Welcome to my blog Upstate Girl, (a.k.a Follow Your Bliss Part II), I am an independently published author. This blog is all about writing and the stuff that inspires me to write, the joys and obstacles that come along with the writer's life, and my fascination with the psychology of people and what makes them tick...the human condition, as is...and my love for words, playing with them and making sense of them...and I throw in a few photos from my acre of the world just to make things pretty...sometimes there are things I have no words for, only pictures will do.
Friday, April 18, 2014
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” (the first paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude)
I adore this book. It is beautiful and it became an old friend within the first few pages—sometimes books are that way, they tell their story with a voice that is familiar, yet remarkable because of its unique qualities. There is so much grace in this book—very profound. It has a playful spirit that is hungry and happily full of love, a spirit that accepts death and sorrow as unavoidable facets of life. It made me laugh out loud and at times I would tear up—it is deeply emotional—compassionate. It is still speaking to me in an enchanting way that good books do—it keeps tugging on me to come back for one more look, so it is not too far out of reach, even now. One of the beauties of such a book is suspension of all belief and going with the natural flow—it is told in a voice that is wise and older than time. It is a book about being human—humans are messy, passionate fools who tumble into wisdom after several rounds of stupidity. Sometimes there is no dignity in our existence as we scratch about making a life out of what comes to us along the way—
“Ursula wondered if it was not preferable to lie down once and for all in her grave and let them throw the earth over her, and she asked God, without fear, if He really believes that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everything he had written, he knew or heard before he was 8 years old. These formative years were spent with his maternal grandparents, listening and absorbing their folk tales and superstitions—stories of which he could not tell what was true and what was invention. His novels were filled with unforgettable characters existing in a fantastical landscape; books filled to the last page with dreams and realities; life and death; war, politics, madness, truth, enchantments, and lots of love—so much love.
“Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people, they kept on blooming like little children and playing like dogs.”
My most favorite part is when Remedios the Beauty ascended and she took Fernanda’s sheets with her, and of course, Fernanda was quite bent out of shape about that!
“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”
It is these moments of fantastical glory contrasted with human truths that make this book so special. No belief required—let it all go into the wind of light like Fernanda’s sheets and Remedios the Beauty, open your mind, read it and love it.
“Tell him,’ the colonel said, smiling, ‘that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”
Sunday, March 30, 2014
|From my size 6 1/2's|
It's another winter coming to a close, and I'm still editing my novel Drinking from the Fishbowl, it seems to be taking forever to accomplish this feat, but I'm taking my time (as I should) to make this book into what I have envisioned—I love the process of writing and I love to read—I'm constantly reading and I cannot stress it enough, that reading is very important—books are important—especially for a writer (or anyone wanting to become a writer.)
|Books that have inspired me...and my two "girls" in the middle.|
I wanted to write something that was mine—something more than “write what you know”. I wanted to write books that mattered—books with a deeper meaning. I wanted to write what I call "human documents", novels with complex relationships, communities of people with overlapping histories, books about the conflict with dreams and realities. Books about ghosts of the past and the ghosts that haunt us now, and a broad spectrum of cause and effect—what the soul is supposed to be—what it could be—Free will and Determinism—psychology and philosophy. It took a long time to get there—it was a natural progression to commit myself to writing, I just knew when I was ready to start, once I started, there was no turning back. Those fragments of ideas and bits of this and that fit perfectly in the places where I used them—even the ones I thought were impossible made sense once they were applied. At first, I was upset that it took me so long to come to this, being a “late bloomer”, but no, it was the right time, I had a few things to experience first, before I could write. I’m glad I waited.
It's so strange how the things I write about conflict with who I am. It's always a mystery to me how my characters develop and then have the audacity to do the things they do or say the things they say. I always find it odd when it’s assumed that they’re about me in some thinly veiled convolution—no, not I, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at all. Of course, writing is a very personal experience, naturally, personal experiences and observations are taken from the toolbox and become part of the construct, but for the most part, I’m just making it up as I go along—it’s just a story.
Goodness knows I feared that I bit off more than I could chew on more than one occasion once I committed myself to writing novels. I’ve experienced what I call a creative “sweet spot”, writing with the emotional spigots on full blast is an immersion unlike anything I’ve experienced creatively, it is a strange sort of mix of misery and ecstasy. It’s a worthwhile experience, but just when I begin to doubt myself, I read what I’ve written and then I know I've done a good thing—I’ve followed my bliss.
Writing a book is difficult, but it is probably one of my happiest times. I have muddled my way through as best as I can with no pedigree on paper or an affluent background with names of people who could pave my way—I’m truly on my own with this. I like it that way. I will stand and fall on my own merits. I write my books much in the same way that I make art as a painter—it’s intuitive. It’s such a rush to sit down with a few notes, character studies, phrases, and brief conversations written down on scraps of paper or in a notebook and then start filling in the blanks, letting the story happen—I'm always in awe of the creative process.
Writing a novel is not for the faint of heart, it’s a given that not everyone is going to be receptive to what I’ve done, and I’m always grateful to those who are kind enough to read one of my books and tell me they enjoyed reading it. It’s a solitary process and very lonely at times, I think I enjoy editing my books almost as much as writing them, the fine-tuning process can take a very long time, but I know when I’m done with it, I am satisfied with what I’ve done. If anything, I’ve learned that writing requires patience, practice, and persistence—and I will always read.
That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.
The books in the photo:
On the right, (read before 1999)
Mikhail Bulgakov, the Master and Margarita
Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
E. M. Forster, The Celestial Omnibus
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Joyce Carol Oates, Wonderland
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
On the left, (read after 1999)
Virginia Woolf, Night and Day
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa and Shadows in the Grass
Cristina Garcia, Dreaming in Cuban
Paula Fox, Desperate Characters
Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Gustaf Sobin, The Fly-Truffler
Joyce Carol Oates, Bellefleur
The two book ends are Porius: A Romance of the Dark Ages by John Cowper Powys and The Voice of England by Charles Grosvenor Osgood.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Yes, it's been one year since the little monster came to live with us...he's a much better kitty now than he was back then...
|The "little thug"|
|Looking out the window|
|Getting some fresh air|
|String and crinkly paper...a perfectly pleased kitty|
|Not everyone can say they have a little monster in their bathroom sink...|
|He has learned to love lap time...|
|He might be plotting to take over the world...or just contemplating his next move in Star Craft...whatever it is, the little wheels are turning in that little kitty head...|
|One year later....|
His tail is always twitchy so that is at times a false positive...or false negative...or...who knows what the fuck it means, he's unpredictable.
It makes me sad to think that someone abused him to make him the way he is...we've been patient with him, we have loved him, kept him safe, have made him fat, and spoil him rotten with lots of toys and attention...he lives in the bathroom, so he's always going to have visitors. I feel bad that he doesn't get along with the other cats (yet.) We're working on it. We transfer him to our library and to the living room alternately so he has lap time with people and there are doors with windows through which he can glare at the other cats and stick his paws out at them...and they can stare at him without fear of him jumping on their backs and coming away with a mouthful of fur...
Other people gave up on him...which is how he wound up hiding underneath our porch one year ago during a bitter cold spell in March. Hungry, cold, scared, his ear clipped by a TNR group and the fur growing back on his backside where he had recently been neutered. Cut loose to work it out on his own because he was unwanted...
I feel good that we have adopted him into our family...which means, we have saved his life.
He's a little monster, our little Monster... yes, his name is The Little Monster...or Monster for short.
Saturday, March 1, 2014
I came to this book via my Fred, who is taking a class in which this book happens to be on the textbook list—he passed it on to me when he finished it. From the first paragraph, I loved it—let me tell you what I discovered during my journey to there and back again. This is a book to be read with a light heart and with no set parameters—the delightful wordplay and singsong rhythm of the prose made me laugh a good deal. It reminded me of Dr. Seuss stories so much that in my mind I was able to construct a fantastical landscape, populate it with the wonderful creatures and people described, brightly colored as traditional Indian Folk Art (just Google Mithila Painting to see what I mean.) It is a story about storytelling. It is a fairy tale in the tradition of all fairy tales, an allegory full of the tallest of stories that hit home so true—ideas, freedom, the importance of storytelling and imagination. As it was written during the time Rushdie spent in hiding, it is a very revealing narrative about freedom of expression. A father losing his ability to tell stories due to upsetting personal circumstances and because of this temporary lapse in his ability and desire to do so, someone official decided to turn off his “subscription” to the Story Water supply from the Great Story Sea—my goodness, that’s worse than writer’s block.
What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?
This peculiar question is raised by an outside character of dubious intentions and is the initial cause of this situation for the storyteller. It’s always odd when I run up against someone who thinks that way—it makes my heart hurt because that’s a person who is missing a valuable resource in life—imagination—the ability to suspend belief for just a little while to enjoy a story. I could never figure out why it was such a crime to ‘make up’ a story—lying to get out of trouble is a different thing entirely, telling a story for its entertainment value is completely different, but somehow it’s believed by some to be dishonest. There have been many books over the years that have caused a fuss for one reason or another, sometimes they strike a chord in people so sharply that it pisses them off to no end—some of our greatest stories are smuggled out of places where they are forbidden. The way I see it from my size 6 ½’s, that’s somethin’ special when a story causes a ruckus—oh, well, you can’t please everybody.
When writing fiction, pen to paper, from the first word onward, out there beyond the fringe of the known world is the place labeled “here, there be dragons!” It is a magical experience to make up stories—it is a gift that an author is fortunate to have, and a gift for the reader who is fortunate to receive it.
Having some knowledge of Indian mythology and culture might be to the reader’s advantage coming into this story, but it’s not a necessary requirement to read this book, it’s accessible language has an endearing quality that is as comfortable as a bedtime story for a child—magical and surreal—exotic and dream-like. It is comprised of a good many familiar elements, classic literary references to Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, One Thousand and One Nights, it also reminded me of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a little bit. Then there is a Beatles song I Am the Walrus happily tucked into the mix with the characters the Eggheads and the Walrus who are the inventors of the Processes too Complicated to Explain (P2C2E)—and of course, Dr. Seuss.
It’s loads of fun, it’s priceless and timeless, I adore it.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
What a fine encapsulation of a summer morning to read on a cold winter night — and what a fantastic little book! I had to read something short and sweet before I tackle another big book, and I’m glad I found this one! It came highly recommended by a good friend of mine, so I ordered a copy and had recently added it to the tower of TBR books on my desk—one of the towers (plural that, I do have a lot of books to read!) Anyway—
A lovely, light-hearted story from a simpler time and place — little as it is, it is still chockfull of larger themes about life, love, society, morals, the passage of time, and progress. Young Dick Dewy and his fixation on Miss Fancy Day is the centerpiece attraction (and distraction) — oy, she’s special, ain’t she? (I do love the names Hardy chooses — he really puts a good deal of thought in names and the personality of the character he’s christening.) Fancy Day lives up to her name, she’s so vain, and although she acts as if vaguely aware of her power to stop men in their tracks, she’s more enamored with her clothes and hair than with the fellows once she’s gotten their attention—she becomes so rattled it’s laughable. Fancy and Dick don’t even have to kiss to become bothered, sharing a basin to wash their hands is quite steamy for the time. “Really, I hardly know which are my own hands and which are yours, they have got so mixed up together,” (Fancy). This is as erotic as it’s going to get — so innocent in our time, but wickedly scandalous back then.
As for young Richard Dewy, “I’m afraid Dick’s a lost man.” His father says along the way. I feel bad for the poor lad who is smitten with her and root for him to win her over, but I also feared for him, I’d hate to see the poor fellow wounded by this darn damsel because of her flirty wiles and her father’s objection. (Naturally, if they went along nicely without drama, there wouldn’t be a story, right?) Looking over his shoulder, Dick notes how the married elders have become so blind to romance, as if realizing for the first time that they must’ve gone through the emotional upheaval of passion once upon a time — but to see them undemonstrative and so dreadfully practical seems to distress him — he can’t imagine himself being so dull should he marry Fancy Day. Oy, he’s such a nice bloke, a hard-working, solid sort of fellow who was a fine catch for any lass to latch onto, they’d consider themselves lucky to have him—seriously, a fellow who walks a mile out of his way in the rain just to see her for a precious few minutes is a dear thing, to be sure! (My mother knew when my Fred was carrying the big bag of kitty litter home from the grocery store that it was “serious”.) Fellows don’t do such foolish things without a good reason — or perhaps, their good reason has left them, they’re just bewildered and can’t help it — a little of both, perhaps.
But it isn’t just about these two — it’s much more than that. I laughed a lot through this book — it’s natural sense of humor winking as the elders watch and nudge one another about the youthful courtship of Fancy and Dick, reminisce, and then go about their business. I adore Hardy and his language, his beautiful descriptions of his fictional Wessex, and the undeniable lamenting of the loss of the old ways of doing things at the hands of the young as their modern ideas and instruments emerge to turn out the old-fashioned traditions of the elders. Honestly, the Mellstock Quire sounded like a fun bunch, more in line with the community than the contemporary contraption of an organ; but as things go, the elders will eventually die off and the younger may not fill in the gaps — it is how it goes.
In spite of its place in time, Under the Greenwood Tree is timely and timeless as a good bit of literature should be. At my current age of 51, I have seen a good deal of change take place and have concerns that the younger generations coming up are not going to care about preserving the things that I hold dear — my work in an art collection especially makes me keenly aware of this. Nothing makes this awareness come home more than when your parents pass on and you are left to clear out their house — especially when it’s the house you grew up in where the relics of childhood remain and the relics of relatives long dead. The old photographs are stunning, their depiction of simple pleasures and quiet existence in a small town documented — the wonders they must have witnessed, the progress that influenced their lives. I can only imagine how appalled my grandparents and parents were of changes that happened during their time, as not all progress treats everyone equal; changes that made them feel less able to keep up and feeling brushed aside as the youthful growth of society ran rough-shod over the simpler times.
Just last weekend, I acquired a mink coat that belonged to my mother; her initials are monogramed on the lining. We never saw her wear it, nor did we know the thing existed until I opened the garment bag that contained it. I’m assuming that her mother and father bought it for her, I can’t imagine my father having that kind of money to buy it — and in spite of her beauty queen ambitions as a teenager, I don’t think it was her taste. For what it is, it’s beautiful, in perfect condition, it’s as if she didn’t wear it (I haven’t found pictures of her wearing it.) These days, it’s an object so vilified for what it is — as an animal lover, I have personal objections to the process that created it. It is a relic from another time.
Time changes everything.
|Mom's mink coat, c. 1950|
|Monogram on lining|
|detail where collar meets shoulder|
Just a reminder...books are powerful.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.” Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Books can have this effect on a reader too, they get into your head and under your skin—make you itch in a pleasant way and they haunt you—yup, I’m joining the five star pile for The Goldfinch, okay? Donna Tartt has produced three novels in thirty years, which doesn’t sound like much, but damn they are BIG ONES. Books (in general) are like Dr. Who’s Tardis, small on the outside, big as the outdoors on the inside, then there are Donna Tartt’s books—OMG they are ginormous on the inside—more than just another world or a construct—holy crap, they’re big gorgeous monsters! You approach them not to conquer, but to understand, appreciate, to identify with—this is literature—a human document. To offer up my gut reaction about it—I loved The Goldfinch, plain and simple. Why do I love it? That’s not so simple, but I’ll try to explain it.
I read the first fifty pages at bedtime that first night and my eyes were as wide open as peeled onions from thinking about it long after I turned out the lights. The following nights, I took it in smaller bites to savor it—yes, I could’ve easily blasted through it, gobbled it up gone and done in no time, but I didn’t because I needed my sleep. In a way, I was glad that the book slowed down after those first fifty pages, I went with the flow and enjoyed the view. Indeed, there is so much detail and so much going on, it would be too easy to blink and miss something, but I didn’t miss a thing.
As an artist and a museum worker, I enjoyed the book on the professional level as well as the writer/reader part of me. As a reader of Russian Literature, I found the references made to Theo’s friend, Boris, reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot were appropriate in spirit (yet another multilayered psychological and philosophical study of the human condition.) I was glad that I had read The Idiot fairly recently (2008) so it was still fresh enough for me to recall it (loved it.) I’ve read reviews that compare The Goldfinch to various Dickens novels (David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and The Old Curiosity Shop.) It is, but it isn’t, more isn’t than it is—it’s Donna Tartt writing Donna Tartt, of her time and place—Dickens makes a good literary lighthouse to point to, I guess.
One potential pothole I watched for was how she handled the technology of cell phones and the Internet, because the gadgets and the access changed so much from the time she first started writing the book to its publication. She was wise enough to keep the use of these devices forgivably ambiguous enough to make it work for the span of time during Theo’s journey. (It’s a small detail, and writers do fret about these details, trust me on this.)
The Goldfinch is different from her two previous works, The Secret History and The Little Friend (If I hear one more whiner crying that it's not like The Secret History, I'll scream. Of course not! Idgit.) The Goldfinch has a personality of its own— a sibling of the other two. Like children, the first-born will be different from the second, and the third—or the last in a long line of children forming a new generation, each one different as much as they are related. They may look alike or sound alike; they are clearly from the same parents because of the color of their eyes or the curl of their hair, short or tall, blah-blah-blah. I love The Goldfinch for what it is—a long, complicated tome, intense, tragic, brutal, and heartbreaking—an unhappy tale; it’s just how things are for Theo Decker. It has an unsettling atmosphere, so finding lighter moments became restful—these were the gems of forgetfulness that arrived to make things feel “okay” and “safe” for a little while (anyone who has lost a loved one, will relate to that temporary amnesia, trust me on that too.) Yet, the nagging anxiety was always within reach, hidden in a shopping bag, or a pillowcase taped to the back of the bed, or tucked away somewhere locked. The repetitive nature of the narrative, in my mind, shed light on the mental state of Theo as he attempted to cope—obsessive and compulsive, dangerously so—the book truly had very unpleasant moments. A young man whose life was forever altered in an instant, there is no being “normal” after that sort of experience—the psychological damage is done—the kid is broken, and becomes a broken adult wearing a veneer of normality; he’s always hiding something. I admire the work, the research, the years put into it. It has everything including the kitchen sink in it—it’s well-crafted and every word accounted for—it all mattered. Tightly wound, molded, modeled, constructed—polished, polished again, and then polished some more. (The Secret History as the “first born” possesses that magical raw beauty of being the first of its kind—The Goldfinch in comparison may have been “spoiled” with too much love, but turned out just fine in spite of it—it is a work by a mature author, that’s the difference.) It is gutsy and classic—not too many write like this anymore, dang, the depth of description at times was dense—lovely. At times, I was truly amazed that it was let through at such a stunning size and as verbally extravagant as Dostoyevsky (or Dickens), yet, I could not find reason to cut it to pieces. The digressive philosophical ending at first glance felt a bit off when I waded into it, but the water was temperate, I understood it as being an epilogue, returning to the beginning—Theo looking back from a safe distance of time to review and absorb—to purge it one more time. I found it satisfying.
Books like these don’t come around often enough, I took my time with this one—treating myself to a story that I have waited a very long time to read. I was not disappointed—only that it ended, and who knows when the next one will come into being…LJWR, 2/1/2014
Monday, January 20, 2014
|My Fred with the two wee goats Tessa and Pebbles, and Elizabeth (of course.)|
|Looking for treats|
|Elizabeth had her hooves trimmed on Sunday morning|
|The farrier sez her hooves are doing very well...I'm always amazed how tiny her hooves are!|
|A nice portrait of wee Pebbles|
|The Gang of Goats and one Donkey|
This little donkey is a spot of sunshine on cold winter days...
Monday, December 16, 2013
October 20, 1999-December 16, 2013
He had a nice walk this morning, fresh snow (his favorite), and then while he took a nap, I snapped a few photos of him sleeping, such a good dog, the best of good boys. He's been slipping away from me slowly for quite some time, at the most, for two years since we suspected that he had a brain tumor. Other than this suspicion, I've watched the aging process do its thing to my old friend who has been with me since he shyly tip-toed into my yard one spring day twelve years ago, smelling like skunk and needing someone to look after him...a needy type.
His former owners no longer wanted him, they gave him away to us, saying he was an "escape artist"...well, he never ran away from us, we paid attention to him, we didn't forget about him. He was with me every day, I walked him, talked to him, worked in the garden with him nearby, photographed the wonders that I found on our one acre of the world during our walks, and he was there while I wrote my novels in their early drafts, his steady and quiet presence always there, waiting, watching my every move, always patient...he learned that the sound of my thumb drive connecting with my laptop meant that we will be going for a walk soon, so he'd jump up, ears perked and tail wagging.
|He loved the snow|
|sniffing for baby bunnies|
|Because of thunderstorms, he would hide in the bathroom, bunching up the rugs to create a bunker for hiding in...|
|Sniffing for stories|
|He made doggy snow angels...|
|He loved his cats...|
|...and they loved him...Tiggy-Pooh especially...|
|Max in the daisies...|
|He really did not like having his picture taken...|
|...and because of his being so camera shy, I have a lot of pictures of the back of his head...|
|Watching the world go by...|
|The best of good boys!|
Rest in peace old friend...