Books Without Pictures

Years ago I sold an old manual typewriter at a garage sale. It was a reaction to a familiar need—the need for more space. That is by no means a modern dilemma, but it is what filled the space that makes it modern, and, now that I look back, suspect.

Who could have dreamed what was to fill that space? For where once sat that manual typewriter, came a ‘word processor’. Then the internet. Then social media. And the white space of Instagram posts. (white space, white background, natural light—de rigueur)

The typewriter I sold was an early sixties era manual Smith Corona. It had belonged to my father, and when he passed away I took it with me. Along with it came the memories of sounds, the sensations of a vibrating table as he typed, and smells, strangely pleasing, of fresh inked cartridges. Images in my mind of my father sitting at his desk, all muttering concentration and stubby, work roughened fingers tapping out words, words, words….

Today, with the aforementioned lighting and spatial requirements, perhaps a rose sitting atop the typewriter for textural contrast, or a cup of steaming coffee (where steam is captured actually moving) that typewriter would have made a fetching Instagram post, harvesting a stream of reactive emojis and comments like ‘amazing’. But that is not the missed opportunity I am thinking of.

A ‘word processor’ sounds like a funny term now, but that is what we called it then. Processed words make one think of Spam—‘is it really meat?’ but in the end what we had was a fascinating new machine that now goes by the name of device. By this device we could process words and ideas with dizzying speeds. No more little jars of whiteout to clutter up your desk. That slow painting action with the brush, the absolute concentration, the dexterity needed to not get a drop on your keys—all a thing of the past. Now, those sub par chapters that represent the work of an evening? You can wake up with a fresh perspective and delete it all in a second! Done, with the click of a button. Destructive power begins to swamp creative power.

I dreamed of the ease with which a word processor was going to help me create miles and miles, as it were, of stranded sentences, ideas, and stories. What comes to mind are factory workers, perhaps in a garment district, sitting at hundreds of machines, all humming with industry, while regular, even stitches flow on into infinity; becoming garments, sheets, towels, bed linens and prom dresses. While we may now think this is a negative comparison, at the time industries like this were springing up, it was considered progress. It took years to assess the human toll.

In the symbolism of space that was once occupied by my unassuming little typewriter, what exists there now is like a hole in space. Enormous space, vacuous space, as it turned out. A black hole of inimitable power that eats stars and burps radiation. (descriptive terms borrowed from actual science websites, google ‘black hole burps’ if you don’t believe me, but then again, don’t, pour yourself a cup of coffee and write that haiku on cherry blossoms you keep thinking about.)

I want my old stodgy typewriter back. It doesn’t need to stream, burp, or teach me how to felt a woolen toque. It doesn’t need to produce pictures for me. It doesn’t need to take me to the Himalayas for stunning views of Gurla Mandhata.

It will be okay if I don’t have access to a Polish university, and the digitalized diagrams of Copernicus. I’m ashamed to say I still get the accomplishments of Copernicus and Galileo confused, even after all this time. (sorry, Nicolai, I had such hopes)

And speaking of regions near the Gulf of Gdansk, I can willingly cut back on my virtual streaming of shipwrecks as they find them. Fascinating, of course, if you like old shipwrecks. As the website says, ‘there is no need to dive to the depths of the Baltic Sea…’ (Oh, really? That’s too bad. I would have enjoyed that.) You see, adventure is as close as your device. Adventure IS your device.

As to google…I wring my hands in despair… how can something that changed my life be called GOOGLE?? Ah, but can I live without it?? I might. Just. Maybe.

I can’t remember the last time I needed to know the difference in pronunciation between the Hebrew word ra’a for sheep and the Hebrew word ra’a’ for evil, although at one time I found it interesting and remembered it, and there was a story idea involved where the girl needed to know how to say ‘sheep’ and not say ‘evil’. (story not finished to date)

I will be okay with not being able to watch real time footage of a dog being rescued from a flooded ravine in Belgorad. Such a feel-good story at the time, the sort you later find out was staged. Or that Facebook story that circulated ‘a mother cow’s desperate wish comes true’… (you want to know, don’t you?)

If it turns out I cannot access a tutorial on 1,000 ways to crochet a granny square, that will be okay, too. I just might have to get creative on my own and figure it out.

I do love my family history research—was that ever an eye opener that perhaps I could have done without—but the truth is I often find myself reading about other people’s families, usually so much more interesting than my own. Consider Thomas Brown of Old Dominion, Virginia, born 1770…. his mother was Elizabeth Black, and he married Martha Green, and they named their first son Green Brown. At some point a gentleman named Pinkney enters the picture. This is heady stuff for me. I have a thing for interesting names, and remember odd bits like girls named Kissy Simpleton or Keziah Snively, and I want to write their story, because I love a good story. Sometimes I just hear a name, and a character pops into my mind, almost fully formed. Or I start to imagine a character, with a story line, and the name suggests itself almost immediately.

Writers are a funny lot. Does any branch of the creative world agonize as much over blank white space and block?? So while I reminisce fondly of the old manual typewriter days, the reality is that I thought I would write more when I had ‘the word processor’. And, it happened—for a time. Now, it seems like the modern gadgets are sucking away the creativity. Is that it?

Counterbalance time out. There is also a new burst of creativity—of a different sort—based on the fast-paced stream of content now available to us. It’s exhilarating, thrilling, and exhausting. I’ve learned so much. But sometimes I just need to stop the flow of learning and DO. This is just my own journey. Controlled portions might be the key, if I can say that without sounding like a nutritional coach wanting to take away my Scotch, which would make me not like her.

I still read, but differently. I still write, but a fraction of what I used to. Pictures have taken up the space words used to occupy. My books (those real, tangible things with pages, and most without pictures) are still here, and taking up a great deal of space. On my bookshelves, white space does not exist. There is no spatial harmony. There is not even trinket space. Emojis are not welcome. No shelves are given over to objets d’art. Just books—double stacked, triple stacked, vertical stacks and horizontal towers. A paradise of tactility. They will have that space, will continue to have it, and I will freely give them that space, as long as I am living in something slightly larger than six feet under.

Books without pictures, and old typewriters that don’t stream live media share a charming trait—they encourage use of the imagination.

Postscript: If you’ve been following this blog, glad to have you! If you are new, then welcome.
This blog is a quiet space for readers. In it I like to explore forgotten authors, and hidden gems of writing. If that is your thing, I’m happy you’re here. There may be fewer pictures in the future… we’ll see. I like books with pictures (and certainly blogs with pictures are more popular) but I just want to get back to what started this all for me—the words.

October Farewell

It seems I have forgotten, again, what this form of poetry is called, but it is simple, thus appealing: one syllable building up to ten and back to one. It works for me when the small framework of a haiku feels too restrictive.

A personal note. This blog, since its beginning, has been about reading, writing, nature walks, and small moments of beauty. In all these little travels, via imagination and footstep, there has been a wet nose, an inquisitive, drippy beard, and a patient, loving gaze. My constant companion, our dog, Fitz. I just want to mark his passing. He was the sweetest dog ever, and a beloved family member. This last year we have been nursing him through some difficult challenges as he grew old, as his mobility decreased, and as any pet owner knows, the time to ease them out of their life, when it comes, looms as an impossibility. Yet it must happen, and happen… it did.

On
being
October
of drifty skies
and wayward breezes
Are these days of dying?
Yet celebrate it they will
Merriment grim, laced with despair
Said charms of rotting pumpkins, sightless
fail to capture the all-seeing purpose
this balance between changeless Time and
our frail life that is ever changed
And of what of love? she cried out
Beyond the reach of both
as sure as harvest
nestles to earth
enfolding
falling
hearts


Photographs taken by me: Glow

Summer Wine and Word Savor

‘Words have personality.’

Or words to that effect. So said a famous wordsmith named Willard R. Espy, who wrote a great deal of delightful stuff about words, and remains highly unquoted.

51b1dqao1gl._sx361_bo1,204,203,200_One word that definitely has personality is caper, which is today’s word suggestion from the good folks at WP.

I wouldn’t call myself a word expert, by any means, (terms like uvular fricative make my brain hurt) but I do love to savor a word curiosity now and then. And just like a good wine, there are certain pairings that are immediately suggested by the palate. Like a good pinot and soft goat cheese, or a full-flavored port with a dark chocolate truffle.

So therefore, with caper (though it is also a pungent little berry that goes well with seafood and a crisp, chilled chardonnay) we have a word that suggests, inevitably, frolic.

You could even pair the two as frolicsome caper, and further suggest the word antics, and at the risk of sounding octogenarian, cavort.  This brings me to my red squirrels, which, quite unfortunately, were drunk this morning on summer wine, and doing all of the above.

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Summer wine not only goes well with capers, it causes them (the cavorting sort). The wine referred to here is what we like to call the Morello cherries from our tree that have fallen to the ground, now sweetly fermenting. They grow too high for us to actually make them useful for human consumption, but the squirrels and birds are having entirely too much fun up there in the back corner of the yard.

Gambol and tumble are good side dishes, as it were. If fact, if you look up ‘gambol’, you will find the following synonyms:

‘frolic, frisk, cavort, caper, skip, dance, romp, prance, leap, hop, jump, spring, bound, bounce; play; (dated, sport)’

To which I might add “see: tippling“.

All of those definitions sound quite athletic, even for a squirrel drunk on Morello cherries, so occasionally one tumbles down the rockery and causes concern.

So far I have witnessed no injuries, and the merriment continues.

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As you can see from the picture below, the lawn is slightly elevated from the patio, giving a stage-like appearance, which the squirrels use to good effect.

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(this beautiful quilt made by a dear friend)

Other than that, the garden is (usually) a peaceful place for reading. Perhaps even sipping a bit of Morello summer wine, if the squirrels will share.

 

Clematis Bower

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‘A rural portico was seen,
Aloft on native pillars borne,
Of mountain fir with bark unshorn
Where Ellen’s hand had taught to twine
The ivy and Idaean vine,
The clematis, the favored flower
Which boasts the name of virgin-bower,
And every hardy plant could bear
Loch Katrine’s keen and searching air.
An instant in this porch she stayed,
And gayly to the stranger said:
‘On heaven and on thy lady call,
And enter the enchanted hall!”

— excerpted from The Lady of the Lake, Sir Walter Scott

Of bloom and blossom, blur and bliss… finding a bit of all of the above in my clematis bower on this beautiful Saturday. Of the blur effect, for the photography suggestion of ‘focus‘ this week, I was trying out my new portrait feature on the iPhone, as there are power lines just beyond that cross the background, disrupting my lovely Lady of the Lake ambience. The blur effect, in turn, created the illusion that a clematis bloom had catapulted itself away from the pack and was on its way to some wild adventure.

(go little clematis, go!)

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The Rose Garden Husband

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‘Well, she had everything that she had wished for on that wet February day in the library. Money, leisure to be pretty, a husband whom she “didn’t have to associate with much,” rest, if she ever gave herself leave to take it, and the rose garden. She had her wishes, as uncannily fulfilled as if she had been ordering her fate from a department store, and had money to pay for it.’

That may sound like an odd recipe for happiness, but, for me, The Rose Garden Husband was a particularly good choice of novel to read on a fine day in this first of June, with my roses blooming abundantly in the garden.

The novel of choice having been written in 1915, it also had fair chance of being endowed with a fairytale happy ending. And that also sounded very nice.

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Margaret Widdemer

The book was a recent gift to me from a sweet friend who knows I like ‘old books and obscure authors’. And indeed, this writer is new to me, but I was delighted to see some lovely reviews of her work online.

Margaret Widdemer was prolific in output. Her writing career spanned from 1915 to 1968 (or so), and during this period she produced a whopping forty novels, plus many other works such as poetry (winning an early Pulitzer Prize), children’s stories, and essays. The Rose Garden Husband, published in 1915, was her first novel, and it continues to be a fan favorite.

Just say ‘Victorian era romance’, and it might bring to mind selfless heroines who go into declines, a room stuffed with horsehair sofas and stiff conversation, and, oh yes, maudlin sentiment. Widdemer’s novel brings some fresh air to this genre, and while the ending is predictable and a bit neatly packaged, it still delivers on charm and surprisingly humorous narrative. The heroine is every bit as selfless and full of New England backbone as we might have foreseen, but she is also energetic, witty, and comes with a few surprises.

‘I’d marry anything that would give me a rose garden!’

I liked this character a great deal, particularly when I read her list of things she wanted. I took a picture of the page (my copy is a 1915 reprint) because I was charmed by the neat little notes a former reader had written in to accompany the list. Likely the same former reader who had written her name ‘Harriet Rose’ in the flyleaf. Obviously, a desire for jewelry, poetry, and a plethora of shoes will charm ladies of any generation.

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Phyllis’ wish for ‘Ever so many Maxfield Parrish pictures full of Prussian blue skies’, and ‘A room big enough to put all father’s books up’ resonated with me.

Phyllis Harrington gets all this and more, though in the beginning she had only wished for a rose garden with a gentleman husband she wouldn’t have to ‘have any association with’.

She laughs at herself for this wish, however, and pulls herself together from her reverie. (Phyllis does not go into declines but she does go into reveries now and again.)

This sweet story is all about wish fulfillment, but there is an amusing curiosity not lost on the modern reader. Volumes of feminist erudition have been written on the plight of a young woman’s prospects in the fiction of Jane Austen and others of her era and beyond. To marry was a career move, and often the only way to advance in one’s life.

“Marriage is indeed a maneuvering business.” ― Jane Austen

Margaret Widdemer puts it baldly in this story, and in more modern terms—Marriage is a job opportunity.

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In the narrative, Phyllis has resigned herself to becoming a careworn spinster. Although she loves her career as a librarian, she has no time for social outings or opportunities to meet men. She also sees no way out of her constrained circumstances in life.

“I’m just a battered bisque doll!” she repeated to herself, bitterly.

(This struck me as a bit odd, to tell the truth, as Phyllis, though tired much of the time in the beginning, is described as very pretty with masses of honey blonde hair…more of ‘a pretty bisque figurine’ than a ‘battered bisque doll’, the author wants us to know… surely someone would have noticed her getting on or off the trolley on her way to and from work? Men are so resourceful that way… I would think potential suitors would have been lining up at the library feigning an interest in Modern Literature.)

A visit from a lawyer friend, Mr. De Guenther, sets the stage for a surprising offer for Phyllis.

“I have—we have—a little matter of business to discuss with you tomorrow night, my dear; an offer, I may say, of a different line of work…” [Mr. De Guenther hems and haws around the matter for a bit more, finally concluding, inconclusively: ]“Because the line of work which I wish, or rather my wife wishes, to lay before you is—is a very different line of work!”

The Different Line of Work, as Phyllis comes to realize, is a proposition of marriage from a future-mother-in-law, who is dying. The marriage, as old Mrs. Harrington hopes, will secure the compassionate care of her invalid son after she is gone. Phyllis may have only five or so years of ‘work’, supervising Allan Harrington’s care; then, it being likely he will die by that time, Phyllis will inherit the plump retirement of his entire fortune.

From rags to riches, from spinster to bride. From tweeds to satin, from sturdy librarian’s brogues to satin slippers. A career move, indeed.

Phyllis—a practical girl who is organized and makes lists—has few reservations. Likely she will need to interact with him very little, he has a fleet of servants and caregivers; her only responsibility is to see that they all do their job. Her career as the serious Miss Braithwaite, “Assistant for the Children’s Department, Greenway Branch, City Public Library“, with a background as manager of the Circulation and Cataloguing Departments, has equipped her admirably for this job.

She accepts.

‘It feels partly like going into a nunnery and partly like going into a fairy story,’ she said to herself.’

IMG_1951And what of Allan Harrington, the invalid with a death wish who is about to become the hero of the story?

The ‘scientific’ explanation of his condition, as expressed in 1915, was this:

“You see, it was found that the shock to the nerves, acting on an already over-keyed mind and body, together with some spinal blow concerning which the doctors are still in doubt, had affected Allan’s powers of locomotion.”

Ah, we get it. His paralysis isn’t an inability to walk. He just has no incentive. He wants to die. But Allan is about to meet his new incentive, and find his ‘powers of locomotion’ are capable of being revived.

Phyllis first meets Allan in his darkened sickroom. Her impression is:

‘A Crusader on a tomb. Yes, he looked like that. In the room’s half-dusk the pallor of his still….face and his long, clear-cut hands was nearly the same as the whiteness of the couch draperies. His hair, yellow-brown and waving, flung back from his forehead like a crest, and his dark brows and lashes made the only note of darkness about him.’

In spite of his obvious invalidism and tremulous voice, Phyllis finds him quite beautiful as a man.

‘Somehow she could not think of Allan Harrington’s dying. He was too beautiful to be dead, where nobody could see him any more….He must have been delightful,” she thought, “when he was alive!”

You might guess what is about to happen. We know it as soon as she sees him, and the next scene has her out shopping with Mrs. De Guenther buying:

‘… a heavenly white crepe thing with rosy ribbons and filmy shadow-laces—the negligee of one’s dreams.’

Oh, yes. Phyllis has plans. Plans that involve ‘a heavenly white crepe thing’. Her dream of a rose garden is about to come true, but that dream of ‘a husband whom she “didn’t have to associate with much”—? Dashed forever.

Oh yes, good things happen in this story. Good things delightfully told.


Additional notes:

Many of Margaret Widdemer’s books are available as ebooks, or can be read online. Other than that, I don’t know if she is actually ‘in print’, except perhaps print on demand copies.

I enjoyed Jane’s review of this book; as usual she describes the story in thoughtful detail, and I love her comment: ‘If you’d like to be captivated, if you have an uncynical heart that needs lifting…this is the book for you.’

I can only add to that it is nice to read a book that highlights unselfishness and kindness in people.

A nice article here, that gives us more insight into the character of Widdemer via her poetry–Read more about Margaret Widdemer as a poet here (Widdemer was one of the first to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry before it was known as the Pulitzer Prize)

For a possible likeness of the ‘Crusader on a tomb’ here is a fascinating account of one–and this particular knight ended up in New York at the Met Cloisters, oddly enough…but I’m thinking that Margaret actually saw this knight (a year before she published this book in 1915) and was taken by his quiet strength in death’s repose, for the website of the Cloisters gives us this tidbit on the history of the collection:

‘Much of the sculpture at The Met Cloisters was acquired by George Grey Barnard (1863–1938), a prominent American sculptor, and an avid collector and dealer of medieval art. Barnard opened his original Cloisters on Fort Washington Avenue to the public in 1914.’

Crusader