Simplify, Simplify…

Novelist Dorothy Sayers’ most well-known character, the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, is welcome to his opinion that “a facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought”, but he’ll not dissuade me from my fondness for quotations. I collect pithy selections from other writers’ work and correspondence with an enthusiasm usually reserved for baseball card traders or fans of architectural remnants. I’ve always found a good quotation focuses my attention, helping to make another person’s wit or wisdom accessible in new and useful ways.

Like any collector, I enjoy showing off my treasures. A few of my favorites are posted here. Occasionally I pass along tidbits I find especially piquant or amusing via Twitter, but most of the time I go old-school, taping current favorites to the bottom of my computer monitor. Rarely inspirational in any traditional sense, these hand-written snippets are meant to provide the kind of wacky encouragement and perspective I find stimulating.

They change frequently and vary according to the nature of my current frustration. Only one has earned the privilege of continuous posting, a friend’s utterly perfect description of our beloved computers as “infernal persnickety time-suckers”.  Taken separately, each word is apt. Taken together, they bubble up into a perfect verbal storm that never fails to make me laugh, even as it washes my mind clean of whatever cyber-frustrations have built up around my desk. Continue reading

More than Paper and Pen

I nearly missed it. Hardly larger than a child’s playhouse, tucked into a bend of Oklahoma highway, its red stone walls flickered in the rising light and complemented the hand-lettered sign. For rent? I thought as I drove past. Furnished?

Pulling onto the side of the road, I turned around and headed back to park in the dirt driveway that edged the property. A house to the east seemed vacant. An air conditioner humming in one of three slightly larger brick cabins to the west only added to the sense of desertion, if not desolation. Camera in hand, I walked around the car to get a better look at the cottage, and stopped.

Above the battered door, a carved stone lintel betokened human presence: friendship and welcome, affection, familial bonds.  Beautiful and unexpected, it brought tears to my eyes and unexpected longing to my heart. I wanted that cabin. Continue reading

Bowling with Ansel Adams

Blogger or novelist,  columnist or poet, anyone who writes consistently knows the experience.  After hours or days of steadily increasing pressure, a dam breaks. Encouraged by the warmth of reflection, a jam of frozen thought gives way and words begin to flow, irrepressible syllables that splash and tumble over one another as they swirl away to unexpected conclusions.  Images rise into consciousness, yeasty and pliant as freshly homemade bread.  Sentences take on the burnished glow of parking lot pennies. Impatient phrases nudge against the resistant mind, begging for attention.  

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining.  Show me the glint of light on broken glass”, says Chekhov.   And now and then, we do.  Often we’re unable to explain how or why it happens ~ some lines do seem to “write themselves” ~ but however strange or inexplicable the experience, there’s no question that it’s real. Continue reading

Surviving the Guilt, Reclaiming the Gift

Sometimes, we don’t have a choice about whom we entertain.

I don’t remember making a call and I surely didn’t send out invitations, but suddenly a new problem has come to visit.    Sitting cross-legged at the corner of my mind, riffling through my thoughts like so much junk mail and looking for all the world like a bored ingénue who’s misplaced her nail file, my problem doesn’t seem inclined to leave.  So, it’s time to set aside the social niceties, and cope with this uninvited guest.

My problem is a sudden inability to write.  Since Hurricane Ike, I’ve produced a few blogs,  including one or two that pleased me very much. But the joy of writing, the sense of unfettered creativity, the easy flow of words simply has stopped. Ideas continue to pile up in my head, notes get jotted and beautiful, fragile phrases flit through my mind like clouds of rare verbal butterflies, but none of them lands on my paper.

The experience is passing strange.

For someone whose home experienced the eye of a hurricane, I’m unbelievably blessed.  My house is secure, and my business will survive.  While I’m getting things back on an even keel, my mother not only is being cared for, she’s rather enjoying herself on an extended midwestern “vacation”.   The stray kitty I worried over survived the storm perfectly well with some help from the neighbors, and the camphor tree I planted and love lost hardly a leaf.

My possessions are intact, including a little antique china collection I fuss over every hurricane season.  I experienced no financial losses because of the storm, apart from evacuation expense,  loss of income and the need to throw out a refrigerator-full of food.  My flowers are blooming and my bills are paid.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, I have no problems.

And that, it seems, is the problem.  Continue reading

Creativity and Crisis


The first sentence of this week’s Write on Wednesday prompt stopped me as surely as an unexpected storm surge: “Earlier tonight I was tearing around the kitchen in my usual mad dash to get dinner – putting dishes away, feeding the dogs, preparing a marinade for the salmon, cleaning and chopping some carrots…” There was nothing extraordinary about Becca’s description of her evening routine, and that alone made it seem utterly extraordinary, a glimpse into a half-remembered world where the simple realities – dinner, dishes, dogs – could be counted on to sustain and enliven the routines of life.Chopping some carrots…”

During the past weeks, there have been times I’d have found the thought of chopping carrots unimaginable, if not slightly bizarre. After a storm like Ike (or Katrina, or Rita, or any of the unnamed spinning whorls of water and wind yet to come), routine is an early victim. On the sailboat crazily surfing atop the storm surge, in the condo surrounded by moonlit water where no water ought to be, in the grinding screech of metal on metal and the plummeting and plunging of fiberglass and wood, there is no thought of routine. Survival is what counts. But storms end and water recedes. Emerging speechless from their shelter into the dawning of a fragmented, chaotic day, everyone discovers their world has been utterly changed, and beloved routines scoured away as surely as houses from a beach.

Like injured creatures warily testing first one limb and then another, people ask, “How’d you do?” “How’d the storm treat you?” What they’re asking, of course, is whether you have a house left, or a business, or even a dish to hold some carrots. It’s easy to assume those who emerged from the chaos with their home, family and possessions intact weren’t “affected” by the storm. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone is affected, and the sense of dislocation, the communal feeling of helplessness, the suspicion that life itself continues to surge and to scour is a suspicion that can’t be avoided or dismissed.

Rich or poor, cursed or blessed, old or young, people begin to re-establish their routines in the same ways. They tell their stories, over and over. They stand and stare into space, as though listening for answers to unformed questions. They ask perfect strangers, ” How high’d the water get at your place?” and call people they haven’t spoken to in years, simply to ask, “Are you alive?”

If you catch them in an unguarded moment, their faces seem as placid and impenetrable as the glistening smoothness of the waters which destoyed their lives. If you look more closely, you can see the turbulence beneath the surface, as the mind races to catch up with life. Overwhelmed by events, stripped of routine, forced to absorb the realities of utterly changed lives and reduced to a search for the most basic necessities, it seems there is no time for thought and reflection, no time for creativity, no time for any spirit other than a spirit of gritty determination.

And yet, if there is no time to slow the pace of events or slow activity in the face of devastation, it hardly matters. For healing to take place, for creativity to re-emerge and the spirit to be restored, it is the mind that must be slowed, given rest and allowed to lie fallow as a winter field while time and patience do their work.

Returning home after Ike, I found the crepe myrtle beside my mother’s porch utterly stripped and bare – not a leaf remained on its branches. After a week, tiny bits of green appeared – new leaves defying the season, emerging in utter silence and oblivious to the destruction surrounding them. Today, two weeks later, the tree is fully leaved. Even though it isn’t time to prune, I’ve trimmed a bit, shaping the tree and cutting back enough to encourage even more growth.

Along the ditches and seawalls, where debris once covered the grasses and shrubs, there is a faint green haze of new growth. The water is settling, and returning heron and egret are reflected in the early morning stillness. In the nighttime silence, fish frolick and splash as though they, too, have come home, and a single, unapologetic bit of human laughter ripples into my window on the breeze.

Once again, creation and destruction have battled for supremacy, laying waste to the world and humbling humanity in the process. And once again, creation has the last word. What is true for nature is true for human nature, the nature of human spirit and mind. Time. Patience. Silence. Creation will come.


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