It Speaks to Me

What attracts us to certain artworks? Whether book or stage production, painting or photograph, dancing or theatre, singing or instrumental music, there has to be something with which we can connect for the work to have any meaning for us as individuals.Photo: Book of Languages

Some of those connections are obvious: an author with whose philosophy or politics I tend to agree is more likely to produce a book or script I enjoy than one whose beliefs are wildly different from mine; if I favor a specific style or period or medium, I’ll probably always find the works within them resonating in my heart more often than those from unfamiliar or less loved types.Photo: Familiar Passages

Other attractions might be more tenuous or less overt. I read a whole lot online nowadays, both factual and fictional, but I still enjoy reading magazines and books, and there is no digital substitute quite yet for the fine roughness of antique paper pages in my hands and the musty scent of old books.

Bottom the Weaver!–After the Fact–

graphite drawingAh, Shakespeare me boy, do tell me. I’m just curious: did Bottom have any sort of Fairy Fella epiphany after his little ass-hat adventure? Me, I am fairly certain that had it been me I would have felt smugly brilliant in my newly dawned state of knowledge the moment I was un-donkey-fied again, but I’m even more certain that I would have slipped right on back into my unwise natural state just about as quickly as twitches a donkey’s tail. Because I am so very much a silly, stubborn creature of habit.

Mr. Shakespeare, whatever his level of formal education or high culture or (if you’re of that particular school of thought) of being multiple persons, had a decidedly perceptive eye for ordinary human nature. The bard’s keen observation and sharp understanding are the fundamental reasons his plays and poems have so long endured–he had us figured out, my friends. I may sometimes wish that the characters in Shakespeare whom I resembled most were the heroic and compassionate ones, the witty, the powerful and the sage. But alas, it’s in Bottom that I recognize myself, in Shakespeare’s dolts and fools and in the obstinately self-centered and weak and wooly-minded characters.

I guess I should just thank Mr. S. for having raised my humbly mortal state to high art and sashay back over to perch in my little flower bower. I rather hope that one day these moments of revelation won’t need to be as frequent or as rudely transformative as getting me visibly turned back into the braying boob that represents my true inner being.

Mystery Story No. 1

I don’t know when, where or how the first fictional mystery story came on the scene, but since I thoroughly enjoy a good puzzle of the not-going-to-affect-me-in-real-life sort, I do like a good mystery story. So sometimes I like to create mysteries of my own. Mostly, visual puzzles. Pictures that invite interpretation, participation and invention on the part of the viewer. Images that demand a second look, or a two-hundredth one, because there might be clues in there, tales to be uncovered, plots to be discovered, fun to be made from the gossamer webs of pictorial intrigue custom-made for playtime. So here, for (I hope) your delectation and mystery-mongering, is a collage created with puzzling in mind. Enjoy!

And don’t forget to tell me if you devise the novel of the century after being so deeply inspired by it. Wink, wink.digital collage

Hot Flash Fiction 1: Pedigreed

I know it’s been around, arguably, for generations, but the extreme short story seems to have undergone quite the revival in recent times, being popularly called in the English-speaking and -writing world Flash Fiction. Me, I’m an old lady and slow to keep up with any sort of trend. Or, to give myself partial credit, I am so old that I was already around the first time half this stuff was popular.

Never mind all of that. In the way of condensed arts, I’ve always been particularly enamored of short forms, miniatures and compact performances that have rich enough content to hold up under speedy scrutiny yet continue to beckon one for a second and third and thirtieth look, or at the very least, to get one’s nose a whole lot closer to the subject before waving farewell. That applies to works by others (short stories, small photos and drawings, children’s books, one-act plays, songs comprising one or two brief movements, and snappy quatrains), and very much to my own productions. Since you lovely people already know full well that I have the attention span of an end-of-season Mayfly, you can easily surmise that this obsession with tiny-tude is merely a natural outgrowth of my laziness and tangential, caroming path through life.

Which is, of course, partly true. But I’ve also been known to commit to larger-scale projects and yes, in real life, honest-to-goodness fact, to complete them, too. Sometimes, I’ll readily admit, this happens at a very, verrrrrrrrrrry slow pace. But though I have made murals twenty feet wide, rebuilt gardens from the bulldozer up, written and/or drawn every single day for years at a time, my heart does retain its deep affection for the minute, yea verily for that minutiae that can happen in a minute. But only if it’s worth the effort. There are still those larger goals to be achieved and metaphorical mountains to be climbed that require my continuing attentions between spurts of compact acting. And it’s the very change from the massive to the mini that makes those idiosyncratic idioms of iota-size such excellent crevice fillers and so appealing as a respite from larger concerns.

So, old though I may be, I’m trailing in the dust of your every trend–unless you’ll allow that I am only lapping myself in circles, having written couplets, sketched 3-second figures and made one-bite desserts since I was hardly bigger than a molecule myself. I like to think that I’m gradually getting better than I was back then, at least. Practice, practice.digital collage

They were justifiably proud of their daughter’s pedigree, but it was precisely this family resemblance that first drew the unkind attentions of those catty girls in the sorority.

Little Mysteries and Big Adventures

graphite on paperIt’s kind of odd, when you think about it, that we readers and writers and storytellers and listeners have such an affinity for mystery and adventure stories. Life itself is so full of both that it could be argued there’s no need to entertain or challenge, frighten or amuse ourselves by inventing yet more. But besides the obvious pleasant aspect of fiction that it remains under our control in ways that real life cannot, there is much more reason that the appeal remains just as strong as it has for ages.

For starters, it gives us a forum for posing questions and answers that can’t always be simplified enough to solve any real-world conundrum puzzling us. It’s both potentially a problem-solving process and a bit of creative play that can lead to greater flexibility and insight when we do get around to solving the problems with which we’re faced. If I can metaphorically bump off the villain that has been making my life such a trial, perhaps the metaphor can be extended to show how I can cope with him or her in actuality in a more legal and humane manner. If not, at the very least (assuming the real person behind the fictional stiff is fully enough disguised so that s/he cannot sue the socks off of me and make my life miserable in new and legal ways) I got the satisfaction of offing said offender in effigy. On paper I can exert all of the cruelty my heart secretly harbors, without ever lifting a physical finger, even that uniquely expressive one, against anyone at all.graphite on paperMostly, in the fictional world it allows a vicarious thrill for both creator and reader or listener that few of us dare or have the wherewithal to experience in three dimensions. Being a very ordinary person, I have little to no likelihood of the kinds of outsized adventures and brilliant insights that would make for a good, cracking read, but I’ll happily devour such stories and envision myself in their midst when it suits me. In fiction, I can do all sorts of athletic and impressive things that there isn’t the remotest chance of my accomplishing with my feeble skills and lethargic attitude, but there’s something rather bracing in even the imagined high-speed sculling through the black waters of a swift river, the steeplechase saddled up on a magnificent pedigreed mare, or the vaulting over crevasses with rime in my eyelashes and ice axe gripped in my gloved hand, when they’re well written.graphite on paperIn fiction, I can commit the perfect crime–or solve it. I can be the heroine of the story or an innocent bystander. I can follow all of the clues, absorb all of the details of the characters’ lives and loves, interests and actions, and guess what comes next or just roll along for the ride and see where it takes me. Sometimes, admittedly, I don’t have complete mastery of the fictional world because a tale becomes so gripping that I can’t put down the book and go to sleep, turn off the television and leave the room, or avoid re-reading parts just to see if I missed any exciting details. I should note that I am also often driven to this latter end by my dyslexic reading and the way it requires frequent repetitions of phrases and paragraphs to ascertain that I’ve kept true to the thread of meaning, so perhaps it’s not exactly a universal approach to reading! That is, as you would guess, a part of my reading process that makes me very slow to finish a book or article, even if in practice I am a reasonably fast reader. A bonus of dyslexia, conversely, is that things I have read before become new to me again almost immediately because the arrangement of words and elements of the tale might become slightly different each time through.graphite on paperWhich, in turn, is a good reminder of one of the other joys of reading: each of us brings filters, viewpoints, experiences, beliefs and interests that flavor each reading, for good or ill. We are so distinct in this that the best of friends and the most like-minded people can easily love or hate quite opposite stories and versions of them. And that makes the mere act of writing or reading a story that much more of a mystery and adventure in and of itself. All the more reason to keep writing and reading and telling . . .

‘Deferred Maintenance’ is a Sectionally Transmitted Disease

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There's a reason this wall reminds me of that great tale of suspense and horror . . .

The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Gilman Perkins’s wonderfully creepy short story in which she compresses the narrator’s descent into madness down to a few remarkably hackle-raising pages, is a bit like the process a building undergoes when neglected and ill-treated. The slide into decrepitude and decay may be slow and secretively incremental, as is often the case, or like Perkins’s poor madwoman the structure may disintegrate in an ever-speedier spiral rush to utter ruin. What is fairly consistent is that whoever is responsible for the maintenance of the place keeps it out of sight, out of mind enough to pretend that nothing bad is happening. What is more consistent yet, perhaps, is that any building falling prey to bad caretaking will do so in the way of a body falling to disease, that ‘thigh-bone connected to the hip-bone’ path of disintegration where the collapse of one part or system leads to that of the adjacent ones, and so forth, spreading until all are in full deconstructive mode.

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When things slip into the vortex of dissipation . . .

So I know that I can’t rest on my laurels if I happen to find a moment of seemingly settled pristineness. It’s bound to be an illusion. Somewhere, just out of view or conveniently forgotten, there’s a fine crack stealthily forming between the concrete driveway and the foundation, a swash of grime sucking into the most vulnerable point in the guts of the HVAC, one industrious ant setting up a sneaking trail to the one corner of the living room window trim whose caulking has curled back and left him an opening for invasion. And I know where each of those things leads.

I begin to feel a hint of that same crawling paranoia that the infamous wallpaper fed in the story’s hapless heroine: the sense that bit by bit, the house is gathering forces to rebel against me and my toolbox, that an overwhelming wave of implosion is building, however secretively and discreetly, and if I don’t replace that blown fuse NOW and repair that squirrel-chewed piece of siding on the instant, it’s only a matter of time until that horrific night when I will be awakened by a faint creaking that builds in a breath to a hurricane’s roar just before the house and all of its messy innards, me included and mummified in my tangled bedding, are slurped with a giant THWOOP! into some portal or black hole in the time-space continuum, never to be seen again.

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I can't just lock away the projects that I don't want to undertake, or the next visitor might be the undertaker . . .

Now, you will rightly surmise that a generally happy-go-lucky goofus like me doesn’t actually dwell on quite that level of near-nervous-breakdown over the state of my estate perpetually. Nor do I think anyone should. It’s mostly when I’ve been a little too, ahem, engrossed in my love of the yesterday-mentioned sorts of grim fairy tales and goblin-haunted wrecks of architecture that I might get a little inebriated with the idea that every bit of built space for which I’m responsible is headed for immediate wrack and ruin. The rest of the time I am with the ordinary hordes of folk who prefer the polite fiction of “deferred maintenance” over immediate activity and find a virtual infinity of ways to hide, compartmentalize and dissemble when we should be wielding our hammers. Sloth is always such a strong impulse, and the ability to fantasize justifications for it grows exponentially when fed a steady diet of To Do lists, self-imposed or not.

So far, my approach has been to drift along in apathetic torpor and evade the notice of beckoning chores for as long as my conscience can be stretched to tolerate it, and then fall about in a flurry of torrential attack on all the ills of the house for just barely long enough to congratulate myself on my excellent (or, okay, passable) mastery of the place, then fall back into my reverie of comfortable denial. It’s just possible that when that moment of dramatic self-destruction comes to my house of cards I will be safely couched in a nearby garden bed anyway, because it was too much trouble to get up and go in to such a flimsy place by then and I would have been too annoyed by the staring projects all awaiting me.

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At what point, I wonder, will my love of all things crumbling and rusty be outweighed by my desire to have them actually function as intended? I'm sure many of my friends have asked themselves the same when thinking of me . . .