A Sunday Afternoon Essay of Sorts…

My daughter and I stopped at the gas station yesterday for some Sunday afternoon treats. As she ran in, I sat in the car idly considering the strip of shaded yard behind the white concrete building. What else do you do waiting in a gas station parking lot but look around? It was a ‘nothing’ sort of space, a narrow fenced grassy stretch spiked with dandelions, stretching their heads toward the April sun. It seemed out of place beside the  industrial asphalt, gas and air pumps; a space used only by relieved station attendants, escaping for a quick, mid shift smoke.

As I continued to stare and wonder about the oddly placed yard, it suddenly transformed, in that strange way where two realities merge into one.  I was transported to my parent’s home on Lanark street in the early 60’s, to about four years old. From the wooden steps of our back door, past the blue rigid sided pool, stretching to the wildest edges of the back fence, my brother and I were monarchs of our childhood kingdom.  The grass there was also spiked with sunny yellow faces and fluffy heads of spent dandelions, poised to send their magic seeds into the wind.  We’d pluck them by their milky stalks, gathering them into bright bouquets, presenting them to our mom. She’d accept each bouquet as a treasured gift, displaying them in kitchen glasses until we’d forgotten about them. Even then, I somehow knew that dandelions were not roses.

I don’t often consider dandelions, except to bemoan their rapid reappearance on my own freshly cut lawn. Why is a dandelion considered a weed, anyways?  Is it a lesser flower than a rose?  A dandelion is magnificent in botanical analysis. Each spiky ‘petal’ of a dandelion is a flower in and of itself, collected into a composite flower head. Upon maturity, each floret transforms into a seed pod becoming part of a blowball. Anchored by wispy filament, the seed pod is able to parachute from the blowball, ensuring colonization of itself.

The milky substance found in the stem of a dandelion is natural latex. In Germany, Continental Tires is currently cultivating dandelion latex, piloting a line a dandelion tires, set to be tested on highways.  And let’s also remember dandelion wine, and that dandelion is an ingredient in root beer (‘root’ beer as in a beverage derived from roots, who knew?) and the dandelion’s edible, medicinal and pharmacological properties.  And that’s only the beginning.  You can deepen this magic via a quick wiki search of  Taraxacum.

***

I’ve been reading220px-Pilgrim-at-Tinker-Creek Annie Dillard’s  ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek’  for months.  I’ve been equally absorbed and unable to bear any more ‘beauty tangled in rapture with violence‘ as Dillard recollects her year spent living in Virginia’s Roanocke Valley.  I can only describe Dillard’s writing  as reminiscent of a 1970’s acid trip, the kind where you stare in wonder at the previously undiscovered complexity, beauty and grisly dirtiness of the lines on the your palm of your hand. Tinker Creek explores pond slime and discarded snake skin, the luminescent segments of the back of a grasshopper, the roar of water off the slated mountains, the layers of life hidden in one square foot of soil beneath a sycamore tree,  the rush of time that comes toward us as waves and passes by us as particles. I’m boggled, enraptured then overcome. I read a chapter or so, then hide the book away in a box, attempting to contain the unleashed power of its narrative, wishing I could write  with half the drama and astonishment. But I’m not sure I could even bear to look so deeply at the world, for fear of falling forever down the rabbit hole.

***

I’ve been taking a course in academic writing this semester.  I thought at the beginning, that my general writing experience would translate easily into academic writing. I was woefully wrong. Academic writing is as different from blogging or creative writing as geometry is from free handing simple shapes. I’m out of my element, frustrated by the imposition of form, tradition, genre, lens and protocol. But I’ve been reminded as a result, of the lens from which we approach a question or topic. And how it shapes our investigations and conclusions.

My mother in law visited this weekend. At 84, she’s a still a gale force. Her lens is education, engagement and achievement; values she’s impressed upon  generations of family.  Others I’m close to view life through the evangelical lens, one they believe, encompasses all others.  As for my lens, it’s kaleidoscopic.  Arbitrary bits of inspiration and information collide into each other daily.  I can quite effortlessly weave together gas stations, childhood memories, latex tires, root beer, great books and academic writing courses in eight short paragraphs with no introduction, thesis, supporting evidence or conclusion. This is a rather under appreciated skill, especially in my writing class. 

Let me leave you with a link to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I suppose is the point of this ramble anyways.  If you find something noteworthy in the text, let me know. Perhaps we can discover some dandelions together.

Well hello again,

It’s been a while.  Been busy with a paper on the Goddess Venus, a bit of Spring sprucing and looking ahead to summer.  I have a full summer planned with a Creative Non-fiction Writing class, (travel! memoirs! personal essays!) a Children’s Literature class (Peter Pan! Anne of Green Gables! The Railway Children!) and either an Anthro or Community Arts project class.  Maybe take a real or imaginary journey or two once Spring really settles in. Isn’t Spring just lovely?

…Came the Spring with all its splendor,
All its birds and all its blossoms,
All its flowers and leaves and grasses…

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Pop over and read all of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha.  It’s lovely too.

came the spring

Photo Credits:  eiramis.tumblr.com

Oh January,

…with your wan light and heavy skies.  I’m thinking of making some potato salad and grilled hot dogs today just to mock you.  I’m done with the broken eave outside my bedroom window spilling its contents onto the cold concrete below like a westernized version of Chinese water torture. And with trying to warm my soul on hearty root vegetables and chai tea.  My pink and black hooded leopard print rain coat, the one that seemed so cheerfully suited to west coast winters, now hits me like a visual assault. Where are my flip flops?  Where is the sun? Where are the robins? Whence cometh Spring?! Continue reading “Oh January,”

The Sounds of Silence…

“Not speaking and speaking are both human ways of being in the world, and there are kinds and grades of each. There is the dumb silence of slumber or apathy; the sober silence that goes with a solemn animal face; the fertile silence of awareness, pasturing the soul, whence emerge new thoughts; the alive silence of alert perception, ready to say, “This… this…”; the musical silence that accompanies absorbed activity; the silence of listening to another speak, catching the drift and helping him be clear; the noisy silence of resentment and self-recrimination, loud and subvocal speech but sullen to say it; baffled silence; the silence of peaceful accord with other persons or communion with the cosmos.”

Paul Goodman on The Nine Kinds of Silence via BrainPickings

Such poetic loveliness.

Book Love…

The four textbooks for my online European History course arrived early Friday morning.  I was sitting around in my blue fleece polar bear pajama pants, drinking coffee when the doorbell rang. Besides the fact that my mom and uncle used to hit the floor and hide when unexpected guests arrived on their driveway, I can’t really explain the adverse reaction the doorbell causes in our house.  My fully dressed son looked out the window and seeing the Canada Post truck, ran for the hills. “C’mon Ben!  I’m in my pajama pants!” I pleaded. “Just answer the door!”  I heard the lock on his bedroom door click.  I’m recounting the experience as therapy today. Thank you for listening.

books
The books were taking over the shop, climbing walls, settling into crevice and cranny, as if they were alive.

What is the enchantment of new (and of course, old) books? I already own more books than I may ever read, and yet can barely resist the lure of Amazon, the book aisle in Superstore, local bookstores or other people’s libraries.  One of the most exciting things about my European History course is its four textbooks.  Four!  Good books become objects of meaning. They mark the history of our personal growth, becoming trophies of new knowledge and insight.  I like to keep my books in full view, as visible road maps not only of where I’ve been, but where I’m going.  They spill from bookcases, sitting in piles on table and floor, reminding me of who I am.

swerveLast summer I was introduced Stephen Greenblatt’s, Pulitzer prize winning book,  The Swerve.  Greenblatt, a professor of Humanities at Harvard,  tells the tale of Poggio Bracciolini, a 14th century Italian scholar who went on a treasure hunt for lost manuscripts in French, Swiss and German monastic libraries. Through good timing and good fortune, Poggio eventually found an important manuscript, the De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). This first century  BC poem, is written by Lucretius, explaining Epicurean philosophy to a Roman audience.  Seen as the most dangerous of ideas, the poem suggests that the universe functions without the aid of god(s), and that religious fear is damaging to human life.  In richly poetic language, it also explores Epicurean atomic physics and questions of the mind, soul and thought.  Greenblatt’s thesis in The Swerve is that the rediscovery of this manuscript shaped the thinking of the early Renaissance.  He argues that this swerve in thought also influenced Galileo, Freud, Darwin and Einstein, eventually leaving its trace on the Declaration of Independence.

I found The Swerve a sparkling read. Some scholars and critics didn’t agree with me though. Some thought that Greenblatt was molding history to fit his personal ends (as if that was something new), criticizing his portrayal of the Renaissance as ‘an outburst of light after a long medieval darkness.’ Others saw it as an anti religious polemic, reacting with swift indignation, even suggesting Greenblatt’s award be rescinded. But the general public mostly received The Swerve as a brilliant work of non-fiction.

As for me, I swept up in the book hunter’s pursuit of ancient manuscripts in dusty monasteries and scriptoriums. Equally so in the tales of Herculaneum libraries by the sea, papyrus rolls and the academia of ancient Greece.  I was inspired to follow-up with Greek, Renaissance and Medieval art history courses, and this summer’s European history course.  I’m sure over time, I’ll reach my own educated conclusions on “How the World Became Modern” but I’m grateful for the introduction to some very compelling ideas.  If you happen to be interested,  History of Medieval and Renaissance Italy professor William Caferro offers the most balanced review of The Swerve I’ve come across.

book urnHistory needs storytellers, weavers of words that spark our imagination and interest. Otherwise some of us would never stick our big toe in its luminous waters and what a shame that would be.  Maybe one day I’ll become so learned and crotchety and stickler-ish that I’ll be offended by The Swerve too.  But I’ll probably keep it, it’s settled in amongst the library of art and history books in the roman garden urn in my living room.  And  besides, you know what they say about a truly great library…

truly great

Good Morning!

coffeeSo here it is 4:57 am.  My circadian system got all excited with the light of dawn and the convention of robins outside my window sealed the deal. Early morning is my favourite time of day.  I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of the warmth and energy I find in that first gulp of coffee everyday.  Hello old friend.

I took a creative writing class last semester.  One of our assignments was poetry package, including a haiku.  You might remember from grade school that haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of three  stanzas arranged in syllables of 5, 7, 5. (I had to look that up, it’s been a long time.) Traditional haiku usually takes nature as its subject, but I rather prefer coffee.

Mid morning coffee

Percolating today’s plots

With cream and sugar.

‘Good one!’ my East Indian prof teaching an English class on Japanese poetry commented.  That encouraged me so much, I wrote him another one.

Spring! Spring! Spring! Spring! Spring!

Oh, would my five word exclaim

Extend your brief stay!

Unfortunately, my five word exclaim didn’t extend Spring’s brief stay.  Summer rushed in like a 300 pound line backer and crushed the poor thing. I love the idea of summer, but I’m just not a summer girl anymore. (Flip flops & dairy queen, however…) I think by the time we’re 55, we all deserve an indoor cooling system. And a pool. And a really good garden hose.  I have 2 of the 3.  But let me tell you about the garden hose.

I know it’s a bit peculiar to get so frothy about a garden hose, but my brother introduced me to the X hose a couple of years ago and we became fast friends.  What’s not to love about the world’s first and only expanding hose?!  Compact, lightweight, never kinks or tangles.  Just watch this clip, seriously.  You’ll thank my brother.

I went out with my x hose last night, as I do every evening, in the cool, dusky light.  I turned the nozzle to mist, and gave all my flowers a long, cool drink.  As I stood there watching the mist make little rainbows above the hydrangeas and roses, I let the mist fall all over me as well. This  reminded me of a story in Anne Lamott’s awesome book on writing, Bird by Bird.  

When Anne was a kid of about 8, she was in the kitchen with her aunt and cousins on a hot summer day. Her aunt and uncle had just divorced and the aunt was sad, worried and wounded, and had done a little retail therapy.  She’d bought an extravagant lemonade making contraption, with a special squeezer and holding tank on top. Anne writes,

“Of course it goes without saying that to make lemonade, all you need is a pitcher, a lemon juice squeezer, ice cubes, water, lemon and sugar.  That’s all.  Oh, and a long spoon.  But my aunt was a little depressed and this lemonade making thing must have seemed like something that would be fun, and would maybe hydrate her life a little, filling her desiccated spirit with nice, cool, sweet lemonade.”

Now it may not be a lemonade maker that hydrates your life, but I’m sure there’s something.  This summer, I’m hydrating with an online course on European history, a couple short family trips, a lot of good books, a little writing, coffee (hot in the morning, iced in the afternoon) and my x hose.

How will be you hydrating your life this summer?

Word Crimes…

your shitSo, I’m taking an online creative writing course this semester.  I’m pretty sure it’s not proper english to introduce a topic with so, but so it goes. I’ve been reminded that there are alot of a great many academic writing rules that I don’t know, or have forgotten. Like not starting a sentence with like, or with a conjunctive adverb, like unfortunately.  Unfortunately, I quite like starting sentences with unfortunately. Having all this pointed out recently has been bit of a blow.  The kind of blow that makes me want to gulp back a shot of Sambuca or buy a new pair of shoes.  You know, deal with things head on.

My prof is an East Indian man with a strong accent. You might wonder how I know this, given that this is an online course.  Before registering, I thoroughly perused Rate My Prof and read it in the student comments.  Something about this intrigued me, conjuring up exotic tales of The Little Princess or The Hundred Foot Journey.  Imagining critique spoken in lyrical lilt softens it a little.  Seriously, try it.

This morning I also found some consolation in my facebook feed.  My facebook feed is like a personally designed daily newspaper.  I get selected updates on my fave topics; psychology, art, science, history, design and now writing.  It’s helpful hearing other people’s writing experiences.  The Guardian has a great article today on Ten Rules for Writing Fiction.  I especially liked Michael Morpurgo’s rules, mostly because he said this:

‘With all editing, no matter how sensitive, I react sulkily at first, but then I settle down and get on with it, and a year later I have my book in my hand.”

Hear.  Hear.  On a final note,  check out Weird Al’s Yankovic’s Word Crimes.  Smart and funny.  (note: that last sentence is missing a subject.)