Showing posts with label discoveries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label discoveries. Show all posts

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Discovery of Garlic

It is finally August.  The air is thick with late summer humidity, the drone of cicadas and crickets, the smell of lavender, thunder storms and dry grass; the sun is at its strongest, its most radiant.  I've been out tending to my bit of earth and weeding as much I can around the side of the house where the roses are riding out the heat.  I have what you might call a greenish thumb: gardens enchant me and I'd like to plan and sculpt and keep a garden someday when my situation is a little more permanent.  Until that day, I am enjoy the garden as a place of discovery and endless musing.  This is good exercise for the writer's brain.

One such discovery this week was that of wild garlic clusters growing up where the irises are situated on the south side of the house.  Granted, in the few years I've lived here I'd always wondered what those white pod-looking things were but always tore them out in an effort to maintain order and never once thought to compare the shape to the typical bulb you buy in the produce aisle... or put it my mouth and bite down.  I was thrilled when that taste burst across my tongue, and I instantly had the thought that if this was some post-apocalyptic world, a discovery of garlic might just be a gold mine.  I wonder what Katniss Everdeen would trade for wild garlic.

These little garlics aren't single bulbs, but a little bundle of tiny kernels - exactly the size of popping corn.

Wild garlic kernels bursting from their pouch.
This discovery sparked to life old memories of similar finds from childhood.  My parents had green thumbs and hands when I was growing up: vegetables from tomatoes to squash to accidental corn; and wide variety of roses, flowering bushes and our own little patch of annuals (bachelor's buttons, zinnias, marigolds) we little ones took pride in.  My parents would use mint and basil and chives from the garden, and once in a while when Dad was doing his autumn-time chipper-shredding, a wild onion would accidentally wind up in the chipping pile and get into his eyes.  Once, I found a little patch of wild strawberries once growing cozily alongside the roses.  I remember my little heart jumping for joy when I saw those little red berries - and they tasted so sweet - different from the ones you buy in the store. 

The little strawberries made me think of the wild blueberries my sister and I discovered behind our relatives' cottage in Maine.  The cottage was a rustic little house - no air conditioning, antique furniture, a tide clock (which impressed me; everything about coastal Maine, tide pools and sea creatures fascinates a child who grew up in Nebraska) and the smell of saltwater and sand.  I first tasted saltwater taffy in this place, and perhaps even my first lobster.  I remember scores of family members - sadly many, many of them gone - crowding into that house.  And then the blueberries.  We were told not to eat the berries, but we went out when no one was looking and gorged ourselves.  Mom must have noticed it smeared on our faces or something because she flipped out: she thought we were eating the poisonous red berries from the bushes that separated the cottage from the neighboring plot.  Until we were caught, it was heaven.  Years later, we returned for a visit to find the cottage torn down and replaced with a snazzier, fancier, air-conditioned house. The blueberries were gone.  It was almost as if I'd dreamt them.

I think it was the idea that you could grow food in your own backyard that thrilled me.  Your own berries!  Your own tomatoes!  Your own herbs!  My father's parents had two or three apple trees.  I remember helping to pick apples and put them in baskets, and how the baskets were shaped: bucket-like with wooden slats.  Gramma would make pies and applesauce.  And I have the strangest recollection of being told to be careful of worms.  Papa would peel the apples with a knife, which I thought was strange because Dad had a special apple-peeling device with a crank that seemed to make it so much easier.  When the apple trees died, we played on the empty stumps until they were finally pulled out.  Gone were our apple adventures and the climbing posts.  Gramma and Papa's yard seemed so empty without them.

This love of fruit and veg thriving in the garden is still alive in me.  I maintain tomatoes, peppers and beans with my roommate. We are constantly fighting the weedy grape vines (that WON'T die no matter what we do to them) that have been blocking the sunlight from the tomatoes, and the "volunteer" trees that grow between the fences.  But there is something fulfilling in tending to these plants, deciding what stays or goes (if it's a pretty weed, it can stay), and discovering wild lilies or garlic... or finding that the violas, once bunny salad, have finally grown back and have flowered magnificently.  There is no greater joy than that.  

Gardens must be tended, but it's amazing what can grow on its own unnoticed in the shade, in the random corner of the yard, around the cedar tree, behind the shed... without having to be coddled, pruned or yanked out by the roots.  Writing is this way, too.  Sometimes you have to let it grow wild and rampant in order to see just what's in it. 

Bunny salad no more: my violas are finally thriving.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 35: Niobe (jillian)

Today's word is...

In Greek mythology, Niobe (noun) was the daughter of Tantalus and the wife of Amphion, of whom Homer refers to in the Iliad.  The gods punished her for an over abundance of pride (or hubris, which means "excessive self-pride or confidence" either in honor or in defiance of the gods... leading to a smack-down) with the deaths of her children.While weeping for her slain children she was turned into a stone from which her tears continue to flow. 

Niobe turns up in metaphor the way that Sisyphus and Oedipus do, and we just can't remember where we've heard the name before.  Homer did, of course, pack on the characters.  Well, now we both know that any reference to Niobe implies sorrowful, eternal weeping. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 25: Frisson

Today's word is:

I am currently experiencing a frisson (noun, pronounced FREE-zon), which is a French term for a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear, a thrill.  We are going on a whale watch today.  That's pretty thrilling, I'd say, for a girl from the prairie, who has seen more buffalo than whales in her lifetime.  Coming to the ocean itself is always a new experience, like being on the edge of the world and knowing there is an entirely new environment with new creatures out there to discover by catamaran, kayak or tourist boat.  I've seen dolphins off the Gulf Coast of Florida and patted sting rays in Boston.  There is nothing like this new-world thrill. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 11: Iota

Today's word is...

Iota (noun) is the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet, used in English to mean "a small, infinitesmal amount."  In astronomy, it signifies the ninth star in a constellation.  All signs point to jot.
I've just learned from Oxford Dictionaries that jot (the verb to write something down quickly) - as in "I'm jotting this down for you" or "I don't give a jot" - is the fifteenth century noun translated from the Greek word "iota" into Latin.  It makes sense to me (this was a "Eureka!" moment for me), because until recently "j" was not actually a part of the Latin alphabet, and "i" had most of its workload.  Iota must have had quite a normal entrance into English through this road: iota spelled with a "j." This opens up a world of writing whimsies for me: marginalia and doodles and random notes.  That thing you're scribbling down may not be scintillating to the person next to you, but it is vitally important.  I jot most of the time and not always on paper - it is the way we translate our stream-of-consciousness discoveries into a more permanent form.  Sometimes those jottings make it to a journal.  Sometimes they clutter my wall.  Sometimes they serve as bookmarks that cannot be thrown away.  They seem to be of infinitesmal importance, but really they're not.  We jot because it is of vital importance.  If I didn't jot, I'd lose threads of ideas that could fill my stories, or I'd forget to do something. 
Jots are like Ariadne's crimson thread guiding Theseus through the labyrinth and out of it again.  If I didn't jot, how would I find my way home again?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 8: Entropy (Jillian)

Today's word is...

Entropy (noun) is a degree of disorder in a system; an ultimate state of inert uniformity.

So... it is fairies, then? 

Michelle sent me a lovely card once with a quote from A. A. Milne, which has followed me around ever since.  He says, "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries." This quote was accompanied by an illustration of an 18th century gentleman in an untidy office reading a book with a cup of tea and smiling in contentment. 

It was once explained to me that entropy is what happens when neglect to pick up your room.  I don't know if this was an elementary school science-y thing or what, but all I know is that I cannot come into my bedroom these days and attribute the clutter of neglect to anything but the entropy fairies.  This is how shoes wind up under the bed.  They're taken off and kicked aside.  Papers aren't tidied from a morning of blogging.  Over here is a plate that once held my breakfast.  Under this thing is a copy of Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" that I'd printed out 1 August, forgotten since then.  It's like finding a favorite shirt that you've wanted to wear for weeks deep under layers of laundry; it emerges from the wash in a fanfare. 

I think we whimsy hunters are like that, too, when we think about a nugget of knowledge and seek to find out more about it.  And the internet with its twitterings (I like that word better than tweets, by the way, I'm not just being silly), pinterest-ventures and facebookings, is Entropy itself.  You can find anything in that gargatuan sphere!  Anything!  From a tutorial on how to bind your own journals to timelines of the First World War to fan chat rooms for Doctor Who where fans hang out their windows and snap pictures of a Tardis that has magically appeared for filming in the neighborhood.  As intimidated as I am sometimes by the vastness of the internet and my comparative smallness, I know in general it can be a good thing. There are corners on the web to look in and poke about and find little seeds that will eventually grow to fill the garden beds of a story.

Happy hunting!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia - Ab Inito (Jillian)

It has been two months since I've put words into this blog.  It has been four years since Michelle and I launched this project, and life continues to meander, ebb and flow in different directions, in different moods.  We've been busy bees, going to school and writing novels.  I completed my grand endeavor, a novel, on 1 September, and as I go through the process of writing query letters and sending them out and waiting for responses, I'll be here resting from the long slog of the last fifteen months.  Depending on the weather (both figuratively and literally), I might document some of my experiences in the black hole that is publishing. 

But what will hopefully bring me to the blog on a regular basis is my lexicon.  I have been collecting fun, interesting, complicated, brilliant words for the last several years, and now have a whopping 2100 at my disposal.  I've gathered this definitions from Merriam-Webster and Oxford Dictionaries, but they are paraphrased and illustrated here in my own words.  Where better to explore them than Daedalus?  I won't blog on them all, of course, because that would take me six years.  I'll blog on the words that are most useful, most special to me.  Hopefully, you will find yourself becoming a logophiliac as well.

I'll begin at the beginning with...

Ab inito is an adverb from the Latin, meaning "from the beginning." 

Contrary to popular belief, in my opinion, Latin is most certainly not dead.  Though no one goes about this day in age striking up conversations in Latin, it is everywhere.  We still read it, pour over it, become captivated by the sound of its language, the way it's sung and spoken in some Christian circles.  Latin provides the foundation for so much of our language, and sometimes asserts an authoritative voice into an other wise dull statement, a grain of wisdom into what could be a shabby string of words.  Maybe it is like the physical vestiges of the Roman empire left standing all over Britain (Hadrian's Wall).  Or maybe it just sounds cool.  We could all do with a little more Latin in our daily lives!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Garden Metaphors for Writing (Jillian)

I've dabbled on and off with the curious magic that is gardening.  I say "dabble" because I could never quite accomplish the splendor and variety of my parents' garden growing up.  I've had dreams in recent years of planting roses and filling beds with flowers, but most of my successes seem to dwell with seeds in pots and little indoor projects.  Through this dabbling, I have learned a few things that have been astoundingly helpful in my writer's life.

  • Michelle once compared a novel I have been working on and struggling with to berry bushes.  This is a para-paraphrase of her lovely metaphor, but hopefully it works.  You plant berry bushes and they grow for a few years before they produce any fruit.  But the plant is still alive, still growing, still getting ready for that fruitfulness. 

  • Along the same lines, I've thought about seeds.  You have a seed.  You plant it in the ground or a vessel of some sort filled with soil.  You water it.  You put it in the sun.  Notice how it doesn't sprout up immediately.  For weeks you water the seemingly empty, fruitless pot of dirt.  The days pass and you wonder why nothing is growing, why nothing is beginning to show for all the effort.  And then at last, with enough patience, a little green shoot pushes up and into the open air.  Just when you'd given up hope.  The point of this is that you have to keep watering the little pot of dirt.  You can't see the plant yet, but it's there.  Same with writing.  Something may not be working.  A chapter or a scene might be stalling, but you never know what might be happening underneath the surface.  You have to keep watering it - or writing it - until it pokes up through the surface.  Never abandon it.

  • I also had an amarylis bulb, bought on clearance in January.  It already had a green shoot coming out of it, so I assumed it was ready to grow and blossom.  Nope.  I let it sit out for two months, and watered it.  It didn't grow.  I despaired and finally put it in the garage so I wouldn't have to look at it.  Fast forward to April, and I'm gathering pots and soil to grow violas, when I rediscover the amarylis, still sitting there.  On a whim, I pick it up, plunk it in a pot and forget it out side.  Two weeks later, I look out and see that it has shot up a foot and is sporting at least six bright red buds, all of which open to full glory for a month.  Yes, I abandoned the amarlysis, but it came back.  It proved me wrong, as these things tend to do.  You may think a piece of writing is dead when it only requires a little patience, a little time to be dormant, and a little love.

  • Violas.  The seeds are tiny.  The flowers are sweet and resilient.  I bought white ones on clearance last year and they grew till September.  This spring, I was excited to discover they had seeded themselves in the landscaping in front of the house - white faces thriving in lovely clusters in the wood chips and in cracks in the side walk.

  • I went wild with the idea that if little tough flowers could grow in between the cracks in the cement, like weeds do, they could grow in tinier vessels as well.  Hence, a thriving viola, grown from seeds (above) inside a glass votive holder and broken (and otherwise useless) tea cups, straightened by a paper clip, and sporting a blossom and two buds. 
So... if violas can grow in the cracks in the sidewalk, my ideas can thrive in unusual places.  I just have to be a little patient.  And try not plant too many seeds in one little jar. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Auld Lang Syne (Jillian)

The characters from It's a Wonderful Life get ready to sing "Auld Lang Syne."

As you well know, I get curious about life's little mysteries and find myself on mini-journeys to explore them. Today's is the phrase and song "Auld Lang Syne", sung not just at New Years Eve but also at funerals and farewell gatherings (thank you wikipedia).

I remember finding this song way in the back of a old children's Christmas carol book that my sister and I "improved" with crayon. I remember thinking - when I was old enough to read - that the phrase couldn't be English, didn't sound like any Christmas song I'd ever heard of and wondered what the fuss was all about when they sang it at the end of It's a Wonderful Life.

First of all, according to the wonderful Oxford Dictionaries, "auld lang syne" is an 18th century Scottish phrase meaning "times long past" or "for old time's sake." So... vernacular Scotch-English. Definitely nothing to do with Christmas, as was my original instinct all those years ago, crayon in hand. (Sorry, Mom!)

What thrills me about songs like this is its endurance through the ages. According to Wikipedia, it was a poem by Robert Burns in 1788, set to a traditional folk tune... which makes me think the tune, and perhaps the sentiment is hundreds of years older than we think. And yet, old as it is, we return to it and sing it without fail year after year in the presence of our loved ones.

Like the old Christmas carols that rose from Nativity plays (Coventry Carol), Gregorian chants (O Come O Come Emmanuel), or side-track legends (Good King Wenceslas), there is something undefinable but potent about these songs' ability to endure and inspire... that the past and the future are both not nearly as far away as we think them to be, and that with all the lessons we've learned and the hopes we've gathered, good things can happen.

New Years, so soon after Christmas, is soaked in Christmastide hope (and it's particularly true when you consider how Christmas doesn't official end until Epiphany, the 6th of January). Knowing the gift God has bestowed, we can go into the new year and leave the old behind with joy.

Here are the lyrics to this timeless song:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne? [days gone by/long time since]

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet
For auld lang syne!

And surely you’ll buy your pint-cup,
And surely I’ll by mine!
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes
And picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
Since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught
For auld lang syne!

May 2012 be full of discoveries and writing whimsies!

- Jillian

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stories That Still Haunt Me (Jillian)

Walking by my favorite local used-and-rare-books shop this week, I noticed a chillingly familiar title on display in the window. Timely, as All Hallows fast approacheth, the book is Scary Stories To Read In The Dark, one of three in a series by Alvin Schwartz, that I devoured as a fourth grader. These stories were read aloud in class around Halloween , and then my curiosity lead me to read them all. Though why, I can't hardly tell you... except that mine was the generation of Bonechillers (also gave me nightmares), Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. Scary Stories was by far the most frightening. And yet I did read them. And remember them. And can't forget them. Yes, I am haunted.

Among my chilling recollections of these stories are a creeping thing that rises out of the local graveyard (visible only by its glowing green eyes) to devour other bodies and attack a girl in the town, a man who eats his neighbor's liver, a ghost family, baby spiders emerging en masse from a girl's face, dead people in a church...

I'm pretty sure I had nightmares about these stories, especially the thing-with-the-green-eyes story because I lived two blocks away from a cemetery, and could see it from my bedroom window. What amazes me, especially looking on the particularly grotesque artwork (see above... althought believe me, the original image I included here was worse), is that I kept reading them. And that years later, I would get a chill down my spine when I catch a glimpse of those books in a shop window.

The power of scary words is long-lasting - it lies dormant until something awakens it, that fear of the unknown, or what should never be... or a current obsession with the X-Files. Whatever it is, I am easily ensnared by the power of words. I am the cat Curiosity didn't kill but definitely did tease.

I won't be reliving the horror of the Scary Stories, anytime soon, mind - though I wonder if they are actually as malign as I remember. I'm not willing to resurrect the bad dreams of yesteryear. Instead, I will listen to my Autumn Playlist, write about an English autumn, and become Dana Scully for one night of mayhem.


I heard JS Bach's Toccata in Fugue in D Minor this afternoon (the Stokowski arrangement for full orchestra), and had chills. It is such a masterpiece. It is odd how it's opening notes, duh-uh-uh-DUH-uh-nuh-nuh-uhhh, have become synonymous with Halloween, haunted houses, and a vampire playing an organ. The entirety of the piece is so transcendent and hardly sepulchral.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Little Things (Jillian)

A change of venue: Hingham, Mass.

It has been a crazy month, I will admit. May saw me out of town to visit Michelle. Then the first week of June, I was ill and unable to enjoy life for a while. Now, I am back, painfully aware that the blog hasn't been touched since before my adventure.

I've learned little things about myself in this month - things that help with the writing, and allow me to better enjoy the act of creation. I'll share:

* I've taken artist dates to Michaels and purchased a lantern (for candles), a new journal, candles, and fake ivy to drape over my other-wise very boring, very cheap book case.

* Going to visit Michelle gave me a nice change of venue, which was refreshing and at some points adventurous. You may not know it from our work here, but we operate from different parts of the United States: the East Coast and the Midwest.

* I was glad also to spend so much time with her, my creative compatriot. We artists need a circle of support, or, as Michelle and I call it, a mutual appreciation society.

* Try new things... or do things you've never done before. Par example, I boiled lobster for the first time this May! Also, I believe there is something to be said about branching out, using new brain cells... discovering new music, new television shows, a new favorite spot in the garden. Now on my list of inspiring things are BBC's Sherlock, the music of the Beatles and drinking lattes. (Thanks, Michelle!)

* Dive in before it's too late... in other words, don't think yourself out of something. In my case, I often over think my writing, and as a result, get scared or freaked out about its nascent uncertainty, and any hope of writing - just writing - dies a guilt-ridden death. We call that writer's block. Julia Cameron is very helpful about this: "Art is not about thinking something up. It is about the opposite - getting something down."

* And last but not least: sleep. Let's face it, the world is task-driven and we drive ourselves to the brink of exhaustion. We need to sleep: to recharge our batteries, to realign synapses and memory pathways, to allow our bodies to heal. This week I learned my lesson about staying up late to "watch just one episode of Doctor Who" (insert various other excuses): even one hour has severely reduced my ability to focus on my projects. This weekend I will sleep and enjoy it. No regrets. None at all.


to a blog by three people who write, for anyone else who wants to write. It's a cruel world for creators, and here we promise support, whimsy, and curiosity that will hopefully keep your pen moving and keyboard tapping!

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