Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

Category: Nature (page 1 of 2)

When Words Fail, Music and Poetry Connect

Writing is difficult, and one of its greatest challenges stems from the fact that words, which are mere strings of letters, are clumsy in their attempts to convey emotion.  Writers arrange letters together in formats that have become standardized symbols for something else. For instance, the letters “a-p-p-l-e” are recognized as symbolic of a red fruit that grows on trees and is usually harvested in fall. If a writer adds other words, he might foster emotions about the red fruit or he might remind the reader of the fruit’s tartness, its, crunchiness, and its juiciness. If the writer is able to carefully juxtapose other letters around the word “apple,” the reader may leap toward memories of a grandmother and the rolling of homemade pie crust, and of warm, cinnamon desserts topped with vanilla ice cream. Yet, by merely spelling the word “a-p-p-l-e,” a writer is telling his readers very little. A writer must add more strings of letters and a bit of polish to the letters before hopefully, the letters can begin to mean. Music, on the other hand, has a more direct impact than simple strings of words.

The ancient Tao Te Ching says that as soon as we begin to verbalize a feeling, the emotion vanishes. In other words, the ancient Asians recognized that there is a vein of emotion within us that defies being conveyed through words.

Chapter 1 – Tao Te Ching

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things 

Some believe that music has the power to connect in ways that words often fail.

Music is the shorthand of emotion. – Leo Tolstoy

Image result for jacki kellum language of the birds

I believe that music, for humans, is like the language of the birds.

 

In Ancient Greece, music was believed to have an almost magical power of communication.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the movie Out of Africa. I have seen that movie several times before, and the music of that movie helps make it monumental. As I watched the movie again this past Thursday, I entered the Out of Africa experience as soon as I heard the music. The music of Out of Africa had become a type of shorthand link into my mind. The music could communicate to me in a way that words could not, and that is why I prefer excellent movies to reading. A well-made movie employs several passages into the spirit.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about the inadequacy of words. He said that a child who feels about what is around him understands better than the scientist who tries to capsulize life into words. Emerson adds that poetry, unlike logical words, does have a music-like power to connect:

Science was false by being unpoetical. It assumed to explain a reptile or mollusk, and isolated it…. The metaphysician, the poet, only sees each animal form as an inevitable step in the path of the creating mind. The Indian, the hunter, the boy with his pets, have sweeter knowledge of these than the savant. …The poet knows the missing link by the joy it gives. The poet gives us the eminent experiences only,–a god stepping from peak to peak, nor planting his foot but on a mountain.

. . .

Poetry is the perpetual endeavor to express the spirit of the thing, to pass the brute body and search the life and reason which causes it to exist….It is a presence of mind that gives a miraculous command of all means of uttering the thought and feeling of the moment.

. . .

Imagination.–Whilst common sense looks at things or visible Nature as real and final facts, poetry, or the imagination which dictates it, is a second sight, looking through these, and using them as types or words for thoughts which they signify.

. . .

A poet comes who lifts the veil; gives them glimpses of the laws of the universe….

The solid men complain that the idealist leaves out the fundamental facts; the poet complains that the solid men leave out the sky.

Read More Here

Autumn scene. Fall. Trees and leaves in sun light

Ralph Waldo Emerson sought to explain through words how poetry communicates the essence of life that is beyond words:

No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s.  You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought. – Emerson

Jacki Kellum Garden

I have a beautiful garden, and I often say that I am a nature watcher, but that is not the absolute truth. I do more than simply watch nature. Nature entrances me. I like to lose myself in nature. I like to become one with nature.  Nature communicates the primordial to me in ways that words hardly ever do.

“I find peace where the sun kissed leaves dance in the melody of the cool breeze that floats through the air.” ― Saim Cheeda

At times, I also connect with music and/or poetry  in that primordial way. The power of poetry is not that of its words, because words themselves are weak vessels. The power of poetry lies within its ability to capture and distill life itself.

©Jack Kellum August 20, 2017

Trance

Listening to the Rain – Sounds Flood Us with Memories of Our Pasts

Moments ago, I happened to be outside, and I had the rare opportunity to hear the rain just as it was beginning to fall. In other words, I heard the rain before I felt it touch my face, and like a soothing balm, calmness washed over me. I have said this many times before: I love the rain.

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The rain reminds me of the summers that I spent in camp, and the nights that I lay awake listening to it, filtering through the trees and then tapping the tin roof and sliding from it one drop at a time.

The softer rains would ultimately pierce through the crust of leaves that lay on top of the ground. The leaves would rustle, crackle, and snap. The aroma of the moistened earth would fill the air. The smell of the evergreens would be refreshed, and the woods would take on  the scent of a  rain potpourri that I wish I could bottle or bag.

When it rained hard at camp, the trees got involved with the ceremony and waved their arms, shook their heads, and wildly swayed.  Like savages dancing around a ring, preparing for a bountiful hunt, the trees would toss spears into the air and fiercely hurl things about. A tree limb would occasionally scrape across the metal shelter, screeching as it slowly etched its way over the top.

Also when it rained hard, the drops of rain would pound the tin top, and the belting would become a roar. Torrents of water would form at the edges of the galvanized roof and would flood, like water being sloshed from a tub, down to the ground below. The river of rain water would get behind piles of leaves and branches on the ground and push them downstream.

When the rain was not pouring, I liked to put on my squeaky, new rubber boots and my cold, stiff raincoat and walk outside. I loved the way that a misting rain would form on the exposed parts of my body. When there were actual rain drops falling, I liked to feel them pat my face and then roll.

Like Mother Nature’s bathtub, rain is how the world is washed clean, and when I am in the rain, I feel that I am being cleansed, too.

In my bedroom now, my bed is immediately next to a window, and I love hearing the rain from my bedroom eyrie. That sound is different than the one that I heard moments ago, standing outside. And the sound of rain falling on my sunroom roof is all together different. That roof has no attic or ceiling beneath it, and the sound of rain is not tempered or buffered. Regardless of where I am, I love the rain, and I love the sound that it makes. The mere sound of the rain brings back summers half a century ago, when I had the time and the inclination to lie still and hear and feel. I love the rain.

©Jacki Kellum February 15, 2017

Sound

Fall Foliage in the Pocono Mountains – Schedule of Color Changes of Leaves

In a little more than a week, I am making my annual autumnal pilgrimage to the Pocono Mountains, an area that was labeled, in 1749, as the land of The Endless Mountains.

The Land of The Endless Mountains – The Poconos

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If you study the entire map carefully, you will see that the Poconos’ Endless Mountains are in Pennsylvania–they begin less than an hour above Philadelphia, and near the top of the state, there is Bushkill Falls, which is an almost touristy natureland. But there are waterfalls all along the Delaware River from the Lehigh Valley and North. As the map says, this is the Land of Endless Mountains and on the East Coast, when the mountains are endless, the waterfalls are, too.

Image result for bushkill fall autumn

What the 1749 map does not mention is that the Poconos region is also The Land of Endless Forests, Endless Hiking Trails [the Appalachian Trail  runs through here,too], Endless National and State Parks, and Endless Wildlife Preserves. During every season, The Poconos Mountain Region is Nirvana for people who love nature, but during autumn, the place is breathtaking.

As usual, I have been watching the leaf report for the Poconos Here.

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To learn more about the sites numbered on the above map, go the the Penns Woods Fall Foliage Site Here

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1749.1 A MAP OF PENSILVANIA, NEW JERSEY, NEW YORK, AND THE THREE DELAWARE COUNTIES by Lewis Evans, MDCCXLIX. L. Hebert Sculp. This may be the first map of Pennsylvania published in America. Evans followed this map with his more famous one of 1755, but this is an iconic map of the middle Atlantic and much copied, with English, German, and other editions. The county of Lancaster was created in 1729 and is shown along with the founding counties of Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester. York County, created in 1749, is not shown although the town appears. This map originated the phrase ‘Endless Mountains’ which is still used as an advertising slogan. The coverage of Pennsylvania ends just beyond the Susquehanna. This image is from the Library of Congress where a 1750 German version can also be seen. Gipson reproduces all of Evans’ important maps along with some of his writings. Listed in Phillips, page 672, Wheat & Brun No. 295-97. Image and Text Credit Here

my-house-1749-map

The red star shows where I live now, in Southern New Jersey.

©Jacki Kellum October 10, 2016

What Is the Connection Between Walking and Writing? – Keep A Nature Journal

About 1 week ago, I wrote that I love autumn and that it always seems like the time that I should my new year Here on my blog: jackikellum.com.

This year, I decided to name September 11 as my official New Year’s Day, and on that day I established some new year’s resolutions. One of my resolutions is that I plan to launch a serious walking campaign. Many of my heroes were great walkers, and they used walking as a type of therapy and also as a tool for priming their writing pumps and as a way to lubricate their souls.

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir, John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir

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“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn–that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness–that season which has drawn from every poet worthy of being read some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.” ― Jane Austen, Persuasion

Autumn is a beautiful time to be outside. It is a time that is too beautiful to stay inside. Autumn itself beckons me away from my house, and I have decided to increase my enjoyment of fall by walking. While I am out, I plan to begin writing and illustrating a nature journal.

“For [Jane Austen and the readers of Pride and Prejudice], as for Mr. Darcy, [Elizabeth Bennett’s] solitary walks express the independence that literally takes the heroine out of the social sphere of the houses and their inhabitants, into a larger, lonelier world where she is free to think: walking articulates both physical and mental freedom.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

Saturday, friend and I were returning from a writing conference, and she surprised me by stopping at Weymouth Furnace Park, which is the site where the Great Harbor passes through the ruins of an old glass-making place:

The Weymouth Furnace Park is 19 miles from my front door, and it is a lush, natural site that is almost undisturbed. I could rent a kayak at the park and kayak down the stream, or I could simply hike along it, and this place is close enough that I should do this every day. My friend and I were there during the weekend, and there were only a few other people there. I would imagine that no one is there during the week.

weymouth-furnace-map

I realize that I am not allowing myself, my mind,  and my spirit enough time to stop and to the rose petals that are scattered around my life. William Wordsworth said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of emotions, and I am sure that this was true for him. But it is important to understand that William Wordsworth was an avid walker. and that he made sure that he filled his life with the types of moments that evoke an ever-renewing spontaneous overflow of emotion. I realize that I have not been doing enough of that.

In her Grasmere Journal, William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote that Wordsworth often sat in a crude shepherd’s hut or a writer’s hut to write. Wordsworth’s writing huts  were little more than a roof and a desk that were beneath a covered shelter, and they had no walls that separated him from nature. The huts were situated in places where he had a natural view and a first-hand experience of his natural environment. Wordsworth clearly wanted to write from  a place where he could directly respond to his natural setting, and his intimacy with nature allowed himself to have the fodder needed to evoke his overflow of emotions and to refill his spirit.

Anaïs Nin also talked about the overflow that Wordsworth had mentioned:

 “You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

For the past year, I have written almost every day, but I have  done so from  a comfortable spot in my bed, with my laptop on my lap. Almost every day, I have responded to the WordPress Daily Prompts, and until recently, I have been able to draw upon memories for my writing. I have discovered, however, that I am beginning to repeat myself. Clearly, my emotional well is beginning to run dry, and I recognize that I need to do something more to provide myself with fresh writing material. Very simply, I need to recharge.

Image result for grasmere journal

Last week, I began to read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, and in it, I saw that Dorothy’s journals are nothing more than simple records of what she saw and experienced directly in her life.

“In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills and the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale–of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine and overhung with partial mists, the green and yellow trees and the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 10 October 1800.

There is something alive and fresh about the way that Dorothy Wordsworth captured what she actually saw on October 10, 1800. What she has written is not fancy or elegant or sophisticated, and this is very important: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry is not long and convoluted. It is simply a record of what Dorothy saw that day.

When I blog, I clearly blog with the reader in mind. I try to write in complete sentences, and I strive to write so that other people can make sense of what I have written. I also strive to write an article that I believe is respectably long. In other words, when I blog, I feel some obligation to write full and detailed blog posts. After reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, however, I realize that I also need to be writing some simpler and more immediate notes about what is actually occurring around me and what I actually see day-to-day.

Dorothy Wordsworth was also a walker. On an almost daily basis, Dorothy would walk in some natural setting and she would write simple records of what she saw. Although she was not a poet per se, she closely observed the weather and the flora and fauna around the places where she walked. Afterward, in just a few words, she strove to capture her immediate impressions about what she had seen. Dorothy Wordsworth did not realize that her journals would be made public, and when she took notes on her daily life, she did not bother with grammatical correctness or with trying to write full sentences. She simply blurted a word or a phrase that signified an actual moment in her day. The following is an example of one of Dorothy Wordsworth’s longer entries in her journal:

“After tea we rowed down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild strawberries, and walked up to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking at the lake, the shores all embrowned with the scorching sun. The ferns were turning yellow…here and there one was quite turned. We walked round by Benson’s wood home. The lake was now most still and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky. We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood as we were floating on the water it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above us–it called out and the dome of the sky seemed to echo the sound–it called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre a musical bell-like answering to the bird’s hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo after we could see him no longer.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 27 June 1800.

As I said, the above is one of Dorothy’s longer and more refined entries, and even the above journal entry in not long, as compared to what I have deemed to be a respectably long blog post. I teach a writing class, and the excuse that i most often hear for the student’s not writing is that the student did not feel that he had enough time to write. What they are actually saying is that they did not have enough time to sit down and complete an article that is 400 -1200 words long.Everyone has time to journal the way that Dorothy Wordsworth journaled. On most days, she simply jotted a few words like in the following:

“A very fine day with showers–dried the linen & starched. Drank tea at Mr. Simpsons. Brought down Batchelors Buttons (Rock Ranunculus) & other plants–went part of the way back. A showery, mild evening–all the peas up.” May 22, 1800

Many of Dorothy’s entries are nothing more than an observation of the humdrum activities of her day, and her writing is usually noted in sentence fragments. Occasionally, Dorothy would follow a basic record of the hum-drum proceedings of her day with a simple comment about nature that was almost haiku in quality.

“No fire in the morning. Worked till between seven and  eight, and then watered the garden, and was about to go up to Mr. Simpson’s, when Miss S. and her visitors passed the door. I went home with them, a beautiful evening the crescent moon hanging above Helm Crag.” Dorothy’s Journal May 28, 1800

“A letter from Jack Hutchinson, and one from Montagu enclosing a three-pound note. No William! i slackened my pace as I came near home fearing to hear that he was not come. I listened till after one o’clock….Foxgloves just coming into blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 6, 1800

On June 16, Dorothy wrote that a child stopped by her house on his way home from Hawkhead. He was hungry, and she fed him. In a way that is typical of Dorothy’s writing the final line transforms the entry entirely:

“When I asked him if he got enough to eat he looked surprised and said, ‘Nay’.  He was seven years old but seemed not more than five….Lent three pounds nine shillings to the potter at Kendal. Met John on our return home at about ten o’clock. Saw a primrose in blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 16, 1800

I call attention to the fact that in most of that day’s entry, Dorothy is talking  feeding the poor, but in the final sentence, she attaches a note about a flower that she had seen that day.

I have only read a few pages, but the following is my favorite of these entries that have a natural twist in the last sentence:

“Very cold. Baking in the morning, gathered pea seeds and took up–lighted a fire upstairs. Walked as far as Rydale with John intending to have gone on to Ambleside but we found the papers at Rydale–Wm walking in the wood all the time. John and he went out after our return–I mended stockings. Wind very high shaking the corn.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal August 22, 1800

I can see that Dorothy’s quick sketches of nature have an honesty and a lyricism that is often lost when a more sophisticated record is made. And more importantly, because Dorothy’s daily notes were very short, she did not allow herself the excuse of lack of time to prevent her from journaling. After having read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal, I have created a new writing agenda to add to my other, more finished writing:

  • I need to get back into nature and to allow myself to simply jot down a few words here and there about what I have seen and heard.
  • I need to allow nature to recharge my writer’s well.
  • I need to embrace the fact that not every writing is obligated to be a chapter in the next break-out novel. I need to allow some of my writing to be very short and unfinished–just a word here and there.
  • I need to grant myself the time and the experiences to nourish my soul.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

©Jacki Kellum September 19, 2016

Hike

Descriptive Writing – Sense of Place – Setting of the Upstate Area of New York in the James Fenimore Cooper Leatherstocking Tales

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“As this work professes, in its title-page, to be a descriptive tale, they who will take the trouble to read it may be glad to know how much of its contents is literal fact….But in commencing to describe scenes, and perhaps he may add characters, that were so familiar to his own youth, there was a constant temptation to delineate that which he had known, rather than that which he might have imagined….

“Otsego….lies among those low spurs of the Alleghanies which cover the midland counties of New York, and it is a little east of a meridional line drawn through the centre of the State. As the waters of New York flow either southerly into the Atlantic or northerly into Ontario and its outlet, Otsego Lake, being the source of the Susquehanna, is of necessity among its highest lands….

“Otsego is said to be a word compounded of Ot, a place of meeting, and Sego, or Sago, the ordinary term of salutation used by the Indians of this region. There is a tradition which says that the neighboring tribes were accustomed to meet on the banks of the lake to make their treaties, and otherwise to strengthen their alliances, and which refers the name to this practice.” Pioneers – Introduction

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[Cooper is describing the area of Council Rock, which is the area where he grew up. James Fennimore Cooper wrote The Last of the Mohicans and several other books that were set in the area around his home in upstate New York. In one of the books, he wrote about how the Native Americans would canoe to a big boulder to meet. This big boulder is Council Rock, which is an actual rock that is very near Cooper’s childhood home. The description of the rock in Cooper’s writing of historical fiction is beautiful and when we know that Cooper had first-hand experiences with the rock, we have little doubt that in writing what is supposedly fiction, Cooper was describing from his own memories.]

“Near the centre of the State of New York lies an extensive district of country whose surface is a succession of hills and dales, or, to speak with greater deference to geographical definitions, of mountains and valleys. It is among these hills that the Delaware takes its rise; and flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs of this region the numerous sources of the Susquehanna meander through the valleys until, uniting their streams, they form one of the proudest rivers of the United States. The mountains are generally arable to the tops, although instances are not wanting where the sides are jutted with rocks that aid greatly in giving to the country that romantic and picturesque character which it so eminently possesses. The vales are narrow, rich, and cultivated, with a stream uniformly winding through each. Beautiful and thriving villages are found interspersed along the margins of the small lakes, or situated at those points of the streams which are favorable for manufacturing; and neat and comfortable farms, with every indication of wealth about them, are scattered profusely through the vales, and even to the mountain tops. Roads diverge in every direction from the even and graceful bottoms of the valleys to the most rugged and intricate passes of the hills. …Only forty years have passed since this territory was a wilderness.” Pioneers – Chapter 1 – Opening Lines

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“There was glittering in the atmosphere, as if it was filled with innumerable shining particles; and the noble bay horses that drew the sleigh were covered, in many parts with a coat of hoar-frost. The vapor from their nostrils was seen to issue like smoke; and every object in the view, as well as every arrangement of the travellers, denoted the depth of a winter in the mountains. The harness, which was of a deep, dull black, differing from the glossy varnishing of the present day, was ornamented with enormous plates and buckles of brass, that shone like gold in those transient beams of the sun which found their way obliquely through the tops of the trees. Huge saddles, studded with nails and fitted with cloth that served as blankets to the shoulders of the cattle, supported four high, square-topped turrets, through which the stout reins led from the mouths of the horses to the hands of the driver, who was a negro, of apparently twenty years of age. His face, which nature had colored with a glistening black, was now mottled with the cold, and his large shining eyes filled with tears; a tribute to its power that the keen frosts of those regions always extracted from one of his African origin. Still, there was a smiling expression of good-humor in his happy countenance, that was created by the thoughts of home and a Christmas fireside, with its Christmas frolics. The sleigh was one of those large, comfortable, old-fashioned conveyances, which would admit a whole family within its bosom, but which now contained only two passengers besides the driver. The color of its outside was a modest green, and that of its inside a fiery red, The latter was intended to convey the idea of heat in that cold climate. Large buffalo-skins trimmed around the edges with red cloth cut into festoons, covered the back of the sleigh, and were spread over its bottom and drawn up around the feet of the travellers—one of whom was a man of middle age and the other a female just entering upon womanhood. The former was of a large stature; but the precautions he had taken to guard against the cold left but little of his person exposed to view. A great-coat, that was abundantly ornamented by a profusion of furs, enveloped the whole of his figure excepting the head, which was covered with a cap of mar ten-skins lined with morocco, the sides of which were made to fall, if necessary, and were now drawn close over the ears and fastened beneath his chin with a black rib bon. The top of the cap was surmounted with the tail of the animal whose skin had furnished the rest of the materials, which fell back, not ungracefully, a few inches be hind the head. From beneath this mask were to be seen part of a fine, manly face, and particularly a pair of expressive large blue eyes, that promised extraordinary intellect, covert humor, and great benevolence. The form of his companion was literally hid beneath the garments she wore. There were furs and silks peeping from under a large camlet cloak with a thick flannel lining, that by its cut and size was evidently intended for a masculine wearer. A huge hood of black silk, that was quilted with down, concealed the whole of her head, except at a small opening in front for breath, through which occasionally sparkled a pair of animated jet-black eyes.

“The mountain on which they were journeying was covered with pines that rose without a branch some seventy or eighty feet, and which frequently doubled that height by the addition of the tops. Through the innumerable vistas that opened beneath the lofty trees, the eye could penetrate until it was met by a distant inequality in the ground, or was stopped by a view of the summit of the mountain which lay on the opposite side of the valley to which they were hastening. The dark trunks of the trees rose from the pure white of the snow in regularly formed shafts, until, at a great height, their branches shot forth horizontal limbs, that were covered with the meagre foliage of an evergreen, affording a melancholy contrast to the torpor of nature below. To the travellers there seemed to be no wind; but these pines waved majestically at their topmost boughs, sending forth a dull, plaintive sound that was quite in consonance with the rest of the melancholy scene.” Pioneers – Chapter 1

[This post is a work in progress. I am reading all of the books in the Leatherstocking Tales, and I’ll be adding to these observations]

Thomas Cole & Hudson River Painters – Art to Match the Romantic Views of the James Fenimore Cooper Leatherstocking Tales

Although Thomas Cole was born in Lancashire, he moved to the USA in 1818 and had settled in New York State by 1825. He is considered to be the founder of the Hudson River Painters, a group of artists who painted the same kind of romanticized, idealized nature that James Fenimore Cooper describes in his books. James Fenimore Cooper, the author of the Leatherstocking Tales–which include The Last of the Mohicans–was born in 1789, and he lived in upstate New York, in the Cooperstown area. James Fenimore Cooper died in  1851, and Thomas Cole died in 1848.

When I am reading James Fenimore Cooper’s books, I love to envision the paintings of Thomas Cole and the other Hudson River Painters.

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Distant View of Niagara Falls – Thomas Cole [Notice the Native Americans overlooking the water–

This could easily be an illustration for a James Fenimore Cooper Book]

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Home in the Woods – Thomas Cole

Working Title/Artist: View on the Catskill—Early Autumn Department: Am. Paintings / Sculpture Culture/Period/Location:  HB/TOA Date Code:  Working Date:  photography by mma, DT2639.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 8_6_09

Working Title/Artist: View on the Catskill—Early Autumn – Thomas Cole

I love autumn in the Northeastern part of the USA. Every autumn, I dig out my copies of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. Those books were written in an area of New York that is near where James Fenimore Cooper lived. I also begin posting all of my favorite Hudson River Paintings, and this year, I am adding Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales to the mix. It all seems to fit.

In my early college years, I studied the English Romanticists–especially William Blake and William Wordsworth. The American Romantic movement shares some of the same themes–especially the idealization of nature.

©Jacki Kellum September 14, 2016

 

 

Anne Lamott – Bird by Bird – Humorous but Penetratingly Honest Advise for Writers

Before the last year, I have avoided writing, and because of that, I have avoided reading many of the books that everyone was telling me that I should read–books that would encourage me to write. Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird is one of those books. Anne Lamott has a sharp wit, and her book Bird by Bird is an enjoyable read. Her assessment of the challenges and the rewards of writing is penetratingly honest. In the introduction to Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott allows us to see her as a survivor of her own childhood gawkiness, and we begin to understand that writing became Lamott’s tool for survival. No different than the rest of us, however, she had to learn to deal with the reality that writing can be an arduous task.

“… we all ended up just the tiniest bit resentful when we found the one fly in the ointment; that at some point we had to actually sit down and write.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

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“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”

Lamott continues by describing her gawkiness:

“I went to the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab. I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny…..first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Amazon.com Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

“Think you’ve got a book inside of you? Anne Lamott isn’t afraid to help you let it out. She’ll help you find your passion and your voice, beginning from the first really crummy draft to the peculiar letdown of publication. Readers will be reminded of the energizing books of writer Natalie Goldberg and will be seduced by Lamott’s witty take on the reality of a writer’s life, which has little to do with literary parties and a lot to do with jealousy, writer’s block and going for broke with each paragraph. Marvelously wise and best of all, great reading.”
 From Publishers Weekly Review of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird
“Lamott’s ( Operating Instructions ) miscellany of guidance and reflection should appeal to writers struggling with demons large and slight. Among the pearls she offers is to start small, as their father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was agonizing over a book report on birds: “Just take it bird by bird.” Lamott’s suggestion on the craft of fiction is down-to-earth: worry about the characters, not the plot. But she’s even better on psychological questions. She has learned that writing is more rewarding than publication, but that even writing’s rewards may not lead to contentment. As a former “Leona Helmsley of jealousy,” she’s come to will herself past pettiness and to fight writer’s block by living “as if I am dying.” She counsels writers to form support groups and wisely observes that, even if your audience is small, ‘to have written your version is an honorable thing’ “
“But I still encourage anyone who feels at all compelled to write to do so. I just try to warn people who hope to get published that publication is not all that it is cracked up to be. But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do–the actual writing–turns out to be the best part. …The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxvi.
 Lamott describes the sensation that she had, as a child, when she first saw her poem in print:
“I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print. It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore ou exist. Who knows what this urge is all about, to appear somewhere outside yourself, instead of feeling stuck inside your muddled but stroboscopic mind, peering out like a little undersea animal–a spiny blenny, for instance–from inside your cave.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xiii.

Other Quotes from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird:

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” 

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

“Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.”

“If you are a writer, or want to be a writer, this is how you spend your days–listening, observing, storing things away, making your isolation pay off. You take home all you’ve taken in, all that you’ve overheard, and you turn it into gold. (Or at least you try.)”

Lamott shares what she tells her students about what they might expect from the act of writing:

“I tell them they’ll want to be really good right off, and they may not be, but they might be good someday if they just keep the faith and keep practicing. And they may even go from wanting to have written something to just wanting to be writing, wanting to be working on something…because writing brings with it so much joy, so much challenge. It is work and play together. When they are working on their books or stories, their heads will spin with ideas and invention. They’ll see the world through new eyes. Everything they see and hear and learn will become grist for the mill….They will have days at the desk of frantic boredom, of angry hopelessness, of wanting to quit forever, and there will be days when it feels like they have caught and are riding a wave.

“And then I tell my students that the odds of their getting [p. xxix] published and of it bringing them financial security, peace of mind, and even joy are probably not that great. Ruin, hysteria, ugly tics, ugly financial problems, maybe, but probably not peace of mind. I tell them that I think they ought to write anyway. But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for. It will not make them well. It will not give the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived. My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. xxix-xxx.

“But I also tell them that sometimes when my writer friends are working, they feel better and more alive than they do at any other times. And sometimes when they are writing well, they feel that tthey are living up to something. It is as if the right words, the true words, are already inside them, and they just want to help them get out. ” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. xxxi.

Chapter One: Getting Started

“…writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 3.

“Start with your childhood….Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 4.

“Do you remember how when you’d be floating around in an inner tube on a river, your own family would have lost the little cap that screws over the airflow valve, so every time you got in and out of the inner tube, you’d scratch new welts in your thighs? And how other families never lost the caps?…

“Scratch around for details…those terrible petaled swim caps, the mean’s awful trunks….Write about the somen’s curlers with the bristles inside….Brownie uniforms….Christmas when you were ten, and how it made you feel inside.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 5.

“Remember that  you own what happened to you. If your childhood was less than ideal, you may have been raised thinking that if you told the truth about what really went on in your family, a long bony white finger would emerge from a cloud and point at you, while a chilling voice thundered, ‘We told you not to tell.’ But that was then. Just put down on paper everything you can remember now about your parents and siblings and relatives and neighbors, and we will deal with libel later on.”

“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?”

“You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind — a scene, a locale, a character, whatever — and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 6-7.

“And so if one of your hear’s deepest longings is to write, there are ways to get your work done, and a number of reasons why it is important to do so.

“And what are those reasons again? my students ask.

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life–wonderful, lyrical language….And quality of attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird pgs. 14-15.

 Chapter Two: Short Assignments

“Often when you sit down to write, what you have in mind is an autobiographical novel about your childhood, or a play about the immigrant experience, or a history….But this is like trying to scale a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk….And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.

“What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I;m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, it to stop. First I try to breathe, because I’m either sitting there panting like a lap dog or I’m unintentionally making slow asthmatic death rattles. So I just sit there for a minute, breathing slowly, quietly. …and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.

“It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. …

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 16-18.
“Say to yourself in the kindest possible way, Look, honey, all we’re going to do for now is to write a description of the river at sunrise….We are just going to take this bird by bird.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird p. 20.

Chapter Three: Shitty First Drafts

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 21-22.

Chapter Four: Perfectionism

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

“Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force….But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground–you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 28-29.

“They [our psychic muscles]cramp around our wounds–the pain from our childhood, the losses and disappointments of adulthood, the humiliations suffered in both–to keep us from getting hurt in the same place again,….Perfectionism is one way our muscles cramp. …They keep us moving and writing in tight , worried ways. They keep us standing back or backing away from    life, keep us from experiencing life in a naked and immediate way.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 29-30.
“Perfectionism…will only drive you mad. …
“Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 30-31.

Chapter Seven: Character

 “You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason. But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story. Bad tings happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not behave perfectly all the time. As soon as you start protecting your characters from the ramifications of their less-than-lofty behavior, your story will start to feel flat and pointless, just like in real life.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 45.

 Set Design

“You want to know its feel, its temperature, its colors….Every room is about memory. Every room gives us layers of information about our past and present and who we are, our shrines and quirks and hopes and sorrows, our attempts to prove that we exist and are more or less Okay. You can see, in your rooms, how much light we need–how many light bulbs, candles, skylights we have–and in how we keep things lit your can see how we try to comfort ourselves….
” ‘For instance, let’s start with the living room. Can you describe a really lovely living room in as much detail as possible?’ And then you can ask what smells your friend remembers, in the living room and kitchen, and what the light was like, and what various rooms sounded like or what their silences felt like. Or, by the same token, you can ask someone who grew up in poverty to give you an exact description of his or her house, the kitchen, the bedrooms, the couch in the backyard.
“Years ago, I was working on a novel that involved a woman who gardened, who in fact loved to garden….

“I love to see people in gardens, I love the meditation of sitting alone in gardens, I love all the metaphors that garden are.“The garden is one of the two great metaphors for humanity. The other, of course, is the river. Metaphors are a great language tool, because they explain the unknown in terms of the known. But they only work if they resonate in the heart of the writer. Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 74-79.

Plot Treatment

“My students assume that when well-respected writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they’ve outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so great, their childlike senses of trust and wonder so intact. Well. I do not know anyone fitting this description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 85.

Looking Around

“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on….Otherwise we’d all just be barking away like Pekingese…Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein….

“The writer is a person who is standing apart, like the cheese in ‘The Farmer in the Dell’ standing there alone but deciding to take a few notes. You’re outside, but you can see things up close through your binoculars. Your job is to present clearly your viewpoint, your line of vision. Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 97-98.

“Obviously, it’s harder by far to look at yourself this same sense of compassionate detachment. Practice helps….Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying gently to bring my mind to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don’t learn to do this, I think I’ll keep getting things wrong.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 99.

Broccoli

“You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself…Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

“You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. The rational mind doesn’t nourish you. You assume that it gives you the truth, because the rational mind is the golden calf that this culture worships, but this is not true. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

“Sometimes intuition needs coaxing, because intuition is a little shy. But if you try to crowd it, intuition often wafts up from the soul or subconscious, and then becomes a tiny fitful little flame. It will be blown out by too much compulsion and manic attention, but will burn quietly when watched with gentle concentration.

“So try to calm down, get quiet, breathe, and listen. Squint at the screen in your head, and if you look, you will see what you are searching for….If you stop trying to control your mind so much, you’ll have intuitive hunches about what this or that character is all about. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 110-113.

Jealousy

“…if you want to know how God feels about money, look at whom she gives it to.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 128.

Index Cards

“One of the things that happens when you give yourself permission to start writing is that you start thinking like a writer. You start seeing everything as material. Sometimes you’ll sit down or go walking and your thoughts will be on one aspect of your work, or one idea you have for a small scene…or you’ll just be completely blocked and hopeless and wondering why you shouldn’t just go into the kitchen and have a nice glass of warm gin straight ou of the cat dish. And then, unbidden, seemingly out of nowhere, a thought or image arrives. Some will float into your head like goldfish, lovely, bright orange, and weightless, and you follow them like a child looking at an aquarium that was thought to be without fish. Others will step out of the shadows like Boo Radley and make you catch your breath or step backward. They’re often so rich, these unbidden thoughts , and so clear they feel indelible. But I say write them all down anyway. ”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 136.

Writing Groups

“When you’re feeling low, you don’t want anyone even to joke that you may be in some kind of astrological strike zone where you’ll be for the next seven years. On a bad day you also don’t need a lot of advice. You just need a little empathy and affirmation. You need to feel once again that other people have confidence in you. The members of your writing group can often  offer just that.  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 157.

“There are four people…who have now been meeting as a group for four years. …

“They’ve  gone from being four tense, slightly conceited, lonely people who wanted to write to one of those weird little families we fashion out of whoever’s around us. They’re very tender with one another. They all look a lot less slick and cool than they did when they were in my class, because helping each other has made their hearts get bigger. A big heart is both a clunky and a delicate thing; it doesn’t protect itself and it doesn’t hide. It stands out, like a baby’s fontanel, where you can see the soul pulse through. You can see this pulse in them now.”   Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 158-59.

Finding Your Voice

“…all of the interesting characters I’ve ever worked with–including myself–have had at their center a feeling of otherness, of homesickness….It turns out that the truth, or reality, is our home. …

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not to go in to. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in–then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 200-01.

Giving

“…it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence, of being Zorba the Greek at the keyboard. Others=wise I am a wired little rodent squirreling things away, hoarding and worrying about supply. …

“You are going to have to give and give and give, or there’s no reason for you to be writing.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 202-03.

The Last Class

“Write about your childhoods….Write about that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply. Exploring and understanding your childhood will give you the ability to empathize, and that understanding and empathy will teach you to write with intelligence and insight and compassion.

“Becoming a writer i about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of.

“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”

“If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 225-26.

“You are lucky to be one of those people who wishes to build sand castles with words, who is willing to create a place where your imagination can wander. We build this place with the sand of memories; these castles are our memories and inventiveness made tangible. So part of us believes that when the tide starts coming in, we won’t really have lost anything, because actually only a symbol of it was there in the sand. Another part of us thinks we’ll figure out a way to divert the ocean. This is what separates artists from ordinary people: the belief, deep in our hearts, that if we build our castles well enough, somehow the ocean won’t wash them away. I think this is a wonderful kind of person to be.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 231.

“The society to which we belong seems to be dying or is already dead….But the tradition of artists will continue no matter what form the society takes…

“In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, ‘This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong.’ And the niche may be small and dark, but at least you will finally know what you are doing….you will be dealing with the one thing you’ve been avoiding all along–your wounds. This is very painful. It stops a lot of people early on who didn’t get into this for the pain. They got into it for the money and the fame. So they either quit, or they resort to a type of writing that is sort of like candy making.” Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, pgs. 234-35.

” ‘So why does our writing matter, again?’ they ask.

“Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the herart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”  Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird, p. 237.

Allow Yourself the Time to Walk and to Look and to Simply Jot Some Notes Along the Way

This week, I have begun to realize that I am not allowing myself, my mind,  and my spirit enough time to stop and smell the rose petals that are scattered around my life. William Wordsworth said that Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of emotions, and I am sure that this was true for him. But it is important to understand that William Wordsworth was an avid walker. and that he made sure that he filled his life with the types of moments that evoke an ever-renewing spontaneous overflow of emotion. I realize that I have not been doing enough of that.

In her Grasmere Journal, William Wordsworth’s sister Dorothy wrote that Wordsworth often sat in a crude shepherd’s hut or a writer’s hut to write. Wordsworth’s writing huts  were little more than a roof and a desk that were beneath a covered shelter, and they had no walls that separated him from nature. The huts were situated in places where he had a natural view and a first-hand experience of his natural environment. Wordsworth clearly wanted to write from  a place where he could directly respond to his natural setting, and his intimacy with nature allowed himself to have the fodder needed to evoke his overflow of emotions and to refill his spirit.

Anaïs Nin also talked about the overflow that Wordsworth had mentioned:

 “You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them.”
― Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947

For the past year, I have written almost every day, but I have  done so from  a comfortable spot in my bed, with my laptop on my lap. Almost every day, I have responded to the WordPress Daily Prompts, and until recently, I have been able to draw upon memories for my writing. I have discovered, however, that I am beginning to repeat myself. Clearly, my emotional well is beginning to run dry, and I recognize that I need to do something more to provide myself with fresh writing material. Very simply, I need to recharge.

Yesterday, I began to read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, and in it, I saw that Dorothy’s journals are nothing more than simple records of what she saw and experienced directly in her life.

“In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills and the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale–of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine and overhung with partial mists, the green and yellow trees and the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 10 October 1800.

There is something alive and fresh about the way that Dorothy Wordsworth captured what she actually saw on October 10, 1800. What she has written is not fancy or elegant or sophisticated, and this is very important: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry is not long and convoluted. It is simply a record of what Dorothy saw that day.

When I blog, I clearly blog with the reader in mind. I try to write in complete sentences, and I strive to write so that other people can make sense of what I have written. I also strive to write an article that I believe is respectably long. In other words, when I blog, I feel some obligation to write full and detailed blog posts. After reading Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal, however, I realize that I also need to be writing some simpler and more immediate notes about what is actually occurring around me and what I actually see day-to-day.

Dorothy Wordsworth was also a walker. On an almost daily basis, Dorothy would walk in some natural setting and she would write simple records of what she saw. Although she was not a poet per se, she closely observed the weather and the flora and fauna around the places where she walked. Afterward, in just a few words, she strove to capture her immediate impressions about what she had seen. Dorothy Wordsworth did not realize that her journals would be made public, and when she took notes on her daily life, she did not bother with grammatical correctness or with trying to write full sentences. She simply blurted a word or a phrase that signified an actual moment in her day. The following is an example of one of Dorothy Wordsworth’s longer entries in her journal:

“After tea we rowed down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild strawberries, and walked up to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking at the lake, the shores all embrowned with the scorching sun. The ferns were turning yellow…here and there one was quite turned. We walked round by Benson’s wood home. The lake was now most still and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky. We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood as we were floating on the water it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above us–it called out and the dome of the sky seemed to echo the sound–it called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre a musical bell-like answering to the bird’s hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo after we could see him no longer.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 27 June 1800.

As I said, the above is one of Dorothy’s longer and more refined entries, and even the above journal entry in not long, as compared to what I have deemed to be a respectably long blog post. I teach a writing class, and the excuse that i most often hear for the student’s not writing is that the student did not feel that he had enough time to write. What they are actually saying is that they did not have enough time to sit down and complete an article that is 400 -1200 words long. Everyone has time to journal the way that Dorothy Wordsworth journaled. On most days, she simply jotted a few words like in the following:

“A very fine day with showers–dried the linen & starched. Drank tea at Mr. Simpsons. Brought down Batchelors Buttons (Rock Ranunculus) & other plants–went part of the way back. A showery, mild evening–all the peas up.” May 22, 1800

Many of Dorothy’s entries are nothing more than an observation of the humdrum activities of her day, and her writing is usually noted in sentence fragments. Occasionally, Dorothy would follow a basic record of the hum-drum proceedings of her day with a simple comment about nature that was almost haiku in quality.

“No fire in the morning. Worked till between seven and  eight, and then watered the garden, and was about to go up to Mr. Simpson’s, when Miss S. and her visitors passed the door. I went home with them, a beautiful evening the crescent moon hanging above Helm Crag.” Dorothy’s Journal May 28, 1800

“A letter from Jack Hutchinson, and one from Montagu enclosing a three-pound note. No William! i slackened my pace as I came near home fearing to hear that he was not come. I listened till after one o’clock….Foxgloves just coming into blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 6, 1800

On June 16, Dorothy wrote that a child stopped by her house on his way home from Hawkhead. He was hungry, and she fed him. In a way that is typical of Dorothy’s writing the final line transforms the entry entirely:

“When I asked him if he got enough to eat he looked surprised and said, ‘Nay’.  He was seven years old but seemed not more than five….Lent three pounds nine shillings to the potter at Kendal. Met John on our return home at about ten o’clock. Saw a primrose in blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 16, 1800

I call attention to the fact that in most of that day’s entry, Dorothy is talking  feeding the poor, but in the final sentence, she attaches a note about a flower that she had seen that day.

I have only read a few pages, but the following is my favorite of these entries that have a natural twist in the last sentence:

“Very cold. Baking in the morning, gathered pea seeds and took up–lighted a fire upstairs. Walked as far as Rydale with John intending to have gone on to Ambleside but we found the papers at Rydale–Wm walking in the wood all the time. John and he went out after our return–I mended stockings. Wind very high shaking the corn.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal August 22, 1800

I can see that Dorothy’s quick sketches of nature have an honesty and a lyricism that is often lost when a more sophisticated record is made. And more importantly, because Dorothy’s daily notes were very short, she did not allow herself the excuse of lack of time to prevent her from journaling. After having read Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere journal, I have created a new writing agenda to add to my other, more finished writing:

  • I need to get back into nature and to allow myself to simply jot down a few words here and there about what I have seen and heard.
  • I need to allow nature to recharge my writer’s well.
  • I need to embrace the fact that not every writing is obligated to be a chapter in the next break-out novel. I need to allow some of my writing to be very short and unfinished–just a word here and there.
  • I need to grant myself the time and the experiences to nourish my soul.

©Jacki Kellum September 11, 2016

Recharge

Things That I Did Not Expect to Learn from Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal – Keep It Short! Disregard the Rules!

I am grazing my way through Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere Journal, and I have enjoyed the beautiful passages that she sometimes recorded, but I have also been impressed by Dorothy’s system 0f  journaling.

Much of her journal is built of phrases and not of full sentences. I found this to be very encouraging. When i look at the entirety of Dorothy’s journal, I see that her journaling must have been good for her development as a writer. Even if the journal entries and quick and even if they are not grammatically correct, they capture quick observations that are almost poetic. There is evidence that some of William Wordsworth’s most famous poems were built upon Dorothy’s journal entries.

May-17 May 17, 1800

Almost all of Dorothy’s daily entries are very short.

Some of the entries are not longer than a sentence or a phrase.  I believe that we should learn from this that we should allow ourselves permission to simply take notes in our daily journals. We are not obligated to write the next great novel every time that we write.

May-22 May 22, 1800

Many of Dorothy’s entries are nothing more than an observation of the humdrum activities of her day.

Occasionally, Dorothy would follow a basic record the proceedings of her day with a simple comment about nature that was almost haiku in quality.

“No fire in the morning. Worked till between seven and  eight, and then watered the garden, and was about to go up to Mr. Simpson’s, when Miss S. and her visitors passed the door. I went home with them, a beautiful evening the crescent moon hanging above Helm Crag.” Dorothy’s Journal May 28, 1800

“A letter from Jack Hutchinson, and one from Mantagu enclosing a three pound not. No William! i slackened my pace as I came near home fearing to hear that he was not come. I listened till after one o’clock….Foxgloves just coming into blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 6, 1800

On June 16, Dorothy wrote that a child stopped by her house on his way home from Hawkhead He was hungry, and she fed him. There are several reports about beggars and te hungry in her journal. This entry is totally about feeding the child, but notice how, through the final line, she transforms the entry. Dorothy does not do that to impress anyone. She probably had no idea that anyone other than William would ever see her journal. About the child that she fed, she said the following:

When I asked him if he got enough to eat he looked surprised and said, ‘Nay’.  He was seven years old but seemed not more than five….Lent three pounds nine shillings to the potter at Kendal. Met John on our return home at about ten o’clock. Saw a primrose in blossom.”  Dorothy’s Journal June 16, 1800

I have only read a few pages, but the following is my favorite of these entries that have a twist during the last sentence:

“Very cold. Baking in the morning, gathered pea seeds and took up–lighted a fire upstairs. Walked as far as Rydale with John intending to have gone on to Ambleside but we found the papers at Rydale–Wm walking in the wood all the time. John and he went out after our return–I mended stockings. Wind very high shaking the corn.”  Dorothy’s Journal August 22, 1800

In my previous post, I shared some of Dorothy’s entries that seem to be more complete as nature writings. Here The entries that I am sharing in this post are different, and I could not keep myself from commenting upon Dorothy’s tendency to wax poetic at the end of a humdrum line entry. She doesn’t seem to labor over it, and she doesn’t go into great detail. It is simply enough. That is poetry. I am learning something from Dorothy Wordsworth’s approach to journling.

©Jacki Kellum September 7, 2016

 

 

 

 

Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Provides A Word Painting of 19th Century Life in the English Lake District – Sense of Place

Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in a journal, and her words paint a brilliant image of what life seemed to her when she and her brother William Wordsworth lived in the English Lake District during the early 19th Century.  She  began the following entry immediately after saying farewell to her brothers John and William, who had departed for Yorkshire.

“The lake looked to me I knew not why dull and melancholy, and the weltering on the shores seemed a heavy sound. I walked as long as I could amongst the stones of the shore. The wood rich in flowers. A beautiful yellow, palish yellow flower, that looked thick round and double, and smelt very sweet–I supposed it was a ranunculus–a crowfoot, the grassy-leaved rabbit toothed white flower, strawberries, geranium–scentless violet, anemones two kinds, orchises, primroses….Met a blind man, driving a very large beautiful bull and a cow–he walked with two sticks. Came home by Clappersgate. The valley very green, many sweet views up to Rydale head….One beautiful view of the bridge, without St. Michael’s….I resolved to write a journal of the time til W. and J. return….” Dorothy Wordsworth Journal Wednesday 14, May 1800.

Nature was important to the Wordsworths. It was a tonic for their spirits, and William Wordsworth said that Nature was his teacher. He was saying that Nature spoke to him and directed his path and that he communed with Nature.

The following was painted by H. Levan.

Image result for paintings of lake district england

“Warm and mild, after a fine night of rain. Transplanted radishes after breakfast, walked to Mr. Gell’s with the books, gathered mosses and plants. The woods extremely beautiful with all autumnal variety and softness…All flowers now are gay and deliciously sweet. All flowers now are gay and deliciously sweet. The primrose still pre-eminent among the later flowers of the spring. Foxgloves very tall, with their heads budding. I went forward round the lake at the foot of Louhrigg fell. I was much amused with the business of a pair of stone chats. Their restless voices as they skimmed along the water following each other their shadows under them, and their returning back to the stones on the shore, chirping with the same unwearied voice. Could not cross the water so I went round by the stepping stones.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 16, May, 1800.

“I went to Ambleside after tea, crossed the stepping stones at the foot of Grasmere and pursued my way on the other side of Rydale andClapppersgate. I sat a long time to watch the hurrying waves and to hear the regularly irregular sound of the dashing waters. The waves round about the little island seemed like a dance of spirits that rose out of the water and to hear the regularly irregular sound of the dashing waters. The waves round about the little island seemed like a dance of spirits and rose out of the water, round its small circumference of shore….and was accompanied by Mrs. Nicholson as far as Rydale. This was very kind but God be thanked I want not society by a moonlight lake….”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Monday 2 June 1800.

Constable

Image result for close up J.M.W Turner sky

J.M.W. Turner

“After tea we rowed down to Loughrigg Fell, visited the white foxglove, gathered wild strawberries, and walked p to view Rydale. We lay a long time looking at the lake, the shores all embrowned with the scorching sun. The ferns were turning yellow, that is here and there one was quite turned. We walked round by Benson’s wood home. The lake was now most still and reflected the beautiful yellow and blue and purple and grey colours of the sky.

Image result for vintage painting crow“We heard a strange sound in the Bainriggs wood as we were floating on the water it seemed in the wood, but it must have been above it, for presently we saw a raven very high above it called out and the dome of he sky seemed to echo the sound–it called again and again as it flew onwards, and the mountains gave back the sound, seeming as if from their centre a musical bell-like answering to the bird’s hoarse voice. We heard both the call of the bird and the echo after we could see him no longer.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 27 June 1800.

Image result for painting of oldmchurch grasmere

Rydal Water by E. Longstaff

“A grey evening. About eight o’clock it gathered for rain and I had the scatterings of a shower, but afterwards the lake became of a glassy calmness and all was still. I sat till I could see no longer….” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Saturday2 August 1800.

Image result for 19th century English painting autumn

Painting by Benjamin Williams

“In the morning when I arose the mists were hanging over the opposite hills and the tops of the highest hills were covered with snow. There was a most lovely combination at the head of the vale–of the yellow autumnal hills wrapped in sunshine and overhung with partial mists, the green and yellow trees and the distant snow-topped mountains. It was a most heavenly morning.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 10 October 1800.

Image result for 19th century English painting sheep cattle

Henry Britan Willis

“After dinner we walked up Greenhead Gill in search of a sheepfold. We went by Mr. Olliff’s and through his woods. It was a delightful day and the views looked excessively cheerful and beautiful chiefly from Mr. Ollif’s field where our house is to be built. The colors of the mountains soft and rich, with orange fern–the cattle pasturing upon the hill-tops kites sailing in the sky above our heads–sheep bleating and in lines and chains and patterns scattered over the mountains. They come down and feed on the little green islands in the beds of the torrents and so may be swept away….Look down the brook and see the drops rise upwards and sparkle in the air….” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Saturday 11 October 1800.

“We pulled apples after dinner, a large basket full. We walked before tea by Bainriggs to observe the man coloured foliage the oaks dark green with yellow leaves, the birches generally still green, some near the water yellowish. The sycamore crimson and crimson-tufted, the mountain ash a deep orange, the common ash lemon colour but many ashes still fresh in their summer green. Those that were discoloured chiefly near the water.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 12 October 1800.

“The prospect most divinely beautiful–from the seat–all colours, all melting into each other….a very cold frosty air, and a spangled sky in returning….Wytheurn looked very wintry but yet there was a foxglove blossoming by the roadside.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Wednesday 15 October 1800.

“Rydale was very beauiful the surface of the water quite still like a dim mirror. The colours of the large island exquisitely beautiful and the trees still fresh and green were magnified by the mists. …We sat at the two points looking up to Park’s The lowing of the cattle was echoed by a hollow voice in Nab Scar.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 19 October 1800.

“The ash in our garden green, one close to it bare, the next nearly so.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Friday 24 October 1800.

“The coppices now nearly of one brown. An oak tree in a sheltered place…not having lost any of its leaves as quite brown and dry. We did not walk after dinner. It was a fine wild moonlight night.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Monday 27 October 1800.

“A very rainy night….We walked out before dinner to our favourite field. The mists sailed along the mountains and rested upon them enclosing the whole vale….A fine moonlight night when we came home.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Tuesday 28 October 1800.

“A cold rainy morning….The Michaelmas daisy droops, the pansies are full of flowers. The ashes opposite are green all but one but they have lost most of their leaves. The copses are quite brown….A rainy night.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Thursday 6 November 1800

“a rainy morning. A whirlwind came that tossed about the leaves and tore off the still green leaves of the ashes. A fine afternoon. Wm and I walked out a four o’clock. West as far as Rothay Bridge… The country very wintry–some oaks quite bare–others more sheltered with a few green leaves others with o=brown leaves, but the whole face of the country in a winter covering.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Saturday 8 November 1800

“I baked bread. A fine clear frosty morning. We walked after dinner–to Rydale village. Jupiter over the hilltops, the only star like a sun flashed out at intervals from behind a black cloud.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Monday 10 November 1800

“A mild night partly cloudy partly starlight. The cottage lights, the mountains not very distinct.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Tuesday 11 November 1800

“Went upon Helvellyn, glorious  glorious sights. The sea a Carmel. The Scotch mountains beyond the sea to the n=right. Whiteside large and round and very soft and green behind us. Mists above and below and close to us, with the sun amongst them–they shot down to the coves….A soft grey evening–the light of the moon but she did not shine on us.” Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 25 October 1801

“Mary and I walked as far as Sara’s Gate before supper. We stood there a long time, the whole scene impressive, the mountains indistinct the lake calm and partlyl ruffled–large island, a sweet sound of water falling into the quiet lake. A storm was gathering in Easedale so we returned but the moon came out and opened to us the church and village. Helm Crag in shade, the larger mountains dappled like a sky. We stood long upon the bridge.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Wednesday 18 November 1801

“We….returned by Butterslip How–a frost and wind with bright moonshine. The vale looked spacious and very beautiful–the level meadows seemed very large, and some nearer us unequal ground heaving like sand, the cottages beautiful and quiet. We passed on near which stood a cropped ash with upright forked branches like the devil’s horns frightening a guilty conscience.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Sunday 22 November 1801

“As we were going along we were stopped at once, at the distance perhaps of fifty yards from our favourite birch tree. It was yielding to the gusty wind with all its tender twigs, the sun shone upon it and it glanced in the wind like a flying sunshiny shower. It was a tree in shape with stem and branches but it was like a spirit of water. The sun went in and it resumed its purplish appearance the twigs still yielding to the wind but not so visibly to us. The other birch trees that were near it looked bright and cheerful, but it was a creature by its own self among them…. A shower came on when we were at Benson’s. We went through the wood–it became fair–there was a rainbow which spanned the lake from the island house to the foot of Bainriggs. ….Catkins are coming out palm trees budding–the alder with it plum-coloured buds. We came home over the stepping stones. The lake was foamy with white waves. I saw a solitary butterflower in the wood. ….

“In speaking of our walk on Sunday evening the 22nd November I forgot to notice one most impressive sight. It was the moon and the moonlight seen through hurrying driving clouds immediately behind the Stone Man upon the top of the hill on the forest side. Every tooth and every edge of rock was visible, and the Man stood like a giat watching from the roof of a lofty castle. The hill seemed perpendicular from the darkness below it. It was a sight that I could call to mind at any time it was so distinct.”  Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journal Tuesday 24 November 1801

 

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