Possible Spoiler: A Ghost Story

Last night I watched A Ghost Story and experienced extreme shifts in anticipation and mood. At different times and to varying degrees, I felt romantic, dismayed, perplexed, hopeful, fearful, and then, joyous. That’s the feeling that lasted. I’m not certain I interpreted the movie right, but it was right for me, and so I’ll not read any reviews or responses until I’ve put down my thoughts.

On the surface, in one speech especially, the movie posits that what we do, even great works of art, are ultimately futile and puny, having no lasting effect in a world that will someday die. Death is the ultimate event. But the whole, the bits of the movie, suggests otherwise—that every small effort, act, feeling has an effect with bounds unknown and possibly unlimited. The movie is a beautiful affirmation of the human spirit, and the gift of one life to others. Scenes have to be reexamined, and that’s a pleasure. (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara; Director, David Lowery)

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Warning: A Sappy Dog Story

Our dog Lily gives me a lot of grief. She’s an assertive dog, always vying with me, I assume, for the alpha female role in our household. She’s very wily and has a packet of one-up-manship moves. She delays obeying or doesn’t obey, or obeys in a slant way. She loves to fetch the paper but will drop it at my feet or toss it to the side. When she’s wanting more snacks, she blocks my path repeatedly, but assumes a sitting position, head down, eyes up, what I call a hang-dog look. This is not behavior I’ve encouraged but it’s apparently inborn. I thought that giving her extra attention would soften her behavior. I pet her more often. If she doesn’t do one of her tricks well (she likes doing tricks), I give her the reward anyhow. Sometimes I get in the floor with her, so we’re on a par. I put my forehead on hers and hum. So far, nothing has come from that, as far as I can tell.
Last week I checked a book from Trails Regional Library titled The Dog Who Loves Too Much, by Dr. Nicholas Dodman. He addresses many problems with canine companions—separation anxiety, fear of thunderstorms, aggression, dominance. I learned that my gut instinct of how to deal with a problem dog was wrong. Over-petting is absolutely a mistake. Petting is a reward, a prime response for a well behaved animal. That hurt to hear. I dislike withholding affection. It seems cruel. Too, getting on the same level as an animal can actually trigger aggression. Pets want and need to know their place in the hierarchy. They can handle easily being the omega, but if they have to be the alpha, then they’ll rise to the occasion. Someone has to do it. If I waver in my role, Lily will assume it. I’m still uncertain that this is correct, but I was planning to test it gradually.
This afternoon, something happened that makes me wonder again. I was going to take a nap upstairs. Lily came along, but she becamet agitated. She paced a little, and looked as if a ghost might be around. I assured her everyting was all right, and went in the bedroom. She came in and sat by the bed, her back to me, facing the doorway. I said, “It’s okay, Lily. Okay. Go to bed.” She didn’t obey me. I listened and didn’t hear anything or smell anything. But in a few minutes I arose and went in the hallway. In a few seconds I heard the sharp beep of a smoke alarm with a battery going out. I was tickled with Lily and praised her. She wasn’t soothed. I removed the batteries and went back to bed. She repeated her safeguarding, rigid by my bed, with her back to me, facing the door. So, I arose again and soon discovered another battery beeping. I took those batteries out and returned to bed. I told her what a good girl she was. She wasn’t impressed. She sat by my bed for a while, looking toward the hall. Gradually she relaxed and after a while trotted out and to her bed. I fell asleep very easily then, though no alarms but Lily were working.
I don’t know if Lily was being alpha or omega, but she was being so good. The sound was strange and she wasn’t leaving her post. Her post was by me. How wonderful. She and I have had our troubles and will continue to, I’m sure. She’s so smart and wily and willful. But! When we first got her, I told Baird (my husband) that I couldn’t handle her and I thought we couldn’t keep her. He said “I love her.” I remember exactly how he sounded. It moved me very much. I feel that way, too.

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Praise for The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water is a lovely film. Seeing it is like dreamweaving eras, catching the fifties and sixties in characters, and clothing, and colors, and posters, and movies, music, and dance. There’s violence, and it’s horrific, but it’s predictable and avoidable—closing one’s eyes and plugging one’s ears a few seconds will do. There’s nothing sudden about the violence and it doesn’t linger. Many ordinary people are heroes just doing what they can, and even the villain gets a moment of understanding—he chose his arena and the values he embraced are the ones he faces. I recalled how I felt when I saw The Creature from the Black Lagoon  and was grateful to visit him again in a different time. It’s a good film to watch with two views—what we as a society thought then and what we think now. Some things are not surprisingly, but unfortunately, the same. Some are changing quickly, thank goodness.

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Impromptu Piano Christmas Duet

I attempted to post this short video on Facebook but it wouldn’t take.  It’s John Check and Ken (last name coming soon).  They hadn’t met before this evening and this is the first tune they played together.  Hope you can see it this way.  Merry Christmas.  Christmas Duet

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Last Week of Summer at UCM

Last week, which was the last week to this year’s summer, I visited Phong Nguyen’s Writing for Publication class. The students were generous in asking questions about The Universe Playing Strings and then we just discussed writing—whether or not to seek an agent, how to do it, about valuing one’s own voice, goals, and choices, about revising and revising, about researching and honing skills when goals are elusive.  I realized how much I miss interaction with young writers and miss teaching (I’m afraid to claim that’s what I did and do, since my learning from the students and their learning from each other was the largest transaction in class).

When I came to campus, there was a small church where Black Box theater occurred, a huge fountain on the east side of the Student Union, somehow sad and sluggish, and many trees that lined the walkway north of Martin.  At least I recall those trees. I think they were taken down because of an act of violence on campus.  That may not be true. Sometimes my fiction gets in the way of my best memories.

This year, campus seemed particularly beautiful, and I took many photos of the campus.  I was looking for a stranger to take the shot for me, but since I’ve caught on to the selfie method (giving up some vanity for the speed of the process), I just took it myself. I can remember the campus in many phases, both public and private, and together they seem like a separate life–no ivory tower, but overall, a good life, round and full.




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Our Community Rose Garden

These photos are of the Community Rose Garden in Warrensburg, located on the northwest corner of Burkarth and Gay.  The garden is maintained primarily by members of the Pioneer Garden Club (Chairwoman Sue Evans) with assistance from the Master Gardners. The city provides water and mowing.  It’s an orderly place, well kept, sunny in some spots, shady in others, with little alcoves and benches.  It looks inaccessible, but a huge parking lot on the north side is only steps away.  I took the photos in mid-afternoon of a warm day, and the garden was empty.  I imagine people have small, quiet parties there.  If not, they should.  It would be even more charming in moonlight.

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For the Love of Books, Today One in Particular

Many books I’ve loved caught me with just a few words. I’m sure the conflict was at least hinted, but what hooked me was not the conflict. It was the draw of language and tone, authority or beauty, or both. Knowledge. I trusted the writer, wanted to follow the voice. That happened with Carson McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible, Eric Larsen’s The Devil in the White City, Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers, Paul Harding’s Tinkers, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake—so many. Memories of them well up right now and I want to read something that strong this minute. And write something that strong, either this minute or tomorrow or ever.

A few days ago, I picked up Paulette Jiles’ News of the World—historical novel, setting 1800s, Wichita Falls, Texas.  It had been lying by my bed for a while and I opened it at random, probably twenty-five or so pages in, and read a paragraph. I read another. I went to the first page.  Then an obligation made me put the book down and live my life for a few days.  I couldn’t remember the first page. I wasn’t sure about the conflict.   But I knew I wanted to read the book. When I had time last night, I read straight through—fought sleep and hunger to finish it.

Actually, it does have a strong, clear conflict and a skeletal plot.  An old soldier, leader, widower accepts the responsibility of returning a kidnapped child to her remaining relatives. She’s nine, fierce, speaks no English, and does not want to go.  But that is not the hook.  It’s the beautiful realism of the world around that journey, the myriad details about the country, the land, the clothing, language, people, customs, concerns, and the remarkable lack of visible artifice, such as punctuation or cues for shifts of perspective or time. The story unfolds easily from observation and seamless movement from character to effaced narrator. The characters’ dialects are natural, not through butchered spelling, though phonetic spelling illustrates the difference in languages for the hearer—English, German, Kiowa.  The characters are intelligent and good. The pacing is steady. And some descriptions make you—me—pause, to see and feel that moment of beauty or insight again.

This is the kind of book I would recommend to a writer who wants to write a good story but who worries about structure and techniques and rules. Love the subject. Write from your heart. Use the best of your language. Then polish.

Admittedly, there are as many kinds of writers as there are writers, probably.  But this is an excellent book to read for story and for craft. And for inspiration.



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