Radishes and Prayer Wheels: Looking for Something New

BATT 10 Little Library Face

Seen on my walk: a startled Little Library

These are strange times. Maybe even startling times. Are we all doing a few things we’ve never done before? Sure we are. Social distancing? New to me.  Zoom-ing instead of having a cuppa coffee with a friend? Never heard of Zoom before all this.  Wiping down the groceries before adding them to the pantry? Never done that before, definitely not, nope. Strange, strange.

BATT 12 Seed Packets

Seed packets a little worse for wear….

But also, for the first time in my life, I’m planting a kitchen garden: broccoli, kohlrabi, gold and red beets, orange and red carrots, radishes, four kinds of peas (I’m sure there’s a poem in that list somewhere.. or there will be by the time the seeds germinate.)  Before sundown tomorrow I’ll have the cilantro, parsley, basil, and lettuce in. If I have room, I’ll spread some snapdragon seeds. The sun’s been out – there’s been no rain in our neck of the woods since April 1st –  that’s seventeen days! (Even the weather is doing new things!) So I’ve been in my garden with a shovel, a hoe, a bucket for the weeds, a sieve for the dirt, a trowel, some twine, and my seed packets.  I’m not just thinking about planting flowers and vegetables – I’m doing it. That’s new.

I’m  also going for (not just thinking about going for) a daily neighborhood walk.. My  post today is filled with some of the strange, sweet, mysterious, hilarious and beautiful things I saw as I walked three blocks north on Williams St., two blocks west on Illinois, five blocks south on Henry, two blocks east on Washington, and two blocks north again on Williams, back to the Little Yellow House that my husband and I call home. There were a few detours down alleys, to be honest. Irresistible. I love alleys.

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Little Yellow House – my home base.

I wrote a poem after I came home from my walk. That often feels like the right thing to do if I’ve been looking carefully at the world around me. If you’re looking for something new to do and you’ve never written a poem, how about using some of the photographs I took as a springboard to a poem of your own? If you have kids at home who are looking for new things to do, how about getting outside with them, walking, photographing, going home and writing stories or poems of their own about what they saw? Try for the littlest or strangest or most unusual discoveries you find, things you only see if you linger a bit, things you see up in a tree or at your feet, on a fence post or down an alley. And please, share them with me in the Comments section below.

BATT 1 Chalk Spaceship

Is it a spaceship – or is it a butterfly ?

BATT 3 Prayer Wheel

A Buddhist prayer wheel – “Always spin clockwise.”

BATT 6 Bike in a Tree

Bicycle in a tree (sign supporting local whistle-blower, Dr. Ming Lin)

BATT 6 Animal Fence

A gate made of animals….

BATT Balls in Leaf

Three ceramic balls in a cement leaf….

BATT 7 Bottle Tree

Bottles (and a glass chicken!) on bare branches…..

Batt 9 Sink in the Dirt

A flower-filled sink in the dirt…

BATT 2 Chalk Lightning

Lightning hits the sidewalk….

batt Apple Tree

Red fence, white blossoms….

Batt Geese

Goose and Duck waiting for the rocks to hatch….

BATT Chalk Friends

Message from our neighbors (notice the yellow house, blue door….)

Sometimes it’s comforting to stay inside and do familiar things. Other times, it’s exciting to try something new. Plant some kohlrabi and carrots, or head three blocks this way, five blocks that way, savor the creativity of your neighbors, take a few photographs. Then write a poem.

 

Authors Connect with Kids Stuck at Home

Last month, many U.S. schools were closed until the end of April to try to slow the spread of the corona virus. This week, our Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, announced state schools will likely not reopen until fall. All these closures have sent parents scrambling for study space, learning materials and content.

Luckily, Erica Rand Silverman, who works for the Stimola Literary Studio, had an idea how to fill that content need. Within days of the first closures, she contacted the authors and illustrators the agency works with, asking them to contribute programs – and StimolaLive.com was born.

Launched on March 23, the programs run on weekdays for kids of all ages. So far, they include picture book readings, a sing along, a bake along, and wonderful workshops on myriad aspects of writing and illustration. After each program is livestreamed, it is transferred to the Stimola Live YouTube channel for future reference.

On April Fool’s day, with help from my husband John, I jumped into the livestream. My event included reading Little Wolf’s First Howling and a workshop about creating a character based on a stuffed animal, as I did with Little Wolf and A.A. Milne did with the Winnie the Pooh crew. Clearly, it’s my first attempt at livestreaming, but I was pleased to get my toes wet. See here.

Erica juggles her new livestreaming project with literary agent tasks and family duties, but she found time to tell us more about Stimola Live. What follows is our Q and A.

How did you get this idea? 

I was near other parents when we received the news that school was going to close. The look of fear on all their faces would have been funny if it wasn’t such truly devastating news. Most of them were worrying how they would be able to continue engaging their kids authentically on their own. They were worrying that one of the first things to slip would be their kids’ reading skills and interest in books. The idea for Stimola Live came flying in at the very moment – our authors and illustrators can help to create content that parents can feel good about using with their kids. It’s a win for the parents who are desperate to keep their growing readers engaged. A win for authors and illustrators who want to stay connected to their readers. And, a win for booksellers who desperately need patrons to remain invested in book buying (we link to booksellers – often indies- on each event page!). Honestly, it grew into something bigger and better than I could have ever imagined! I called author-illustrator, Shanda McCloskey, to ask her to participate and three sleepless days later she and her husband had created a website and logo for it! Then, my colleague, Allison Hellegers, had the idea to save the livestreams as videos to a Stimola Live YouTube channel.

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Erica Rand Silverman and her boys. She writes, “This is from the first day of school this year which is particularly bitter sweet.”

What kinds of challenges did you have to overcome to create Stimola Live?

The biggest challenge has been figuring out the technology end of things. We learned a lot as we went through the process, like which platforms are easiest to save the video from, which platforms allow for interaction, which are difficult to use because of overcrowding. Some of the livestream platforms translate well to a saved video and some aren’t as good. We had over 50 participating authors and illustrators each with their own questions and challenges. It was a lot to manage but incredibly satisfying at the same time.

Can you offer recommendations per age level or guidance through the offerings?

One of the best things about Stimola Live is that the livestreams and saved video content range in age from preschool to teen. There is truly something for everyone. Each event page on StimolaLive.com lists appropriate ages directly in the event title, and on the Stimola Live YouTube channel we organize videos by age as well.

Unexpected benefits? Response?

I loved unexpectedly bumping into [Stimola Literary] Studio authors and illustrators at the different live stream events. Authors and illustrators who might not have known each other well before were able to tune into each other’s live streams and participate. I loved seeing them (and their own children in many instances) participate. It helped to create even more camaraderie and community at the Studio itself. There may be 15 people attending the livestream with you or 300. Either way, when you’re able to see each other tune in and read each other’s comments, you really feel like you’re all in the room together.

It has also been amazing to see that people from all over the world have come to the site! People have visited from Canada, Germany, Mexico, China and more.

Teachers write to us to ask if they can link to Stimola Live or specific events/videos in their Google Classrooms. Those are the best emails to get!

There were instances where some livestreams didn’t go as planned or teachers/students/kids weren’t able to access the event as expected. That was disappointing for all but as we say on the FAQ page, we’re book-makers, not professional livestreamers . . . at least not yet!  We did over 60 events in two weeks! There were bound to be some mistakes and all the viewers were really kind about it.

Going forward we’ll continue to host events and will now be able to refine them based on everything we learned. We love feedback and suggestions. So, please let everyone know that they can email us at info@stimolalive.com  and if they want to know when we have more events going up they can subscribe to the newsletter – https://www.stimolalive.com/newsletter/

• • • • •

Thank you, dear husband and quarantine mate, for helping me participate. And thank you, Erica, for inventing this wonderful river of connection and sharing the story of its beginnings with our BATT readers. 

Topsy Turvy

The world has felt topsy-turvy lately. Here are some upside down images to reflect that state of affairs.

Because you might not be able to turn your computer over I will include every image twice – as a topsy and a turvy.
The illustrations are from the book The Playful Eye, by Julian Rothenstein and Mel Gooding.

OHO! -a matchbox is from India, 1927. Harrumph.

The burro is from Spain, 1865.  Flip it over to see the rider.

This Japanese woodblock was made in the 1830s. The bullfrog/skull in the center row is perplexing and perplexed.

From Italy in 1870…a gentleman, charming in both directions

Here is a gender bending topsy turvy from Spain, 1865.

This Indian topsy turvy from 1948 takes the face from youth to adulthood.

This is from an Indian pamphlet, painted in the 1980’s. I find it difficult but not impossible to ignore the lips in the forehead.

Try drawing your own topsy turvy head: fold a piece of paper in half and draw eyes in the middle. Draw a nose and a mouth below the eyes. Flip the paper and repeat with another nose and mouth. Fool around until it looks interesting from both directions.

Or you could color in these pages. Click on the link beneath each image for a pdf that you can download and print.

topsy turvy coloring page

topsy tree coloring page

Here is the topsy turvy tree page as interpreted by Susan Hughes-Hayton and family.

 

Also, I have added a section of coloring pages to my website. Every weekday (until schools reopen and home isolation is over) I will post a page that you can download, print and color in.
juliepaschkis.com/coloring-pages/
Please share this link with children, teachers or anyone who would like to draw. Email me at juliepaschkis@comcast.net if you would like to get weekly notifications linking you to the coloring pages. Thanks!

Have fun drawing in these topsy turvy times!

(Peter Newell 1893)

 

Where Lily Isn’t – a read-aloud

So, what have I been doing with all my free time while sheltering-in-place? Sewing masks. Doing puzzles. Reading endless emails about COVID-19…

And, I made a video! With so many kids staying home all day with their families, it seems like the least I can do to help out.

I have to admit, I’m new, and not entirely comfortable with, recording myself. My video is not perfect, as I am not perfect, but it will do. I hope.

After the reading, I encourage kids (adults too, if you are inclined) to send a drawing of a beloved pet. I will post them on this blog. If you know of any children who might enjoy listening and participating, please pass it on!

Thanks!

Stay safe, and stay healthy.

Our Brains are Story-Making Machines

Take a look at these two images. If you give it a second, odds are your brain will start to construct a story as to why those images are next to each other. Is there a connection? Is there a story here?

It isn’t too hard to start to imagine how these two images could tell a story, but according to David Linden, a  professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins, your brain will automatically start trying to figure out a narrative even when I show you something like this.

No matter how improbable, your brain wants to make a connection.

Linden says you can’t help it. It’s what comes naturally. Linden believes the brain is hard-wired to tell stories.  It’s a subconscious function that automatically kicks in. A survival mechanism. After all if you see this:

And then this.

Well, it’s nice to have a brain that is quick to analyze cause and effect.

And isn’t that the essence of story. Connecting one action and to another to another, all the while examining why and how and what to help us figure out how to live?

In my last post, I looked at the book “How Pictures Work” by Molly Bang, where she does a great analysis of how our minds can make stories out of abstract shapes if they are in the right relationship to each other.

Simply placing images side-by-side will kick speculation into gear. But what happens when the relationship gets more complex–as with the Heider-Simmel animation?

Developed in 1944, Fritz Heider and Marianne Simmel, experimental psychologists at Smith College, created it to investigate how our brain can make complex inferences from relatively little data.

The two investigators simply told their subjects to watch the (very short) movie and “write down what happened.” Almost every one of the undergraduates saw the shapes as animate characters in a relationship.

I won’t tell you what most of them said, but there’s a good summary of the experiment and some of the findings here. But before you go, check out the animation yourself and see what your story-making mind tells you.

If you want to share, I’d love to hear the story that you saw!

 

 

 

 

 

Hats, Hats and More Hats

Hat12

Before any musings about creativity, let me just say this: Be safe, stay well. We have an extraordinary health emergency unfolding locally, nationally, and globally; it’s a good time to defer to the ferocity of pathogens and to honor the advice of experts. I’ve been working on some poems (for adults) that are a bit glib about scientists (what they can’t know about The Soul) but in the last few weeks I’d say it’s the scientists who will tell us the truth about The Body.  Let’s try to support in any way we can the local health professionals who will be asked to respond to the crisis in ways we can hardly imagine, and to help out those who have dwindling resources to weather the storm. Let’s put pressure on our lawmakers to be thinking of “the least of our brethren.”

I keep thinking of Steven Johnson’s wonderful book, The Ghost Map, which tells the story of a terrifying epidemic of cholera which broke out in London in 1854. Officials obfuscated and ignored  it, not unlike what’s happening 150+ years later with Covid-19. If you haven’t read that book, see if you can get hold of it and read it now – it’s reassuring to know that scientists can uncover answers that are not politicized and can focus on finding solutions.

I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about scientists and artists in general, their covalent bonds. Both are attracted to mystery, I think. Both are attentive to detail. Many of the finest people in those two fields are shot through with astonishment at the real, touchable world we live in. Unlike Walt Whitman, who (uncharacteristically) asserted that poets had a corner on the astonishment market (at least in this poem) I think both types “look up in perfect wonder at the stars.”

Wonder at the Stars

Both scientists and writers are curious and creative. What is observable and what is not intrigues them both: the bird in the tree, the bird in the head, the bird in flight, the bird as a metaphor, the song of the bird – the long, looping red thread you see below. How we look at the world if we’re engaged and reflective.

Scientists 2

 

Speaking of engagement, wonder, creativity, curiosity, and the touchable world, I saw a show recently at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham which draws on all four. It’s titled The Global Language of Headwear: Cultural Identity, Rites of Passage, and Spirituality. You might think it odd to say that headgear speaks a language, but it’s true, isn’t it? Can we always translate what’s said? Well, we can use our imaginations. And like any exhibit that pulls samples from around the world, it helps museum-goers understand the commonality of diverse cultures: a desire to celebrate, a need to mourn, to play, to be colorful, to stay warm, and (maybe unfortunate but entirely human) to distinguish status.

Here are some of my favorites, with little commentary:

Hat4

 

Hat1

(A Child’s Hat)

Hat2

Here are some closer up, to catch the detail:

Hat7

Hat5 Close

Hat6 Close

Hat11 Close

At the exhibit, many of the hats were paired with photos of the delightful people wearing them:

Hat8 Man

Hat9 Man

Hat10

Just look at the joy and pride on those faces. Look at the smiles! As I’m writing this post, I’m also listening to the most recent press conference about the pandemic. Sorry to be a cynic, but what I hear is people congratulating themselves about how they’re addressing — better late than never? — this pandemic. Listening to it is irritating me. Such a lot of self-praise. Such hubris. Argggggghhhhh!  I’ll take artists and scientists over politicians any day. (Well, this recent exception:Katie Porter, Rep.-California, she’s a hero.)

Once again: Stay safe, be well. If you’re over 60 and staying home in general (as I am) let’s exercise our imaginations, examine our obsessions, trust our creativity, indulge our writing eccentricities, get out into the brisk spring air from time to time, look down for a few tulips, look up for a few hats, look everywhere for smiles to brighten things up. Be astonished.

Reading the Times

WE’RE SITTING TIGHT here in Seattle, at the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus, while news of Boeing’s 737 Max crisis, the Democratic primaries, and the stock market’s volubility swirl around us.

How to stay calm in these stressful times? Curl up with a good book.

rand2310

From its first sentences, a good book opens a door into the story and you are welcomed in. Everything in the ‘real’ world – from big concerns, like global warming and homelessness, to the quotidian, like the dog’s teeth that need brushing, and piles of laundry, and unpulled weeds – everything fades away. You may find yourself with that other Laura, settling down to sleep in the loft of a Little House in the Big Woods, or howling with a wolf pup on a faraway mountainside, or summoning an owl messenger to Hogwarts with a certain boy wizard.

Stories give us a chance to live forward and backward in time; to inhabit other places, be they real or imagined. We can put on the skin of a dragon or a fox or another person. In stories, we can experience things that are way too scary or infuriating or heartbreaking to experience in real life. If, subsequently, our own lives serve up fear, or anger or heartbreak, sometimes it is a story that helps us through, offering information and comfort.

rand2311

The wonderful irony is that while a story can offer refuge from the ‘real’ world, it also has the amazing power to connect. We humans are story people. I wrote about the chemical reason for this in my last post.

When we share our stories – in both reading and writing – that connection leads naturally to empathy, an empathy that sends us back to the ‘real’ world refreshed for the challenges ahead. I like how Barrack Obama put it: “The thing that brings people together to have the courage to take action on behalf of their lives is not just that they care about the same issue, it’s that they have shared stories.” I hope other politicians know about this.

WE MADE A RUN to Costco Sunday and I can assure you that should we be quarantined because of the coronavirus, we have sufficient maple syrup, guacamole and toilet paper for the duration. More importantly, should the weight of the current news cycle become too heavy, the Seattle Public Library offers an escape to ebooks and audiobooks, all easily downloaded from the comfort of our isolation.

We’re up to the challenge, here, holding down the northwest corner of the map. But a little bibliotherapy may be necessary.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 10.40.11 AM

The characters from Little Wolf’s First Howling, as featured in the Mazza calendar last year. Thanks to my sister Kate Harvey McGee for the lovely colors.

 

 

 

 

Crankie

As I get older I get crankier.
By that, I mean more interested in small theaters with moving panoramas- also known as Crankie Boxes.
Like picture books, they tell stories through images as well as words.

Moving panoramas were popular in the mid 19th century and they ranged in size from small to enormous.

Last October I went with Mare Blocker to a Crankie Fest at the NW Puppet Center. I liked the show so much I went back the next night. Mare and I were both inspired to make crankie boxes of our own.

For information on all things crankie there is an invaluable website – The Crankie Factory. It includes history, videos, instructions on how to make a crankie box and the scrolls. Thank you Sue Truman. thecrankiefactory.com

On the Crankie Factory Website were miniature crankies made by Paul Fleischman. Here is a movie. What a wonderful surprise! I have had the privilege of illustrating three of Paul’s books. It is a small and crankie world.

The shows at the Crankie Fest were a combination of moving panoramas and shadow theaters. My niece Zoe visited in October and we experimented with shadow theaters in cardboard boxes.

Zoe’s Haunted Hat Shop

my witch in the woods

I asked artist and woodworker Michael Zitka if he would build me a real wooden Crankie Box, following the instructions on the Crankie Factory website. A few weeks ago he delivered it. These are the innards.

I cut out a piece of cardboard to show the outside shape and our cat Ruby approved. Mike then cut it out of wood.

The Crankie is now named, painted and ready for the curtain to go up. Here is the front of Teatro Paprika:

and the sides:

I have the cart and am ready to put a horse in front – I need to get crankin’!

painting by Tatiana Mavrena

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………p.s. On Thursday March 12th Margaret Chodos-Irvine and I will be celebrating our new book Where Lily Isn’t at the Secret Garden Bookstore , 2214 NW Market St. in Ballard. Please join us there at 6:30, and bring an anecdote to share about a pet you love or have loved. Thanks.

 

Here Comes Lily!

Where Lily Isn’t is here! And we are having a party!

If you live in Seattle, Julie Paschkis and I invite you to come celebrate with us on Thursday, March 12, at 6:30pm at Secret Garden Bookstore. Please bring a picture or anecdote to share about your pet, past or present.

It was two and a half years ago that I had tittery jitters about starting work on the images, and now the book is finally out in the world. Of all the books I have done, this is one of the ones I am most pleased with. It deals with the difficult subject of loss, but really it is a book about the indelible mark love makes on our hearts.

We hope you can join us on March 12!

Every Once in Awhile, a Pause

This week I’m going to recommend a movie, and I’m recommending it for a reason that’s a little odd.

1917 4

The movie is 1917. It’s one of the few movies I’ve gone to a theater to see in the last couple of years, and that’s because I tend to like quiet, small films, easily viewed via DVD. But I’ve always been drawn to books and movies about World War I, and everything about 1917 suggested it was going to be a “big” movie, in need of a big screen.

First impressions were right: it’s a powerful movie, deserving of a big screen, beautifully shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, and it’s exhausting. Part of my exhaustion was due it being filmed as if it were one long unedited take, the action always driving forward, forward, forward. I was caught up and tense for almost the entire movie.

1917 5

“Almost” – that’s the key word. Because the two scenes I found the most powerful were the quietest, and those are the scenes I want to write about and recommend to you. Those are the scenes that pause and step back from the action for a brief moment. For  writers aiming at page-turners, thinking about constant forward movement, maybe it would it be worthwhile to think about pausing for a quiet moment from time to time.

About half way through the movie, a soldier — desperate to get a message through enemy territory to a battalion of British soldiers on another front line — runs through a burning village in France. German soldiers, feigning a retreat, have destroyed their own ammunition and left the entire village in flames. It’s a scorched earth scenario.

1917 7

Hoping to escape snipers, the soldier runs into the basement of a building and discovers, in the darkness, a young woman who is caring for someone else’s baby. The woman begs this soldier to stay and comfort both the baby and herself for a moment. Against his better instincts, he draws close to them and begins to recite a poem  – “The Jumblies” by Edward Lear.

1917 10

An anti-war poem by Edward Lear? The silliest British poet of the 19th century? The soldier delivers this nonsense poem in the most mournful way, and the disturbing music that has accompanied all the running, shooting, exploding, pushing, and pounding scenes of warfare, is silenced. Watching this scene, I could suddenly take a breath. The entire theater audience was stilled.  And I was amazed by the words of a poem I thought I knew thoroughly.

1917 8

Here is the first verse:

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, ‘You’ll all be drowned!’
They called aloud, ‘Our Sieve ain’t big,
But we don’t care a button! we don’t care a fig!
In a Sieve we’ll go to sea!’
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

Of course, Lear’s poem deals in nonsense. Sam Mendes, who wrote the script and directed 1917, must believe war is also nonsense —  lethal nonsense.  The Jumblies are going to sea in a sieve, “in spite of all their friends could say,” and they will “all be drowned.” You hear the word “drowned,” but it registers on your heart as “killed.”   The soldier’s recital of the poem — was it only the first stanza? I think so  — is soft, sorrowful and melodic.  The foolish bravura of “we don’t care a button” and “we don’t care a fig!” comes through full force. And then comes the sorrowful refrain: “Far and few, few and far”  which suddenly sounds like a dirge.   The entire poem can be read here.   [ From the second of six verses : “And every one said, who saw them go, / ‘O won’t they be soon upset, you know! / For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long, /And happen what may, it’s extremely wrong’ “]

The second quiet scene is at the end of the movie. The young soldier, not sure of precisely where he is, joins a group of other soldiers listening to a single one among them singing “Wayfaring Stranger.”

1917 3

Like the audience in the theater, the soldiers are completely silent while they listen, whether it’s because they’re too exhausted to speak or because the words of this song suddenly have a new meaning for them. I could only find one clip of the song scene from the movie, but it will give you a feel for the paused moment. And here is a version that is similar, sung by the wonderful Doc Watson.

I really do hope you’ll see the movie. After all, Sunday the Oscars will be on – 1917 is nominated for Best Picture. In addition, it’s never a mistake to observe what a quiet pause can contribute to a story that moves relentlessly forward.