Saturday, June 23, 2018

Bartlett imagination


“A large part of improvisational imagination is fresh juxtaposition.” (119, Asma)
Brian Bartlett in Branches Over Ripples: A Waterside Journal could be said to be writing a conventional daily nature journal. What is different, what makes it a true work of the imagination is “fresh juxtaposition.”  Bartlett has been a naturalist since childhood, is now at 64 a poet, a teacher, a critic. He is one of those lucky bird watchers who remembers and can identify bird songs. He has observed closely, has a fine memory, goes on his trips well-prepared with a backpack containing various guide books as well as pen and paper, binoculars, water, snack. One of his fresh juxtapositions in this book is limiting his nature walks to places on water: seaside, riverside, lakeside. This narrowing provides unusual connections—one thing reminds him of another, what is different between the river and the ocean, between the flora and fauna of Nova Scotia and that of Kansas. It allows memory to bring forth relevant anecdotes and facts. It also provides coherence, continuity, structure.
On August 4, 2013, a Sunday, Bartlett arrives at 1:31 PM at Cranberry Lake, Five Bridges Wilderness Area, Halifax County, NS. “For the next few hours and beyond, sounds of lake water nudging granite likely won’t stop for more than a moment or two.”  (108) He writes a paragraph about other sounds, and because he is a poet, he describes them vividly: “lightly rattling deciduous-bush branches.” “To talk separately about water sounds and wind sounds ignores their kinship.” In the next paragraph he describes another sound, “A Red-Breasted Nuthatch gave its nasal call.” He writes seven more sentences about that bird song in particular. To write so extensively about these various sounds is unusual, a fresh juxtaposition.
Mating damselflies “made no sound.” They look “less substantial than dragonflies and butterflies, like paper blinds rather than stained glass.”
Connections: the Tent Caterpillars choking the Meadowsweet reminds him of the signs at the beginning of the trail warning of coyotes and moose. The caterpillars’ violence is “brutally effective”, a startling metaphor linking the caterpillar and the moose.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Political opinions

I have decided to use Facebook entirely for communicating with friends and relatives and to use this blog for any political opinions or even speculations—no matter how mild.


Monday, May 14, 2018



January 2, 2018
Imagination: “I will broaden the notion [of imagination] by treating it as a mammalian set of aptitudes (comprised of bodily gestural lexicons, cognitive representational abilities, perceptual knowledge, the memory-emotion complex, cultural mechanisms of informational and emotional management, and, finally, tactical decision-making powers.) There will not be a specific ‘faculty’ that houses all these powers, but rather a network of interconnecting systems. In this sense, my ‘faculty’ is shorthand for a suite of affective and cognitive capacities. Heavy lifting in human creativity is borne by the emotional brain (limbic system) rather than the rational brain (neocortex.)”(Asma 25)
One September a week after my grandson Will was born, my daughter-in-law phoned me in tears, sounding quite desperate. Will had been born with a cleft soft palate and was having trouble sucking. She had wanted to breast-feed him, but he couldn’t do it. Likewise, he couldn’t feed from the nipple of a conventional bottle. “He’s going to starve to death.” I went right down to their home. This was before the universal ease of googling was in practice, but somehow on their computer I was able to find information. A company in Toronto sold a special nipple for babies born with a cleft soft palate. We phoned the company, they Fed-exed the nipples, and despair was averted.
The story of the invention of the nipple came with the package. A professional designer in England, Mandy Haberman, had given birth to a baby with a cleft soft palate and had a similar dilemma. She designed a modification of the conventional silicone nipple, sometimes called a teat.
This was imagination working at the top of its game. The woman was trained as a designer. She had a desperate need. A silicone nipple had been designed and was common, so the concept—the cliché--was already there. She had to learn about the physiology of her baby’s condition. She improvised a modification of a conventional nipple.
Many conditions had to be in place for my and my daughter-in-law’s improvising skills to be enabled on this occasion. The information-seeking aspect of the internet had been developed, and I had been using it for four or five years. I, with a virtually illegible handwriting and clumsy typewriting skills, had embraced the computer. In a test she had been given when she was up for a promotion, “strategic planning” was her number one strength. She and I had developed an unusually strong bond over ten years. We are both intelligent, but even more, we both have been gifted with other traits necessary for the “faculty of imagination” to work. In this case, our limbic systems are highly developed--or maybe the system has been not only been developed but had arrived especially strong at our births. This cooperative venture made the systems even stronger.
Written later: February 1, 2018
The limbic system: Females on average have a larger deep-limbic system than males, resulting in more bonding ability. How does this affect their imagination? The system includes the olfactory receptors, and thus women have a more acute sense of smell. It has been speculated that this has evolved so that a woman can pick out her baby from a group. Would stimulating the sense of smell also help a woman’s imagination? As in the poet Schiller keeping rotten apples under his desk? One’s own urine and feces are strong scents, not unpleasant when they are normal, but alarming when the smell is different, signaling some trouble inside. A different-smelling feces in my babies was alarming
Do women in their journals mention smell more than often than men do?  Why do I dislike artificial scents? I will try an experiment of having a strong smell next to me when I write. Coffee.
No outside muse furnished my novels, but they didn’t come about because of my own genius or even intelligence or even hard work. Creative activity is a function of many qualities—mine and others. “Language is an imagination pump.” (144)
My method of writing my novels was to begin with a scene that popped into my head and somehow seemed full of possibilities. I used to say that the scene was “luminous”, but I don’t think that is the right word. Perhaps the word “alive” is better. Not a doll but a baby.
At the same time, under the sway of Viktor Shklovsky, I thought I needed a scaffolding, a form that would give coherence, help the novel along, but not hinder my imagination with clichés of plot or event.  When I was writing, I had no idea what would come next. I have said that the reader of the novel at any given page would know exactly what I knew.
The characters and the action were unique, not portrayals of people I knew, or descriptions of events in my life, and yet my oldest son found the novels difficult to read “because it’s like putting my finger in my belly button and twirling it.” To my son the novels were me, contained his mother.  I was not preaching; I did not know the answers to the big questions. My aim was to come to a new insight. Something new to me at any rate.
“Creative activity decenters the ego,” writes Asma.  (27) This is why it sometimes seems as if during the process of improvising, a muse--a transcendental giver of ideas or solutions--comes from outside. But it only seems like that, like my being an actor on the stage, forgetting my words, saying “line” and someone off stage cues me. Writing fiction is more like my being on the stage, forgetting my words, saying something vaguely appropriate to fill the void; the right words then appear because the pump has been primed. I write something down vaguely in the right ballpark, my limbic system is primed, some more words appear.
My first published novel, Flora, Write This Down, was built on the scaffolding of the book of Revelations. I had been reading Austen Farrer’s The Rebirth of Images on how Revelations used images from the bible. The images from both Farrer’s book and the biblical book gave my novel its structure. I used the images in several ways—the characters’ names, the actions; the novel thus contained Farrer and John of Patmos. It contained Sarah Orne Jewett too and the use of herbs in her novel Country of the Pointed Firs.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Exploring Imagination

Project #2

Christmas Day 2017
I started my first project in July 2015 at our cottage in Old Orchard Beach in the early hours, with coffee, while the others slept. Here I am again, but at 252 Stanley, my daughter sleeping downstairs in our old bedroom. For some reason when I woke at 3:45, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I listened to Christmas music on CBC, to the news, retrieved my iPad and wrote my granddaughter an email. I am not sure why I chose her. Maybe because she is the only one of my children who will wake up alone on Christmas morn.

Stephen Asma says in The Evolution of Imagination that the imagination is interested in the particular. My daughter goes off Wednesday to play the role of Etta Cone, a collector of fine art. The playwright is trying to resurrect her as the more interesting of the two Cone sisters, the other sister, Claribel, having been traditionally thought of as the more dynamic, a medical doctor.

We are in a revolutionary time, family life being redefined, the relation between men and women being transformed into true equals. The whole “Me, too” movement came about so suddenly –it only needed the crudity of famous men to precipitate it.

Here, re-reading on January 19, 2018, I am wondering why I have begun my exploration of imagination with a discussion of my daughter.

“Spontaneity is the key feature of the faculty of imagination. (Asma, 17)

Saturday, April 21, 2018

I started this blog in March 2006, wrote on it for a while, and then in November of that year the Telegraph Journal asked me to write a weekly column on the arts beginning the following January. The blog fell by the wayside. I have tried to resurrect it at times, but working on "my own writing"--novel, non-fiction--plus the column and various organizations' newsletters left me no time. Last December my column ended after 11 years. I miss having a place to print my ramblings, so I am resurrecting the blog. 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Memory

"Great is the power of memory, excessively great, my God, a vast & infinite interior space: who has plumbed it to the depths? Yet this is a power of my mind & pertains to my nature, so that I myself do grasp all that I am", writes Augustine In Confessions X:VIII

Which better helps people plumb the depths of the their memory, a journal written in the past or photographs? A conversation with someone from their past? Day-dreaming?Reading? The project I am working on now seems to help me.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Memory

Augustine called memory "the fields and vast palaces" of our mind. I have been contemplating how my memory works. Yesterday Kimberly said something that triggered a memory I had about her. I told her, and she was surprised because she didn't remember it at all. In the night, I tried to remember the memory but couldn't. I could remember our interchange (we were with two other people) but not the actual memory I had retrieved. My long-term memory is good at making connections from about when I was 7 years old, but I need something to spark the connection. My short term memory is frighteningly terrible. When I am writing if I think of a word, an idea, or an image but fail to put it down immediately, it will disappear and won't re-appear for a while.  Is everything that has ever happened to me still in this vast palace of my memory, only needing a trigger to bring it back? I have a memory of a mystical experience I had when I was 7 of coming upon a spring-fed pool full of tadpoles. I have re-remembered it, recounted the story, wrote about it in a memoir, re-created it in my novel Samara the Wholehearted. What is left of the original experience? Could a trigger someday bring the experience back in its original form?  Augustine thought the our memory is the way we sense God.