Aetherial Worlds: Stories by Tatyana Tolstaya

There are times when one wants to sit down and read a book but simply doesn’t have the time, focus, patience or energy to devote to such an undertaking.  That is where collections of short stories fit in.  They allow the reader to go through one or more stories as they have the time.  Allowing one to get that much needed creative break.

I was in one of these quandaries when I found the collection of short stories “Aetherial Worlds” by Tatyana Tolstaya.  These stories are contemplations of time, place and space.  Just out of the ordinary enough to make one wonder, could this really happen?  Or even has it happened already?

The description from the jacket cover is as follows:

“From one of modern Russia’s finest writers, a spellbinding collection of eighteen stories – her first to be translated into English in more than twenty years.

Ordinary realities and yearnings to transcend them lead to miraculous other worlds in this dazzling collection of stories.  A woman’s deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife; a Russian Professor in a small American town constructs elaborate fantasies during her cigarette break; a man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart; a child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window.  With the emotional insight of Chekhov, the surreal satire of Gogol, and a unique blend of humor and poetry all her own, Tolstaya transmutes the quotidian into aetherial alternatives.  These tales about politics, identity, love and loss, cut to the core of the Russian psyche, even as they lay bare human universals.  Tolstaya’s characters – seekers all- are daydreaming children, lonely adults, dislocated foreigners in unfamiliar lands.  Whether contemplating the strategic complexities of delivering telegrams in Leningrad or the meditative melancholy of holiday aspic, vibrant inner lives and the grim elements of existence are registered in equally sharp detail, giving way to a starkly bleak but sympathetic vision of life on earth.

Written with wit and candor, compassion and depth, and piercing emotional and political acuity, Aetherial Worlds is a shimmering and unique collection from one of the first women to rank among Russia’s most important writers.”

I greatly enjoyed this collection of stories. Some are quite short, only a couple of pages.  Like “Passing Through” with its explanation of what happens to socks in the laundry, the mystery of missing objects and curious items that randomly appear.  Others were longer.  One of these called “The Invisible Maiden” seemed to be many stories in one focusing on the people who would come to a particular family dacha every summer. A cautionary tale, “The Window” hands out things free of charge but come at an altogether different price.

Ms. Tolstaya’s writing draws you in.  Reading her stories are like picking up a conversation with a dear friend that you haven’t seen in years.  No additional introduction is needed, they pick up right where they are supposed to be.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the dachas, delivering telegrams in Leningrad, driving in snow, illumination on Italian tombs and church ceilings in Ravenna, etc.  Each story captures the readers imagination in part due to the wonderful descriptions.

I highly recommend this collection of stories.  If you have a chance to pick up Tatyana Tolstaya’s collection of stories entitled “Aetherial Worlds” you will not be disappointed.

Risk = Growth = Rewards

All of the artwork featured in this blog post was created by students of the Art Sampler class that I taught in the fall of 2019 at Flathead Valley Community College.  The paintings are pallet knife paintings.  Two of the students had previous painting experience but not painting with acrylic paint.  None of the students had painted using a palette knife before.

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Painted by Amy Kanewischer

In college, I took a class on American women’s history.  The class started with the  colonization of the original 13 colonies.  It focused on women who settled in the north (the area of what is now Massachusetts) and women in the southern colonies. 

The women who settled in the north were primarily wives and daughters.  They arrived with their husbands and fathers.  As long as they stayed within the confines of society and family these women had comfortable lives and very little risk.  

The women who settled in the south were wives and daughters also.  But most of the women who settled in the south went as indentured servants (their voyage is paid for by a third party [usually farmer or landowner in the southern colonies] and then they had to work for a certain amount of time to pay off the debt).  Once the debt was released, they were free.  They could buy land, start businesses, etc.  These women faced huge risks but if they survived the rewards were big and they had the opportunity to make choices for themselves.

One could argue that settling in the original thirteen colonies was a huge risk in and of itself.  And they would be right.  Some parts of those colonies were wilder and riskier than others.

The bonus question on the exam for this portion of the class asked where we would live if given a choice?  Would we live in relative safety of the civilized north?  Or would we live in the wild south?  We had to explain our reasons for why we made our choice.  I chose the south because if I could survive, I would earn my freedom and the ability to make decisions for myself.  There were only two of us in a class of 20 who chose settling in the south or greater risk for greater rewards.

“If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.” -Geena Davis

Where is all this talk of risk going?  Creativity is about risk.  I was talking to a friend recently about how the images in the sketchbooks doesn’t always turn out like the finished piece of artwork.  That the artwork is often better than expected.  Creating a piece of artwork, writing a poem or a novel, acting in a play, taking a photo, any and all creative pursuits are about risk.

Think about it like this, if everyone only listened to the music of Mozart it would get pretty boring after awhile.  But there is a lot more than the music of Mozart to listen to.  There is rap, jazz, blues, polkas, chants, rock, pop, etc.  You get the idea.  Here is the important part to remember the next time a song that you like comes on, the artist who wrote that song and the artist who is singing it (it may be the same person) had to take risks to get that music on the radio.  They had to have faith in their creative choices.  They had to be willing to grow creatively to reach the rewards.

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Painted by Judy Territo

Speaking of creative choices.  My friend Samantha was at a point where she needed more business cards.  When she went to reorder ones like she already had, they didn’t have that design any more.  Samantha felt that she was at a crossroads.  She had branded herself with the old design.  Did she want to keep the old images?  Could she still keep her brand and create new and exciting business cards?

Samantha chose to take a risk.  She created new business cards, using new images and her original business name.  And the new business cards turned out beautiful.  So beautiful that Samantha ordered a banner with the same design.

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Painted by Diane Whited

Teaching art classes can be a challenge.  Teaching often forces me to grow as an artist and an individual.  As an art teacher, I take risks in teaching my students.  There is standard techniques that one can teach over and over to each class.  And teachers often do this to make sure that their students learn the basics.  But teachers can take the time to really get to know their students and tailor the class around the skills and abilities of the students.  It is these subtle additions that really makes the difference from an okay class to an amazing one.  I decided to teach the acrylic technique of palette knife painting with this group of students because I knew it would be a positive challenge for them.  My taking a risk, helped my students grow and the reward was to see the amazing artwork they produced. 

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Painted by Arnold Kanewischer

Just because you take a creative risk does not mean that you will not have anxiety and fear.  Part of taking a risk is learning how to manage the fear and anxiety that comes with it.  Not every risk you take will produce a reward.  Some risks will turn into creative disasters.  That is okay.  There is opportunity to learn from failure and that is one of the ways in which we grow.  That growth helps us reach future rewards.

What do you need to do today to take that next creative step?  What risk will help you grow regardless of success or failure?  How can going further with your art and creativity provide you with an opportunity to learn and challenge yourself?  What reward are you seeking? 

Remember risk causes growth.  Growth helps one reach rewards.  Risk = Growth = Rewards

Polaris

Recently, I had the great good fortune to pick up a book at a thrift store in Whitefish, Montana for a dollar.  A hardcover science fiction book by an author that I had not heard of before in mint condition, Polaris written by Jack McDevitt.  I was intrigued by the cover art.  (I know that you are not supposed to judge a book by the cover, see previous blog post on that subject here: Judging a Book by it’s Cover)  Once I read the description, I was hooked.

The description of the book from the inside of the jacket cover is as follows:

“The luxury space yacht Polaris carried an elite group of the wealthy and curious thousands of light-years from Earth to witness a spectacular stellar phenomenon.  It never returned.  The search party sent to investigate found the Polaris empty and adrift in space, the fate of its pilot and passengers a mystery.

Sixty years later, the question of what happened aboard the Polaris continues to capture the popular imagination, especially as the anniversary of the event approaches.  A major new book is planned, as is an auction of the things found on the ship – including personal effects of the missing.

Prominent antiquities dealer Alex Benedict manages to secure some of the artifacts before the auction.  But then an explosion destroys most of the collection, and an attempt is made on his life.  Convinced that someone is taking drastic measures to hide the truth about the Polaris, Alex is determined to uncover the truth – no matter how far he must travel across the stars, no matter the risk….”  – Polaris book cover

Jack McDevitt wields an interesting tale.  In this future time of space exploration and colonization, why does the captain and crew come up missing from the space ship Polaris?  This tale could have been told a variety of ways.  McDevitt’s writing is clever in balancing clues to they mystery, building relate-able characters, describing fictional places and keeping the reader intrigued.

All of the characters are interesting.  To me, the ship itself feels like a character as much as the passengers who disappeared.  And in the end part of the ship provides a very important clue that helps solve the case.  There is the story of Alex Benedict who secures and sells artifacts along with Chase Kolpath, Benedict’s employee, pilot and I would also say friend.  Chase’s voice narrates the story and I think that it is a creative choice that makes sense.  It becomes very important in sequences involving flight and space travel.  Because Chase is a pilot, she can describe the events in a way that is plausible and believable.

McDevitt has a talent for weaving humor into his descriptions of fictional creatures.  The following is a description of an evening on a planet that Alex and Chase were visiting and their experience with a yoho.

“It became an interesting evening.  The snowstorm renewed itself and turned into a howling blizzard, there was an earthquake warning at about the time we were going to bed, and a few hours later they evacuated the hotel because a yoho got into the building.

The yohos, it turned out, were arthropodic creatures with a taste for people.  Fortunately, they only showed up five days out of the year, which coincided with there breeding season, and on those occasions they rarely left the beach.  After an hour of standing in the snow, we were informed by management that the yoho had gone, everything was okay, and we could go back in.  When we got to our suite, we inspected it carefully and locked the doors.”  –Polaris, page 265.

The following is the description of a planet that Chase and Alex fly by during their investigation of the disappearances of the captain and crew of the Polaris.

“Markop III was hardly worth a visit.  But we went anyhow, because Alex insisted on being thorough.

It was an attractive world, lots of blue water, fleecy white clouds, herds of big shaggy creatures that made great targets if you were into hunting.  The weather through the temperate zones was almost balmy.

If it was inviting, however, it was also potentially lethal.  Unlike the vast majority of living worlds, its viruses and disease germs loved homo sapiens.” –Polaris, page 317.

My overall take on the book is that it is an interesting story that has a satisfying ending.  It was fun to read from beginning to end, with the mystery keeping me guessing throughout the novel.  If you enjoy a good mystery with your science fiction, I would highly recommend this novel.  If you have read the novel and would like to talk about it, please leave a comment or write to me through my contact me page.

Giving Up the Ghost

Have you ever heard someone say that they have given up the ghost?  To “give up the ghost” is an idiom that has been traced back to the 1600’s.  Just in case you are curious, an idiom is a word or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning.

To “give up the ghost” means to expire or die.  In the case of a mechanical object it means to stop working.  It also means to give up on or stop trying to do something because you know that it will not succeed.

I confess that I really hadn’t thought a lot about this saying until I heard it used in a song entitled “Giving Up the Ghost” by the band a-ha from their album “Cast in Steel”.  I have attached a link to the song as follows: Giving Up the Ghost by a-ha

The song got me thinking about how we hold onto things that do not bring us joy or happiness.  That we keep trying to do something even though we know it will not succeed, may never succeed and often causes us pain.

I am not talking about when one is learning a new skill, trade or activity.  You can’t expect to paint a perfect painting if you have never used acrylic paint and a paint brush before.  There is beginner’s luck but I will save that discussion for another post.

What I am talking about is staying in the same job, relationship, situation, etc. because we are to stubborn to let it go.  Or we are afraid to move on because we don’t want to be seen as failing or a failure.  There is also a fear that what is out there is worse than the situation we are in.

For example, I worked in a job that I did not enjoy for seven years.  I was afraid that the next job would be worse than the one I was in.  I have a friend who almost immediately after getting married realized that she had made a horrible mistake.  But instead of ending the marriage she continued trying to make it work for nine years before giving up the ghost.  She felt that to end the marriage was a failure on her part.  Another friend shared how he went into a career field because he thought it would please his father.  It was only after his father’s death that he realized how miserable he was.  Trying to please someone else he didn’t realize how unhappy he was.

Making major and even minor life changes are one of those things that is much easier said than done.  If this was easy to do, I think people would give up the ghost on a lot of things and a lot earlier.

What are some of the areas of your life that you are holding onto even though it does not bless you or bring you happiness?  What could you do to give up the ghost?  Please share your experiences of giving up the ghost in the comment section of this blog.

Featured image for this blog post is from:

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It’s Not a Choice….

In the movie “Patriot Games,” based on the book of the same name by Tom Clancy, there is a scene where the Ryan family is busy getting ready for the day.  They are making and eating breakfast in the kitchen.  The little girl, Sally played by Thora Birch, wants pancakes.  Her dad, Jack Ryan, played by Harrison Ford, gives her a choice of “toast or toast.”  I thought it was funny in the parameters of the movie…… but when put into real life….. It’s not a choice if there is only one option.

Have you ever had a situation where an employer or individual acts like they are giving you a choice but there is really only one option?  From the perspective of the person providing the non-option, they feel like they are being very generous.  From the perspective of the person who has no option, the situation feels like a trap.

At one time I worked for a large company that had a pretty good healthcare package.  One that you wouldn’t want to loose.  At the beginning of flu season they sent out a memo to all staff members that whomever did not get a flu shot would loose there healthcare plan if they took time off for having the flu.  (I don’t think what they did would be considered legal today.)  I had expressed concerns to my direct supervisor.  I have had allergic reactions to medicines and vaccines.  And several of my direct family members had had a reaction to this particular flu vaccine.  I was told to that I had to get it.  So I did.  I had a reaction to flu vaccine.  Not only did I have an allergic reaction (hospital visit which had to be paid for by the insurance)  but I then got sick with the flu.  The flu virus and allergic reaction had weakened my immune system to the point that I then got pneumonia.  I ended up missing three weeks of work.  Medicine, hospital visits, doctor visits, paid sick leave, and loss of an employee for almost a month all had to be absorbed between the insurance and the company.

Now I know that I am probably the exception to the rule in this case.  But the lost time, money, and energy because I was not given a choice was very disheartening.

So where was I going with all of this….. It is nice to have choices.  When working in a situation where one is part of a team, if the team members have choices, they feel like they are participating.  When negotiating or just being part of a relationship, options, choices and not feeling trapped build better relationships.

So what would you prefer? Whole wheat toast or white toast?

Bonjour – Bakery & Bistro

Last week, I stumbled upon the most delightful place……. Bonjour Bakery & Bistro located at 45 Heritage Way in Kalispell, Montana.  Please click on the following link for site specific  information about this amazing place: Bonjour Bakery & Bistro

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The atmosphere is enchanting.  Chandeliers and white twinkle lights.  Jazz music and heavenly aromas.  Silver mirrors and a pale blue ceiling.  All of these touches make those that enter feel like they have stepped into someplace extraordinary.  The truth is that you have entered into a magical place.

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This is a place that recognizes that the little touches mean as much as large gestures.  There are so many exquisite little touches.  Orchids by the cash register and cut flowers on every table.  The collection of demitasse cups and sliver cake molds.  Being cheerfully greeted when you enter.  The artful arrangement of cookies on plates and pastries on trays.

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More than cookies, cakes and pastries, Bonjour Bakery & Bistro serves coffees in unique flavors like lavender and honey cinnamon.  They make soups, sandwiches, bread, quiche, chocolates and, of course, macaroons.

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Above is a picture of a chocolate tower, cake, Madeline and macaroon cookie trees.

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They also make cupcakes!  From left to right there is lemon with lemon curd filling, triple berry, coconut, double chocolate with chocolate filling and vanilla.  Having tasted the the lemon cupcake with lemon curd filling, I can honestly say that it was perfect balance of sweetness and tartness.  Very flavorful!

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When talking to the people working at Bonjour Bakery & Bistro, one of the ladies said that the owner really wanted this to be a unique experience.  With that in mind she hires artists for decorating the cakes and cookies.  The above photo is one of the artists at work.

So what does a charming bakery have to do with creative living?  Besides the fact that the bakery is an amazing creative experience in and of itself, it has to do with one of the most important things a creative person can do….. self care or being good to yourself.

Most creative people are very good at getting their creative work done, sharing their time, energy and talents helping others and taking care of the demands of daily living.  Where we really trip ourselves up is when we don’t take care of ourselves or have thoughts of scarcity.  The more that you drain yourself to get things done without taking care of yourself, the less you have to give.

Think of your creativity as a well.  You put the bucket in and draw out water for a creative project.  You draw out water to work at your day job.  You draw out water to be a care giver.  You draw out water to volunteer.  The list of things that deplete the water in your well of creativity is endless.  It is your responsibility to do things that fill up your creative well.  Going out to a bakery and ordering a coffee and pastry.  Purchasing tulips out of season.  Eating your favorite childhood cereal for a snack.  Going on a vacation.  Going for a walk.  Or just going outside.  Whatever it is that helps fill your well, do it!

Scarcity thinking is thoughts that we don’t deserve to be treated well.  That we can’t set healthy boundaries because we don’t deserve to take care of ourselves.  Scarcity thinking allows others to take advantage of us when we are needing self care the most.  Scarcity thinking drains the well faster than any other areas of our lives because it goes along with thoughts that we are unworthy, undeserving and inadequate.  When this is happening, no creative work gets done.

I’m going to tell you right now, if you are reading this blog, you care about your creative work and life…. YOU ARE WORTHY!  YOU ARE DESERVING!  YOU ARE ADEQUATE!

Take time to treat yourself.  Take time to take care of yourself.  Take time to visit the Bonjour Bakery & Bistro.  Take time to pamper yourself.  Take care of you.  Your creativity will thank you.

All Systems Red

There is something about winter storms that allow one to catch up on their reading list.  And when one has a delightful book to read, it makes the snow and bitter cold feel very far away.  That being said, I should warn my dear readers that during this last plunge of the temperature into the negative numbers, I read four books.  Not sure if I am going to write reviews for all of them, but this one,  All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, was to good to not share.

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”  -Murderbot

All Systems Red is the first of four novels in the Murderbot Diaries Series written by Martha Wells.  Exploring the theme of what it means to be human, this book introduces us to Murderbot and the futuristic time that it lives in.

“In a corporate dominated space-faring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company.  Exploratory Teams are accompanied by Company supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company supplied ‘droid – a self aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as ‘Murderbot.’  Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.”  – All Systems Red book cover

The novel is narrated by Murderbot, who is made of half organic material and half machine.  Murderbot is also extremely uncomfortable with the humans it is tasked to protect.

“So, I’m awkward with actual humans.  It’s not paranoia about my hacked governor module, and it’s not them; it’s me.  I know that I am a horrifying murderbot, and they know it, and it makes us both nervous, which makes me even more nervous.”  -Murderbot

I found the premise of this book intriguing.  And because I am always looking for a good book to read, upon reading the description of All Systems Red, I had to have it and find out what it was all about.

All Systems Red is a fascinating story.  I literally read this book in one sitting.  It is an amazing introduction to the series.  What makes this book such a delightful read is Murderbot and the internal dialogue of the character.  The series of events that are happening to the characters can’t help but pull the reader in.  I highly recommend this book and I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the Murderbot Diaries Series.