Fishy addiction

I’ve picked up a new hobby. I know. I’m a writer, scientist and artist. I definitely needed more to do, right? But I couldn’t resist the siren call of freshwater fish-keeping. I started with a 10-gallon, then moved up to a 29 gallon. Now I’m up to a 55-gallon and I have to admit my new fish addition.

It’s all the plants’ fault. I already was a gardener. When I learned you could raise awesome freshwater plants in an aquarium, I figured I’d give it a try. I’d just get a couple fish to help keep the tank lively.

Well. See below.

29 gallon, all full of fat baby goldfish

29 gallon, all full of fat baby goldfish


55-gallon, newly set up and just starting to get fish

55-gallon, newly set up and just starting to get fish

Are there any fish-lovers reading this? Tell me about your aquariums!

Writing, and where to do it

Writers write, but where they should do it is a topic of some argument online. You have the “room of one’s own” writers, who can’t put a word to paper without perfect silence and isolation. The coffee shop writers, who thrive on lattes and muffins and strangers talking loudly on their cell phones. The people who only write only at home. The people who write only away from home. There are as many strategies as there are writers, although I’ve always been impressed by the people who can write a whole chapter during their lunch break.

I can write, if left alone, pretty much anywhere. But just because I’ve been known to jot down a few paragraphs on the bus doesn’t mean I don’t like having a writing refuge of my own. I think that any writer can benefit from having a comfortable place to write. If you can, design one for yourself. Maybe you need a whole room, or maybe you just need a comfy chair with your reference books in reach. Even a room that the whole family uses can be made more writer-friendly, either by rearranging furniture or doing a little decoration. It all depends on what you, the writer, need.

I love my little room (which is officially the guest bedroom, though woe betide any guests who dare show up and borrow it.) It has a bed to write on, a comfy armchair, and a desk with a computer. Even better, it opens onto my little patio, where I write when the weather is good.


A hammock and a place to write…

Better yet, it comes with a friend.

And escape artist.

And escape artist.

Where do you like to write?

I am a tortoise mom…

My folks are visiting today, so no proper blog post. I promise to be back Monday with a post about writing spaces and refuges. In the meantime, I’d like to share a photo of one of the little fellows that just moved into my place last weekend. Behold! Tortoise

This is Patches, one of four two-month-old desert tortoises who suddenly needed a home. He’s about the size of a walnut. But a walnut with feet. Two of his siblings will be moving to live with someone else, but I hope Patches will be with me for a long time to come.

Writing and gardening – two sides of one coin

This weekend, I went on a road trip to Tucson and my favorite nursery (Arid Lands.) I came back with a car full of baby tree aloes, my current plantly obsession. I buy a bunch of these every year. If I’m lucky, one or two survives the hot Phoenix summer.

As seedlings, they’re little unimpressive things, and tree aloes are slow-growing plants. It will be years before some of them split into their first branches. And they may well die before they get there. Growing tree aloes in Arizona isn’t always an easy prospect, and they often rot if watered in the summer. But, oh, the adults and adolescents are so very beautiful. As a gardener, I have to try.

What I want

What I want

What I've got

What I’ve got

Writing is much the same way. You start a book not knowing how long it will take to finish. Knowing it may be years before it grows into what you imagine. Knowing that it may wither and die before you every write “the end.” And even if you finish that book, even if you love it, it may look like a weedy mess to someone else, who only likes bushes trimmed into perfect squares.

But I’ll keep trying to grow my tree aloes and write my books.

The Disappointment of Growing Up

Today I’ve been thinking about the old family farm, where my grandparents lived.

When I was a kid, it seemed enormous and full of limitless potential. The grassy hill near the asparagus patch was a burial mound, probably filled with zombies. The cement foundations of the old burned-down farm-house, which my cousins and I were forbidden due to skunks, must contain treasures. The brick pile Grandpa had never thrown out was surely enough to build whole houses. We tried.

And the swampy patch outback, filled with frogs and cattails and algae (which my cousins and I threw at each other and claimed was vomit,) was a whole world. I could climb up into the willow whose trunk lay out over the water and stand there as the wind shook the tree, at one with the whole world.

I’ve been back since then. The swamp is a puddle at best, with a few scraggly trees. The old farm-house foundation is overgrown with grass and lilacs. No treasure there.  The “burial mound” doesn’t even deserve the name hill. The whole place has shrunk — or rather, I’ve grown. My childhood memories are a disappointment.

But I’ve learned that they often are. Occasionally I go back to a book I loved as a kid and discover an impenetrable accent I don’t remember, or overwhelming overuse of hyphens, or a storyline that was old when Shakespeare did it. The magic is gone. “I loved this?” I think. “Did I really spend all my allowance on these books, for months?”

When I have these moments, I’m not grateful to know that I’m more discerning now. Instead, I miss the days I could find perfection, and perfect happiness, in flawed stories and a flawed world.

What do you miss from your childhood that doesn’t seem as wonderful now?

The Things that Outlive Us

Recently, a desert tortoise named Mohave died. He had lived twenty years as my boyfriend and his twin’s pet, and he was probably sixty or forty years old when they got him. He managed to flip himself when no one was home, and for whatever reason, he couldn’t turn himself back over. They found him at the end of the day, balanced on his hard back. Dead.

A week later, my boyfriend and I brought home a Russian tortoise who was abandoned by its last owners. It’s six years old, and with good care is likely to live another sixty – or longer. I’m twenty-seven. That means this little tortoise may well outlive me.

The death of Mohave, followed by our new tortoise’s arrival, has got me thinking about human mortality and the things that survive us. I’m not a religious person (being raised Unitarian Universalist has made me more agnostic than anything,) so I can’t say whether anything immaterial lives past our deaths. But we definitely leave things behind.

The tortoise may outlive me. If I have children, or teach students, or save the life of someone younger than me, they will go on after I do. My ceramics are man-made stone, and like stone they could last hundreds or thousands of years. Pottery shards are one of the most common remains humans leave behind, and archeologists name whole groups of people after their pottery. (If mine were used so in the future, we would be the decorative dinosaur people.) And my bones, of course, will go on. I am tempted to be buried in an elaborate fashion that will give archeologists something to talk about. But I probably won’t be.

Most meaningful to me is the thought that my writing could influence people generations after I am dead. Of all the things I will leave behind, only my books can hold onto the shape of my thoughts.

What about you? Do you think of future archeologists going through your things?

Creativity in a Hard Spot

Writers and artists like to think of themselves as creative, and we are. But real human creativity comes out under duress. When I want to marvel at humanity, I look at the solutions that people with nothing devise. Sometimes this just leads to me to hilarious pictures of people making do, but what comes out of nothing can be beautiful and inspiring (such as the famous Landfill Harmonic Orchestra.) Or beautiful and somewhat appalling (such as prison shivs and other improvised contraband).

I look at these things and think, boy, people are neat. Really! We are just neat. We may be slowly destroying our own planet, and we may act like inhuman monsters to each other, but we are inventors. We are changers and makers of things. No other species can match us for creativity, and I will never stop thinking we have such a wonderful potential. Even if I have to point at a toothpaste tube crack pipe to prove it.

What creativity on the brink blows your mind? Tell me about it in the comments!

Art worth dreaming about

Have you ever come face to face with a piece of artwork that you feel, deep in your soul, is undeniably true? That is real, even if it’s of the most fantastical design possible? I have. I suspect a lot of us have, if you count television and movies and books as art.

For me, there’s a particular sculptor. I first encountered her when I was a baby fine arts major, back in the year 2006 or 2007. She did ceramics, just like me, but that wasn’t why I stopped to stare when I first came across her work. Plenty of ceramic art and pottery doesn’t speak to me at all; it’s endless repetition of what people think ceramics should look like.

This woman, Beth Cavener Stichter, made animals with perfectly exaggerated anatomy. They looked like they should spring off their pedestals and walls and charge through the exhibit. They looked the way animals ought to look, and it was almost unfair real animals aren’t that perfect. Most of all, though, they looked like a human mind sat behind their eyes.

Stichter is a master of emotion. Each animal she sculpts tells a story, and it is a human story, make no mistake. I can spend all day absorbed in those animals, thinking over their stories and what they say about our society. What they say about humanity.

I haven’t seen much work from her in the last couple of years, but hopefully that just means she’s too busy making art to update her website. One of her latest pieces, a rabbit trapped in battle with a snake, is not yet on her site. Just looking at it makes me feel like I’m struggling for my life against something I don’t really want to escape.

I guess that’s life in a nutshell.

What artist or art do you connect with? Tell me in the comments.