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July 2016

Finding the way, word by word

From At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens & Eugene Onegin by Alexander Puskin

From "Memory and Imagination" by essayist & memoirist Patricia Hampl:

"Is it possible to convey the enormous degree of blankness, confusion, hunch, and uncertainty lurking in the act of writing? When I am the reader, not the writer, I too fall into the lovely illusion that the words before me, which read so inevitably, must also have been written exactly as they appear, rhythm and cadence, language and syntax, the powerful waves of the sentences laying themselves on the smooth beach of the page one after another faultlessly.

From The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle & To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe

"But here I sit before a yellow legal pad, and the long line of the preceding two paragraphs is a jumble of crossed-out lines, false starts, and confused order. A mess. The mess of my mind trying to figure out what it wants to say. This is a writer's frantic, grabby mind, not the poised mind of a reader waiting to be edified or entertained.

From Persuasion by Jane Austen & Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

"I think of the reader as a cat, endlessly fastidious, capable by turns of mordant indifference and riveted attention, luxurious, recumbent, ever poised. Whereas the writer is absolutely a dog, panting and moping, too eager for an affectionate scratch behind the ears, longing frantically after any old stick thrown in the distance.

Early versions of her stories, in letter form, by Beatrix Potter

"The blankness of a new page never fails to intrigue and terrify me. Sometimes, in fact, I think my habit of writing on long yellow sheets comes from an atavistic fear of the writer's stereotypic 'blank white page.' At least when I begin writing, my page has a wash of color on it, even if the absence of words must finally be faced on a yellow sheet as much as on a blank white one. We all have our ways of whistling in the dark."

From House of Mirth by Edith Wharton & Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

From The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

From Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake & The Two Towers by JRR Tolkien

Pictures: The manuscript pages here are identified in the picture captions. (Run your cursor over the images to see them.) For modern manuscripts & writers' notebooks, go here for a wonderful post on the subject by Jackie Morris.

Words: The passage above comes from an essay published in I Could Tell You Stories: Sojourns in the Land of Memory by Patricia Hampl (WW Norton & Co., 1999); all rights reserved by the author.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Nahko Bear

A new album from one of my favorite musicians, Nahko Bear (with his band, Medicine for the People), is always a cause of celebration. If you've not encountered his music before: Nahko Bear is a singer/songwriter born of mixed Apache/Mohawk, Puerto Rican & Filipino heritage. He was raised in Oregon, now lives in Hawaii, and is active in the Earth Guardians movement of young musicians, artists and activists. (To learn more about him, see this post from 2015.)

Above: "Make a Change," with backup vocals by Zella Day, from the new album, Hoka. "We believe our people and planet are in serious need of change," Nahko says. "This is our cry for help. This is our call to action. Empowered youth. Real Changes." (The upside down U.S. flag "is an official signal of distress. It is not meant to be any type of disrespect when so displayed for the right reasons.")

Below: "We Are on Time," a gorgeous love song from Koka, performed solo for a Skype Live Studio session in Portland, Oregon last month.

Above: "San Quentin," a song Nahko wrote about his "personal journey to forgiveness" when he made a trip to San Quentin State Prison to meet the man who murdered his father. This is not the first time he's turned personal trauma into "medicine" and art, which is one of the reasons I love his work so much. (As I wrote in a post about another writer back in May: "Those who thoroughly understand despair have my attention when they speak of hope.")

Below: "Love Letters to God," peformed for Global Sounds Radio in Portland, Oregon in January.

And a lovely song to end with: "Tus Pies," performed in the Paste Magazine studio in New York in June. This one gets me in the gut every time I hear it....

"I think I’m a gatherer," Nahko said (in an interview back in 2013). "I’ve been trying to find my family for a long time. And I’m trying to help other people feel like they have family through this music. For all the abandoned, vagabond, vagrant, home free kids out there."


Stay Wild

Hillside 1

"The mind I love most must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind."

- Katherine Mansfield (KM Notebooks: Complete Edition)

Hillside 2

Hillside 3

Hillside 4

"What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary."

- Jay Griffiths (Wild: An Elemental Journey)

Hillside 5

Hillside 6

"Storytellers ought not to be too tame.  They ought to be wild creatures who function adequately in society.  They are best in disguise.  If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us the truest joys."

- Ben Okri (A Way of Being Free: Essays)

Hillside 7

Devon thistles

Words: The poem in the picture captions is from The October Palace by Jane Hirshfield (Harper Perennial, 1994); all rights reserved by the author. Pictures: The last of the foxgloves on Nattadon Hill, and thistles in bloom.