Living in Frames, by meshing the lyrical moments of life with the captured images of experience. This is a reverie, a journey, the fork in the road, and the never-ending story....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Anticipating the Next Step

Dear Readers,

In three weeks, I will be taking part in a 10-day residency, as part of my MFA. The residency is designed as a writers' retreat, where 10-12 hours a day is spent workshopping, writing, editing, revising, reading, and listening to guest speakers. Just the other day, I received an itinerary for the program, and literally my every 15 minutes, from the time I wake up to the time I rest my head, is accounted for. It's kind of like a boot camp for writers.

As I leaf through the time tables, I find myself excited, but also filled with a bit of nervous-anxiousness. It has dawned on me that never in my life have I been allowed the opportunity to focus completely on my passion for writing, for any amount of an extended period. My writing and my focus have always been interrupted for one reason or another (mostly due to having to go to a "real job", where I actually make money), and I have learned to accept the disjointed schedule it has created for me. But in the last week of July, I will be appreciating the life of a monk; with a generous amount of time for me to honor my own path to enlightenment, as I meditate on the written word for those ten days.

In the weeks to come, I will be preparing for the residency; adding to and revising my manuscript, putting together a portfolio of some of my other writing (short stories, essays, and poetry), and reading up on the works of Francine Prose (the guest writer in attendance). I've just begun her book Reading Like a Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them, and I am still waiting for Lives of Muses: Nine Women & the Artists They Inspired, to arrive.

I had a little moment of serendipity when I was reading the synopsis of Lives of Muses, because apparently in this book Prose profiles the relationship of Marie Rainer Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salome. I felt a flutter in my heart and an instant connection to Prose, for the work of Rilke has been a huge inspiration for me. And if it was an inspiration to her as well, then we have been brought together under a shared commonality, and it will be a much more rewarding experience to workshop with her and learn from her.

Prose makes an honest statement in Reading Like a Writer, that shows that she is down-to-earth and also has a appreciation for other writers, which I find important when selecting a mentor to learn from :

"Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies. The only remedy to this I have found is to read a writer whose work is entirely different from another, though not nescessarily more like your own- a difference that will remind you of how many rooms there are in the house of art."

There is a lot to look forward to in the near future and the distant future, and I am embracing all of it. This experience, earning my MFA, will be life-changing and the outcome, unpredictable. But it is my hope, after two solid years of finding my voice, it will be worthy enough to share with the public; published and bound.

The great thing about sharing these steps, here on this blog, is that this is a first-hand account, of the growth and changes that occur when someone discovers a path and decides to follow it. And though I do not expect fame nor wealth in this pursuit, success to me, is touching another with my art and giving them inspiration of their own. Nothing is more rewarding, than sharing all one has acquird along the way, with a perspective that is unique and unduplicating.

So, wish me luck on this journey and I promise to keep up with the postcards!

With much thought and sincerity,

Sarah

Friday, June 12, 2009

Hello, My Name is________I am a________

Labels. Where do I begin? We label everything around us, to acknowledge and understand, and to describe to others what we are experiencing.

We are given a label at birth; our name. Yet we share this name with millions of others that are so unlike us, it's sometimes hard to imagine this label is supposed to encompass all that we are and all that we should be. Have you ever gotten the remark? :

"You don't look like a ________"
Or, "I once knew a _______ . You are nothing like them."

When you look in a mirror and your reflection stares back at you, it's not your name that crosses your mind, it's everything else; your age, your flaws, your insecurities, your achievements, your personality, your happiness, your pain.

Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard had exclaimed,
"Once you label me, you negate me!" Probably frustrated by the limits placed on him, by others. For once a label is given, it's difficult to see beyond that label, true individuality and identity. And this is probably why Ben Shahn professed, "I believe if we left it to artists to choose their own labels, most would choose none."

Labels are limiting (I talk more about this in the blog Are You an Artist?). I am in a constant battle over labels, in my writing. Because words are simply the names of things, I find that sometimes the vocabulary just doesn't exist to describe everything I experience or want to convey.

For example, two months ago I set out to begin a manuscript, in hopes to complete a novel in the years to come. When I began the manuscript, I did not say,
"I am going to write about this______ ", and then write everything I knew about that subject- matter, in the language I already possessed.

Instead, I just started writing about the things that had meaning in my life, in a way that was natural to me. A Juxtaposed, scrabbled, and arcane story emerged. It was a patchwork of memories, conversations, letters, and poems from my own life, breathed into the names of two fictional characters.

When people ask me what my book is about, my response is not a synopsis of the story, but the casual remark of, "It's about life." The label I have given my own creative endeavor, in my mind, leaves nothing out and everything up to the imagination. Because as soon as I say, "It's about love, passion, pain, discovery..." I just left out all the other indescribeable and simple things, that exist and make people tick. I have then also confined my creativity to a linear storyline, where A meets B. And does not allow for the possibility that the story can change, as well as the characters within in it.

A sculpture before it has form, is just clay with endless possibilities. So, why can not the written word be the same?

Wallace Stevens, wrote beautiful verse called "The Man with the Blue Guitar", after being inspired by Picasso's painting, "Blue Guitarist". Here Stevens breaths his own meaning, into the likeness of a musician.
Photobucket
THE MAN WITH THE BLUE GUITAR (excerpts)
I

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

II

I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.

I sing a hero's head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,

Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.

If I serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,

Say it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.


RECOMMENDATION: The book, "The Blue Guitar: Etchings by David Hockney Who Was Inspired by Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired by Pablo Picasso"

Photobucket

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Love Letter to Reading

Dear Readers,

I have been surprised lately, by my new-found determination to finish every book I begin. Through my college years I had gotten into a very nasty habit of starting books sporadically, and then if by 40 pages in I wasn't intrigued, I was on to my next interest. Resulting in a book shelf of half-read works that I now cringe to look at, knowing of the pathetic excuses I had used (i.e. too dry, too self-indulgent, too boring).

I knew people in school who read, word-for-word, all assigned reading. I however could not bring myself to do it. I was a "skimmer"; I would scan the literature looking for key words and lines, getting the gist, but never digesting a piece in its entirety. As a result, I probably missed out on some great writing, that I hope someday I can go back and give another chance to. Until then, my bookshelf continues to mock me every time I pass by.

If you can get your hands on the article, "In Defense of Distraction" by Sam Anderson (New York Magazine, May 25, 2009), he makes the argument that this has become part of the culture and less about the writing itself. I agree that as a culture we are all a little attention-deprived (and a little over-medicated for it), but I also believe we can blame the writing a bit too.

Many people choose their reading mostly, based on an entertainment factor. They do not choose writing that both challenges them and keeps them riveted. It's usually one or the other; it's challenging or entertaining. It's the difference between the mass-market writings of John Grisham, James Patterson, and Jennifer Weiner and the novels of Ayn Rand, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. These are all great writers, they just write to appeal to two different types of readers. And it's very difficult to find writers that write for the people, who want something in between.

Selection is important. If I start a book with an obvious or repetitive storyline, basic language, and ridiculous characters, you better believe I won't get through two chapters, before I think it is a complete waste of my time. On the other end, if I pick up a book that is full of facts, dates, and reference, and I have to look up every other word just to figure out what the author is saying, I will probably only pick that book up again, to dust it. The holy grail of writing for me, is something that gives me a well-designed plot and storyline, well-contrived characters, a little wit and poetic articulation, and a philosophy that challenges my beliefs or every-day thinking.

The book that really changed my bad habits, back to the earlier mentality of my youth, when I would read feverishly from cover to cover, was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez. I had been stranded in an airport in Philadelphia for a good 3 hours and I had picked up this book in a newstand to keep myself occupied during the layover. I was so absorbed in the book, I almost missed my boarding call. I continued the book on the plane and by the next day, I was finished with it. The writing was so beautiful and passionate, and it made me fall in love with reading all over again. I then moved on to the works of Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Identity.

I eagerly began taking recommendations from friends and family who also enjoyed reading, writing them down in what I call "My Book of Lists" (which is literally just that, lists of everything that intrigues me and fuels my creativity). My "Book List" has grown so much in the last year (and still adding), that it will probably take me a good five years to get through it, if ever.

Recently, I decided that I wanted to have three books going at a time: A fiction work, a non-fiction work, and a writing guide. That way there would always be a variety and I would have no excuse not to be always reading. I swore to myself that as I finished each book, I would substitute a new work in the same genre, so it was a constant rotation.

For example, when I finish the Fountainhead (if that ever happens), I would like to start another piece of fiction, perhaps a novel by Wally Lamb (or one of the many recommendations I have received from friends and family). In this rotation, I also make sure that one book is going to be challenging me, one is teaching me, and one is entertaining me. This way, all parts of my brain are statisfied (again, no reason for excuses).

Just last night, I was asked by a coworker who had started some nature literature, if it was typical to struggle through a book loaded with facts, dates, and commentary? He said he had started the book at nine at night and not even a few pages through, he was lost. And it made his eagerness to continue his new book, wane. My advice to him was: Don't read your "challenging" books before bedtime. Your brain is tired from the day and wants to unwind, not go into overdrive.

Timing is everything. I have found in my own experience, that I begin my day with light reading (daily/weekly/monthly publications i.e. NY Times, NY mag, Food & Wine, BBC.com, etc.) Then mid-day, when I can take a break from work and errands (usually around lunchtime), that's when I pick up the "challengers". My brain is wide awake, well-fed, with a little adrenaline pick-up from work. And I find that sometimes after that hour of a little tougher reading, it really opens my mind up for the rest of the day. I finish the day, with a light, entertaining novel.

Of course, everyone is a little different when it comes to reading habits. But it seems like, more and more often, I am coming across adults who just do not enjoy reading. And when they tell me this, it's just so difficult for me to comprehend, I find myself asking them "why" out of curiousity. Ninety-percent of the time, it is because they didn't enjoy reading as a kid and therefore never gave it a chance again. The other ten-percent, it's a matter of selection and time; they can't find reading they enjoy or they have better things to do with their time. This worries me on another level too, other than my fear for an illiterate society.

I want to enter the field of publishing as a writer, a teacher, and critic. But with a decline in audience and market, we are finding the publishing world suffering like they never have before. Newspapers and magazines are going under, publishing houses are becoming more selective in genre (they only want what sells), and aspiring- writers just can not live the creative, avant-garde lifestyle they had imagined, without worrying about their financial future and working another job. It's a trickle-down effect. And if it continues on this path, we are going to have nothing to read, but advertising.

So, my advice. Fall in love with reading all over again. Learn what you want and need out of this relationship, between you and the written word. Discover what fuels your imagination and stokes your passion, and read, read, read. And pass this love on. Recommend that book or article. Read to your children. Get a library card! (If one thing there is a shortage of, it is library cards. It has become a prerequisite in my dating life and you would be surprised how many people that eliminates from the pool).

Until we meet here again. My words and your thoughts.

Love,

Sarah



RECOMMENDATION: For the challenge seekers,

http://www.amazon.com/MOST-DIFFICULT-BOOKS-EVER-WRITTEN/lm/R29VPS3NEIQ0AS

To fall in love all over again,

Photobucket

"In Defense of Distraction" by Sam Anderson, NY Mag 5/09 :

http://nymag.com/news/features/56793/



Friday, June 5, 2009

Revisting Parson

Last Saturday, I woke with this yearning for the smell of salt in my nose and the sand under my toes. I packed up my camera, journal, a book, and a blanket, and made my way over to the Maine Coast. I anticipated the influx of out-of-staters, that usually swell the beaches near the tri-state border (ME, NH, and MA). So, I decided to adventure a little further north that day.

I had remembered a small beach that my mother had brought me to, a couple years ago. Herself, me, and my youngest sister Molly, had been coming back from a 2-day camping trip near Rockland, when we decided to make a quick stop in Wells on our way home. This was my first time at Parson's Beach and immediately understood my mother's desire to show me this place.
 
It's an out-of-the-way strip of sand, situated between private estates and grassy wetlands. The beach itself, is actually part of a wild life preserve, and has great appeal for bird-watchers. The turn in, feels as though you are following a private drive; a one-lane, dirt way, overgrown with fat, umbrella-like trees. As you follow the road, you catch glimpses between their shaded, barrel-trucks; of lush meadows on your right and an expansive, white horse farm on your left. If you are lucky, three chocolate-colored steeds will run along side, as your car travels past.

The road opens, like a bowl filled with sage-colored grasses and glassy, pools of salt water. On a busy day, there are no more than 15 cars. Parking is limited, to keep the traffic minimal.

Everyone that comes here, seems to be instantly transported to another state of mind. It's not just me. You can see it in their eyes, when they walk past. They smile knowingly and the wind whispers, "It shouldn't be a secret. It should be shared."

Parson's beach is a quiet man with icy, blue eyes and white hair. Who wears linen and smokes a pipe. Who reads Tennyson and Frost. And who has always existed, but with a lightness in his heart.
Photobucket

I laid my blanket and set my place. I ventured over grassy knolls and wove through prickly, sea brush. I photographed and mapped the place in my mind, and by pen. I got close to the sand and stretched up, to see afar. I dipped my feet in the Atlantic, until my ankles burned from the cold.

Photobucket
 
I was so relaxed in this place, I fell asleep on my stomach, listening to the waves roll and crash. When I finally woke, the water was four inches from my feet. The tide had creeped in and quite possibly could have washed me away.

Photobucket
I finished a few chapters in a book I was reading, wrote a few words, watched men cast out their fishing rods in smooth eloquence, envied couples who had found each other, and children who braved the water in their skivvies. And then packed up my things and headed home.
 
All in all, it was a perfect day. And this is what I brought back with me:
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket


" The winds, as at their hour of birth,
Breathed low around the rolling earth
With mellow preludes, ‘We are free.’

The streams, through many a lilied row
Down-carolling to the crisped sea
Low-tinkled with a bell-like flow
Atween the blossoms, ‘We are free.’ " - Tennyson

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

It Comes in All Forms: Part III

So, when we last left our adventurous characters, Sarah had just made a self-discovery about her faith, amongst the grandeur of the Colorado Rockies...

An awe-inspiring experience that has reviberated inside me, every time I am struck by the beauty of my natural surroundings. I can be anywhere from Martha's Vineyard, to a walk along the Charles River, to the rainforests of Puerto Rico, and my soul will crawl out of hibernation and smile like the small hands of a child, catching a firefly; where you peer inside and see a small aspect of the world and the whole world, in the same moment.

When Chris and I arrived in Bishop, California, the town that had inspired us to make the trip across country, I instantly fell in love. It was a small town, almost New England-esque, with a mix of residents; nature lovers, metaphyics seekers, old down-home Westerners, and displaced American Indians. The town rested in Owen's Valley, between the California White Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas. This was Inyo County, California, respectfully named after the Native American word inyo, meaning "dwelling place of the great spirit".

And indeed it was. I had been there before. My soul was familiar and at peace, not stirring around as it normally does, adjusting to the new and ever-changing. I had perhaps, visited this place in another life. The connection was so strong and I could feel a sigh of relief, deep within me, as though I had been holding my breath for a lifetime.

In the mornings, I woke with the base of the mountains on my fingertips. We would pack up our gear and hike into a new spot, in the early morning humidity. We would stretch our appendages awake and approach the rocks, as though we were meeting another body for the first time. We would learn their curves and crevices. We would hang and hold, balance and maneuver. We would form our fleshy hips, bellies, and legs to be close to the sharp, grainy terrain; "to be one with".

My fingers bled and blistered in the hot, midday sun. But we kept climbing, until we couldn't stand it anymore. And as if our prayers were answered, every day the clouds would roll in and rain just enough to cool the rocks down, and cleanse us of our dust and disuse. When it would stop, the boulders would steam like water on a frying pan, and the whole canyon would be in a vaporous, fog.

We spent about 5 days in this place, but I can't be completely sure. All the time seemed to blend together, as though it didn't exist. Our lives during our stay there, existed only to "just be". We slept in the deserted hills, we climbed and meditated among the volcanic boulders, we visited eery lakes and towering pine forests, and we bathed ourselves in the hot springs with other pilgrims.

Heaven existed for me, in this place and in this time. When it was time for us to leave, we hoped that we left an imprint of ourselves, so when we did go back, it would be like we never left. In a way, a piece of me will always be there. (I have spoken about this in my blog, Lost and Found: Reclaiming My Experiences)

When we were passing the limits of Bishop, our van broke down. It was the first and only time on our trip. We were driving right along and the car completely lost power and shut down; no warning, sputtering, or grinding. We were in a desert, with the closest town 15 miles in either direction.

Neither of us knew much about cars, so we looked at each other nervously and mystified. We crawled out and made our way to the hood. Propping it up, we stuck our heads inside. Nothing seemed wrong with the cylinders, pipes, tubes, or belts (at least from what we could tell). But it was Chris who claimed, "Aha!" when he noticed a small nest on top of the battery.

The nest was composed of grass, some sort of fuzzy material, and plastic wire casings. When we looked closer, there was a small, brown mouse fried to the engine block. (What a way to die.) Chris scraped it off gently and placed it under a sage bush on the side of the road. It seems this little rodent had managed to chew through our spark plug wires, leaving us without any power. It had probably crawled up inside the car, during one of the cold desert nights, trying to stay warm.

Chris, being the Macgyver he is, decided our climbing tape was our saving grace (at least until we got to an auto parts store, where we could replace the spark plugs). And just as we were slamming the hood back down and wiping our hands, a white bus pulled up beside us with about a dozen or so tow-headed kids, with bright blue shirts, hanging out the windows in curiousity.

"Do you need any help?!" One voiced from the mid-section of the bus.

Chris and I smiled at the wholesome sight, "Nah, I think we've got things fixed."

"You sure?" They seemed eager to offer their assistance.

"Yep. Nothing that good ole' tape can't fix!"

They laughed at the joke.

"Ok. Well, God bless you and have a safe trip."

We said 'thank you' and waved 'goodbye', chuckling among ourselves about the exchange and our resourcefulness.

At the first rest stop, we stopped to see how the tape was holding up in the heat, and to use the facilities. When we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed the white bus parked in a corner, and the blue-shirted, tow-heads scattered about the curb and picnic area. We parked a few spaces down, and almost instaneously they noticed us, and approached our van.

"How is everything?" One tall boy asked.

"Just checking to see how our tape is holding up." Chris explained, opening the hood for further inspection.

"What happened?" Another asked.

"Well, it looks like a mouse made a home in our car." Chris pointed to the little remnants of nest left over.

"Oooh." They said in unison.

"Hey, wait a second..." I heard Chris trail off, as he leaned closer into the belly of the car.

"What?! What?!" A smaller boy, piped up.

Chris hustled over to a small, wooded area and came back with a good-sized, broken stick. He dug around in the engine, like a dentist manuevering teeth and gums. And after poking around for a few minutes, he re-emerged with a large, white rat dangling from the end, like a spear-thrower with his first kill. The rat was literally the size of a house cat. I had never seen anything like it and neither had any of the boys who were now standing wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Chris, as though he were some Saint appearing before them.

Regrouping and disposing of the cat-sized critter, we decided to get back on the road. Chris was now a rock star among the young boys and it was hard to get him to bow out, when they wanted to know all the details and crazy tales from our travels. When we said "goodbye" for the last time, they asked if they could pray for us.

Of course we didn't want to say "no". But we didn't realize that they meant right there, right now, in public, at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. And as they circled around us, holding hands, with their heads bowed and eyes closed, muttering the words to an unfamiliar pray, I couldn't help but feel a sincere, thankfulness for their compassion.

When we pulled away from the rest stop, both Chris and I were silent, but we knew what the other was thinking. We were both glad to know there were people like that in the world; so full of wonder, faith, and compassion. And it was nice to be reminded, so far from home, that good-hearted people come in all forms, even in the embodiement of faith.