Monthly Archives: August 2013

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

And the winner is

bilibin feast cake

Once upon a time (August 16th actually) this blog offered a painting to the person who could write my favorite fairy tale about that painting. There were so many good entries that I called upon trusted advisors from across the land to help me make a decision: my mother, Marcia Paschkis, in Maine, and my sister, Karla Paschkis, in Boston. We each read the stories and then discussed them. We read our favorites out loud, as fairy tales should be spoken. It was a difficult decision.

AND….the winner is Deborah Holt Williams. We liked that in so few words she created a plot using all of the elements in the painting in a way that made sense but was not predictable. Her fairy-tale language felt timeless but not cloying. Her ending was funny and a good piece of advice.  Congratulations!

Honorable mention goes to Karen Herc. We liked the way her story felt like a fairy tale but didn’t echo any fairy tale that we already knew. We liked the way she framed her story with “Bear frowned.” and “Bear smiled.”

And we would like to give a shout out to Ava Budavari-Glenn. Her story was fresh and delightful. She is only 13; we look forward to seeing more of her writing  in years to come.

Many thanks to everyone who took part. To see Ava and Karen’s stories (and all of the other wonderful entries) please look in the August 16th post’s comment section. Here is the winning story with art, in full. Please read the story aloud!

Paschkis fairy tale painting
Once upon a time, young Helga and her brother Hans followed their frisky hound into a deep forest and became hopelessly lost. A cloak of darkness fell upon the woods, and the children began to worry about wolves in the night.

“I shall sleep on top of the tree,” said Hans,”where I can see the wolves if they come in the night.”

“I shall tie myself to the tree with my hair,” said Helga, “so I will feel the tree shake if the wolves come in the night.”

The dog lay down with his nose to the ground, so he could smell the wolves if they came in the night.

But while they slept, a hungry and very quiet bear tippy-toed through the woods and ate them all.

“When you prepare for one misfortune,” said the bear, picking his teeth, “you may be surprised by another one entirely.”

Paschkis: For the queen

Ava, Karen and Deborah: Please email me your addresses so that I can mail you your prizes. My address is: 

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.


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.

Once Upon A …

Once upon a time.
That’s the way the story begins.

Tall Boy 2

Last week Margaret included many fairy tale motifs in her blog post. These forms of a fairy tale are familiar, and many  themes and stories repeat. 

Zwerger: Redcap

But the details differ.

Russian engraving

In 2010 I had a show of paintings that I thought of as illustrations for unwritten fairy tales. They looked like fairy tale pictures and there were characters who reappeared in different paintings, but the stories hadn’t been written or told.

Paschkis: The King and the Baby

That is where you come in: you bring your own story. This is always what happens with any painting, but it is explicit here.
…This week’s blog is a contest.
Please write a fairy tale for this painting:

Paschkis fairy tale painting
The winner will receive the original painting as a prize.
Please post your story as a comment (no more than 150 words please). All entries must be submitted by 6 PM,PDT on August 28th. Stories will be judged for brevity and wit.
New commenters might get stuck in the spam file for a little bit but all comments will be read and posted as soon as possible.
The winning entry will be announced and included in the blog on Thursday August 29th. That is the only place where it will be published or used.

I will mail the unframed painting (14″ x 20″, gouache on paper) to the winner.(That person can email me his/her mailing address.)
Relatives are encouraged to enter but not eligible to win.

Whoever wins will live happily ever after.

Tatiana Mavrena Carriage

Fairy Tales

Gordon Laite-Snow White-Rose RedSnow White-Rose Red – Gordon Laite

Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I were driving in the car, listening to the latest news on the radio about baby Prince George, when she asked me, “Why are we so obsessed with the British Royal Family?”

After pondering the question for a bit, I told her I didn’t think it was their fame or wealth that fascinates us, it’s the narrative that goes with it. We all like a good story.

And that got me to thinking about fairy tales, and my obsession with them when I was younger. Obsession is probably too strong a word, but I read more fairy tales (and folk tales) than any other fiction from age nine to about age twelve, at which point I moved on to works by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander – essentially fairy novels. I still have most of my old fairy tale books, and I’ve added to the collection since then; evidence of their importance to me (or the difficulty I share with Julie Larios in clearing off my shelves).

My favorite book was Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, A Selection published by Oxford University Press in 1959. Andersen’s tales are more complex emotionally than the average fairy tale, and they don’t always end happily ever after. I also enjoyed Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books (The Blue Fairy Book, The Crimson Fairy Book, The Olive Fairy Book, The Grey Fairy Book…) but I pretty much read everything in this genre that I could get my hands on.

The influence of fairy tales on my pubescent psyche was profound. I think I still live by rules that came largely from the moral lessons sprinkled throughout my fairy tale books:

Don’t trust appearances.

Sendak-The Frog KingThe Frog King – Maurice Sendak

Have faith and persevere.

The Wild SwansThe Wild Swans – Vilhelm Pedersen

Don’t be lazy, selfish, greedy or vain.

Gordon Laite-Cinderella
 Cinderella – Gordon Laite

True love is worth the necessary sacrifices.

Adrienne Segur-The Sleeping Beauty
The Sleeping Beauty – Adrienne Segur


Edmund Dulac-The Little Mermaid
 The Little Mermaid – Edmund Dulac

Keep your wits about you.

Kanako Tanabe-Blue-Beard
 Blue-Beard – Kanako Tanabe

Be careful what you wish for.

The Fisherman And His Wife-HJ FordThe Fisherman and His Wife – H. J. Ford

Be nice to old hags, animals in need, and dead people, just in case.

H J Ford-Lovely IlonkaLovely Ilonka – H.J. Ford

Do we follow the stories of real Princes and Princesses because of the fairy tales we heard in childhood, or did Princes and Princesses show up so often in fairy tales because of what they represent to us in the larger picture of the human narrative?

Bruno Bettleheim‘s The Uses of Enchantment  (I made my parents buy that one for me too and yes I still have my original copy) attempts to explain why fairy tales make such “great and positive psychological contributions to the child’s inner growth.” They give children stories that they can stretch their newly formed emotional muscles on, and they do it through colorful, imaginative storytelling. “The fairy tale could not have its psychological impact on the child were it not first and foremost a work of art.”

But nowadays we must suffice with William and Kate, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Kanye and Kim. For the sake of the children, I hope they can all live happily ever after, at least most of the time.

But that wouldn’t make for a very interesting story, would it?…

Julie Paschkis-sisters Glass Slipper Gold SandalJulie Paschkis – Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal

On Being Unfaithful, In a Way

A Life of Few Possessions

A Life of Few Possessions

I’ve been trying to pare down the amount of stuff I own, and I started the other day to go through my bookshelves, after a lifetime spent accumulating (and accumulating, and accumulating) books. For some reason I started with my poetry essays/textbooks/how-to-teach/interviews/anthologies. I offered several dozen to my daughter-in-law – she took about six. My son didn’t want any.  I made a few stacks to donate to the Seattle Public Library for their bi-annual sale. I made a stack to take to my sister next time I see her. I made a stack to try to sell to Powell’s. All in all, maybe 40 or 50 books. And this is the result of culling just a couple of bookshelves in the dining room – I hadn’t even started with the books in the living room (floor to ceiling) or my study (floor to ceiling) or the basement rec room (floor to ceiling.) The weight of all those books just felt like it was pulling me down.

Lightening up was feeling pretty good until we had dinner with a young man – a realtor – who helped my son and his fiancee find their first home (we helped out financially, so we got the steak dinner as a celebratory thank-you.) I asked him about finding me a place like my great-grandmother and grandparents had when I was little – an affordable beach cabin on Puget Sound with a beach full of logs and rocks, though to be perfectly honest I was imagining a place like this:

"El sueno dorado,: as they say in Mexcio - my fantasy.

“El sueno dorado,” as they say in Mexico – my fantasy.

I know that kind of place (built in the 30’s, rustic and charming, pure beach with no bulkhead, direct access to the saltwater, Heaven) just isn’t out there anymore, and even if that sweet young man could find something similar, just about everyone in Western Washington would want to buy it – I’d have to get in line behind Bill Gates.  Then I asked him, to keep the fantasy going, what would be the five best things to do with our home if we ever found that cabin and wanted to sell our little 40’s bungalow in the city. It seemed like a nice little bit of conversation. I thought he would suggest things like clear out the clutter, re-finish the floors, re-do the kitchen cabinets, get stainless steel appliances, etc.  I watch Home and Garden TV, I watch House Hunters, I know that American families want granite counter tops and walk-in closets.  I was interested in what he had to say about our house. He visited several times during the long house hunt.  Here’s the Number One bit of advice he gave me:

“Well, don’t get rid of any of your books. Those books and bookcases will sell your house.”

So. Back onto the shelf the books go, for the crassest of reasons: they look good. I feel like a woman who has had an affair, ready to abandon the love of my life, my high school sweetheart, for some flim-flam man.  My books know I was unfaithful. Oh, dear. How to win them back?