In order to authentically write about a railroad worker camp cook, I had to cook and eat like one.
Below are links to resources I’ve experimented with to get the feel and flavors just right for the railroad camps.
Have you ever looked at a tree and seen a monster? When I was five, I was terrorized by thinking that the giant sequoia I was about to drive through would bend over to snatch me from the back seat.
As an adult, in the middle of a windy night, I was awoken by a sound like a gunshot. My car was totaled when the walnut tree I’d parked under snapped. (The insurance did not cover an ‘act of God.’) A decade or so later, I cleaned-up shattered window glass after an arborist removed a cedar tree that was growing too close to the house. While I appreciate the daily benefits of breathing, I recognize the hazards trees can cause when things go wrong.
For me, the car totaling experience resolved the age-old philosophical question about the sound a tree makes (or doesn’t make) when it falls in the woods. The same debates about the nature of reality and how it relates to experience can be applied to monsters.
Are there really extra large, hair-covered, humanoids hiding in the forests of the Pacific Northwest? Does a diabetic older man enter your house each year with the intent to delight your children? (It’s OK! He’s not a stranger, he knows what they’ve been thinking.)
Monsters are grown inside an electrically charged, submerged, gelatin-like structure that everyone carries inside their skull. This magnificent organ has evolved to specialize in pattern recognition. When we see or experience something that doesn’t make sense or for which we have no prior information, our brains concoct stories that seem real and make sense.
Addiction, accidents, rejection, unrealistic expectations, loss, grief and the fear of disappearing
are a few of the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that breathe life into our own personal monsters.
Because we are social creatures, our monsters can spread like a virus. Screaming fire in a crowded amphitheater or a run on the market because a rumor predicted a crash are examples of monsters gone viral.
Monsters are as adaptable. as we are. Before we understood the stages of decomposition, we thought evil spirits inhabited dead bodies, causing them to move. Every time we drop our kids off at school, we hope that a gunman doesn’t lose his marbles anywhere in the neighborhood. We worry that refugees and immigrants are taking our jobs.
With easy access to a world of information and a bit of discernment, monsters can be vaporized. Yet, instead of doing the work to accomplish this, many of us cozy up to them, inviting them to tea, and letting them share our pillow at night.
Monsters are with us to stay. Many of them are portrayed as hideous and frightful, while others are beguiling. All of them signal some kind of danger and remind us to be alert.
With certainty, we know that tomorrow’s monster will be different from today’s.
Below is a variety of contemporary and classic monster representations and lists of themes they exemplify.
Colorful monsters and beasties painted on snowshed walls at Donner Summit tell their own stories.
The collage reflects the ugliness and beauty of struggles with self-criticism. Matching an image to feelings allows expression of concepts that seem impossible to say out loud.
Like ice sculptures, sand castles, and graffiti, monster varieties come and go. They change with what we are thinking about at a particular moment in time, and they allow us to put faces on our fears.
KQED – Why Don’t Murals Get Covered by Graffiti in the Mission? – “…you first need to know that there are three groups: graffiti writers, street artists and muralists.”
For me, beginning a lengthy writing project takes determination and vision. Not a ‘vision’ synonymous with a goal, but a picture, a face, and a setting. It is the first step in getting acquainted with a character I’ll be living with for a long time.
John William Waterhouse, an English oil painter – dead over one-hundred years – served up the face of Martina, a Chilean prostitute, a character in Haylee and the Traveler’s Stone.
“Mr. Waterhouse adds to his designs a certain mystic suggestion—a touch of that sad wonderment which troubles the deep thinker.” (The Art Journal, 1896)
That beguiling, haunting face along with Waterhouse’s rich clothing textures, set among nature, lovers, and water provides the tone and feeling that I wanted to convey with the Haylee stories.
His model, with the face that appears a significant number of the 200 paintings he produced during his life, must have been someone close, a next door neighbor or a niece?
“Waterhouse’s paintings are famous for the feminine beauty depicted in them. His genre of female beauty became known as ‘The Waterhouse Girl’. The identity of Waterhouse’s models range from family members and friends, to professional artists’ models. Some of the young female models would later become famous in their own right as renowned stage actresses and movie stars.” – www.johnwilliamwaterhouse.com
“John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917) was an English painter. He was enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art.” – Wikipedia.org
“Most of Waterhouse’s work is based in Ancient or Medieval myth and legend. Such stories feature the strong female beauties and tragic love stories which Waterhouse was seemingly fascinated by.” – Artable.com
The character, Martina, developed from the Waterhouse face turned out to be a strong and determined young woman. She experienced tragedy, but she also knew love. Her struggle to protect her lover and right her wrongs echo the story arch of the main character, Haylee.