Tag Archives: doing it oneself

Where have I been? Here. What have I been doing? Creating!

Well, the time has come around (actually, come and gone) when a new post is due, and I have been busy doing other things and not getting anything much read to post on.  Oh, I read three tankas (an Eastern poetic form), but I don’t think it’s a case of “there’s glory for you,” as another character said to Alice about the matter of interpretation, and so I desisted from interpreting a foreign poetical form due to my lack of experience with it.  That needs some explaining, I see.  In Through the Looking Glass, Alice is conversing with Humpty Dumpty, and in re of their discussion, he says, “There’s glory for you.”  “‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knockdown argument,”‘ Alice objected.  ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.’  ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’  ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master–that’s all.'”  Now, since it would be quite immodest of me to pretend to be master of a very ancient poetical form and sets of symbols in a tradition quite different from my own (not that I won’t ever take a stab at things that way, but the tanka form is not like the haiku, which I might be able to be a pretender about), I decided this week to use my time doing some other kind of creating than the critical.  Since I’m on a new diet which is quite successful because it is not a diet but a lifestyle change, a permanent thing, very delicious and fulfilling, I’ve been cooking and storing food and cooking again, and sharing my treats with my family members.  But I’ve also lost 9 pounds in 2 weeks’ time, and though most diet plans suggest that slow and steady wins the race, this diet plan is known to be safe for faster weight loss because it’s just plain good sense and safe all around.

I don’t know if those of you who watch PBS have ever caught Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s programs on the tube, but that is where I first encountered this diet, during one of their periodic and typical fundraisers, where special programs are aired that break occasionally for a fundraiser message.  This is the very type of program which generally speaking most annoys me, and I hate self-improvement speakers and diet plan managers.  But there was something compelling about this guy.  He seems like just an ordinary guy, whom I was ready to dismiss as a bit of a health-food nut until I just somehow got hooked, I can’t explain how.  Of course, I like veggies and most of the foods he was pushing, beans, whole grains, but I like a lot of stuff that’s not that good for me too, so I was at first inclined to be skeptical when he said I wouldn’t miss those foods after a week or so.  For me, it was even faster than that, despite the fact that I’d had potato chips in my mouth the night before:  I had no detox period from “toxic” foods, and took to the diet right away.  And the rest is history.

Of course, everybody has something that’s particularly hard for them to give up, and following a largely vegan diet with occasional “meat as a condiment only” supplements and my daily yoghurt-and-fruit smoothie (and he recommends giving up as much dairy as possible too) sounds grim.  But I actually enjoy it.  And there’s no denying that it works.  I decided at the beginning rather than buying the very expensive fundraiser kit of several CD’s or DVD’s and a couple of cooking guides and books to just pick the two books I wanted most from the admittedly copious list of his publications, and order them cheaper from Amazon.com.  So, after some studying, I chose “The End of Dieting,” his basic guide to the plan complete with a daily schedule and some recipes, and “The Eat to Live Cookbook,” and had them in the mail the next week.

I know this all sounds crazy, but it’s been a real pleasure to eat food again, because not only is it a general health plan for life (i.e., there are many menus not just for people dieting), but I can eat it without feeling guilty, as much as I want until I’m full.  I’ve cooked this two weeks from it and put some food in the freezer, such as a veggie-bean-and-mushroom stew, a baba ghanouj-cum-hummus (eggplant hummus, basically), a mushroom-walnut-Swiss-chard-onion-etc. burger, a bean-turkey-spinach burger, a creamy almond vinaigrette dressing; I’ve also indulged almost every evening in one of two fairly lo-penalty desserts, a fudgy black-bean-and-date brownie (the icing is made partially with avocado–I know, sounds gross, but tastes delicious) or a banana walnut soft ice cream dessert you can make in the blender.

Of course, I’m getting 80 minutes a day of exercise most days too, but I haven’t started strength training yet, and that 80 minutes consists mainly of stretching and walking at a moderate pace inside a carpeted hallway (many people in our condo walk inside to avoid the weather and bad sidewalk conditions outside, or for other reasons of their own).  Life is good.  I’ve even been able to supplement my food plan (it’s hardly fair to call it “diet plan”) with recipes from some of my older vegetarian cookbooks, making sensible substitutions where necessary.  So far, I’ve got a recipe for a chunky dill borscht (we had it last night and it was quite delicious), an eggplant-and-onion-and-red pepper-and tomato sauce dish with whole wheat pasta or brown rice, a whole wheat pita bread, and a braised celery with walnut dish (this last is actually from FreeAmericanRecipes.com).  [The borscht and the pita recipes come from Julie Jordan’s “Wings of Life,” a cookbook from Cabbagetown Café in Ithaca, NY].

One thing that of course has to be considered is the cost of eating this way, but it’s not as bad as you might think, though things may get a little tighter as the cold weather sets in.  We haven’t regularly bought processed foods much for quite some time already, and were already eating mostly poultry and fish and eschewing much red meats or salted ones.  The grocery costs have skyrocketed almost everywhere in the U. S. and probably elsewhere too in the last year, with several rises having happened almost in a row, but many grocery chains are now trying to follow Market Basket’s exemplary lead and pay more attention to the customer’s needs and costs, so we’ll see what happens.  It’s always possible, once you get the hang of things, to figure out which ingredients you can’t do without and which recipes you need to substitute on because of cost of ingredients; this allows you to take advantage of store sales that you may not know about when you leave home.  You can be inventive, and make up your own recipes, too, once you know the very-easy-to-follow rules.

Dr. Fuhrman and his colleagues of course discourage cheating, but they allow a lot of leeway for experimentation, and allow for occasional backsliding, simply warning that you can’t let it become a habit once it has happened, but need instead to start back in your fairly easily acquired good habits.  I’m so happy on this plan, and it’s quite true as far as the claims that are made for it (clearer thinking, better sleeping, lighter feeling, better body, etc.).  At other times, even on a Weight Watcher’s diet for a while, I had convinced myself–even though I’ve always liked vegetables–that people who claimed they could entirely or mostly go without meat had probably starved themselves so silly that they were digesting their brain tissue in desperation.  But now I find that an ice cream scoop size serving of salmon salad (made with only 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise for the whole batch, technically a “cheat,” since regular vegetable and olive oils are supposed to be used only rarely) is enough to keep me happy, and I’ve not eaten chicken for quite some time.  I usually have the salmon on my daily vegetable salad at lunch, and whatever fresh vegetables and even some fruits (like apples) I have which can be eaten raw go in this as well, along with some cooked beans.

So, when I say that I’ve been creating this week since I last posted, I have:  it’s just been creating in the kitchen instead of on the page.  And now that I’ve thoroughly bored and exasperated you with my fervor and enthusiasm for something you yourself might not especially like (though in my zealot’s glee I can’t imagine that possibility particularly well), I’ve told all.  For now, anyway–see you in a few days, I hope with another literary post.


Filed under Other than literary days....

The Learning Curve of Life and Death–Richard Gilbert’s fine memoir “Shepherd”

Today, I am sitting inside a comfortable beachside  condo, enjoying a precious tea that a Russian friend kindly provided me with, taking in both its nearly indescribable aroma and its delicate perfumed taste.  It’s a Basilur family tea imported from Sri Lanka, flavored with “natural cornflower, jasmine buds, blue malva, and flavor roasted almond.”  The whiff seems at first to be that of an expensive chocolate, and then one thinks “No, not chocolate exactly–what is that delicious smell?”  I have had the luxury of consuming the tea not only as a wonderful gift, but as something I didn’t have to question or think about much, except that I do sometimes after having a tea from Sri Lanka wonder about how they ever got their crops back in order after that frightful tsunami a number of years ago.

I’ve usually had lamb in the same way, especially enjoying having it with my brother, because he appreciates the visceral element in eating meat from the bone, possibly a holdover from our more carnivorous forebears, but when you see the two of us nibbling along the bones held aloft at a private family dinner (one where our company can’t judge us savages), you know we must be kin.  And as I say, I’ve not usually given a thought to where the sheep come from, how they are raised, how deprived of life, not much in fact beyond what cut I’m eating and how much it costs.  A standard consumer, then.  And this in spite of the fact that we are only two generations away from Appalachian small-time farmers ourselves on our father’s side, though I don’t think they had sheep.

Since I’m trying to be as honest as the book I’m reviewing today is, I will confess that my word picture of the tea above is an attempt to make tea lovers (at least) salivate and want to know more.  And it’s the very word pictures of the Appalachian countryside, scattered from beginning to end of Richard Gilbert’s book Shepherd, the gorgeous imagery and word poetry which demonstrate not only his love itself of the land, his accomodation to its demands that change with where it’s located in the country, but which also in a literary manner justify that love and draw in the eager reader for more.  There is a price to be paid, of course, and that is the price of empathizing with both sheep and shepherd as they suffer as well as glory in life; still, the book itself is true as true can be to living especially in this sense:  despite the pain endured and the trials encountered, one can imagine few who would rather go without it.

A general statement from a little past the middle of the book itself which expresses the author’s feel for his subject is this home truth:  “Something is always going awry, getting out of control, and otherwise cheating one’s fantasies on a farm.”  This might almost be juxtaposed with the statement of a friendly elderly neighbor from another section of the memoir, from a time when the author lived in Bloomington, Indiana in a more residential community before the farm in Athens, Ohio was even thought of except as a remote dream:  “You’re happier than you know.”  Yet, as one reads forward in the book but back and forth in time in the memoir structure of past juxtaposed to present and then retroactively again, one sees a man and his family going through a much-desired learning experience.  One begins to appreciate that it’s the price in lives and lifetime which gives one the right to speak in tropes and epigrams, which are scattered throughout the book, both from the author’s own words and those of the many farmers and breeders whom he acknowledges as his teachers.

One famous epigram I can recall from our own neck of the Appalachian countryside, and which I also found when I went to college for the first time at a school that was located in the midst of an agrarian community, was this punning one:  one seems to praise someone by saying “He’s outstanding in his field,” but a sly grin changes this into “He’s out standing in his field,” idly, of course, not a desirable condition for a farmer or an academic.  And Richard Gilbert has worn many hats during his lifetime, among others those of both an academic and a sheep farmer, while keeping his sense of humor and his modesty intact as if he were constantly mindful of this very epigram.  I first encountered him as a blogger not too long after I signed onto my own site in summer of 2012, and I’ve read his many excellent posts on narrative, memoir and memoir writers, teaching creative non-fiction to students, music, featured guest bloggers, and more (see Richard Gilbert).  And this summer, I was finally able to read his memoir Shepherd, which I recommend not just for anyone who has an interest in farming or raising livestock, but for those with a sincere interest in memoir or even narrative fiction:  the whole aggravated question of pacing, whether of restraining oneself when one desperately wants to go ahead with a treasured project or of knowing how to pace a memoir or fiction and make it suspenseful and fulfilling and true-to-life is at stake, and Richard Gilbert satisfies, even though he himself is constantly questioning and re-evaluating his own motives.

Like Socrates, the wise man knows only that he knows not, and Gilbert allows us to follow him along in his path across the farming scene, and lets us watch him make mistakes, celebrate successes, and confront the long learning curve of life and death that attends upon even the canniest farmer.  He shows us himself in his most soul-searching, depressed, angry, and perhaps even unjust moments, a man willing to learn and seeking answers. He asks at one point, “Was I really just starting to see, so late, that having strong feelings didn’t make me special?  That they certainly didn’t make me good?”  Again and again, he evaluates himself (even to his genetic inheritance of a weak back) against his father’s plans, disabilities, desires, and accomplishments, and those of other farmers he knows.  He describes his struggle to fit into an agrarian community that has its own traditions, suspicions, and ways of doing things, the most innocuous of which perhaps is what he calls “Appalachian Zen”: his friend and employee Sam’s advice to get to work, “Let’s do something even if it is wrong.”  And of his imitation of his father, he finally concludes, after a visionary dream which comes to him near the end of his farming venture, “I’ve never seen that while I tried to emulate him, I also tried to outdo him.”

His farming wisdom and advice?  As he says, “Many of my breeding-stock customers had [a] broader perspective from the beginning.  They didn’t aim to make money.  They came to farming seeking aesthetic pleasure and solace from an angry world.  And a word had arisen to honor food produced with less control but more craft:  artisanal.  The goal wasn’t high production per acre, but food infused with love and time.  Like art….For the highest quality, nothing beats small, slow, and inefficient.”

His philosophy?  His philosophy is not of the cut-and-dried kind which can be communicated in one heartbeat, but of that learning curve, there is certainly at least one wise lesson to be taken in by all of us, and it can be found by tracing an arc from his first sentence (“Childhood dreams cast long shadows into a life”) through to the very last paragraph of his book, when he describes a “sacred moment” which comes back to him as he gets ready to depart his sheep farm for yet another home elsewhere.  He remembers his Georgia boyhood on a farm, when he was four or five and was surrounded on a hillside by butterflies which “infuse[d] me with wonder and joy.  Because I’m so young, I can’t name, but only receive, their gift:  a revelation of life’s unfolding daily abundance:  a miracle.”  And in that word “miracle” is after all the solution to the vexed question of the learning curve of life and death, given us by an articulate, gifted, and knowledgeable memoirist who, while not mincing words about the negatives, avers that they are only the other side of the positives we prefer to see.  But this is to anticipate the reader’s travels with Gilbert, which must be experienced as a whole and followed from beginning to end to fully appreciate such a grand American adventure, and to place the right value on such an inestimable gift to the reading community.  Though it may not lead you to adopt a lamb, it will certainly lead you to ponder, laugh, cry, and dream dreams with at least one academic who has earned his agrarian stripes, and that human shepherd is Richard Gilbert.


Filed under Articles/reviews, What is literature for?

Three different considerations of the difficulties and goals of one’s life work, one from Browning, two from Yeats….

Having written recently about the intersection of inspiration and technique in one’s art or craft, I come now to three related writings, all poems, about the commingled doings of inspiration, technique, difficulty, success, and of course everyone’s creative bugbear, failure.  Let’s begin with a story told in first person, one of Robert Browning’s famous dramatic monologues.  It’s called “Andrea del Sarto,” and has the subtitle “(called ‘The Faultless Painter’).”  It’s much too long to reproduce here, so I’ll have to content myself with repeating the gist of it and giving you the most important quoted section for my post.  It’s basically an imaginary monologue based upon the life of Andrea del Sarto, an actual painter, who was once a court favorite of King Francis I of France, but who was drawn away from court and from support of his aged parents by his infatuation for his wife Lucrezia, who was also his model, and who led him a dance.  The poem itself indicates that she grudgingly gave him attention, even to his work, which was supporting them, and instead spent her time with a largely spurious “cousin,” a usage which implies that she was cheating on del Sarto.

Browning’s monologue is one which is filled with certain regrets del Sarto supposedly has about having left court and lost his following to paint pictures of Lucrezia for the odd patron who comes along and falls in love with her beauty.  Of course, being in love with her himself to an uxurious degree, del Sarto constantly forgives her and speaks against his own ambitions.  Still, they do not go entirely unmentioned.  And when he comes to the subject of art, he not only gives himself a harsh consideration, but puts forth a “theory” of art, which shows that his work is also never far from his thoughts and that it is in fact the pull between his love and his art which is making him miserable.  This is how that part of the poem goes, with its famous lines about heaven and achievement of the utmost:

“There burns a truer light of God in [my rivals],/In their vexed beating stuff and stopped-up brain,/Heart, or whate’er else, than goes on to prompt/This low-pulsed forthright craftsman’s hand of mine./Their work drops groundward, but themselves, I know,/Reach many a time a heaven that’s shut to me,/Enter and take their place there sure enough,/Though they come back and cannot tell the world./My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here./The sudden blood of these men! at a word–/Praise them, it boils, or blame them, it boils too./I, painting from myself and to myself/Know what I do, am unmoved by men’s blame/Or their praise either.  Someone remarks/Morello’s outline there is wrongly traced,/His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,/Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?/Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?/Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what’s a heaven for?  All is silver-gray/Placid and perfect with my art:  the worse!”

And so on and so forth, comparisons to both lesser and greater painters of his time continuing.  He criticizes his art, and sometimes to a hesitant and slight degree his model, Lucrezia, and says it’s “As if I saw alike my work and self/And all that I was born to be and do,/A twilight-piece.”  All of this relates to his own strange pull amongst ambition, and perfection of craft, and love, with his awareness that the nature of aspiration demands one must always have another level to ascend to, another goal, something that possibly cannot be reached.  His wife “rewards” his love for her in this manner willy-nilly, and it is as if he is a partially beaten man, wondering if his art will do the same thing.

Yeats, who has written many poems about art and artists and the life of the same has his own moments of expressing either a strange mixture of exhilaration and defeatism, or a calm acceptance of failure–the difference is, of course that the former is about his own work, the latter about that of another.  In the first poem, he documents his contrary and mixed emotions of infatuation and personal vexation with his job as director-manager of the Abbey Theatre.  It’s called “The Fascination of What’s Difficult”:

“The fascination of what’s difficult/Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent/Spontaneous joy and natural content/Out of my heart.  There’s something ails our colt/That must, as if it had not holy blood/Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,/Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt/As though it dragged road-metal.  My curse on plays/That have to be set up in fifty ways,/On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,/Theatre business, management of men./I swear before the dawn comes round again/I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.”

“Our colt” is of course the divine horse Pegasus, emblem of creative inspiration, yet Yeats shows quite clearly in this poem how he reacts to all the stops and starts and quandaries and problems of a practical nature that afflict those working in his theatre, with special reference to his own role and his temptation to “find the stable and pull out the bolt” and let the horse escape, probably more occasional than he lets on, since I suspect just writing this poem relieved some of the tension.

Finally (though of course there are so many aspects of the complicated questions having to do with inspiration and achievement that writers and artists will always have more to say), there is Yeats’s poem entitled “To A Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing.”  It is in this poem that I sometimes see the Yeats I like least, the Yeats who is not always at his hard-headed best, but who is a little sentimental, coyly daft, and perhaps a bit glib, with his famous mysticism thrown in and passing for a genuine vision, whereas in other poems it’s quite remarkable and eerily convincing.  At the end, I have to suppose that Yeats may have been aware that this poem is one of his own which is an encapsulated experience of what it is itself discussing, i.e., he may have known that this tribute was a partial failure of his own art, yet was perhaps unable to offer better:

“Now all the truth is out,/Be secret and take defeat/From any brazen throat,/For how can you compete,/Being honour bred, with one/Who, were it proved he lies,/Were neither shamed in his own/Nor in his neighbours’ eyes?/Bred to a harder thing/Than Triumph, turn away/And like a laughing string/Whereon mad fingers play/Amid a place of stone,/Be secret and exult,/Because of all things known/That is most difficult.”

On the other hand, if one looks for one of those many connecting highways and by-ways and intersections and coincidences so common in Yeats’s poems, one will notice the coincidence that he uses the work “difficult” in both poems.  It seems to suggest that possibly the “Triumph” spoken of is only actually a question of public personal acclaim, and that the work itself, whatever it may be, which his friend accomplished–or himself, Yeats was not above “dividing” himself into two and writing one to the other–was in fact a Triumph of a private sort, not a failure at all.  The familiar Yeatsian take on the “mad” person, one who is inspired by something not usual or not usually of this world, is thus included here as another emblem of the divine as it enters the humdrum world of human life, just as the horse Pegasus was seen as a ragged and whipped colt in the world of theatre politics and arrangements.  Take it as you will.  Yeats’s shoulders are creatively certainly broad enough to bear my previous charge, that he is sometimes a bit too whimsical.

Thus, to take it all in all, neither Andrea del Sarto with his wandering wife, nor the complaining theatre prime functionary, nor the “mad” talent in the third poem who is advised to let harsh words pass are any of them really expected (and perhaps are not inclined) to give up the fight and actually throw in the towel when it comes to artistic goals and aspirations.  Their trials are just the bumps one can expect to find along the road to art, should one be so “daft” as to make the artistic and creative one’s perpetual mental habitat.  So, if you are a person who for one reason or another likes to make ideas or things, or simply one who likes to mull over and meditate in print or otherwise on others’ creations, perhaps my post today will provide some fodder for your own private “Pegasus,” and keep him from kicking down the walls of his stable the next time you fight through your own creative struggles and torments.  Here’s to the high road of creative reward and difficulty alike, for my choice!  How about you?


Filed under A prose flourish, Full of literary ambitions!, Literary puzzles and arguments, What is literature for?

Not sticking to one’s commitments, or, how one thing so easily leads to another….

Hello, there, readers!  I hardly know how to excuse myself for more than a week’s silence except to tell the truth and say that I’ve had other things going and posting has gone on the back burner for now.  I know, I know, I had just committed myself to posting more frequently.  But first there was a week of pre-adolescent company here at our house (and many thanks to those of you who welcomed my young relatives with your kind comments and observations.  They were suitably proud of themselves to know that they had excited so much comment in the blogosphere).  Then, there was taking room for a breather to get one’s life reorganized when they were gone (we really miss them every day, especially because it’s so quiet now!).

The next part I have no easy excuse for, and that is that for almost a week now, having been a Monsters’ Den:  Book of Dread fan, I’ve been fascinated by their new RPG called Monsters’ Den Chronicles.  I know I’m older than the average player, but I like to think that gives me added experience and wisdom (at least in the dungeons) and anyway after having waited for what seems like three years for the Kongregate website to come out with the new game, I had to try it out for myself.  The news is mostly good, though it will only make sense to those of you who regularly play RPG games on the computer:  I’ve made it past Tier 5 (only one more Tier to go, though Tier 6 is neverending and can be played until you get tired of playing, as it is the last Tier in the game).  But something mysterious happened:  when I got ready to get off last night after being awarded the biggest reward I’ve had yet, and felt like I had earned a well-deserved rest, the computer made a huge clanging sound, like the resonance of a huge door being slammed behind me, and so I’ve got to go back into the dungeon today to find out what that noise portends (it wouldn’t let me back in last night when I decided to look a little more closely at the part of my reward which wasn’t just filthy lucre, as the phrase goes).

Just in case you’re ready to dismiss me as a serious contender for keeping a writer’s/critic’s blog, however, I should tell you that I do have one more respectable chore in hand this week, though, and that is re-reading a friend’s manuscript.  He is going for publication of a worthy, highly intelligent and quite gifted book on rhetoric, and I have asked to see it again as a whole piece of work so that I can put together all the pieces I’ve learned so far.  So, you see, I’m not just resting and goofing off.

I still will be posting on George Sand once I get through the books of hers that I’m reading, just as I originally committed myself to do about a month ago, and the last female progenitor of fiction after that will be Mrs. Radcliffe.  I really also have to apologize, I suppose, for dragging this quest into the literary natures of important writing women out over a whole two months, but I simply can’t cover the reading material in less time than that.  Also, I’ve interspersed other posts in between the ones about our female forebears, so the whole thing has taken a bit longer, though perhaps it has also been lightened up by a little variety; I hope so, anyway.

So, I have once again to ask my readers to be patient with me as I muster my forces to do these things I really want and intend to do and have every intention of finishing.  Probably once the fall comes, my posting schedule will pick up naturally, because I was in academia for so long that I got used to the natural rhythm of the fall and spring semester system, and can be a real workhorse when I once get back into the swing of things.  This whinging, apologetic post is just a stopgap to let you readers know that I haven’t stopped annoying you with my literary pap just yet (in case you were hoping, that is).  For now, I’ll just say “Until next post,” and leave it at that, since I’m sure you’re tired of this apologia already.  Ta! for now, and be watching for a post on George Sand soon.  I really won’t disappoint you for much longer.


Filed under Other than literary days....

If the light at the end of the tunnel goes out, or upon re-kindling the spark….

I start today’s post with a decided disadvantage, my short-term memory having decided to play an Alzheimer’s-like trick on me and “disappear” a key phrase I had planned for this post before I could write it down.  But the gist of my remarks was as follows:  when the light at the end of the tunnel goes out, re-kindling the spark of the torch that was there is an arduous and painful proceeding, and one that I was hoping to work through here, with my readers watching and waiting (however impatiently) for me to get to the point.  And then I forgot my line.

How many times, how many times, since appearing on stage in my first student play, have I had nightmares about not having learned my lines and being on stage speechless, or nervous fantasies about having learned the lines with great effort and apparent aplomb, but forgetting them the minute I step upon stage?  As you may have guessed, I’m suggesting that there is something God-given (and God-taken-away) about most inspiration:  you have a window of opportunity to nail the important words, and then shadows of other phrases and sentences and bugbear-like-clichés such as “the light at the end of the tunnel” and “re-kindling the spark” come along and drown out the really innovative and perhaps for-all-time original (maybe) thought you were trying to express.

As far as I can recall, the inspired remark had something to do with finding self-direction after a long period of following in a certain pre-determined path.  I was partly thinking of the long time I spent working on my doctorate, and the let-down and lull I felt after finishing/graduating, and the transition to my website and my renewed work on my novel sequence (published on this website).  I comfort myself with the reflection that so great a soul as Virginia Woolf went into a depressive decline at the end of each of her works, until she took up the next one.  But then I say, pragmatically to myself, “But I don’t want to end up walking into the lake with stones in my pockets, either.”  So I turn again to my reading lists.  It’s true, I have things to do.  And the things are activities that I have elected on my own to do, with no one putting me up to them or prompting me.  But lately, the traditionally acclaimed “spark” has died out a little, and I have felt slow and sluggish, and have blamed it on the weather, on overeating a summertime holiday diet, on not hearing from enough of you (and yes, there is that thrill of communication which has lately been attenuated or missing), on the summer being almost over, on the fact that I’m a year older (why should this matter any more this year than last?–it’s only one more year); in fact I have become a veritable deep resounding well of complaints and caveats, giving forth with my problems every time someone drops a penny in for luck.  Can’t you just hear the echo?

And lo!  At least one part of the mysterious meditation comes back:  the remark was one about “finding inner resourcefulness.”  My inner resourcefulness is what I am in search of, and what I feel is lacking at the moment.  For, it’s not merely a matter of self-direction, one has to be directed from some initial glowing hot coal-bed of creativity to one’s lava-like course down the mountainside called “the path of communication” to where others wait at the end of the course of the rich ash-bed and fertile soil (sorry about this really quite imperfect metaphor–it’s the best I could do with such an impeded “flow” of inspired thought).

“Inner resourcefulness” is the constant mystery, the be-all and end-all of writing and creativity in general, whose inner enemy is the famous “writer’s block” for writers and poets, whatever it may be for musicians, sculptors, and others of the artistic ilk.  How does one court one’s muse, if we should call it that, how appeal to that oracle to get it to trundle forth some truth, some gifted thought, something we can share with our audience, colleagues, and cohorts?  It puts one on the spot, as if one were Cordelia, one of King Lear’s daughters, being asked “[W]hat can you say to draw/A third more opulent than your sisters?”  Duh.  Dunno.  But Cordelia put it better, with the help of Shakespeare, paradoxically doing what she claims in the same words she cannot do, though Lear hears the paradox in simple denial terms, in terms of refusal to cooperate:  Cordelia says, “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave/My heart into my mouth.”

So, try as I might to “heave my heart into my mouth,” there are some things that remain inarticulate and inexplicable, such as my tendency since about the winter to post less frequently.  Of course, I can give you an excuse, a rationale, an explanation (not quite the same things as reasons, real reasons having a bit more muscle and “bite” to them):  I’ve gone through already a lot of the books I was interested in posting about, and I’m slowed down because I need to read more books to get them under my belt and comment on them.  But this is a “shadow-boxing” sort of reason, because the books I’ve read in my life are innumerable to my own memory, and the ones I could still say something intelligent about are, one trusts, quite a few, had I enthusiasm.  And now we get to the point, perhaps:  I’ve lost some enthusiasm for attempting to craft the well-written literary article, and it’s not because it’s not great fun, or because I don’t think it worthwhile.  It’s because, perhaps, other things in life which I can’t express are beginning to take their toll on my spirit; my daily life is dragging me down.

Yet, just as I express this quibble (and it’s larger than a “quibble,” but I’m trying the rhetorical move of understatement to cut it to size), I feel a certain free flow in my heart, and a desire to say something else:  perhaps the answer is that I have expressed my feeling now, and can go on from there.  Perhaps (following advice I’ve heard from others) the answer is not merely to express the feeling, then, but to insist with myself that I go ahead and post on something more frequently than I have been, even if it’s only an “other than literary days” post like today’s, when I would rather be writing about literature.  Just to keep my hand in.

The downside of this plan?  Why, that you, my loyal readers, may after a while decide that I’m not much fun anymore, and may decide to stop following my site “if all she’s going to do is babble about something other than books.”  For, the undeclared purpose of my site is to write books, to publish my books, and most often predominantly to feature the poems, stories, and books of other writers to whom I feel I owe literary debts.  Yet, I ask myself, is not even such a humble entity as this very self-focused and possibly therefore boring post a type of literary endeavor?  Isn’t reaching out to you and to the great ether beyond us all a sort of creative event?  I do hope you’ll think so, because I have decided to try to post on some topic or other more frequently, though I still hope my posts will feature my thoughts and inspirations more often than not in terms of how they are demonstrated in books and other works of literary merit or concern.  But I can’t promise not to “babble” now and then–I’ve accepted the minute glow at the end of the tunnel as the faith of a tiny spark, and am willing to try this way to re-kindle it:  I hope you’ll make the trip with me, commenting or not, as you see fit, but at least reading.  Who knows, maybe I’ll hit upon something that helps you find your own feet again when you’ve lost your balance temporarily:  and what more can any of us ask of literature or writing endeavors than that they restore to us some of what we lose through the vicissitudes of life?  Such grand aspirations!  But we all need some large hopes to carry us through the day.  Join me, won’t you? and if you can use my odd brand of curative powers, so much the better!


Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days...., What is literature for?

New novel up on this site–why not have a look?

Yes, I’ve finally finished novel #6 in the 8 part series I’m working on.  And I know that those of you who can count will find only 5 novels published on this site in toto, and will probably think that I’ve slipped a gear, or at least that I myself can’t count.  Take it from me, though, this is novel #6.  I was working on novel #5 at the same time as I worked on this one, and #5 lost out in interest to this one, because this one had a lot more to say for itself early on, and so got ahead in life.  #5 novel will be out as soon as I can manage it, and will also be slotted into the lineup, in its proper place, I hope having gotten a lot more interesting to me (and therefore one hopes to you too!).

In the meantime, you probably want to know something as to what novel #6 is about, its title, so on and so forth.  Well, it’s called Abyss of an Attendant Lord, and it’s a short novelette.  It’s also an academic satire, and those of you who know how much time during my life I have spent in academia may wonder (as of course you have a right to) just how much is fictional and how much is based on fact.  Let me say that I have done no deliberately unkind portrait-painting, though I have teased now and then, here and there.    I have relied on comic types for “the unkindest cut of all” sorts of remarks.  The action is such as could conceivably happen in any large university prone to committees and academic groups foregathering, though of course many an English major will say, “Just when and where did any English department manage to get so much clout for itself in these science-and-technology ridden days?”  Let me answer to that caveat that this part is a sort of pipedream, though of course I am far from wishing to cast aspersions on the science and technology folks as some of my characters do; in fact, “Big Bang Theory” is one of my favorite shows on television, though like Penny, I rarely understand much of the technological vocabulary.  What small amount of technological verbiage is in the novel is from the same pool of university dialect and jest as the writers of “Big Bang Theory” have borrowed from, too.  My basic reaction to any kind of debate is a sort of “Now, why can’t we all just get along?” sort of attitude, so peaceable am I in person.  But never mind that!  Let’s have a little fun with our differences.  I do hope that all my readers will be able to have a fun time with the book, as I had a great deal of fun in writing it.  And with respect to all those who may feel that they are singled out for attention, I can only answer, as did the main character in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” on television a good thirty or forty years ago.  She asked for anyone in her audience who felt they had had fun poked at them to stand up, and lo and behold! a major portion of her audience stood up!  These are faults and foibles of all of us from time to time, and I include myself in that number, so I hope you will enjoy laughing at all of us.  And please, let me know how you felt!  From time to time, someone reads a novel or some of my poems on the site, but mostly people don’t seem to comment.  Comments of a polite variety, whether positive or not, are always welcome.  So, let me know what you think!


Filed under A prose flourish, Full of literary ambitions!

A spot of trouble here, folks! And a sincere hope that it’s nothing serious!

Early this morning, when I got on my site to check my stats, I found that my stats by country were showing the circular icon rotating around and around.  After a few hours of perplexity, I contacted the helpful folks at WordPress.com support, and got a gratifying and nearly immediate response about re-setting my browser, complete with instructions that were copious and detailed.  I followed the instructions, but continued to have difficulties with my site, some of which I can only describe to those at WordPress.com, who are trying to help everyone as best they can, as I understand it.

The problem is that they are suddenly in the news, in the sense that there are numerous additions and changes being made which could benefit everyone, but which are costing some people money, of which I don’t have a lot to contribute at this point.  Therefore, their support page announces now that they will help people in the order in which they come, subscribers to the WordPress.org and the paid upgrade subscribers first.  I do have ambitions eventually to be able and to find it necessary to purchase more space, but cannot do so now, and therefore I’m in a waiting line to be helped with my problems.  This post is not intended as criticism; I’m just letting my readers know that if they don’t hear from me immediately, or if the site suddenly goes down, I’m here on the other side still trying to get the site back up, to the best of my not-very-computer-literate abilities.  And I hope and trust that as usual the guru folks at WordPress.com will be able to help me in that eventuality, as they have done many times in the past.

If all is well, I hope to publish again in the next day or two; if I hit a snag or delay, it may take a little longer.  Here’s to success on all our parts, and thanks for reading so far.  It makes the pain of becoming slowly more computer-literate all worthwhile.

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Filed under Other than literary days....

Finality is only another word for the movement’s natural ending, and every ending contains the seeds of a new beginning.

We are still in the depths of a winter in the temperate zone, and it’s cold, and nothing is growing much outside in the snow/freezing rain/or at the very least, frigid temperatures.  But let’s release the organic metaphor that governs many a mode of thought for the moment, and say that though each finality is a sort of natural ending of some movement or other (whatever sort of growth or development the movement might be), each ending contains the seeds of a new beginning.  Seeds are stored up in the frozen ground beneath our feet, waiting for the sun to come out on days when the temperature likewise is gentle and mild, and though we can’t see the seeds right now, and though it seems as if spring will never come, short of some universal catastrophe, we know that it will.

I’m taking comfort in this particular organic metaphor right now because I’m finding it very hard to continue my self-appointed tasks of reading and writing, and am spending a fair amount of time staring at the wall or out the window, not even daring to daydream overmuch because I don’t want to be “caught” (even by myself) wasting time.  So, my mind is frozen; motionless; and yes, you guessed it, I’m typing it all out here in my post in an effort to “start a hare” from the underbrush and get on with my work.  (I like that particular metaphor of “starting (startling) a hare from the underbrush” even though I would never shoot a rabbit or be caught with a gun looking for rabbits to shoot unless I were starving, because when one is out walking and a rabbit or squirrel or other small animal pops up nearly underfoot and rushes away, one oneself is equally startled by the suddenness of the encounter, and loses track of the–in this case obsessive–thoughts one is going through in one’s mind.  Though of course whether the THOUGHTS are going through one’s mind, or one is going through the thoughts IN one’s mind is a matter for brain specialists and metaphysicians to contemplate.)  There’s a freshness to sudden encounters of the rabbit or chipmunk kind, as the tiny being leaps away from one’s own bumbling footsteps and seeks a safer haven; and one feels a part of the small life in the sense that then one’s heart begins to beat more swiftly in reaction, one’s face may flush, one may stumble, or feel a sudden rush of exhilaration at the presence of another life so near at hand and so rapid.

Now, you are perhaps tempted to point out to me that if I am indeed “frozen” and “motionless” in inspiration when it comes to impetus for reading and writing, my two favorite mental activities, that I AM in fact “starving,” and would perhaps have done well to bring a “gun” along in case I should, while typing this post, see a small furry shape dart from beneath my feet and try to get away from me.  But even though I am omnivorous and not solely a vegetarian, I’m looking to track the life bounding away without actually hunting it, because of course those other small forms of life are hunters, too, and they are “hunting” those seeds and pods and vesicles of life that remain in the trees, bushes, and ground over the winter.  It’s simple:  one life leads to another.  I start the hare by accident, perhaps, but then I peer ahead of it to see where it’s bounding, hoping to discover some seeds or shoots that I can bring indoors and attempt to “sprout” for my own projects.  And there’s probably the tail end of this particular metaphor, since I can think of nothing else to do with it at this point.  Whatever “seeds of a new beginning” I happen to find will require patience from me, because nothing happens overnight, and after potting something you have to wait while it sits in a warm windowsill or under a grow lamp, stretching itself upward slowly.  So, here’s the “sprout” I found while sitting at my desk and trying to think of something to post about on this second day of January, 2013.  But really, you and I know that I wasn’t sitting at my desk at all, I was out in a snowy field , following tiny tracks with perplexity and some confusion because I didn’t see anything to connect them with, when suddenly up popped a rabbit or squirrel, running, perhaps, for a bed of early crocuses which they’ve been nibbling at before.  Here’s my “crocus bulb” for you–I hope it will help you start a few hares or chipmunks too!


Filed under Other than literary days...., What is literature for?

Living in a state of grace–let’s make it last as long as possible…..

This is definitely going to be the shortest post I’ve written since the very beginning of my posts on this website (the last time I wrote such a short post was back around July 4).  I really have only a simple series of points to make, or perhaps one major point, and that’s that right now, as of last night’s concession and acceptance speeches in the United States, American citizens (despite the pundits’ remarks) are living in a state of grace before the hard slog actually starts again.

We aren’t living in the same state of grace which we were when President Obama first came into office four years ago and hopes were riding so totally high.  We are four years older and wiser and have battened down our hatches to ride out a stormy four more years (if necessary) of embittered battles in a divided Congress.  But it is still a state of grace of sorts that we are occupying.  By this, I mean to point to the ways in which things are already undergoing a subtle change.  First of all, concession speeches and victory speeches alike, though full of the crowds’ excitements and reactions, were gracious in the extreme.  The two parties seemed to need this wake-up call from the American people to signify to them that yes, we are serious, they need to work together to solve everything from climate change to health care to the economy to all the other issues that emerged as concerns of the electorate.  The speech Romney gave was brief, to the point, and acknowledged (despite an originally spirited refusal to concede Ohio) that Obama was once again the man in charge, who deserves our prayers and good wishes if he is going to succeed.  In his turn, Obama called upon Romney himself to be an advisor in the coming days.  We can only hope that as the two leaders have spoken, so may follow their adherents in the House and Senate.

For our part, we citizens can only prolong the state of grace of these opening remarks of the 44th presidency if we demand better from our elected representatives; by what the pundits were saying (even if they also predicted key difficulties with the process to come), the leaders are listening now, to the tune of vox populi, vox Dei (the word of the people is the word of God).  This is not a sacrilegious sentiment when one realizes that consensus of opinion is a hard-won state of affairs, in which lion and lamb do truly lie down together (whomever one perceives these animalistic symbols to refer to).  So, let us not hope for an end to reasonable debate, but instead seek a wholehearted desire to end partisan bickering; it is only by holding our leaders accountable to this extent that we may further extend our own state of grace as a people.


Filed under Other than literary days....

Autumn is not only “the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” but also the season of both change and entrenchment….

Two weeks ago, I suddenly noticed something, which had been changing gradually for a long, long, time.  My old faithful crocheted afghan, of my favorite “earth” colors, which I made back in 1978 or 1979, looked remarkably faded and worn.  With colder weather, it is no longer as warm as it once was.  When did that happen?  I must’ve missed it, so long had affection endeared it to me.  So, I (faithful still to my original color scheme) went to the craft store A. E. Moore and bought the colors over again, in copious enough quantities to re-make my afghan.  That is, I replaced all the colors I could; one color had to be included in a darker shade, and the original afghan looked even more faded beside the new colors when I brought them home.  Part of my time for the last two weeks has been spent re-making the blanket (as quickly as possible before true cold weather sets in).

But that’s not the only symptom that fall is here.  The other is that my brother’s birthday was November 1st, and for his birthday gift, he requested that we all come up and help straighten out the shed and the barn, which involved burning vast quantities of old wood from various projects of ambitious intent from other years, of old craft projects, of old heaps and scraps of furniture originally set aside to be fixed.  There was also setting out dumpsters full of old stuff to propitiate the querulous gods of autumn who bring the ruthless gods of winter and the fickle godling of spring in their train.  Only summer’s goddess usually passes without question, and even she has some odd qualities in the weather patterns of late.  And of course, being as we were in Vermont where the “free pile” tradition is alive and strong, all of the “still good, but no longer needed here” items were piled by the side of the road and left to others to give them a good home.  True to tradition, we first celebrated the sacrifice with a riotous good time had at The Pizza Stone, a delicioso first experience for me, but one which others of my family had had before.  We were in luck because it was a music night, and we got to hear a fine local band, to which all the children insisted on dancing and carrying on, even getting a couple of the willing adults involved.  The brews were tall and cold, the pizzas some of the best our pizza-experienced family had tasted (and we all complicated the issue by joyously exchanging bites and slices back and forth across our super-large table), and the company tolerant and seemingly accepting of the great amount of noise we were making.  (Of course, everyone else there was making a fair amount of happy noise too, so it’s likely we fit right in.)  The only dilemma came along when each morning over the weekend we had (the first morning) to crawl out of bed with a morning head and get the work started and (the second morning) after the first day of hard work to get up (admittedly a little later this time) and get to work again.  What do you call it when you burn wood, wood, wood, for hours on end in one small bonfire that has to be kept within a certain earthen circle in order to be safe with the local authorities?  You call it something that takes up the time of three frolicking children tuned to sudden responsibilities hauling wood, with various adults supervising them and countermanding each other’s orders, and shouting responses back and forth in discussion, issuing new orders, and getting back themselves to what they were doing to generate all the wooden fragments that had to be hauled out, which was clearing not only wood but carpet bits and old bits of metal and other scraps and junk out of a shed and then the top part of a barn, and then the lower part of a barn, and then a garage (sorry, but the only way to give you an exhaustive list is to produce part of the exhaustion in embryo in my sentence structure).  Finally, when all of the fun and games were over, we collapsed each in our various ways, eating, dozing, going out for a bit of an evening, getting last minute homework done, and (in my case) working a little more on the crocheted afghan of the first instance.

As I mentioned before in my post on Italo Calvino’s short story “The Adventure of a Traveler,” I will in the middle of November be going up to Canada for my doctoral graduation, and of course in the week after that event we will be having American Thanksgiving (for those of you who don’t know this, Canadians get to have their Thanksgiving in October).  But before these other valuable and worthy experiences happen, there’s one more sign of autumn, one which moreover comes along just once every four years, and that is general Election Day, which is tomorrow.

And this is perhaps the time and the event about which we must be most vigilant in trying to adopt both change and entrenchment, and each in its proper way.  When I say “change,” I don’t mean from man to man, but from expecting almost magical action to result from the election of one man, to seeing that it is in fact we the people who must help to do the work by keeping up with the voting records of the people we elect and making sure they really represent what we would ourselves at our best and most generous selves want to be represented as, as Americans.  And I see this as the season to practice entrenchment, not entrenchment in our own worst habits of thought and worn-out routines of behavior, but entrenchment in our habits of strength and support for those who genuinely have our country’s welfare at heart.  Though I’m sure each of us has an idea of which man may be the best to lead the United States in terms not only of domestic policies but of international relations, I feel that I would like to go on record as supporting President Obama in particular, because I believe he can get our country out of the financial crisis we have been in and back more nearly to life in the credit side of the ledger that we enjoyed when President Clinton was in office.  This is more than having a difference of opinion about Republican-versus-Democrat, it is a matter of fact and public record that these men were and are pursuing policies that changed and are changing debit to credit.  But nothing happens overnight; change takes time.  Change takes introducing variations upon good evidence and encouraging entrenchment in practices that prove worthy over time.  I believe President Obama has his finger more nearly on the pulse of the nation than his opponent does.  As to his opponent, I would only say that (to continue my metaphor of medicine) rather than taking the pulse of the nation and attempting his utmost to come up with the correct cure for a country which wants to have a reputation as progressive, Governor Romney behaves (on the record, which is insulting to the people he pretends he wants to represent) like a snake oil salesman, willing to play on any fear, willing to sell any bill of goods, willing to contradict his own record time and time again, in order to sell, above all, himself.  President Obama, who has been consistent in his plans and formulas, is a man who is above selling himself in that sense:  President Obama promotes the health of the United States; Governor Romney promotes Romney.

For those of you who disagree with me, you are naturally free to vote with your conscience; I will be voting with mine, for President Obama.  And regardless of whom you vote for, remember all those around you who may need a ride to the polls, who may be disinclined to vote because of recent troubles with the weather or with their own problems and difficulties, and try to help them out.  And remember that if you feel inclined to offer a sandwich or a cup of coffee to those whom you help out, it might come better if offered entirely after the vote, since the days of buying votes aren’t out of the popular mythology, and people are desperate even today:  make it easier for each man and woman to vote their own conscience, and let your help be offered freely, if you offer it.  Let us all pray in whatever key or way that we as a country emerge whole from being cast into the fire of this election.


Filed under Other than literary days....