Considering #Perception

Yesterday I posted a photo to Instagram. The last streetlights still shone as the sun rose behind the maple trees in Durham, New Hampshire. The sunrise sparked upwards, yellow and orange, splattering red out and up, and fading to gentle pink and blue. It occurred to me, even as I enjoyed a stunning sunrise unlike any I’d seen before, that our neighbors out west might perceive this fiery display as something to fear.

I suppose I’ve always been fascinated by how the same situation, event, video, or person can be perceived so differently depending on each person’s past experience. For example, there is a video playing on our local university’s home page. In it, smoke fills the air. People are screaming. The first time I saw the video, I watched horrified, wondering what terrible event had occurred over the weekend. With the second viewing I realized that it wasn’t smoke and screaming I was viewing. It was chalk dust and laughter as fans celebrated a football game kick-off.

college

But was my initial perception that far off? I asked several co-workers, all who say that they were at the football game that day and it was so much fun. Or they said, “Obviously, it’s a football game.” I’ve yet to find anybody who had the visceral reaction to this video that I had. Yet, look at war photos from overseas. Remember September 11, 2001.

The football game video still plays. I still avert my eyes.

Thirty some-odd years ago, I married. While planning our wedding Mass, my mother and I were discussing the final blessing. I had selected The Blessing of Aaron (Numbers 6:24-26). I wanted it sung using the same composition I had learned in my high school’s Glee Club.  That rendition is similar to the one below, performed by the Homewood-Flossmoor High School’s Viking Choir.

~sigh~   ~so beautiful~

Mom wasn’t enamored with my choice. “You do know that Aaron was being blessed before he went to war,” she said. “Do you really think that it’s an appropriate blessing for a wedding?”

Now forget for a moment whether her interpretation of the passage is correct. It is what she believed. She perceived the blessing would invoke conflict.

I remember pondering her words. It saddened me to think the blessing’s peaceful lyrics were a battle-cry.  Then it occurred to me, perhaps it was the perfect blessing for a marriage. My husband-to-be and I would commit “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health.” We’d have each other’s backs. We’d stand side-by-side. In gratitude we’d accept all that the world offered and mourn all it would take away.

For me, The Blessing of Aaron wasn’t preparing us for marital conflict. Rather it blessed us as we joined forces, binding our lives together.

Powerful perception. Use with care.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Inspiration | Tagged | Leave a comment

Scarlet Leaf Review

Summer 2018 (15)

Humble gratitude to The Scarlet Leaf Review for publishing my prose poetry in its August 2018 online edition. You can access my page at https://www.scarletleafreview.com/poems14/category/barbara-rath.

 

Copyright        Disclaimer

Posted in Fiction, Reading and Writing | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Technology and Creativity

Last Autumn, in my first writing workshop, I joked that the difference between a Master of Information Technology and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is I can do my MFA homework while resting in my hammock. While that statement is true (at least in the waning days of summer), its levity doesn’t do justice to the challenges faced by fiction writers muddling through a semester of creative writing.

When studying IT, I worked in small multi-lingual teams, interviewed clients, wrote code, created dynamic statistical models, assembled PCs, loaded myriad operating systems, and networked hardware into LANs and WANs. We didn’t do all-nighters. We did all-week-enders. We set sleep set aside in the pursuit of teaching a machine to do what we wanted.

More than a decade later, I decided to pursue an MFA in Fiction writing at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), fitting two classes per term around full-time work. That first semester, afghan-wrapped in my hammock, I read Chekhov and O’Connor, short stories from the New Yorker and Glimmer Train, and stories by my peers. More than 100 pages per week, each story read at least two times. After that, with limited knowledge of craft, I wrote three critiques per week, suggesting improvements to my peers’ narratives, stories which awed and humbled me. Creative tales, dynamic characters with inspiring internal conflict, and descriptions so lovely and brutal and pertinent.

Then, cowed with self-doubt it was my turn. Settings, characters, plot, external and internal conflict, scenes, dialog, climax and epiphany, all must weave together into a coherent tale to entertain and enlighten. My first term, the stories rolled out. Not easily, but they found me and two are now almost ready to circulate. The second term, nothing. I was immobilized. It seemed that all my classmates wrote beautiful sentences, coherent paragraphs, killer first lines, and deep emotions. Me? Nothing. Nada. Nill.

That is the true challenge of an MFA in Fiction Writing. In IT, if I worked hard and asked questions, I accomplished my tasks. There were right answers (many of them in fact) and wrong answers. There was no gray. Fiction writing is black, white, gray, and all the colors of a sun-shower rainbow. Sometimes you have to sit in a chair for hours, or even days, and write gibberish. Then suddenly a character steps forward and says Fine. Write my story. But I’m not going to make it easy for you. At that point you latch on and go for the ride, never quite sure where the character is taking you.

At least that’s what I’m supposed to do, but my analytical brain doesn’t enjoy the ride. It wants to know who is this person? Where is he taking us? Why should we go? What’s the purpose? Shouldn’t we be outside weeding and raking and generally leading a more productive life?

Bottom line? When I’m not writing I’m not happy. It’s part of who I am. Whether or not I write a story worth publication, I do it because I must. Participating in UNH’s MFA program surrounds me with others grappling with similar assaults on their self-confidence. We nudge each other forward, share our rejections, applaud our successes, and despite spending hours alone in a room with imaginary people, we discover real people who’ve got our backs.

Featured short story from UNH MFA candidate Rachel Bullock: Love Birds.

Copyright        Disclaimer

Posted in Reading and Writing, Self Confidence | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Layers of Loveliness #SmallTown

We searched for our Christmas tree early this year, going to our usual farm high above Bow Lake, only to find it reaching the end of its glorious life.  We found a blue spruce: sparse, but tall and healthy. Yet, we decided we needed to keep looking.

That following week, the week after Thanksgiving, I drove through nearby New Hampshire towns, hoping I might find a traditional Balsam Fir.  I followed signs–flat green cut-outs of trees–to Walker’s Green Trees in Madbury, NH.  Turning onto Perkins Road, I passed a farm house and then a field of pine trees spread before me.

Walker’s Tree Farm

I pulled into the driveway and parked next to the only other car, which I figured belonged to the owner of the farm. For a half hour, I wandered undisturbed through the trees, seeing two Balsams over there perfect for our home, five over here, another far across a soon-to-be-planted field. Signs warned to step carefully over fox holes. The smell of pine, the bristle of branches against my hand, the warm sunshine, all filled me with a sense of tranquility.

As I returned to my car, knowing this was where we’d find our tree, a woman stepped from the house and introduced herself as Melissa Walker. She shared how she and her husband, Ian, had decided years ago, rather than sell their farmland, to transform it from the working farm it had been, to a Christmas tree farm. Every year in the spring, friends and family devote a weekend to planting new saplings, an event so enjoyed, it has been documented in other blogs through the years. When her husband passed away several years back, his grandson, Ian, took over management of the farm, and now the tradition of tree planting and nurturing continues.

Then I commented on the sculptures in her driveway, the tall, stone-carved bird houses, and especially the lovely stone monument next to her barn. She said that Gary Haven Smith, of Northwood, NH, had been a student of her husband’s. She had commissioned him to create the monument in memory of her husband. Gary and her grandson, created this work of art together.

It was an honor to see work by this talented artist up close. Many years back, on a visit to the Glencliff Home for the Elderly, a nursing home sheltered by the White Mountains, I was awed by the chapel’s stained glass panels created by his wife, Susan Pratt-Smith.

This past October, Mr. Smith passed away, leaving behind a mourning community; Not just because he was a notable artist, but because he was a real neighbor: a friendly face in a small town, as is his wife and son.

I mention all of this, because it is the reason why I love this State of New Hampshire. Wherever I go, there are threads that connect all of us; circles filled with the people we care about, the people we remember, the people who make this State great.

That brisk December day, I went to purchase a Christmas tree, and instead was given an unforgettable moment in time.

Copyright        Disclaimer

Posted in Good Neighbors, Volunteer, Nostalgia | Tagged , , ,

Poetry’s Sonnet

Tonight I was collaborating with former New Hampshire Poet Laureate, Marie Harris, to prepare for her upcoming Webinar about the Prose Poem (Monday at 7 PM–register through the NH Writers’ Project). We discussed various types of poems. She described the workings of a sonnet. That’s when I remembered this funny little poem written just for my personal enjoyment, which was first published on April 15, 2014.  I thought I’d re-post it in honor of new friendships and lasting poetry.

poetry

Poetry’s Sonnet

Shall poetry be no more a part of life?
When rhyming fairies sent childhood head to pillow?
When youthful scrawls of Milne and Masefield were rife
And poems of love and loss once held words to sow?

Though gray skies and flora called, my classroom subjects spurned,
But as surely as childhood slipped slow from its berth,
Teachers summoned me back and my lectures learned:
No more Dylan’s dying light; Say adieu to Wordsworth.

The poets, shelved and displayed throughout my home,
Like Wangero’s quilts, not for everyday use.1
But day leads to decade: creates life’s palindrome,
And now Khayyám lies open with old age’s excuse.

Notes and books filed too long in drawers oh so deep,
Shall bless my years’ journies, with Frost’s words of sleep.

By Barbara Rath Hoover (04/15/2015; rev 11/10/2017)

  1. Everyday Use, by Alice Walker

Copyright        Disclaimer

Posted in Reading and Writing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments