Sunday, February 24, 2013

The First Day of Spring came in February

Calendars notwithstanding, today was the first day of Spring.

Proof:

  • my son found a flower growing in the yard
  • I went on a bike ride with my son
  • I was hoeing in my garden, and red potatoes I had planted in the Fall came out, like little eggs given to us by the Easter Bunny
  • I grilled hamburgers for lunch (check and mate!)

Most of all: I wanted it to be Spring. And so did my sons, and my wife, and the birds, especially the one that sang outside my bathroom window this morning. Him especially. He was dying for Spring to be here. No, not dying. He was announcing its arrival.

One must always listen to birds in these matters. They know.

So Happy Spring, if you're lucky enough to live where it came today. And if not, if you're still in winter, hold on. Your hope is soon to be rewarded. Or if you're in summer, rejoice with me, because today Spring came.

It's here. Everything is new again. Bright with promise. And the garden awaits me, its soil dark and damp. Life will come up through the earth, weeds will sprout, trees will bud, birds will ta-ta-tap at my house, bees will eat holes in my porch ... All this is upon me. And this week, with any luck, I'll get the first seeds into the potting soil, and I'll start my plans, ever elaborate and full of schemes, ever derailed by life and accidental seedling deaths -- but not yet. Today all is fresh and green and blooming in my mind. The broken-down garden fence calls to me, pushing aside the last of my winter chores. The rain gutters need my care. My bicycle chain needs oil. My legs need stretching. I'm dreaming of hiking in the woods. I'm gazing at this and that, thinking of paint and hammer and nails. I'm a homeowner astir. I'm a beaver come out of the winter chill.

Yes, Spring is here. I know it in my bones.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Meeting Brer Rabbit


When I was a boy, my father, who was always too busy, would sometimes refer to (but not tell) stories of Brer Rabbit. I suppose, in retrospect, he didn't remember the actual stories, just the gist. Or maybe he feared he wouldn't get the dialect right.

Even so, it awoke in me a thirst to meet this compelling creature, and find out about his mischievous deeds. I did, too, many years later--perhaps as many as thirty years, to be exact.

It happened like this: I had a gift card for a bookstore. A friend, apologizing needlessly for the "lack of thought," had sent me something I would actually use and that felt like a luxury. I used most of it to buy a hardcover edition of The Hobbit, to replace the old paperback that I had foolishly tossed out in a move. (Well, donated to the library ...)

Then, a couple of weeks later, or perhaps a month, I was back at the bookstore with my youngest son, then four years old. He liked to play with the train set they keep in the kids' section of the store. So I went back with him and started browsing the kids' books. You maybe haven't looked in a while; I hadn't. There were depressing quantities of "series" and relatively few stand-alone books. Shelves and shelves and shelves of these series, all with look-alike spines. And then in one corner, half a shelf or so, some "fairy tales."

Shelf of books
This is my shelf, but you get the idea. Can you spot Uncle Remus?

I snooped through them. Most were reproductions of classic tales. But tucked among them, small, in a yellow cover, with a reddish-orange spine, there it was:

JULIUS LESTER The Tales of Uncle Remus PUFFIN. 

I took it off the shelf. You know the feeling: a little tingle goes up your arm. The book has a bit of magic in it. It's been waiting for you. I get that sometimes at the library. Only this time, it could be mine.

The front cover:
PUFFIN MODERN CLASSICS

THE TALES
OF UNCLE REMUS
The Adventures of Brer Rabbit

AS TOLD BY JULIUS LESTER
ILLUSTRATED BY JERRY PINKNEY

Uncle Remus (book cover)

I flipped to the introduction. The LAST thing I wanted was a bowdlerization of a set of tales I'd heard of (but never heard) my whole life. But then again, it was Puffin … A charming introduction by Augusta Baker, dated 1985, calmed my fears. I read part of a story (to the tune of my son's choo-choo). And that was that. I took it to the register and handed it to the clerk.

"Someone's getting a treat," she said, looking at my son.

"Well, we both are," I said, with a shy smile.

I took out my gift card, depleted the last penny of my balance, added a couple of bucks, and it was mine.

Postscript: I read these tales to my boys, with much pleasure, over the course of the next couple of months. I followed it up with a free iBook collection of original Joel Chandler Harris tellings. I like those old ones, yes; but Lester's renderings have a soft spot with me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I come (to faerie) because

Like most of you, I stumbled into faerie, following some half-heard pipe over a half-seen hill.

Through the wood-shade, across the voices of a stream. Lay back on grass there, with tall blooming lace and the green perfume of a thousand stems. Dangled my fingers in the water there, among the pebbles and the flitting guppies. Made a house for a grasshopper in my hands, felt the scratch of his feet on my palm. Raced through its pasture. Swung from the branches of a tree.

I come back because the world of the city of men is more blurry. It's more blurry here, the beauty harder to find, winking out between eyelashes. And I need the keen edge of faerie to find it. Or the city-world becomes, for me, too dull for words. Too void of sensation, that layer of feeling, like a cocoon of forgetting.

That's why.


Postscript. This in reply to a question by Terri Windling: "What brought us here to the numinous landscape of Faerie, and why do we stay?" See the conversation at Myth & Moor: The Desire for Dragons

Sunday, February 10, 2013

iA Writer - My Review


This is the first text I've typed on my new text editing program, iA Writer. App purchasers crowed about how it helps you focus on the text you're writing, and not get distracted by formatting and other things. I don't consider myself a highly distractible person, but I have noticed a tendency to perk up when an email comes into my box. And then there's the occasional icon that tempts me into doing "something else."

The app was on sale (for a limited time!) for $5. And I had an iTunes gift card from Christmas which, admittedly, I should be using for music, since I don't have much. Or should I? Considering that I don't often invest in writing tools, maybe this is the best option. (This is a Mac app, if you haven't figured that out.)

It's early in the game, but I must admit the experience is different. My screen feels more like a type-written page and less like a computer monitor. And yet in some ways I suppose it feels more like an old-fashioned monitor.

In Full-screen mode, you see nothing but what you're typing, and about 21 lines of text (mostly) above it. There's nothing else but a lot of "white space" at the margins; and you have to hover the mouse at the bottom to find out your word count, or hover it at the top to save.

When you're not in Full-screen mode, the window you're typing in looks like a disembodied square of whitish space with plain black text. The margins disappear, but you can still see your icons and so on. That's part of the point: Go into Full-screen and you literally block out everything but the text.

My next task will be to copy and paste something I've been working on in MSWord into the editor and see how it looks. Wish me luck … Okay, that went without a hitch.

The one thing I don't like (or not yet) is that you hit "return" and there's no blank space or other indication (like indent) that you're starting a new paragraph. That seems like it would make editing difficult. If I put two spaces in, will that make it awkward when I export it? Let's find out … Well, not exactly.  It left one return but with an extra space between the two paragraphs. And it turns out that's what it does if you only hit return once. Let's see if that causes a problem for the document I just pasted from Word… Nope, not a problem. So you can either double return or just once, I think … and that leaves it with a space between paragraphs on the other end. (It exports to an .rtf file.)

One last thing: there's a feature called "Focus Mode." When you turn it on, the only sentence you see in black is the one you're typing (or editing). Hit period, and that sentence goes to light gray, and the new words start in dark. Works for editing too: move your cursor to a sentence, and it comes into "focus." Your focus sentence always appears in the middle of the screen. (That feature helped me catch a couple of typos on this post; and spot some poor transitions.)

So my one gripe would be that I have to hit "return" twice to see separation between paragraphs as I type. Most everything else feels strange but potentially helpful. Strangest of all, to me, is that the keyboard itself almost "feels" different, when I'm typing in the program, as if the keys are larger than they used to be. Not sure I want to mess with my writing mojo this way (at least for a novel). But it's great for a blog post!

P.S. I pasted this text from iA Writer directly into the text box on blogger - no issues.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Twice-Read Books


"If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads."
- Fran├žois Mauriac (courtesy of Kara Monterey, @kmonterey)

Intrigued by this quote, I’ve pulled together a list. This is the order in which they occurred to me. I’ve not been one to read many things more than once, so the list is short. When you’ve looked through it, and been duly shocked and amazed by my tastes, I’d love to see what would be on your list.

The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, The Screwtape Letters
The Bible
Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, The Gambler, Notes from Underground
The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit
Strunk and White
The Brothers Grimm
Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion Trilogy (The Paradise War, The Silver Hand, The Endless Knot), Dream Thief
Patricia McKillip's Riddle of Stars Trilogy
The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
Phantastes, by George MacDonald
The Odyssey
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
My Father's Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Alice in Wonderland
The Wizard of Oz
Beowulf
Selected Poems of Ezra Pound
Any number of picture books, but especially Dr. Seuss

I don't know that this reveals my "heart," but it says something about the kinds of stories I like. There's a bit of my history in there too, and no doubt some of my personality comes through.

Thoughts?

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