In which Theresa talks about a possible new direction for the blog

#amwriting, #writinglife, #writingcommunity
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I’m sitting at my desk this morning thinking about the immense thunderstorm that happened here in Seattle last night. Seattle rarely had electrical storms when I was a kid. In fact on TV last night the weather meteorologist said, “This is Midwest weather!” According to the national weather service there were over 1200 lightning strikes in the Seattle area last night. I believe it! They had to postpone our local college football game over two hours for safety from lightning strikes, for the first time ever. At one point my spouse and I threw open the front door, looked south, and the entire sky was white with lightning flashes. So odd for Seattle! Exciting!

What’s coming up

#amwriting, #dailywriting, #writingcommunity
Photo by Theresa Barker

I’m excited to mention that last month was my six-year-anniversary writing the Lab Notes blog. In the past several weeks I’ve been reviewing my blog and going over my thoughts and feelings about it. When I started the blog, I would write a very short flash fiction piece and post it daily. It was a great feeling to put out my work and let the world take a look at it, no matter how small the audience. Gradually I started reading more blogs, loved hearing more about the writers and their own lives, and I added some updates on my own writing and on the process of writing itself.

Lately, however, I’ve been sensing a possible shift in the focus for the blog. Recently I did some research on blogging, tips and best practices, that kind of thing. I’m mulling over some possible new directions for the blog that will engage my interest and readers who have been part of my community.

I still love the series that I’ve written for this blog, like the Haunted Wedding Dresses story, and – going way back – the #productivewriter and #beingthemoment articles. Reader feedback has been such a great part of this blog. I’m looking forward to continuing those fun aspects of my blog and to make them even better.

Writing excerpt

This is a story that I wrote quite a while ago, and it’s never found a home, though it did win an Honorary Mention in a writing contest. I think you may enjoy it!

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Strike Breaker (Part 1)

Princess Amadea stood at the scullery sink up to her elbows in soap suds. As the princess of the realm she should never have washed dishes herself. But with the elves on strike, there was no one to do the servants’ work in the castle. She had to host the Banquet of Lords this evening to take her rightful place as sovereign of the realm. Thirty-six sets of china, silver, and glasses had to be clean and ready for setting by six p.m. Food furnished by wood fairies would served to each of the thirty-five royally-appointed nobles of the kingdom. The entire event must be carried off without a hitch, or she’d be the laughing-stock of the realm by this time tomorrow.

But the elf-staff were on strike. Had her father the king, been alive, he wouldn’t have stood for a strike. He would have brought in ogre troops, just as he had when she was a girl. She shuddered at the memory. Ogres vs. elves was not a pretty sight. She still recalled the sight of elves, still dressed in palace livery, scattering before the violent clubbing by the ogres. Bloodied heads and crushed limbs, with more than a few casualties. The old king had kept his palace staff in line ever since.

But the old king was dead. In his absence, Elf Leader Mitchell had called a palace strike almost immediately, leaving Amadea scrambling to meet her obligations, as Crown Princess and prospective ruler of the kingdom, the first of which was to host the Banquet of Lords.

Amadea rinsed the plates and stacked them in columns on the counter beside her. “This is the last of them, your highness,” came a raspy voice from the doorway. Mistress Periwinkle, Amadea’s longtime companion and maidservant, appeared through the doorway to the china cellar, her arms full with a load of china. “I’ll start laying out the linen.”

The princess took the china from the older woman and placed it in the sink. As Mistress Periwinkle headed for the dining hall, Amadea dropped her arms into the soapy water again.

If she had been raised in the palace, she might have known what to do. But she’d been sent away from the palace when she was ten, just after her mother’s death, to live in a hunting lodge with a contingent of her father’s woodsmen, chaperoned by Mistress Periwinkle. She knew nothing of court manners, of how to handle the staffing of royal functions. She had to rely now almost exclusively on Mistress Periwinkle’s knowledge, which may not have been as up-to-date as possible. Still, it would have to do.

Thankfully, if she and Periwinkle could set the table and prepare the banquet hall, that would be sufficient. Food would be catered, by tradition, by the fairies of the wood. If she’d have to prepare the food as well . . . she shuddered to think of it.

Mistress Periwinkle came into the scullery and picked up a load of newly washed china. “The linen’s all laid out, your highness,” she commented. She did a half-curtsy and bowed her head toward Amadea.

“Oh, Periwinkle, no need to curtsy when it’s just the two of us,” the princess said. After all their years together in the forest as companions, Periwinkle had now started this annoying habit now of curtseying and bowing to her.

“Yes, your highness,” Periwinkle said. And she did another half-curtsy.

Amadea sighed. Just then, there was a knock at the scullery door. In panic, Amadea looked over at Periwinkle. The wood fairies! Could they be early? Surely not!

The knock came again.

Periwinkle opened the heavy door. There stood Mitchell, the leader of the strike. He was dressed in the customary palace livery of blue and gold tunic and knickers, black boots. . . .

(To be continued!)

Happy writing!

On rejection

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Well, here we are in the last part of the summer, post-August 15th, at the time when you really start feeling the curve of the sunlight dropping slowly slowly slowly toward the golden autumn crispiness that leads again into winter. At my latitude we get about fourteen hours of sunlight in a day this time of year, down from almost fifteen hours at the start of the month, and by October 1st we will have passed the equinox, and it will be less than 12 hours of light in the day. Such a gradual process, losing the length of daylight, that one hardly notices. But there is a feel in the light this time of year that seems to suggest the passing away of time, even before autumn arrives.

Lately I have been thinking about rejections I’ve received on my work. I have been fortunate to receive a number of acceptances and to have my work published in some small fiction journals over the past three years. But the acceptances still fail to take the sting out of rejection. People say putting one’s work out there is one of the hardest things to do, and I always tell other writers that they should give themselves credit simply for being willing to take the chance to submit their work, even though it is difficult to take the rejections that inevitably come back from submissions. Even if one is confident in the value of their work, even if one braces themselves against the possibility of rejection, though, it can still be discouraging and frustrating to get back rejections.

When the rejection includes an indication, however small, that you might have some acknowledgment of the value of the work, it feels much less bruising. This week I got a rejection email from a flash fiction market on a story that I submitted, which is a bit of a quirky piece, but which I still like very much as a work of art. In this rejection they sent me the feedback from their 5 slush readers. While most of the five readers obviously did not like the premise at all, asking questions that indicated they didn’t get what I was trying for in the piece, one of the readers completely understood it, and they said they liked it. It was wonderful just to see that.

Today I would like to share a piece that is a one-sentence story of about 400 words, which did get rejected from the market I intended it for, but which I still like very much, and in that spirit I wanted to share it with you. By putting it out here on my blog I am choosing to publish it myself, so I will not be sending it out for first-publication rights to any other markets. But I have a feeling you will enjoy it, and that makes me happy to know.

About this piece: I wrote this in response to a one-sentence piece published in monkeybicycle some time ago. If you click on the link here, scroll down to Prelude Op. 02 No. 21 by Dean Liao, you will see the piece that inspired this one. I wanted a more upbeat tone in my piece, since that one is fairly dark in its ending.

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Prelude in B-Flat Major

(After Dean Liao)

She sat on the windowsill in a hotel room on the 25th floor, a wide and deep sill from the 1930s when the hotel was built, a windowsill on which you could eat a five-course meal or play a game of checkers with your grandfather or make love to your most cunning crush from work, looking over Central Park like in the movies, freshly full from room service’s delicate poached eggs and tartly shredded hash browns, sesame-grain wheat toast with sweet jam from a tiny jar made for elves, a jar kept company on the room service tray by matching doll-sized salt and pepper shakers, all encased in a slate-steel protective heat cover that indicated her meal was crafted only for her, even though it was not, it was just one more meal in the kitchen for a guest on the twenty-fifth floor overlooking the park, but she liked to imagine herself as unique and worthy of attention, if only from the staff of room service in a hotel across the street from Central Park, because, as her therapist had told her, it is in the connections to one another that we can hold back the specter, the temptation, the impulse to take one’s life, and of course she did not wish to disappoint her therapist, Ms. Ramsay, who wore reindeer sweaters at Christmas and Fourth of July fireworks earrings in the summer, Ms. Ramsay who suggested this little holiday after their recent check-in session in which the therapist had pronounced much progress had been made, and wouldn’t this be the perfect time to take a break from your demanding job, to take care of yourself for a change with a stay at a New York hotel, yet in the back of her thoughts, hovering like a pack of jackals in the Serengeti, there it is, the thought you don’t deserve this, all this, that you cannot be happy while you know your son has died in a distant dry land and will never be back, will never cross the threshold of your home again, the thought that led you to see Ms. Ramsay last year, and how could she have known two celebrity suicides would be in the news this weekend, but for now you breathe, breathe, you savor this moment of not-knowing, and you smile at your flat reflection in the window, so familiar and so distant, so calm.

Happy writing!

 

Seeking coolness in the presence of hot temperatures of August


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I just came back from a visit with family in California. The temperatures were in the 90s during the day, which is a bit hotter than we’re used to in my part of the country. Thankfully, temperature-wise, we went into San Francisco for a day and toured the SF Modern Museum of Modern Art, where we saw a lovely and stimulating series of exhibitions on American Abstractionist art, on various periods in Andy Worhol’s art (have you ever seen his early commercial art? It’s amazing), some fun Alexander Calder mobile and stabile art (Seattle has his “Eagle” piece on exhibit in the Waterfront Sculpture Park), and a really intriguing “living wall” of plants – ferns and other wall-based greenery.

Speaking of temperature, the past couple of days we have had cooler temperatures and even some RAIN here in Seattle, which makes me smile. At least for the past two years I don’t think we’ve had a drop of rain in August, so my yard and myself are very delighted with a bit of precipitation. I am delighted.

What I’m working on

About my writing, I am happy to report that things are starting to move forward. The main rule I’m reminding myself of is, “Be gentle with oneself. Be generous, be kind.” I don’t think I can have too much kindness toward my own creative self, and if you are as self-critical as I am, you’ll know what I mean. I know, of course, once I have a draft of a project on paper and complete, I can bring in those wonderful critical voices to help fine-tune the project. But for now I’m keeping my critical voices outside my drafting space – in the “green room,” as it I’m imagining it – where they are sequestered from making negative judging remarks on my artistic work, until they are needed.

I have two novel projects I’m alternating between, one is about sixty pages long at the moment, a realistic novel about a marriage falling apart, and the other still in infancy stages at thirty-five pages, an ensemble novel about a group of people living in a 1920s historic apartment building who interact with each other and form a community.

Here is a haiku I wrote for a project on the topic “Shenanigans.” I was thinking of last year’s lunar eclipse!

Photo credit: Theresa Barker.

Shenanigans

Fickle moon you haunt me.
Be yourself and drop your silvery shenanigans,
disappearing behind the sun-golden mask.

Happy writing!

Regarding small things of pleasure


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As we round the corner of the last weekend in July and head straight into early days of August, one thing I notice is how much sunlight we get this time of year. In my neighborhood the days start early with songbirds greeting the light, and the golden quality of the light makes me think ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Soon enough we’ll be having shorter-shorter-shorter days and then there will be darkness at five pm. Then it will be time to curl up with a hot drink and a warm book and read!

Which is its own small pleasure.

Here’s a short poem from my recent work. I hope you’ll find something to enjoy in it!

The thing you notice last

The thing you notice last
are the hands.
Thick fingers but not ungraceful.
The hands of a fisherman
must be adept to the tasks of fishing,
the tying of lines both large and small,
the propelling of oar through water with
or against the current.
The deft handling of a slip-muscled fish
not wishing to be caught.
Hands, whose fingers mimic
the sharp talons of the river bird – eagle, hawk, osprey –
gripping and prying.
Winding line and fileting flesh.

When you ask what’s the best way to catch river fish,
in your young person’s untried voice,
the answer comes:
Don’t be afraid to go into the deep. The shallows are no good.

Away you go, and only later
you understand this as a commentary on life.

Happy writing!

On the poison of self-critical voices in one’s head

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I am my own worst critic, so the saying goes. But in my case, perhaps it’s best to say, “I am my own BEST critic.” I know all the little weaknesses, all the faint places where my writer’s mind can be insidiously attacked from inside my own head. “You’ll never finish that project. Your words will dry up and you’ll have nothing to say. Or what you do have to say will be boring and predictable.” All those nasty biting criticisms that can prevent us from even picking up the pen, opening up the computer, typing one sentence, one word. Instead the little creative writer inside us decides to take a vacation. It packs its bags and leaves town. Why hang around if those voices will only pull it down, pull apart its work, tell it what a failure it is?

In the past few weeks as I’ve been going through creative recovery, working my way through The Artist’s Way, endeavoring to be gentle and to take things in slow steps, not rushing or pushing or pressuring my creative self to produce, produce, produce, I have discovered something that surprised me. Shocked me, even. I have discovered that my critical voice is woefully over-developed. From a New York Times article on a temperament model based on ancient Greek philosophy, I discovered I am likely hyper-critical, hyper-judging – more than “average” – especially toward myself.

Strangely, this was both dismaying and liberating news. No wonder I shrink from the page as my first reaction to the thought of writing? I’m telling myself it’s already bad even before I start. I’m judging my efforts before they’re on the page, and the judgment is not complimentary. No wonder my writing efforts have long been subject to fits and starts.

In a way, I’m happy to have discovered how self-critical I am. I come from a long line of perfectionist high-achievers, ambitious and self-judging. If we were going to do something, the women in my family, we must do it to the very best possible level. No lowered standards for us!

Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

I’m happy to have discovered it because it has helped me to be more actively self-forgiving. I am experimenting with heightened gentleness, with more self-forgiveness. With lining up things to be grateful for accomplishing, rather than things “I haven’t done yet.” For instance, this week I was asked to provide public comment at a meeting of our City Council on a neighborhood activism issue, and my first thought was, “Not me! I’m not good enough/smart enough/capable enough to do this!” But then my second thought – after calming down with tea and soothing music – was, “They asked me, so I must be smart enough and accomplished enough to make it happen.” After that, I wrote up my comments and I’ll be going to the City Council meeting tomorrow to present my opinion. And it will be fine, I’m sure.

What I’m working on now

Here is a companion piece to my earlier “Bookbinder” piece from a few weeks ago. I’m working on a new project that this may be a part of.

Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

Cabinet Maker

To begin with, the art of cabinet-making seems monumental and life-changing, something of substance and worth, the basic making of a box, a bureau, a bookcase, the fitting of a dovetail joint, the box joint, the blind mortise-and-tenon joint, the bridle joint, the object that becomes a work of art in the hands of a skilled crafter, the selection of wood with an eye to its beauty and the finesse of its grain, the reverence for the living being the wood came from, an upright breathing resin-producing bark-protected column of cambium and xylem encircling the cord of heartwood, the heartwood of stored sugar, dyes, and oils, the art of cabinet-making through which the transformation of tree to wood to functional object is made by use of adz and augur, bevel-edge chisel and block plane, c-clamp and cabinet saw – this is a practice of firm hands, finger dexterity, and shrewd measurement, and, above all, patience. Iron can be forced, yet wood yields more readily to the caress of the experienced palm, the precise placing of surface against groove, the pliant placing of joint pieces together. Iron can be burnt, cast, molded; wood must be cared for, kept in shape, protected from extremes of heat and cold. Wood has been a living thing, iron has come from inside the earth, and before that, the inside of stars. While iron was being invented in the long-ago fusion furnace of stellar clouds, wood has arisen only recently, in planet terms, from the death of living beings that came before it. Wood has a heart, iron has a soul.

Anaea knew this. She had come to woodworking school to be the person she’d always wanted to be. She would remake herself just as she would remake wood, the stout gift of the earth, into beautiful objects of art. Graceful. Lithe. Through woodworking she would become everything she felt she was not. She would transcend a life of clumsiness, she would transform into a person of grace – patient, perceptive, calm. Her intensity, which had dogged her all her life, which had cost her jobs and relationships and sleep at night, her intensity would be smoothed down and channeled into quieter streams of productive emotion. Through the artisan work of cabinet making. She was sure of it.

If only it were that easy. If only.

 

Happy writing!