The Woven Tale Press #4

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The Woven Tale Press

(c) copyright 2013

Editor: Sandra Tyler Author of Blue Glass, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and After Lydia, both published by Harcourt Brace; awarded MFA in writing from Columbia University; creative writing professor; freelance editor and graphic designer; judge of Stony Brook University’s national annual fiction contest. Follow her blog at

Editor’s Note The Woven Tale Press is a monthly culling of the creative blogging web. Too many well-conceived and artful blog posts are relegated to their archives too soon. So enjoy here an eclectic mix of the literary, humorous, innovative and visual arts – blog posts ephemeral, meant to be indelible. If you enjoy particular posts, click on their URLs to visit the actual blogs. To submit a post go to:

Voices in the Rain

I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests. ~Pablo Neruda Rain transports me to places where I can wander the corridors of my mind at leisure, even places from my childhood: a torrentially rainy summer afternoon in 1978, at my Uncle Rudi’s house in Budapest. The power had even gone out, and I was sitting in Rudi’s kitchen wondering, “Well now what do I do...?” Rudi didn’t give me much time to think about it. He quietly said, “Gyere ide.” (“Come here.”) I followed him up past the second floor, up a narrow stairway that lead to the converted attic. I’d never seen the room before that day. The doors were always kept shut, and I’d thought it was a closet. Instead, when my uncle opened the door, I found myself falling back into an old Dostoyevsky novel. He’d turned the tiny room into a mini library of sorts. There was a small sofa, a chair, an end table with a lamp, and a wall lined with a book-heavy shelf. One small window added a lighter shade of gloom to the existing gloom. A well-worn oriental rug graced the floor, anchored by stacks and stacks of old Hungarian newspapers. The room smelled like old books, used blankets, tea and, as with everywhere in Hungary, that deeply sexy lingering paprika scent. Rather timidly, I sat on the edge of the sofa while Rudi rummaged around behind a stack of newspapers. He pulled out an antique phonograph and a stack of about a dozen 78’s. He cranked up the phonograph, gently set a record spinning, and lowered the needle. I expected classical music, or maybe Hungarian folks tunes. But no, out came the sounds of some old bluesy American jazz from the 20’s & 30’s. So we sat there for a couple of hours, listening to the fine sound of those scratchy records. Music playing against the hiss of the rain. We didn’t speak the entire time. I think my grin said it all for him (and probably translated much better than my shabby Hungarian). It was an afternoon lush in all its texture – an afternoon now with its own special box in my memory warehouse. I go there often to paw through that box, to sniff the old books, smile at my memory of Rudi who is long gone (rest his soul), and to hang out on the lumpy sofa, listening to the slow low whine of the blues... 2

Dyslexia and Artists

Many well-renowned artists have been lucky enough to be blessed with dyslexia. Just to name a few: Picasso, Ansel Adams, Da Vinci, Rauschenberg, Rodin, Pollock and his wife, Lee Krasner. Particularly fascinated by Lee Krasner’s art, I started reading her biography by Gail Levin. Learning of Lee Krasner’s dyslexia prompted me to explore the topic further, and I began to look back on my own life with dyslexia. Most dyslexics think in pictures, not in words. For example, when driving, you may navigate by landmarks rather than street names. When asked to describe an object, you may examine that object from every possible angle rather than merely straight on, utilizing a lifetime’s worth of experience and mental imaging. As an artist myself, it took a while to understand that I actually had dyslexia. At first I thought everyone must think this way, and then as my life evolved, I began to realize that my thinking wasn’t always in sync with those around me. I’ve always had a phenomenal memory, but now I realize that memory is all about stockpiling photographs of your experiences in a mental filing cabinet. I spent a good part of my life as a commercial photographer – dyslexics are amazing problem solvers, and anyone who has ever executed a complicated shoot, be it a still or video, knows that you are constantly solving compatibility issues between multiple elements to wind up with a cohesive visual interpretation. Once I started to better understand dyslexia, I learned to adjust and trust my own perceptions. I’ve been better able to redirect my creative energy. When I shifted to brush art, I made a conscientious effort (albeit not an easy one) to create art that wasn’t representational, nor influenced by outside stimuli such as nature’s patterns and shapes. Probably a dyslexic coined this phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” 1

When Rod Jones artist and dyslexia merge.


Today—Flash (?) There is a certain element of language play and abstraction going on. I think of this as a mood painting trying to approach emotional realities with limited narrative clues: Boots glitter down rain-drenched paths, sheep trails really. Clouds scream past jets standing at attention over the melted glass sea. The woman with the beard met her smooth-faced lover at a bar over the hills and two towns over. Refracted drops of rain dripping off the grasses. Tired flights of birds shiver trees, as the drowsy film skips its sprockets in the middle of the romantic scene. She mounts the cliffs. His galleon sailed, sank, salted away in a bank account she has no number of password for. The water whines, dark-red shadows swirling. He bought her whiskey, smoked her hair with cigarettes. Carried off by nomads. The beating drums. Her mind mixed into music rocking down the stoney way. What washing machines cook on the gas range, casts iron out of the pans. Emergent molecules develop atomic movies, entertaining faster than the light particles with popcorn imitations. Mystics could not imagine the empty vessels of cyborg social network terror cells recombining synthetic DNA along the runway. It’s another dream, a box of rain sung to the strum of guitars. She missed the turn at the car speedway, Mother’s Day 1973, and spun out into orbit around glimmering promises. Before. The photographer jacketed the digital sleeve surrounding still moments. Necrophilia began with still cameras, expanded with movies and talkies and quickies. Entropy sways the glyphs along silver screens our lives screened by so many lookers gazing at nothing. So she took the smooth-faced lover home. Why not? And it wasn’t so bad, not really. Warm bears in bed, unstuffed and compliant to desires not his or her own. Winter hibernation arrives without warning. The coals burn low, by itself, and ember goes out. Spring cubs run around the melting snow. That was all so long ago. He doesn’t stand under the waterfalls. Trees paint shadows. She sang sad songs by the shore in C. He countered with his note on the piano—C#. Falling into sevenths, an odd fraction to uncover a piece of the pie. Despite everything, she goes off to work.

iPad sketches by Michael Dickel

Giant Killer Bugs! “Is that a bird drowning over there?” Katie, my wife, asked, pointing. There was definitely something in the water. It certainly looked big enough to be a bird. She urged me to investigate further. When I got down to the water, I could see instantly that this was no bird. We were staying on the island of Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand, and had spent the afternoon on the beach. It was coming up on lunchtime, and we’d moved to a table by the bar. We had only just taken our seats to order, when Katie noticed that movement in the surf. “It’s a big moth thing,” I called back to her, the understatement of the century. It was in fact, the biggest moth thing I had ever seen. Convulsing wildly, it was clearly going to drown in the surf. I scooped it up out of the water with one of my thongs. (Note: I had not removed an item of inappropriately tiny swimwear. What I call thongs other people call sandals, jandals or flip-flops. The first pair I owned was in Australia, where they are universally known as thongs.To me, thongs they will always remain.) I lay the thong down so that the insect could dry out. “That is the ugliest thing I have ever seen,” said Katie. It was at least three inches long with a wingspan possibly double that. As we stared transfixed, it slowly rose to its feet and began to test its wings. The noise was like an underwater electric razor. ‘What the hell is it?” asked a horrified Katie. This question was followed by a high-pitched squeal as the creature unrolled a disproportionately long tongue. It appeared to taste the very air around it, no longer seeming so helpless after all. “I don’t like it, David,” professed Katie.

Before I could respond, we were forced to duck as the moth flew up into the air. It twirled wildly above our heads – then launched itself full force into the back of a chair. There was a loud thump. It fell limply to the ground. There it lay, lifeless in the sand. We assumed that the impact had smashed its brain to a pulp. So much for saving it from drowning, I thought. A superstitious person may have thought that this was its fate. I’d saved the creature from dying, only for my actions to eventually lead to it...dying. It certainly sounds like fate, but that is not the reason for my telling this story; my good intentions (in trying to save the creature from drowning) ultimately had served no good at all. This lead me to rethink my intentions as a writer. Every story has a natural arc. Every character has a pre-designated fate. To interfere with these inevitables can have disastrous consequences. It is important to serve the best interests of the story and not those of the characters. As a writer, it is very easy to become attached to one’s characters. The important thing is not to become sentimental about them. For example, if a story works best without a happy ending, you should never try to create one by saving a character. You may simply be delaying the inevitable; trust me, if a character is supposed to die, let him die. Like the crazy, oversized-moth monster destined to die anyway, that said character inevitably too will find his fate on his own without you as the writer having to force his fate upon him. An unbelievable character is an unsympathetic one and for a reader to lose all emotional connections to your characters is the worst death of all.

Help Wanted

It happens every day. At 2:42 p.m. Or thereabouts. Mommy loses it. It starts just after I pick up Lollipop from school. We pull into the driveway and tumble out of the car in various stages of undress. Because somebody couldn’t make it the three minutes home without shedding their socks. Or headband. Or pants. We burst into the house like the prelude to a fireworks show. Pop! Pop! Pop! Only instead of smoke and color, we leave behind backpacks and sticky lunchboxes. Torn wisps of a junk-mail envelope. Acorns. Shriveled dandelions. A collection of seeds and a few slimy tissues. Then somebody wants a snack. Goldfish. No, Cheerios. No, Goldfish and Cheerios. Not the Honey Nut kind, the other kind. In the green bowl. No, in the yellow bowl. The other yellow bowl. Then somebody else wants Goldfish and Cheerios, and it’s not fair that he got them fiiiiiiiiiiiirst. Then somebody needs a bottom wiped. Or a booger extricated. Or a mosquito bite Calamined. Or a Barbie dress buttoned.

Or a marble removed from a matchbox car. Or a marker lid fished out of the dog’s water. Or a sticker unstuck from the kitchen table. Or a pencil sharpened. Or the yucky brown spot cut off the banana. Or some batteries replaced.

Or some pretend-cup-

cakes put in the real oven to pretend-cook.

Or a stamp for a letter that may or may not be a blank sheet of paper. Or more Goldfish and bowl) that

Cheerios in the yellow bowl (no, the other yellow is now lodged under the couch – between a giant dust bunny and the very last shred of my sanity. And I invariably say something like, “Oh, for Pete’s sake, just go play outside!” Or “My ears can’t take it anymore!” Or “Mommy needs quiet!” Or “Just go and watch TV and leave me alone for five minutes!” And I think: Did I really just order my children to watch television? I hate that it comes to that. What’s more, I hate that it comes to that so often. Tiny hands tugging on my shirt, always tugging.


Demands, some polite, yes. But some…not. Shrill voices trying to out-shrill each other for my attention. Tears. Fighting. Noise. Mess. Laundry that’s fluffing. Again. Dinner that’s halfcooked or over-cooked. Or PBJ … again. Mommy who’s grumpy. Again. By the time my husband walks in the door, I’m ready to lock myself in our dark closet and curl up with my son’s yellow blankie. I crave silence. Darkness. Sensory deprivation. Recharged batteries. Sanity. Oh, sweet sanity. Help Wanted: How do you negotiate the blessing that is a chaotic family? How do you keep a fingernail’s hold on inner peace? And how many times have you locked yourself in a dark, quiet room?


M Making aking things Things

Growing up, my sister Bertie and I loved to make our own playthings. We made repGrowing sister Bertie andTV I loved to show, make Kukla, our own playthings. Wetomade licas of allup, themy puppets from the puppet Fran and Ollie, put onrepour licas of all the puppets from the TV puppet show, Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Ma gave us own shows. Ma gave us fake leopard fur for Ollie the dragon, and we made Kukla’s fake fur for Ollie the dragon, roundleopard head from a hollow rubber ball.and we made Kukla’s round head from a hollow rubber ball.

Ma had taught us how to sew by hand, and how to make a doll out of a sock. Bertie Ma us how out sock of a socks. Onceclothes out of for brown socks I made andalso I hadtaught endless hourstoofsew fundolls making dolls, then them. I had some a doll named anda pretendeing had her period, even made miniature brown socks“Cocoa,” and made doll I namedshe “Cocoa.” Once I pretended she her hadaher period Modess sanitary pad out of cotton and gauze. I sewed a little piece of blue thread and made her a miniature Modess sanitary pad out of cotton and gauze. I even put down middle to show up,tothe waywhich the real pads back then. a little the piece of blue threadwhich downside the was middle show side waswere up, the way the real pads were back then. Later on Ma taught us how to use the sewing machine too. One Halloween there was a costume school party, I went all out trying to win first prize. Ma was Later on Macontest taughtat usahow to use theand sewing machine too. One Halloween there gave me some old at white sheetsparty, and and I dyed themallred painted on them a costume contest a school I went outand trying to windesigns first prize. Ma with gold paint. I sewed them into a Balinese dancer costume. I made everything gave me some old white sheets and I dyed them red and painted designs on themmyself, including headdress, and aI thought costume lookedI made really great — I was with gold paint.the I sewed them into Balinesethe dancer costume. everything sure I was going to myself, including thewin. headdress, and I thought the constume looked really great — I was sure I was going to win. Much to my disappointment, a cute little blond girl wearing a store-bought witch fromnight, Woolworth’s first prize. Even athough I was anBut oncostume Halloween much to won my disappointment, cute little blond gry and thought it was unfair, I didn’t let thisfrom squelch my natural girl wearing a store-bought witch costume Woolworth’s wondesire first to create thingsthough from scratch. prize. Even I was angry and thought it was unfair, I didn’t let this squelch my natural desire to create things from scratch. When Pop was home, he taught me and Bertie how to use a hammer, saw, and and more a wood plane, When Pop was ahome or less so-another creative outlet for us. We he learned make ber and in a good mood, taughthow me to and little boxes boats, and weabuilt own Bertie how and to use a hammer, saw,our and a puppet wood plane, another creative outlet for us. We learned stage. how to make little boxes and boats, and we built our own puppet stage. A lot of the skills we learned stood us in good stead later on, too, when grew upwe and had our ownus homes to furnish and on, kids A lot ofwe the skills learned stood in good stead later to dress. day,upI love trying to own make “something” outand of too, whenTo wethis grew and had our homes to furnish “nothing” or a To “silk purse” of trying a “sow’s ear.” “something” out kids to dress. this day, out I love to make “nothing” or a “silk purse” out of a “sow’s ear.”



Cottonwood Corner

Once upon a time, there was a race track on the Corner. Only a mile from our home, the weekend racing noises filtered through our bedroom window making sleep difficult. Daddy and Arthur Bullion took me with them one muggy summer night. Seeing cars crash and smash was thrilling. Across the street, an outdoor auction house hummed. People came from near and far to buy and sell junk. Buying and selling junk made folks hungry, so we peddled homemade chocolate cupcakes to raise money for the Halloween carnival. We always sold out. One magical week a year, the Ferris wheel and bright carnival lights were visible across the field. We watched and waited and pleaded, listening to muffled laughter and music until well after suppertime. At last we went. Momma puked as soon as the Tilt a Whirl stopped whirling. We each have one of these places, a wide spot in the road unnoticed by most, a place vibrant only in our memories. When the whistle blows, factory workers drive past, thankful another shift has ended. Farmers haul grain to the river without a glance towards the rubble where the grocery story once stood — the grocery store where Daddy sent me off driving, alone, to buy cartons of Camel, before I was old enough to have a license. Wrong on so many levels...but oh so right. Although there’s nothing much to look at now, the weary sign marking the empty spot is a historical marker to me.

Pictures From Her Window

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” – Rumi

This is a very simple snapshot of a Bougainvillea plant which, we believed, had died. We didn’t give up on it and after a long wait, it sprouted new leaves. The title of the post is symbolic of the rebirth of the plant.

Nap And mamma in her ‘kerchief and I in my cap Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap. -Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas How I do appreciate my nap. I am not the first. The very word nap enters our language as the Old English “hnappi,an” and its Chaucerian English ‘nappen’ refers to periods of sleep either long or short. A Middle English translation of Psalm 121 verse 4, “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep,” reads as “Loo, ha shal not nappen ne slepen that kepeth ireal.” The Romans felt the afternoon nap a necessity, not a luxury. The siesta originates in Islamic Law and is found in the Koran. The Spanish word siesta comes from the Latin “Hora Sexto,” “the sixth hour from dawn,” the midday rest. For them it began as a time for farmers to rest during the hottest part of the day. Today, air conditioning seems to make naps unecessary. Even Spain makes less of it, keeping more with northern Europe. This does not mean we do not need a short rest. This biological need for a short rest applies to all humans. We are “biphasic” and need more than one sleep cycle in each 24-hour period. Natural tiredness occurs about eight hours after waking, like it or not. All mammals nap, but only we mammals struggle against it. Many famous people nap. As a good Texan, my favorite napper is Santa Anna rumored to be at siesta when Sam Houston attacked him at San Jacinto winning Texas independence. My least favorite, of course, is that poor Texan sentinel napping when Santa Anna stormed the Alamo. The energetic Napoleon Bonaparte could fall asleep at the drop of a hat even before a battle and during artillery barrages. 15

Stonewall Jackson, like Napoleon, napped by fences, under trees or porches,

and while his troops fought McClellan. A Dr. Hunter McGuire says on many long night marches he held Jackson’s coattail to keep him on his horse as he napped. Artist Salvador Dali took one-second naps he called “slumber with a key.” He’d sit in a chair, place an overturned plate on the floor between his feet, and press a key between thumb and forefinger. The moment he slept, the key dropped and hit the plate. He awoke “revived.” Einstein and other inventors and thinkers claim similar napping strategies. The war hero Audie Murphy kept himself from dropping off on guard duty by holding a pistol that would drop on his foot waking him in his foxhole. Winston Churchill’s nap was “non-negotiable.” As a self-professed night owl, Churchill believed naps doubled his productivity. He even kept a bed in the Houses of Parliament. Ronald Reagan, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton all napped in the Whitehouse. John D. Rockefeller napped in his office. Gene Autry napped in his dressing room. TV personality Jenny McCarthy napped. Erin Murphy, “Bewitched” daughter Tabitha, napped on set. Antonia Will, PhD. Head of Chronobiology napped between appearances on Rosie, Oprah, Letterman and Late Night with Conan O’Brien all on the same day. Besides keeping me a married man and generally making me better company, the greatest benefit of napping is breaking up a huge bout of writer’s block, which is why this piece is getting on my blog. No day is so bad that it can’t be fixed by a nap.” ― Carrie Snow When you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap. ― Mason Cooley


Bat Drawing

This drawing was for an exhibition benefiting bats. Here’s my little studio set-up:

Having a strict deadline, it was best to stick with graphite pencil and a straight scientific study from a real bat – a drawing style that could be chipped away at over a number of weeks. I will be making prints and donating a percentage of each sale to Bat Con. If you’re interested in a print, keep your eye on Lepus Luna, and check out Empty Night Skies on Facebook.


Mints in my Mother’s Purse

My mother had just been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. It was Thanksgiving 2012, and she had asked her six children to clear out her storage unit. None of us had much enthusiasm for sorting through the stacks of crushed cardboard boxes, and it wasn’t long before I became overwhelmed and overloaded. The stagnant air in the tiny compartment grew thick. I clutched a few brittle mementos I knew would fit in my carry-on luggage and gingerly stepped over the rusted threshold of corrugated metal onto the hard, dry dirt of abandoned farmland. It hurt to see all those bits and pieces of our childhood, old school photographs and handmade Christmas ornaments, unceremoniously condensed to fit inside a cold cement closet. It didn’t escape me that as the six of us were reminiscing about Christmas mornings, birthdays, and summer vacations, we were actively dismantling our shared past once and for all. I shoved the acidic thought down into my roiling stomach, and angled my foot to nudge a broken box the color of mud. It didn’t budge and I resisted the urge to kick it; my mother had packed this box with practiced patience. I would unpack it the same way. Pulling back a cardboard flap, I glimpsed lemon-yellow wicker, and knew immediately what it was. I had used the sunny yellow “picnic basket” to carry snacks for backyard luncheons with my friends. One warm afternoon I had swung it in big, windmill circles until the handle finally snapped. The wicker handle arched out of my hand and the basket smacked full force into the trunk of a pine tree. I thought I had destroyed the basket for good, but here it was, almost 35 years later, waiting patiently for our reunion in a lonely storage unit in the middle of nowhere. The still-broken strap glibly reminding me as my mother always had, to treat other people’s things with respect and to think before you act. That unassuming box humbly housed all my mother’s other handbags, perfectly preserved between delicate layers of aging tissue paper. I knew these purses – and the evenings decades before, when I’d leisurely investigate the contents of that night’s designated clutch, while my mother arranged herself inside the bold blocks and psychedelic swirls of the 70s; later on, the sparkling sequins and impressive shoulder pads of the 80s. I’d dab lipstick on the back of my hand and peel off a Cert from a new roll. My mother

kept mints in all her handbags, ready to soothe when I was sick, calm when I was antsy, reward when I was behaved, and inspire when I was discouraged. Running my fingertips over the various textured bags, I remembered vividly the clatter of bright-orange plastic beads and the scratch of turquoise raffia. I had told my mother to reserve the maroon handbag for Midnight Mass because the rows of crimson-painted, wooden balls looked like garland cranberries – all we needed was popcorn, a needle and some thread. I had been hesitant to hold, in my clunky, adolescent fingers, particularly magical creations: the gold bag like molten lava and a blue metallic mesh one that twinkled from cobalt to teal to midnight blue depending on the light. One bag was dressed in nothing but pearls. In January of 2013, a group of the purses were on display at Boston’s Museum of Science Who Collects exhibit. My mother got a kick out of seeing her old “pocketbooks” in a museum – displayed beneath a collection of vintage “air-sick” bags. She was sitting up in her hospital bed when I showed her the pictures and she exclaimed softly, “Oh, my word.”



Archetype? Whaaa? All stories boil down to one of a specific number of original conArchetype? Whaaa? Allsomething stories boilfrom down oneclassroom of a specific number of original cepts. I thought I’d steal mytoown wall, a poster I made sevconcepts. I thought I’d steal something from my own classroom wall, a poster I eral years ago, to share with you and spend a few minutes explaining archetypes: made several years ago, to share with you and spend a few minutes explaining.


What Is an archetype, Anyway? The original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype. ( It’s just the original. That’s all. That means that these characters, symbols, colors, situations, and images recur throughout literature. And Why Do I Care? If your writing seems lackluster, maybe you might think about how you can apply archetypes – use the meaning of different colors to guide your character choices. We’re reading The Great Gatsby in class, and Jay Gatsby just finished telling how captivated he has been with that green light on Daisy’s dock. Well, why is it a green light? Why not white? Or red? Or blue? Maybe that’s just the color dock lights are, or maybe…. The positive connotations of green are fertility, renewal, and wealth, all which can be associated with Gatsby and Daisy. Fertility, Gatsby’s desire for Daisy as a representative of the female species; renewal, Gatsby’s seeking to renew the relationship he and Daisy once had (or didn’t have, as the case may be); wealth, the old wealth that Daisy has with Tom (that’s more real, and that is basically unattainable for Gatsby) or the new wealth that Gatsby has and offers Daisy. As a negative, green represents greed and envy, and it’s really easy to associate those with Gatsby too. Gatsby is envious of the things Tom Buchanan has: both the easy wealth and comfort that comes from being Old Money, and the hand of the fair maiden Daisy. Gatsby’s also a bit greedy; consider the scene with all of the shirts in his closet. He has everything a man could possibly want or need, and he still wants more. Cool! Tell Me More! Take a look at the sample archetypes. Then, look at your characters, at your situations, at your conflicts. How can you weave these archetypes in? Make a list of your characters. What colors can you associate with them? What colors or images can you use in your settings? By adding symbols and images, you can really enrich and layer your writing to set it apart from other fiction. Take a chance. One word of caution: You can be too heavy with descriptive detail, and the same goes for symbolism.There’s no need to bludgeon your reader to death with the Club Of Meaningful Imagery. Sprinkle it throughout your narrative. As they say in the Bible, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Cor. 5:9). Use it sparingly but pointedly. Good luck!


For the Love of Old Houses

So many old houses. Even the occasional trespass, the Victorian brick ruin near my elementary school. My sister and I climbed the rickety, mahogany-trimmed stairs.scaring ourselves silly imagining ghostly women in long skirts. Peeling, flowery wallpaper fluttered as we ran, giggling, startled by our own reflections in cracked window glass. There was that yard sale I went to with my parents, at a farmhouse with a detached kitchen complete with a top-of-the-line chromed wood-burning cook stove; a Hoosier cabinet with a well-cared for porcelain, however dusty, top. How I lusted for that house, the kitchen, the woodstove, the Hoosier. Dad bought the Hoosier for $5.00 and gave it to me when I got married. I still mourn the house and cook stove. As a twelve year old, I read the real estate section regularly. At that time “urban renewal” was a new concept. Our city, in an effort to curtail the razing of historic houses, offered them for $1.00 (yes, $1.00!) to buyers who pledged to fix them up. These houses needed to be saved, and I wanted to bring them back from the brink. Are Flotsam & jetsam from Gran’s guest house. you surprised that I later became a real estate broker? If there is such a thing as a real estate nerd, then I was one before Trump was a gleam in his daddy’s eye. Contributing to my old-house delinquency was my grandmother, Dorothy. Gran lived in an 1880 white elephant on Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. And when Gran married her third husband, Bert Sawyer, in 1960, I fell head-over-heels in love with his house – his basement, his attics, his barn, his numerous and varied outbuildings, his boathouse, his tenant houses, and his boat dock. Dear Bert was house poor, but that was not a concept I had yet learned in my study of the real estate pages. The Sawyer House was packed from basement to attic with over eighty years of Bert’s collecting and ingrained New England thriftiness. The dirt-floored basement was full of salt-glazed earthenware crocks of every size and shape. The hulking coal-furnace 23

had been converted to oil, and cost “the earth” to run each winter, so Gran said. Closets were stuffed with 1920s raccoon coats, tattered flapper dresses, galoshes with rusty metal buckles, ladies’ hat boxes, skis, and ice skates in every size for those long \winters. The house attic boasted a buffalo hide, trunks of old linens, dusty rugs. The barn attic was accessed by a cast-iron spiral staircase! How I swooned, imagining that one day I would have a cast-iron spiral staircase in my own house.

Sawyer House c. 1970, front view

The barn basement was brightly lit by many mullions, and smelled of sweet hay, even though the chickens, cows, and horses were long gone. Gran taught me what “flow blue” china was, told me about the romantic legend of the Blue Willow plates, and how fine crystal makes a musical “ping” when flicked with a finger. Her domain, the sunny, high-ceilinged kitchen, ran the full width of the house. The brightly windowed butler’s pantry with its tomato-red pots of geraniums faced west. On the sun porch, I napped on the ratty bench seat removed from an old Chevrolet. Crackled cobalt-blue vases and ruby-glass pitchers gleamed in the window over the broad front foyer stairs. Pocket doors led to parlors with faded upholstered furniture. Bert let me rummage in the cubbies of his roll-top desk. When I found a turquoise ring, he insisted I have it as a keepsake. I have treasured it all these years, and will never forget his unfailing kindness towards a gangly girl. We were sad when gentle Bert passed away in 1970. Gran sold the house to settle the estate with Bert’s grown daughters. I still can’t resist looking at old houses, and dreaming. In fact, there’s a 1700s ramshackle ship captain’s house not too far from here, overlooking a saltwater creek. The floor is totally rotted away, but the ceiling 24 beams are heart pine… just imagine what those beams have seen.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust Isn’t that how it goes? My mother knows a lot about this “earth to earth” cycle. She’s a passionate gardener and makes sure to put back everything – grass, leaves, flowers, branches and twigs – into the compost, to let it become earth again. What’s that got to do with jewellery making? For years, I’ve kept this copper tube, knowing I wanted to use it for jewellery: The heating once broke in our office, and when the owner of the house came to show us that “this was the piece that was broken,” I fell in love with it and immediately saw its jewellery potential. I asked if I could keep it, and it’s been waiting in a box until now, when I have finally got my teeth – well, saw – into it. Metals also come from the earth. I just learned that copper is the third most recycled metal (after iron and aluminium). It is estimated that some 80 % of the copper that has ever been mined is still in use today (and copper has been used for more than 10.000 years). Sounds very much like a compost cycle to me. Bring up from the earth, process to metal, make objects, re-make other objects, then melt again. Over and over again. Who knows, this piece will perhaps one day become part of a wire for power lines? Around half of the copper in the world is used for electrical wire. Even in my small-scale metal work at home, I do want to think that it matters that I reuse and upcycle this old copper piece instead of buying a brand new one. Besides, this piece has a story, a background; I know where it came from. It triggers my imagination much more than a shining brand new piece from the DIY store. Brand new material is neutral, has no voice or tone or direction. Used material brings with it some kind of hint, a whisper, and a vague sense of a soul. A lot of designers upcycle and make great jewellery from all kinds of objects. I think I’ll get back to that another time. I have a few favourites in mind and I keep discovering new ones all the time. Ashes to ashes, keep your eyes open and the cycle going!



Experimenting with Form This is an Acacia acinacea, Wreath wattle or Gold, dust wattle, depending on your preference. It is a native to the land my chair is currently sitting on, part of the Black Forest. I took this photo last September. It is a beautiful shrub, about a metre and a half high with slightly weeping foliage that is covered in fluffy yellow balls when in flower:

Wattle flowers are a challenge in art. I see them most often as either simply little yellow circles or little yellow dots. It is not exactly a flower that screams to be drawn in detail. But as I am somewhat obsessed with finding the beauty in the unnoticed, I’ve found myself a little obsessed with these little yellow balls of fluff. 27

My first attempt was a slightly abstracted reality:

I changed some of the core colours to give it more depth, and played with highlights to give a stronger shape. I am happy with how this turned out, simply because I was aiming for bright colours, not true to life. 28

My second attempt is still sitting on my easel waiting for me to finish it: Very abstract (apart from very unfinished), I broke down the shape into its basic elements and flattened it in the process. I’m beginning to wonder if I should have done this one digitally rather than in pastel, but we will see what happens with it. And this is a doodle I’m playing with at the moment, incomplete, of course, but you can see the form:

I’m now toying with what colours to add to it (once I’ve finished the outline). All three concepts are vastly different, yet they come from the same inspirational source. I’m finding this quite interesting and am absorbed in my results, excited to see what else I can come up with. I’m enjoying the abstract aspect and can see all kinds of patterns to play with. Have you ever tried to do something like this? Gain multiple inspiration from the one object? Explore ways to communicate the shape using different forms?



Are We on Top of the World?

M My doodles are awesome



Spray Paint the Walls In my fantasy house, I have a room all to myself with whitewashed walls. Beyond this room intentionally free of color, the rooms would be painted a deep cobalt blue. Mexican tiles would line stairs, countertops and sinks. The tile would be splashed with golden, sea-blue, a dark-red and sunflower-yellow. Large, open windowsills would invite cats to sleep in the sun. Huge terracotta pots would be lush with green and white calla lilies. There would be a tumbling water feature, and a rocky fireplace would warm our home on chilly nights. Our lab would sleep by the warmth of the fire, and we would gather together to listen and learn and grow, in goodness and in disturbance. When I needed to, I would enter my whitewashed room alone. Armed with cans of red, gold, purple and black spray paint, I would declare my intention(s) for the day. In no particular order, I would shake the cans and write:

Breathe. Smile. Talk.

Turn. Stop. Love. Write. 33


Wake. Listen. Think. Walk. Sex. Rest. Drink. Potty training. Curse. Write. Again. Truth. Cry. Sleep. Dream. Think. 34

Words to welcome, energize, and soothe the mind, body or spirit. I’d move quickly, dispersing the color from the bottle into the air and across the wall. I would tell my paint-spattered story day by day. Unlike graffiti, my words would not be accessible to the public. I would not pretend to be able to draw anything that is not a stick figured cat. But I can write words. Lots of them. An older relative, my own 94-year-old grandfather, is also ailing. I miss his eyes, the way they sparkled and knew you. I want to see him again. Once during a visit to my grandparents, my sister Liz and I went for an early morning run in the neighborhood. We slowed to walking as we were approaching our grandparents’ house. On the patio my grandfather stood watching us. We were in our 20s, I think, and pretty fit. “You call that a run?” he shouted. We started jogging toward him, laughing and protesting. He shook his head, laughed. “Good girls,” he said, smiling. As always, I talk to the only person I know who has left her physical self behind. What can we do? Why does this kind of thing happen? How can I help? Can you pull some strings to make it better? A blessing I learned in a meditation course a few years ago came to my mind: May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy. ancient – tibetan buddhist – blessing I haven’t practiced loving kindness work (and it is work) in some time. My muscles are weak. I must work harder in this area shared across time, generations and family. Every night the words on my wall are erased, freshly painted, ready for another day’s intention.



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