Photo by George Szilagyi
I’m teaching myself about plants. Last week, my dad and I traipsed through the Washington Arboretum, in search of its Winter Garden. It is not a garden to rush through – anything faster than a stroll and you’ll miss it. The colors are not flashy – no effusive bursts of pink, no huge swaths of dizzying color. But if you stand still a minute, and take a look around, you notice a few things. Paperbark Maples, losing swaths of bark, are silky brown on the outside and a luminous golden-yam on the inside. I resisted the urge to tear off a sheet. Shrubby dogwoods have slender, fiery tips, a lovely crimson in the blue hours. And, odd snowberries, Symphoricarpos albus, are white puffs afloat gray bushes. I want to say they look like yogurt-covered raisins, but that description, though accurate, seems lacking in intrigue. They’re also called ghostberries, as the waxy, spongy puffs last throughout the winter, munched on by quail and grouse and other fauna of that ilk. Some sources claim the berries (also called drupes – neat word!) are toxic to humans causing that standard nausea-dizziness-vomiting thing, while others claim that poultices of snowberries might have certain curative properties, perhaps for sore eyes. I think I’m going to stick to just admiring their small, bulbous presence, among the other odd berries of a Northwest winter, with their deep reds and juicy blue-blacks, along with the bright, rosy-orange pomes of crabapples.
Incidentally, if anyone talented at dress-making wants to make me a sheath dress inspired by the bark in the photo above, I’d be a happy little elf.
Olympic Sculpture Park; photo by George Szilagyi
One of my favorite things, which I don’t do nearly enough, is to get lost in a city and stumble upon something wonderful. Yesterday, I took my father around Seattle, from Capitol Hill (where we chatted electric insulators at Arabica) to South Lake Union to Queen Anne to the Olympic Sculpture Park and finally to Pioneer Square, after which we plotzed on the 43 bus back up the hill. It was a lovely eye-feast of high end furniture, antiques (like this Japanese gourd, though there was a doubly-bulbous one as well as an enormous Turkish yogurt vat very much to my liking), and contemporary sculpture (plus some smoked salmon and cheese samples at the market!). My favorite stumbling place was the Sisko Gallery,where we were warmly greeted by Daisy, the gallery’s terrier, and John Sisko, the sculptor-founder. The current show, “Aether”, features Phil McCracken’s dark fruit wood sculptures made luminous by epoxy resin; one of my favorite pieces is “Arctic Night”, pulsating midnight blue from a smoldering red center, around which orbit white and red splotches. Tony Curtis’s poem “The Mole and Cosmos” opens “Aether”, setting a warm tone for the whole show and also fitting in quite nicely with the welcoming atmosphere of gallery. More about McCracken’s “cosmic turn” is here. The gallery features new work every four to six weeks. I’m looking forward to a return!
Next up, the Arboretum’s Winter Garden…
Last week, I finished a fourth draft of my novel (whew!). One thing I tried to excise was filtering. I’d used “look” about 178 times in about 65k words (thanks Find All function). This was not to my loving. Verb choice aside, as John Gardner notes in The Art of Fiction and as Janet Burroway points out in Writing Fiction, filtering is an unnecessary and common mistake. Phrases like “she noticed”, “she saw”, “she looked at”, or “she remembered” needlessly take readers one step away from the story rather than letting them inhabit the story and experience it with or through the characters. Now, the act of seeing is important in my novel, but I definitely didn’t need to let filtering phrases run rampant in the manuscript. Combing through the draft, I found instances in which removing the offending filter helped me expand and deepen imagery and sensory detail. That isn’t to say you can never ever use those verbs (that’s silly). But you’ll want to ask yourself if you really need to.
p.s. Readers, out in the ether or down the street, what do you think of bolded text in blog posts? This is my second such use. Helpful? Unnecessary?