Posts Tagged ‘rock’

The Post – My Husband, Alias Fiddler Crab Midwife

February 28, 2008

Again I will note, it is my husband who thought of something crucial. I’d finally gotten the new tank so the water is clear, the nitrites aren’t too high, Scarlett O’Hara is calm and exploring the tank. I got the main tank’s water changed, so it too is in great shape. Feeling satisfied with the world, I commented that now all we need to do is wait for the birth.

My husband turned and said: “I’ve been meaning to ask you something that bothered me. You have the water filter running in the nursery tank. When the microscopic babies are born, won’t they all get sucked into the filter material?”

“OH MY GOD.” The man is right. We’ll come down some morning and Scarlett will have delivered and there’ll be no babies in the tank – just this primal cry of the thousands emitting from the cloth and charcoal filter material – the crab baby equivalent of “Oh the humanity!!”

I first thought maybe I could just pull out the filter material and just leave the water pump running, but again, my engineer husband said, “Well that will be okay I guess while they’re microscopic. But what happens when they start to grow and get a little bigger? They’ll get sucked through the pump and won’t that grind them all up?”

“OH MY GOD again.” You know, for a person who started this whole thing out with “So, we’ve spent $4 on fiddler crabs and a $100 on support gear,” and laughed at the endeavor, he is the one the babies should thank if they make it because he is the one paying such close attention to their every need. When I hedged about spending yet another $30 on a tank heater, he was like, “But won’t they need heat?”

In any event, I ran to Petsmart to buy a tank bubbler. There’s all kinds – wands, rocks, bars, then there’s pumps – all kinds of those, not to mention you have to buy the right pump to handle the volume of your tank and the right sized wand to stretch across your tank, then there’s the check valve you have to install if the pump is going to be below the aquarium instead of above it – keeps the water from backflowing into the pump in case of power loss….you get the picture. I finally settled on a pump for aquariums up to 20 gallons instead of 10. Wanted something with more power to push air in there. And I selected a wand to extend across the back of the tank to create a curtain of bubbles. I thought that might circulate the oxgen better than a bubble rock. It won’t filter the water, but hopefully the huge live rock and the bacteria I’ve already seeded the tank with from the old filter backing, will be enough to jump-start the nitrogen cycle without the filter running. The bubbler will give them fresh air. So, keep your fingers crossed.

At least Scarlett O’Hara seems to like it. She climbs up on the wand and sits there with bubbles flowing up around her. I hope she thinks it’s “surf” and releases the babies soon. My husband wonders if she is scurrying around the tank so much because it’s getting close and she’s frantically trying to find that right spot to let them go and be carried out “into the open ocean.” Sigh.

Truly, those fiddler babies owe him a lot. He is the true fiddler dad. Admiral Byrd may be oblivious and not care, but my husband surely does. It’s that whole “Caring is Catchy,” thing.

The Post – A Sidetrip to Essays – But the Bus NEVER Came Up This Far on the Curb Before!

February 16, 2008

Before I start talking about the Under the Pier process, I need to address the one side that calls to me in a big way – essays. I’ve sold a couple already and I yearn to do more. While this blog is a collection of all the bits of me, perhaps the one area of my soul most fed, is the ability to “speak in essays.”

I have spent most of my time over the last 12 years calling myself a children’s writer, though I have noticed that a lot of my focus is geared toward adults. Is this a contradiction or betrayal of a certain writing path? I don’t think so. Perhaps Madeleine L’Engle handled it best. She used to hate it when she was referred to as a children’s writer, as if that was all she was or it was a special category considered “not quite a writer.” She insisted on being referred to as a writer and considered her children’s writing just one aspect of her career, though certainly not the easiest or least important. Her observation there was: “If I have something that is too difficult for adults to swallow, then I will write it in a book for children.”

So in the same vein, I am first drawn to writing for children as there is the very alive open child within me who wants to speak. However, like everything else in my life, I do not fit neatly into categories. The label “children’s” writer is not totally accurate because I find, I just write. Who it fits, I leave for the readers to determine.

As to my essays, they run the range – spiritual, humorous, nature-based, flippant. One current essay is a list I keep of irreverent things to put on my tombstone: “But it was HER fault, really!” “But I had the right of way!” or “But the bus NEVER came up this far on the curb before!” – the last one from a moment at Colonial Williamsburg where my husband and son expressed concern at how close to the bus stop curb I was standing. When I reassured them the bus never comes that far up, they offered to put that one on my tombstone. 🙂

I love to write essays because my right brain revels in being able to take a single quote or line of dialogue, a comic, photograph, painting or a life question, and just write. Something that starts in the specific and ends up at a universal truth. A journey where I start with the concrete and wander around always surprised where I end up, usually someplace emotional.

In a lot of respects, though I’ve started this blog in the midst of writing a novel for upper middle-grade/Young adult readers, a lot of it so far has been more essays, journaling, unearthing the soul of the writer, rather than a lot about the Children’s Writing business. That’s okay. I need to have that soul of the writer to do that novel. The reality is, that novel has been a journey to answers in life. Maybe in a way, novels are just one long essay because the characters in those fictions worlds still ask the same life questions we all do.

This blog is also my “raw material” that I can mine at will for whatever projects come along. It’s my toy box of thoughts that I can spin into something for adults or children. Truth, is truth.

My “internship of the essay craft” has involved continuing education classes at nearby Duke University, as well questions. Always, questions. They are the catalyst for life, for growth, for wisdom. At least to me, if I stop asking questions, I stop growing. I lose the path to peace

The internship has also included reading countless books. Fiction, philosophy, spirituality, nature guides, and of course, books on essay writing. One in particular is my favorite, and has been the most useful for seeing how to first collect, then transform life experiences. I recommend it highly:

Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal – The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories, by Alexandra Johnson. She teaches memoir and creative nonfiction writing at Harvard and has been published extensively. The book is divided into three parts. It’s possible to only use one of the three at a particular time in life, or ever. The first is about having a journal – creating one, the various types, what raw material to collect; the second part is about transforming your life – finding the patterns and meaning in what you’ve collected; the third section is called “Crossover: Moving a Journal into a Creative Work.”

Whether you just collect raw material, mine it for meaning, or use it to create fiction and nonfiction works, the process changes you. Like that overly used cliched example of a rock thrown in a pond, change one thing and it touches places unseen. Even keeping a list of favorite phrases over a lifetime does something deep inside to your soul and alters your outlook on life.

So I am a writer for all ages. I love to write essays, whoever reads them. They are my journey to answers. They are the playground of the right brain, and the compost pile that fertilizes the rest of my works.

The Post – Admiral Byrd was NOT Worshipping Me or The Aquarium Light

February 11, 2008

Over the last 2 days my husband noticed that Admiral Byrd has been spending a LOT of time, meaning almost ALL of his time, up on top of the gravel hill or the decorative cave rock, or the live rock, or just about anywhere else in the tank, waving his claw. He looked so funny up on the cave rock. He seemed to be staring up at the aquarium tank light, waving his claw as if paying homage to a god. We figured either he held the aquarium light or my hand in high esteem.

My husband has joked that he thinks the crabs go inside the live rock so much because it’s actually their holy site. He thinks they’ve cobbled together a crude altar made of gravel and on the altar they’ve fashioned a shrimp pellet image of their deity, the hand that feeds them . . . basically mine. As he put it, imagine that every day a hand comes down out of the sky and places steak or shrimp or pancakes in front of us. That’s what it must be like every time my hand drops algae or shrimp pellets near them.

In any event we weren’t sure why Admiral Byrd decided to spend an entire day paying homage to me or the light. Why all of the sudden? There’s been nothing new going on in the tank otherwise, all three crabs have been actually pretty placid, out and about feeding, and generally happy. Was this some sort of designated crab “Holy Day” that just happens to coincide with Lent?

As it turns out, alas, neither the aquarium light nor my hand are the object of Admiral Byrd’s devotions. Melanie Hamilton is.

From the Fiddler Crab page on the Chesapeake Bay Program’s bay restoration site:

“When looking for a mate, he stands near the edge of the burrow, often alongside a string of other males and their (similarly well-maintained) burrows, while the females, returning from foraging, walk past. The male waves his large fiddler claw until he attracts the attention of an interested female, who then stares at him for a short period.. The male resumes his claw-waving, and if the female remains receptive, the male runs toward her, then runs back to his burrow, and repeats this motion several times until she either moves on or follows him to the burrow. ”

Apparently, mating behaviors take place not just when the female forages, but also when she molts. I happened to notice this pale, upside down body lying under the water filter this morning and immediately my heart hurt. I thought “Oh no! Melanie Hamilton died!” But not so. Looking closer, I saw that it was the pale ghost of Melanie Hamilton. It was that eerie translucent white, like Scarlett O’Hara’s was, though much more petite given that Melanie Hamilton is so dainty. Melanie Hamilton sat right behind it. I would have gotten pictures for this blog but she had tucked herself and her tiny ghost so far under the water filter that I could not get a shot. If only I had fiber optic cable, maybe I could get footage! I have concluded that the fiddler crabs have designated the “under the water filter space” as the “molting place.” All 3 have used it now. I think it has enough stretching room to shrug off the old shell, but is sheltered enough to keep everyone else away while their new shell hardens.

Admiral Byrd of course, was well aware of events in the tank. He was standing just a few inches from the water filter hoping to catch her eye. Alas, while Admiral Byrd is a true romantic and his efforts were truly heroic – I mean he has to be exhausted after almost 24-hours straight claw-waving – Melanie Hamilton is having none of it. She has turned her back on him and remains secluded under the water filter.

But anyway, the mystery is solved. Admiral Byrd doesn’t give a darn about the tank light or the hand that feeds him. He apparently can sense the approach of “molting” and was doing the crab Valentine’s Day equivalent of serenading his lady.

Sorry no pictures, though. I told my husband if he ever decides to spend money on expensive jewelry or clothes for me, I would prefer one of those borescopes like they use for colonoscopies. That would work GREAT in the tank for closeups of everybody! 🙂

Coming up this week:

Now that you’ve gotten to know me a bit – a cross between sea life maniac and soulful – I’ll start to introduce some of the projects I’m working on. I’ll share what I’ve done, what I’m doing and where I see myself going. Children’s writer and illustrator, Uri Shulevitz, described three stages of a writer’s development at a conference about 12 years ago. I’ve kept them as a kind of road map in my development and will use them to describe what I’m doing.

Also to come, a Writer’s bio page of what I’ve already written.

Happy Monday!

The Post – In Art: What is Not There, Makes it Useful

February 10, 2008

I had about three other posts in mind for today. Each one flooded my brain though, making it impossible for me to find the “simple thread” at its heart. That means they’re meant for another day when my mind can absorb them and sift through the layers to the simple truth at their cores. Sometimes, what is not there, makes it useful. By clearing something away, you see what is waiting there to be discovered. As soon as I set these other topics aside, my eyes landed on what is meant to surface today.

There is a book from the 6th century B.C. written by Lao Tsu, called the Tao Te Ching. The book is described as the essence of Taoism, contained in 81 chapters, which are more like 81 poems or pages because the entire book is about 5000 words. Don’t let it fool you. The shortest entries are the hardest to decipher. What is not there makes it useful.

Entry Eleven is one I could actually figure out-at least most of it. We won’t discuss those last 2 lines whose meaning in view of the rest I still haven’t figured out.

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

While Lao Tsu probably wrote them as rules to live by, I realized that they also apply to the creative arts:

Michaelangelo said that the sculptures he did were already there, fully formed in the rock. He just released them by cutting away all that was not the sculpture.

In photography, the photo’s essence is all about what to include and what to exclude. Even when you print the photo, it is often cropped first, to remove the things that don’t contribute the the unity of the photo. Leave in too much, and you dilute the power of what remains.

I recently took an oil painting seminar on color theory. The artist, Caroline Jasper, shared her process of creating seascapes. She started with some photographs of boats docked in a small port town. Her next step was to make some quick sketches, deciding which boats and buildings to keep and what to cut. By eliminating the excess, what remained had power. Only then did she proceed to actually painting the scene.

In writing, the same is true. Whether fiction or nonfiction – there is a slant, a premise, a particular viewpoint. By the very nature of selecting a perspective, some things will be excluded because they don’t support the main focus of that piece.

If there is any process in writing where “what is not there makes it useful” it would have to be editing. It is the writing equivalent of cutting away the excess stone, cropping the photograph, deciding what elements stay in the painting and which are removed. If anyone doubts the importance of removing what is not needed, consider the Gettysburg Address experience.

On November 19th, 1863, many dignitaries, including President Lincoln, gathered to dedicate the cemetery for the thousands of soldiers who died during the Civil War battle that took place there in July of that year. The main speaker was the famed orator of the day, Edward Everett. A former US Senator, US Representative, Governor of Massachusetts, and President of Harvard University, Everett was held in high esteem. Lincoln’s invitation to attend was actually an afterthought. Everett delivered a well-crafted masterpiece that was 13,607 words long and took 2 hours to deliver. Lincoln spoke for 2-3 minutes and delivered a speech that ran approximately 10 sentences long and had about 272 words. Lincoln considered his speech a failure, yet that is the speech everyone remembers to this day. Edward Everett, himself acknowledged that reality in a letter to Lincoln the very next day. He told Lincoln:

“I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

To remove the excess is to enhance the power of the creation. When I set the other topics aside, this one came up to be discovered. What was not there, made it useful.