Teeny Tiny: last summer
Remember Tiny the magpie? And the love of his life, Tina? And remember Catharina who patiently observed the pair and reported on their goings-on? Check out the story here if you missed that post.
After writing about Catharina and Tiny, I wondered what was going on with Tiny and Tina and would periodically email Catharina to find out. You might have wondered yourself how they were faring.
Now you can read the whole story of Tiny and Tina and of Catharina, too, in Fly Wings, Fly High!.What you might not realize is that Catharina had a stroke (at quite a young age) and began her recovery around the time that young Tiny was trying to learn how to deal with his screwed-up wing.
Catherine Lind’s narrative about her recovery from a stroke is threaded with the story of a wild magpie Lind observes struggling to fly with a deformed wing. Tiny, as Lind names the bird that lives in her yard, works very hard at learning to fly. Lind is inspired as she watches Tiny for months as he keeps trying to fly–first a few feet, then from a little “jungle gym” Lind creates for him, and then to the apple tree to eat the fruit.
Lind finds that Tiny is ever hopeful and persistent. When he tries to land, he isn’t graceful and crashes over and over. Each time, he picks himself up and tries again. He is never downhearted, and he never gives up. But it’s not so easy for Lind who has always prided herself on her skill with words. They are her livelihood and her portal to the world. When the stroke knocks out half her vocabulary in both English and Swedish, she can only communicate by speaking a combination of both languages. Sometimes it seems as if she will never recover.
Watching Tiny’s determination and good spirits, Lind decides to follow his lead and work intensely on her skills by singing, hand exercises, and eventually, telling elaborate stories aloud about Tiny and his life. Reading Fly Wings, Fly High! taught me a great deal about what it is like to experience a stroke, and I was comforted and intrigued by the extraordinary tale of Tiny, whose influence on Lind’s life has been enormous. My life has been enriched by reading this charming story told by a very talented storyteller.
Catharina’s book is short, like a novella—either a very short novel or a long short story. It’s available in paperback or for Kindle.
I so enjoyed the loving detail of the natural world and the animals found within. When I was a kid I loved books that paid attention to this world (Gene Stratton Porter and Louisa May Alcott both managed this accomplishment at times), but I’ve moved away from it as an adult. What a wonderful experience to inhabit that world again.
Additionally, learning about the effects of a stroke from the inside out was fascinating; I’ve never read anything quite like Catharina’s experience.
Yesterday I washed sweet Perry’s bedding and a hairball fell onto the floor. It had WORMS coming out of it. Right after we began fostering him I took his poo to the vet and paid $ to have it tested at the lab. Must have been at a certain point in the life cycle where it doesn’t show up because this hairball is just jammed with worms. I am being so nice to you not to show it to you. Heh. My stomach is still heaving a little. But imagine how bad his tummy has hurt all this time!
I did work on the galleys for Kin Types. That was fun, but a little difficult with my cataracts. Sigh.
Category Archives: Writing Talk
Meet Rebecca Faye Smith Galli, the author of Rethinking Possible (She Writes Press, June 2017), a memoir that is Galli’s response to living in the wake of extraordinary losses.
Becky (I need to call her by the name I know her by) and I met a few years ago in writing workshops in the Stanford University online writing certificate program where we were cohorts in the creative nonfiction track. In class and in her column and blog, Becky inspires. Although I have read parts of Becky’s story, I am eager to read Rethinking Possible and to learn more about Becky’s unique life and her strength and determination.
Here is a brief bio from Rethinking Possible‘s press kit that sums up why Becky is perfectly positioned to write a story about extraordinary loss, grief, and resilience.
Rebecca Faye Smith Galli was born into a family
that valued the power of having a plan. Her 1960s
southern upbringing was idyllic—even enviable. But
life does not always go according to plan, and when
her 17-year-old brother died in a waterskiing accident,
the slow unraveling of her perfect family began.
There was her son’s degenerative, undiagnosed
disease and subsequent death; her daughter’s autism
diagnosis; her separation; and then, nine days after
the divorce was final, the onset of the transverse
myelitis that would leave Galli paralyzed from the
waist down. Despite such devastating tragedy, Galli
maintained her belief in family, in faith, in loving
unconditionally, and in learning to not only accept,
but also embrace a life that had veered down a path
far different from the one she had envisioned.
Look at that sunny smile on Becky’s face. And those gold boots! Wowza!
I pre-ordered Becky’s book a couple of months ago, but Friday Amazon wrote and asked me if I still wanted it. UM, YES!!!! So I hope it will be arriving soon! In the meantime, I asked Becky some questions that had been on my mind while she’s been working on the book.
*Writing a memoir means that the writer has to put herself back into the events she is writing about. Many writers find this very challenging emotionally. As you wrote about so many losses that you have experienced, did you consciously protect yourself in some way during the writing process? How did you cope with reliving the losses?
You are so right. The pain was intense, often relived more than once through the edits. Two things helped me:
Structure: When I wrote about deep loss in the early stages, I would block off two to three days on my calendar and binge write. I prepared healthy meals ahead (tuna salad, grilled chicken, and tons of boiled eggs), stocked up on my favorite not-so-healthy snacks (Lance cheese crackers, Reese’s® peanut butter cups, and peanut M&M’s), and made sure I had plenty of water, coffee, and green tea. I took breaks, often setting alarms to make sure I got out of the house to walk the dog, grab the mail, or sit on the deck for a change of scenery.
Support: My sister was my anchor. She knew my writing schedule and exactly what I was writing about each day. I would check in with her in the morning and then ask her to call me at the end of the day. She would often help me remember details or give me her point of view about the same scene. Counting on her call and hearing her voice helped me time-block the intensity. It’s amazing what we can endure when we know it is for a finite period of time.
*You and I met in the writing program at Stanford. We learned that memoir is both the retelling of the experience and the reflection upon that experience: “What does it mean to me? What did I learn from it? How did it shape who I am today?” So how does reflection figure into Rethinking Possible? What form does it take and how much a part of the book is it?
Reflection is key to the book; in fact, it is baked in its message of “rethinking possible.” Through the years, I’d found comfort and inspiration from many sources so I decided to begin each chapter with a quote, inviting reflection relevant to the chapter’s topic.
Then, the reader witnesses the transformation of “character Becky” through her own self-reflection. After each loss, she reacts, revolts, and is unwilling to accept the unwanted realities about herself or the circumstances that she is facing. She was raised to be a winner, a competitor. She did not like to lose. Through each challenge, the reader sees her stubbornness, her self-absorption, even her arrogant self-righteousness. They also see her pain, her bold questioning, and unvarnished self-doubts:
Why my brother?
Why my child?
Why my divorce?
Have I become unlovable?
Yet, she does not give up.
Her stubbornness becomes a steadfast determination as she pursues the closely-knit family life she experienced before her brother’s death. Through this honest self-reflection she discovers how to rethink what’s possible, accepting not only the circumstance, but what she has learned about herself.
Without reflection, an assessment of “what is” based on “what was,” we limit our perspective, our capacity to grow, and our ability to fully engage in “rethinking” what is possible.
*Did you do any research for writing your book? Since it’s your own story you are telling, did it all come “from your head,” or was it necessary to read and look up information?
I relied heavily on my father’s book, Sit Down, God. . . I’m Angry for the details about my brother’s death. His vivid descriptions time-warped me back to the scene, but my memory had to kick in to recall my twenty-year-old mindset. After Matthew’s seizures, I began keeping a journal. It was the only way I could capture my spinning thoughts and put them to rest. Then in 1997, six months after my paralysis, a friend introduced me to the latest craze—the internet. Shortly after that, I reconnected with a high school friend through email who wanted an update on my life and my adjustments to paralysis. Our exchanges created an email journal that documented nearly twenty years of experiences and reflections and were the basis for my newspaper column career. Still, I googled for details like the make/model of car we loaded up and packed for vacation when I was six years old, song lyrics, and the exact kind of workout gear I sported in 1981.
*Through reading your thought-provoking columns and blog, I see you as a woman of strong Christian faith who was very influenced by her pastor father. Do you think your book speaks to others who have experienced losses who are not themselves religious or who come from other religious traditions?
Great question! I do! The philosophy that, “Life can be good, no matter what,” is based on a commitment to find the good in our circumstance. Again, that takes tremendous and sustained effort. For me, my faith is my fuel. My belief system sustains me, grounds me, and gives me a confidence that there will always be something to hope for. However, no matter what your belief system, we must first accept our circumstance before we can “rethink” what is possible in it. Resilient living depends on it.
*Do you have hopes or goals for what readers will take away from reading Rethinking Possible?
I hope Rethinking Possible will offer encouragement and hope to those who have loved deeply and lost dearly. At its core, I think resilience translates into a foundation of hope. Yet hope is a tricky emotion. It can be wonderfully sustaining, but it can also be exhausting.
In my book, I talk about the benefit of pursuing parallel paths after loss, especially when the future is uncertain. Sometimes it’s helpful to pursue hope and reality at the same time. Often what we hope for just isn’t possible. The key to resilience, at least for me, is to temper hope with reality. In essence, resilience is a process of constantly rethinking what is possible after we have accepted a new reality.
I truly believe that life can be good, no matter what. However, “can” is the most important word. After significant losses, it often takes tremendous and sustained effort to find hope within a newly-defined reality. After reading Rethinking Possible, I’d love for the reader to feel like it’s worth the effort.
From what I have read of Becky’s writing, the reader will definitely feel that it’s worth the effort to read Rethinking Possible.
You can join Becky for her Thoughtful Thursdays where she shares what’s inspired her to stay positive that week.
She’s on social media as @chairwriter.
Rethinking Possible can be ordered on Kindle right now and the paperback will ship starting on June 9.
Can we think about the place of poetry in our world? After listening to (watching, also) Tony Walsh share his stunning occasional poem “This is The Place,” I do wonder what people think about the importance of poetry (an occasional poem is written for an occasion). Not that many hours after the tragic bombing outside the Manchester Arena, poet Walsh recited a poem that gripped me with its significance and intensity. Listen here if you have not yet had the opportunity.
Notice how his rhythm and, yes, rhymes, work to fire up the pride and hometown love of the people of Manchester. The poem takes the power away from the terrorist, away from those who want to harm our civilization, and gives it to the people of Manchester (and in a way to all of us for our hometowns). This is one of the powers of poetry: that it can allow us to assert our own power.
Poetry is power. Poetry is political. Poetry is today, this minute, right now.
But do people understand that? Maybe I’m imagining it. Because I looked at a different youtube clip of the same event and look at the comments from people! They are a mean, small-minded crowd, waiting to be thrown more and more red meat. Wait for it: the coliseums will be built.
Most of the comments on that clip are hideous. They completely miss it all.
But all is not lost. These commenters seem to understand.
What IS the place of poetry in our world?
* If the tone of commenting changes on any of these that will change the story, of course.
My prayers are with Manchester and, in fact, with us all.
Are you planning to publish a book soon or in the distant future? (If you’re looking for a Perry update, you’ll find it at the end ;)). Also, pre-orders for Kin Types must be in by Thursday. Pre-order HERE.
Finishing Line Press has been very good about providing sample materials for promotional purposes. Because of their help, I felt that I had the tools to put together a media kit, as they suggested.
I thought I would share a list of the component parts that go into a media kit.
The first page is a cover image of Kin Types with “Press Contact” information. This info consists of:
- Email address
- Website address
You might want to include a telephone number, but it is also suggested that the media kit be available through your website. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my phone number that available.
Look at what I’ve listed. Address. Do you want your address on there? I found the same question came up when I was listed with Poets & Writers. But we have a post office box that we use for business, so I use that for writing business. If you don’t have a post office box, you might want to consider getting one now.
You probably already have more than one email address, but if you don’t, you might want one that is expressly for writing or at least doesn’t have too much spam going into it.
Do you have a website-website or is it your blog? Either is fine–just make sure that the address you use is going to remain the same for the next couple of years at least.
After the front page of the media kit, you will have a TABLE OF CONTENTS, and the table of contents will include these items
- Curriculum Vitae
- Press Release
Your biography should be a few short paragraphs long and just cover the main points, especially as relates to your writing and perhaps your specialization in something related to your topic of writing. On my biography page I first put my new headshot taken by Renee Rivers and then my three paragraph bio. Sometimes people use funny bios that show the writer’s sense of humor, but not much else. I think these are meant to show that the writer doesn’t have a big head. Personally, I don’t much like those. That sort of thing is for a Twitter description, not a bio that is meant to encapsulate your experience as a writer.
The bio takes time to craft. If you haven’t written one for yourself yet, there is no time like the present. Write it in 3rd person, not first. You can keep revising it as you get publications or something major changes in your life, but it helps to have one ready-to-go. And you need it to submit to magazines and journals, agents, etc. So I think writing your bio is your first assignment ;). The best way to begin is to look at other writers’ bios as models.
Next up is the Curriculum Vitae–or CV as it’s usually called. Are you Googling it yet? hahahaha Kind of like chapbook or feral cat, really. Most of the world uses the word RESUME. But in academics and the literary world, CV is what it’s called.
The format for a CV is slightly different than a resume, and the biggest difference IMO is that a resume is supposed to be pretty short so you don’t wear out somebody who is considering hiring you. But in a CV long is where it’s at. Because long shows that you’ve done a lot of stuff. And for writers that means publishing a lot. On a CV, you list alllllll your publications, except for maybe that fairy tale you wrote when you were seven. Since most writers making a media kit for the first time won’t have a long list of publications, what are they to do? I just wouldn’t put in the thing. Who cares? The media kit is what the writer chooses to make it, after all. If your CV isn’t your strength, don’t use it.
!But I have a question for genre writers: do you use a CV for agents or for media kits?
Next is the Press Release. But I haven’t done that yet, so I have no advice!
Then there are reviews. I only have one advance review, written by Carla McGill. Thank you, Carla! After Kin Types is published I hope to get more reviews and can then add some to the media kit.
I have two blurbs for Kin Types, from Justin Hamm and Carol Bachofner. I’ve included them both on the same page. Doll God has three blurbs, but that seemed fitting because it was a full-length book.
Until two weeks ago, I didn’t have an interview for the media kit, but then Marie from 1WriteWay interviewed me, so now I do. Thank you, Marie!
Now you see the things you have to start to think about ahead of time: lining up reviews, interviews, writing a biography, and so on. And I originally thought all I had to do was write and tweet about it!
If you are experienced at creating a media kit, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Perry update: he loves tuna juice, which is the water from the can of tuna. It’s just a once in a blue moon treat as I don’t believe in giving cats too much fish. Fish is a secret ingredient in far too many cat foods, and fish can cause serious health problems if it’s too big a part of the diet.
Also, I am starting to train him with little pieces of turkey. When he actually takes it out of my hand I will open his cage door so he can go in and out in the room. At least that is my plan at this point.
Perry lets me come fairly near to him. He seems more and more calm and less frightened, but I don’t feel he is ready for me to try to touch him.
Here he is on the upper level of his 3 story
From the gardener: peppers are ripening so he figured out a way to dry them outside. He didn’t want to dry them inside because they could makes the cats sick.
There are 3 or so more days left to pre-order Kin Types at this link.
After a difficult week, I offer some of the more positive views I experienced (outside of my post-election distress, complicated migraine, screwed-up-and-painful leg, and ridiculously hectic travel). Today my father has been gone exactly 18 months.
My peace pole (built and erected by my father) as seen through the palms as a sort of liminal space. Here it is in Korean and English. The other sides are Spanish and Hebrew. Dad chose the languages.
We were in California again this past week. The Virginia Dare winery crusher building in Rancho Cucamonga. The Virginia Dare wine company is close to 200 years old and is now owned by the Coppola family.
The gate of the medical office complex that is part of the Virginia Dare center now. The metal grape leaves are a nice touch. Sorry it is so crooked. I thought I had that problem solved, but apparently not.
A mug with my life’s motto (the mug itself belongs to someone else, but the wine is mine): I just want to drink wine & pet my cat. Or cats. Which I can’t do when I am in California.
The view of Phoenix when I drove back in from California.
And when I got to the house I discovered that Pear and Tiger had decided to share the window seat.
Memoir Writing: Structure
I am doing some writing–just enough to feel as if I am writing. Rewriting my memoir into chronological order is really not difficult. The material is almost completely written–and it seems to more effortlessly fall into place this way. I remember now when I first started putting the story in a different order. I was in a workshop where the students insisted that because the main secret that is revealed in my book is not HUGE, as in not huge for the public and only huge for me and for my family, that I had to reveal just enough of it up front so that nobody would get the wrong idea. I think this started me on the wrong path that has gone on now for years. I hope my new revelation that they were wrong is correct, otherwise I don’t know how to tell the story. So I am following some hopefully wise advice from Lewis Carroll:
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Tiger sleeps in a cat cave on the couch
Now that I have your attention with that cutie-face, I want to pick your brain.
I’ve got a problem I haven’t yet figured out. What keeps me from finishing my memoir is that the arc of my story takes place over too long a period of time. It’s about my relationship with my father, and that is a lifetime relationship, of course, because it continues even after his death a year and a half ago. But even if I put a cap on it with his death, it still covers a lot of ground.
The other day I read Sherrey Meyer’s post Five Ingredients Memoir Writers Must Have and realized that I should write a post about my problem–just in case anybody has any advice. So advise away.
I know that there is great benefit in finding a defining year or particular experience because the more discrete the chunk of real life a memoir needs to cover the easier it is to write. Excusez-moi if this sounds insulting to writers with a project that fits that description, but those are the stories that perhaps beg to be written. My story doesn’t beg; it mocks me.
But how to find a discrete story where the protagonist takes decades to learn something? Or some things?
My son used to have a picture book called Leo the Late Bloomer, and although my son was meant to relate to it, in truth I related to it. I’m a late bloomer in a lot of ways.
In the case of my memoir story, an additional reason it took me so long was that there was certain key information that I didn’t learn until 2008. More new information continued to come to me through 2015.
Checking out my half shelf of writing technique books, I soon discovered that most of the books don’t deal with this problem. But then I noticed a book I have mostly ignored (because I didn’t read it for class): Writing & Selling Your Memoir by Paula Balzer. (Who wouldn’t like that bit about “& Selling” added to the title?!) A chapter called “Setting Your Parameters” caught my eye. Yes, that is exactly what I need to do. Figure out HOW to set my parameters.
Balzer argues that the place to begin the memoir is at the moment of discovery. I like the way my book opens with an incident that sets up the initial mystery in my life. It’s a somewhat shocking event, at least to the mind of an 11-year-old. And it created the mindset by which I lived in ignorance for many many years. Is it a moment of discovery? For me, it felt that way. It was the discovery that a big secret existed in my family–and that the secret carried great emotional power for my father.
My full first draft has now been read by four people. Three of them were a group package, so to speak, so I lump them together because they could have influenced each other. I will call them group B. The other reader was my Stanford mentor/tutor. I will call her group A. Both groups are memoir “experts” who teach and write memoir. The advice of group A and group B completely contradicted each other. I mean completely. They want me to revise the book in opposite directions. Actually, I did revise to somewhat follow the advice of Group A before sending the manuscript to Group B. And everything I did for Group A, Group B didn’t like. They argued for the way I had originally been planning my story before I even started the program at Stanford.
Neither group addressed the problem with the big humongous fruit tree of life I’ve had to pick from for the book.
So I’m reeling from the contradictory advice, but that is all just spinning on the surface because the underlying problem is how to handle the parameter setting.
Or is it? I’m getting confused. Maybe I’m imagining the parameter setting as a problem since neither group even mentioned the problem. Maybe the real problem is one I can’t identify–a problem that caused two completely different readings. Maybe my tale just sucks.
The way I ended up shaping the story (taking into account a lot of advice haha) to send to Group B was to feature that moment of discovery scene as a prologue and then jump forward 40 years and begin the story itself in present day, using a back and forth movement between present and past by chunks of chapters (a few chapters in present, a few in past, like that). Maybe I should start with that moment of discovery and proceed in chronological order and tell the story in a more classic storytelling structure.
Whatcha think, peeps? More
Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year) to my Jewish readers! A good week to everyone.
A lovely magazine called In Parentheses published my piece “The Weight of Smoke” in their Summer 2016 issue. This piece falls somewhere between prose and poetry as it alternates between direct quotes from a 1902 article from the Kalamazoo Gazette and my creative interpretation after researching the story.
In “The Weight of Smoke,” my great-great-grandmother Alice Paak’s only brother’s house is on fire. His wife had passed away two years before. He and his children each have their own reactions to the loss of their home (which is not insured).
You can purchase a print copy of the magazine at the following link for $9.80. You get a free digital issue with that. Or you can purchase a digital issue for $2.00.
Photo from thefamilykalamazoo.com
“The Weight of Smoke”: The story of George and his children and the house fire of 1902
I’ve been gone for quite awhile and am now back. Woohoo! So glad to be home. I’ll tell you more about my travels later, but I can tell you that the five kitties are thrilled we are home. Kana was kept in her own room so she wouldn’t bother Tiger, and this morning she and Pear kissed. That was so nice to see because Pear used to be a little hissy to her. But not any more :)!
Can’t wait to get back to blog reading once I plow through a couple (10, 20) piles of paper that were deposited in my mailbox in my absence. UGH.
Two of the poems I started during the Tupelo Press 30/30 challenge were published in the first issue of a new magazine called Tin Lunchbox Review. I love that name. It reminds me of the old tin lunchboxes kids used to take to school.
“Tennessee Valley” is on page 15, and “Uncrossing the Strait of Georgia” is on page 31. The first poem was sponsored by a blogger for her friend who lost her young daughter. The second poem was in celebration of our trip to Vancouver Island last summer.
Yup, I’m still resting on my laurels, as I think Marie put it. #amnotwriting
Hope your week is a wonderful one. I expect mine to be busy and sweaty because for some reason even in the air conditioning I feel the heat of the weather outdoors. Disclaimer: we do have a pool. But the water is hotter than a warm bath.
This is how I feel this summer.
No, not like the model haha. The headless dolls.
I’m not the only person who thinks dolls are representations of humans. Why else do many people believe a child should have a doll that looks like her? Why do they give anatomically correct dolls to children who might have been sexually abused? This belief underpins some of the poems in Doll God.
I can’t seem to feel my head this summer. There are lots of body
lumps curves and big limbs when I glance down. The heat makes me swell, and this makes my already swollen legs and feet take over my self-image until all I am is a big Goodyear blimp with two more blimps hanging down to the floor. I have a condition called Primary Lymphedema, and it causes swelling of the “extremities.” It can be really extreme. If you’ve ever seen someone with grotesquely swollen and misshapen legs, that is probably what she (sometimes he) has. (Just so you know, no, I don’t have the grotesque version–just the super annoying version). If you have ever heard of Elephantiasis, this is really the same illness–only that one is caused by the bite of a mosquito.I’ll throw in a photo from Wikipedia, so you can get the idea.
I have to wear compression stockings except when I am lying down, even when it’s 118 degrees out. Sometimes I feel like that Goldfinger girl who died when the gold paint covered her entire body. The stockings are almost claustrophobic. My SIL used to say my legs look like ragdoll legs.
A machine pumps my legs occasionally. There is a leg-sized sleeve that fits over my leg and it alternatively fills with air and deflates, pushing against the leg to move the excess fluid out of there and toward my bladder. It makes my legs feel better, but it isn’t that powerful at pushing the fluid around. A massage called manual lymph drainage can be useful, but only if it’s done by a superhero. These superheroes are very rare. I had one for years, but that was in California. I don’t have one in Arizona.
That was a tangent, although I think you needed to know that to understand why my body becomes so central in the summer (at least in my mind haha, which is a bit of a paradox). So my legs look a bit more like the chubby doll legs above than like the elephantiasis sufferer, but much lumpier.
I might have lost my male readers by now because I have discovered that men generally can’t bear to look at the swelling. They seem to find it upsetting. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m generalizing too much. I’m just reporting on my experiences over the last few decades.
By now you might wonder why there are two dolls. I can’t answer that question because I found them this way at the hair salon. But since everything has a reason and a pattern, I have to assume that I am not the only one of me out there. Somebody else has the same problem.
On another note, I’m not just headless because the body has taken over my mind. It’s also because it’s hot and summer is such a LIMINAL period. Yes, it is. It always feels liminal to me–a passage between one year and another. Maybe it’s because I was very focused on school and summer vacation as a kid and then I was a teacher and the universe always seemed to operate on the school year.
All of the above is just to say that between the inflating body and the liminal season I #amnotwriting. Gosh, I have my memoir manuscript back from a reader and have some ideas on how to proceed. And I have the play we are supposed to be working on. I had another chapbook piece–this one flash nonfiction–taken by a lovely literary magazine called In Parentheses. It was all I could do to look it over for revision possibilities. At this point, most of the short prose pieces have been taken. So I really need to . . . WRITE SOMETHING.
Or not. I might not push myself until September. It will still be hot then, but the liminal period will be over.
In the meantime, we are going to sign the papers for Sloopy–and yes, that will be her new name!
Writing tip: when cooking Chinese food always use sesame oil. You can never have a bad meal if you follow that advice. On a full stomach, you will be happier and think you are a writer even if you are not writing.
For years, it didn’t occur to me that art could be other than how I knew it: something tangible that existed in a (hopefully) permanent form so that the art appreciator could go back again and again and drink at its well.
I learned that I could have a different reaction at different times, but that the art itself was the same–only I had changed. Or its context had changed.
At the Chicago Art Institute my favorite painting was Caillebotte’s “Paris, A Rainy Day.” Anytime I visited Chicago I could go to the gallery and see it again.
At six, I fell in love with Tchiakovsky’s “Sleeping Beauty Waltz,” probably because I knew it from Disney–having seen the movie before I turned four–and when my mother bought me the classical album, I even carried it to first grade class for show and tell. I fell asleep every night to the entire symphony for quite awhile.
There is a difference between the Caillebotte and the Tchiakovsky beyond art form. The Caillebotte is a fixed art form. Unchangeable. The Tchiakovsky is, as well, except that it can be varied upon because every time a new symphony performs it, something might change. I still consider this a fairly fixed form, though, because I am unlikely to notice the differences. It takes a lot of musical education to know.
The ultimate fixed form, to my mind, is the book. It’s unlikely to change and, unlike art, which draws part of its meaning from its setting in a gallery or on a street corner, a book is the same around the world. As a writer, I like the fixed nature of the art I work in. It suits my hoarding, controlling nature.
I was interested in theatre and dance from a very young age, even writing and directing little plays for the neighborhood kids and my classmates. I created puppet theatres with, wait for it, dolls, of course. But I never stopped to think about this form of art. Is it fixed, especially after the play script is written, or is it unfixed because there are so many variables–actors, directors, costumes, sets, props, technical crew, and even errors change the art. The audience has the ability to change it.
When my daughter fell head first into the performing arts, I shapeshifted into one of those crazy dance moms running around with a video camera, always wanting to record her performances, even tech rehearsal, because I had grown up thinking art must be captured to exist. If my daughter danced and it wasn’t recorded, had she really created art?
Then I read and began to teach Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony about a half Laguna Pueblo / half white WWII veteran with PTSD. There is a very important scene where Tayo visits a Navajo medicine man for a cure. The ritual involves the creation of a white corn sand painting. The shocker for me was that the painting is erased. Yes, erased. The purpose is in the making, not in the hanging onto it. When you think about it, this is a much more spiritual response to art because it takes the need to control out of the picture. It is not goal or perfection oriented.
When I researched the sand paintings, I discovered that the notion of saving our art, rather than erasing or letting it change over time naturally (like the poems of balladeers), is culturally based. It even intrigued me when I finally read about elephants creating art (I’ve written about that before when I talked about the book When Elephants Weep) that they create and then erase. Of course, they do: humans, not elephants, are ridiculous hoarders. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Or does our culture demand it?
Maybe not. Look at performance art. Poetry slams. Improv shows. “The Million Line Poem” by Tupelo Press. Even New York theatre is reaching out to the audience to participate in many plays. Is this a fad that can’t survive? After all, the sand painting survived as art process because it was a ritualized part of the life of a people. Without this broader context for unfixed art, can these art forms survive?
Another reason we might be stuck with mainly fixed art: iPhones and other technology. Did you hear about an audience member setting up a video camera on a tripod to record Adele’s concert? She was pissed and chastised the person. But it’s a losing battle. No venue can police an entire audience–and what kind of relationship would that produce?
What about your tastes? Do you prefer your art fixed, like books and paintings, or unfixed, like ice sculptures? Or do you prefer something in between–a known script in a new production, a live concert of your favorite band’s best songs?