Friday Reading Rainbow

Magic, Mystery, and Enchantment

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You know when you find a novel that just fills your heart and your head at the same time, so much so that you’re thinking about the mysteries it holds even when you’re not reading it? You can’t wait to get back to it, but you also want to stretch it out so it never ends? I found that in Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield.

A brief synopsis: On the night of the winter solstice in 1887, an injured man and a dead little girl arrive at The Swan, a riverside inn on the Thames. As Rita, the plucky nurse, treats the man, the girl is laid up in the cold room. The Swan, famous for its storytelling, gets a surprise later that evening when the girl – soaked to the bone and barely breathing, suddenly opens her eyes – and comes back to life.

The events of this night spread out (like the tributaries of the river, according to Setterfield’s clever chapter divisions). Three different families claim (or attempt to claim) the girl as their own, but no one is really sure of the truth. Was she dead or only mostly dead? Will she speak again, and tell everyone who she is? Who had an interest in finding her or losing her?

The book is full of lovely characters, people you actually wish you knew, and their backstories are freely told (the whole idea centers around storytelling and folktale). Woven with the realities of family, love, and longing  is an air of magic and superstition, including the belief the riverfolk hold in Quietly, the ferryman who takes you “across the river” when it’s your time to go, and saves you if you have more to do in life. Along with this retelling of Chyron and the river Styx, fairy tale references abound. It’s an enchanting read, and I’m looking forward to seeing the mysteries resolve themselves (or not!)

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 I decided to dedicate this Friday’s post on what I’m reading to magic, mystery, and enchantment. I used to read lots of fantasy when I was a kid, and though I haven’t really invested my reading into adult fantasy, I really enjoy things that have a touch of magical realism or mythology. There are books that just feel special and immerse you in a different world, and they can be inspiring. Some of my favorite magical books from my childhood and young adulthood include: Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy, Half-Magic by Edward Eager, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Redwall books, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, The Harry Potter series (obviously. I’m a millennial), and so many more.

Here are some places I’m finding magic these days:

Poetry

So much poetry verges on magic, because poetry takes words and makes them new. Here’s one of my recent favorites: ““Trees and What They Whisper,”  by Lynette Mejia.

 

Film / TV

I’m so pleased that Outlander is on Netflix and I don’t have to pay extra for it. The show is based on a time-traveling nurse from 1945 who finds herself in 18th Century Scotland, and it provides steamy romance and drama. Excellent escapism.

This week I went to the theatre to see All is Well, a Kenneth Branagh-directed film about the end of Shakespeare’s life. If you’re well-versed in the bard’s work (pun intended), you’ll enjoy this homage. Branagh’s directing is just gorgeous…. this is a slow, quiet, atmospheric movie. There were so many moments that stood out to me, but I’ll share one. When Shakespeare returns home to Stratford, he decides to create a memorial garden for his son, Hamnet. For the first third or so of the movie, he toils alone in the garden, and nothing really grows for him. But as he reconnects with the people in his family and community, they start helping him in the garden, and it is then that he finds success. There are some happier moments, but on the whole, this is a sad, sad movie. Use caution.

 

Next novels on my reading list

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Though these are very different from Once Upon a River, I’m hoping to extend my sense of expansive magic by reading them. Both have a sort of mythological largeness to them, I think. Everything Under is a modernization of Orpheus and Eurydice (can that story ever be told too many times?) If you have other recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Have a great reading week, everyone!

I am an affiliate with IndieBound, and if you choose to purchase the books I mention by clicking on the book covers, I may earn a teeny tiny commission, at no additional cost to you 🙂
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Seeds of a Garden: a novice tries raising plants

I don’t profess to be any sort of expert when it comes to gardening or caring for houseplants. If we were to add up all the plants I have successfully cared for in my adult life before moving into this apartment, the total would be: one. A cactus, named Spike, whose care I took over for a while from a friend and then gave to another friend. I forgot to water him most of the time. He did not die.

But since moving into my apartment in July of last year, I’ve become interested in caring for plants. It brightens my home quite a bit to have little green guys on all the windowsills, and it’s an opportunity for me to learn. There’s great joy (and sometimes great frustration) in admitting that one is a beginner and trying to learn from there.

🌱

 

Today I’m learning about….. cyclamen!

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I bought little Venetia here from Trader Joe’s several weeks ago, not knowing what she was. I believe I described her as “some funky kinda orchid thing” to a friend.  At that point she had beautiful white flowers.  I set her on my nightstand, with occasional trips to the windowsill for extra sun, and watered occasionally. She did pretty well for a while! 

Cyclamen have beautiful flowers; they kind of look like they’re upside down, or like a butterfly is pretending to be a flower, or like a deconstructed post-modern tulip. They come in many colors, but mine is white.

cyclamen
Photo copyright Royal Horticultural Society 1996: RHS

 

So Venetia bloomed for maybe a month. Then the flowers started falling off, and the stems started drooping, and the leaves got wilty and then crunched. Sad!

What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that this means the plant is not dying, but instead going into dormancy. Cyclamen come from the mediterranean, where winters are mild and moist and summers are dryer. When summer comes along, it’s natural for the flowers to die, the leaves to wither, and new growth to stop.

Cyclamen flowers grow from a tuber, which is a great crossword puzzle word that you rarely get to use in real life. Like a bulb, a tuber sits underground for an extended period of time before stimulating growth. Once I learned this, I went to look at my plant (murmuring tuber, tuber, tubey-tuber under my breath) and sure enough, there’s a little mound sticking up slightly out of the soil. It almost looks like the top of a mushroom and it’s firm to the touch.

This presents an exciting challenge for the beginning gardener. If I play my cards right, I could have a perennially blooming plant. AND the cyclamen’s growth period is opposite of most of the other plants around, so as the days are getting darker and cooling off, my beautiful flowers should come back into the limelight.

Here’s what I have to do next.

Cyclamen Care After Blooming

After a cyclamen blooms, it will go into a dormant state. Going into a dormant state looks very much like the plant is dying, as the leaves will turn yellow and fall off. It isn’t dead, just sleeping. With proper cyclamen plant care, you can help it through its dormancy and it will rebloom in a few months. (Please note that hardy cyclamen planted outdoors will go through this process naturally and do not need extra care to rebloom.) When taking care of a cyclamen after blooming, allow the leaves to die and stop watering the plant once you see the signs that the leaves are dying. Place the plant in a cool, somewhat dark place. You can remove any dead foliage, if you would like. Let sit for two months.

Taking Care of a Cyclamen to Get it to Rebloom

Once a cyclamen has finished its dormant period, you can start to water it again and bring it out of storage. You may see some leaf growth, and this is okay. Make sure to completely soak the soil. You may want to set the pot in a tub of water for an hour or so, then make sure any excess water drains away. Check the cyclamen tuber and make sure that the tuber has not outgrown the pot. If the tuber seems crowded, repot the cyclamen to a larger pot. Once the leaves start to grow, resume normal cyclamen care and the plant should rebloom shortly.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Cyclamen Plant Care – Tips For Taking Care Of A Cyclamen https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/cyclamen/cyclamen-care.htm

 

I flubbed this process a little already, because when the leaves had mostly died off, I successfully revived it by adding more water rather than letting it go dormant. So I’m cutting you off, Venetia! No more water for you, you little spendthrift! You are banished to the bureau, where it will stay relatively cool and dim.

I’m not sure how successful this will be – first because I didn’t go right to dormancy but have had a second growth period (look how healthy these leaves look! As a side note, I love the heart shape of the leaves.). And secondly because my house does not stay very cool in the summer. With no central air, even in New England, we get some pretty warm days. But it will be a good experiment.

On a less practical note, I’m touched by the idea of a plant that sleeps all summer and reawakens in the winter. When stillness and heavy cold set in, my mediterranean Venetia will be abloom. All the world around me scorns winter, it seems, and wants heat and sun. I’m the opposite – heat makes me grumpy and summer days are too long to fill with creativity and productive thought. But I’ve always found myself re-energized when autumn arrives, filled with new purpose and excitement for chilly days and snow. I am putting every effort into embracing summer, but I’m pleased that when the cooler days come, and I start feeling that fall sparkle, it’ll be time to flood Venetia’s soil with water and say “wake up!” so we can both get ready to bloom.

Most of the information in this article came from the article cited above, as well as these videos: Caring for Cyclamen and Cyclamen Care Basics Step by Step. 

Sunday Poetry: walking in a field

I am continuing my series of Sunday poetry posts this summer. Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

Sunday Poetry: June 9

My poetry so often starts with what I’m doing, what I can see, what I’m hearing. I almost always think of first lines first, and then the rest of the poem happens from there. It’s brilliant that other poets also start with what is being in the moment, what is doing right now.

Here is an excerpt from Oliver Baez Bendorf:

Here I Am Walking in a Field

again, I think, while walking

in a field. Field thick with
snow, field of milk.

You can read the full poem by buying the Nov/Dec 2018 issue of  American Poetry Review.

 

It shows that what we do has value, even if it’s a little thing. I might write about waiting for my coffee to brew, or sitting at an outdoor cafe, or sweeping my floor, or a spiderweb on my balcony. Poetry, more than any other form of writing, has the capacity to be in the present (and to keep us there).

Pace News: June

Hello, friends! May has been a whirlwind of activity, so I’ve been taking a break from the blog. Now that it’s June, I’m feeling new energy, I’m ready for summer, and I want to write all the time. Look for me here on Fridays for Reading Rainbow (I post about what I’m reading), Sunday Poetry (I post about poems I’ve written or read), and hopefully some other writing stuff in the middle.

Image result for june quotephoto from picturequotes.com

Here’s all the writing news from the past few weeks:

🌸 My flash fiction story, “The Lighthouse in the Lake,” was just published in Issue 9 of Barren Magazine. You can read it for free here: The Lighthouse in the Lake.  I highly encourage you to check out the rest of the contributors, too. 

🌸 The Aspiring Author Blog is a wonderful writing home for me. My latest post, Poetry: To Whom do you Write?  went up last week. I write about poetry or creative nonfiction every fourth Thursday.

🌸 My poetry is published in the Spring issue of borrowed solace, and I’ll have more coming out in Riggwelter Press on August 1st.

🌸 This summer, I’ll be spending 3 weeks with The Rhode Island Writing Project (a group of incredible teacher-writers), delving into Social-Emotional learning, writing daily, enjoying book clubs, and integrating my teacher self with my writer soul.

🌸 From June 22-29, I get to attend the Kettle Pond Writer’s Conference in the Adirondacks in New York. I am so looking forward to a beautiful week of writing poetry and meeting other writers. I’ve never actually taken a class in poetry writing; in fact, I’ve only taken one semester-long class in creative writing, and it was on fiction. So I am very excited to take this thing I love doing to a new level, and to write in community.

🌸 I am trying to write every day in June! If you want to do the same, comment below and let’s connect – I have a facebook group with some other writer friends.

🌸 Reminder that you can find my pithy and ridiculous thoughts / Little Mermaid conspiracy theories on twitter @MsPaceWrites

 

Have a wonderful June! I’ll be back soon with some news about what I’m reading. After a BIG library day yesterday I am feeling the book love.

Tell me your writing news below!

 

Sunday Poetry: A feminist Mother’s Day

Sunday poetry is a new series beginning this Spring! Each week, I’ll post a poem that I’ve been thinking about, whether mine or someone else’s. Tune in for an exploration of how poetry can interrupt and enrich our lives when we least expect it to. 

Sunday Poetry: May 11

One of the things I detest most about Mother’s Day (TRUST ME, THERE ARE A LOT) are the facebook posts thanking moms for their sacrifice. My friends praise their moms and think about “all the things they gave up” to make our lives better. Some recognize that they “never wanted for anything,” implying that financial stability is one of the greatest gifts a parents can give. I’ve had a friend assert that one of his reasons for not having children was that he did not feel confident he could make enough money to pay for a child’s entire college education without any loans. It was better not to have children at all than to fail in this essential role.

Inherent in these Mother’s Day posts, to me, is an assumption that a mother’s identity is the sum of her children. Pictures of moms at their daughters’ wedding, or at college graduations not their own. It seems that what we expect from our parents is to sublimate or refuse their own lives and dreams in order to do it all on our behalf.

Isn’t it enough that our parents love us? Can’t we thank them for trying to give us a good life by being themselves, by being role models and teaching us that success isn’t measurable in dollars? Why do we demand their sacrifice?

I tried to write about sacrifice and what other versions of motherhood could be. This isn’t by any means a finished poem, but it’s my attempt to make some sense of the anger I feel and retain some hope that I could be a different kind of mom.

 

i.

how much blood is lost in birth
how much blood in nonbirth
what sacrifice do mothers make enough
to be counted as selfless
as if generating life takes away our selves
steals our bodies
crime of gift to take our minds and our lives

what if motherhood isn’t an altar
or a hospital issuing of what was once mine
not a battle, not a loss
not a taming of the spirit to be always hunched
but rather a transmission to other worlds, other minds
a melding
an embodying

ii.

giving up the self
should only be praised
when it is a lifting of hands to sky
to welcome rainwater in cupped hands.


iii.

what if motherhood is the mama I saw
hastening down the sidewalk
after her toddler practicing walking? 
with every excited step she cautioned
“don’t run, baby, don’t run.”
“there’s lots of cracks, don’t go too fast.”
“just take it easy.”

 

 

There are so many versions and reasons of motherhood, many of which are difficult and dark and sad. I hope that whatever motherhood means to you, you’re doing okay today.