Tag Archives: Brain Pickings

Another Alice

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 1

A few weeks ago, Maria Popova published a post in her wonderful Brain Pickings blog featuring the illustrations by Ralph Steadman from a 1972 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.

Before you go any further, read her post. Then come back here. Then go read more of her posts if you haven’t already.

I didn’t know Steadman illustrated Alice In Wonderland, but I should have,  because I own a copy of his Through The Looking Glass, also published in 1972, that I bought on a trip to England in 1975 (Steadman’s Alice In Wonderland is mentioned on the book jacket flap, but what 15-year old reads  jacket copy?). It is one of my Most Valued And Beloved Books. Here are more of my favorite images:

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 2The Jaberwock, with eyes of flame. Steadman is also a political satirist.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 3

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 4

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 5Notice how he uses the gutter split to advantage. Perfect for a story set in a world of reflection.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 6

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 7

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 8 Steadman takes the commonly accepted view that the White Knight is Lewis himself.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 9

When I was first starting out as an illustrator, nearly thirty years ago, I tried out pen and ink as a medium, a la Steadman. The image below was for The Clinton Street Quarterly, a small publication from the 80s out of Portland, OR. It is humbling to look back that far in my professional history, but take it as a tribute to my love of Steadman’s work.

Chodos-Irvine Marcos

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

Leftovers

Leftovers….

It’s Leftover-Turkey Day, and I’m still thinking about things I’m grateful for, not the least of which is leftover turkey. I did some thinking about gratitude  yesterday, of course. I made a mental list of things I’m grateful for, and the list got quite long. Primarily I feel dumbfounded by how lucky I am to be loved by the people I love.  Most of yesterday, in fact, I thought I would write about that today – the mutual admiration society that reigns supreme in my family – for my Books Around the Table post.  I wanted to look at how strange it is that some writers write from the discontent brought on by a lack of love, and other writers (the lucky ones) write from the safety and  joy of an abundance of it.

Whether longing for love or nurtured by it, writers often create characters searching for some kind of love and acceptance. That longing is “the desire line” of a story. The need for love makes the world go round, and it’s certainly the engine of the carousel that literature spins around on.  So love – withheld or generously given –  was on my mind yesterday and lingers there today. And there’s no doubt those mirrored generative forces are an acceptable topic for a blog about writing and (tangentially) about where creativity comes from.

But I also spent a lot of time this last week thinking about Eleanor Roosevelt.

Eleanor Roosevelt at a family Thanksgiving….

…and Eleanor Roosevelt voting, 1936

She’s been on my mind since the election – what an active, bright, caring, conscientious woman she was – and since seeing Ken Burn’s thought-provoking new documentary on PBS about the Dust Bowl.  Even before watching that, I had been turning over and over in my mind what Maria Popova quoted over at Brain Pickings from the book Roosevelt wrote titled You Learn by Living: 11 Keys for a More Fulfilling Life.  I especially like the line from Don Quixote which was a favorite of Roosevelt’s (“Until death it is all life”) and the long passage Popova quoted in which Roosevelt expresses her thoughts about happiness:

Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness. My answer was: ‘A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.’

But there is another basic requirement, and I can’t understand now how I forgot it at the time: that is the feeling that you are, in some way, useful. Usefulness, whatever form it may take, is the price we should pay for the air we breathe and the food we eat and the privilege of being alive. And it is its own reward, as well, for it is the beginning of happiness, just as self-pity and withdrawal from the battle are the beginning of misery.

The problem is, I can’t quite figure out how to tie that in to writing, which is what this blog is all about, except to say that I believe everything we ponder makes us better writers. We are, after all, writers in the world. It is just as valuable to ponder honesty (well, actually, honesty makes us better writers) as it is to ponder point of view.  It’s valuable to thinki about doing our best (yes, again,  better writers) and about loving people (isn’t that what empathy is about? and doesn’t empathy make us better writers?) and a sense of usefulness (which gets us out of our heads, sends us out into the world, and makes us better people, which makes us better writers.)

Am I’m stretching to make a connection? Maybe I just wanted to write about Eleanor Roosevelt, no matter what. I tend to like adding a lot of ingredients into every soup I make.  I do know, on this day after Thanksgiving,  that I’m still revising my what-I’m-grateful-for list, making it just a bit longer. Today, I’m adding Eleanor Roosevelt, Ken Burns, Don Quixote, and Maria Popova to the list. I’m grateful to be list-inclined.  I’ll add that to the list.  I’m grateful I’m a writer – well, that was on my list already.  And not to bring the tone down, I hope, I will say I’m grateful there is both leftover gravy and leftover stuffing  – yumm. And when I eat my leftover-turkey-on-leftover-dinner-roll sandwich later today (and leftover turkey soup for weeks to come) I’ll probably still be adding to my list. I’ll have come up with a few more leftover things to be grateful about. Thanksgiving is just as much about leftovers as it is about the main course, because Thanksgiving is all about abundance, whether it’s food, or food for thought.

…and more leftovers!

Distractions

“Foolish Fashions” – from the Library of Congress website.

When I decided to write a little bit today about writers and “distractions,” I went straightaway to the Oxford English Dictionary to check out what the pronunciation of it looks like ( “/dɪˈstrækʃən/” ) because – well, because it’s pretty – it’s the phonetic equivalent of an ideogram. A word, but not a word.  I also checked out its etymology (<from “the Latin distractiōn-em, n. of action < distrahĕre to pull asunder”) and I confirmed different definitions (all basically dealing with the pulling asunder of something – severance, dispersion, stretching, extending – either mentally, emotionally or physically – ouch.) The different definitions all emphasize how a distraction is seen in an “adverse” light, though one definition pushed the word toward a rosier definition, one of diversion and relaxation. While I was at the OED site (thank you, wonderful Seattle Public Library, for your research databases, which save my bookshelves from having to accommodate all 11 volumes of the OED) I also took a look at  some of the earliest examples of the use of “distraction,” such as this one in William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra: “While he was yet in Rome, His power went out in such distractions, As beguilde all Spies.”

The New Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, London, 1909.

Of course, then I looked up “beguiled” since it’s such a lovely word. The OED is a poet’s equivalent of falling down the rabbit hole. You find yourself in a strange, swirling, distracting and beguiling world, and it’s difficult to find your way back up to the surface. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction.”

All eleven volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary

Let’s hear it for distractions like the OED and even Browning herself. What would the world be like if we always stayed on task? What would clear our palates, and when would we make room for the new? I believe in distractions, a fact my students all know, since in addition to sending them assignments, I send them enough website distractions to derail them from their work. I do that to encourage them to let in the fresh air of new ideas from time to time.

Every so often here at Books Around the Table I’m going to offer up a few websites that I consider good generative distractions – generative in the sense that they lead to new story ideas.  Here are three Alice-in-Wonderland-style rabbit holes (aka distractions) that I’ll send your way today in case you suspect  the air around you is getting a little stale.  Click on the website name below – and get distracted.

Sir John Tenniel’s illustration of Alice in Wonderland

1. Brain Pickings – It’s the “brain child” of Maria Popova, and its stated purpose is to a be a ” human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” A typical post has many subjects, such as this one about the artist Maira Kalman.

Maira Kalman and Pete

Or this one about the “sculptural soundtracks” of Nathalie Miebach: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/07/12/nathalie-miebach-musical-weather-data-sculptures/

A 3-D rendering of the soundtrack of a storm – Nathalie Miebach

2. TYWKIWDBI – yes, that’s the name of the site. It stands for “Things You Wouldn’t Know If We Didn’t Blog Intermittently.” It is self-described as “an eclectic mix of trivialities, ephemera, curiosities, and exotica with a smattering of current events, social commentary, science, history, English language and literature, videos, and humor. We try to be the cyberequivalent of a Victorian cabinet of curiosities.” For example: Did you know that Cleopatra lived closer chronologically to the moon landing than to the building of the pyramids?

Marble Bust of Cleopatra – 30-40 A.D.

3. The Library of Congress – very dangerous site. You can get so distracted you never get tracted again. Maps, manuscripts, prints, photographs – and a search engine that brings up everything in an instant. The next best thing to actually living at the Library of Congress.

Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress

More distractions soon. Whenever I discover them, I’ll pass them on.