Sunday, January 10, 2010

Things that Have Inspired Hazel Lately

I received this image a few weeks ago from my sister Jasmine*. She got it from her friend Jackie*, but I'm not sure where it's from originally. I have spent a lot of time looking at it, and I made it the background image on my desktop. It's a composite satellite image of the Milky Way over Mt. Lassen (on the left side) and Mt. Shasta (on the right), in California. The galactic center is over Mt. Shasta. I love how still and peaceful everything is, and how it gives a new vantage point on something so familiar (my old stomping grounds) and its place in the universe. I love how dark it is and yet you can still see the relationship between earth and sky, and I love how you can make out something as small as the roof of a structure (a barn?) and yet still take in something as big as the Milky Way and all the stars and dust clouds, and everything in between. It makes me feel small, which at this advanced stage of my pregnancy, is a nice feeling.

Another source of inspiration is Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac from this past Friday. It motivates me to take on some things I've been putting off for years, and gives me a tool for getting started. Here is the excerpt:

Today, writer Isabel Allende is starting a new book, just as she has been doing every single January 8th for the past 29 years. On January 8, 1981, when Chilean-born Allende was living in Venezuela and working as a school administrator and freelance journalist, she got a phone call that her beloved grandfather, at 99 years old, was dying. She started writing him a letter, and that letter turned into her very first novel, The House of the Spirits. She said, "It was such a lucky book from the very beginning, that I kept that lucky date to start."

Today is a sacred day for her, and she treats it in a ceremonial, ritualistic way. She gets up early this morning and goes alone to her office, where she lights candles "for the spirits and the muses." She surrounds herself with fresh flowers and incense, and she meditates.

She sits down at the computer, turns it on, and begins to write. She says: "I try to write the first sentence in a state of trance, as if somebody else was writing it through me. That first sentence usually determines the whole book. It's a door that opens into an unknown territory that I have to explore with my characters. And slowly as I write, the story seems to unfold itself, in spite of me."

She said, "When I start I am in a total limbo. I don't have any idea where the story is going or what is going to happen or why I am writing it." She doesn't use an outline, and she doesn't talk to anybody about what she's writing. She doesn't look back at what she's written until she's completed a whole first draft — which she then prints out, reads for the first time, and goes about the task of revising, where she really focuses on heightening and perfecting tension in the story and the tone and rhythm of the language.

She said that she take notes all the time and carries a notebook in her purse so that she can jot down interesting things she sees or hears. She clips articles out of newspapers, and when people tell her a story, she writes down that story. And then, when she is in the beginning stages of working on a book, she looks through all these things that she's collected and finds inspiration in them.

She writes in a room alone for 10 or 12 hours a day, usually Monday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. During this time, she says, "I don't talk to anybody; I don't answer the telephone. I'm just a medium or an instrument of something that is happening beyond me."

She's the author of nearly 20 books published since 1982, among them Paula (1995), Daughter of Fortune (1999), Portrait in Sepia (2000), and the recent memoir The Sum of Our Days (2008). Her work has been translated into 30 languages, and her books have sold more than 51 million copies. She continues to write fiction in Spanish though she's lived in the United States for decades. Margaret Sayers Peden has done the English translations of several of Isabel Allende's books.

I really like the idea of having a start date in mind for a project, as opposed to just having it on your to-do list every day, not getting checked off, like a thorn in your side. I also like the idea of putting everything else aside and focusing only on that one task for most of the day. I usually only do this if there is a deadline fast approaching, and usually this means that I feel a lot of stress while I'm working. But if I have a self-imposed start date, rather than a deadline, that would take the stress away and make it more enjoyable.

I made cookies yesterday, just as I said I would. Pink snowflakes in honor of the impending birth of our snowbaby girl. Here they are:

I thoroughly enjoyed making them, and I'm overly pleased with them, even though they look a bit too much like shuriken ("Chinese throwing stars"):

I had planned to use pink icing for the base, and white piping to accentuate the snowflake design, but it turns out that I don't have red food coloring. I have yellow, blue and green, but no red. I had thought the yellow one was red, because it looks red in the bottle, but I realized that the cap is yellow, so the coloring must be yellow. I'm glad I noticed this before putting it in the icing, because you don't want to use yellow icing on snowflake cookies. Everyone in Minnesota knows you're not supposed to eat yellow snow. Luckily I had some crushed candy canes left over from making peppermint bark over the holidays, so I was able to put pink on them after all. Thank goodness; now the world can continue spinning on it's loopy path across the galaxy.

*Name changed.


Meredith said...

Not too much longer until your baby!!! That is so great!!!! Hope you are feeling well!!!!

Amacrine said...

The cookies look divine. I wanted to bake yesterday, but it was 11pm before I had everything else done, so I went to bed.

Tanya Cothran said...

Were that the box of food coloring I gave you before we left? Sorry about the lack of red! I don't know why the red wasn't there - maybe it was lots of red velvet cupcakes! mmmm

I love Isabel Allende! I had to read "Of love and shadows" when I was studying abroad in Chile in high school. I think I read the whole book without understanding a single paragraph! House of Spirits was really lovely in English though....

Hazel Spupspe said...

Meredith: I'm feeling great! Thanks!

Amacrine: They were divine. I ate them before they got stale. Stanley has since made another batch, which has also been eaten. We'll just keep on baking until the big day I guess.

Tanya: Yes, that's the food coloring you gave us. No need to apologize, though. It's great to have yellow, blue and green. :) I used yellow for the last batch, because it was mostly stars, and a few hearts, and a twisty shape that looked like challah bread.

No baby yet, but that's okay.