Friday, October 19, 2018

A Pregnant Guppy Creates an Ichthyologist

This week I am enjoying the company of my cousin, Dr. Henry Robison, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Biology, Southern Arkansas University. He is a scientist and an author. He fell in love with fish when he was twelve years old. He co-wrote Fishes of Arkansas, first edition, and is in process of co-writing the second edition.

We discussed the marketing of books by authors. It never occurred to him that he could or should try to sell his books. He said he was told by the publisher of his first book that he could not sell the book. It could only be ordered from the publisher. His students wanted to purchase the book from him and he told them he could not sell the book. They had to order it.

Now as he works on a second book he is told, yes, by all means, the author should help in marketing this book. Rob, as I call him, writes about fish, and he knows all there is to know on this subject. His first book was packed with information about every kind of fish you would find in the state. The next one is about Crayfish. While I am not that interested in crayfish, I am sure I would find many facts of interest. Rob has discovered new species of fish and many have been named for him.

Although my cousin is a scientist, he and I have the best time talking about family and politics and anything that comes to mind. My mother loved Robbie as a child and spoke highly of him. He remembers that when she hugged him, he felt she really meant it.

I didn't get to know him until a few years ago when we connected through our common interest in genealogy. He likes to learn about his Robison family because after his father died in WWII, his mother remarried and he lost contact with most of the family. He did spend summers with his Robison grandparents and loved his grandmother dearly. He said she talked about his father and they perused photos of him as a kid. Those are happy memories for Rob.

He grew up in an Air Force family, and they moved often. He said he attended three schools while in the third grade. Now in his seventies, he likes to hear about his biological father's family and catch up on what he feels he missed. Like most of the Robison relatives I know, he is never at a loss for words and neither am I, so we talk and talk. 

Tonight I was happy to show him a photo of his father on a page from the Albany High School yearbook. Rob had never seen it. I see how much he looks like the father he never knew. He will always hunger for knowledge about his dad. Sadly, our government has never given him the truth about his father's plane crash over the Gulf of Mexico. What he has received has long patches of typed words blacked out making it impossible to read the words of witnesses.  What does the American government have to hide from Rob?  He simply wants to know why and how his father died over seventy years ago. He knows it was some kind of accident, but wants the details.

Rob had a good life with a stepfather and two half brothers. He married his high school sweetheart who was his best friend and they have two children and precious grandchildren. His autobiography, How I Got to Where I Am Today, explains how a young child fell in love with fish and how he, with mentors along the way, followed his passion and led a happy and successful life. Such a great example of perseverance. 

Rob says, "To date I have published over 350 papers and seven books on fishes, herps, various invertebrates, plants, and other aspects of the wonderful biodiversity of the great natural state of Arkansas and I continue to do research on the state biota. My career as a zoologist and ichthyologist has been thoroughly rewarding, incredibly enjoyable, always exciting, and more than I ever thought possible for that 12 year-old boy in Lake Charles who was given the gift of a pregnant Guppy by a childhood friend so long ago back in 1957."

Friday, October 12, 2018

I need a writers' retreat!

I would be happy to rent out my studio to a writer who wants a quiet place to write for a weekend. So why can't I use my studio to write the two articles I am working on right now? Because just when I get into a zone, when all the words are flowing well, the telephone rings, a friend or family member is calling or another VIP needs me, or my dog Lexie begins to bark and tells me a car is in the driveway.

I have to stop writing and take care of the calls, answer the door or at least check out what is driving my dog nuts. My thoughts are interrupted, and I can't get them back. I turn to one of the million other projects that need my attention. Clear the clutter from my tables in the studio, get the stink bugs off the windows and off the floor, feed the dog or maybe get myself a bite.

I have promised myself a weekend writing retreat for some time, but it seems such a waste of money when I live in a cabin in the woods in the mountains. I have no one around who needs my time or attention except Lexie and she is spoiled. My husband, Barry, never wanted to leave home after we moved here. He could not understand why I wanted to go anywhere. "We live in one of the prettiest places in the country," he would say. 

What he didn't understand was that as long as I was at home I had laundry to do, meals to prepare, all kinds of other household jobs that took my time. He, however, could sit on the deck, have a glass of wine, smoke his pipe and listen to the birds in the trees. 

I wish I could be like Doris Buchanan Smith, a wonderful writer of children's books, who lived here part-time. When she was working on a manuscript, she did not go anywhere or let anyone in her house. She didn't wash dishes or clean because she was working. Writing was the only thing that was important to her at that time.
First published book by Doris Buchanan Smith

I wish I had that discipline. I have tried to understand why I let other things interfere with my writing time. I will blame it on my parents. They had this strong work ethic. My father planned his days so he could be productive and earn a living for his family. Mother's job was to take care of the house and everything in it, including the children. She was not the best housekeeper and neither am I, but like her, I do my best. I feel it is my job.

The advice we writers are given is to hang a Do Not Disturb sign on our writing room and not let anyone interrupt us. I have no children or a husband to interrupt me. I interrupt myself when the guilt of leaving dishes in the sink or clothes in the washer overrides my determination to forget it and keep writing.

I promise myself that I am going to rent a small cabin far away from home where it is totally quiet except for the soft sound of leaves falling off the trees.
I will take only my laptop computer and some food, water and a few clothes with me. Doesn't that sound wonderful?

But when I think about it and how much it will cost - money that is not in my budget - my heart freezes with the fear that I will not be able to create, not be able to write a decent page, and that I will worry or be concerned about something at home. Then I will have wasted my time and money.

After Barry died, I found a great retreat in Little Switzerland, NC. Wildacres is the perfect place to be alone to write because you live in a small rustic room and all meals are prepared for you. Although the lodge is filled with other artists working on their projects, the halls are quiet and no one will bother you unless you want to let them in. That was the place I went three months after Barry's death to decide how to live the rest of my life. The people I met there when we all gathered to eat in the large dining hall became special to me. I will never forget them. 

Dining Hall at Wildacres Retreat in Little Switzerland, NC.
Maybe I am sitting at one of those round tables.

I had to stop going to Wildacres because unloading my car and reloading to go home became too much for me. Even the long walk down to eat was difficult at the time. Now I have learned that Mike, the director who was there, has resigned and a new person runs the place. I don't think it would be the same. Mike's sister and I became good friends. Marsha wouldn't be there now. It just wouldn't be the same. I have many happy memories of Wildacres and the people who were always there when I attended the Gathering in the spring or in the fall.

 Tara Lynne Groth gives good tips on planning a private writing retreat similar to what I dream about. 

I can have a writing retreat right here in my own home. Maybe I will do that this winter.
I just have to close out the rest of the world and put a Do Not Disturb sign on my brain.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Little Book of Secret Family Recipes

While looking through my cookbooks today, I found again, the lovely little cookbook compiled by Marcia Hawley Barnes, The Little Book of Secret Family Recipes - Celebrating the Cuisine of Family.
Marcia Hawley Barnes, author
Marcie says her Barnes family hail from the south and the Hawley family recipes originate in the Pacific Northwest where she grew up. She says that many family favorites are lost.

My family recipes were not often written down. Mother cooked by memory and instinct. Perhaps when she was a young married woman, she used recipes, but I image her mother gave her oral instructions as did mine.

As with Marcia's family, some of our family recipes are lost. The fruitcake Mother made took weeks before it was ready to eat. She began at Thanksgiving putting all the ingredients together. She steamed the cake in a large pressure cooker, and it did not dry out.

For a month that cake, wrapped in layers of fabric from bleached white flour sacks, was fed liberal doses of bourbon. The bourbon, the secret ingredient that kept the cake moist gave it a different flavor. 

Marcia has included short biographies of her ancestors throughout the book. She writes about Mary Frances Lampe who married Marvin Hawley in June 1940. Mary was born in Tacoma, a port city in Puget Sound. She developed cooking skills at home while working as a secretary. She learned to cook her mother's Slovenian dishes, but she was most influenced by the cuisine of her southern mother-in-law.

Mary Hawley made a Pear-Lime Salad-- the recipe is in the book. Marcia says it was always prepared in a mold and served on a pretty salad plate for special occasions. It compliments any dinner menu. I want to make this soon.

Let me tell you something about Marcia Barnes. She writes a column on books in the local newspaper. She reads good books and reviews them.

Marcia was awarded the title of Georgia Author of the year in 2017 in the category of books for children. She had written Tobija published by CSA books.

Tobijah is a delightful story emphasizing that even though many of us are different, we are not alone. The story holds the attention of young readers as Tobijah, a duck, tries to find a friend. This story is well written with the young reader in mind. It teaches through the story that helping and encouraging others can be a rewarding experience. Children can relate to the characters, and the story moves along emerging in a satisfactory outcome. Taking young readers on a journey, an exploration of life, it entertains and holds their attention. Tobijah has memorable characters, an engaging plot, and is fun to read.   

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Marcia Hawley Barnes' early life was in sight of the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. She studied liberal arts at the University of Puget Sound, and design at the University of Houston, and received a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art from the University of South Florida. Further studies in Spanish and French languages were at Hillsborough Community College, University of Tampa, Macon State College, and Wesleyan College, Macon, Georgia. In 2014, she earned a Doctor of Christian Theology degree from the International Miracle Institute, Pensacola, Florida. 

Barnes lives in North Georgia and is an active member of the NC Writers' Network -West.

Read more about Marcia here.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Who is Watching Us

I don't usually post jokes, but this one relates so much to human nature, I had to share it.

The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray: 
'Take only ONE. God is watching.'
Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies. 
A child had written a note, 'Take all you want. God is watching the apples....' 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Poetry and Poets

To have great poets, there must be great audiences. 
                                                   ... Walt Whitman, American Poet

What comes first, the great poets or the great audiences? We need audiences who are hungry for good poetry?.

It is said that no one buys poetry books except other poets. If poets turn out to hear a poet read from her original poetry book, and the poets like that poet, they usually are good audiences and often purchase books.

People who don't like poetry and have not read a poem since high school or college English classes, can become poetry fans if they hear a poet whose writing they relate to. I dragged my husband, Barry, out to hear Billy Collins when he appeared in our area. He was surprised to find that he really enjoyed Collins' poetry, but he admitted that he also liked the delivery of the poet and his humor.

Barry also liked my poetry and attended most of my readings. Most of us like accessible poetry - verses that we understand without having to read and dissect each line to try to figure what the poet is trying to say to us in very concise and poetic language. Billy Collins wrote a funny poem about a poetry critique and the way-out images and language a poet used in hopes of making his verses sound super-intelligent but, in actuality, made the poet sound like a pompous ass.

Learned poets enjoy the abstract poems with deep hidden meanings that take analyzing and repeated readings. To me, those poems don't make good readings because we are simply listening and can't read it again or pick each line apart and ponder over each word.

I like an enthusiastic audience where people feel welcome to applaud and show their enjoyment. I think a reading is not about convincing the audience that you are a great poet, but is about relating with the audience, making them like you, the poet, and sharing poetry that makes them smile or laugh or maybe get a lump in their throat. Remember, it is not what you say or what you do, but how you make them feel. That is what the audience will remember about you and your poetry.

I am sharing two poems by well-known poets that I like. I can hear Langston Hughes' mother's voice in the first poem. Hear Viola Davis read this poem on You Tube.

Mother to Son

Langston Hughes (1922)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.  

Langston Hughes

Robert Frost was my first favorite poet. I saw him in person when he visited my college, Georgia State College for Women. I have CDs of him reading his work. I love his voice, the rhythm of each poem and the feelings he provokes with his concise language. His audiences were great, I'm sure.

Acquainted with the Night
Robert Frost

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain - and back in rain.
I have out walked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
when far away an interrupted cry
came over houses from another street,

but not to call me back or say good-bye;
and further still at an unearthly height,
one luminary clock against the sky

proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.