The White Sea, Parted

The view of our front walk this week.

Doesn’t that wall of snow look a bit like the wall of water left by the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 version of The Ten Commandments?

DeMille remade The Ten Commandments in 1956 with Charlton Heston as Moses, which is no doubt the version you’d recognize from its annual Easter broadcast. But the1923 version is the one in which DeMille ingeniously figured out how to make the Red Sea part by flooding a tank with water and Jello, and then reversing the film shot so that the watery gelatin appears to be parting and rising instead of flowing downward and together. The standing walls shown here were made of molded Jello with water trickling over the top and edges to add to the illusion of huge amounts of water being held back to allow the Israelites’ passage. 

Check out this video explaining the special effects associated with the Red Sea parting over the years.

By the way, the story of finding Cecil B. DeMille’s “Lost City” Egyptian set from the original 1923 film is really cool. Read about it here, or watch the excellent documentary. I was able to view the documentary film free on Amazon Prime a couple months ago. If it’s no longer available free, you can rent it for under $5.00.

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Paw prints etched in ice (and in my heart❤️)

I love the abstract images resulting from close-up views of this very mundane subject. A tribute to dogs everywhere who must brave the elements every day to take care of their canine business. With a special shout-out to Coco❤️

Original view of our back porch steps
Abstract 1
Abstract 2
Abstract 3
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February evening sunlight

This is what greeted me yesterday as I left my office in the Grohmann Museum at MSOE shortly before 5:00. The reflected streaks of orange sunlight across the pavement seemed very cheerful to me. And at this time of year, with snowstorm after snowstorm followed by bitterly cold air sweeping down from Canada, well, I think we need all the cheerful moments we can get❤️

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PSA – How to save your phone from a watery grave

This WIRED article (link HERE) makes clear that using a hairdryer and/or putting your phone in a bag of rice are not good ideas. Your best strategy (my take on the article):

  1. Turn your phone off ASAP to prevent short circuits.
  2. Wipe it dry with a paper towel (or whatever you have handy), trying to keep water from leaking inside.
  3. Put your phone into a sealed container (or zip-tight bag) filled with desiccant packets like the ones that come packed with shoes or vitamins for 24-48 hours. (That’s a long time!)

My key takeaway? I need to start saving those random little desiccant packets now so we’ll have them on hand when a wet-phone emergency happens. And maybe carry a little zippered bag of them with me in case things go terribly wrong as I’m taking pictures on a rainy day or during a snowstorm.

David Carrington, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

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Writing Exercise – “Protest Night”

Here’s an exercise from late October or early November. I can’t remember which member of our writing group assigned this exercise, but it’s another taken from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story. 

Exercise 1 (Le Guin Chapter 2)

Paragraph of narrative with no punctuation (and no paragraphs or other breaking devices). Suggested subject: A group of people engaged in a hurried or hectic or confused activity, such as a revolution, or the scene of an accident, or the first few minutes of a one-day sale.

I decided to write about a protest march that gets out of hand. I found myself less interested in focusing on the details of a “hectic or confused activity” than I was in exploring how anger feels as it’s spiraling out of control. As it turned out, however, it was those specific “action” details that allowed me to experience anger as a physical sensation, so there you go.

Inspiration for the exercise—beyond, obviously, the numerous protests of 2020—came from some fleeting recollections of “anger” that sprang to mind from literature:

The opening line of Edgar Allen Poe’s chilling 1847 short story “The Cask of Amontillado”: The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. (This one goes beyond anger and is really more about coldblooded murder, but still, “the thousand injuries” and “when he ventured beyond insult” kept coming back to me.)

The ending of Athol Fugard’s 1982 play “Master Harold . . . and the Boys,” where neglected, abused teen Harold (“Hally”) lashes out at the only true father figure in his life and, unable to provoke a reaction and start the fight he apparently needs in order to vent his extreme anger/frustration, employs an unforgiveable insult and changes the relationship forever (although the play leaves hope that some level of reconciliation may be possible).

The last line of Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem,” which serves as the final potential answer to the question “What happens to a dream deferred?” after other possibilities are proffered and apparently rejected:Or does it explode?”

Given the violent events of this past week, it seems like maybe today is a good day to post this exercise. It was disturbing to write and therefore may also be disturbing to read, so I apologize if it is. Then again, you may think it’s garbage writing that’s too weak to prompt any emotional response besides boredom, in which case I don’t apologize at all 🙂

So, first the usual disclaimer. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now my exercise. (By the way, I thought my title was all clever and literary, as “protest” could serve as either an adjective, describing the type of night, or as a verb, meaning to object to and rage against a metaphoric “night.” Sorry for the self-indulgent aside, but because I no longer teach literature classes, and MSOE’s Great Books has been shut down for months because of the pandemic, I never get to fool around with this kind of analysis anymore.)

“Protest Night”

We’ve been walking for hours and finally they start handing out broken cinderblocks through open car windows now that we’ve almost reached our destination punctuating rage at the police at the pandemic at life and at these smug suburban neighborhood storefronts the cool cement heavy in our hands but swung easily in graceful arcs crashing with musical laughter as splinters of glass fly and now the group is moving forward again through the relentless honking of our escorts and helicopters droning overhead shaking the glittered sidewalks behind us so I said that bitch better have my money when I get into work tomorrow I’m tired of this shit and take my brick up a green lawn to where a curtain flutters shut against me how dare you how dare you and the brick is flying before I know it and a voice cries out that’s somebody’s home and flashing strobes of red and blue light and the cops standing in a line with shields watching us advance and helicopters shaking the glittered bushes but no one inside responds so I pick up the pot of geraniums from their doorstep surprisingly heavy and it’s done now I’m committed and I hurl it against the door where it shatters into clay shards and dirt and scattered red petals and I hate everyone so much that I turn toward the police standing in their silent line craving the confrontation about to happen.

Appleswitch via Flickr Creative Commons

 

 

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The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2021–2022

Since 2013, I have been regularly updating this informational chart about the key book publishing paths. It is available as a PDF download—ideal for …

The Key Book Publishing Paths: 2021–2022

Jane Friedman writes, speaks, and teaches online courses about all aspects of writing and publishing. She has decades of experience and is the most straightforward, down to earth, friendly source of info out there on this topic. Because I’m teaching a “Writing for Digital Media” course in our UX program now, I’ve made a point of paying even more attention to what she has to say. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, she is someone to follow if you intend to publish your work.

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Writing Exercise – “Heart in a Box”

Another writing-group exercise, this one from the end of last March. What an eerie, different time to remember. We understood almost nothing of Covid/COVID-19 (which we were still calling “the coronavirus”) and were newly under lockdown in Wisconsin, the governor’s “Stay at Home” executive order having just been issued. People were at a loss about where to get masks, and social media was full of videos showing how to make them out of bandanas and rubber bands.

This exercise was very simple and straightforward: Write about a “heart in a box.” It was one I came up with for the group, inspired by that very phrase popping into my head as I lay in bed shortly after awakening one morning. I had no clue what the words might refer to, although they sounded kind of creepy and at the same time vaguely reminded me of the Nirvana song “Heart-Shaped Box,” but with sort of a David Lynch twist. This was actually an interesting exercise, I thought, in that everyone came up with highly individual, really different responses.

Like last week’s exercise, my “Heart in a Box” was set in my fictional town of Adell Ferry. Some background on this town is in last week’s post (link HERE) if you’re interested.

So first the usual disclaimer. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now, my exercise.

“Heart in a Box”

“You’ve heard of people wearing their heart on their sleeve, right? Well, this is like that, see. Except it’s a heart in a box.” Aunt Shelley snaps the lid closed and glares at me, daring me to ask one more question, just one more.

I don’t. I learned my lesson about that the hard way a long time ago. I pick up the box and place it into the basket with the floral arrangements I’m delivering by bicycle around Adell Ferry this afternoon.

Luckily, except for the Heart in a Box, today it’s all “in town,” meaning the flat streets of the city proper. We don’t deliver “out” to the county, but there are still plenty of neighborhoods scattered along the river and up into the surrounding hills. I’m saving for a ten-speed like the one Bobby has. Then I’ll be able to ride up every hill instead of having to walk my bike at the side of the road up the long, steep ones. It’s embarrassing to have people see me do that.

The flowers are mostly Happy Birthdays and Get Well Soons. They’re first on my route, and I’m glad. Floral arrangements take up a lot of room in my bike baskets. I have one basket on my handlebars and two that hang like saddlebags from my rear fender. A terrarium goes to the funeral home for the football player who died in last Friday’s crash out 137.

Last on my list is the Heart in a Box. The delivery I dread. It goes to the Adell Ferry State Institute, a vaguely sinister presence a mile upriver and set back quite far from the road.

At least it’s flat. But the driveway to the collection of white cottages and administration buildings is a long, winding pathway through fields and past the dairy barns. And it’s that time of summer when grasshoppers leap out of the tall grass along the fine-graveled cinder lane at me as I pass, hitting my legs and arms and probably getting their leg hooks tangled in my hair, I realize with a shudder. The crunch of their bodies beneath my tires adds to my revulsion. But the worst still awaits, even though all I have to do is drop off my Heart in a Box at the administration building and not at one of the cottages.

I lean my bike against the massive trunk of the hundred-year-old elm tree that was planted in front of the main building when the hospital was built. The sun is hot. I welcome the shade as I check my hair for insects (none) and reach into my basket for the Heart in a Box. The administration building’s pillared entrance always reminds me of Scarlett O’Hara’s house in Gone With the Wind. Of course, that romantic picture is spoiled by the loud hum of air-conditioners dripping their waste from every window. The cottages have to make do with fans propped up against screens, which clearly doesn’t cool them off enough. As I carry the Heart in a Box up the front steps of Tara, I notice patients sitting outside on several of the cottage porches.

My ninth-grade choir sang Christmas carols at one of the larger structures back in December. The patients crowded around, grabbing greedily at our dresses and jewelry. One old woman with bushy, chopped gray hair tried to trade me her popsicle stick for my bracelet. Her speech was unintelligible. I didn’t know what she wanted until she pushed her wet, wooden stick into my palm and began pulling at my wrist. I recoiled and swatted her hand—then caught Miss Swanson looking at me.

I shrank inside, ashamed of my poor Christmas spirit. Feeling trapped and angry, I undid the clasp and slipped my grandmother’s gift into swollen, grasping fingers. The woman beamed at me, an avaricious glint in her eyes and a stream of gibberish issuing from her gray-mustached mouth. Miss Swanson’s approval on the bus ride back into town could not warm my bitterly cold resentment. You shouldn’t have worn that bracelet if you wanted to keep it, she told me finally, a lesson for next time.

I hate this creepy, fake idyllic place, especially the patients. Mostly because I know I’m supposed to love them like Jesus would.

Cool air rushes out of the administration building as I open the front door. Instead of soothing relief from the heat, its rotting asylum smell makes me shiver with disgust as I imagine the stale, chilly air of a morgue or a dungeon. I drop the Heart in a Box at the front desk, trying not to be rude but with one hand on the doorknob and already backing away as I murmur detached, polite responses to the woman’s friendly effort to engage me in conversation.

And then I’m back on my bike, speeding through the grasshopper gauntlet to make my escape to civilization once more.

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Empty old-fashioned underground parking garage

Photo of my parking garage taken October 28, 2020, at 7:31 p.m. (thank you, iPhone for keeping such good records😄), after office staff had left for the day. Usually there would still be plenty of cars here belonging to profs teaching night classes or, like me, heading home later than the university’s office workers. But most people are teaching from home now other than those with lab classes, so I had this striking view of an entirely empty parking garage. I park in space Number One in the farthest corner, and although I was weirded out by the spooky emptiness as I walked to my car, it wasn’t till I was stowing my gear in the trunk that I realized how entirely empty it was.

And also, oddly, how aesthetically pleasing all that emptiness was. I was suddenly quite aware of how balanced the composition of slanted lines and planes was. There was balance even in the oppositional pairings of light and dark elements.

This garage would surely never win any awards for appearance. It’s not an especially attractive place and might be best described as “functional.” Although it’s always very clean (MSOE’s facilities crew is amazing!), and it has been painted and otherwise well maintained, let’s face it: It’s hard to brighten up what basically amounts to a dungeon.

But then again, sometimes lucking into the right lighting and perspective after extraneous clutter (i.e., parked vehicles) has been stripped away is all you need to perceive the “rightness” of a thing’s essential underlying structure. Which is very cool and always makes me think about God and the universe and all the really huge stuff that puts us humans in our place. It’s a paradox that never ceases to fascinate: how we can be so puny and insignificant against the massive scale of eternity yet at the same time be so present and central to the drama of our daily existence.

I guess this paradox is a bit like an optical illusion in the way it moves back and forth from inside to outside (emic to etic?) perspectives. And optical illusions are a lot like photography in general, now that I think about it. Multiple “realities” are out there, but the one you usually notice is shaped by ordinary lighting and perspective and probably some sort of already-present internal template.

Maybe what makes a really good photo is similar to what makes an optical illusion stand out. Right? That pleasure you feel when you recognize that there’s more going on than you initially realized and you can experience both realities at once.

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Nancy E. Hatfield Memories, Part 1 (1974)

Howard B. Lee, former Attorney General of West Virginia, provided this account of Nancy Hatfield (widow of Cap) in the early 1970s: HATFIELD WOMEN. …

Nancy E. Hatfield Memories, Part 1 (1974)

From the blog of Brandon Ray Kirk, who publishes bits and pieces of history from mostly West Virginia, and more specifically, mostly Logan County. The post linked to is an interesting glimpse into the Hatfield family, and in particular Devil Anse Hatfield, legendary patriarch of the feuding family.

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Writing Exercise – “Being Gorgeous” (An Alliterative Island Ghost Story)

This week’s writing exercise is another one from Ursula K. Le Guin’s marvelous book on writing, Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story (Amazon link HERE, in case you’re interested in checking it out).

Our writing group’s members take turns creating the prompts for our bi-weekly meetings. This one came from Jo, who took it from pp. 8-9 in Le Guin’s book. And, actually, the title of today’s blog post comes from the title Jo gave to her exercise: “Being Gorgeous.”

BEING GORGEOUS
SUGGESTED PROMPTS:
• Climax of a ghost story OR
• Invent an island and start walking across it

Part One: Write a paragraph or a page meant to be read aloud. Use onomatopoeia (I had to look this up), alliteration, repetition, rhythmic effects, made-up words or names, dialect—any kind of sound effect you like, but not rhyme or meter.

Part Two: In a paragraph or so, describe an action or a person feeling strong emotion—joy, fear, grief. Try to make the rhythm of the language embody or represent the physical reality you’re writing about.

NOTE: LeGuin doesn’t say the 2 parts need to be connected so Part 2 could be separate or a continuation. She does say: Write for pleasure/play. Focus on the ‘sound’ of the writing.

I decided to mash up all the exercise criteria together to write a ghost story on an island, with a focus on words having an “s” sound. After a slow start, this exercise became a lot of fun. Every time I found myself pausing to think of the next word in a sentence, I deliberately sought anything even slightly related to the topic that started with an “s” or contained an “s” sound. Those “s” words led me in new directions, opening story possibilities I’d never have found otherwise. And the longer I wrote, the faster those “s” words flowed. It was like a long chain of torches being lit to illuminate my ever-accelerating passage. I realize this description makes my writing process sound way more exciting than it was, but my point is, it was fun to surrender to language and sound as my guide instead of relying on more logical thought patterns.

For subject matter I chose the fictional Appalachian Ohio River town of Adell Ferry, which is the setting for my mystery novel I’ve been writing forever and—who knows?😊—may actually someday publish. For now it’s a fun hobby, quite different from the writing I ordinarily do for work, or even for this blog. Fiction is super challenging for me because it doesn’t come naturally at all. Although I used to write short essays in response to our writing-group prompts, lately I’ve tried to push myself to write fiction. I’ve also given several writing-group exercises an Adell Ferry setting. My novel is contemporary, but my exercises so far have assumed vaguely historical eras (1930s, 1970s, etc.) which seems to help me develop a feeling for the place without being overly distracted by characters or plot. Not that it particularly matters for this exercise, but I picture Adell Ferry being somewhere on the Ohio River not terribly far upriver from Huntington, West Virginia. You know how Ohio comes to a point at the bottom?

I, Ruhrfisch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, Adell Ferry would be somewhere along the Ohio River on the righthand side between the southern tip and maybe halfway to the Pennsylvania border.

Because Adell Ferry is fictional, don’t bother looking at a map trying to find where there’s a decent-sized island near the southern tip of the state. I sort of based my island on Blennerhassett Island, which is near Marietta, Ohio, and Parkersburg, West Virginia, about halfway between the southern tip and the Pennsylvania border and thus at the farthest-upriver end of my Adell Ferry stretch of the river. Blennerhassett Island is famous (infamous) for its association with the “Burr Conspiracy,” Aaron Burr’s alleged, treasonous plan to take over part (or even all?) of the Louisiana Territory in 1805-06. Although the Ohio River doesn’t have many habitable islands, Blennerhassett Island demonstrates that there’s at least one island large enough to hold not only a house but also a treasonous military training facility 😊

Thus establishing the plausibility of my fictional island, which need not be anywhere near the size of Blennerhassett. Just large enough for brush and trees to hide a small campfire and also large enough that “walking across it,” as specified in the exercise (remember that? the exercise that was the whole point of this post before all my Adell Ferry meandering?), would take enough time for a scene to happen.

So here is my ghost story about walking across an invented island, written with alliterative “s” sounds. First, the disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

And now, my exercise.

Hogsfort Island is a shifting sandbar in the Ohio River, unnaturally large for the tenuous thing it is. Centuries of flooding slowly set down sediment atop the gravel and sand, allowing first grass and later trees to sprout.

Tonight scrub trees resembling willows and twisted elms bend low, their shapes casting sinister shadows on the smooth water flowing past and shielding the interior from view. The moon is a silvery crescent. Its piercing light slices the black sky. Our oars slip neatly into the water, nearly soundless, small rhythmic splashes. The island rises suddenly, looms over us like a gothic cathedral or a haunted castle. Awesome. Terrible.

Bobby Swain has been here before, knows how to slant the rowboat to swing with the current, and soon we slide into a sheltered cove. My shoes sink into soggy sand and clay as I follow Bobby into the brush, but the ground soon stabilizes. Branches scratch my arms, snag my sweater sleeves, snatch at my hair. Darkness surrounds us as we move deeper into the island. A silent scream swirls inside my chest, a secret I might be able to keep except for the sharp, thin threads escaping with every exhalation.

We saw a light on the island last week from our secret hideout on Orchard Hill. Bobby is certain these are the ghosts who’ve been stealing into town and spiriting away all the missing pets. Bobby has his stepfather’s shotgun, and I, following blindly behind as usual, have nothing, not even the sense God gave me.

A twig snaps—behind me? I try to make out Bobby’s shaggy hair in the darkness ahead. Is he there? Am I lost?

“Swain!” I hiss. And grunt my surprise as I run right into his solid body.

“Shut it,” he hisses back. He shifts the gun to his other hand, then puts an arm around my shoulders. At first I think he’s protecting me, but then I realize he’s scared, too.

“Let’s leave,” I whisper.

His arm tightens, and he slowly turns us as a single unit . . . but not back toward the boat. My throat squeezes shut as I see what he wants me to understand. Through the trees a small campfire flickers.

They are here.

And so are we.

Butler Janet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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