Saturday, January 27


Inspired by Mimi's doll (and other creations) blog and her links to the blogs of other artists and craftspeople, I thought I'd post a couple of my little projects, just because they're colorful and they're made of wool. I don't do a lot of knitting because I'd usually rather read, but I love the feel and look of wool. Some people can read and knit, but I can't. And I love to wear my knitted hats and see family members wearing them. I've been experimenting with felting them to make them warm enough for sensitive ears, but I still need to make them longer to accommodate for the shrinkage. In the last picture, of the unfinished hat, the dark green band doesn't show up well, but the colors are really very nice.
This last picture is some wonderful slipper socks my friend Rob gave me for Christmas. They're neither wool nor knitting, but acrylic and crochet, and they are great.

Monday, January 22

The Art of Fiction Quiz: Answers, and Why?

Answers to the quiz:

a) The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford

b) The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks

c) Sky Breaker, Kenneth Oppel

d) Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich

e) Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban *

f) The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban *

g) The Ambassadors, Henry James

h) The Road, Cormac McCarthy

* Russell Hoban's birthday is February 4

Okay, it's not fair to put out a set of things and say, Here's a quiz! It presumes too much. We all like a number of things, and you may be reading Being and Nothingness while I prefer Pride and Prejudice. A quiz is just a gimmick, but the intent is just to point to some lovely openings to novels and to say, Look at these! These are a few books I love, and look at how they open! Read these sentences! You could write a whole essay just comparing a few of these openings.

E. M. Forster's Aspects of Fiction and David Lodge's The Art of Fiction are useful small guides that give a reader a number of ways to think about a book one has enjoyed. First you read it, of course, and if it's any good you get swept away into its world until your daily world practically vanishes and you are living the life of an upper middle class woman in London or a common boy on the banks of the Mississippi River. Later, if it's any good, the novel haunts you. And then you want to consider it, consider how a structure built out of words and sentences can create a world. If you do nothing more than reread, you see it differently the second time. It's like watching a movie decent enough to see twice. The first time you're not oriented: you're just being introduced to characters, settings, situations; and the themes and the plot, the hints and all the lovely nuances are flying by, and you're barely aware. You enjoy the telling, the movie, the novel, and you're moved or amused or challenged, but that's it. You close the book and move on. But -- if you go back and see the movie again or reread the book, since you plunge in already aware of what's going on you notice much more -- subtleties, connections, delicious or creepy foreshadowings, -- and your enjoyment deepens, your satisfaction swells.

I see that I've muddled two things here, sentences and openings; each is worth looking at by itself.

Sunday, January 21

Aspects of the Novel: Openings Quiz

I've been reading Francine Prose's Reading Like A Writer and have gotten just past the chapter on sentences. I love sentences. This quiz is not about single sentences, but about the effect of the first sentences of a novel, and how they lure the reader in. More later about this. For now, match these openings with their sources.

a) Last week, I read in the Asbury Press a story that has come to sting me like a nettle. In one sense, it was the usual kind of news item we read every a.m., feel a deep, if not a wide, needle of shock, then horror about, stare off to the heavens for a long moment, until the eye shifts back to different matters--celebrity birthdays, sports briefs, obits, new realty offerings--which tug us on to other concerns, and by midmorning we've forgotten.

b) A dog--it was a dog I saw for certain. Or thought I saw. It was snowing pretty hard by then, and you can see things in the snow that aren't there, or aren't exactly there, but you also can't see some of the things that are there, so that by God when you do see something, you react anyhow, erring on the distaff side, if you get my drift.

c) The storm boiled above the Indian ocean, a dark, bristling wall of cloud, blocking our passage west. We were still twenty miles off, but its high winds had been giving us a shake for the past half hour. Through the tall windows of the control car, I watched the horizon slew as the ship struggled to keep steady. The storm was warning us off, but the captain gave no orders to change course.
We were half a day out of Jakarta, and our holds were supposed to be filled with rubber. But there'd been some mix-up, or crooked dealing, and we were flying empty.

d) The morning before Easter Sunday, June Kashpaw was walking down the clogged main street of oil boomtown Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home. She was a long-legged Chippewa woman, aged hard in every way except how she moved. Probably it was the way she moved, easy as a young girl on slim hard legs, that caught the eye of the man who tapped at her from inside the window of the Rigger Bar. He looked familiar, like a lot of people looked familiar to her.

e) On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly been the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadn't ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none again. He dint make the ground shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he wernt all that big plus he lookit poorly. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and made his rush and there we were then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, "Your tern now my tern later."

f) The tramp was big and squarely built, and he walked with the rolling stride of the long road, his steps too big for the little streets of the little town.

Sources, in alphabetical order by title:

1. The Ambassadors, Henry James
2. The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
3. Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich
4. The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban (***Birthday February 4***)
5. Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban
6. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
7. Sky Breaker, Kenneth Oppel
8. The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks

g) Strether's first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not totally disconcerted.

h) When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.

Okay, here's the quiz. The text got broken up, but I can't fix it. Too many backtracks. This is how I spend my leisure time. Match the columns. Answers next time.

Saturday, January 20

From The Nova Scotia P.S. Speller, 1917:

The festivities of the capital were noteworthy. The principal buildings were gorgeous with banners. At night superb fireworks made the scene brilliant. Sparkling fountains of light formed brilliant cascades. A feathery fire of crimson and yellow shook out millions of watery rubies and emeralds.

Lost boys and found boys, lost and found children, the hidden amid the public -- all of these haunt my mind these days.

Tuesday, January 16


Bullocks Cove, from the causeway, December 2006
Is it that growing up on a peninsula gives you a permanent orientation which others lack, or is it the End of Nature, ala Bill McKibben? When I assign boys tasks in our daily job period, and one's is to "vacuum south side and bring in newspaper," he always asks "Where's the 'south side'?" And I react snappishly, where is the sun in the afternoon? which way is warm?, and they just gape. I think, they should know which way is south. But of course they don't, and shouldn't because they are adolescents roused too early from their sleep. It's a wonder that they can comply as well as they do. In the ideal world, they would sleep till they woke AND they would always know which way was north, south, east, west because they would have the time and leisure to observe the natural world which still envelops and hosts our artificial one.

Saturday, January 13

On the Road

I-80 West

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are cold in December, so the bait machine is empty. But the fisherman's satisfaction and the sunlight radiate delight and feelings of spring to come.

The radio station from Philadelphia plays "Second Week of Deercamp" and "Donnie the Reindeer" on the road west toward the Delaware River and PA. Look them up.

Back Home, Cats are Happy

Thursday, January 11

Human Observers See Snowflakes Machines Can't Detect

From today's N.Y. Times Weather Report:

"FOCUS: FIRST SNOW SIGHTING Snowflakes were observed for the first time this winter at the official observation site in New York City's Central Park. This is the latest occurrence on record there for the season's first snow.... While an automated system is now responsible for most of the weather data at Central Park, human observers can augment the observations. Yesterday's snow was apparently too light to be detected by the automated system, but the human observers saw it."

The picture above is not of Central Park but rather my front yard on Tuesday, where even a robot would have been able to sense the snowfall.

I mourn the passing of Cosmo Dogood's Urban Almanac, a day by day calendar and almanac filled with observations of nature at all seasons in the city and decorated with apt quotations and pictures. The Almanac, modeled on the Old Farmer's Almanac, showed how nature is everywhere, that all you have to do is to look up and out and around you and notice what's going on in the natural world in which even a busy crowded city exists.

Wednesday, January 10

What Will the Robin Do Then?

The north wind doth blow

And we shall have snow,

And what will the robin do then,

Poor thing?

He'll sit in the barn

And keep himself warm

And hide his head under his wing,

Poor thing.

Mother Goose

Asheville had its first snow of the winter yesterday, a wet snow that stuck to every twig and needle, except for the tops of the bamboo that were in the wind. By morning the snow had blown off most of the trees but still lay in a thin layer on the ground. Here are a couple of glimpses for people in Oregon and Kansas. Now, at noon, there's only snow in the shady places.

Tuesday, January 2

January 2, 2007

From the NSPSS:
The shrewd sentinel visited a Turkish bazaar. There he purchased several trinkets from an infidel. Chief among these was an enamelled brooch bearing a design of laurel leaves. He also bought some porcelain
pitchers for his library mantel. His spaniel watched for stray morsels.
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