On Writers Influences

I was reading this in a book given to me by my writing professor years ago, and the quote reminded me of him:

“Writers have almost always witnessed about their reliance on models.  Writers read each other, and imitate, and blend, and react to traditions in literature.  Teachers — and the most imposing and successful of teachers — trace with their students the residues of earlier writers in the acheivements of later ones.  The subtlety and reach and eloquence in these weavings and recognitions must impress those of us who learn in the tradition.  We have all experienced the search and discovery, the classifying and evaluating in terms of influences.”

William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

Many of my favorite writers have been introduced to me by my writing professor: Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, and Eudora Welty to name a few.  And the list of writers that we didn’t read in class is much longer.  I am still to this day reading through his list of recommendations (hence Writing the Australian Crawl).  I’m still surprised how many I find that I love, even though I shouldn’t be surprised anymore.  In so many ways these writers have influenced my own writing, but not without the initiation of my writing professor.  It is he who not only influenced my writing, but also my life as writing and life should go hand in hand.  For writers influence not only your craft, but in turn, your life.  It is words change lives; no matter if you read or write them.


Love of Gardening

With the beginning of spring (and it’s continuing as California has yet to have summer), I started a garden on my patio.  Even though we don’t have a yard, I wanted to have a place to grow herbs at least because nothing beats having fresh rosemary or basil in a dish.  What began with just a herb bushel from Trader Joe’s and basil, grew into red bell peppers, lettuce, spinach, scallions, and tomatoes.  Oh, and strawberries because who can resist strawberries?

Today is the first time we’ve reaped a small harvest of strawberries.  We only have one small plant but we’ve already have had eight or nine strawberries.  Everything is growing well for the most part, except for the oregano.  I’ve had to replant some of the tomatoes because they’re growing like mad! And the rosemary was ambitious too, so I decided to give it more room.  It’s nice being able to come home after a long day at work and be with my plants.

My earliest memories is of gardening.  In Colorado, my parents planted several trees around their property.  I can remember the trees coming, and then seeing them later planted.  Also, I remember following my mom back into our home from her garden.  She began washing what she had picked, and then offered me a bite.  Being only three, I fully trusted her and took a bite.  It was awful.  The bitter tasting thing was a turnip, so I was told after I took a bite.  And when our family eventually drove out to California to live in the city, my parents tried growing vegetables in any space available (even among roses).   As a child I only remember the small carrots (“they’re not like the ones we buy at the store.  They look funny.”) and snap peas (my favorite).  So I guess gardening is in my blood.  Even though I don’t have dirt really to plant in, I do have pots.

On a quick note – my favorite book is Grow Great Grub from the blog You Grow Girl!.  I just wish I was able to have a rooftop, though our patio has ample space (even with a grill).  Gayla just inspires those who live in small spaces to be able to grow their own gardens.  It’s infectious (after reading her book I started seeds for the spinach, lettuce, and scallions).

Family Living and Health

“We lose our health — and create profitable diseases and dependencies — by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.”  Wendell Berry in “Body and Earth” from The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture

I picked up Wendell Berry a few weeks ago, starting with his novel Hannah Coulter.  It was the life story of a woman who lived on a farm in Kentucky, from the second World War to present day.  It spoke of her struggles and happy times.  But more than just being a heart-warming story, it had several snippets of wisdom.  I fell in love.  And quickly requested many other books by Wendell Berry.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking so far (and the second book started), is his Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture.  Because if anyone reads Wendell Berry they know how large a part farming and agriculture is a part of his heart.  And in light of Michael Pollan and Food Inc., food is on America’s brain.  However, I think even with organic food most of culture still does not understand the values that Berry speaks of.  Organic food is still an economic choice in the end rather than value choice.  Organic food is chosen because it promises better health for our bodies (we comfort ourselves that we are benefiting the earth – the earth does not benefit us).  And now it is the perfect marketing option for anyone in the food industry.  Nothing has really changed except that the future of eating organic food has promised us greater health.  We choose organic food for selfish reasons.

Rather than writing an long extended essay, as this is meant only to include a few of my thoughts (things I have been thinking about and discussing for quite some time).  In short, I think what is still missing is this notion of community — family households.  Thirty-minute meals is not the answer.  Family is the choice.  Balance sustains it.  For in the end too, Berry focuses more on a lifestyle and ethics too. Its about our connections to each other, more than where we live or how we eat.  Which is why I like reading Berry.

“Is our nest a place of consumption only or is it also a place of production?” Wendell Berry

Another year…and life continues

Turned in my first assignment for summer school.  I think this is the first time in my life that I am taking summer school.  It started literally in the middle of the last week of the Spring Semester.  But in the end, I am starting another semester of grad school.  Sigh.  I can’t wait to be done.

I’ve learned about managing time better — making sure I get home, make dinner, and do laundry as needed.  Maybe even clean the house.  But I’m still worn out.  Things I’d like to do if I weren’t in school right now:

1. Read

2. Garden

3. Crochet

4.  Cook

5. Write

6.  Take care of those last unpacked boxes (though I’m scared that I’ll finish unpacking those last two boxes only  in timem to move again).

Soon (December 22, 2010 – yes, there’s a date now!).  With better skill, I find that I am slowly doing all these things now.  I have tomatoes and basil on my patio outside, with seedlings for spinach, lettuce, and zucchini inside.  And I do crochet more, with my second blanket almost finished.  It will just be nice to not have to be tied to something else.  Though I know I’ll miss school once it is finished.

On another note, we just celebrated our one year anniversary! Can’t believe it’s already been a year.  Still loving him.  Still loving it.  Can’t wait for what else is in store.   Even being in the midst of education, life happens.  I just make sure I don’t miss it.  I need to remember the moments of playing Rummy, eating good food, having good conversations over tea, and walking in the hills close to our home.  For classes and school only become overwhelming when I forget that life is still happening.  It’s all a matter of what I am choosing to remember.

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

I read many books.  Too many to write reviews or snippets of what I’ve read on this blog, so I choose to highlight what I fall in love with.  One book I’ve recently read, devoured, and fell in love with was Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre.  Having read many books on art, language, and writing, I was skeptical of this book; however I read so many good things about it I couldn’t ignore it.  McEntyre’s approach to caring for words comes with 12 strategies:

Love Words

Tell the Truth

Don’t Tolerate Lies

Read Well

Stay in Conversation

Share Stories

Love the Long Sentence

Practice Poetry

Attend to Translation



Cherish Silence

Through these 12 strategies, McEntyre catches her readers and makes them stop to contemplate words and how we use them today.  Stewardship of language is something that has been overlooked as we see the increase of the use of popular social networking sites and texting.  We need to pause in our busy hectic lives, and think about what we read and the conversations we have.  Are they meaningful? Or are they filled with cliches, empty words, and lies?

This book is fantastic, and while some of the observations and conclusions McEntyre comes to were not new to me, I found that they deepened my convictions.  As my writing teacher would always say when it comes to writing anything there are these three rules, “Absolute. Specific. Concrete.”  We need to become better stewards of our words.

“We say more and more about less and less to more and more people.  E-mail and Facebook multiplied this problem exponentially.  We have traded deep, sustained, intimate conversation for vast and sometimes overwhelming forms and means of ‘communication’.”  Marilyn McEntyre

Words for thought

“Like food, language has been “industrialized”.  Words come to us processed like cheese, depleted of nutrients, flattened and packaged, artificially colored and mass marketed.  And just as it takes a little extra effort and intention to find, buy, eat, and support the production of organic foods, it is a strenuous business to insist on usable, flexible, precise, enlivening language.

That is to say, in the same way that we have commodified and privatized the earth’s resources — land, water, air (and, more pertinently, airwaves) — we have come to accept words as a commercial product.  Just as we have become accustomed to the strip mining done on hillsides just slightly away from public thoroughfares, so we have become accustomed to practices of light camouflage that allow us to forget how the rich soil of lively discourse is being depleted.”

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies

California Travels

This summer Brian and I have planned a small vacation to wander around California; to see what we haven’t seen before in all twenty plus years of living here.  Three spots we’re excited to see is the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Pt. Lobos, Jack London Ranch & Park, and Robert Louis Stevenson Park.  While discussing these places, we’ve realized that we have some reading to do.  For one, Brian has never read Cannery Row (Monterey Aquarium and Pt. Lobos).  And I have never read Treasure Island or Call of the Wild (yes, a gaping hole in my education).  So before we go we are to read the books.  Not your typical travel guide or adventure prep, but it felt necessary to us.

Brian has already finished Cannery Row (finished it in one afternoon right after we decided); and I have finished Treasure Island only to find that I have indeed read it before.  I think that as I have watched almost every movie adaptation that I have  forgotten the moment of reading this work.  It’s actually kind of sad.  I’ve been dragging my feet to Call of the Wild, being distracted with Kundera.  Hopefully by the end of the week, I’ll have it done and will write about my first experience with Buck.