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 Paulette Jiles’ News of the World

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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Why Quote the Bully?

The media should take the high road and not repeat any bully’s ugly words.  If a bully is mean enough, he might delight in having his humiliation of others broadcast, his very words repeated over and over.  Maybe he wants to instill fear in the whole country. Bad boys always draw supporters. Maybe report on a bully’s tweets only 10 seconds an hour or maybe only 10 seconds a day or 10 seconds a week.  But whatever time the tweet warrants, only report—do not quote.  The bully might lie awake thinking of good ugly phrases to immortalize.

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Heads Up! Anyone Find the Wrong Treat in Beggin’ Strips?

We discovered this morning that the package of Purina Beggin Strips we purchased held a different treat, something similar to a pig-in-the-blanket.  I took photos of the packaging and the contents, then called the 800 number provided.   My intent was just to advise someone of the problem and then to return the package to WalMart and get the right product.  Of course the call took longer than I was prepared for, but the representative was pleasant and quick enough.  She requested bar code number, packaging number, description of the item, and place purchased. That was easy.  But now, rather than exchanging the package, we’re to send them two cups of the contents. Purina will send a prepaid mail-in container, which will arrive in 10 to 14 days.  We’ll see this through, and keep the bag and contents and send Purina what they need to determine what occurred and where. We weren’t seeking a refund. I’d pay that small amount again to avoid the niggling steps.  BUT.  If it were poisonous or in someone else’s hands, I’d want them to take the steps to get it identified and off the shelves.  Also, I’d rather others know before two or more weeks.  So, heads up!.

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