Dolphin spotting with Captain Casper the sea dog! 

From Scotland with the Wee White Dug, a tale of adventures in the Highlands, including the Pump Room and Spa Exhibition in Strathpeffer, a view of Castle Leod (seat of Clan Mackenzie), the Touchstone Maze honoring Scotland’s historic sites, a Moray Firth cruise with Dolphin Spirit Inverness, enchanting music at Embrace Gifts shop along with wood carvings at Victorian Station, the Eagle Stone of The Pictish Trail, and more. Just further proof, as if we needed any, that your Scotland trip deserves quality time in Inverness-shire and at least a glimpse of the Northern Highlands.

Scotland with the Wee White Dug

Today I’m going to share with you an eclectic mix of Victorian spa town in the Scottish Highlands and a dolphin spotting adventure on the Moray Firth.

Last Saturday after an early breakfast at our B&B near Portmahomack, we set off along the NC500 route between Tain and Dingwall to make the 34 mile journey to Strathpeffer. Strathpeffer lies a few miles west of Dingwall.

The village sits in a wide mountain valley or strath. Leafy, and surrounded by mountains it has the look of an Alpine village to it.

Arriving in Strathpeffer is like stepping back in time. The Victorians have left an instantly recognisable imprint on the architecture of the village. You half expect to see elegantly dressed ladies, strolling down the street on the arm of top hatted gents with mutton-chop whiskers.

The Victorian Station

When we arrived at the station a cute little shop calledEmbrace…

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Book Review: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo

by Alexandre Dumas, père

Warning: This review and analysis include several spoilers. Read at your own risk.

Style and Substance

The writing in Alexandre Dumas’ historical French novel, relating a 19th-century tale of injustice and revenge, can be long winded. Readers might expect this when noting that an “unabridged” version ranges between 1100 and 1400 pages. With so much space consumed, we might suppose this writer who loved his craft was tempted into ostentation. Perhaps he was.

However, I wouldn’t call his style flowery; a tempted Dumas exhibits self-control. Understated and enticing, the author’s abundant wit, along with great storytelling and readable prose, justify the length of the text. Truly.

I finished this book club selection more than a month before our February meeting, quite the feat considering how often I don’t finish on time. Yes, I started before our last meeting about a single Agatha Christie short story, but never mind.

A suspenseful page-turner for most of its fecund pages, The Count of Monte Cristo kept me reading steadily to learn the fates of characters set aside for long, overlapping periods. My circumstances helped, but Dumas helped more.

Rooted in European history, the settings span a 25-year period of the early 1800s and explore diverse locations from sea and prison to Rome, Paris, and the French countryside. At the story’s fulcrum is the question of political loyalties and their implications. Early shifts in power between Royalists and Bonapartists animate the lever that decides the ground on which central characters begin their journeys.

The plot is intricate and well organized, and the story proves emotionally dynamic, replete with dramatic irony. Rhythmic flow springs from engaging dialogue, which, beside measured descriptive text, renders Monte Cristo a delightful, theatrical melodrama. Its film adaptations attest to this strength with their number.

count-monte-cristo-cast-into-the-sea

“Dantes Cast into the Sea” by French artist Dumont. George Routledge and Sons edition, 1888

Genre, or Who This Book Is For

My first, unspoiled reading never brought tears, drew audible gasps (maybe some silent ones), shocked me, or provoked any wild laughter. In that way, I see it as a steady, well-written, well-told yarn composed of entertaining threads. It is more dark, sweeping Romance in the Gothic tradition than affecting, relatable human drama. This fact tempered my enthusiasm somewhat, as I tend to prefer the latter.

Intrigue, mystery, crime, adventure–all in the particular context of early 1800s Continental politics and cultures–overshadow character complexity and intimacy despite dozens of highly emotional moments. Sadly, there are no kisses lip to lip, let alone sex scenes; sexual suggestiveness is rare and subtle.

Perhaps Victorian in those respects, the book offers some extreme violence, ample cold-blooded murder, and one instance where an unconscious maiden signifies rape. Several incidents are told as stories within the story, but such elements serve to emphasize the grisly tragedies and grotesque fascinations comprising the tale.

Specific Critiques and Praise

Among its flaws, The Count of Monte Cristo tends to telegraph plot points. Thus, prolonged suspense meets the anticlimax of predictable, but satisfying, outcomes. We could attribute this forecasting effect in part to the amount of space and time provided for the reader to guess results correctly, but it is noticeable.

[Second warning: If you’ve never read this book but think you might want to, leave this post now and go read it!]

Still, I felt great moral and literary satisfaction in anticipating the villains’ comeuppance. Then, the collateral damage is realistic and heart rending, dispelling any notion of a surgically precise wrath of God. Lingering questions about the fates of key characters also felt appropriate, particularly concerning Benedetto. As we leave him, we suspect he just might get away with his crimes.

The reader gains significant insight into more than half a dozen characters, sympathizing with their situations. By this method, Dumas succeeds in conveying the imperfect nature of vigilante justice (or any justice) as each major villain meets a punishment that may not match the severity or nature if his crime. The costs of vengeance are dear. Given the paths before these ends, the final choices and turns the antagonists make seem to befit their personalities, also well developed.

By contrast, I found the main character surprisingly underdeveloped for so long a work and despite, or perhaps because of, the different characters he embodies. Edmond Dantès’ journey is remarkable early on and leading into his manifold vengeance. The changes starting to take shape in the climax also work well, but the ending felt rushed. Dantès’ reflections seem insufficient, his remorse and renewed questing half hearted, and his love for his ward lukewarm and a bit convenient.

[Third and final warning: I really mean it this time – Turn back now or skip to the summary below, or suffer the consequences!]

One can imagine Dantès’ moral education continuing beyond the fifth volume of the story, along with the revival of his will to live and start again. I don’t personally need a neatly wrapped ending. Yet, if that emphasis on waiting and hoping was the author’s intent for Dantès as much as for other characters, I would have preferred hints of a more precarious future happiness for our primary hero, more of a sense that the next climb may be just as long and steep as the last.

For Love of Money

Other trouble comes in the author’s apparent emphasis on needing a seemingly limitless fortune to possess true, full freedom and happiness. This notion meets no significant challenge anywhere in the story, which I found strange, if not quite disappointing. Reinforcing this sentiment is the unmitigated misery associated with every example of poverty or even humble means. Dumas might look upon the poor as inherently noble creatures, morally superior, a Romantic vision, but he leaves no doubt that everyone from prince to pauper prefers, and even needs, substantial wealth. Such assumptions irritate.

The exceptions are the slaves the Count owns; Dumas portrays the happiness of Ali and Haydée to be as incandescent as their devotion is supreme. They hardly count, for they are completely dependent, without their own money, and thus without authentic agency. The author seems to doubt that even a single, independent Frenchman could be happy in this time and place without one of the following conditions: possessing great fortune or knowing the security of directly and loyally serving (or being a beneficiary of) a person of great fortune and benevolence, such as the Count of Monte Cristo.

Evidence accrues of the author’s money love. The vast majority of focus characters are members of high society and the wealthy elite, many of superior education, notable beauty, close royal connections, or distinguishing experience. Yet nowhere do riches serve as an obvious corrupting force, except in the most obvious, a priori cases of the antagonists.

The young people cradled in luxury from birth–Albert, Eugénie–adapt swiftly to financial uncertainty, if not to real or projected financial loss. Each is strong of mind, and each charges ahead with definitive plans. Their apparent lack of greed seems plausible, but how long will they last? On the contrary, how will the two most worthy, noble, and innocent characters (hint: not Albert or Eugénie) avoid their lives’ ruination upon acquiring an incalculable fortune?

Currency for the Count

During the rising action, as he operates like some other-worldly creature, at least the Count’s near immunity to the ill effects of being filthy rich seems reasonable. The immensity of the treasure he acquires coupled with the depth of the misery he has suffered accounts for it. There is no room for covetousness, for there is no need. His vision is fixed not on indulging his chosen life of opulence–for his jaded soul can hardly enjoy it–but on using it for convoluted, comprehensive payback.

It is in the name of this sophisticated vengeance for genuine wrongs against him that the Count wields his fortune, education, disguises, and cunning like a four-flanged mace of justice. It is only after his perceived atonement for such absolute revenge that the Count is finally ready to relinquish his wealth and the power and esteem it awarded him. As a result, he believes he needed the money only for the scores he had to settle, but without money going forward, his status and influence will fade.

The question is, Can he indeed adjust to this new reality? For an author whose characters so unilaterally and fervently depend upon prolific capitalism for their happiness, it would seem doubtful. It makes me curious to learn about the life of Alexandre Dumas (of which I currently know nothing), to seek a reason for this.

Revenge? What’s That?

Since the reader never has the chance to observe the changes in either the man who gives away his “first-rate” fortune or those who receive it–changes either in those who lose all they had or in those who squirrel away a buffer against such loss–the consequences of these shifts remain open ended. Despite the age difference between the Count and the younger people, all seem to be of a more flexible generation than their parents are regarding money, status, and survival.

What may be most telling is that none of the villains (1 of the 3 perhaps) truly suffers for very long the consequences of their greed and evil. Each escapes a traditional punishment the reader might think they deserve, whether doing so by their own free will or decidedly not. We never get to see them struggle for any notable duration without money, without status, without family.

They suffer in other ways, many established without the Count’s interference long before he catches up with them; most of it they have done to themselves. The prospect of loss terrifies them and they sustain heavy blows. However, no one reaches, before story’s end, the degree or longevity of deprivation and sorrow that Edmond Dantès has known at their hands.

An epilogue assuring the reader that the evildoers will all receive and experience what they deserve–whether in life or in death–might have been soothing. Without it, we can only guess, “wait and hope” that at least one of them does.

Mercédès

As to patriarchal double standards, I found the Count, if not Dumas, to be harsh in accusing and punishing Mercédès, Edmond’s betrothed before his imprisonment. She is also harsh in judging herself. The woman who becomes Countess de Morcerf, though marrying Edmond’s rival and persecutor, was technically as innocent as Valentine and Maximilien. Disgraced and poor in the end, she is convent bound as her son leaves for military service. The weight of having lost and again losing Edmond is her greatest regret, and rightly so, but it is through no fault of her own in either instance.

Her ignorance and naive perspective of wrongdoing matches Edmond’s as he begins his time in jail, and Mercédès does what she can to atone in the end. Yet the reader is left with the sense that her punishment is deserved, she has not done enough, and she was even a sort of prostitute under the circumstances–all of which is hyperbole. First, how could she have known? Second, what should she have done differently while kept in ignorance?

Mercédès nursed Edmond’s ailing father to his dying day, continued to appeal to the government for news of Edmond, and then made the best of loss and a loveless marriage, sought continuously to better herself, raised a worthy child, and finally relinquished all her ill-gotten gains.

Among all central characters, as Countess de Morcerf, Mercédès alone never seeks to harm anyone, only to save them. More than Haydée, who avenges her father, if not more than Valentine, who avenges no one directly, Mercédès is in fact among the most saintly of the story’s women. Also, because she is so very far superior to both Baroness Danglars and Madame de Villefort, the Countess de Morcerf receives more than unjust treatment.

The unwarranted nature and degree of Mercédès’ eventual suffering approach those of Edmond’s initial suffering. What is that one saying about those we love most? With nothing but vengeful hatred in Edmond’s heart as he enacts his plans, he has doomed his first love, Mercédès, from the start. Perhaps instead of “Frailty, thy name is woman” (Hamlet), the Shakespeare quotation Edmond should have studied and remembered is “The quality of mercy is not strain’d” (Merchant of Venice).

Summary Review

The Count of Monte Cristo is a robust, culturally observant work that explores the mysteries and ironies of destiny. Absorbing characters take shape at a good pace for the story’s length. There is clear, abundant evidence of the skill, the care–in short, the investment–applied by author Alexandre Dumas, père (senior). Although I would have preferred a more detailed look into the title character’s mind and the lessons he learns, the novel, like the Count himself, has earned its place among the classics. I doubt I’ll ever re-read the book entirely, but I imagine returning on occasion to dip into its turbulent, colorful, and ambitious pages.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Translation and Abridgement (No Spoilers)

À propos of length and language, I found no fully reliable, consistently clear, and high-quality English translation among the five versions I sampled while first reading and listening to the story. The Robin Buss translation published by Penguin Classics, though widely preferred and lauded, may be more complete than other unabridged editions, but I found the diction too contemporary, the phrasing overwrought, and the writing generally less elegant than in other editions.

Furthermore, while at times wrinkling my forehead in puzzlement at the Buss translation, I found the text of the Oxford World’s Classics 2008 edition–and even more so of the David Clarke Librivox recording and very similar Gutenberg Project epub ebook–to be more accurate, more logical and appropriate to story context, and more understandable in several instances.

I doubt this divergent assessment has anything to do with my having studied French for 8 years. It probably has more to do with my preferences for archaic diction, unusual syntax, and general clarity. A treasured French study background increased my enjoyment in part due to my understanding of the untranslated French expressions, such as “Pardieu!” (literally “By God” but meaning “Of course!” or “Indeed!”), but any astute reader can gather meaning from context.

Incidentally, David Clarke does a fabulous job with theatricality, French and Italian accents, male and female registers of voice, distinguishing main character voices, clear and consistent projection, and excellent articulation. Aside from occasional mispronunciations, Clarke may have stumbled once or twice in 117 chapters in the Librivox recording. Highly recommended. My having blended listening to recordings with reading ebooks and print copies is largely what allowed me to keep my momentum and finish this massive book quickly.

The Gutenberg file uses the 1888 illustrated (and non-illustrated) George Routledge and Sons edition. I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations by various French artists of the period provided in the .html version of that file. The claim of Robin Buss’s work in the Penguin Classics translation is the supposed recovery of and return to nuances of the original text that had been lost in earlier editions, and I can see some of that happening as well.

The comparable heft of the Modern Library Classics edition suggests little to no abridgement, but I found it makes noticeable, unnecessary cuts, at least to descriptive text in the few parts I bothered to read.

At any rate, we must allow that some flaws resulting from translation could be due to the original author’s style and diction in French as well. I recommend reading an unabridged edition if you read the book at all. Furthermore, if you are fluent, I feel confident, without having read it myself, in advising you to read the original French instead of a translation into English or other languages. Bien sur! (Pardieu!)

A novelist and a photographer walk into a theater…

In service of writer-to-writer, artist-to-artist encouragement, this excerpt in particular inspired my reblogging. It contradicts the notion that daring or interesting life experiences are required to fuel good writing, and it reinforces a belief I have held that a structured environment can be the best home for beauty’s thriving:

“As Mann herself said—riffing on Flaubert—’You should have an ordinary and organized life so that you can be extraordinary and original and outrageous in your creative life.’ (Admission: I didn’t know this Flaubert quote, and, as a fiction writer with a very ordinary and organized life, found it enormously comforting.)”

the literate lens

Mann1 Outside Symphony Space

Over the three years I’ve been writing The Literate Lens, few events have screamed “blog post!” as loudly at me as the one I attended last night at Symphony Space, in which Sally Mann, the acclaimed photographer (who, by her own admission, rarely leaves her Virginia home), was in conversation with Nashville-based novelist Ann Patchett.

I’ve loved Mann’s work ever since she blazed into the headlines with her 1992 book Immediate Family—I’ve followed her since into some strange and dark territory, and knew, from the essay excerpt published in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago, that her new memoir Hold Still would be fascinating. I also loved Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel State of Wonder, which can roughly be described as a sort of contemporary feminist version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. A photographer-turned-memoirist in conversation with a novelist—needless…

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Play-Write: A Reply to “On Treating Writing as a Form of Play”

Responding to Eli Glasman‘s post “On Treating Writing as a Form of Play.”

I really enjoyed your piece, Eli! It very much resonated with me! I keep finding posts and comments like yours that are so in sync with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (1992),* to which I’ve become a convert over the past few years. I guess you really do find what you look for. Perhaps you’re familiar with the book. A huge part of Cameron’s program aligns with your sentiments in this post. Cameron spends much text encouraging the child in us to play–even, or especially, in a messy way–at art, in whatever form.

If it is to “work” for you and your readers, I think initial creative writing (both fiction and non-fiction, even journalism and fingerpainting_smiley_handscholarly work), like any art, has to feel something like play, something with a natural flow and ease and subconscious hum about it. Editing is the real work, as it calls for a more analytical mode and purpose, the imposition of structure upon the raw, lovely “mess.”

Coming across your post, Eli, also reinforces my last post, a response to resisting perfectionism in favor of simply making art. A perfectionist approach to play certainly is no fun, just as it is often counterproductive to even the adult-like goals of one’s writing. Initial, rough drafts of creative output should be a flawed fountain of fun.

Many people do not enjoy their professions, trades, or jobs, and the same can be true for writers, but it doesn’t have to be.

Play-write instead of playing “right,” and you’ll be on the right writing track.

See my previous posts on the theme of perfectionism vs. the artist’s way (a.k.a., the way of beautiful imperfection). They make up almost one-third of my total number of posts, I’m just realizing after compiling the list.

  1. Reflection on “Abandoning Perfection,” March 23, 2015 (direct response)
  2. On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection, March 18, 2015
  3. On Process: Verse Writing, Part II: Developing an Idea, Trying a New Form, March 11, 2015
  4. Is Writing a Single Bad Sentence a Signal of Bad Writing?, February 26, 2015 (direct response)
  5. The Perfect-Pooch Parade, February 17, 2015
  6. Thoughts on “How to Be a Confident Writer,” January 29, 2015 (direct response)
  7. Classic Learning, January 28, 2015
  8. RE: Re-re-re-revision, January 19, 2015 (direct response)
  9. On “Writing Without Hope” by Jennifer Lynn Krohn, January 1, 2015 (direct response)
  10. Synchronicity: Coincidence, Answered Prayer, or Something Else?, August 26, 2014
  11. 2013: contents inventoried the “artist’s way”, January 23, 2014
  12. Practice makes . . . , January 16, 2014

*Disclaimer: I feel compelled to note that, although you may notice a pattern of “promotion” here, I solemnly swear I am in no way in the employ or service of Julia Cameron or her associates and have no financial incentive to promote her work. I just like it–clearly! 🙂 Looks like it’s time for a new category page.

On Process: Verse Writing, Part IV: Reflection

ICYMI:

My previous post, On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft, dealt with the last phases of my verse writing process toward a complete elegy for Leonard Nimoy. It also contains excerpts from the finished product. This time, for my final post of the series, I reflect upon both process and product, sharing my self-evaluation and how I’ve grown as a writer.

Update: I decided that reading the poem aloud was an important final step, which led to a few more revisions, and I feel more satisfied with the results than when I last thought the poem was finished. Next comes peer feedback at writing group.

You’re welcome to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.


The Verse Writing Process, Part IV: Reflection

Milestones reached

The goals I had when I started this process of discussing the verse writing process were:check-mark_red_pencil_red

  1. Remember, and say something in memory and support of, Leonard Nimoy.
  2. Create a fitting tribute by carefully attending to emotion, detail, and quality.
  3. Finish The Daily Post‘s Writing 201: Poetry, Day 5 task: elegy, fog, metaphor.
  4. Learn about the features and models of elegies, and apply lessons to the work.
  5. Chronicle the process I go through and assess how it affects the poetry and me.
  6. Share my poem and journey with poets, writers, poetry lovers, loved ones, all.

As of this post, I believe I have reached goals 1-5 and some of 6. The skill with which I did so is another matter. I know the poem is not perfect, the posts about it are not perfect, and I expect no acclaim for either. I only hope for reader enjoyment and some degree of acknowledgement, some day.

How did I do all this?: Lessons learned

Beats me! Well, no, that’s disingenuous. But seriously, I was pleasantly surprised by the results, but I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising. With all the structure, rules, procedures, and restrictions I applied, I doubted my ability to tap into my creative side effectively at the same time. However, I am an experienced verse writer, though not yet published; I do possess some skills that deliver. Being accountable to my blog followers doesn’t hurt either!

The thing that helped most was probably my determination to celebrate Leonard Nimoy. Passion for the subject and, thus, the project is a great motivator. In a way, I didn’t want to let him down. Losing the man was sad enough without also losing a cohesive, coherent, tangible expression of that loss. Choosing to write an elegy really commits you to it in a unique fashion.

I think it worked fairly well, too, because I intentionally toggled between roles throughout: from writer to my own beta reader, from creative to reductive, artist to analyst, right brain to left and back. It helped that I opened myself to a new process.

Image credit: Bernard Goldbach, Creative Commons.

Image credit: Bernard Goldbach, Creative Commons.

This time, to let the art live and breathe, I let the ideas and feelings flow on and on for a substantial period before I even started thinking about poetic form. I added the missing ingredient of idea development to my verse writing process. When it was time to craft poetry, the parameters no longer seemed so restrictive.

Remaining questions

Still, I wonder, now that I’ve judged the work to be done, whether or not the form and structures I imposed squeezed the life out of the art, making the poem feel choppy, seem forced, or come off as boring. Using the shorter tetrameter line (four units of one stressed and one unstressed syllable each within the same line) compared to the traditional hexameter-pentameter alternating lines of the elegy might have helped the squeezing along.

The formal, archaic language I tend to gravitate toward may also be a contemporary reader turn-off, but that’s kind of its own conundrum, a larger issue across much of my verse. I guess I’m just old fashioned.

The point is, I know I still have a lot to learn. This was my first elegy, and I am extremely proud of the results for never having attempted this kind of poem before. I felt comfortable using meter, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, enjambment, punctuation, syntactical inversion, and the other specific devices I applied. But I realize there are other considerations besides the minute details. See Poetry Foundation’s Glossary Terms for more information about poetic devices.

creativity-is-a-habit

Image credit: Creative Commons via launchyourgenius.com

A vital turning point

This time, in a real, significant way, it was the bigger picture, the thematic and tonal journey within the poem, that I learned more about how to execute. That might have something to do with my experience participating in National Novel Writing Month for the past 4 years. I have become more comfortable with longer forms of creative writing.

Prior to that period, my poetry felt stuck or trapped, without clear purpose, clear meaning, or a sense of satisfying completeness. This effect may be why, though I have always loved reading and writing in verse, I only wrote a poem or two every six months for several years.

The elegy‘s big picture, for instance, is that it has three main “movements,” if you will: lament, praise of the departed, and acceptance. A condensed version of the psychological stages of grief you may be familiar with. Fortunately for me, by this time in history, the rules beyond that structure have very much loosened or fallen away.

They already had cut me some slack, so I cut myself that same slack when it was time to assess my results. As a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist, I’m also proud of doing that. Ultimately, good enough was good enough.

We all have to do that for ourselves, just as much as we need to work with diligent care in our writing. It’s what makes public expression possible, that final letting-go.

Note that I have no immediate plans to publish my whole elegy, so, clearly, I have yet to embrace fully, to trust an audience with, such a release. Of course, that’s not just a personal issue; writing in general, and poetry writing in particular, can be a poor way to earn an income. The trick is to find some value in publishing it despite the deterrents.

Now that I can see, for the first time in years, that I am developing in my craft, I can also see that next stop approaching, the point of full sharing, of unfettered expression. And I am more ready for it now than ever.

Oh so meta: a new awareness

Thinking about the verse writing process in a holistic sense–thinking and writing about my writing process for a specific project with clear goals–gave me a new kind and level of structure within which to create. It helped me maintain a balanced approach and perspective on how things were going. I saw my work through my reader’s eyes in a more real way, and I recognized more clearly my limits and potential. Accountability met confidence and led to productivity. It’s very encouraging.

Best of all and towardA Leap of Faith 1_Goldfish_small_to_large_bowl that point, I am teaching myself how to live without fear, repeating the refrain of carpe diem even as I experience it.

As I say in the last stanza of the poem, in essence, for ourselves and on behalf of those who’ve gone, we the living, so privileged, must press on. We must act in gratitude for every remaining moment to choose freely our own way. Some day, that freedom will end, and so will we.

Carpe punctum. Seize the moment.

I have cherished these moments remembering Leonard Nimoy and his celebrated character Spock. In a way, I’d almost rather not finish working on the poem because it’s like a final good-bye, but at least now I have it to come back to, along with access to most records of his life and achievements. Thank you for spending some of your moments with me as well.


? What are your thoughts on this series or on verse writing?  I welcome your comments or tweets @Carrielt37.

If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation and follow the bread crumbs from there.

Thanks again for following me on this journey of writing–and thinking about the process of writing–in a new poetic form, the elegy. I wish you all the best in your own creative endeavors.

Sense of place in the real world

View from our upstairs foyer window

View from our upstairs foyer window

My husband and I recently attended an information session about his company’s relocation of several employees to the Orlando, Florida, area. As native and long-time Ohioans, we are reluctant to move. Part of this has to do with inertia. We’re here, we’ve pretty much always been here, we’ve bought a home, our parents are here, we know this place and its surrounding spaces, and we’ve grown to like much of it, to love some things, and to be proud of its being ours. Besides, we’re great ones for progressing at a glacial pace when we do set our hearts on a goal, and the company demands precipitous action.

But there are many other reasons why this specific destination does not appeal, the details of which matter less than the overall effect–the prevailing feeling our thoughts of Orlando create.

Beyond this fact, I have realized that there is something particularly important about staying put in a place you enjoy as the world increasingly expands in the virtual direction. The physical space one occupies seems to become less important the more we imbed ourselves in online cultures and communities, but I would argue the opposite. The more one “lives” online, the more important an enjoyable, comfortable, and vibrant off-line residence becomes.

It has to do with time limits. With the preponderance of time devoted to Web- and computer-based pursuits, those few spare moments interacting with nature’s tangible elements and the earth beneath one’s feet are made more precious for their scarcity. It’s now less about fear of leaving the comfort zone and more about using the physical realm as a stabilizing force for the balance of life.

Considering this, the average reader may think it’s a no-brainer to move to a warmer climate where more time can be spent outdoors easily for a greater portion of the year than in Ohio. Not everyone is a warm-weather person. Some of us need variety and certainly cooler temperatures for more of the year than occur in the subtropical south.

During and after the presentation, I carried myself through all the attractions and detractors of a life in central Florida. For every appealing aspect there was an equally unappealing factor. The attractions are rather obvious with a little thought and tourism research, and it is not my purpose here to flex my vacation-spot promoting muscles. Perhaps the greater curiosity, or puzzle to some of you, are the downside elements. Without further ado:

  • too high of average temperatures
  • too high humidity during warmer months
  • no hills, hillside meadows, or mountains—I need a dynamic topography
  • too much sun—I know it sounds ridiculous, but I’m not a sun seeker; I’d prefer not to start looking my age or older
  • no familiar temperate zone trees—I dislike palm and other southern trees
  • floods
  • hurricanes
  • sink holes
  • no basements—it’s just wrong
  • no snow . . . very sad
  • noseeums, other biting midges, and a high count of mosquitoes
  • large cockroaches
  • no land access to northern states—I’m a Yankee snob, what can I say? While I’m at it, country music and southern accents
  • the thought of Disney World annoys me
  • no familiar wildlife, especially back yard and park birds—see 2013 inventory post for the importance of this to me
  • few placid, swimmable lakes and streams; I’d rather not swim with alligators and large snakes, and I’m not an ocean person
  • a smaller house for a higher price
  • our parents live here—actually a significant problem for our sweet but high-maintenance dog; we would probably have to give her up or put her down (not happening for something like this!)
  • most of my husband’s extended family live in Ohio
  • I would miss my new writer/artistic friends and old friends in the area; I don’t make new ones quickly
  • all our other extended family and friends live much farther away from Florida than from Ohio

It seems like a substantial, compelling list, but that’s only half of the story. The other half concerns all we’d be saying good-bye to. However long the list of cons, however significant the individual negatives, it boils down to the attitude of not wanting to budge just so my husband can keep a certain job with a familiar company. We’re doing alright; we need not feel beholden to the corporation and this opportunity. But I’d much rather revel in the things I love about living in Ohio.

There is still so much to see and do, so much to discover, and so many enjoyable things we already do.

As much as we complain about Ohio’s weather, it is quite preferable to the constantly either freezing or sweltering northern plains, the rain-soaked northwest, the ice-storm laden mid-south, the tornado-plagued central plains, the horribly hot and miserable deep south, including Texas, and the excessively dry parts of the southwest, especially where forest fires and juniper pollen abound. We’re allergic to the juniper, and I need green deciduousness around me from spring to fall. The plants and trees are so pale and dark out west.

I wouldn’t mind Virginia and its surrounding areas so much, but the only other place I would enjoy living would be the New England and New York region. I lived in Massachusetts during college, and I have visited New York City several times. I have also been to Virginia and Florida.

But Ohio is home. I didn’t know how good I had it as a child when I would go biking around and beyond our neighborhood, playing soccer on lush green fields, camping and exploring as a Girl Scout, and boating with my family on the Ohio River, Berlin Lake, West Branch Reservoir, and Salt Fork State Park. By high school, I grew restless to escape my small town, and I am glad I went away for college. During college, my resistance to the place of my upbringing grew, but eventually I made my way back.

I have found by turns satisfaction, delight, annoyance, and depression in my area of residence. Whether northeast Ohio has changed in the wrong ways or not changed enough, I know I have changed. I take fewer things for granted these days. But it’s the people I live among that make this place home.

I communicate with many of them online to some extent, but the chances to see them in person are what I seek and relish most.