Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Jane Eyre, and the Lengthy, Passionate, Descriptive Sentence

While I was writing Post Rock Limestone Caryatids, I often thought of Jane Eyre. I’d read Charlotte Bronte’s classic while I was in college, many years ago, in Robin Behn‘s Women’s Literature class at Knox College. I remembered enjoying Jane Eyre in spite of the nineteenth-century language and morality. I loved the descriptions of nature, and the passionate romance. I flat out didn’t get why she couldn’t be with Mr. Rochester while he was still married, even as I wondered about the fact that he kept a crazy wife locked up in the attic.

Post Rock has been out for over a year now, and recently I picked up Jane Eyre and read it again. I had many thoughts about the difference between reading this book as a 19-year-old versus a 47-year old; but for today let’s just talk about long, descriptive sentences. Early on I noticed that those sentences were pretty much as I remembered them; I’d copied that style more than I’d even realized. It’s very different from the standard modern clipped prose, stripped of as much description as possible. It may well be that I loved the book not in spite of the nineteenth-century language, but because of it.

I discovered, too, that a great pleasure, an enjoyment which the horizon only bounded, lay all outside the high and spike-guarded walls of our garden: this pleasure consisted in prospect of noble summits girdling a great hill-hollow, rich in verdure and shadow: in a bright beck, full of dark stones and sparkling eddies. How different had this scene looked when I viewed it laid out beneath the iron sky of winter, stiffened in frost, shrouded with snow!–when mists as chill as death wandered to the impulse of east winds along those purple peaks, and rolled down “ing” and holm till they blended with the frozen fog of the beck! That beck itself was then a torrent, turbid and curbless: it tore asunder the wood, and sent a raving sound through the air, often thickened with wild rain or whirling sleet; and for the forest in its banks, that showed only ranks of skeletons.

Just for fun, let’s contrast that to a passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, published in 2006.

They left the cart in a gully covered with the tarp and made their way up the slope through the dark poles of the standing trees to where he’d seen a running ledge of rock and they sat under the rock overhang and watched the gray sheets of rain blow across the valley. It was very cold. They sat huddled together wrapped each in a blanket over their coats and after a while the rain stopped and there was just the dripping in the woods.

Oh look, both the passages I just chose begin with sentences of 53 words. Nonetheless, you can easily see how different they are. It’s the difference between comparing a dormant tree to a skeleton, versus a pole. It’s the difference between being moved by intense passion, versus being beyond feeling any emotion whatsoever, the soul huddling under a blanket. Bronte lovingly describes a living landscape that sparkles, shrouds, wanders, and tears asunder; McCarthy writes a bleak, dead, wasteland, which simply exists.

Since it’s my blog, I can be so audacious as to take a passage from my own book for further comparison.

There were grass-covered hills in all directions, as far as she could see, not like CGI vermilion grass, but a whole palette of beiges and rusty reds, with only hints of yellowy green at the roots, as if it were hiding. Sable-black and deeply evergreen trees huddled in lines between the hills, but up high, there was nothing to break the horizon, the sky meeting the gentle slopes of the hills, coming all the way down to the human-littered valley behind her, laying over the land like a giant, dark, cloud-heavy dome. It appeared solid and impenetrable, and Maeve noted with irony that she felt almost claustrophobic, or was it the opposite, wasn’t she feeling a faint impulse to curl up and hide in the tall grass?

I didn’t quite make it to 53; the longest sentence is 51 words. It is long, still. But the Flint Hills roll on, layer after layer, and it takes a long sentence to speak them. I’m not Charlotte Bronte, it’s clear; but I do intend to keep writing and getting better, and I will write sentences as long or as short, as descriptive and adjective-laden, as passionate and emotionally intense as my subjects require.

What do you think?

 

Which, And Which?

Since we closed the motel, we have this constant question: what are we going to do? Will we ever re-open? Will we sell? Are there other choices?

We probably can’t afford the place if it’s not producing income. Unless we could produce more some other way. Kevin has a 9-5, and I’m still massaging, but all I really want to do is write. I say that, but from day to day, my choices indicate that what I really want to do is be a mom, and a Girl Scout leader, and work on a farm (but only one day each week), and anyway, writing has yet to pay off financially.

The new age people tell us to visualize what we want in order to manifest it into our physical world. If we didn’t own a motel, would we buy a house? I like to look at houses. I read the auction notices posted around town, or look at the pictures in the window of the local real estate office. Would I like that house? What changes would I make? Would that one be big enough?

Usually not. We live in about 1700 square feet now, and it doesn’t have space for all the ideas I have about what I want to do. I want a study for writing and crafts, I want my elder daughter to have her own room, I want space for massage therapy, which I’d have to rent elsewhere if I didn’t have a room in my home.

If it’s more rooms I want, I have them right now. I have plenty, if I jump in and transform them to my purposes, like I did for this room for Kevin. I have all kinds of ideas for alternative uses of the space. The office could be a nice sitting room and library; two adjoining motel rooms might become one large, open room for yoga or Girl Scout meetings. But how would that impact the salability of the property?

The indecision is uncomfortable.

Yesterday I took a walk in Strong City. I saw a couple cozy gabled houses nestled in the shade of lots of trees. They looked cool and inviting, though perhaps not big enough. They probably have rooms with different shapes and sizes, laid out in ways no other house is laid out. The younger daughter wants to live in a house with stairs. But that shady yard couldn’t support a vegetable garden, and those cozy rooms probably lack natural light.

On the other side of the street were some houses I hadn’t noticed before, ranch style (yuck!) with wide open yards and an incredible view of the town, the Cottonwood valley, and fifty miles beyond. Wouldn’t it be grand to live right up under the sky, inspired by that expansive space that fully invites you to breathe?

Not for the first time, I find that knowing what I want may well be the better part of achieving it.

If you could live in any kind of house, what would it be like?

 

Fair Warning

It’s a good time of year to tell everyone: I brake for butterflies. I slow down for wildflowers, and I skid to a stop for a turtle in the road.

Unknown butterfly

4th of July: Flash Fiction

All day, trucks and soldiers. At night, bangs and whizzes and flashes of color in the sky to the east, the part of the city where Uncle Roy lived.

“What is it, Mama?”

“Fireworks.”

“Is it the 4th of July?”

“No.”

I knew the 4th of July only came once a year, but this was every night for many nights. Why they were shooting fireworks? And where was the music? On the 4th of July, they played lively music with the fireworks. But even when I listened carefully, I could hear none of the flutes or tubas or even the booming drums.

The end had begun.

Thanks to Julia’s Place for the prompt, “but even when I listened carefully.” Visit the blog to see how other writers developed it.

Over Lemonade on the 4th of July

Having a glass of lemonade with R, who is 9.

Me: Wow, Daddy’s done half the chore chart today. I planted some tomatoes.

R: I’m the only one who hasn’t done anything helpful. [After this conversation, she made lunch for herself, her sister, and me.]

Me: No, you’re not the only one.

R: K helped you plant.

Me: She did very little. I sent her back in.

R: Why did you send her in?

Me: It’s like she’s in this stage where she really wants to be helpful and independent and do things for herself, but when I give her a job, it’s too hard, or she can’t do it perfectly the first time, and she whimpers and gives up. It’s driving me crazy. Do you have any thoughts about this?

R: No.

Me: Have you ever been in a stage like this? [Yes, she has, but I wanted her to think about it and remember how it felt. Maybe she would have some insight that would give me something to work with with her younger sister.]

R: I don’t know, because I can’t tell when it’s happening.

Me: I could be in this kind of stage right now and not even know it.

R laughs.

This, of course, is exactly the case. I don’t know what to do about myself any more than the kids.

Happy Independence Day, friends.

Girls Studying a Map

Girls Studying a Map

Life As Roller Coaster

He wanted to take the kids to a theme park, one where both of us had had lots of fun times in our early years, long before we met each other. Even in those days, my energy-conscious parents would shake their heads at the enormity of the rides, the thousands of people, the extent of lighting in the evening. “So much energy,” they’d say, these, the people who told me that in the future there would be wars fought over oil; who taught me to turn off lights when I wasn’t using them, because most of our electricity here in this part of Kansas comes from coal, which is a fossil fuel and finite, not to mention a major source of air pollution. It was wrong to waste such resources on frivolous entertainment. “So much energy,” and then I’d go on another roller coaster, loving the feel of careening down from those impossible heights, wind in my face, falling so fast I didn’t even need the big bar over my shoulders when the car spun a full loop. Loving that upside down feeling. Some people scream on roller coasters, I mostly just laugh, and laugh, and laugh.

Sometimes you just can’t argue with your partner. He wanted to do it, so I made my case (mostly that the price was far too high), and let go. It was happening whether I agreed or not, so I released my energy consumption guilt and decided to enjoy myself while there. I would practice non-judgement, simply taking everything in and appreciating being alive and in this world, all the more so for its supposed imminent demise.

Almost as soon as we walked through the entrance, I was delighted to see a zebra swallowtail butterfly. As an older park, the landscaping that was fresh and young forty years ago is now mature, and somewhere among all those acres and acres of begonias, cedars, and asphalt, there must be a paw paw tree, the only food larval zebra swallowtails partake of.

The lines were short, so we went on some rides and I laughed a lot. I tried not to see this place as a last gasp of a decadent society on its way down, like the fast-accelerating freefall of one of those coasters. Even if it is that, I get to be here. I have a front row seat, and it’s a spectacular show.

It was a hot day, so after a while we found ourselves in a little theater watching a musical show by some youthful performers, singing and dancing to British popular songs, mostly from the 1960s. For some reason there was a whole medley of Queen songs. None of these performers was yet born when I was in my tween years, singing those songs with the record into a hairbrush mike. The living room couch was a stage, in my imagination. What I wouldn’t have given, then, to be dancing and singing on a real stage, to a real audience. To dance that well, then rush offstage to change into the next glamorous costume. To be the girl that boy smiles at, when he nails the high notes at the end of “Somebody To Love.”

Later there were years when I’d have been above it; I’d have disdained performing someone else’s long-dead hits to a couple dozen old people on a nostalgia trip. If it wasn’t original, it was hardly worth calling music. It would be just another form of wage slavery, to have to slog through those songs five times a day, in costumes made of imitation glamor.

But it seems I’ve joined the ranks of the old people, like the ones at the local Senior Center who always make a point of telling me and the Mr. how much they enjoy the bluegrass and spiritual music we play for them once a month or so. I try to make up for not being very good by playing like I really mean it. I have no idea how many of them can actually hear us, and we often forget the words, or miss an entrance, but they’re an easy audience. They love it all.

I think in those disdainful years I thought it somehow elevated me to be critical, not to cheapen my approval by giving it too freely. But now that I’m “old,” I find it much more enjoyable to enjoy things. This moment is the only one I’ve got. So I figure, if you can’t be original, be professional and perform with excellence. Smile when you nail that high note, you deserve to be proud. If you’re not that good, do it with your whole heart, like you mean it. If you can’t put your heart into it, then, what the hell, just show up. At least, get up on the stage. If you can’t do that, take a day off and go watch butterflies. Get on a roller coaster. Get carried really high, and dropped really fast, and turned upside down, and laugh.

 

Do You Hear Voices?

Maybe you hear a voice speaking these words in your mind as you read them. Maybe you hear your own voice responding occasionally. Maybe a voice that you don’t identify as you jumps in to argue. It’s okay. I don’t think you’re crazy.

I once had a friend who did a stint in bed. She couldn’t sleep at night, but she couldn’t get up in the day. She couldn’t keep a job. She cried a lot. I thought, wow, she’s got a case of depression. But she went to a doctor and came back with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, because the doctor asked if she was hearing disembodied voices, and she said yes.

Now here’s where I start to get irked. I was not the first to be privy this fact, but I was definitely the first to ask, what are the voices saying? And her answer was, “I don’t know. They’re so faint I can barely hear them.” What? For that she needed anti-psychotic drugs that blew her up like a balloon? I don’t wish to disparage doctors, but for certain kinds of conditions, they are way off base.

When you or someone else hears voices with no apparent human source, there are two essential questions to ask.

1) What feelings are associated with the voices? Are they accompanied by a feeling of deep love, compassion, peace? Or do they leave you feeling anxiety, fear, agitation?

In A Course In Miracles, it is said that God is eternal, which is to say, without limit. There is no place, mind, creature, cell, atom, void, or black hole in the universe in which God is not, or which is not God. There is no separation. We are all one. Our access to Divine information and power is limited only by our belief in limitation. But the other fact we know about God (via many spiritual traditions) is that God is Love. Anything we perceive that is not infused with the beauty, compassion, and peace of Divine Love is illusion.

2) What do the voices tell you? Do they support you, help you, enable your highest purposes? Do they try to agitate you, isolate you, or convince you to do things that are morally repugnant or otherwise objectionable?

At an energy healing class, I once met a woman who told a lengthy story about going to a job interview. On the way, a voice told her to turn, then take another turn (this was before smart phones), then directed her all over town until she was hopelessly lost. Then the voice took her back to her hotel, where she went inside to call the potential employer, but the phone rang before she picked it up. Another employer was calling to offer her a better job.

The whole story always seemed kind of silly to me, and raises some questions, like, why didn’t the voice just tell her to cancel the interview and wait for a call? She could have relaxed, taken in some cable TV. But it doesn’t really matter, and she was happy, because she got the job she wanted, so ultimately the voice was helpful. A doctor could probably medicate that away, but why?

I know lots of people who regularly take advice from spirit guides. Some healers work directly with non-physical entities (including those entities called angels), who give them information about the client’s condition and how to help her/him. In some circles, no one would think twice about it if someone said s/he had heard a voice, if it was benevolent. Everyone would be concerned if the voice is manipulative, causes distress, tells you to do things you flat out believe to be wrong, or harmful to another person or yourself. This is where intuition must be tempered with reason. This is when you need help from a neutral person, if not a doctor, then find a shamanic healer, or energy healer, or spiritual teacher. If the first one doesn’t help, find someone else. If there isn’t someone near you, someone far might do distance work, or refer you to someone closer. See this article by Malidoma Some for more about different paradigms in mental health.

Events might transpire that will be very difficult to accept, painful, and threaten one’s identity or safety. This is life in three dimensions, in the physical realm, under the illusion of linear time and limitation. This is the world we live in. Every day we are alive, we have to navigate between danger and living and loving joyfully in the moment. Many, too many, of the problems we face in the world are desperately urgent, and far bigger than any of us individually. They are beyond our control, if we identify with our small selves and our fear. The compass is the heart. The heart is our compass. Look for the Divine Love within, and follow where it leads. Recognize fear, anxiety, separation, and isolation for the illusion they are. Your Divine self is bigger and more powerful than any illusion, because, in the words of my dear friend Mary Vukovic, “Love is the greatest power in the universe.”

Does Wildfire hear voices telling her to bite my toes in my sleep?

Does Wildfire hear voices telling her to bite my toes in my sleep?

“Scissor-Tailed Flycather! Killdeer!”

It seems to have become a full-on habit, to call out the names of birds I see while driving. It’s like my own personal version of Tourette’s syndrome. The kids have taken to critiquing my performance. “That wasn’t as loud as you could yell, Mama.” And most of the time they don’t catch a glimpse before we’re on down the road, though the scissor-tailed flycatcher that flew in front of the windshield yesterday gave us all a lovely view of the stripes on his tail.

I get most excited about the more interesting birds, such as the said scissor-tail, which has a relatively small range, and isn’t seen many places in the US. I’ve never found any good footage of the scissor-tail in flight, even though it is the state bird of Oklahoma.

You regulars know how fond I am of turkey vultures, which are quite common and widespread in North America. But just the other day we were talking about the return of bald eagles from near-extinction, and it occurred to me that perhaps my failure to pay attention wasn’t the only reason I never saw turkey vultures when I was growing up in Emporia, just twenty miles down the highway from where I see them every day now. Their populations were hit hard by DDT contamination, like other raptors. Their numbers have increased steadily since DDT was banned in 1972, when I was five years old. So I remain unapologetically thrilled when I see them gliding above the highway, and, besides writing poetry about turkey vultures, I do not hesitate to shout out their name when I see them from a vehicle.

The kids are also used to my shouts of “Blue heron!” and “Red-winged blackbird!” and “Franklin’s gull!” We finally got my car’s air conditioner repaired, so no one outside the vehicle is likely to hear. But if you see me driving by, look to see if I’m pointing and shouting, and maybe you’ll get to see it too, whatever it is.

I tried to shoot a scissor-tail while driving once, and the best shot I got was of my own leg. Here's a cat instead, the late Toulouse.

I tried to shoot a scissor-tail while driving once, and the best shot I got was of my own leg. Here’s a cat instead, the late Toulouse.

2 Dozen Tiny Grasshoppers

Once again, baby grasshoppers have hatched and surfaced in a potted plant that I brought into the spa last winter. This happens every year, and I never manage to get the pot back outside before, one spring day, I find a couple dozen or so hoppers smaller than my pinky toenail hopping away from the broom when I try to sweep them out the door.

Ted Andrews says the keynote of Grasshopper is Uncanny Leaps Forward. It would appear that today I am poised to make two dozen teeny tiny uncanny leaps forward, and this his how my life feels right now. I’ve been practicing Divine Openings. Structures are shifting. Action is happening, even when I don’t expect it. I call the last few motel customers to tell them we are closed, and one asks me if I’d like to sell the property. Well, since you ask . . . and even still, the spa is redecorating itself, my dear husband spontaneously decided to design a cover for my upcoming monster erotica story, the kids are out of school, the weather is suddenly hot. Mars is stationing direct. My fortune cookie at dinner tonight said, “You believe nothing is impossible,” and on days like this it is true.

As a child, I was called Cricket by my family, far more than they used my “real” name. As far as I’ve been able to find, Grasshopper and Cricket are symbolically interchangeable. Andrews says, “Those with this totem will usually find that things don’t move or flow the way they do with other people. Progress is not usually made step by step. Instead, others may seem to be progressing while you seem to be sitting still. Do not become discouraged. When grasshopper shows up, there is about to be a new leap forward–one that will probably carry you past the others around you in your life.”

Some are being left behind. A couple dubious friends dumped me in a huff. My very dear feline friend of eighteen years, Toulouse, is near to leaving this world. His passing is being attended by a new member of our family, a 5-week-old kitten who leaped into our lives by huddling in the middle of the highway when Kevin was on his way to work.

Grasshoppers only leap forward, and they cannot turn their necks. They put their feet in place, then jump, and they land where they land. How high and far I’ll go, which way I’ll leap, where I’ll land, all questions to which the answers will come when they come, and not a moment sooner.

Has Grasshopper made an appearance in your life? What leaps are you making today?

The venerable Toulouse with just-weaned Wildfire

The venerable Toulouse with just-weaned Wildfire

A Certain Place

I have half-composed a lengthy post about Mogwai, and my ailing cat, and the nature of consciousness, but I’m pressed for time to go massage participants in the fabulous Brave Voice workshop hosted by Kelley Hunt and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, so we’ll just have to be satisfied with this poem. Ciao.

Wait. Take a breath. Slow down. Read it slowly. Okay. Go.

 

A Certain Place

There is a certain place on a certain road.
When you get there, it will not matter
whether you are wearing red, green, black, white,
denim, lace, stripes, or nothing at all.
It won’t matter what name you call yourself,
or how hard you worked to get there,
who helped you, who loved you,
who didn’t help or love you,
or how much money you gave to charity.
It won’t matter whether you got there
on foot, by wheel, or by wing.
Don’t explain yourself. Just stand
and listen to the bell tolling. Feel the wind
in your bones, wind that carries
the vultures through their circuits. O beloved
feathery escorts to forever, now I am here.
Here I am.

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