March

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Meg, pregnant, due in April or early May.

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Zelly (front left), Amelia(directly behind Zelly), Hawk (with the gold neck), Mr. Rooster  (large, grey and right behind Hawk), Owl (head down, far back left), Plum (behind Amelia) and Margie (behind Plum).

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Edmund.

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Left to right: Pierre, Wish (obscured by her brothers) and No Name.  Yearling Nigerian Dwarf kids, soon to be sold.

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Ditto.  Now you can see Wish’s little face in the middle there.

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Moss.

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Mr. Rooster (front right), Zelly (front left).  Rear: Owl (left), Hawk (right) and unidentifiable tale behind Owl and Hawk.

Swans, Sisters and Stories

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A few days ago, I read Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore.  The story is of two sisters.  Their family has long been cursed that every generation, there will be two daughters.  Soon after the youngest sister turns 15, one of the sisters will turn into a swan.  But this particular set of sisters tries to defy the swans and their curse.

The story is magical realism.  The details stand out vividly.  The story is woven of fairy tales and legends and yet, strands of reality are woven in as well.

At the end of the book, at the very end of the Author’s Note, Anna-Marie McLemore says:

“My hope for you, reader, for all of us, is two sides of the same wish: that the world gives us each the space to write our own story, and that we leave room for each other’s stories.  They are where our hearts survive.”

 

Everyone always says we need stories.

My mother was just saying the other day on a walk she and I took with my father that it’s so important and helpful to piece together the context around your memories.  She said that her grandmother always wanted to forget the past, and in doing so, she never gave my mother a story.  The story.

So many of us lose our stories in that way.  We lose our roots and our connections.  Our connections to each other, our ancestors, the land, ourselves.  When we lose our stories, we lose ourselves.  Maybe because we are stories.  Each of us is a story and each of us contains stories.

But we need them.  We need stories because they are a place we can put our hearts when they are too hard for us to carry.  Stories are the vessels that can contain and protect us.  They can hold us and keep us safe.  Or they can spill into the world, a bold song exposing truth.

Through them, we see ourselves more clearly.  We understand ourselves.  I think they can hold us so that we don’t hurt ourselves.  They can hold our broken pieces apart from us so they don’t cut us.  So they don’t shatter each other.

A story can be the pausing of the universe–an image that remains when its subject is no longer the same.  A story can be the past and the future woven together.  Melded with the present.

When Birds Come Back

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It is coming upon spring here where I live, and even though this Emily Dickison poem was written about late summer, I still associate it with spring because birds do “come back” in spring.  I’ve seen and heard many birds lately that have just returned for the warmer months: cranes in the little wetland across the road from my house, robins singing at dusk.

So many of Emily’s poems seem so perfect and simple, yet so puzzlingly complex as well.  There are only a few that I feel I grasp an understanding of.  This is one of them.

 

These are the days when Birds come back—

A very few—a Bird or two—

To take a backward look.

 

These are the days when skies resume

The old—old sophistries of June—

A blue and gold mistake.

 

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee—

Almost thy plausibility

Induces my belief.

 

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear—

And softly thro’ the altered air

Hurries a timid leaf.

 

Oh sacrament of summer days,

Oh Last Communion in the Haze—

Permit a child to join.

 

Thy sacred emblems to partake—

Thy consecrated bread to take

And thine immortal wine!

2020: The United States of America

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Four years ago this fall I was 14 years old.  I remember how I listened to the news on the radio as the 2016 presidential elections neared.  My online friends and I discussed the presidential candidates.  We listened to the debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton.  We talked about moving to Canada if Trump were elected.

Four years later here I am, a member of the lucky group of people who are turning eighteen just in time to vote in the presidential elections in the fall.  In 2016, my friends and I talked about how great it would feel to vote Trump out of office in 2020.  Now, here we are.

Whether or not Trump will get voted out of office is not certain of course.  In the case that he does get re-elected, my good friend and I have been fantasizing about moving to Canada to build a little off the grid cabin there.  We talk about having chickens, a garden and a cat so that we can be mostly self-sufficient.  As pleasant as that fantasy is, I do really hope Trump gets voted out.

I am ready for a different president.  I am tired of the way Trump personally attacks people in speeches and tweets.  As the president of the United States, he should not be venting on Twitter about his interpersonal conflicts with people.  He is so immature.  He should not be verbally attacking the character of those who oppose him.  He should not be dividing our nation in that way.

I am ready for a president who will unify us.  Someone who will seek to build bridges between the political parties and who will fix the partisan mess that has become our country.  Our president should be leading our country with a principle of toleration and respect of those with different views.  Our president should try to unite us instead of demonizing people he disagrees with.  Our president should uphold our unity and our Union.

As citizens of the United States, all of us are in this together.  We need someone who works with those who have different views.  We need someone to make our country into a less partisan nation.  We are in this country together, which means we need to make the most of it and seek to work together for the greater good of it.

I don’t expect everyone to agree on everything, even if we are called the United States.  But as a nation, we should share a purpose, and we should work together to that end.  We should respect one another.  We need to be unified.  We need to be led by someone who wants to bring people of disparate backgrounds and beliefs together.  We need to be truly united.

Love or Art?

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The old question has faced so many female artists.  The choice has been stark for many of them as they faced the option of getting married and relinquishing some or all of their artistic freedom or the option of remaining single and alone in order to devote their lives to their art.  Sometimes the choice has been posed by publishers, agents or directors of dance companies, sometimes by the women themselves.

———-

Yesterday, my parents and I went to a movie theater to see Greta Gerwig’s new rendition of Little Women.  It was a very good movie, better than I expected.  I found the costumes and setting to be perfect, as well as the dialogue and characters.  In fact, I might be able to say that the characters were even more relatable in Gerwig’s movie than in Alcott’s original book, which I read a few years ago.

Jo March has, of course, always been my favorite character, closely followed by Laurie, and in the movie, it was no different.  I myself am quite like Jo in the sense that I am a writer with a definite sense of liberty and independence.  I like my freedom just as much as Jo does.  And, like Jo, I don’t want to conform to the norms that society places on people.  Yet when Jo talks about how lonely she is, in spite of wanting to subvert the stereotype that women are only meant for romance and love and marriage, I can relate.

She, close to tears, says to her mother:

“And I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for.  But I’m so lonely.”

———-

Yesterday evening, I finished watching the 1948 film The Red Shoes.  The movie covers a ballet of the Hans Christian Anderson tale of the same name, as well as a more reality based story about the girl who dances the lead role, Victoria Paige.  In the ballet, a girl is taken in by a lovely pair of red shoes.  She buys the shoes, but once she puts them on, they won’t come off, and they won’t let her stop dancing either.  She dances and dances while everything, including love, is left behind.  Finally, exhausted, she collapses and the man she once loved takes the red shoes off.  Then she dies.

The rest of the movie focuses on the story of the young dancer, Victoria Paige, who dances the lead in the Red Shoes ballet.  It shows how she falls in love with the music director of the ballet company.  The director of the ballet is jealous; he wants Victoria all to himself so that he can make her into the greatest dancer in the world.  Finally, he and the music director, who is now her husband, try to force her to choose between dancing and love respectively.  Her husband even goes as far as to say “you love me.  But you love that [dancing] more.”

Victoria chooses dancing, but then, changing her mind, runs out on opening night of the second production of The Red Shoes ballet.  She leaps off a balcony and is killed by the train on the tracks below.  Her husband, who was leaving on that train, rushes to her.  Her last words are to ask him to take off the red shoes, which he does as she dies.

 

Obviously, the movie of The Red Shoes is overly dramatic in its posing of the question of art or love.  The idea that a woman must choose one and one aloneto pursue her art and devote herself entirely to it or to give in to love and become a wifeis old fashioned at the very least.  A woman can be both.  She can be artist and wife, artist and lover.  She can, if she wants, do any combination of things.  Love or art.  Love and art.  Or neither.

Yet I myself struggle sometimes with a version of this question.  I am, as I said above, an independent person by nature.  I’ve often somehow felt that I didn’t have the time required to become attached to anyone but my parents.  I wanted to be free to follow my own pursuits as I pleased.  Now, more and more though, I see how lonely that can be.  It certainly works for some people, both women and men, but I’m beginning to understand that I need  and even want people and attachment.

The question for me is less of a question and more of me just trying to figure out what I want and need out of life.  It’s me trying to decide how best I will be fulfilled.  And, unlike how the Red Shoes portrays it, I think that for me, either extremeonly art or only lovewould be unhealthy.  Anything but a balance of the two would be rather an over dramatic choice.  A person’s options in life are rarely so starkly black and white.

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Returning to Little Women, when Laurie proposes marriage to her, she turns him down because she doesn’t love him in the way he deserves but also because she values her “liberty” too much.  She is vastly independent, and that’s the way she likes it.  Later in the story, however, when she admits to her mother just how lonely she is, she decides she would say yes to Laurie if he were to propose to her again.  She still doesn’t love him in that way, but her loneliness is enough to make her change her mind.  She is lonely enough to say something like “to be loved is more important to me than to love.”

Yet after Laurie comes back from  France and announces him marriage to Amy, Jo goes on still alone.  She needs a friend.  She needs someone who will support her in all her career endeavors and give her all the freedom she craves, yet still love her.  And she apparently finds such a man to give her what she needs and who she loves as well.  This man is Friedrich Bhaer.

———-

It’s interesting though because although Little Women is one should choose art over love, although not over all human connection.  However, the over dramatic portrayal of the question in The Red Shoes, on the other hand, left me feeling that one should never choose art over love.

Oh the contradictions and subjectivity of human existence.

Considering the Future

I’m just coming back from my holiday break.  The break was definitely filled with lots of activities, including many long walks in the woods, making art, talking to a good friend, going on many long errands all over the place with my parents and lots and lots of writing.

I wrote one short story, one poem and several of the final chapters of my novel, as well as other smaller projects and nonfiction pieces.  My novel is pretty much finished, although the final chapters definitely need some more work so that they provide good closure and tie into the rest of the story.

I’ll probably take a couple months off from working on it.  Then when I come back to it, I’ll revise it a bit and hopefully be able to show it to some of my friends.

I’m also working on ordering some of my poetry from the past year into a book.  I don’t plan on publishing it or anything, but it will be satisfying to see all of my best poems together in a logical sequence.

Overall, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot on break, which is good.  I’m trying to really embrace what I want to do as my future career, which is obviously writing.  So I’m working on multiple writing projects and experimenting to see what types of things I like to write and what works best for me in writing.  That’s been a lot of fun, and I’m exciting to explore it all more.

 

It’s interesting to explore my future career.  Like, when I think about the future, I often get anxious, especially when I think about my future with the people who are important to me.  Yet when I think about the future of my career, I don’t feel that anxiety at all. 

I think that often we just need to let go of the future, I’m learning that now.  Especially the parts of the future that we don’t have control over.  Letting go of control is definitely hard though.  Especially for someone like me who likes to always know the general outcome of things.

But I think that when we’re doing something, we can’t get caught up in how we don’t think something will work.  We have to instead get caught up in the beauty and excitement of the thing itself in order to see if, in the end, it maybe will work.  Or better yet, don’t even think in terms of something working or not–success or failure–just focus on what’s going on right now.  Focus on the journey and not the outcome.   

The Public School System, Respect and School Reform

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I don’t understand  how people can defend the public school system.  Sure, it has benefits like providing education and childcare for the children of parents who work during the day, but to me, it also treats kids in a very unfair way.

I myself am homeschooled and always have been, but I’ve read up on education over the years, so I think I do have some right to criticize the school system.  My good friend also goes to public school as well, so I get to see the system from the perspective of a student.

My friend and I both agree that the homework load is totally ridiculous.  Basically, if you want to get good grades, you have to do most or all of the homework assigned to you, and homework often takes my friend at least several hours to complete.  So, he spends seven hours a day at school in classes, then comes home and has to spend two or three more hours on homework.  Overall, this amounts to a nine or ten hour day.  If kids want to get good grades, they have to work ten hours a day at their education.  Ten!  That’s more than a regular 9-5 office job.

How is that fair?  How it is fair to take children and stuff them into a building for twelve years of their lives to be educated?  How is it fair to take up so much of their time?  I am not advocating for a complete abolishment of education or even of the school system.  I think it needs to be changed.  The structure needs to be changed so that students can have free time.  So that they aren’t totally stressed out working on homework for hours and hours each day.

I just don’t think it’s fair to treat kids the way that the public school system so often treats them.   There just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of respect for students and their time, at least not at my friend’s school.  Homework takes away so much time from students’ lives.  From their passions.  From their friends.  Their families.  Their hobbies.  Their jobs.  How is that okay?

And I mean, the system just doesn’t work for everyone.  My friend is really smart, but he feels like homework is mostly a waste of time.  He often says he’s not learning useful things or things he really wants to know. . .or even things he doesn’t already know.

This system is not a good one anymore.  It isn’t individualized.  It’s meant to teach a lot of kids the things that they “need to know” and are “supposed to know.”  It’s mass education.  It tends to enforce the status quo.  Yet what I think we actually need in the world is creative people, people who can come up with fresh new, alternative solutions to societal problems.  And I really don’t think that the school system as it currently is structured is going to educate kids in the right way for that need.

I think that school could be less unpleasant and more useful and worthwhile if some reforms were to take place.  I think that the public school system needs to become smaller and more individualized.  Smaller class sizes will help teachers to cover material more effectively and efficiently so that homework loads can become a bit more reasonable and manageable.  Once school is more individualized, each student can hopefully get more of what they want and need.  Hopefully they can feel more valued and respected as individuals with plans and dreams and lives outside of school.

My Novel: A Girl Who Died at 18

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About a year ago I began to get really interested in the life of my fourth great grandmother, Abigail Ida.  I’ve been interested in family history for several years now, but last year, I rejuvenated my interest in this particular person in my family tree.  Abigail Ida was born in 1872 and to the best of my knowledge, was married at age fifteen to a man twice her age.  She had one daughter at age sixteen and supposedly died two years later in 1890.

Much to my frustration, the 1890 census records burned in the 1920s, shutting down my hopes for finding information there.  Other genealogists in my family have attempted to hunt down a death certificate for Abigail Ida but have found none.  I’ve searched the internet with her name and supposed birth and death dates to no avail.  Last year, I also spoke on the phone with my aunt who also had very little information in spite of having done research on a family tree.  All I’ve managed to glean from this hunt for information is that Abigail Ida’s daughter did not seem to be a very happy woman.

 

Out of this intriguing but seemingly unsolvable mystery was born the basis for my first foray into writing a novel.  I started out this venture in early December of 2018, intending to remain accurate to as many of the events of my fourth great grandmother’s life as I knew.  Over the course of the past eleven months, however, I’ve decided to partially abandon that intention, instead using the story of Abigail Ida as a jumping off point.  This gives me a lot more artistic freedom, which has really been good for the story.

 

Having given myself this freedom to change up the plot a bit, I’ve tentatively decided to set it in either WWI or WWII in a small fictional farming town in the rural midwest.  My main character is the equivalent of my fourth great grandmother’s only daughter and grows up with her father, half brother and step mother.

Originally, the story centered mainly around the romances of my main character, Ida, and two local boys, Joel and Sam.  In the process of revising the plot, however, I decided that I needed to cut out most of the romance, leaving the story to mostly stand on Ida’s emotional journey as somewhat of a self isolated sixteen year old whose mother died when she was a baby and whose father and stepmother are quite detached and distant.

Drawing some inspiration from Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!,  I also decided to play up the setting of a lush, rural farming town.  This means that I get to wax poetic about the old family farm tradition which is largely no more.  In writing this as historical fiction, I also get to incorporate as many tidbits from the local history of my own area as I want, which makes me quite happy.

 

Recently, I printed off the unfinished manuscript, nearly 17,000 words in all, and went through the entire thing, marking with a pencil the plot revisions I wanted to make.  Now, I’m in the midst of the process of putting those revisions into my typed version of the story.  I only have 17,000 words, and I’m not sure just yet how much more I will write before I feel that I am to the end of the story, but I hope that the finished manuscript will be at least 30,000 words by the end.  While 30,000 words is not very close to the generally accepted minimum word count for a novel (50,000 words), I am aiming for a book that is on the shorter side, perhaps more like a novella than a full on novel.

But in the end, it’s the process and journey of writing the story that really counts, not the number of words.  As long as I feel like I’ve effectively written something that I’m proud of, then I’ve achieved my goal.

Halloween, Human Nature and Material Consumption

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As decorations and other paraphernalia have begun to make their way into stores and front yards in preparation for Halloween, I’ve been struggling to stomach the amount of waste that is caused by the way that we as Americans so often celebrate Halloween.

An immense number of candy wrappers and little plastic decorations will eventually be discarded into a trash can once they have been eaten or ceased to delight their owner as much as they apparently did upon purchase.  They will become integrated with our other discarded wastes in a landfill somewhere, along with broken inflatable grim reapers and other lawn decorations that make their appearances starting as early as September.

I see all of these Halloween themed goods and wonder what the justification for all of it is because to me, it seems unnecessary.  Of course celebrating holidays is fun and enjoyable.  Of course decorations add to the sense of fun, adventure and enjoyment that often characterizes holidays like Halloween and Christmas. Yet, I doubt that we as humans, as Americans, would miss these decorations and trinkets if they weren’t available.  That is, if they had never been available to us in the first place.  If we never had seen an inflatable grim reaper or a pen with the head of some monster at its end, we would never miss those things as Halloween day approached.  I think we would enjoy Halloween just as much without so many consumables being offered along with it.

Stores, companies and advertisers take advantage of holidays, making them into huge events of consumption.  They capitalize on and benefit from the common human need and desire for material consumption and possession.  They know that humans often have this weakness, so they produce, market and arrange goods  accordingly to cater to it.  They persuade us to buy things.  They ignore the unpleasant consequences of consumption, like debt and waste.

The key, I think, to understanding and recognizing that we are being taken advantage of by marketers and companies is to use critical thinking skills.  Once we look critically at the consumption phenomenon and the way that goods are marketed to us, we can often start to see how psychology and human nature are exploited to get us to buy things.  Once we recognize that, maybe we can see how unnecessary some of this consumption really is and how disgusting it is as well.