Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fictive character spills on author: try it, it's a helpful exercise.

When you write stories you get to create characters, but what would one of  your characters have to say about you?  Here's Ruthie, circa a few years back, on Jeannette:

Hi, my name is Ruthie and I got picked to be the character that tells you about Jeannette. Amazing, she picked me. 

I wonder what she thinks I’ll tell? Not that I don’t like to talk, ask any of my friends, they’ll tell you, but I’m a good listener too. I like people. People are always welcome at my door. They come, I feed them, we talk. I could have been a psychiatrist or a hairdresser maybe that would have been just as good, but me, I stayed home on the ranch. But I’m getting off the subject; this is supposed to be about Jeannette. 

It’s a shame she doesn’t have a better memory, and she could be just a bit more industrious. All right, so she already has the stress from her job. I know what that’s like because my son, he’s a very important person, he has the professional stress. Anyway, so it takes it’s toll, but a persons just got to decide, what are you going do? So if she wants some advice from me I’ll give it to her with strudel and tea, “If you want to tell a story you got to get to it.” But maybe she’ll listen to you people better. Who knows what difference you make in a person’s life? In one ear and out the other they say, but with her I think some of it sticks. 

But as I was saying about her memory, just the folks she met at my table, oh the history it all spans, she should remember it all. Okay, I’m not really someone she knew…and yet I didn’t spring from thin air either. I suspect some of the stories she could tell just the way she heard them, but she’s got these notions about fiction being able to tell a truth in a special way and fiction needs characters and I don’t know about you but personally I’d rather have character than be one. But a character I am and what she’s going to ask of me next I don’t know. 

I know that I’m putting some pressure on her. Sometimes I'd feel like the ladies that inspired me were my Siamese twins, like we were joined back-to-back and trying to walk opposite directions. But I’m learning to just speak up and let her know, “That’s not what I’d say, I’m not as nice as those old friends of yours that you hold so fondly in your heart. I’d stand up to that challenge.” And sure enough, she lets me go. 

So while I got the chance, what was it you wanted to know about her? I never could understand her love affair with writing. Talking it out is what I love to do, but she sees something and down it goes into words on a page. One day she found a notebook that was the perfect size for the inner pocket of her purse and she bought five of them. No bells on her toes, she just has paper and pen wherever she goes. I think she actually does her best work in dark black pen on paper, but as you know, she’s using a computer. You got to watch her if she’s doing rewrites, a couple times she’s squeezed the juice right out of me. Oh, here she comes now, I gotta go. 

 Ruthie, what have you cooked up now?  She’s stirring so many stories she gets them mixed up sometimes so you needn't quite believe everything she tells you, besides,  she almost always exaggerates about me.    Jeannette 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Always Expose for the Shadows of the Subject even When you Aren't Taking Pictures

A reposting from a few years back...

"Always expose for the shadows of the subject..."   so says my 1948 focal guide retrieved from storage a few weeks ago.  Somehow the advice suggests other connotations....the realms of metaphor... " always expose for the shadow of the subject."

The other day it was the Walter T. Foster painting book  Seapower that got me thinking this way.
I had looked at the  10" x 14" teaching book  with absolutely no intentions of trying to paint the ocean or the cliffs I live above and yet

 I enjoyed perusing the step by step paintings and the tips and clues to doing the same.
"If you continually think in large masses of light and shadow ..."    "Always think and paint the large masses first..."   "...pick out the lighting...then you will know exactly where you are going."
  So if you know from where the light emanates, you will know where you are going.
That makes more than sense to me. 

Later in the day, out and about on the land,  I found  the painting advice impacting how I saw the ocean waves, the light on the rocks, the blue of the sky.  Lessons for painters are first and foremost, lessons for the eye.

Writers must see carefully too and one's eye must be attuned to many realms.  It's good to be able to see one's own framework of understanding, to filter the light from the dark.  Every heart frames reality in its own terms, its own limits.  To have an impact it needn't be large, but there must be an intersection with other frames of reality other than one's own.

I look at the sea.  Clouds are stretched like peach tinged taffy along the horizon. Light is scattered across the waters so white and shimmering  in areas that the eye can barely absorb the beauty without reflexively looking away.   I can change my visual perspective and for a moment the waters in front of me appear like a bowl, but I know the horizon is distance beyond my scope.

There's a boat out there carrying its own reality across the waters, but to me it is little more than a dark speck.  We are often in each other's view, but seeing eye to eye, well the eyes and the heart can take a lot training.

Such are the topics that have been on my mind lately.  You might enjoy the essay I  wrote this week and posted on Write Purpose  "Why We do the Things We Do "

Now that I have read  my old focal guide, I want to see if I can translate it to my digital camera.   My  notes to my self need to say.."Always be aware of your tendency to just point and shoot on automatic..."   and of course that too has metaphorical implications; I'm not just talking about taking pictures.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Black Butterfly Hatches while it Rains and Blows...female pipevine swallowtail

 On January 23rd, picking out spent leaves on a potted pelargonium I snapped off a brown stem. As I went to toss the leaves in a bucket, I looked down in my hand and saw what I thought at first was a leaf rolled up. I had inadvertently plucked some little critter.  I realized it must have been attached to the stem I had broken; it was a chrysalis. I wish I had been more careful because now I couldn't string it back to the plant the way it must have neatly spun itself on a twig to swing and sway in waiting.  I brought it inside and marveled how its colors were so similar to the leaves of my plant.   I later read that they are often the color of the leaves they have eaten.

I set my displaced friend with a leaf or two in a glass jar with  a vented lid and put it on my desk.  I was pretty sure it was a future butterfly, but I hadn't had any close encounters with a chrysalis for many decades.

I took a peek at it most every day. It never answered any of my questions as to whether its accommodations were satisfactory or let me know if my assurances of good intentions were penetrating.  I took this picture on January 27th.  It was hard to tell if anything was going on.  The leaf was drying up, but the chrysalis looked about the same. 

 I decided it deserved more of the plant in the jar and I nestled it on a new leaf on February 5th.  They really do have a matching color thing going on together, don't they?  I was prepared to wait. One friend suggested to me it could take months to manifest.

Then this morning, February 9th, as I approached my desk, I saw my cat standing over the jar and sniffing at the lid.  I knew at once that movement must have drawn the cat, something was changed.  I had missed the moments of emerging, eclosing, hatching.  While I had slept, the last transformations had been going on inside this quiet package.

Lifting by the stem of leaves, I helped her out of the jar right away.  I was excited and wanted to return her liberty to her at once. I took her out to the front porch and set her on the wooden arm of a chair.  The wind was blowing and the rain poured down.  What a morning for the birth of this beautiful black swallowtail butterfly.

She continued to cling to the leaf.  I picked a new wet stem of the same plant and she gravitated to that and seemed to drink.

Still in my robe, I left her on the window sill and  I went back inside.  The husk and original leaf on which she had rested, brown now, lay in the bottom of the jar.  I got dressed and went back out to check on the winged beauty.

She hadn't flown away. One could hardly blame her.  We are in the middle of what the weatherman has called an atmospheric river.  I decided she might need to shelter for a time,  so I moved the very potted plant on which we had first met up under the cover of the porch roof and set her cut branch in the living plant.

And there on a potted pelargonium on my front porch she has spent her first day.  I should go see if she is still there...It is  now 9 pm and she is still on the potted plant.  I do hope she is viable.  Perhaps tomorrow there will be a spot of sunshine, something this butterfly has to yet experience, and with wings warmed she will venture out into the garden.

FRIDAY MORN UP DATE:  Sunshine was the secret ingredient for this butterfly to take wing.   As soon as a few weak rays broke through this morn, I moved the potted plant and inhabitant into the light and several hours later my friend had flown into her life!   Maybe sometime she will make me a visit.

February 9th in a ray of morning light.


from friend Katie who has studied butterflies: 

 "We don't have black swallowtails in our part of CA.  It looks to me, you have a female pipevine swallowtail (, which feeds only on pipevines ( Do you have some pipevine, native or cultivated, nearby? Caterpillars of all sorts of Lepidoptera tend to roam around before they pupate, hence why you found yours in your geranium. And, they also tend to eclose early in the morning, maybe as protection from hungry birds, considering leps are so vulnerable when their wings pump out and harden.....and really you should let them rest outdoors to get the winter chill and emerge at the same time as their cohorts for mating purposes."

~Thank you Katie~  I  haven't seen the pipevine plant in our environs, but one can always stand to become more observant and it isn't as if I can trek around in all the places this beautiful butterfly can go. I wonder how far the caterpillars can crawl?  I hope she wasn't too coddled and thereby premature in my warm house...learning...learning.  It is always good to learn!