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September 2014

The Dog's Tale: A Time for Reflection

The front garden bench, September.The Dogs Tales are a series of posts in which Tilly has her say....

It's the end September, the trees are turning to gold and the hillside bracken to rust. The days are warm but the nights are cold, and dusk carries the scent of woodsmoke. At summer's end, I feel a Dog must pause to reflect on the season just past.

Looking over the village from the top of our hill.

It's been a good summer: plenty of sunshine, long walks, loafing in the garden, snoozing in the grass, and journeys to wild places with my Pack. I have waded through streams and paddled in rivers.

Cooling off in a woodland stream.

Cooling off in the river.

I have leapt through the waves and wallowed in the mud.

On the north Devon coast, reflecting once again. I am a Dog who takes life seriously.

But not too seriously. And sometimes I prefer to be a Seal.

The ecstasy of mud.

Family and friends came all the way from London and New York just to see me. (I encouraged them to visit with my People too.)

Beautiful me with my Pack-Sister Victoria and my friends Rachel & Owen, and Ellen & Delia.

I got to stay with my Beloved-est Friend when the rest of my Pack went up to the Big City. This is his portrait of me:

Tilly by David Wyatt

I went to Chagford Carnival, listened to my favorite band (The Nosey Crows), and graciously allowed small People to pet me. Then a Mouse passed by who smelled just like my Person.

The Chagford librarian and a giant Mouse.

It was very strange.

And who is that White Rabbit? She looks familiar...

Yes, it was an excellent summer. That is, in all respects but one:

The Cat population next door has grown. There must be seven or eight of them now. I patrol my territory from dawn to dusk, and keep watch indoors through the back bedroom window, but those fiendish Felines still get into the garden, strutting across the grass and taunting me.

I chase, I chase, dear god, I chase ... but the devilish creatures are too quick! Up they go, over the fence, across the rooftops ... leaving me (so close! so close!) veritably whimpering with my frustration. It's a serious job, protecting my People from Cats, and a good Dog's work is never done.

Spying on Cats.

Where did they go...?

Now it is autumn. We've harvested the plums and apples, the peas and cucumbers, the lavender and the lemon balm.  The flowers are fading, the grape vine is drooping, and the little pond is thick with weeds and shadows. There are Frogs in the pond, Birds in the trees ... and far too many Squirrels for my liking. They throw nuts at the studio roof to crack them open, and it drives me wild.

The plum tree by the studio.

The Buddha by the studio pond.

A studio Frog

Friendly Frog

Blackberry season is almost over, though there are still plenty left if you know where to find them. I love blackberries. I love eating them all along the paths winding over our hill, risking the prick of  brambles to lip that dark, sweet juiciness down.

This year I've discovered a new technique. I stop beside a good cluster of berries, look up at my Person, and then back at the berries. Then I do it again, sometimes two or three times, until my intent is clear. She plucks the berries out of the brambles and I eat them from the soft palm of her hand. She is a very good Person, gentle and easily trained. I chose her well.

There are blackberries all along the path

My Person demonstrates her training.

'Good girl,' I tell her, and then I snarfle those berries down.

Yes, it's been a fine Dartmoor summer. I hope it will be a fine autumn too, both here on Dartmoor and wherever else in the world that you may be. I wish you many walks, sweet berries, and good companions on every path you roam. Blessings to you and all your Pack.

Love, Tilly

Always treat your Pack with kindness and love.

Happy autumn!Image credits: The sketch of me above is by my Beloved, David Wyatt; the photo of Owen & Rachel jumping on Chagford Common was taken by Owen & Rachel themselves (how did they do that?); the photo of me &  Delia Sherman by the fairy spring on Chagford Common is by Ellen Kushner;  the Chagford Carnival photos are by Lin Copeland, from the "Friends of Chagford Library" site.  All  other photos are by my Person. Mostly starring me.

This post is dedicated to young Cinnamon, her Person (Karen Meisner) and her brand new Pack. Be sure to train your People well, grasshopper. It's never too early to start.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

A hushed, misty morning in the studio

It's a a hushed and misty morning in Devon, perfect for a bit of time-traveling...so let's go back to the 1960s with the music of Simon and Garfunkel.

I was a child in that legendary era, and the musical poetry of Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Michell, Janice Ian and other songwriters of the '60s and early '70s whetted my taste for printed poetry and literature as much as any books on the shelves. I'm grateful to have been born at a time when these masters of the form were on the pop radio airways. I'd listen to them on a transitor radio clutched under my pillow at night (at a highly impressionable age), and a sizable portion of what I know about the rhythm and sound of good writing surely comes from them.

In the video below, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel perform "Sounds of Silence" for Canadian television in 1966. They'd both grown up in Queens, started working together in 1963, and were 24 years old at the time of this television broadcast. The song comes from their second album, Sounds of Silence (1965).

Next:

Paul and Art perform "Scarborough Fair" (a variant of  Child Ballad 1) and "Homeward Bound" (by Paul Simon) at a reunion concert in New York's Central Park in 1981. The songs were first recorded for their third album, Parsley Sage Rosemary & Thyme (1966).

Below:

"America" performed by the Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit at the Polar Music Prize ceremony in Stockholm (2012). It's an appropriate song for Johanna and Klara Söderberg to sing, having been so influenced by American folk and country music themselves...but imagine how nervous they must have been to perform it with Paul Simon in the audience! The song was first recorded on S&G's fourth album, Bookends (1968), twenty-two years before the Söderberg sisters were born.

And last:

"The Boxer" (audio only), performed by the English alt folk band Mumford & Sons, backed up by two American country music greats: Emmylou Harris and Jerry Douglas (2012). The song comes from S&G's fifth album, Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970).


On fantasy, realism, and telling the truth

The Fairy Scribe by Alan Lee

From Lloyd Alexander in "Perilous Realms: A Colloquy" (Innocence & Experience):

"The pitfall in writing fantasy is not adding enough realism. Fantasy deals with the impossible, not the illogical. Creating a secondary world where the impossible becomes ordinary does not carry with it a license to do as one pleases. In conception, and in its deep substructures, the fantasy world must, if anything, be more carefully rationalized than the real world.

"The real world, as we all know, sometimes to our bewilderment, is often illogical, inconsistent, a kind of elaborate random walk. In fantasy, magical elements have to make sense in their own framework. The goal, of course, is to make fantasy seem absolutely real and convincing. This statement applies not only to setting but to characters as well. The writer may populate his imaginary world with all manner of imaginary creatures, human or otherwise. But within that world they must be as carefully observed as in any work of realism. They must have weight, solidity, dimension. Their fantastic condition must speak to our real one.

Fairy Queen by Alan Lee

Fairies in the Wood by Alan Lee

"Sheer inventiveness can be amusing, entertaining, even dazzling, and I don't mean to downgrade it. The danger is that too often it can turn into sheer gimmickry. Choosing the wrong form is, I think, probably the biggest risk in any kind of creation. Fantasy, however, seems to offer special temptations. To the unwary writer it promises such fun and freedom, great soaring flights of unbounded imagination. This promise can turn out to be a siren song. Before listening to it, the writer would be well advised to ask, Why fantasy instead of some other form? Unless fantasy is the best and only way a writer can express what is deepest in his mind and heart, the writer should consider some other mode and spare himself, and his readers, much labor and grief.

An illustration from Merlin Dreams by Alan Lee

"This is not to say that writers of realism have it ay easier or are any less vulnerable to dangers. If a work of fantasy can fail through lack of realism, a work of realism can fail can fail through lack of fantasy. In this case I use the word fantasy in the sense of transformative imagination. Realism is not reality. The magic of realism is that it can seem to be real life, more real even than life itself. But this marvelous illusion comes from the transformative imagination of the writer -- imagination that shapes, manipulates, and illuminates. Without it the work is only a play of surfaces.

" 'True to life' may not always be true enough. The difficulty is perhaps in confusing truth with objectivity. By its very nature, art can never be objective. Try as we might, we can't 'tell it like it is.' We can only tell it the way it seems to us. And this, of course, is what we must do -- in realism or in fantasy -- if we hope to create anything of durable value.

"We have always needed good art to sustain us, to strengthen us, even to console us for being born human. Where better can we learn to see through the eyes of others, to gain compassion, to try to make sense of the world outside ourselves and the world within ourselves?"

The Sorceress by Alan LeeThe gorgeous drawings here are by my friend and village neighbor Alan Lee. All rights reserved by the artist. To read Lloyd Alexander's full remarks on the subject of fantasy & realism, seek out Inncocence & Experience: Conversations and Essays on Children's Literature, Harrison & Maguire, eds. (Lothrop, Lee, & Shepard Books, 1987). I recommend it highly.


Writing without roots

Morning coffee

Morning visitors

From "Where is Terabitha?" by Katherine Paterson (Innocence & Experience):

"Flannery O'Connor, whose words about writing have meant a great deal to me, has said that writing is incarnational. By incarnational we mean that somehow the word or the idea has taken on flesh, has become physical, actual, real. We mean that the abstract idea can be percieved by the way of the senses. This immediately makes fiction different from other kinds of stories. The fairy tale begins, 'Once upon a time,' thus clearly signaling its intent to escape the actual and the everyday, but a novel takes its life from the petty details of its geography, history, and culture.

Dartmoor pony and foal

"This is one of the reasons that writers like Flannery O'Connor and Eudora Welty and William Faulkner move us so powerfully. Their roots are planted very deep in a particular soil, and they grow up and reach out from that place with a strength unknown to most writers. It is also the reason why a writer like Pasternak would refuse the Nobel Prize rather than leave Russia. For Russia, despite her terror and oppression, was the soil from which his genius sprang, and he feared that if he left her, he would leave behind his ability to write.

Mother & child

P1110898

A foal's breakfast

"What happens, then, to a writer without roots -- who is not grounded in a particular place? When I was four years old, we left 'home,' and I've never been back since. Indeed, I couldn't go back if I wanted to because the house in which we lived was torn down so that a bus station could be built on the site. Since I was four, I've lived in three different countries and seven states at about thirty different addresses. I was once asked as part of an imaginative exercise to remember in detail the house I had grown up in. I nearly had a mental breakdown on the spot. But the fact that I have no one place to call home does not make me feel that place in fiction is unimportant. On the contrary, it convinces me that I must work harder than any almost any writer I know to create or re-create the world in which a story is set and grows if I want to make a reader believe it."

Wild family

Watching quietlyPhotos above: Morning coffee under the old oak, and three visitors. Some previous posts on the subject of place: Thoughts About Home, More Thoughts About Home and Staying Home. I'm also reminded of Christina Cairn's lovely post, Meditations on Home, at A Mermaid in the Attic (2011).


The journey to Ithaka, the pathway to the sea

The journey begins

From "A Writer's Journey" by Eleanor Cameron (Innocence & Experience):

What makes the artist's journey exhilarating, she says, is that "one never knows what will emerge from the unconcious, memories that, suprisingly enough, begin coalescing into a pattern, only dimly perceived at first. But before long, for some mysterious reason, this pattern begins taking on the substance and detail that tell the writer that another novel, not necessarily of the past, is coming into being.

The pathway to the Sea

"It is something to be grateful for because it can be devastating to see nothing in the offing. I remember Lloyd Alexander saying, when I congratulated him on his latest book, 'Oh, but I haven't an idea what to do next. It's terrible -- I'm utterly barren and it frightens me!' He had not the faintest notion that  The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha would appear within the next two years, not to speak of the Westmark trilogy during the four after that. There are seven lines near the end of Cavafy's poem 'Ithaka' that particularly move me:

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich."

The secret cove

At high tide

"As we sit at our desks, struggling to bring a conception into existence, we are always trying -- if we are serious and not simply working for money and attention -- to make ourselves worthy of the vision, no matter how modest the accomplishment. There, for me at least, lies the mingled hardship and true joy of writing, the journey taken."

Into the unknown

And then there were two

Exilaration

From "The Life Journey" by John Rowe Townsend (Innocence & Experience):

''The life journey is a hero's journey. Although we may not feel very heroic, we are all embarked on the heroic quest, to live lives that have meaning for ourselves and others. We are on our individual Odysseys, our personal roads of trials. We have had our adventures, and we shall have more, but we shall come to Ithaka at last.''

True joyPhotos above: Howard, Victoria, and Tilly on the South West Coast Path and Watcombe Beach, south Devon, on a misty day.


Sad news

Neruda's writing space in Chile, from ''Pablo Neruda Absence and Presence'' by Alastair ReidNeruda's writing space in Chile, from Pablo Neruda Absence and Presence by Alastair Reid.

The Scottish-born writer Alastair Reid has died. He was best known as a poet and essayist, as the secretary to Robert Graves, and as the English translator and good chum of Borges and Neruda, ...but he also wrote magical, Yeats-like children's poems, of which the poem below is one. (He allowed me to print it many years ago in one of my first anthologies.)

I knew him in my early years in New York...and despite the enormous divide in age and experience (I was a callow young editor of paperback fantasy books; he had an office at The New Yorker), he was unfailingly kind, warm, and funny...and for some reason liked to sit with me and Beth Meacham in our tiny Ace Books offices (when he had far, far better places to be) and tell story after story so funny that we'd be literally crying with laughter. I haven't seen him in years, but I'll never forget him.

Alastair lived a remarkably full life, died at 88, and left the world with treasures...what artist can ask for more? To read some of his fine poems and essays for The New Yorker, go here.

"Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all."  - Alastair Reid

A Spell for Sleeping by Alastair Reid, published in Elsewhere Volume I, Arnold & Windling, eds, 1981


Reading in the woods

Morning coffee 1

The book I'm currently taking to my favorite spots for morning coffee in the woods and on the hill is Innocence & Experience: Essays & Conversations on Children's Literature, edited by Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maquire. Published in 1987, I picked it up in a used bookstore in Tucson many years ago, but somehow never got around to reading it fully until now. The collection is compiled from talks presented at the Simons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature in Boston...yet is full of ideas that also apply to other forms of writing, story-telling, and art.

"Writing is a journey," says Jane Yolen (in her contribution to the volume), "a journey on which the author goes hand in hand with her characters. If everything is written down in the author's mind before the journey is started, then (in the words of Truman Capote) you are not a writer but a typist. You have to be open to wonder as you go along, wonder and discovery, uncovery, and recovery. Discovery: the act of coming upon something that is unexpected. Uncovery: finding out all you can about your discovery. Recovery: using your discovery to tell more about character, setting, plot, and ultimately theme.

Morning coffee 2

"It is theme -- that elusive word that literature teachers mangle (sending elementary school children home with the instructions to find the 'author's intent' and high school students to discover 'thematic underpinnings' of a book) -- that I want to deal with now. The theme of every quest story, every hero story, is -- in Joseph Campbell's words, 'fundamentally...inward.' The hero seeks himself, seeks to mature, so that when he comes into his powers, he uses them for others, not himself.

"That is why the story of Jason is a quest but not a hero tale, for vainglorious, selfish, egotistical Jason wants all the honors and does not share. He is the earliest antihero. The heroes we pattern our children's books upon are most often the unlikely hero, the youngest son in the fairy tale, who goes forth like Tolkien's Frodo, although he does not know the way. It is Arthur pulling the sword for his foster brother Kay. And Taran discovering that he really does not know his name. And Morgan unriddling for the sake of the riddles themselves, not because he wants a kingdom. And, I hope, Jakkin, who tries to save the dragons of Austar and in doing so discovers and saves himself.

Morning coffee 3

"But to ask someone to offer the author's intent (friendship, loving-kindness, do no cry over spilt milk) and grade it as the correct answer is to overlook the simple fact that each reader reads a different book. The book is created between the author and the reader, re-created at each reading. William Black wrote, 'A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.' Which is not to say that the tree the wise man sees is the correct one. Only what he sees. And again Blake, 'The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow, nor the lion, the horse how he shall take his prey.' When we discuss books, we are all like the blind men and elephant, each describing a different thing, a different part, that which we hold in our hands. "

Indeed.

Innocence & Experience

Morning coffee 4


Tunes for a Monday Morning

This morning, traditional music from singer/pianist/accordion player Emily Smith, who comes from Dumfries and Galloway in the south-west of Scotland. She has five solo albums,  plus a collaboration with her husband, multi-instrumentalist Jamie McClennan (Adoon Winding Nith, 2009), and a compilation album (Ten Years, 2013). Her latest (Echoes, 2014) mixes musical influences from Scotland and Nashville with the aid of trans-Atlantic musicians including Jerry Douglas, Aoife O'Donovan, and Kris Drever. All of her work is terrific.

Above: " Sweet Lover of Mine,"  Child Ballad 1, performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival. It's on her fifth album, Traiveller's Joy.

Below:  "May Colven," Child Ballad 4, recorded for her third  album, Too Long Away. (That's McClennan on fiddle.)

Below:

The new video for "My Darling Boy" (a variant of the ballad "The Trees They Grow So High"), from Echoes.

And I'll throw in one more, a contemporary song this time:

 "Somewhere Along the Road" by Steeleye Span's Rick Kemp. Smith recorded this one for Traiveller’s Joy, her album of Scottish traveller ballads and songs from the road.


Creativity and play

Tor Bay 1

"Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play." - Henri Matisse (Matisse on Art)

"The capacity to relax and play renews the spirit and makes it possible for us to come to the work of writing clearer, ready for the journey."  - Bell Hooks (Remembered Rapture: The Writer at Work)

Tor Bay 3

Tor Bay 2

"To enter into play is to enter into uncertainty. It involves letting go, and it involves the risk that in your looseness, in your un-self-conscious spontaneity, you may say or do something strange, something that someone could shame you for. Therein lies the risk, and therein lies our poetry."

- Matthew Burgess ("Serious Play: Odes to the Everyday," Poetry Foundation)

Tor Bay 5

"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both."
- L.P. Jacks (Education Through Recreation)

Tor Bay 4

"A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived within him and who he will miss terribly."  - Pablo Neruda (I Confess I Have Lived)

Tor Bay 6

Tor Bay 8

"So, like a forgotten fire, a childhood can always flare up again within us."   - Gaston Bachelard (The Poetics of Reverie)

Tor Bay 10

"I believe that half the trouble in the world comes from people asking 'What have I achieved?' rather than 'What have I enjoyed?' I've been writing about a subject I love as long as I can remember -- horses and the people associated with them, anyplace, anywhere, anytime. I couldn't be happier knowing that young people are reading my books. But even more important to me is that I've enjoyed so much the writing of them."   - Walter Farley (author of The Black Stallion)

Tor Bay 9

"We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -  Karl Groos (The Play of Animals)

Tor Bay 11

Photographs above: Howard, Victoria, Tilly and I on a dog-friendly beach near Paignton, south Devon, last week.
The L.P. Jacks quote above is often misattributed to François Auguste René Chateaubriand, and the Karl Goos quote to George Bernard Shaw.


Sonatas, storms, and stories

Wild Hemlock by Jessie M. King

From "The Fantastic Imagination" by George Macdonald (1824-1905), author of  The Princess and Curdie, At the Back of the North Wind, The Light Princess, etc., discussing the nature and value of fairy tales and fantasy:

"A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer its art, the more things it will mean. If my drawing, [for example], is so far from being a work of art that it needs This is a horse written under it, what can it matter that neither you nor your child should know what it means? It is there not so much to convey a meaning as to wake a meaning. If it does not even wake an interest, throw it aside. A meaning may be there, but it is not for you. If, again, you do not know a horse when you see it, the name written under it will not serve you much. At all events, the business of the painter is not to teach zoology.

"But indeed, your children are not likely to trouble you about meaning. They will find what they are capable of finding, and more would be too much. For my part, I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or seventy-five.

Sleeping Beauty by John Duncan

"A fairy tale is not an allegory. There may be allegory in it, but it is not an allegory. He must be an artist indeed who can, in any mode, produce a strict allegory that is not a weariness of the spirit. An allegory must be Mastery or Moorditch. A fairy tale, like a butterfly or a bee, helps itself at all sides, sips at every flower, and spoils not one.

A detail from a mural by Phoebe Traquair

"The true fairy tale, to my mind, is like the sonata. We all know that a sonata means something; and where there is the faculty of talking with suitable vagueness, and choosing metaphor sufficiently loose, mind may approach mind, in the interpretation of a sonata, with a more or less contenting conciousness of sympathy. But if two or three men sat down to write each what the sonata meant to him, what approximation to a definite idea would be the result? Little enough -- and that little more than needful."

In the Garden of Peace by Dorothy Carleton Smyth

Bows, Beads and Birds by Frances MacDonald MacNair

" A fairy tale, a sonata, a gathering storm, a limitless night, seizes you and sweeps you away: do you begin at once to wrestle with it and ask whence its power over you, wither it is carrying you? The law of each is in the mind of its composer; that law makes one man feel this way, another man feel that way. To one the sonata is a world of odour and beauty, to another of soothing only and sweetness. To one the cloudy rendezvous is a Summer Time by Annie Frenchwild dance, with a terror at its heart; to another a majestic march of heavenly hosts, with Truth in their center pointing their course, but as yet restraining her voice. The greatest forces lie in the region of the uncomprehended.

"I will go farther -- The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is -- not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things through for himself. The best Nature does for us is to work in us such moods in which thoughts of high import arise. Does any aspect of Nature wake but one thought? Does she ever suggest only one definite thing? Does she make any two men in the same place at the same moment think the same thing? Is she therefore a failure, because she is not definite? Is it nothing that she does rouses  the something deeper than understanding -- the power that underlies thoughts? Does she not set feeling, and so thinking at work? Would it be better that she did this after one fashion, and not after many fashions?

"Nature is mood-engendering, thought provoking: such ought the sonata, such ought the fairy tale to be."

Sleeping Beauty by Ann Macbeth

Sleeping Beauty (embroidered panel) by Ann Macbeth

The author and artists selected for this post all come from Scotland -- in honor of today's historic referendum on the question of Scottish Independence.

The artists above were part of the great Scottish Arts & Crafts movement at the end of the 19th century: Jessie M. King (1875-1949), John Duncan (1866-1945), Phoebe Traquair (1853-1936),  Dorothy Carleton Smyth (1880-1933, sister of fellow-artist Olive Carleton Smyth), Frances MacDonald MacNair (1873-1921, sister of fellow-artist Margaret MacDonald Mackintoch), Annie French (1872-1965), Ann Macbeth (1875-1948), and Katherine Cameron (1874-1965). I recommend the book Glasgow Girls: Women in Art & Design 1880-1920, edited by Jude Burkhauser (Cannongate, 1990).

The Lily Maid of Astolat by Katherine Cameron