Filed under Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Lifestyle, Liminality, Writing

Pilot Fish Trailblazer Nominee: Cleveland Amory

I’m so honored to write an article about my hero Cleveland Amory for Patti Moed’s Trailblazer Nominee series over at Pilot Fish. Please check it out and see what kind of world Amory wanted to create.

Pilot Fish

It’s with great pleasure that I introduce this week’s guest blogger, Luanne Castle, who writes about a man who has inspired her since her childhood.Luanne is an award-winning poet, educator, writer, and an advocate for animal rights. She divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina. Her heart belongs to her four cats and the homeless cats at the animal shelter where she volunteers.
The New England conscience does not stop you from doing what you shouldn’t–it just stops you from enjoying it.–Cleveland Amory

Black Beauty

Black Beauty Cover, First Edition.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/BlackBeautyCoverFirstEd1877.jpeg Black Beauty Cover, First Edition.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/BlackBeautyCoverFirstEd1877.jpeg

When I was eight and staying overnight with my grandparents, I discovered a tattered copy of Anna Sewall’s novel Black Beauty in my mother’s old bedroom. I began to read and when my parents came to pick me up the next day I was still reading, lost in the…

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Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Cats and Other Animals, Essay, Inspiration, Nonfiction, Reading, Vintage American culture, Writing