Have you ever looked at tea?

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Photo by Theresa Barker.

This morning I made a cup of tea.  Have you ever looked at tea?  If you take a look at tea, before the leaves are brewed, each leaf is curled up into itself, like a little piece of a mystery.  And then, when you add hot water, voilá!  The leaves unfurl and emit their special fragrance and taste.

Doesn’t that seem magical?  Every time I scoop out a spoonful of tea leaves and drop them into a tea leaf infuser I just think, wow.  It may be a tiny thing, but it’s a lovely and wonderful thing, all the same.

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Photo by Theresa Barker.

And here’s the result! A lovely cup of oolong tea and the basket infuser of unfurled leaves. Doesn’t that look amazing?

Do you drink tea?  What is your favorite type of tea?  I’m partial to Oolong, but I also enjoy Darjeeling, Assam, and other flavors and types of tea.  If it’s really good tea, the first swallow makes me feel happy.

Indie Bookstore Day, part 2

Photo credit: Third Place Books, Seward Park, Seattle.

This weekend my daughter and I had the chance to go to another bookstore and claim our “prize” for making it all the way around our bookstore tour earlier this month.  We had refreshments, including yummy spice cake with cream cheese frosting, and we visited with other bookstore lovers and staff.  Super-fun!  Here we are!

Tea and Writing . . .

. . . My adventure with tea (above) reminded me of the power in small details.  If you are a writer, photographer, artist, you know what I’m talking about!  There is a talent – isn’t there? – in being to take a moment to see things, really see things, that are small and easy to miss.  And they say, that’s the way into poetry and other art, noticing small details.  And making something out of them!  What do you think?

 

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Independent Bookstore Day! – April 28th

Photo credit: Eagle Harbor Books, Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Last month my daughter and I took off on adventure – in our own back yard!  Inspired by an article in the Seattle Times by literary critic Moira Macdonald, we took the challenge to visit 19 different bookstores in the Seattle area in ONE DAY, thereby qualifying for a 25% discount ALL YEAR at the bookstores on the tour.  Wow.  We started at 7:55 in the morning on Saturday morning, riding the Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island, where we visited two bookstores on the same street, including Eagle Harbor Books (our photo above).  For fun, they had tiny muffins for us to munch on, – and! they took our photo beautifully for posting on Instagram.  So fun!

Fast-forward through 18 more bookstores, we visited Poulsbo, Edmonds, the Eastside, and then several bookstores in a variety of Seattle neighborhoods.  Taking a break for lunch at another ferry terminal – yummy crepes! – and an afternoon tea break at Petit Pierre Bakery – scrumptious French tea! – before winding up at Ada’s Technical Books on Capitol Hill at 8:00 pm.  Whew!  We were exhausted.  Luckily for us, right next door we had a delicious and well-deserved meal at Coastal Kitchen.  I had savory Arctic Char, and my daughter had hearty Wild Boar meat pie, from their “Quebec Touring Menu” and I can still taste the delicate and robust flavors we enjoyed at that meal.  – Not to mention an illuminating conversation together about all-things-books!

What I remember most about our day together is the feeling of visiting bookstores we had never been in before.  We visited a colorful cookbook-store, an inviting poetry-only store, several local- and welcoming-stores, old favorites, large and small spaces, places with old-fashioned typewriters set out to type on, and lots more.  It was truly an adventure – although also a very long trek, lots of driving and parking and walking and driving and parking and walking and . . . you get the idea.

But, I’m already thinking ahead to next year, when I’d love to “cherry-pick” our favorite places and go back there.  If you visit three or more shops and get your passport stamped, you get a one-time 30% off discount, and that will be enough.  It’ll be fun to really stop and enjoy our favorites over the day without the mad rush to visit all nineteen!

What a lovely gift of a whole day together with my daughter.  Just in time for Mother’s Day!

Where have I been?

Where have I been, where have I been?  I’ve been enjoying catching up on other bloggers’ posts, even while I’ve been somewhat absent on my own blog recently.  I have been putting all my focus on my “Little Book of Lies” collection, during the last part of April, and even before, striving to get the complete manuscript done.  This is my small-book-sized collection of stories involving various kinds of lies and lying.  I’m delighted to report I completed the manuscript on May 1st.  Hoorah!

What a wonderful feeling, to have a whole complete set of writing that you’ve invented and developed, edited and polished, to read each story and feel a sense of satisfaction that you’ve got the story doing what you wanted it to do.  It can take a long time to get to this point; I first started drafting this set of stories back in 2016, as all flash-fiction, and then I came back to the stories last fall (2017), to evaluate which were ready and complete, and which need strengthening.  All winter and early spring I’ve worked on bringing these stories along, so that I could have a complete manuscript ready for submission.  It’s a great feeling to see the nearly-85 pages in one chunk on my desk, to leaf though them and recall the sense of wonder as I recall each character, the settings and the stories, and to feel I’ve done my best.

The manuscript is a short one – only about 22,000 words – where a novel-length book runs about 60,000 to 80,000 words.  However, I’ve got a couple of other companion projects in the pipeline, which I’m calling “The Little Books of Monsters” and “The Little Book of Fables.”  Assuming those projects run about the same length (20K-25K words), I may be able to present all three books together for a publishable project.  How fun.  Wish me luck on these two upcoming projects!

Looking Up!

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Photo by Theresa Barker.

Remember those lobby photos I’ve posted about before? Here’s an updated photo! When I walk through the lobby of this building every week I think of all of you on my blog. Thank you for your interest!

For cat lovers

My friend and fellow writer and blogger Luanne Castle often posts about her cats, and I always enjoy catching up on her cat household.  Here’s a photo of one of our cats, Pickles.  She’s looking very hopeful for getting attention.

Photo by Theresa Barker.

A postscript about bookstores

Why are we celebrating independent bookstores?

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers and local anchors run by passionate readers. They are entire universes of ideas that contain the possibility of real serendipity. They are lively performance spaces and quiet places where aimless perusal is a day well spent. – from the “Independent Bookstore Day” website

Do you have a favorite bookstore?  Or how about a favorite library, even better!  Are you working on a writing project of your own outside the world of blogging?  I’d love to hear from you.  Happy May!

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.

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