Monday, November 29, 2010

Cinnamon Toast

I went through an absurd number of drafts for the haiku in the last post, and still didn't manage to do any sort of justice to the glorious confection that is cinnamon toast.

simplest of all foods,
yet a metaphor for life:
life as it should be.

Basking in the glowing warmth of smiles, something finished sits in contemplation.
Bread already baked. Before that: kneaded, shaped, raised, then proofed.
Sliced for sandwiches or fresh warm munching, bread is what it meant to be.
But now, lowered into a second careful baking, this slice is heated to its center,
infused with thoughts of summer wheat and sky. It waits patiently, thoughtful.
Both sides are tightened to a crispy white, then a delicate and beautiful brown.
A click marks the time, clear indication of perfection reached, of completion.
The kitchen watches, awed, as the newly toasted delicacy rises quick as flight.
Confident. Sure. Full of purpose, with a powerful spring in its ascending steps.
Swift spreading of butter softens its features and bestows a pleasant generosity,
quick to accept a sprinkling from above, fair admixture of sweet and flavor both.
One must begin at the edges, tasting the boundaries of wealth and crumb and crust.
Then, limits defined and accounted for, circumspection satisfied, doubts done away,
one may savor the lovely essence, the center, the heart of this distillation of joy.

My Comfort Foods

Sore throat or cold night:
Warmth that washes through my chest--
Mug of chocolate

Crisp and warm and sweet
Rising swift and delicate:
Toast with cinnamon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


     "And what was evanescent evanesced"
          --Gjertrude Schnackenberg -- Fusiturricula Lullaby

I can hear the sea.
Here, hold this to your ear--
the empty space inside is echoing
with memories of where she went and did and lived.
This shell is beautiful, mother of pearl,
the home built grain by grain through her long life,
by what she made and what she pulled to her.

I thought she was building a wall
as portable protection from the world,
a comfortable carapace to wear.
Perhaps she was.
Yet in her place the empty air
now sighing through that space
is tenant to a beauty I'd not seen
nor recognized when she resided there,
and which is left to us:
a spiral-roofed cathedral,
hallowed hollow sanctum of her life.

Her evanescent portion occupies
more dissipate a home on other shores.
Yet we retain this beauteous echoing space
in which, ear pressed to heart,
we hear the sea.

Nov 16, 2010, on the death of a friend's grandmother.
Images taken from and

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Serial Reader (III)

This past weekend I relaxed and enjoyed watching some movies with one of my roommates. One was a spy movie, the other an action movie, and both were quite fun. In fact, I was quite impressed with the scripting for both films. While we watched, I commented on the framing and foreshadowing: "Nice set up." "Oh, no! He's going to die? I liked him." "Wow, that was clever." "I didn't expect that at all."

JJ mentioned afterward that he was surprised at how frequently I knew what was going to happen next. (My family has also complained about this sometimes, too, regarding both books and movies.) The interesting part came next. JJ said, "I can tell when I'm watching it which parts are going to be important later, but I never know why they're important until it actually happens." He then asked me if I was able to figure things out because of being a writer.

That got me thinking, and I've decided that the answer is probably yes. A lot of reading and a little writing has given me a sense of how stories are constructed. In addition, familiarity with different genres and the rules governing them is crucial to my approach to books or films. There may be something inherent in it, since I am naturally analytical, but for the most part I think it is experience-based.

JJ, and most people who watch movies, pick up on what the director is doing: seemingly unimportant information given just before a scene cut; focus on a specific character when another in a group is speaking; recurrent shots of an important object. These are good techniques because they draw attention, and there are many more that I don't know the rules for but are certainly written down in some compendium of "how to reach your audience--tips and tricks."

The difference, apparently, is that I have also gleaned some of the rules about how narrative is built. The genres we have are self associating and self reinforcing, so there are some very stiff, though breakable, guidelines that direct their stories. (More on that another day, perhaps.) Most people recognize when the rules are being followed, but perhaps not everyone knows quite how they connect to each other.

I heard of an author who said she didn't enjoy reading anymore because she always knew everything that was going to happen after the first ten pages of a book. I found that very sad, and hope it never happens to me. Even if books were to lose their surprise elements for me (which I'm confident they won't), I don't expect to lose my love of reading, for two reasons. First, I like books for so much more than plot--there are also emotional investments, language gymnastics, and personal discoveries, to name a few. Second, as a writer I am not only more critical of stories, I am also more appreciative. I may be quicker to point out specific flaws in some of my reviews, but I think that is only because I have learned to recognize (or at least assign) reasons for why I don't like the work. Concomitant with this, I have become more appreciative of artistry and of well-executed work. There are tens of thousands of writers out there, most of them better at it than I am, and as a reader/writer I am able to gape in awe at not only the finished product but also the skill that produced it.

Moral of the story: Read more books.
Want to know what happens next? Want to like movies better? Read more books.

Hm. This did not end up being the expected post about chapter break usage, but I think the title still fits.

Friday, November 12, 2010

a time for truth

Winter is a time for truth, a time
for trees to shiver from their golden robes
and step forth bare before the dawn,
as if to say, here, this is what i am;
even when no leaves are left,
yet am i beautiful

Snowdrifts fall to muffle all the noise;
one crunches underfoot to warn
us not to break the silent smiling
of a meditative world.
hush, it says, and listen to her breathe

The crisp near-frozen air outside is clear,
and I can see across the shoveled walk
on which each footstep tells whence it has been.
Your windows glow with warmth and home,
with gathering in people to your hearth:
an invitation, and an echo of
the stories, laughter, love, and truth
you gather 'round your heart.
We open our homes
and warm our hands with rich, slow-rising bread,
comfortably sharing recipes.
smell this, I feel to say.
this place that you have made -
it is good

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Recently I've reflected on how practice really does lead to marked improvement. I've seen it working for professional authors and artists, and I'm hoping to see it work for me. In this post I will refer to specific works, and I hope the authors don't mind my mingled compliments and criticisms

Two months ago I read through most of the archives of the Schlock Mercenary webcomic by Howard Taylor (one of the hosts of the very excellent Writing Excuses podcasts). I started with a random storyline in the middle, then eventually decided to read the entire thing. Comparing the artwork in his first year of strips with those that came later, I was honestly surprised that they were drawn by the same artist. Candidly, his early illustrations were pretty terrible, but it only took a few months for him to develop an entirely competent style of his own. Then, year by year, he has continued to improve and develop new artistic skills. In addition to following the capers of Tagon's Toughs, I had fun watching Howard try out new techniques, and then master them to great effect.

Seeing Howard's progress is part of the reason I decided to draw the banjo pigs. I thought, "Hey, if Howard can do it, maybe so can I." Obviously I'm at the beginning of that curve, but if I work at it with some semblance of consistency, I'm sure I can start to improve.

Another artistic example is the Gunnerkrigg Court webcomic by Tom Siddell. The artistic ability doesn't change quite so much as artistic style. At first he used a very derivitive style that was flat and cartoonish, but he has actively tried new things and developed a skillful and visually pleasing style of his own.

It was interesting to see a similar effect in the writing of Brandon Sanderson, who I have mentioned before as one of my favorite fantasy authors. Though I highly recommend his epic-length books, he has written several short stories, available on his website, that can give you a flavor of his writing. Comparing an early work to the more recent  "Defending Elysium" reveals the same trend. This latter work is a fabulous story that is both well written and about so much more than what happens.

I have been inconsistent in my poetry practice, and more-so in my writing, but even so I feel like I am improving (though I'm hardly an impartial judge). I've begun to sing more than before, and my it is getting easier to hear the parts, and to hit the notes. I hope to make a scheduled habit of these arts in my life so that I not only enjoy them but also get better so that others can enjoy them too.