It's been a while since I last checked in, but I'm here today in the balancing energies of a fresh autumnal equinox. Last weekend, I conducted a Maine Coast Writers Retreat at Bird and Tree Studios, and what a great time we had! The writing was astonishing, as usual, and the big storm (a potential hurricane that gentled, thank goodness) made it extra exciting. We lit some candles, made tea and some sandwiches, and we wrote! Thanks be to my attentive husband, our good old generator, and a clutch of intrepid writers. And thanks be to the sun who made a grand appearance on our final day together.
After retreating, and setting the place back to rights, I do what I love to do the most after offering retreat for others. I pay myself back by taking a day or two to do whatever I want which sometimes is nothing. I am seeking what gives me a feeling of replenishment and renewal. This time, I grabbed the cushions off the couch and set them outside on the wooden deck to lay out in the sun, temps in the low 70s, the last of that for a while here in Maine, and I listened to a book on tape. The book was the amazing Claire Keegan's Small Things Like These.
These are the opening lines...
In October, there were yellow trees. Then the clocks went back the hour and long November winds came in and blew, and stripped the trees bare.
Such simple language and sparse, and as such, sets a mood. In the opening line, the summer season has left the people of New Ross, Ireland, where "chimneys threw off smoke" in "hairy, drawn out strings" and where most folks "unhappily endured the weather." Autumn has begun. And yet more coldness is to come with its bleaker times as well.
My quite brief quotation of the opening chapter does hardly any justice to the work, but trust me, there's so much genius in the word choice, the lyricism, and the rhythm of the prose. I admire the clip of hard consonants with "the clocks went back," followed by the sentiment evoked by the word "long," how it stretches out the next part of that sentence, and then is followed by the shorter clause, "stripped the trees bare." In just a page, we get all the nods of time, place, and tone to settle in for a story that will darken before it brightens, much like the weather report. Another reader might have caught how "blades of cold slid under doors and cut the knees off of those who still knelt to say the rosary." Another reader might have welcomed the sudden introduction of the character and the name, Furlong. Or "the tell" about the men at hard work.
This is what we do in a Gateless Writing Salon. We listen for what words capture our mood or our imagination, where a turn of phrase sets down an image or delights our ears, and where the showing and the telling of the characters embodying a place, the nouns, and the verbs, keep us engaged.
So as the trees turn and time slows down, or anytime you find yourself here, we hope you'll come to write and practice kind listening with us! Click the link to find out what events are coming soon and to register...
~ Pick up a book you love the most or is at least in your top ten. Open to the first page, and first chapter, and read it. As you read, jot down some notes as words (nouns and verbs), phrases, images, or sentiments that capture your attention. What do you notice about sentence length? What do you notice about sound? Do the length and sounds of sentences, do the images set forth, match the tone of the book? Do the authorial choices support the meaning within the narrative? Does a sense of place or setting ground you? Are the characters embodied? Are your senses engaged? In what ways does the author take good care of the characters and the reader?
~ Next... take out a recent piece you recently wrote and do the same! In this way, you begin to think about rewrites and revisions like a writer/reader reads.
~ If you want some more practice, you can binge-listen to READ TO ME where Becky Karush listens for what she loves! Her latest features Diana Whitney's poem, "River House." Another broody, moody, chilly piece with action and character, with dark and light. https://www.readtomeliteraryarts.com/the-podcast
If you've dipped into the creativity prompts, let me know how it goes! I love hearing from you.