Loving this quote from Oscar Wilde on the mind of a writer. Except that bit about "his". He couldn't help the times he lived in.
Don't forget this is the last 100 Words prompt until May 4th! Happy writing...
Loving this quote from Oscar Wilde on the mind of a writer. Except that bit about "his". He couldn't help the times he lived in.
Don't forget this is the last 100 Words prompt until May 4th! Happy writing...
This 600+ page volume is both my current relaxation companion, and an indispensable guide.
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
It opens, "With thought, patience, and discrimination, book passion becomes the signature of a person's character. When out of control and indulged to excess, it lets loose a fury of bizarre behavior."
Nicholas Basbanes provides plenty of juicy words in that opening we could use as this week's prompt, and I choose:
**VACATION NOTICE - 100 Words will be on vacation for the weeks of April 20th and 27th. I'll be visiting my daughter abroad!
This week's writing prompt is inspired by a visit to the Whately Antiquarian Book Center.
Multiple rooms, and multiple floors stacked floor to ceiling with books of all kinds. Bibliophile heaven. Your word is:
If this is your first time here, click the typewriter image for guidelines on the 100 Words Challenge, a weekly writing prompt.
I picked up this delicious gem at a book sale over the weekend.
From the description:
Scrope Berdmore Davies, descendant of generations of sober English clergymen, was a dashing nineteenth-century dandy of epic proportion. King's Scholar at Eton, Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, imbiber, duelist, crack tennis player, accomplished swimmer and boxer, womanizer, ornament at aristocratic house parties, witty conversationalist, and close friend of Lord Byron and his circle, Davies was also a compulsive gambler -- which proved fortunate for posterity.
In 1820, after years of high living, Scrope's luck ran out, and he fled to the Continent a broken man, leaving behind one trunk stashed in the vault of Barclay's, his London bankers. It survived there intact, unclaimed and unopened until 1975. When Barclay's opened it with care and curiosity, they found a literary and cultural gold mine: previously unknown Byron and Shelley manuscripts, letters from Byron and friends, paid and unpaid bills, odds and ends -- even a recipe for gooseberry wine -- that portray an extraordinary man in an extraordinary period of English history.
Have fun with this one word-nerds!
"Writers, like elephants, have long, vicious memories." ~ William S. Burroughs
A reader wrote in to ask if I could name the post title to reflect the prompt word. Giving that a try this week. In other words, it should come as no surprise that this week's word is:
Sometimes you know yourself before you know yourself. This past week, in a somewhat desperate hunt for my passport, I went through some boxes that were in storage.
In a box of books, I found a copy of Among the Gently Mad: Strategies and Perspectives for the Book Hunter in the Twenty-First Century by Nicholas Basbanes. I don't remember buying this book, but I must have. I know I didn't read it when I did buy it, and so can only conclude that I bought it well before my recent foray into the book collecting and selling business. However it came into my hands, I'm enjoying it now.
Some part of me knew the future I was building toward before I consciously knew it.
Writing is like that. Sometimes you know exactly what you want to write and how it will end before you sit down, but often you have no idea what will happen. Yet, some part of you does. You just channel it.
Speaking of writing, I have a list the length of my arm of things I need to get down on paper (or into the computer). Not enough hours in the day, blah blah blah. How long is your list? Tell me in comments, and then maybe one of them will line up with this week's prompt, which is:
Greetings from the mountains of Vermont, from the 500 acres of snowy land, from the meditation center I've frequently called home away from home. I found vintage contemplative treasures in the library. From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.
"1. A Cup of Tea
NAN-IN, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?" "
When we write, our cup is overflowing, and writing is the act by which we empty the cup. The words spill over in our heads and we write to give them release.
From The Book of Tea:
"Teasim is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life."
Here, too, we can see the parallel to writing. If writing isn't a worship of the Imperfect, I don't know what is.
How will you empty your cup, begin fresh, and celebrate the Imperfect? Your word this week is:
In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says, "Writers are great lovers".
She is, specifically, speaking about the interweaving of reading and writing - of how a writer reads, and uses what they love to inform their own writing.
"They fall in love with other writers. That's how they learn to write. They take on a writer, read everything by him or her, read it over again until they understand how the writer moves, pauses, and sees. That's what being a lover is: stepping out of yourself, stepping into someone else's skin. Your ability to love another's writing means those capabilities are awakened in you. It will only make you bigger; it won't make you a copy cat. The parts of another's writing that are natural to you will become you, and you will use some of those moves when you write."
Who are your favorite writers? Who do you draw inspiration of style from?
Your word for the #100words prompt this week from Writing Down the Bones, is:
This week's prompt will again be from Jane Yolen's Touch Magic. I just now ordered my own signed first edition of this book so I can return the copy I keep hoarding back to its rightful owner.
Though Touch Magic is specifically a call-to-arms, a manifesto on the importance of fantasy and folklore in the literary experience of children, it is also a general reminder of the relationship of writer to reader, of storyteller to listener. Yolen lays the ground lamenting the passage of time and the onslaught of new technologies that she sees as threatening the potency of tale telling.
"In earlier days the storyteller knew the backgrounds of his audience intimately, knew their limits, their desires, their demands, tehir fears. But storytellers today no longer live in a small village. We live in what, for want of a better term, we call a global village. The modern storyteller knows that the printed tale speaks to an audience many thousands of miles wide."
She had that to say years before the World Wide Web and blogs were to enter the scene!
But It is later in the book that I'm driving toward here. Last week I told the story of the photographer who spent a year in his little city backyard to learn how to see, taking photos of the same objects over and over, each time with different results. Similarly, this week I happened upon a section in Touch Magic that speaks to the same story being made new by different storytellers and authors.
"That is why a fine artist can bring to an old tale a new approach, a new direction. . . . . If a story was rewritten in succession by John Gardner, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Dr. Seuss--how different each story would be."
Precisely the magic we see with the 100 Words prompt. Each of you brings a unique interpretation to it, while at the same time there are often similar threads running through some of your stories (there were two "last quilts" last week). In short, I'm pretty sure we're busy touching our own magic here what with multiple stories crafted in 100 words all generating from just one word. And that word this week, from Touch Magic, is:
"I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again." --Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass.
The snow has been extra loving to the trees and fields these last two weeks. This quote (lovely, isn't it?) is a reminder of the many flavors of mood one can lay over the simple events of life. Last week we saw Emerson's take on snow - cathedral, majestic, harsh, and impressive. Here, from Carroll, an animate and gentle thing.
Have you ever ever tried to write one topic from multiple angles? It's good exercise.
Years ago I took a class with a photographer who had spent an entire year taking photographs only in his own small backyard. After classical training and years as a landscape photographer, he came across a photo series by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher that stopped his mind. They were simple, zen-like, but incredibly potent, and he was utterly baffled by them. What was the technique? He sought out the Buddhist teacher to find out and after many teachings realized it was the difference between setting up the shot according to all the rules, and simply experiencing sight and awareness before filters. He hadn't learned to see before he learned to frame.
Writing is a form of seeing, and we can learn much about the craft by getting out of our own way through the practice of returning again and again to the same spot with fresh eyes.
Try it sometime, and tell me about it.
You could even try it with this week's #100words prompt (winky face):
Monday I raced down the long stretch from Northern Vermont to Massachusetts, aiming to beat the coming storm. For some, it would be a blizzard. Signs on the interstate warned me to "be prepared".
Once home, I happily settled in, ready for the kind of silence, timelessness, and peculiar magic only a snow storm can bring to the world. This poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson captures that unique mood of a New England snow storm.
The Snow Storm
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farm-house at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and, at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.
I did, in fact, gather near to a radiant fireplace and enjoyed a not so tumultuous privacy of storm. The cats slept while the fire churned out its fierce sphere of heat all day.
Your word for the 100 Word Challenge this week is from Emerson's poem:
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is, as expected, an unusual book. Author Ransom Riggs used his collection of found photographs to weave a tale that includes time travel, strange powers, magic, mystery, and monsters. The writing is sharp and the photographs haunting...magnetic. Not in the category of high literature, but its entertainment value kept it on the NYTimes bestseller list for a good long run.
From the pages of the book, your word for this week's 100 Word Challenge is:
A couple of admin notes!
First thing. Many apologies for the recent lateness and spottiness of the 100 Word Challenge. 2015 has decided it wants to be my busiest year ever. Children flying off to Europe for study abroad, clients popping out of the woodwork to start their marketing new year off with a bang, the ramping up of volunteer work, upcoming speaking gigs, and my usual assortment of side projects that I can't seem to live without.
Second thing, I FINALLY got an email from Squarespace informing me their engineers believe they have fixed the commenting problem. Please give it a go and see if it works for you without fuss now.
And now, back to the challenge. Linky tool below.
January in New England. Cold, dark, and perfect for curling in with a book by a fire, or hunkering down with a hot drink by a keyboard to write.
My current pleasure is the latest edition of The Paris Review. From the opening of Letter from Osterlen by Karl Ove Knausgaard:
"I'm feeling low. The feeling fades when I write, and that's why I write, to escape from myself. Even if I write about me. Something happens when my thoughts meet words and sentences, a space opens up, a space beyond any thought or sentence."
What follows is a beautiful, melancholic musing on life, reading, and writing over the passage of a few dark, cold, winter days. A few days ago, we witnessed hundreds of black crows gathering in the woods behind our house, coming in from over the valley below. We stood at the windows, mesmerized. Knausgaard describes a similar experience near the end of the letter:
"I decided to go for a drive instead of writing. I took one of the narrow lanes, flanked by snow-covered fields, with large drifts here and there and more coming in veils of white through the air, exactly as if I were high in the mountains. On reaching the coastal road, I turned left and drove alongside the hills, enormous, dark gray clouds rising up behind their ridges. After a few hundred meters, I saw that one hillside was completely black, and as I drew closer, I realized it was birds. The same black crows that usually perched in the tree behind the house. Now they were on the ground, an enormous flock of them, numbering perhaps six or seven hundred, in the lee of the slope, sheltering from the sea wind. I had never seen anything like it before and pulled over to the side of the road. It was an astounding sight. The massing clouds, filled with sun at their clefts and gaps, the sea, hidden from view by the steep snowy hillside, the wind coming over the crest and the flock of birds appearing utterly lost, as though in the wake of a catastrophe."
Your word prompt for the challenge this week, from the above passage, is:
It's a new year folks! New words to be written, new words to be read, new books (I got two for Christmas), new friends, new goals, new aspirations, new, new, new.
And yet, there are traditions that must span the years, carry through...like the 100 Word Challenge.
The first challenge of the New Year of 2015 comes from one of my gifts - Jack Zipes' (renowned academic expert in fairy tales) new translation of the first edition of The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. Actually, "new translation" is misleading. This is the first ever translation of the first edition of these fairy tales.
The very first story is The Frog King. or Iron Henry, and starts in classic fairy tale fashion, "Once upon a time...". Your first challenge for 2015 shall start equally as classic. Your word is:
It's been a crazy week on the road, prepping for the holidays, and getting things ready for the holiday onslaught at the flower shop. But I love this season, so I find my ways to carve out quiet time. For me, that's reading. Reading with hot chocolate, even better.
Good ole' Scrooge. Your prompt for this week's 100 Word Challenge is from the page pictured above where I've marked my spot:
Don't forget, we're taking next week off as I anticipate you'll all be busy with family cheer! And I do hope you find some cheer and warmth over the holiday. See you again on the 29th!
It's been All-Christmas-All-The-Time over here. I got involved in some local planning for holiday events, and then there's the three family Christmases to prep for. One tree is up and decorated, and this weekend I'll work on the second. Christmas cards will go out soon (email me if you'd like to be on the list and don't think I have your address). The only thing missing is my Christmas books.
I haven't been able to locate them since the move last year. I'm sure they'll turn up eventually, but a little part of me is panicked. Two strays were located because they never got packed up and lived in my daughter's closet.
The Polar Express, one of our favorites.
And a 1968 copy of Charles Dickens' Christmas Books including A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, The Battle of Life, and The Haunted Man.
The Cricket on the Hearth is charmingly divided into chapters titled, "Chirp the First", and so on. It opens:
The kettle began it! Don't tell me what Mrs. Peerybingle said. I know better. Mrs. Peerybingle may leave it on record to the end of time that she couldn't say which of them began it; but I say the kettle did. I ought to know. I hope! The kettle began it, full five minutes by the little waxy-faced Dutch clock in the corner, before the Cricket uttered a chirp.
I find Dicken's style of narrating as though speaking directly to the reader both sweet and mischievous. Your word this week from the paragraph above is:
Thanks for hanging in last week! Heads up that there'll be no challenge the week of the 22nd since I anticipate most of you will be busy and spending time with families. Until then, happy writing!
I have some more writing topics I want to cover, but this week I'm obsessed with three things.
Art Nouveau books and desk accessories, like this vintage ink tin in "Peacock Blue" (coming soon to the shop).
Peaky Blinders style, particularly the desks.
And the partner autobiography of Leona Rostenberg & Madeleine Stern, rare book sellers.
The authors, particularly Leona, talk about Finger-Spitzengefühl - "the art of evaluating antiquarian books by handling, experience, and instinct". But it was this from the prologue that piqued my interest:
The electrifying alertness to what is unusual or important in an early printed book has been given the name Finger-Spitzengefühl. When Finger-Spitzengefühl is coupled with serendipity, the gates of paradise open for the dealer in old and rare.
I'm familiar with that "electrifying alertness". Leona describes her early experiences with the feeling while building the inventory for her business:
My Finger-Spitzengefühl had only just begun. It operated especially well one day when I was studying a catalogue just received from the English firm of McLeish & Sons, located on London's Little Russell Street. Mady was deep into Louisa Alcott's grand tour abroad in 1870; Chimpie was dozing on the frong porch; I was turning the pages of the McLeish catalogue, which had just been forwarded to me by my temporary secretary, my mother. I had been uninterested in most of the items listed until my eye lighted upon number 188. Then the Finger-Spitzengefühl became an electrical conductor. My scalp pricked. And I shrieked aloud.
And the humble beginnings of the hunt:
Since we could not prowl or book hunt along Piccadilly or Charing Cross Road, we prowled in the neighboring villages of Maine...we ventured to Berwick and Biddeford, Kennebunk and Kittery, Sanford and Salmon Falls--to the House of the Thousand Chairs and the Old Grange, the Crow's Nest and Grandma's Attic, exploring jumble and dust, mustiness and broken crockery, armless dolls--and books.
Thrilling, no? Ha. Perhaps not, unless you've experienced Finger-Spitzengefühl. A few years ago I heard about a nearby book auction and decided to go, simply out of curiosity. I had no particular intention to buy, and certainly not to sell at that point. I just liked being around old books and was curious to see what kinds of specimens would be at an auction.
The style of auction was a "pick" auction, meaning buyers picked from piles of books to create stacks of up to 10 that would then go up for official auction later. Any remaining unpicked books would be sold in table lots. I had no idea what I was doing, but soon found myself absorbed in the process of picking, pulling books out of piles based on what caught my eye..what I liked or found interesting.
After a while I noticed two chaps hovering nearby wherever I went. Finally, one said, "where's your store?"
"Oh, I'm not a seller", I said.
Two pairs of eyebrows raised as the two looked at each other and then back at me.
"Well, you have a very good eye." the first stated firmly.
Like Leona and Madeleine, I never predicted I would begin selling books (and other vintage/antique literary items). But that first flush of Finger-Spitzengefühl while book picking that day, and the nod from a couple of professional dealers - the momentum had begun. I sold my very first book from the small stack of books I bought at auction that day.
I toyed with the idea of giving you Finger-Spitzengefühl for your word prompt this week, which I imagined could be applied to all kinds of stories, but it still seemed limiting, so instead, I'm giving you another word from the Old Books, Rare Friends excerpts:
Besides writing, what are your obsessions? Let me know in comments, and remember to get your 100 word entry in by Saturday at midnight. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Have you ever been to a poetry reading? That's probably a stupid question. Of course you've been to a poetry reading.
Several years ago I heard one of my poet friends read for the first time. We were sitting in a small auditorium, the poets seated in the front row, taking the podium one by one and sharing their work. Much of it was good...you know, interesting stuff being written by undergraduate poets-to-be. I assumed they were breaking out their best work since this was a judged event, though what for has long escaped my memory.
When G stood up and walked to the podium, I held my breath. G is a quiet woman with a magnetizing presence, and I hoped she was going to be good, but the truth is, I had no idea. I'd not seen her work, or heard her read until this moment.
G gathered her papers without looking up at the audience, and then she began to speak. Her voice, husky and honey-warm, began to weave invisible wires over our heads, and we were pulled taut by them, electrified by them. The actual meaning of the words traveling just behind - barbed tendrils carried on these waves of honey. A mind-bending combination, like having your hair stroked by one hand, and being gutted with the other.
Such is the power of cadence and rhythm in writing (amplified in this case, by delivery). The possibilities to play with the rhythm of words are endless, and when used skillfully, renders the reader helpless, stripped of the capacity for direct cognition. Here is where the reader begins to trust you. Here is where the relationship between writer and reader is forged, because it is here that the reader can enter that alternate space that good writing creates that is neither here in the present moment, or back there where the words were written. It is wholly new.
To dance with words, to create this rhythm, is about intentionally choosing the words to create evocative patterns. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, "Prose equals words in their best order. Poetry equals the best words in the best order." The restriction of writing in 100 words, I think, requires some of both.
Take last week's piece by David Blackstone (David's Writing Blog):
They stood at the very edge of the aerie — Perry and Jorge a few steps back, Hraff with claws dug into the lip — their eyes turned upward, outward; the sky was a roiling cloud of Fri.
"How many are here?"
Hraff rumbled, "All clans. Most from each clan. Some stay behind."
Like Hraff, apparently. "Why?"
"Find mates. Socialize, play games. Negotiate."
"Dolphins do the same thing," Jorge said.
"Dolphins?" Hraff asked.
Hraff leaned as far out as he could, perfectly balanced between rock and sky. "Are they beautiful?"
Remembering another world, a smile grew across Perry's face. "Absolutely."
Though this is sci-fi, a genre one might think is far from the poetic or the prose, David consistently uses rhythm to create mood, to set up the reader for surprise, or to laugh, or to unleash an internal fist-pump (booyah!), or to trigger a sense of panic, or to simply disrupt the reader's expectation. And that's the point. Whatever the story or the form, think about the rhythm. Read it out loud. Have someone else read it out loud, and refine the selection and order of the words until you hear the song of your story.
This week's word, from David's entry last week, is:
When I started the 100 Words Challenge years ago, it was simply a continuation of an arbitrary writing exercise from a long defunct blogging community I was part of. It fit the format we had well and allowed us to give feedback and support to each other.
The longer I've been running this challenge, the more I've come to appreciate the beauty of crafting a story in 100 words. The less I think of it as arbitrary, and the more I think of it as a rigorous writing challenge.
At first blush, a new writer might think, "only 100 words? That's easy!".
Ah, but those veterans among you know the truth. To craft a story in so few words, to make it compelling, understandable, evocative, and complete, is no easy task. It takes considerable writing chops to spin something you can call finished within the parameters.
In the call to brevity in writing, instructors often refer to the well-known story of Hemingway winning a bet that he could write a complete story in less than 10 words. According to legend he wrote these six words on a napkin and won the bet:
For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn.
It's not clear if the bet, or Hemingway writing these words ever happened, but no matter because the lesson holds. This six word story, whoever crafted it, has a beginning, middle and end and it's evocative. We can fill in the gaps with our own imagination. Not one word in the story tells us directly what happened or how we should feel about it, and yet we know both of those things.
A decidedly different kind of story, but a good example from Azureology's entry on Oct. 24:
The paparazzi simply had a field day with this one. A young man, and older starlet, all over each other. Tongues were wagging everywhere, which was why this little intervention had been called.
Neither person spoke. Small talk had been futile, petering out within moments. Now, they were alternately stirring their tea, or drinking it.
Footsteps heralded the approach of a third person. A woman in a pencil skirt didn’t so much sit asperched and alighted, and ordered herself a glass of wine. She smiled wryly.
“So,” she said flatly, flourishing the tabloid magazines. “What’s the angle this time?”
The story has a beginning, middle, and end (or in other words, there is a problem, and then resolution). It shows, rather than tells - they stir and drink their tea, but we know that room is tense, and when the heroine arrives in her pencil skirt she perches and alights, but we know she is competent, respected, probably feared, and unquestionably in charge. Finally, the reader's ability to fill in gaps is respected, but not overtaxed.
Over the years, I can recall many such examples all of you have produced. That 100 word story that packs a delicious punch, or elicits laughter, or leaves you hanging in just the right way, or is simply delivered as neatly as a package tied up in a bow. Almost every week there's at least one.
So, you ready for another one? Another chance to tighten those loose ends, ruthlessly cut every unnecessary word, and hone your craft? This week I'm taking the word prompt from Azureology's submission:
Ah November. National Novel Writing Month (hands up if you're one of the crazies), Neil Gaiman's birthday month (the 10th), the month of the Cambridge Literary Festival and the Chorleywood Literary Festival (swoon). Oh, and the Salem Literary Festival...the list goes on. Bottom line, it's an excellent time of year to be a word nerd.
Also, my daughter was born in November. I wrote this 100 word piece a few years ago about her birth.
The trees stand stiff against a slate sky, stripped to their bones, the leaves of summer now brown and decaying in heaps around their roots. It is November again.
The cold gray holds silent.
But there is life still, hidden within things. Crocus embryos curled deep beneath the soil waiting for Spring. Ladybugs huddled together beneath the bark, keeping warm. I imagine them breathing and dreaming little ladybug dreams of bringing luck and munching aphids.
Inside me too there is life. Fists curled against the dewy fine hair of her face, a tiny heart thrumming.
She stirs. It is time.
The word prompt that week was "within". This time, I'm pulling a different word from my take on the prompt. Your word this week is: