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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

a different light

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Sky lover Violet Sky commented on the special warm glow of the morning and evening sun in October in my last post. I agree with her. Sometimes, though, as she no doubt could attest in Toronto, the glow of October's light is rather cool, if that makes sense, and sends you inside for a warmer radiance in a brick fireplace. As another friend says, it's starting to be "candle time."

Inge and I drove an hour and a half to my family's cottage (home of the Wild Things swing) for a writing retreat. It was dark and chilly - except for some brief moments such as this one when Inge was crowned with cool light on a stage of diamonds backed by milky drapes - and when it wasn't raining, light fingers of wind tipped the oak leaves spilling their rain reserves down onto the ferns, moss and tin roof. It was just the right atmosphere for nesting in the couch cushions behind a stack of books and a slow dancing fire.



Conversations with Inge are about stories. Of authors she reads and the very few I read too, such as Orhan Pamuk (click here for my encounter with him). Oh - his beloved İstanbul is also my beloved İstanbul. Or is it? He steps out one way, and I step in another. It is his story, it is my story. Or we talk about her mother's scattered leaves of stories collected and piled in attic letter boxes before Inge and her sister arrived, a world apart. Or Inge's own story, which she wants to write down for her fourteen year old son, with her places, favorite things, her poetry, sketches and photographs. We talk about truth versus fiction. What is the Truth? How does Memory serve? How can I fill in the vast gaps of knowledge about daughter of Swedish immigrants Grandma Olive? I don't remember her at all though she must have held me before her death when I was four. What can I piece together of her from what I have heard from stories told by Mom: taping wallpaper designs around the walls to match patterns as she drew them; sisters Susan, Bootsie and Nancy: falling into the goldfish pool and being terrified of breaking something valuable in the not-too-child-friendly house; and brother Nelson: Saltine cracker & peanut butter sandwiches she made for his snack - each unique and colored by their own separate memories? And what truth of her can I corral from her china, or the "bastard" cabinet she painted, or her sewing box, and the vases she collected?

Just as there is a different light in October, and there is a different light inside, there is also a different light within each of us. This light is more powerful than we are sometimes willing to acknowledge, and it slants this way and that and glows uniquely from each individual. As Eric Maise wrote in one of the weekend's fireplace books (one Inge gave me on some Christmas or birthday), A Writer's Paris, from the chapter "Hemingway Slept Here":

I don't care where Hemingway slept. . . What writers write interests me. . . . If Hemingway is important, it is because what he had to say still touches us. But is it important that on this exact spot, now smack in the middle of a fancy mall, he had onion soup after a night of debauchery? Hardly. The past is no substitute for the present. Love the 1440s, love the 1680s, love the 1920s--love any epoch that touches your soul. But start each day focused on your writing and not on your literary maps.

Bring along the stories of others that have touched you. You can't help it. But write your story, as only you can.


66 comments:

Ink said...

Thank you for this perfect description of our time together this weekend. Linda Barry wrote: "Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true?" What if un-truth is all you have from growing up and you write THAT? Still true, no? Gets right to the heart of things, doesn't it?

wesslea said...

I love the thoughtfulness in all you write. It is as if you can bring me to the place you are.

Wendy

Susan said...

Ahhh, Ruthie, you and I share one of the curses of being the baby in the family. Most of what we remember about our grandparents is hearsay from other family members.

Sometimes its hard to separate what one actually remembers from the stories that have been told. Jaye is the most frustrated by this, being the family historian. He has all that data of people and dates and places, but very few stories to bind it all together. He has managed to trace down quite a few through sheer diligence, mostly through newspaper archives. But that doesn't give it the personal feel that it has if one of them actually told it to you.

I'm happy that you had such a great weekend! And you are so right about the sunshine being "cool". I know exactly what you mean.

Barry said...

Your writing is a joy, Ruth. Rich and evocative and challenging.

kanmuri said...

Such an inspiring post! I love the picture of Inge by the lake. Since you're writing, are you going to do the nanowrimo this year?

Gwei Mui said...

'Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' the grass (or sky) always looks greener on the other side of the world. But just as I say this I look outside the window and see the amazing pink and blue London city sky. Your posts are always so beautiful and rich, always a joy to read. Thank you.

Renee said...

How beautiful dear friend. The writing and the pictures are lovely.

This is such a nice treat to start the day.

Love Renee xoxo

renaye said...

it is rare to have sunlight that will not bbq u in malaysia.

i just love the picture of ur fire stand. it made me recall how much i love winter when i was back in college.

RYC: hehe. if u need any investment tips, feel free to ask me. i could share with u. =) don't worry about investment eating u up! with proper management and planning and also research, u will know where is ur portfolio going. =)

Arti said...

Ruth,

Thanks for the inspiration... again. But this time spot-on, for me. 'Write your story, as only you can'. I'm half way through a screenplay, and a bit stuck. A writing retreat... that's what I need. And, what inspiring environs! Your photos just stir up more ripples. Thanks again!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Just lovely.

ds said...

Beautiful. From the diamond "stage" to the final steps, leading...where? coming from...where? That is for each of us to discover. "Write your story as only you can." Yes, you wise woman, exactly. If only...
I think there is more of your Grandma Olive in you than you realize; write your "four generations" and then see. I hope your retreat was productive and relaxing. I thank you for this small glimpse of it (oh, and I read your Orhan Pamuk story. Felt everything you did, as you did. Wonderful!).

photowannabe said...

Thak you for sharing your trips into memories. You have encouraged me to attempt once again to write about myself, for myself and for my sons and grandkids. Its something I need to do but I tend to get stuck in the minutia (sorry I don't know how to spell it) of life.
Love the picture with the backlit highlights of your Sis.

Pat said...

Love the pictures, and wonderful thoughts.

VioletSky said...

Sitting by an open fire... sharing stories...

your stories here are so evocative

NJ said...

I really love October. Although you have those dreary cold and rainy days you have gems like last Saturday. I woke to temperatures below 60F and thought it would be chilly. I was happy to find that even though the temp was cool there was no cold breeze. The sun then warmed it into a wonderful gorgeous day. A stranger at Costco greeted me with a comment about "a beautiful day finally" I kind of like the dreary ones too...for some reason they have their charm as well.

CottageGirl said...

You capture the essence of autumn with your pictures and words, Ruth ... its beauty and its meaning.
It is in fall that I feel most alive, knowing that I must appreciate and cherish each beautiful moment before winter sets in.
So too with life. Remembering and cherishing life's precious moments ... making them out perhaps a bit more than they were to be able to treasure them even more.
Lovely words, Ruth. Perfect post for me to read on this first evening when Autumn is letting me know it is here.

Oh said...

Pictures, such pictures. You know we love 'em. What a great contrast of human against the backdrop of nature (your friend in her orange hoodie and the big sky).

And indoors, your table of books - don't ya' know I tried to read the titles on them!!! Love this picture for completely different reasons. Every element in it has the cozy factor. I see Rumi in the stack - husband is reading through a collection of his now! funny, huh? and is that a book about writing that's open on the table with your pen nearby?

Sounds like a perfectly perfect time/weekend. and the phrase "candle time." nice. ("nice" is good!) thanks for all this - there's plenty in this entry to get one's arms around and to feel excited about the changing season.

Nancy said...

Lovely writing. Wow, your description of the cottage was beautiful. I love the pictures, especially the one with the "cool" light. Great post.

Nautankey said...

are these places so beautiful you click them and write abt? OR do they seem beautiful after seeing ur snaps and lines :)..confounded!!

Jeanie said...

This post is so rich with its texture and colors and feelings of cool sun and warm fires. Grand depth of thought and oh, the stories! Your photos, as always are fabulous, and I want to crawl into your bookstack and open that wabi-sabi book! I love that term!

I can't think of a more divine way to spend a weekend than with a friend, books, paper, and beauty. How very lovely!

Sandy said...

wow, great post and love that photo of Inge.

Pat said...

Stop by my blog and pick up an award I have for you!

Ann said...

Lucky you, I would like a cottage where I can go for a retreat and write. Of course, I would want to have internet as well.

I was just telling my friend last week as we drove to the farm lands.

Sidney said...

I like your outlook of life... it seems rich not in the material sense...but in the simple way you look at and enjoy life.

rauf said...

oh this is a beautiful piece of literature Ruth, nothing less than Hemingway's, all fictions are based on some facts.

most beautiful picture of Inge the sky and the lake, you caught the soft warm light on her face. Clicked at the right time.

Christine Gram said...

I love the autumn light. Your photos are stunning, your writing even inspiring. Thank you for filling my head with these thoughts.

California Girl said...

Memory seems to be more and more a mixture of fact and fantasy. I am really no longer sure what is true. I've forgotten so much I've replaced it with anecdotes.

Ruth said...

Inge, "What if un-truth is all you have from growing up and you write THAT? Still true, no?" Sadly, those words are true and sounding like someone close to me right now.

Ruth said...

Wendy! Is that you, my Wendy? Thank you so much, sweetie.

Ruth said...

Susie! Jaye's work on your family history is quite a remarkable gift. I think we lost a lot when oral histories stopped being passed down. Like Wendell Berry said in that article I posted about (last post), we have turned to the entertainment industry to pass our time. We asked TV and movies to tell us other people's stories and stopped telling our own. In a strange way, now our children and grandchildren are telling their stories constantly in Twitter, texting and FB. If you ask me, something is getting lost in those minutia, but in a way, maybe it just speaks to our need for story.

Ruth said...

My thanks to you, Barry.

Have I told you lately that I am grateful for your story, painful as it is?

Ruth said...

Hi, Kanmuri, I love the picture too, thank you. Sometimes I'm just so glad the camera is handy.

What is the nanowrimo?

Ruth said...

Gwei Mui, Keats' ode to autumn is the standard. "sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind" - autumn as a woman!

There are many days I imagine looking out onto London, or NY, or Paris. I think I need to live in the middle of a great city one day, at least for a few months. How beautiful, and for an actor, you need to be in the heart of things.

Ruth said...

Oh, Renee. Even in a frightening world, there is beauty all around. I am with you like a circling bird.

Ruth said...

Oh, Renaye, maybe you went to school in the UK?

Thank you for the offer of investment tips. :) I am still afraid to open my portfolio statement. :|

Ruth said...

Dear Arti, I would love to give you the cottage for a weekend! Good luck with the screenplay. After reading your post, I want to write one!

Ruth said...

Thanks, Pamela.

Ruth said...

Oh my dear insightful friend, DS, you are good. Thank you for "seeing" in my photos what I hoped you'd see.

Of course the question I ask myself is whether what is in me of Grandma Olive is based on her truth, or my own. Inge would ask: Does it matter? Maybe it doesn't, but it still figures into my perceptions as they evolve.

Thank you also for reading the Pamuk post! You're a dear woman.

Ruth said...

Sue, please do write for your kids. It's too late for me to sit with my parents now and ask what I didn't think to ask decades ago.

Thank you, I love the photo of Inge too. I see her there so full of light and life, just as she is.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Pat.

Ruth said...

Hi, Violetski. You know how it is.

Ruth said...

NJ, your Costco greeter should realize what you do, that the beautiful days are more welcome because of the dreary ones. But I agree with you, I love a rainy, gloomy day. I just love weather!

Ruth said...

CottageGirl, I wonder if we asked 100 people what their favorite season is, what they would say? Most people I know, in Michigan, would say autumn. Being in Wisconsin, you have similar climate.

The colors of the trees, and the colors of the sky, and the light, make autumn beautiful. And then I love the winter for the bare branches. I need the minimalism after all the lushness. It's a cycle I welcome.

Ruth said...

Yay, Oh! You are so fun, just love you.

Yes, two Rumis in the stack I think, the daily one and the collection. Which is your husband reading? The open book with the pen is the Writing in Paris book I mention in the post. It is WONDERFUL. Now I need another trip to Paris to put it into effect. Not really, I can do it here too.

Thank you so much for your soulful response.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Nancy. I'm so interested that your current post about money resonates with my situation with passing on our family cottage. How do we leave what we have to our children?

Ruth said...

Aw, Nautankey, :D. You so nice. And you are insightful! I do often - including this time - start with the pictures and then write. I figured out last year or year before that when I combine images with writing, that is how inspiration works for me the best.

Ruth said...

Hi, Jeanie. I think you would really enjoy the Wabi Sabi book. It was an inspiration to me and still is. It's almost like a devotional, how to simplify and find meaning in daily routines, not in fancifying.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Sandy. I'm still listening to Neil sing "Harvest Moon." Thank you for that.

Ruth said...

Cheers, Pat, thank you for sharing from your riches! :D

Ruth said...

Ann, well, we had internet, last time. We have a nice satellite dish, have TV all the channels. I don't like to watch TV at the cottage, but some do. They don't want to miss a football game. Now we went down to the minimum coverage, and we couldn't pull up the internet, though we wanted to google a few things as we talked about writing.

Ruth said...

From you especially, Sid, thank you for that honor.

Ruth said...

rauf, I listened to A.S. Byatt interviewed the other morning, I had not even heard of her before, an elderly British author, though she won the Booker before and was nominated again this year. She said she combines sometimes six or seven people to make a character. We have to draw from our experiences, or the writing, even fictional, will feel false. We have to write what we know, of course, such an old truth.

Ruth said...

Hi, Christine, well thanks for that kind word. I do love passing on inspiration, and when you tell me you got it, that's what this is all about. Yippee!

Ruth said...

California Girl, Inge says it doesn't matter.

Anecdotes, ha. Well there is that too.

dutchbaby said...

A writer's retreat sounds like a dream. I just returned from a long weekend in Carmel with my book club. Ours was more like a eating and drinking retreat - oh, and we shopped too. I didn't write a lick but I laughed until my sides hurt.

The photo of the books in front of the fireplace is so vivid, I can hear the fire crackling all the way over here.

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, a laughing, eating, shopping retreat is wonderful. You have an amazing city and area to explore, and how fun to do it with good friends.

Frankly, Inge and I did not write much either. But we talked about it, and just getting away from our busy routines felt inspiring.

~*~Magpie's Nest said...

what beautiful "light" you bring with your inspired writing and weaving of words ... such a delight!
~*~ Patty

Ruth said...

Ah, thank you, Patty.

shoreacres said...

Oh, Ruth ~ Do you and Inge know the Portuguese author, Pessoa? or of his trunk of scraps? The thousands and thousands of bits and snippets of poetry and prose?

I just finished writing about him before coming here - and about all the scraps of our lives that we collect and savor and hoard and, if we are blessed, make something of.

The quotation about Hemingway reminds me of my favorite from Georgia O'Keefe: Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.

Ruth said...

Linda, thank you for the introduction to Pessoa. Seventy selves!

O'Keefe transported skulls from the Southwest to NYC so she could paint the real America in the midst of an artists community that did not value such things. What she did with her circumstances continues to be an inspiration to me.

Ginnie said...

Whose steps these are I think I know.... I'm so glad you have these retreats, Ruth, where you can be so inspired to write. My soul has great longing right now....

Ruth said...

Boots, that was cute.

From longing comes inspiration, I think. You are getting ready for a new chapter. Godspeed.

Vagabonde said...

I just read your post about Orhan Pamuk. I have had times like that when an event is so big for me, but I am just another person for the author or musician. I have one of his books in my library but have not read it yet. Did you read The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak? I enjoyed her book very much.

Gwen Buchanan said...

I am so taken with your writing I don't know what to say...

You have "IT".. that special thing... it creates a pause and makes one think..

.... and you also have an excellent memory...


... that pile of books by the fire... what a wonderful experience you and your friend made happen... so stimulating and lovely...
Thank you Ruth!!!

Ruth said...

No, Vagabonde, I haven't read Shafak's book, although I read about it. She sounds quite interesting, and I'm so glad she's writing.

I hope all is well in France.

Ruth said...

Dear dear Gwen, thank you.

Do I have an excellent memory? I don't remember!