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.

*Copyright notice* All photos, writing, and artwork are mine (
© Laura J. Wellner), unless otherwise noted, please be a peach, if you'd like to use my work for a project or you just love it and must have it, message me and we'll work out the details...it's simple...JUST ASK, please.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My thoughts after reading "Waiting for the Barbarians" by J. M. Coetzee

The Barbarians are us—how many times do the people with power go out to the wilderness and feel compelled to conquer and dominate—and then dare to torture and humiliate innocent people—and then—only then—when it happens to them (justly deserved, what goes around comes around, baby), they are appalled by the cruelty that humans are capable of when unchecked—the rule of law and justice ignored.

Waiting for the Barbarians is a simple story—yet with incredible depth that will shake you to your core—you’d have to be heartless not to be moved. I flinched a great deal—immersed in sadness—the writing is gorgeous—there is beauty in ugliness when it’s done right.  The Magistrate of an outpost of an unnamed land that is part of the simply named Empire, the world is obviously described by its landscape—the oasis, the desert, the lake, the reeds, the mountains—the people mostly unnamed, the girl, the child, the grandson of the cook—of course the cook, only Colonel Joll, an official from the Third Bureau of the Civil Guard from the Capital, is named. He’s the bad guy you see—made bad ass because his main feature happens to be the sunglasses he wears—the obstructed view into his eyes makes him unnerving and the reference to how these new inventions prevent wrinkles around the eyes. He’s arrogant and vain, never a good sign. The main character, referred to only as the Magistrate, is an elder, he knows the people, the town, this land, he has an interest in culture and artifacts found in the ruins, and he has an understanding of the aboriginals and the nomadic “barbarians” that no one from the Capital could possibly comprehend as they do not share in the experience. The Magistrate soon finds himself a victim of his knowledge, of his experience, of his interests, and of his serenity. He is accused of disloyalty—treason. The human spirit can be broken and the body abused beyond recognition, yet life goes on in spite of pain, in spite of horrors that no human should have to ever endure.

It seemed troubling to me to be reading this book while the world we live in is currently so full of unrest, Ukraine, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, our border with Mexico is a landscape of human struggle, and within our own United States—an Empire in its own right with far reaching influence all over the world—there is unrest in a Missouri community called Ferguson in which a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager one summer night—initially because he was walking in the middle of the street, drawing attention to himself—a senseless death. No matter what he had allegedly done before or during the incident that wound up taking his life, Michael Brown did not deserve to die like that—not like that. No one does. 

The Barbarians are us—humans consciously do harm to another human being if they feel it is just—justice. Justice is blind—and sometimes, she looks the other way when she catches a glimpse from under the blindfold—the rule of law manipulated by those in power. It’s terrifying because the power can shift and suddenly the good guys are bad guys and the ones formerly known as bad guys are the good guys, and suddenly, life is not so simple. The Barbarians are at the gate—it depends on who you are, who the “barbarians” are in your eyes—in your mind.

First I get lies, you see—this is what happens—first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truthPain is truth; all else is subject to doubt…The Empire does not require that its servants love each other, merely that they perform their duty. P. 6

I am a country magistrate, a responsible official in the service of the Empire, serving out my days on this lazy frontier, waiting to retire…When I pass away I hope to merit three lines of small print in the Imperial gazette. I have not asked for more than a quiet life in quiet times. P. 9

The space about us here is merely space, no meaner or grander than the space above the shacks and tenements and temples and offices of the capital. Space is space, life is life, everywhere the same. P. 18

I know somewhat too much; and from this knowledge, once one has been infected, there seems to be no recovering. I ought never to have taken my lantern to see what was going on in the hut by the granary. On the other hand, there was no way, once I had picked up the lantern, for me to put it down again. The knot loops in upon itself; I cannot find the end. P. 23

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My thoughts about "Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities is full of a poetic sense of place—presented as Marco Polo’s detailed accounts about cities in Kublai Kahn’s crumbling empire—I see them as I read them, each chapter contains truths gleaned from the observations of the human experience. It is a book of layers—intricate, sedimentary points of view—cities constructed of the ephemeral and ethereal –cities and memory, cities and desire, and signs, and names—thin cities, trading cities, continuous cities, hidden cities—cities and eyes, cities and the sky, cities and the dead—lyrical and imaginative. Each peopled with the living and dead, rich and poor, happy or sad, and each person experiences life based on what they have going on within their own skin. The details are extraordinary and lovely—even the ugly is tenderly described, there can be beauty in ugliness if you tell it right. 

John Gardner called Calvino a Fabulist—one of the best—I have to agree, he knew how to tell a good story or depending on the way you look at it—a darn good lie. Kublai Kahn called out Marco Polo at one point none too happy about being fed bullshit—Marco Polo calmly and ever so politely told him to shut the fuck up and listen—or not. He didn’t have to tell him anything, he could go anywhere to tell his stories, so the Great Khan let him continue as they mused together about their own existence and perused maps of the world as they knew it—or not. (Yes, it can make your head hurt thinking about it.)

Goodness knows many stories are truths fed through veins full of the blood of lies. Calvino trespasses beyond the conventional telling of a story, running headlong into meadows and streets of metaphysical experiences—the uncertainty of existence, the limitations of reality do make it seem pointless at times, yet the whimsy of exploring outside the usual parameters and delving into the imagination is a beautiful thing if you can grasp it—hold on tight—you are now a mental traveler, step off the sidewalk, walk in the grass—enjoy the view, it is profound standing on the cliff edge of the things you never seen before—or thought. The intensity of Calvino’s writing is for dreamers who are awake—more awake than others—sometimes too much knowledge paralyzes our natural innocence—even as I read, I heard voices of naysayers squawking , “No, that’s not how it is—where it is—what it is—where are you going with this? Come on, man, knock me over the head with the truth of what was…” Sometimes reading a good book is about trust. I have learned to step into a Calvino book as if ignorant of everything, and simply believed—there is more joy this way.  A good writer is a master of telling yarns. A yarn—I always loved that term—imagining that a story is a big ball of yarn, twisted and pulled, some layers tight, some loose, overlapping every which way, burying the beginning, but the end is loose and likely to come unraveled if not tucked in neatly or already attached to the knitting needle—taking shape. A ball of yarn—a novel in the making. 

…Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is a wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.—Page 8

It is the mood of the beholder which gives the city of Zemrude its form. If you go by whistling, your nose a-tilt behind the whistle, you will know it from below: window sills, flapping curtains, fountains. If you walk along hanging your head, your nails dug into the palms of your hands, your gaze will be held on the ground, in the gutters, the manhole covers, the fish scales, wastepaper. You cannot say that one aspect of the city is truer than the other...—Page 66

In Raissa, life is not happy. People wring their hands as they walk in the streets, curse the crying children, lean on the railings over the river and press their fists to their temples…Inside the houses it is worse, and you do not have to enter to learn this: in the summer the windows resound with quarrels and broken dishes…And yet, in Raissa, at every moment there is a child in a window who laughs seeing a dog that has jumped on a shed to bite into a piece of polenta dropped by a stonemason who has shouted from the top of the scaffolding, “Darling, let me dip into it,” to a young serving maid…Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence. –these four pieces are smatterings from pages 148-149.

In Beersheba’s beliefs there is an element of truth and one of error. It is true that the city is accompanied by two projections of itself, one celestial and one infernal; but the citizens are mistaken about their consistency…This is the celestial city, and in its heavens long-tailed comets fly past, released to rotate in space from the only free and happy action of the citizens of Beersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy.—these two pieces are from pages 112-113
From my words you will have reached the conclusion that the real Berenice is a temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust. But what I wanted to warn you about is something else: all the future Berenices are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.—Page 163

I could fiddle around all day with more quotes gleened from dog-eared pages, but I will stop here—I highly recommend this book and Calvino’s other works just because they are good for you—for us to read and enjoy them for what they are—he has left this world behind, but he left us with these beautiful treasures. What a gift he was given, and what a gift he gave to us.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

My thoughts about "Bone" by Fae Myenne Ng

We were a family of three girls. By Chinese standards, that wasn’t lucky. In Chinatown, everyone knew our story. Outsiders jerked their chins, looked at us, shook their heads. We heard things. (p. 1)

Ona, the middle daughter, jumped off the Nam. Leila, her older sister, journeys backwards in her memory about what happened in Salmon Alley, trying to grasp the why—how come? The story is told in a manner that is like a non-linear slide through time, reading the past through Lei’s recollections—or perhaps, the book is in order if it is read starting with the last chapter, I only think of this because Chinese is read back to front/ right to left, if this was intentional, it is an provocative element for telling the story. Either way—it is unsettling to arrive at the beginning of the next chapter and realize it isn’t the continuation of the one previous (which some readers have complained that it’s annoying—I’m flexible as a reader so I’m not likely to get too ruffled over such things, I caught on quick that it is meant to be so.) This is how I experienced the book—life is befuddling—we muddle through, some of us do a little better than others, but not everyone leaves this world unscathed—not everyone has the coping skills to handle most of the shit that life slings at us, much of our time is spent dwelling on what happened to get us to HERE, the present. The past is our bones, our foundation—for good or bad. Our minds wander and trip through memories of a bunch of shit we cannot change—we live with it and move on to the new version of normal.

To have a sister (or daughter) commit suicide is an unthinkable loss—that has to be one of the harshest losses for a family to endure. For the loved ones, there is no answer why, not really. For Ona to suddenly make the choice to end her life—there was no time to think about how taking her life will affect those left behind—chances are, if she did think of it, she wouldn’t have jumped. Who knows how many times she was on the edge before she finally stepped off. No one knew, no one had a clue, no one expected it. She’s gone and all that’s left are questions. The whole family struggles with explanation and understanding—they are two distinct constructs of comprehension—one is a revelation, the other a perception—the explanation would be painful if Ona herself documented her reasons in a note—something concrete that could be pointed to THERE, the reason, but there is no explanation. The understanding—this is a sympathetic discovery that each of them must face on their own terms as individuals. The family is left with tatters of old world superstitions such as the bones of Leon’s “paper father” that have not been put to rest in China as promised or it is a punishment for Mah’s infidelity. Family strife/ family love—families travel on journeys both pleasant and unpleasant—it is part of the human experience.

Here’s another bone for the gossipmongers…(p. 1)

I must note here, the symbolic meaning of bones—mortality (of course) and then there are our skeletons in the closet—but it is truth as in the truest part of ourselves that are lasting, our bones will last long after our flesh is gone. Our bones are the memories that we leave behind.

“To bones.”
“Bones,” I repeated. This was a funny that got sad, and knowing it, I kept laughing…
(page 30)

“Bones are sweeter than you know,” she [Mah] always said…”Clean bones…no waste.” (pages 31)

Bone is spare—concise language, it is sad and sweet, it’s beautiful.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The F-Bomb

Yup, this is my little book…independently published in 2009, Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story is an interesting girl… Occasionally I will “channel” my character, Dusty Waters, the guitar slinging folksinger born in the  bookend years of the Boomer Generation…so last night, I wrote a poe-em in the vein of her righteous indignation…I call it The F-Bomb and it goes like this:

Bitch—and I call you "Bitch" with affection, ya dig?
Let me tell you this—this bit of wisdom—
when you reach fifty-two years old
you will have seen, heard, and experienced enough
things to make you drop an F-bomb before 9AM,
maybe earlier than that, depending on what it is. I swear,
ever since Watergate, I can spit nails, and I was just
a youngin’ then—so imagine what I must spit now since
9/11, right? Don’t get me started on that noise—I swear
my head can just about pop off my body sometimes—I’m
sorry to say, it hasn’t gotten better. I’m sorry for you cuz
shit is fucked up and stuff, so by the time you’re
fifty-two years old, I can’t imagine—I’ll be long gone by then,
moved on to my next thing—while you are stuck here with the
mess of life, such as it is. Let me warn you, you are more vulnerable
as you get older—it isn’t just age or illness that takes you out,
it’s the young who unwittingly come in and take from you
everything you’ve worked so hard for all your adult life—
twenty-five or thirty years of experience—service—
easily undermined by someone so new they squeak when
you run your finger down ‘em—not that I’m complaining or anything,
Bitch—I’ll tell you now, I’d rather die with my boots on than sitting
behind a desk being a ‘point n’ click’ despot with nothing
better to do than shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes,
crinkle up their nose, make excuses, and become argumentative
when they can’t answer a fucking question. My question.
Fuck it anyway—it’s not important. I’ve worked hard all my life—
I have kicked ass as a one-woman army—and I have lived a good one
in spite of the downs that can outnumber the ups on any given day.
Life is precarious enough, so, fuck people like that—they are negligible
debris in the grand scheme of things. Seriously. It doesn’t matter.
Don’t dwell on the negative—grab onto the positive and hold on tight.
In my fifty-two years, I’ve known that what matters is
my corner of the world, my family, and my home are my wealth.
Bitch, I do hope you can have a place to call home—
a patch of the world of your own—your own mind.
Know thyself—as they say—ya dig?
From one bitch to another, be good to yourself.
Be strong. Be yourself. Love and love hard—yourself,
your family, your home. Be at peace.
Drop an F-bomb as needed so your head
doesn’t pop off your body—trust me on this—no one will
show up to wash your mouth out with soap.