Whither Thou Goeth

 

Albert Handell Lookout Point - Pastel

Albert Handell – Lookout Point / Pastel

Whither Thou Goeth

Life, naughty life, thou sneeketh up on me. Thou bendeth
thy irresistible crooked finger and beckoneth me onward.

Thou maketh me to forget to wash my face
until my crusted eyes forget to see where my feet troddeth.

Thou stoppereth my ears until the birds sing silently through days
and the toads roam through my nights without croaking.

Thou forgeteth to have me remember to turn out the lights
and the oven and the faucet and the sound of my heart beating,
so that they burn brightly to spilleth out over the shadow of my days,
burneth the roast until it’s crispy, flood over the floor of the life
left to me, left with a dirty sink and stoppered-up with bloody veins.

Thou maketh me old when it’s wise I prefer to be.
Thou maketh me silly when I would have chosen carefree.

Thou maketh me forget everything save worries without end
and sorrows that come to stay like beggars with nowhere else to go.

Derelict, they burrow in, snuggle down but never sleep.
Famished, they eat me from the inside out.

Who knew that Forgetful would move in, take the stage and insist
on being cast as Worry, the starring role in the farewell performance?

Who knew, in the opening act, that the play would be at least
as tragic as comic, and that the finger that beckoneth was deadly serious?

M L S Baisch © 2017

Night-Song

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Night-Song

A life swirls away day by day; it swifts away into a drain
of calendared days where only the night’s light
brings bird-songs–remembered trills coming from unknown
places, warbling from down there somewhere.

Somewhere where memories are the pitch pipe
for the choir. And the choir! Oh the remembered faces!
Unseen for a calendar of time, it rehearses for the underworld
premiere without me: but then I’m only to be a walk-on.

Up here in life, I’m still circling the drain, taking an occasional
peek into the cellar through the prism of a beating heart.
A life ticks off another day, until the starry night-song
begins again to keep regular time.

M L S Baisch © 2017

Photo: Art by Jacqueline van Leeuwenstein

Book Spine Poetry

2017-03-18BookSpinePoetry-5

Well, winter is over for sure. It’s definitely spring! Among other things, that means that I have piles and piles, stacks and stacks of books! They’re all over the place–on most every surface. I’m a reader. I buy them–on line and in book stores; I reread from things I keep on my shelves; I read for pleasure, for relaxation, for information, and probably out of habit: I just love to read.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Nina Katchadourian. She’s an artist of an unusual stripe. And, I don’t know where or when, but she’s who introduced me to the concept of BOOK SPINE POETRY. So every time I get ready to actually make sense of my bookshelves that have been piled high, sort of in the order I’ve read them (no I don’t always read every single one from beginning to end when I take it from the shelf–some I do, some I eventually do, some I never so, and some just were never meant to be read that way in the first place).

BOOK SPINE POETRY, is simple. Interesting, too, because it reminds me what I’ve been thinking over the past months. These books are all on a chest close to where I read the most: in bed.

THE BAD BEGINNING
THE REPTILE ROOM
THE WIDE WINDOW
THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES
THE LIFE AND OPINION OF THE TOMCAT MURR
STORIES-ANTON CHEKHOV
CHEKHOV-THE EVOLUTION OF HIS ART
CHEKHOV-THE COMPLETE PLAYS
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
ANTON CHEKHOV-(A BIOGRAPHY)

Sometimes the spines read like poetry all by themselves–sort of like the refrigerator magnets where one can simply juxtaposition words. This pile, not so much.

I’ll make it a poem:

From a bad beginning
the reptile room could be seen
through the wide window,
where people in the trees frowned
at the antics of Tomcat Murr.
His life and opinions were like stories
out of Anton Chekhov.
The evolution of his art seems
like complete plays on his words
when told by the kindness of strangers.
Taken altogether: a biography complete!

Ooooo. What was I doing with these books. Well the top 3 are all Lemony Snicket books–I was looking at them for form, primarily: how they were put together. And I also re-read the first book, and dipped into the other two. I remembered that the form was interesting and wanted to take another look. One thing I’d forgotten was that the Snicket series includes definitions of words as part of the story.

The People in the Trees I keep picking up and putting down. It’s interesting, but not as interesting as other things.

Tomcat Murr came off my shelf when a friend asked me if I knew about it. It’s another book that is worth a look ever so often to remember its form. As a writer, form is always important. (Another book I re-read for form this winter is Olive Kitteridge. It made it to a stack in another room.)

Tennessee Williams is one of a group of genius writers, often expatriate, coming out of WWII. They’re all worth reading. It’s said by many that TW was the best of them. There’s much of his work I haven’t read: I’m catching up. My favorite of the group is Capote, actually: Capote writing before he wrote In Cold Blood.

Then there are the three Chekhov books–one about him as an evolving writer/artist, his plays (I’ve read more of his stories than plays and wanted to do something about that), and a good biography (most important if you want to understand a writer).

My reading life has come to have its own celebration of sort. It’s a fun ritual as I take down my stacks to make a library sort of sense of them again; shelve them in sensible categories.

Just for fun, I’m including the rest of my stacks from this chest. It was a long winter.

My love of children’s’ literature and fantasy is apparent. Some books that are notably missing, probably the ones I spent the most time reading are McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Why not on the chest? Well, they’re actually ON THE BED. I’m re-reading them for the umpteenth time. This morning I asked myself why I kept re-reading those books, and I was able to answer myself once I decided to put it down on paper: it’s complicated, but there are reasons.

M L S Baisch

3/18/2017

2017-03-18BookSpinePoetry-42017-03-18BookSpinePoetry2017-03-18BookSpinePoetry-22017-03-18BookSpinePoetry-3

Imperfection

Montana Fence Line Detail Watercolor & Ink February 2017 © M L S Baisch

Montana Fence Line
Detail
Watercolor & Ink
February 2017 © M L S Baisch

So, yesterday, first time for a long time, I slogged through snowdrifts to the art studio–just to see what was going on in there after months of being snowed in. There was no damage to speak of–the spiders and the mice hadn’t taken over the place. There was a small amount of leakage right around the door–and I can only imagine there will be more as the snowdrifts melt: I mean, I had to STEP DOWN about 3 feet to get in the door! (DIG myself in.) But I did get in. I decided not to stay. I sort of wanted to paint. Before I can paint in that place again, it needs to be cleaned up: nothing fares well when it sits for months without occupancy.

 
So I collected a watercolor block, some pan paints, and a container of brushes and slogged my way back to the house–where I learned what it’s like to try to paint around Harry. Interesting. He had his nose in everything–licking the paint pans and the paper, and really thinking his best vantage point was right in my lap, on top of the paper.
Montana Fence Line Detail Watercolor & Ink February 2017 © M L S Baisch

Montana Fence Line
Detail
Watercolor & Ink
February 2017 © M L S Baisch

Eventually he came to understand that fine art is meant to be a visual experience, and viewed from a polite distance.
 
Calling it fine art, though, is another thing altogether. Just the same, I’m posting the results here because it’s sort of a life lesson: sometimes the parts are better than the whole. And the message, of course, is to just keep doing something; keep what’s worth keeping and don’t worry if everything isn’t perfect.
Montana Fence Line Detail Watercolor & Ink February 2017 © M L S Baisch

Montana Fence Line
Detail
Watercolor & Ink
February 2017 © M L S Baisch

 
This is watercolor and ink. Inspiration was a photograph on file: I take a lot of pictures of fence lines.
M L S Baisch
Montana Fence Line Detail Watercolor & Ink February 2017 © M L S Baisch

Montana Fence Line
Detail
Watercolor & Ink
February 2017 © M L S Baisch

Just for fun – because it’s a brand new year!

Georgia's Foster Home for Fish © M L S Baisch 2017

Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish © M L S Baisch 2017

GEORGIA’S FOSTER HOME FOR FISH

(Under Construction – Draft)

by M L S Baisch © 2016-17

There once was a fish named Thug
who preferred to wrap up in a rug.
That’s Strange.

In a fish-bowl he couldn’t be trusted.
In fact, that’s how he got busted!
It happened.

He pushed, poked, and prodded
’til some fed-up fish plotted.
Against him!

A big sign that fish posted,
and Thug’s goose was roasted.
Oh yes.

Sad story, but true.
Thug’s notariety grew.
It happened.

No other fish loved him.
They all swam above him.
The shame!

His name once so proud of
they now disavowed of.
Poor Thug.

He had to go somewhere
so deep was Thug’s despair.
But where?

That rug was just handy
on the floor by the lady.
Get the picture?

The demoiselle fair said,
“You just cannot stay there!”
Fish don’t (usually) breathe air.

“You need your own place.”
Thug shrugged in disgrace.
Yes, he did.

The lady named Georgia
felt for the fish, sorta.
Kindhearted soul.

A fish does need water
not air for much longer.
Or he’s a gonner!

She picked up the rug
and the fish with a shrug.
And quickly.

“I have just the place
for a fish with your taste.”
She didn’t mean fishfood.

From the sink she poured water
in a bowl on the counter.
Good thinking.

Put the fish AND the rug
in the bowl: it went thud.
The rug was heavy.

When Thug got his bearing
his little eyes were tearing.
That was a close one.

Hands on her hips
and a smile on her lips,
Georgia was feeling good.

Georgia picked up the bowl,
with the fish and bedroll.
She took it all

to a room full of fishes
in bowls and in dishes–
there were lots of fish!–

where, from their places,
Thug saw their faces.
They were smiling!

Thug was so happy,
he didn’t feel scrappy.
Civility requires a bit of distance.

He swam round and round,
in and out, up and down.
Out of the rug!

The other sweet fishes
smiled from their bowls and their dishes.
Welcoming Thug!

They swam and they sang,
“Welcome, Thug, to our home.”
To Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.

“We’ve all been unsafe
till we came to this place.”
To Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.

“We know what you’re feeling.
Your heart needs some healing.”
At Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.

“Some rest and some quiet.
There’s no need for a riot.”
Not at Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.

“You can sleep in your rug,
wrapped up nice and snug.”
At Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish.

“When you need a hug here
come out of your rug, dear.”
said Georgia to Thug.

It was all so delightful
Thug forgot to be frightful.
Georgia smiled.

“Stay as long as you want,
though house-rules are detente.”
She laid down the law.

Thug tucked in his fins
and looked up, all grins.
Thug was happy.

So the new resident
took his place near the vent.
Home sweet home.

Where his water was warmish,
(nasty) inclinations all shorn-ish.
At Georgia’s Foster Home for Fish

The End

Ring in 2017!

michelangelo-angel-with-candlestik-1494-95There are events in our personal lives and our collective history that seem categorically irredeemable, moments in which the grounds for gratefulness and hope have sunk so far below the sea level of sorrow that we have ceased to believe they exist. But we have within us the consecrating capacity to rise above those moments and behold the bigger picture in all of its complexity, complementarity, and temporal sweep, and to find in what we see not illusory consolation but the truest comfort there is: that of perspective. – John Steinbeck
 
Steinbeck’s words were written, I understand, on January 1st,1941, during WWII–but they are applicable to world events now as well to each of our personal lives now. We have all known sorrow and sought consolation when there was little consolation to be found. Perspective does make a difference. Perspective can’t un-ring the bell, but it takes the mind beyond the immediate sorrow, takes it to a place where one’s own part in the scheme of things becomes more clear. In the final analysis there is little any one of us can do; and still that little is very much.
 
2016 was another wonderful year with terrible problems.
 
M L S Baisch
January 1, 2017
Happy New Year
 
Let 2017 be a year where we all, each one of us, bring light to the space we occupy on earth, laugh at the devils, and, like Michelangelo, may we all see the angel in whatever marble stone we find in front of us and carve until he is set free.
 
The photo: Michelanelo’s Angle with Candlestick / 1494-95

Work: What’s Left Behind When Life Has Moved On

Giant Springs

Giant Springs

“I always used to work hard. But I had no idea what hard work was until something changed in my mind… I don’t really know what it was. Maybe some sense that this whole enterprise is limited, that there was an end in sight… That you were really truly mortal.” Leonard Cohen

Photo: Taken at Giant Springs out of Great Falls Montana. Why this photo paired with this Cohen quotation? There’s something about running water that is analogous to life. It has a source and it flows on until, eventually, it merges into something more than itself–or, sometimes, it simply disappears somewhere: either way, running water is a moving force. Where you find it, it seems to have a place. The place remains but the water moves on. Lives, too, move on: some leave remnants–places, things, thoughts, memories–that can be returned to, others simply disappear without a trace.

M L S Baisch © 2016

LEONARD COHEN – DEAD AT 82

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen has passed from the earth. The great musician who was also part poet and part mystic. Did you know that he was a Buddhist monk?

 
In my own life, I am often reminded that I am a slow writer–not always, but often. I get the words on the page, and then I keep revising them. Always when the writing is best, the process seems to take longer. The thoughts become chiseled: more profound. The sentences get simpler over time, assume a cadence, a structure, a depth that evolves.
 
Well, Leonard Cohen was a decade writing the song Anthem.
 
Some things happen quickly and seem be just perfect the first time, but some things just can’t be rushed. I already knew that, but it was still a psychic gift to learn that about Cohen: nothing about life is meant to be rushed–perhaps especially one’s thoughts. Whatever else is art is, it’s about merging the mind with the soul; whether visual art, music, or poetry (all well-written literature seems to have a certain poetry about it).
 
Cohen’s words are best heard with their musical accompaniment, but they also stand alone:
 
From Anthem: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
 
From Suzanne: “. . . look among the garbage and the flowers.”
 
From Hallelujah: “There’s a blaze of light In every word. It doesn’t matter which you heard. The holy or the broken Hallelujah”
 
Leonard Cohen’s words and his songs will be heard for a very long time, and his light will continue to seep through the cracks.
M L S Baisch
lcohen2
 

Call it what you want: becoming . . . aging

Joan Didion

Joan Didion

“We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” – Joan Didion

The pictures tell the story: over a lifetime, we do indeed become different people. We’ve lived in different haunts, most of the people in our lives change places, we even live in different skins! Very little of our youth is left us as we age–memories, that’s about it. Who besides ourselves travels backward down that lane often? Very few. And, if someone did want to follow me down that backward path of mine awhile, the flowers would all look different from those I see, and the storms would all seem like showers. Just the same, the person I am results from the people I’ve been: that seems important. Every day on earth is part of a slow metamorphosis to becoming someone different from who I am now. Until there isn’t another day. One has to think that un-becoming, in the end, the final unraveling of me, will seem natural since I seem to be un-becoming every day of my life. For sure, what’s has been is more real that what has yet to come. Nevertheless, I look forward to the uncertainty of tomorrow based partly, at least, on knowing what has come before. Thank you, Joan Didion, or these somewhat uncomfortable thoughts. (Joan can be counted on for those.)

Joan Didion

Joan Didion

M L S Baisch

Photos: Joan Didion

Joan Didion

 

Another Way to Impart the Message of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT

Teresita Fernández

Teresita Fernández

Someone told me, yesterday, and to paraphrase, that life had been very good; there was much to be thankful for; and that she was blessed. But there was still one little thing that lurked behind it all: one mistake. Apparently a big mistake. A huge mistake. A failing too great to ever be forgotten or even forgiven–if not by God, then by herself. I found myself thinking that even our mistakes, maybe exactly our mistakes, lead us on to other things. No life is without mistakes. Who’s to say whether any life would be better or worse if one were to live it from one end to the other without ever making one. I said, “we are all human, after all.” That’s the thing: we are all human. I seem to recall that saints made mistakes too because they too, after all, were human.

 
But the exchange soon had me remembering something I once read (I found it and  I quote Teresita Fernández below): it isn’t the mistakes we make as much as how we go about living our lives after we come to think of something as a mistake. A failure. An imperfection. No words of mine can say it better. I believe the concept can easily be applied to a person as readily as to a bowl. We’ve all heard this message in many forms; I’ll call it another way to impart the message of the Velveteen Rabbit–it’s only after much living, much scar tissue has formed on the psyche, and many metaphorical buttons have come loose or fallen off that any of us become a person of substance: a person valued “precisely because of the exquisite nature of how (we) have been repaired.” 
To quote Teresita Fernández:
 
“In Japan there is a kind of reverence for the art of mending. In the context of the tea ceremony there is no such thing as failure or success in the way we are accustomed to using those words. A broken bowl would be valued precisely because of the exquisite nature of how it was repaired, a distinctly Japanese tradition of kintsugi, meaning to “to patch with gold”. Often, we try to repair broken things in such a way as to conceal the repair and make it “good as new.” But the tea masters understood that by repairing the broken bowl with the distinct beauty of radiant gold, they could create an alternative to “good as new” and instead employ a “better than new” aesthetic. They understood that a conspicuous, artful repair actually adds value. Because after mending, the bowl’s unique fault lines were transformed into little rivers of gold that post repair were even more special because the bowl could then resemble nothing but itself. Here lies that radical physical transformation from useless to priceless, from failure to success. All of the fumbling and awkward moments you will go through, all of the failed attempts, all of the near misses, all of the spontaneous curiosity will eventually start to steer you in exactly the right direction.”
 
M L S Baisch
Photo: Teresita Fernández, Artist whose work is characterized by an interest in perception and the psychology of looking.

Tennessee Williams — leaves you in a place you’ve never been before.

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

If you have never read Night of the Iguana, or seen the play, you might consider it. There is a poem near the end, called Nonno’s poem that is quite beautiful. And existentially profound. It sneaks up on you, the end of this play–and this poem–and you wonder how this improbable piece of fiction turns on its heels and grabs you by the throat. How did these strange, impossible fictional characters pull it off.

Nonno’s poem wraps itself around the enormity of what it means to live. Most of us, I imagine, think more about the vicissitudes of everyday life than existential realities. Everyday life is scary enough, frightening; but existential realities terrify.

Knowing full well that very few people who haven’t already read Tennessee William’s Night of the Iguana will ever read it, here is Nonno’s poem. It’s worth knowing that someone wrote this.
 
How calmly does the orange branch observe
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.
 
Sometime while night obscures the tree
The Zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever, and from thence
A second history will commence.
 
A chronicle no longer old,
A bargaining with mist and mold,
And finally the broken stem
The plummeting to earth; and then
 
An intercourse not well designed
For beings of a golden kind
Whose native green must arch above
The earth’s obscene, corrupting love.
 
And still the ripe fruit and the branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.
 
O Courage could you not as well
Select a second place to dwell,
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me?
 
– Tennessee Williams
1961, Broadway Premier
 
M L S Baisch

Books

Hermann Karl Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. His best-known works include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. Wikipedia

Hermann Karl Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. His best-known works include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. Wikipedia

“Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his own mind, the world of books is the greatest… Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.” – Herman Hesse

 
I can’t imagine a world without books. Real books. Things you can touch and feel, hold and turn the pages. An electronic device just isn’t the same (though they have their uses).
 
We live in an age with a disappearing history; modern history is largely going to disappear–well, all ages do, but ours is going to disappear more quickly. All those digital pictures: do you have prints made? If you don’t, they will inevitable be lost. You won’t even be able to look through them a few years from now, must less your great-grandchildren 100 years from now.
 
Our governments now store meeting minutes on video tape. There are no longer archives of current written summary documents. The electronic technology is not stable. Why I have old VCR movies that can’t find a player anymore. I have laptop computers that have antiquated operating systems stuck on shelves. Computer technology changes rapidly and then is quickly so antique as to be inaccessible. Unlike an old book, it can’t be read or viewed.
 
The ultimate sin, as far as I’m concerned, is to stop teaching our kids how to write in cursive.
 
One bad decision after another will leave us with a society of of functional illiterates. We’ll be able to punch butons, and ask computers questions. But not many of us will be thinking for ourselves. Finding our own answers from within.
 
Which brings me back to books. I can imagine a world without them, but I don’t like what I see.
 
M L S Baisch

Business–as in Busy-ness

A view looking through the iris gardens. May 13, 2016

A view looking through the iris gardens. May 13, 2016

James Baldwin once said about writers: “The importance of a writer is continuous… His importance, I think, is that he is here to describe things which other people are too busy to describe.”

 
Well, I have become one of those people who has become too busy. And I’m really trying to sort it out. Even a quiet life can become overfilled with activity.
 
Anything a person does to organize anything requires endless attention. I’ve gone from organizing words and sentences to organizing trees and flowers! The one is actually much harder than the other. (You can decide which is which.) As to which is more important? That’s the real question. I suppose it’s like it’s written in Ecclesiastes 3:1: there is an appointed time for everything.
 
My gardens have grown to the point that next year, I do believe next year, I will have to have help. This is the summer of my discontent (no time). Next year, the gardens will begin to support themselves. And I will have hired help, and more time for words and sentences.
 
The truth is that there is something wonderful about gardens. They are worth the time the take. They teach their own lessons, including the very important lesson about patience. Flowers open when they’re ready to open. Bees find their way to them when they’re sweetest.
 
Patience, however, is an abstract sort of thing. The garden teaches very practical lessons as well. For instance, birds tend to choose safe places to nest and when they don’t there is not a good ending.
 
Life is a balance of choices. Patience is a virtue, it’s said. But to be eternally patient is to get nothing done. Balance. Choices.
 
M L S Baisch

Time Management

Good writing is never wanting for metaphor.

Good writing is never wanting for metaphor.

Time management: it’s been awhile since I’ve thought much about it. Back in the days when I did think about it, the problem was simply not having enough hours in the day: there were simply too many things to do and prioritization was essential. Some things just weren’t going to get done. Period.

Now, the days have enough time in them–though there are still too many things to ever get done, and there are still many things that never do get done. The truth is that many things just don’t need to get done.

But there is another time management sort of problem. It’s of the type that Harold Klawans wrote about in his story, Chekhov’s Lie: one simply cannot do justice to both one’s wife and one’s mistress. In other words, the mind has room for only one obsession at a time. An obsession, by definition, is all-consuming.

Of course, in order to bring anything to fruition from nothing more than thought–which is what creation is–obsession is required. If one takes off in a new direction (finds a mistress), it isn’t that one intends to leave or neglect one’s wife (one’s previous interest), it’s that something important has come up and has, at least for a time, captured one’s attention.

How then does one support both one’s wife and one’s mistress, metaphorically speaking? The answer to that question, if there is one, gets back to the notion of time management. Or, more correctly, it gets to the notion of obsession management. If anyone has written on how to manage multiple obsessions, I’ve not run across it. But that’s the problem. And it’s a problem that has kept me from writing much.

If, however, you’d like to meet my mistress, just go to http://facebook.com/rossroadiris/ or http://facebook.com/thegreenthumbery/ or http://www.rossroadiris.com

Let it be known, that though I do love my metaphorical mistress, that I also love my metaphorical wife, and intend to re-instate my wife to her rightful place in my life somehow. I do not intend to forever neglect her: my writing life. A wife, after all, has a superiority before others, a central position, a traditional preeminence. A wife, even a metaphorical wife, is central to one’s life. A mistress . . . well, a mistress is often just a passing fancy. In my case, interest in my metaphorical mistress is more than just a titillation. She is important and I’d like to keep her around for as long as possible. But she has to make peace with my wife. Somehow.

M L S Baisch

A Time for the World to Turn

Sometimes the best way to start writing a new story is to give it visual form. This is a mock-up cover for my new manuscript.

Sometimes the best way to start writing a new story is to give it visual form. This is a mock-up cover for my new manuscript.

I’ve been gardening, and to a limited extent I’ve been writing. But mostly I’ve been gardening for awhile now. My writerly life has been ‘light’–not superficial, exactly; but I’ve been writing short children’s stories while I’ve been finishing the edit to a longer, more substantial book–Leona the Part-Time Fairy: also a children’s book, but a pithier one than the stories I’ve been writing in tandem to the edit. A writer has to be writing something in order to keep the “writing ligaments” limber. (Not my phrase: it was used by Steinbeck and, I believe, by Virginia Woolf. There is no better way to describe the process: when a writer stops writing, the mental muscle that is needed to write atrophies.)

 
I’ve long known that my gardens are like Petri dishes to an internal, writerly, process. While I putter and plant and dig and water and sit on my garden benches looking at blue skies and gray skies, feel the wind and the sun and the rain, an watch seeds sprout, grow, and bloom, I’ve known that something more is happening within myself.
 
It has been my intention, upon completion of Leona, to write a sequel to it. In fact, I have the story more or less written in my mind. I’m beginning to think that it isn’t the story that I need to be writing at the moment: that it’s a story that will keep. It isn’t in a hurry to be written.
 
There’s something else close to the surface, but just beyond my understanding. Something more difficult to articulate, more difficult to translate from the interior world. More difficult to bring to the world of form: words. It is requiring an internal positioning, a rethinking and a re-knowing process; a re-arranging; a stepping both inside and outside of facts as I’ve known them to be and appreciating that perhaps facts are not really factual at all–there may be another interpretation. Perhaps the facts were really only someone’s point of view. Perhaps they were self-serving, or just self-deluding.
 
I seem about to set off to tell a story that will be part fact, part-deduction, and part entirely fiction; set in an historical period I can never know more about than what I’ve been told and what I’ve read, as it was either before my time on earth, or happening when I was too small to understand.
 
My story will be as true as the stories I’ve been told, as true as my imagination extrapolates possibilities from those stories, and as fictional as any other biographical fiction. It will be a war story and a love story and, if I can become the vehicle for the words that need to be written, it will be a good story. It will not be a short story–in either pages or the time it takes to write it.
 

The new book: Whisker

Watercolor by Andrea Penovac

Watercolor and Ink by Endre Penovac

My writing life has been taking a back seat to my gardening life for awhile but it’s still alive. The final edit for Leona the Part-Time Fairy is complete–the story re-read and last edits made to hard copy. Those edits are now being incorporated into a final Scrivener word document. I do believe Leona will FiNALLY be on-line by May.

But editing isn’t exactly a writing life, is it? It’s an important part of writing, but it isn’t the part that goes exploring in the cave that is the mind: the most important part. Only interior exploration keeps new words and new thoughts coming to life, alchemizing them into new characters and new stories. Early mornings I’ve turned my mind to writing a little book about a small cat. I’m calling the book WHISKER.

Whisker will be illustrated, I think, although it’s not exactly a picture book. It will be too long for that–about 10K. It’s about a kitten who doesn’t have an easy start in life. Here is Chapter One.

————————————————-

WHISKER – by M L S Baisch © 2016

CHAPTER ONE

At the end of a long narrow alley, boxed in on both sides by very tall brick buildings towering so high above that when you finally saw the sky it was only as big as an envelope you might find in your mailbox, behind a garbage can sitting close by a green door, there was a kitten. It was huddled close to the ground trying to stay dry, as it was pouring rain. The wind raced down the alley in a hurry until it hit the brick wall, ricocheted off it, and was redirected back again—but not before it found its way behind the garbage can where the kitten crouched. It was a very small, and very gray kitten. And it was shivering, probably because it was frightened as well as because it was cold. The day was very gray and the cold was very harsh, and the shivering kitten was in a very bad place. This was no neighborhood for a small kitten, even on a good day, and so far this hadn’t been a good day at all.

Yesterday, was a better day. In fact it was a delightful day full of good things like a warm bed with the warm bodies of his brothers and sisters snuggled close, and warm milk, and sunshine coming in through the window, and his mother’s warm tongue washing his ears. Then, this morning, while the brothers and sisters still slept, his mother hissed quietly that he was to follow her. One thing led to another until here he was abandoned in this terrible circumstance.

“I’m sorry,” Mama had said, “but you are an embarrassment. You don’t fit in to the family. I’ve waited, hoping that you would change. But you are two months old now and still just as strange as the day you were born.”

Hearing that didn’t make the kitten feel very good. In fact, he hung his head feeling terrible. His mother was ashamed of him. He didn’t really understand why, and so he asked her, “But, what have I done? What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I fit in?”

“Done?” she repeated. “I don’t imagine you’ve done anything at all, son. It’s just what you are. I don’t suppose you can help it.”

“If I can’t help it, how can it be so terrible?”

“It just is, that’s all,” Mama said. “And I can’t have it. When you’re older and can’t be kept out of sight, people will laugh at you, and they will make fun of you, and it will be very hard for your brothers and sisters.”

“I can see that it will be hard for me,” the kitten said, “but why will it be hard for my brothers and sisters?”

“And me,” said Mama.

“You, too?”

“Yes. Me too.”

“I don’t want anyone to have a problem because of me, but I don’t understand why they would. Why you would.”

“Have you looked in a mirror, my son?”

Well, the kitten didn’t have any idea what mirrors were, and he hadn’t looked into one. If he had, perhaps he would have understood what his mother was talking about. After all, he knew what his brothers and sisters looked like, and his mother. If he had seen his own face, he would have noticed. He had only one whisker. It was rather high on his right cheek, closer to his ear than his nose. He knew it was there: how could he not know? In fact, he liked to stroke it, especially when he was going to sleep. But he had no idea that it was strange to have just one whisker or that anyone would be ashamed to know him because of it. Now that he did know it, he was feeling very low. All he could think of to say, once he understood the problem, was, “Oh.”

Mama cat wasn’t feeling very happy either, but she had to do what she felt was in the best interest of the family. Still, she didn’t want to leave her strange son without a few words of comfort and advice.

“You will be fine if you just don’t draw a lot of attention to yourself. Cats like the nighttime, anyway. In the dark, no one will see that you only have one whisker. It would be a good idea for you to stay out of sight in the daytime.”

“I think I will be lonely,” the kitten said. “I’m already lonely. I like to play with my brothers and sisters. And I like warm milk and the sunshine coming through the window.”

Not wanting her son to be completely demoralized, Mama said, “I’m sure you will find a nice life and many comforts. It will just take some time.”

The kitten felt a little better hearing those words.

“Now, I have to be going. It’s starting to rain.”

It was starting to rain, but Mama gave her little son one last fond lick and told him to be a good kitten.

“Wait!” the kitten called as Mama turned tail to go. “Who am I?”

“What do you mean? You are a kitten.”

“But what is my name?”

“You want to have a name?” Mama cat had to stop and think about that. Names were given to kittens by people, not by mother cats. She didn’t have the heart to tell her little son that he didn’t have a name. His life was going to be hard enough. She said, “Why your name, of course, is Whisker.”

2016 © M L S Baisch
This book will be published by shooflyranchpress

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I have no graphics for WHISKER yet. But I love this series of watercolor and ink cats by Endre Penovac. There are more of them than I’m including here. These Penovac cats prove how effective simple can be. To achieve simplicity is actually very difficult.

Watercolor by Andrea Penovac

Watercolor and Ink by Endre Penovac

andreaPenovac-cat9 andreaPenovac-cat12

Reality – That Nebulous Something

PhillipKDickPhilip Kindred Dick is someone who has gone under my radar. I don’t know why–probably because I don’t read much sci fi. He wrote mostly science fiction, but he had interesting things to say about reality. Such as:
 
“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
 
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
 
“Don’t try to solve serious matters in the middle of the night.”
 
Recurring themes in his work include false realities, entropy, the nature of God, social control, and man vs. machine. These are all things I think about. Obviously this man has written books I need to read.
M L S Baisch
 
Short bio: PKD
Born: December 16, 1928, Chicago, IL
Died: March 2, 1982, Santa Ana, CA
Books include: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Man in the High Castle
Movies: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report
Short stories: The Minority Report

Roughing It

frozen_meat_s1Georgia O’Keefe said it: “Anyone with any degree of mental toughness ought to be able to exist without the things they like most for a few months at least.” Well, we’ve not had a microwave for about 10 days now. It does take a little getting used to not being able to warm up a cup of coffee. That’s the worst of it. We do very little cooking with a microwave–none, in fact. Still, we have become accustomed to using it many, many times every day–lots of coffee left in cups needing to be reheated AND it’s also the device that compensates for not planning ahead. Who knew that being able to defrost something to cook for dinner had become so important?

Somehow generations of cooks have managed to plan ahead. I wonder what else, in the modern world, has become so habitual that it’s going on below the level of conscious thought? Now I know why, as a kid, every neighborhood had a corner grocery store. No microwaves, but you didn’t have to drive across town to find unfrozen hamburger.

M L S Baisch

Suffering . . . and it’s compensation

fridakahlo

Be prepared. This is a meandering, philosophical sort of post.

Once, a very long time ago, I walked out of a church where the sermon had been on the joy of suffering: I remember it very well. I don’t mean that I got up and walked out in the middle of the sermon, rather that when I left church that day something in me had turned a click–and it’s never exactly clicked back. Moreover, ever since that time there have been occasions where I find myself reconsidering the relationship between joy and suffering.

It happened again this morning. I came upon a quote by Frida Kahlo–about love, actually–but that’s irrelevant. It’s what she said and how my mind immediately juxtaposed what she said to some bit of grit inside me that hasn’t yet become a pearl. She said, “To my way of thinking, everything has its natural compensation.” She pointed out that the banks of a river don’t suffer because they let the river flow: of course the banks of the river may suffer if the river overflows, and she didn’t say that. She pointed out that the earth doesn’t suffer because of the rains . . .

You see, it was Ms. Kahlo that first assumed that somehow anything compensatory to something else might be seen to involve suffering.

Now, I’m not sure that human suffering can, or should, be explained by anthropomorphized rivers or planets. But it surely did get my attention. It does seem true that a vessel can hold something without suffering–that seems okay for milk jugs, toothpaste tubes, and the like; and some vessels allow safe passage to things–blood vessels, for instance. Thinking of the banks of a river as a vessel is interesting; the analogy seems flawed, but interesting. Flawed how? Well the river, for instance, created its vessel, the river bank. The river bank wasn’t just there waiting for the river. The river took the land and shaped it to its own purpose.

It’s unclear if Ms. Kahlo was thinking of herself as a vessel ready and waiting to receive; or if she was made into the vessel. Either way, she obviously believes that she did not suffer for her relationship with the great Diego Rivera or, if she did, not more than the banks of the river, and there were natural compensations. Suffering might never have been brought up except, of course, that she was the one who brought suffering into the conversation as she talked about her relationship.

I remember another time in my life when I wrote a poem, one that I no longer have but I remember it–not word for word, but the essence of it–and the essence of that poem, written when my world was about to change forever and I knew it, was that I was a vessel. That I was empty and wanted to be filled up: with knowledge, with the sort of knowledge that brought meaning to life. My version of the metaphorical vessel, at the time, was the sort that held things–the milk jug–and not the sort the allowed things to flow–blood vessels or rivers: interesting, that. It seems to me now that allowing something to flow unobstructed is preferable to keeping something contained. In that regard I definitely agree with Ms Kahlo.

Back to Kahlo’s quote: ” . . . everything has its natural compensation.” It’s hard to disprove. Or to prove. Still, there is a flow to things, to life. One thing does seem to beget another. Endlessly. And it’s a flow that makes hoarding a virtual impossibility–containing everything that comes along is not possible. It’s the word compensation that I have to wonder about. If you’re the river and not the banks, you like the idea of using the banks to get where you’re going. If you’re the banks, you’re not going anywhere anyway, so why not let the river flow?

On the other hand, how does the river know that the bank isn’t suffering? Isn’t eroding, losing itself, being washed away, diminished. Only the bank knows for sure. Not the river. Ms. Kahlo seemed to have a good feeling about being the metaphorical banks that contained a metaphorical flowing river, but does that make it a universal truth? I give it to Ms. Kahlo that she knows the truth for herself (which, by the way, she allows: that she speaks for herself).

So, I’m back to where I started: what is the joy in suffering? And, if everything has its compensation, what, if not joy, is the compensation of suffering? Does suffering take physical form, actually? Or, when I suffer, is that when I most surely know that I am more than a vessel?

And are compensations ordinarily thought of as things–things that exist in the real world; or are compensations–of the type the banks of a metaphorical river might expect–more likely to be ephemeral, emotional, the chemical response of nerve endings?

It would seem that the river might want to compensate the river bank in some tangible way–something the river could take to the metaphorical bank, maybe compensate the river bank its losses and not just tickle its sides as it flows on through. But, still talking in metaphors here, my own desire to fill up a vessel (myself, with knowledge that led to giving life meaning) was intangible. I was wanting to know what gave life meaning, when mine had become meaningless. I was not wanting knowledge to, for instance, pass a driver’s license test.

It’s safe to say, from this distance, that I still question the joy of suffering. And that I still value knowledge. There are definitely compensations that come with knowledge.With knowledge of the right sort you can pass a driver’s license test, get a Ph.D. in anything you choose; or you can choose to let those things pass you by, tickle the sides of your metaphorical banks in passing, and find meaning in another kind of life, secure in the knowledge that you have chosen well. And in the knowledge that you can always change your mind. The river flows on. And on. And on. Anytime you choose, you can jump off the bank and become one with the river. It’s finding a foothold to get back on the bank that can be tricky.

M L S Baisch

 

 

 

 

Suggestions from people you may have heard about . . .

The earth is a beautiful place. Remember to enjoy it. - M L S Baisch

The earth is a beautiful place. Remember to enjoy it. – M L S Baisch

IT’S NOT TOO LATE TO MAKE A RESOLUTION FOR 2016, and here are a few famous suggestions from people you may have heard about:

Walk and be more present – Thoreau
Keep a diary – Virginia Woolf
Make your life wider rather than long – Seneca
Define yourself – Anna Deavere Smith
Break free from your ego – Alan Watts
Cultivate a growth mindset – Carol Dweck
Turn haters into fans – Benjamin Franklin
Think rather than know – Hannah Arendt
Let go of perfectionism – Anne Lamott
Master critical thinking – Carl Sagan
Get lost to find yourself -Rebecca Solnit
Be like water – Bruce Lee
Choose courage over cynicism – Maya Angelou
Cultivate true friendship – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Live by your own standards – Eleanor Roosevelt

The photo: taken near Donnelly, Idaho some years back. The world is a beautiful place. Remember to enjoy it. (That’s a suggestion of my own.)

M L S Baisch

 

But I Digress . . .

The feet may try to stay on the beaten path, but the mind understands the wisdom of wandering from it.

The feet may try to stay on the beaten path,
but the mind understands the wisdom of wandering from it.

Digression, as part of oration has been around since, at least, Cicero; and as part of composition since, at least, Homer. In other words, It’s been around forever. Laurence Sterne famously said (or wrote):

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading! Take them out and one cold eternal winter would reign in every page. Restore them to the writer – he steps forth like a bridegroom, bids them all-hail, brings in variety and forbids the appetite to fail.”

In that one sentence, Sterne both validated the use of digression in his Tristram Shandy and, more important, laid bare a most important essential to a good life: a life lived without digressions is, of course, impossible but it is also just those digressions that make life interesting.

This is the time of year to consider. To look forward to the new year. To make resolutions. To see where we’ve digressed from our paths, and to make corrections. Or, perhaps, to take off on a new path altogether. To discover that some digression we’ve inadvertently made is worth pursuing; is worth our effort.

No life is a straight trajectory from beginning to end. Rather it is a wandering. It is only the foolish mind that believes it controls the steady heart. (That’s putting it romantically!) Of course, it’s the mind that is always in control and it’s foolish to think otherwise. (That’s putting it more exactly.) When our minds take us off in odd directions, when we digress from our main purpose, it is often the wise, quiet part of the mind (the part of our mind often confused with our heart), that knows us best, that leads us on.

There is a time for will power, of course: for having a set goal and taking the driven path. But keep to the driven path by will power alone at your peril. You may succeed to ‘stick to it’ but at a great cost.

Life needs its digressions. Think of a digression as a little test–a proof when you return to the driven path that the path is the right one. Or think of a digression as a little holiday–a rest from the everyday. Or think of a digression as an inevitability–because it is.

A life, in fact, can be seen as a chain of diversions strung together like pearls in a necklace. Good pearls are connected and separated by small knots, tied to protect one pearl from rubbing up against another. Life is like that. We protect ourselves from thinking too much about the places where we change directions; we keep ourselves from rubbing up against our inconsistencies–because we see our changes in direction, our diversions, as bumps in the road, as wrong turns, when all along they were simply knots between the pearls in our string of life.

M L S Baisch

 

A sense of connection . . .

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

“I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts,” Oliver Sacks – the “poet laureate of contemporary medicine”

 
Whatever else we are, we are our thoughts; and it is our thoughts that take us from one place to another–whether the place is an actual place, an emotional place, a metaphorical place, a place conjured up from memory, or a place divined to be in the future . . . there are many places, and they all reside within us. We go where we choose to go. And we do it so often, so thoughtlessly, so effortlessly most of the time that it escapes awareness: we forget that we are choosing.
 
Eventually, for some at least, the time comes when the internal life becomes at least as important as the external life, and that internal landscape takes on a life of it’s own. The past shapes itself into patterns, into countries; rivers run through it, and highways tend to lead one on to familiar places and back again: it is, indeed, a landscape with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts.
When, if, that time comes, there is no need to be ‘on the go’ all the time. The going becomes an internal event at least as interesting as any place one could possibly travel to in reality. The good earth becomes smaller–the garden is as interesting as foreign lands. The good life is counted in cats and chickens, beetles and frogs more than in Cadillacs and mansions, six-figure jobs and exotic vacations.
 
On the other hand, when that time comes, it’s not a bad thing to have had a fancy car or an exotic vacation. There is no experience, no possession, no relationship that is not precious; that can not be alchemized into something more than it was.
 
M L S Baisch

New Year’s Resolution: Let It Rip!

Maurice-Sendak_portrait2

“I don’t write for children. I write and somebody says, ‘That’s for children!’” Maurice Sendak, prolific illustrator and writer.

There are several things I take from his story–of course we all take what speaks to each of us personally. What most applies to me is: LET IT RIP. Most of us take far too long to do far too little. I suspect that I am one of those people. Perhaps that should be my NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION! Yes, I believe it is!

Following is his list of works (from Wikipedia). The moral of this story is, among other things, LET IT RIP. Most of us take far too long to do far too little.

AUTHOR:
Kenny’s Window (1956)
Very Far Away (1957)
The Sign on Rosie’s Door (1960)
The Nutshell Library (1962)
Alligators All Around
Chicken Soup with Rice
One Was Johnny
Pierre
Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
Let’s Be Enemies (written by Janice May Udry) (1965)
Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life (1967)
In the Night Kitchen (1970)
Fantasy Sketches (1970)
Ten Little Rabbits: A Counting Book with Mino the Magician (1970)
Some Swell Pup or Are You Sure You Want a Dog? (written by Maurice Sendak & Matthew Margolis, and illustrated by Maurice Sendak) (1976)
Seven Little Monsters (1977)
Outside Over There (1981)
Caldecott and Co: Notes on Books and Pictures (an anthology of essays on children’s literature) (1988)
We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy (1993)
Maurice Sendak’s Christmas Mystery (1995) (a box containing a book and a jigsaw puzzle)
Bumble-Ardy (2011)
My Brother’s Book (2013)

ILLUSTRATOR:
Atomics for the Millions (by Dr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff) (1947)
The Wonderful Farm (by Marcel Aymé) (1951)
Good Shabbos Everybody (by Robert Garvey) (1951)
A Hole is to Dig (by Ruth Krauss) (1952)
Maggie Rose: Her Birthday Christmas (by Ruth Sawyer) (1952)
A Very Special House (by Ruth Krauss) (1953)
Hurry Home, Candy (by Meindert DeJong) (1953)
The Giant Story (by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers) (1953)
I’ll Be You and You Be Me (by Ruth Krauss) (1954)
The Tin Fiddle (by Edward Tripp) (1954)
The Wheel on the School (by Meindert DeJong) (1954)
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Farm (by Betty MacDonald) (1954)
Charlotte and the White Horse (by Ruth Krauss) (1955)
Happy Hanukah Everybody (by Hyman Chanover and Alice Chanover) (1955)
Little Cow & the Turtle (by Meindert DeJong) (1955)
Singing Family of the Cumberlands (by Jean Ritchie) (Oxford University Press, 1955)
What Can You Do with a Shoe? (by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers) (1955, re-colored 1997)
Seven Little Stories on Big Subjects (by Gladys Baker Bond) (1955)
I Want to Paint My Bathroom Blue (by Ruth Krauss) (1956)
The Birthday Party (by Ruth Krauss) (1957)
You Can’t Get There From Here (by Ogden Nash) (1957)
Little Bear (by Else Holmelund Minarik, there was also a TV series based on this series of books)
Little Bear (1957)
Somebody Else’s Nut Tree (1958)
Father Bear Comes Home (1959)
Little Bear’s Friend (1960)
Little Bear’s Visit (1961)
A Kiss for Little Bear (1968)
Along Came a Dog (by Meindert DeJong) (1958)
No Fighting, No Biting! (by Else Holmelund Minarik) (1958)
What Do You Say, Dear? (by Sesyle Joslin) (1958)
Seven Tales by H. C. Andersen (translated by Eva Le Gallienne) (1959)
The Moon Jumpers (by Janice May Udry)(1959)
Open House for Butterflies (by Ruth Krauss) (1960)
Best in Children’s Books: Volume 31 (various authors and illustrators: featuring, Windy Wash Day and Other Poems by Dorothy Aldis, illustrations by Sendak) (1960)
Dwarf Long-Nose (by Wilhelm Hauff, translated by Doris Orgel) (1960)
Best in Children’s Books: Volume 41 (various authors and illustrators: featuring, What the Good-Man Does Is Always Right by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrations by Sendak) (1961)
Let’s Be Enemies (by Janice Udry) (1961)
What Do You Do, Dear? (by Sesyle Joslin) (1961)
The Big Green Book (by Robert Graves) (1962)
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present (by Charlotte Zolotow) (1962)
The Singing Hill (by Meindert DeJong) (1962) (Harper Row)
The Griffin and the Minor Canon (by Frank R. Stockton) (1963)
How Little Lori Visited Times Square (by Amos Vogel) (1963)
She Loves Me… She Loves Me Not… (by Robert Keeshan AKA Captain Kangaroo) (1963)
McCall’s: August 1964; VOL XCI, No 11 (featuring The Young Crane by Andrejs Upits, illustrations by Sendak)
The Bee-Man of Orn (by Frank R. Stockton) (1964)
The Animal Family (by Randall Jarrell) (1965)
Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water: Two Nursery Rhymes (traditional nursery rhymes) (1965)
Lullabyes and Night Songs (by Alec Wilder, edited by William Engvick) (1965)
Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories (by Isaac Bashevis Singer) (1966)
The Golden Key (by George MacDonald) (1967)
The Bat-Poet (by Randall Jarrell) (1964)
The House of Sixty Fathers (by Meindert De Jong) (1956)
The Saturday Evening Post: May 4, 1968; 241st year, Issue no. 9 (features Yash The Chimney Sweep by Isaac Bashevis Singer)
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm: Volumes 1 & 2 (translated by Lore Segal with four tales translated by Randall Jarrell) (1973 both volumes)
King Grisly-Beard (by Brothers Grimm) (1973)
Pleasant Fieldmouse (by Jan Wahl) (1975)
Fly by Night (by Randall Jarrell) (1976)
Mahler – Symphony No. 3, James Levine conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra – album cover artwork “What The Night Tells Me” commissioned by RCA Records (1976)
The Light Princess (by George MacDonald) (1977)
Shadrach (by Meindert Dejong) (1977)
The Big Green Book (by Robert Graves) (1978)
Nutcracker (by E.T.A. Hoffmann) (1984)
The Love for Three Oranges (The Glyndebourne Version, by Frank Corsaro based on L’Amour des Trois Oranges by Serge Prokofiev) (1984)
Circus Girl (by Jack Sendak) (1985)
In Grandpa’s House (by Philip Sendak) (1985)
The Cunning Little Vixen (by Rudolf Tesnohlidek) (1985)
Dear Mili (written by Wilhelm Grimm) (1988)
Sing a Song of Popcorn (by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers with various illustrators including Sendak) (1988)
The Big Book for Peace (various authors and illustrators, cover also by Sendak) (1990)
I Saw Esau (edited by Iona Opie and Peter Opie) (1992)
The Golden Key (by George MacDonald) (1992)
We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures (traditional nursery rhymes) (Harper Collins) (1993)
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities: The Kraken Edition (by Herman Melville) (1995
The Miami Giant (by Arthur Yorinks) (1995)
Frank and Joey Eat Lunch (by Arthur Yorinks), also has additional illustrations by Ky Chung (1996)
Frank and Joey Go to Work (by Arthur Yorinks), also has additional illustrations by Ky Chung (1996)
Penthesilea (by Heinrich von Kleist, translated and introduced by Joel Agee) (1998) ISBN 0-06-095632-1
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (by Ursula Nordstrom, edited by Leonard S. Marcus)
Swine Lake (by James Marshall) (1999)
Brundibár (by Tony Kushner) (2003)
Sarah’s Room (by Doris Orgel) (2003)
The Happy Rain (by Jack Sendak) (2004)
Pincus and the Pig: A Klezmer Tale (performed by the Shirim Klezmer Orchestra and narrated by Maurice Sendak) (2004)
Bears! (by Ruth Krauss) (2005)
Mommy? (by Arthur Yorinks, Sendak’s only pop-up book) (2006) ISBN 0-439-88050-5
Bumble- Ardy; Illustrated and written by Maurice Sendak (2011)
My Brother’s Book Illustrated and written by Maurice Sendak (Released posthumously, February 5, 2013)

There is a choice: creativity or productivity

Willa Cather, American author and 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner, is seen in this photo from March 1931. (AP Photo)

Willa Cather, American author and 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner, is seen in this photo from March 1931. (AP Photo)

This is the Christmas season, a time of wonder and hope, festivities and life. And it’s life that I’m interested in. It is also a season when most everyone gives some thought to the coming year–to resolutions, to thinking about life. In that spirit my mind has wandered down a path, looking back from a distance of almost 74 years. I have some thoughts on the matter of choices. If I were to live my life over, I would likely make one elemental choice differently.

Which is not to say that I have regrets or sorrows for choices made: most every choice can be turned toward a good life. And all choices bring rewards, experiences and pleasures otherwise not to be had. Still, some choices preclude other choices and, without exception, certain choices are made so early in a life as to be choosing blindly.

The following two quotes are meant to be explanatory. They say what I mean better than I could ever say it myself:

Excerpt from a letter to Willa Cather, then a journalist, from Sara Jewett, her writer/mentor friend:

“Your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet centre of life, and write from that to the world that holds offices, and all society, all Bohemia; the city, the country — in short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality — you can write about life, but never write life itself. And to write and work on this level, we must live on it — we must at least recognize it and defer to it at every step. We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves.” – Jewett

Cather, at the time, was working in an office, a journalist, earning a good sum and making a good life–but she wasn’t doing much writing. And she knew it, too: but it held her captive. This letter helped her to break from that life. Which she eventually did.

“Still, if I stopped working next summer I would have money enough to live very simply for three or four years. That would give me time to pull myself together. I doubt whether I would ever write very much — though that is hard to tell about for sure; since I was fifteen I have not had a patch of leisure six months long. When I was on a newspaper I had one month vacation a year, and when I was teaching I had two. Still, I don’t think that my pen would ever travel very fast, even along smooth roads. But I would write a little — “and save the soul besides [from Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book].” It’s so foolish to live (which is always trouble enough) and not to save your soul. It’s so foolish to lose your real pleasures for the supposed pleasures of the chase — or of the stock exchange” – Cather

There is a choice: creativity or productivity.  It’s best made before one has already committed too much to choices that prevent a clear path. For it’s true that there are lives that are duty-bound. Those are also good lives. But it is a choice often made too soon. And the other choice–creativity–may become an almost impossibility.

M L S Baisch

NOTE: Willa Sibert Cather was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. Wikipedia
Born: December 7, 1873, Gore, VA
Full name: Wilella Sibert Cather