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.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

It was a morning of the latter summer-time; a morning of lingering dews, when the grass is never dry in the shade. Fuchsias and dahlias were laden till eleven o’clock with small drops and dashes of water, changing the colour of their sparkle at every movement of the air; and elsewhere hanging on twigs like small silver fruit. The treads of garden spiders appeared thick and polished—from page 91.

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

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“—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