Category Archives: Blogging about Life

This Is Your Brain on Folk Music

Inside_Llewyn_Davis_Poster_72dpi_RGBInside Llewyn Davis, the latest film from the talented Coen Brothers, is finally out on DVD – I’ve been dying to see it, but it came and went quickly to theaters in Seattle, and I missed it. As a writer, I’m always interested in seeing what other creative people’s take is on creativity and the creative life in general. The wait was long, but it was worth it.

It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it films (as is most of the Coen Brothers’ work) with quite a few people disappointed by it.  I loved it. I thought about it long into the night, and the next day found myself singing songs from the folk music scene of the early 60′s. Those were the years I began to get interested in poetry, read Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsburg and Kenneth Patchen. I subscribed as a teenager to the Village Voice (worlds away from my own non-Village home in San Jose, California – but hey, we had our own little coffee house called Freight and Salvage.) I took guitar lessons from Marty Ziegler, I listened to Richie Havens, Tom Paxton, the Clancy Brothers. In the movie, when a young clean-cut duo gets up to sing “The Last Thing on My Mind,”  I could sing every single word of it. What is it about memory – our brains on music – that allows us to call up song lyrics (and the touch, taste, smell, sound, and sights of the moments that surround them) so easily when we can’t even remember where we put our keys or our reading glasses? Here’s a wonderful rendition of it with Liam Clancy and Tom Paxton.

And many years later, those evenings spent singing folk songs with other faculty members of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, up in the faculty lounge late at night during our residencies, with Leda Schubert on guitar and my fellow Books-Around-the-Table friend Laura Kvasnosky sometimes there on ukulele – those moments were golden.

But my reaction to Inside Llewyn Davis isn’t all about nostalgia.

The film deserves attention from anyone involved in the arts because it examines creativity, talent, personality, ethics, integrity, commercialism, perseverance – and how all those elements get harnessed or go wandering off in an artist’s life. [If you have trouble with spoilers, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs. Me, I never mind knowing in advance what's coming - it helps me watch the scenes more carefully....]

There’s a scene in the movie where Llewyn has a chance, finally, to audition for Al Grossman (played beautifully by F. Murray Abraham, who did such a fantastic job in another movie which examines artistic talent, Amadeus.) Grossman was the manager in the 60′s of the famous music venue Gate of Horn in Chicago, and he represented most of the big folksingers of the decade – Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Odetta, Richie Havens, and – later – Janis Joplin.

The audition is Llewyn’s big chance, yet he chooses an obscure traditional ballad, a difficult song to perform, and Grossman responds by saying he doesn’t see much money in it. He gives Llewyn mixed advice, some good (look for a partner who can add depth with  harmonies) and some offensive (cut the beard into a goatee, clean up) and Llewyn simply walks away.

Llewyn's Audition with Al Grossman

Llewyn’s Audition with Al Grossman

It’s almost like the musician gives the manager a test by singing this ballad in its pure, traditional form – and Grossman fails the test. At least that’s how I saw it play out. Historically, of course, it was Dave Van Ronk (the real-life folksinger Llewyn is based on) who failed Grossman’s test and then drifted back into the small Gaslight Cafe scene of Greenwich Village rather than use the Gate of Horn and Grossman’s mentorship as a springboard for national success.

Inside Llewyn Davis didn’t garner the usual prizes or attention that Coen Brothers’ films usually do (think O Brother, Where Art Thou – which the wonderful T-Bone Burnett, a big part of Inside Llewyn Davis, also helped conceive.)  I’ve been trying to sort out why, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the hero of the tale is so complicated – it’s hard to understand him. Does he self-destruct over and over again, or is it just a hard, mean world for a struggling artist? He’s not always nice – in fact, he’s often unappealing: sarcastic, smug, dismissive, judgmental, irresponsible. He takes advantage of people, rotates through their apartments eating their food, using their couches to crash, sees himself as a person who does not compromise, is not interested in the real lives of other people. He’s all about himself and his music – and you never quite know if he lost his musical partner to suicide because of troubles the partner had or because of how little joy or support Llewyn was capable of. Nevertheless, one of the crew says (in the Special Features section – watch that, it’s fascinating, especially T-Bone Burnett talking about jamming for the movie) that she thinks everyone in the movie is a phony except Llewyn. I didn’t feel that way at all – I guess it’s all about perspective. But in a certain way, as a writer, I empathized with Llewyn’s attempts to stay true to his talent. Besides, he’s just so sad. Even a person who does it to himself deserves some sympathy, no?

So please, rent the movie, watch it and come to your own conclusions. Talented artists are not always easy people to get along with, and Llewyn is not a nice-guy hero. The same was true about Mozart in Amadeus, of course – Salieri, his less talented colleague, watches as the miserably adolescent Mozart giggles his way to fame and fortune. Llewyn has his own failings – and he’s no Mozart-level genius. So…is the film saying that a lack of talent does him in, or a too-highly-honed sense of integrity, or just plain bad luck being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or his own disaffections or….? What are the Coen Brothers telling us about artistic endeavors? I’m not sure yet. If you’ve seen the film, help me figure it out – add a comment below. Why do some artists make it and others don’t? What, as an artist, do you owe to your own talent? Is the world a hospitable or hostile place for artists? And is Llewyn actually a talented artist or an Almost-but-not-quite? Or is he despicable, as many viewers claim?  What does the world owe him? What does he owe the world? As writers, we can think about that a bit.

llewynAnd what do you think the cat is all about?

Gosh, I love a movie – or a book or a song or a painting or any work of art – that leaves you thinking.

While we think about the answers to those questions, let’s go put on a few of our old records (still have a phonograph?) and be amazed by our musical memory. How many you can sing along to from Bob Dylan’s “Freewheelin’,” Richie Haven’s “Mixed Bag,” Ian and Sylvia, Peter Paul and Mary, the Clancy Brothers, Tom Paxton, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez? Hey, how about Dave Van Ronk’s incomparable “Dink’s Song,” which you’ll recognize as Llewyn’s signature piece. Lovely song.

CALLING THE MUSE

Seattle hosted the national AWP (Assn. for Writers and Writing Programs) conference for four days last week. My fellow BATT-blogger Julie Larios and I were on a panel entitled, “Calling Your Muse,” along with authors Zu Vincent and Debby Dahl Edwardson who we know from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

For my part, I hoped to leave our listeners with an easy-to-follow, How to Call Your Muse list.

In our audience were over 100 writers. Surely these people had some ideas how to call a muse. If I’d known anything about crowd-sourcing, I could have crowd-sourced a good list.

Or I could have based my list on my experiences over the past 20 years, creating 17 picture books and a middle grade novel.

But I felt more research was needed.

So I imagined hiring George Clooney to lead an investigation. Yes, he looks hot in a lab coat, but this would be strictly scientific. He’d film me writing, then do a frame-by-frame analysis. Maybe the Muse would even be caught on camera?

moose

mousse

George’s research would reveal exactly how I do it: Eight Easy Ways to Call the Muse

    • Snuggle your dog
    • Nibble dark chocolate
    • Look out the window and squint
    • Tap out a few words.
    • Check your email
    • Sip tea
    • Google something, possibly related to the project
    • Scratch your ear
desk

On location for George Clooney film.

That’s it: snuggle, nibble, squint, tap, check, sip, google, scratch.

But the more I thought about it, I realized what’s actually happening when I SNSTCSGS is not only calling the Muse, but also answering the Muse’s call. Or maybe – more exactly – conversing with the Muse. It’s a two-way street. I gather the storybits and tools that call her. In turn, she calls to me, urges me to use all this stuff. That’s how the Muse works.

The 12,000+ writers who attended AWP have gone home but I’ve continued to muse on this muse thing. I’ve decided there must be more than one muse, that it takes a village –  well, at least a Swiss army knife of muses –  to get the work done. For starters:

THE ILLUMINATOR MUSE – How else to explain why a writer’s attention is drawn to stuff that is charged with story? She shines her light on ideas, objects, memories, experiences, words themselves, art materials, research, juicy bits of overheard dialogue. The list goes on and on. For instance, my attention is drawn to my #4 watercolor brush and naples yellow gouache and I want to paint something. It will be sunny. Oh, already a story starts to gather.

Making stories depends on assembling material and tools, on gathering quirky facts and notions, on laying seemingly disparate things side by side, on comparing, contrasting, connecting. Sometimes the Illuminator Muse carries a candle like Wee Willie Winkie, and other times she holds a Klieg light high above her head. “Pay attention,” she says, “And report back.”

GESTAPO MUSE – This one has a big glue pot and keeps me in my chair. I almost wish she’d carry a cattle prod, too, and deliver a jolt when my attention wanders.

MARSHALL McLUHAN MUSE – The Marshall McLuhan Muse calls with the seductive nature of the creative zone itself. The medium is the message. Work comes out of work. Or, as Julie Paschkis puts it, “Put in the drudgery and the alchemy happens.”

CRAFT MUSE – A practical gal, the Craft Muse inspires with conferences like AWP, classes, SCBWI talks, and, of course, through other people’s writing. I’m especially inspired to create books that become part of the circle of parent and child reading together, a circle I loved dearly.

I am sure a muse team assembles for each writer, offering skills as needed. For instance, a journalist friend reminded me about the Deadline Muse. How could I forget this muse that calls me every month when it’s time to post here?

What we were really talking about at our AWP panel was twofold: where do ideas come from and how do you sustain motivation?

Muse-assisted or not, my ideas come from paying attention, a habit of mulling, and from savoring stuff that amuses me. (Ah, “muse” is hidden there.) And why write? Writing’s how I figure out what I think. It makes sense of my world.

So I’ll stick with my snuggle, nibble, squint, tap, check, sip, google, and scratch.

But I wonder. Maybe we could sort of crowd-source with our BooksAroundThe Table readers. How do YOU call the Muse?

More Magic

If you played along with my post about drawing your way into a story by sketching animal characters, (http://booksaroundthetable.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/magic-formula-how-to-write-illustrate-a-picture-book/), you have a couple of likely suspects ready and waiting in the wings for the action to begin. I bet your characters are already making suggestions and you have some ideas about where this story’s going.

lilac663

A character ready for center stage.

Next step is to focus on your characters’ “out-of-balanced-ness,” the aspect of the character(s) that the story will grapple with and depend upon. Norma Fox Mazer, who I was lucky to teach with at Vermont College of Fine Arts, called this out-of-balanced-ness the character’s “deprivation.” I like her term because it points to a need or void in the character that the story will address.

So think about it. What do your characters need? This could be anywhere on Maslow’s pyramid: basic needs like food, water, and sleep; safety needs; need to belong; need for esteem, and/or self actualization needs like morality, creativity and justice.  Be as specific as you can. Then craft a story situation that puts this deprivation front and center.

You already have clues in your character sketches. Keep drawing as you think about what your characters need. It helps to give them names and special objects. For instance in Zelda and Ivy, Zelda’s baton is important to both Zelda and the story. It becomes the symbol of power.

Z&I"2Let'splaycircus."447

“You can be the fabulous fox on the flying trapeze,” says Zelda. “I will announce your tricks.” From Zelda and Ivy.

You can summon more pieces of your story by drawing your characters in their surroundings, or by collecting photos of the place the story will take place. For instance, for Frank and Izzy Set Sail, I collected photos of Lake Magiore in Italy.

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F&I.lkmagiore665

From Frank and Izzy Set Sail.

At the same time, make notes about how they might talk to each other, keying in on points of contention and agreement. Can you put this in dialogue?

The machinations of story do not require you to know the whole when you begin. As you keep gathering images, and drawing, and writing snippets that you think might belong, eventually you realize you have enough on the page for the story to begin to speak.

Then all you have to do is listen. It really is kind of magic.

Season’s Greetings!

BATT holiday 2014 card

To all of our wonderful Books Around The Table readers – here’s to another creative, courageous, resourceful, inspired, productive, and successful new year. Thank you for joining us!

All Hallows

What a strange conglomeration Halloween has become. It’s such a weird mixture of fear, horror, candy, naughtiness, and dress-up.

Though it originated in rituals marking the passing of harvest season into winter, Halloween melded with religious beliefs and became the last chance the dead have to visit the earth, and therefore a day for the living to watch out. But Halloween now has morphed into a day to celebrate one’s alter egos. And eat bucketfuls of candy. Is that not creepy?

Even so, I can’t resist the Halloween spirit. With half a roll of black butcher paper, some colored tissue, a craft knife and lots of tape, I worked fiendishly fast yesterday afternoon to put together some Halloween decor for our front window.

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It seemed to be successful. We went through 200 pieces of candy in an hour-and-a-half. One trick-or-treater told me she liked our window.
I said “thank you, I made it myself.” She replied “you must be very artistic.”
I took that as a compliment.

While most of the ghouls and goblins and superheroes who came to our house last night wore store-bought costumes, I most enjoy the home-made get-ups. The Doctor was here.

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As were this black fairy and killer bunny. The girl made both costumes. I was seriously impressed.

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My neighborhood has some freakishly inspired souls that keep the rest of us on our toes as far as Halloween decorations are concerned. Down the street there is the “Big Scary House” that transforms its front yard into Horrorsville.

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This includes two wooden outbuildings, a smoke machine, lights, numerous gravestones, skulls, bones, an entire hedge covered in fake cobwebs, and about fifteen strategically placed statues of horror figures, some of which turn out to be alive and jump out at you when you walk by. It is terrifying, believe me.

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When my youngest daughter was little she wouldn’t even walk across the street from that house on Halloween. The screams start at around 6:00 and continue steadily till 10:00.

Then there is a friend of mine who lives a few blocks away. She constructs a facade for her front doorway every year. Past years have featured a robot, an enormous spider, a man-eating plant, a demonic clown (that was super scary), and a giant chicken with a missing leg giving out chicken drumstick candies. This year it was a huge rat coming out of a sewer pipe. A black light brings it all to life in a frightful kind of way (note the severed plastic arm in the rat trap coming out of its mouth).

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But if you really want to see who sets the creative bar devilishly high in my neck of the woods, you must visit the Skeleton Theatre – a fifteen minute repeating show that involves animatronics, video footage, professional lighting, and of course, skeletons.

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This guy has been seriously bitten by the creativity bug (or zombie). In his day job, he works as a sound designer and composer for live theater, but after hours, he dreams up shows that star skeletons. This year it is the voyage of the Ulna 13. Here’s a preview if you’re curious.

What is it about the gut-wrenching mixture of too much candy and (almost) dead people? If it wasn’t so much fun it would make you sick. I’m not sure I get it, but I still find it amusing. Especially the chocolate.

Almond Joys and Heath bars aside, what I like best about Halloween is the creativity it brings out on parade. That, and having people brave the urban mythology to take candy from strangers. What other excuse do we have to drop in on our neighbors these days and comment on their decor?

On Oaxaca Time

La Catrina

La Catrina

Estoy escribiendo hoy desde Oaxaca….no, no, no, I mean I’m writing this from Oaxaca today. I can hear the grinding of the gears as my brain switches between Spanish and English. I can hear a little more grinding in the switch from Go-go-go-go-go to relax-relax-relax-relax. and even more grinding between the London bobby style of giving directions (“Two blocks down, Miss, on your right, blue door, black doorknocker, can’t be missed….”) and the Policia Municipal (“Si, si, Senora, the museum used to be here, it moved, maybe a block down, maybe four or five, but not too far, over that way, just down that direction, maybe on the other side of the park….” and it’s always nice to walk through the park even if you don’t find the museum.

Eventually – a few days into things – the gear-grinding stops and all is smooth. You are not quite you, but you like the you you have become. The logical left brain gets quieter, the right brain sings.  Colors intensify.

Hand-made Paper, Taller de Papel in San Agustin Etla

Hand-made Paper, Taller de Papel in San Agustin Etla

Tastes intensify….

Breakfast

Breakfast: Molote con Chorizo y Papa

…and the sense of smell intensifies. You can smell ripening guayavas somewhere. There, on the other side of the wall, a guayava tree.

There, on the other side of the wall....

There, on the other side of the wall….

A green parrot hangs in a cage from a tree inside a cloister built in the 16th century. He looks at you sideways, his bright red eyes rimmed all the way around with yellow. “Hasta luego!” he says when you walk away.

 Hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching….every sense intensified…this is what writers and artists need from time to time.  Walking, listening, seeing, slowing down.

It’s an important time in Oaxaca – the three-day spread that surrounds the Day of the Dead, and I’m headed over to the cemetery as soon as the sun goes down.  There are tubas and trumpets and drums; there are people who have become skeletons; there is dancing in the streets.  There are marigold-covered altars to the dead inside many courtyards.  There are images everywhere of La Catrina, the young lady skeleton with wide hat and parasol. Everywhere, Los Muertos  - the Dead.  And I am feeling quite alive.

Curiosity Kills the Cat, but Not the Writer….

Woodpecker - Paper Sculpture by Diana Beltran Herrera

Woodpecker – Paper Sculpture by Diana Beltran Herrera

I love getting newsletters from Smithsonian magazine emailed to me once a week – they send links to their articles and I usually find a thing or two (or three or four or more) to think about and explore further.  I subscribe to the print magazine, too;  it’s the one I reach for first when the mail brings me lots of heady reading. I have a thick folder in my file cabinet that’s just for articles I’ve torn out from their pages. This week, it was the beautiful birds of paper sculptor Diana Beltran Herrera (see link below.) I sent the link on to my sister, who also likes such things and whose intellectual curiosity and capacity for wonder inspire me. It seems to me that the bottom line for all artists is curiosity, no?  If you want to be a better writer, try being more curious about the world and the way it works.

Here, then, are links to some recent Smithsonian articles (and there are links within those articles – you can get lost inside it all.)  I hope they set you wandering and wondering…and writing!  Just click on the description:

1. Paper robins, woodpeckers, cardinals, kingfishers…

Robin in flight...

Robin in flight…

2. An insect with “mechanical” gears…

3.  …and a mechanical insect! (this one is from the archives)

Man-made beetle...

Man-made beetle…

4. A “sonic bloom” at the Seattle Center

Sonic-Bloom-Dan-Corson

5. Making music with the Brooklyn Bridge …

6. Shooting frozen flowers? (Who would even think of it? Eerie and beautiful…)

Frozen Flower, Shot

Frozen Flower, Shot

7. Repairing memories and changing memories…

"Each time a memory is recalled, the brain rebuilds it."

“Each time a memory is recalled, the brain rebuilds it.”

8. There’s an exhibition of Brian Skerry’s photography up at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. right now. Here’s a slideshow of his work. 

This is how you photograph a whale...

This is how you photograph a whale…

(By the way, it doesn’t take much to support our wonderful national museum – just $19 and you automatically get a subscription to the magazine.  Click here to visit their website and become a member.)

****

The word is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Brain-Picking Advice

"If in doubt, make tea" by Owen Davey
“If in doubt, make tea” by Owen Davey

One of the blogs I care most about reading and staying current with is Maria Popova’s wonderful BRAIN PICKINGS. The subjects and sites she links to never fail to intrigue, educate or amaze me (often all three.)  She understands how connected various forms of creativity are – literary, visual arts, music, much more, and I share many of her posts with my family, my writing colleagues, my friends. Here’s one I’d like to share with readers of Books Around the Table. In it, Popova gathers the images of posters created by graduate design students,  in which they pass on advice to the first-year students. Click here to see the whole post. The one above and the three below are my favorites. Seems to me that if you follow the advice these students chose to illustrate, you can’t help but design (and write…and live) better.

"Do what you love" by Andy J. Miller
“Do what you love” by Andy J. Miller
"Go and look outside" by Robert Evans
“Go and look outside” by Robert Evans
"To create ideas is a gift, but to choose wisely is a skill" by Ryan Morgan
“To create ideas is a gift, but to choose wisely is a skill” by Ryan Morgan

A Big Loss, a Big Story

A forest fire is raging through the high country just west of Yosemite in Tuolumne county. As of this morning, 105,620 acres have burned. The six-day old fire tripled yesterday and is only two-percent contained. More than 2,000 firefighters are on the scene, battling in the treacherously steep canyons of the Clavey and Tuolumne rivers. fire

My first job as a reporter included the fire beat at the Union Democrat in Sonora, the county seat of Tuolumne county. It was a busy beat. The county is 85-percent state and federal forests and we grew up to the summer drone of fire-retardant-carrying airplanes and the acrid smoke of far-off flames.

As I follow news reports of this latest blaze, dubbed the Yosemite Rim fire, I hear names of places I know well: Groveland, Big Oak Flat, the Clavey and Tuolumne River canyons, Hetch Hetchy, Jawbone, Cherry Lake. I remember the summer I was 15 and my cousin Jerry Draper, neighbor Andy Crook and I hiked across the top of the Sierra from the Crooks’ ranch near Groveland to Kennedy Meadows: granite peak upon granite peak, lush quiet forests, meadows buzzing with mosquitos. My heart aches for all that beautiful country going up in smoke.

hikers

Were I on the fire beat at the Union Democrat today, most likely I’d be holed up in Groveland, on the edge of the fire. Maybe I’d interview the Crooks. Were they able to get their cattle out? Summers they’d have been grazing them up near Jawbone. Or I might call my nephew in Tuolumne to see if his ranching neighbors are heeding the recommendation to evacuate livestock in the case the fire moves their direction. For sure I’d call Sally Scott, a past managing editor of the UD, to find out particulars about past big fires, including that one, maybe in the 80s, also near Big Oak Flat. The one where the Dad drove his Jeep to the firelines each day to deliver the newspaper, so that people in the area of the fire could get updated fire news. These days cell phones make this kind of effort unnecessary, but I always thought he was a kind of a hero for those daily drives.

Did you notice what happened there? When I put on my virtual reporter’s hat, I was able to go from heartache at the loss of this beautiful, beautiful high country – every bit of it as beautiful as Yosemite itself – to the exercise of gathering the story. All these years of writing has programed my reaction to overwhelming emotion: get the story, dig for more information, shape it into a vessel. Writing objectifies. Making a story provides emotional distance, helps carry the pain, gives you something to do, at least, though there is no understanding such a huge loss.

“We got a monster on our hands,” Lee Bentley of the U.S. Forest Service told CBS News. “This fire is making its own weather. It’s going every which direction. This is one of the worse I’ve ever been on. I’ve been doing [it] for quite a few years.”

My prayers go out to the firefighters and the people of Tuolumne county.

Abundance

When I was almost 7, my family moved from the Seattle area down to the Santa Clara Valley, about an hour south of San Francisco. Before it became “Silicon Valley,”  it looked like this:

Old Photo Postcard of Santa Clara Valley's Cherry Orchards

Old Photo Postcard of Santa Clara Valley’s Cherry Orchards

It actually did look like that – it’s not just nostalgia playing tricks with my mind. It was so beautiful, such a generous landscape. Of course, we moved into a house that was part of a development that was one of dozens of developments that would eventually wipe out the orchards and pave over the farmland and replace it with freeways and suburbs.  But my family got there before too much had been destroyed – 1956 – there were still great fields of garlic and artichokes to the south of us, with cherries orchards surrounding my neighborhood

Each spring, walking home, we watched the cherries ripen. Mustard plants grew at the base of the trees in late spring, and if you wandered far enough into the orchard, you could look in every direction and not see anything but mustard blooms and fruit trees.

Mustard and Cherry Trees in San Jose

Mustard and Cherry Trees in San Jose

Then, in June, the cherries were ready.  I picked them every day – we all did, everyone who headed home that way,  and we ate them until we couldn’t eat any more.  I like to think the farmer knew that the school kids would eat all the cherries from the row of trees nearest the road. We felt like there was enough for everyone, and then some.

Even a decade later there were still enough orchards in the valley that high school kids could make their summer money in the canneries. The heady smell of hot tomatoes and ripe fruit would drift out all summer from the Contadina and Del Monte canneries in the Bay Area.

Reading Laura’s post from last week, about the weddings of her son and her daughter, and the lovely poem by Li-Young Lee about peaches, I started thinking about those cherry trees, and the Santa Clara Valley. I thought about orchards and summer, and about happiness and abundance.

Rainier cherries from east of the mountains have gone on sale in the farmers markets, and I have been buying a lot of them. The person selling them lets you try one or two first:

Rainier Cherries - The Absolute Best Cherries in the World

Rainier Cherries – The Absolute Best Cherries in the World

So you buy some, but only a handful, because they cost a lot:

A Handful of Delicious Cherries

A Handful of Delicious Cherries

But before you go home you decide a handful is not nearly enough, and you wander back to buy more:

Yummers

A bowlful….

and the next day, when you can already see the bottom of the bowl, you go back for more:

...and a basketful.

…and a basketful.

What I’m really trying to do, of course, when I eat those cherries is to conjure up that delicious abundance I once experienced in the Santa Clara Valley. Not just conjure it up, but take it into me, cherry by cherry.

Northrop Frye once described the genres of literature according to the seasons. Fall, according to Frye, is tragedy – fatalism, the hero pushed toward ultimate failure. Winter is irony and satire – the final absurdity. Spring is comedy – new beginnings and light-hearted endings. But summer is romance – the season when belief is in full bloom. Summer is abundance.  No wonder that in the summertime, I want to write something wholehearted, something unrestrained. Not a sample-cherry story, not a handful-of-cherries story, not a bowlful-or-a-basketful-of-cherries story, but an orchardful-of-cherries story. A story that measures up to this:

Abundance, Summer, Belief, Cherries

Abundance, Summer, Belief, Cherries

So when it’s cherry season, I think about the Santa Clara Valley. If I’m in a writer-ish mood, I think of Frye. I strive to write something worthy of summer, something from the heart, full of belief.

If I’m feeling more like a teenager than a writer, I think (unbelievably) of George Carlin singing “Cherry…cherry pie…cherry…cherry pie….” Click here to listen to Carlin on YouTube. Less literary, but sweet, glorious and openly sensual. Like those fields of mustard, with the trees rising up out of them.

And since I’m talking cherries, and since I’m going for abundance, check out this George Gershwin song – Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries – sung by Dean Martin and Gisele MacKenzie. A little cherry to put on top of the sundae. Enjoy.