April 2018

It’s Earth Day! My April author newsletter has a small poetry study, and a writing tip, “Improvisations,” featuring the work of poet William Carlos Williams. Take a look!

Theresa J. Barker

Photo by Theresa Barker.

I am sitting at my desk this Sunday morning, looking out at the overcast sky that promises sun later on. The 100-foot Douglas Fir tree outside my window is popping forth with small orange mini-cones – pollen pods? – on the tips of its green-needle branches, like little kernels of orange popcorn dusted across its boughs. A squirrel prances along a long branch inside the sheltered-needle casing of the tree, two – no three! – stories above the ground.

Squirrels are so amazingly unafraid to scamper along waving boughs of maple trees in my neighborhood, or atop the thin wire of an electrical connection to the power pole outside. They seem to think nothing of it. It makes me think: what am I afraid of, and how might I overcome my fears? Years and years of evolution have probably given the squirrels in my yard their…

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Early April findings

Often when I’m stuck in my writing, I (too late) realize it’s because I have been neglecting my reading.  Often I forget that when I’m reading I get ideas either for a better structure in my work, or for ideas about technique.  Recently I got a stack of books off of new reading lists and powered through a few of them.  I started writing reviews on Goodreads a couple of years ago, and I’ve found that writing a review helps me to think through my experience of the book and to gain more from it.  I thought you might enjoy hearing about these three novels I just finished, and that reading about them may remind you of books you’ve enjoyed over the years.

Do you have favorite reading lists?  Some of these came from Real SimpleClick here to see one of their lists.

Reviews

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started this book and then put it on the shelf. But then I got a library email that the due date was approaching and that there were 41 people waiting for it, so I could not renew it – and since so many people wanted to read it, I knew it might be a while before I could check it out again. Inspired by a recent article in The Seattle Times by Moira Macdonald, the Times literary critic, who said she recently attempted to read 6 books in 2 days (for reviews), I decided to plunge in and read the book in a few days rather than spreading out the reading over a few weeks. I’m glad I stuck with it. This book has a unique voice, the first-person (“I”) voice of a young woman who has had a terrible and unthinkable tragedy in her childhood and has been leading a deeply traumatized life since. She has all sorts of quirky repetitive behaviors and minimal social skills, and her “unreliable narrator” voice is quite intriguing in the novel. The author does a good job of gradually revealing the secrets of the narrator’s past and also of portraying the narrator, a very difficult person to be around, in a sympathetic and supportive way. I would recommend it for anyone looking for a new read!

Out Stealing HorsesOut Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a book set in Norway that starts out slowly, but eventually ranges over the entire life of the narrator. It focuses on the summer of 1948 when the narrator was a fifteen-year-old in Norway spending the summer with his father in a remote cabin in the mountains near a small village. Eventually the father’s activities during WWII and the son’s relationship with the father are all explored. The book also spends time on the narrator’s present time, in which he is a man of 70 also living on his own in a remote cabin (different cabin), reflecting on the loss of his wife, on what it’s like to be alone and (mostly) self-sufficient, on how he’s cut himself off from his daughters and any other family. I confess I didn’t like the book at first, as I think I felt unconnected with a fifteen-year-old boy in 1940s Norway, but I slowed down in my reading and tried to understand more what the narrative was about. In the end it was an enjoyable book, though its literary style could be somewhat off-putting at times. Fun look into a Nordic solitary life.

The Italian Party: A Novel by Christina Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a deep dive into 1960s (actually, 1956) Italy, in particular, Siena. The opening premise is delightful, a young couple gets married, in America, move to Siena supposedly for the husband’s work as a Ford tractor salesman, but they know almost nothing about each other, having brought all kinds of assumptions and half-truths to their perceptions of the other person. As my parents were married in early 1957, I found this time-capsule story to be quite engaging as a look into the world of that time. Communist-haters, conventional attitudes about sex and marriage, cooking and the “wife’s role” in the home, etc. One thing that kept my interest was the author’s technique of moving around in viewpoints, so that you get mostly the wife’s point of view, but you also get the viewpoint of the husband at times (of the same event), and I think there’s even one or two small sections in minor characters’ viewpoints. It’s sometimes fascinating to hear how the other character sees the same situation – and the author also uses these POV changes to reveal secrets that each character does not want the other to know. Perhaps a little heavy on the “research-inspired” sections about political machinations, etc., but at the same time, you get some insights into the nuances of post-WWII Italy and how it was for those who experienced the war and its consequences in small-town Italy. I’d recommend it!

What to see when you’re not especially looking

Here we have two more mini-mural utility boxes on the street . . . aren’t they fun?  I’ve posted the one on the left before, but I enjoy it so much I took another photo and included it here.  The one on the right says “Regrade.”

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This is a little tea-and-cupcake shop downtown that has the most amazing interior with travel photos, etc.  I’ve gotten a couple of really interesting writing pieces done when I was writing inside!

Do you ever walk along the street or in a park and suddenly notice an unusual or thought-provoking sight?  I took these photos recently to share with you.  The first one was just to celebrate the ornate carving on the side of a building, almost baroque-like, that is much more interesting than just a flat concrete or stone wall.  The second one is, can you believe it? a small raised frog fastened into the building’s stone.  And finally:  a cluster-clump of popped up daisies along the walkway in a nearby park.  It’s Spring!

Tattoo Girl, part 15

This week I wanted to write more about Jaime, our Tattoo Girl.  This is becoming a long-ish tale, and readers have been so encouraging about hearing more on the story – thank you!

This post is standalone, but if you’d like to read earlier installments, please see links at the end of this post.

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The day Jaime got her cat tattoo she was mad at André.  That’s what she told her friends afterward, but it wasn’t the truth.  The day Jaime got her cat tattoo she was sad, empty and lonely, even though she was already married to André the lawyer and they had moved to Houston for his job.  And she was painting her art in their apartment’s second bedroom, but the painting wasn’t going well.  Something, something, something else was needed.  She thought, maybe it was a tattoo.  She knew friends who had gotten that first little butterfly on the nape of the neck, or a small rose at the ankle, or a heart at the wrist.  New friends she’d met in Houston at the art collective.  But even though she made friends she still felt lonely, André working long hours (It’s a new job, I have to show I’m committed), and she’d only married him (she realized later) for security.  Her father had been a lawyer.  It was classic transference, at least that’s what the psychology wags would say.  She wouldn’t say that.  She’d never say that.

She’d say, it was a mistake.  We all make mistakes.

Security.  The day she got her tattoo she was ready.  But it took some months, more than a year after the tattoo, to finally make the split from André.  Why?  Well, you think, it’s not so bad.  It could be worse.  But what you don’t know is that little part of you that is dying from inside.  The part of you that wants affection, that hopes to be close to another person, that wants to feel like you’ve been chosen as a partner, not just married by default because no one else was in sight.

Okay, she’ll admit to herself, it took finding out that André was involved with someone else to make her finally leave.  But she was ready.  When she saw those emails to “Cheryl,” a paralegal at his office (paralegal?  not even another lawyer?  what was that about?), discussing their meet-up arrangements at a local hotel, she was ready.  Back to Seattle, back to art.  Back to being who she wanted to be, not the person André thought she was.

The cat tattoo came with her.  And Mr. Mittens came along not too long after.

Fate brings strange and wonderful things.

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What do you think?  Have you made mistakes that you didn’t see until you were beyond them?  How did you recover from those mis-steps?

Tattoo Girl – Part 1 here.|Part 2 here.|Part 3 here.| Part 4 here.|Part 5 here.| Part 6 here. | Part 7 here. | Part 8 here. | Part 9 here. | Part 10 here. | Part 11 here. | Part 12 here. | Part 13 here. | Part 14 here.

Thanks for visiting!

What you see when you are on the street

I’ve been spending time downtown in my city recently, and I took this wonderful shot of a utility box that had been painted into a piece of art – a box of popcorn!

Photo by Theresa Barker.

I love these little art mini-murals, for two reasons:  1) it’s great to see something unusual made out of a utilitarian piece of industrial equipment like a utility box, and 2) it keeps the box from becoming trashed by graffiti and vandalism.  This particular box happens to be across the street from a special movie theater, the Cinerama (upper left of the photo), which runs huge 70-mm films, and calls itself “Seattle’s Most Epic Movie Experience.”  Yeah!  History and info herehttps://cinerama.com/History.aspx  Isn’t it fun to have a big box of popcorn mural on the street in front of a historic movie theater?

Update:  neglected garden re-planting

My friend and fellow blogger Dahlia has been asking me about my little garden plot that I posted about a few weeks ago.  It’s still going well!  I’ve got a few update photos:

This was the little area that has been neglected and abandoned at the edge of our yard, and over the past few years it became overgrown with invasive plants.  I took the time finally this March to clear out the troublesome plants and to plant it carefully with native plants, then I added compost on top of the soil to help get it going.

Photo by Theresa Barker.

In my post I was reflecting that so often we do little jags of writing here and there but don’t give our writing the concerted and kind attention that helps it grow and become stronger.  – Like this part of my yard!  Dahlia’s question reminded me of my topic for that post, which was the value of paying attention, regularly and with kindness, to one’s writing as well as one’s gardening.  I am happy to report that both the garden, and my writing project, are benefiting from regular and kind attention.  I hope you are giving your own writing or photography or art the same!

Fiction:  “Garden”

I wrote a small story (101 words) about a recent visit to our Seattle Japanese Garden, which opened for the season on March 1.  It’s beautiful there in all seasons, but especially this time of year just before the trees start to leaf out and before the summer blossoms come.  Here is the website: Seattle Japanese Garden

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In the Japanese Garden
Theresa Barker

Stones line the pathway to the Tea House.  Invisible waters cascade down the brook bed.  Red winter branches of delicate maples pattern the emerald moss below.

Does the moss think:  I am here to pad the way for falling leaves?  Does the tree think:  I am here to scatter my leaves upon the moss’s head?

Stones growl and sigh with anchored certainty while the trees sway and steal the wind’s transience from the air.  A woman, a man, passing, understand nothing of the musical whisperings that float among the botanical beings of the garden.  Only the earth understands.

Thanks for visiting!

March 2018

Now when we’re really starting to see signs of spring, I hope you enjoy my author newsletter for March, posted earlier this week. I’ve included a poetry study, a writing update, and this month’s writing tip. Happy writing!

Theresa J. Barker

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Ah!  It just turned to spring, didn’t it?  (March 21st)  Does it feel like spring where you are?  Thinking of my writing colleagues across the country and across the world, I’m sitting at my desk imagining what spring is like for them in Phoenix, Los Angeles, New Jersey, India, Australia, Tanzania, and Cambridge, England.  And even though the calendar says it’s spring, this week we had snow.  Big sloppy snow flake packets dropping from the sky to the ground, not sticking, but still – present.  This morning the sun is out, there are sounds of birds in the budded or blooming trees outside, and the grass shimmers green, almost vibrating in the early-spring light.  That kind of light makes you feel like you can do almost anything.  Doesn’t it?

I would love to share this inviting poem…

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