February 25

My 2021 Reading List

I’m off to a late start on my 2021 reading due to unforeseen circumstances, but I’m ready to crack some spines and enjoy being swept away into deep space, magical realms, and exposed to new ideas. After the last year or so, I’m in desperate need for a little escape from reality.

I actually have two “to-read” stacks. One is physical books. I keep a stack on the bookshelf next to my side of the bed, and the other exists on my Kindle. One of my simple joys is laying in bed at night and reading for an hour or so. I find it’s great fodder for my dreams, although I don’t necessarily dream about the stories I’m reading. I think that reading before falling asleep stimulates my imagination, stirs up the dust and cobwebs in my mental archives and allows me to have vivid, and occasionally crazy, dreams. My unconscious imagination wanders down all sorts of twisting and turning paths, and oftentimes I wake up with ideas for stories of my own.

And that’s what I need right now – inspiration. I’m a firm believer that creativity is like a muscle in that it needs exercise, to be worked regularly, pushed so that it grows stronger. I had to go for a good two months without working it, and now I’m feeling the pain as I try to get it back in shape. But I’m not giving up. Baby steps, right?

Here are the physical books I have lined up (so far) to read this year:

Stack of books.
Some of my 2021 reads.

The virtual stack on my Kindle includes A Quiet Rebellion: Posterity, The Garden of Stone Houses, and Accusing Mr. Darcy. These are books written by authors in the Twitter #WritingCommunity.

I have a fairly big mountain to conquer this year, especially when getting a late start, but I’m looking forward to the adventure. And I’ll be sure to review them all here on my blog and hopefully inspire you, dear reader, to pick up copies of these books, as well.

RB

February 22

A Favorite Painter

One form of art that’s always inspired me, and one I haven’t yet attempted, is painting. It intimates me, to be honest. When I look closely at the brushstrokes, the finesse, I feel an overwhelming sense of awe. It’s a subtle art form, where the hand and the eye work in concert to create a thing of beauty.

Of course, I love most of the famous painters, and even a few of the lesser known. However, one of my favorite painters is my mother. She’s not the woman who gave birth to me, but she’s the one who raised me, who inspired me to be creative, and who encourages me even when she doesn’t quite understand some of the things I create. Encouragement without judgement. I’m lucky to have that.

Her primary medium has been painting, and I’m lucky enough to have a couple of her unframed canvases in my home. And because her art inspires me, I thought it would be nice to share it with others in the hope that the inspiration carries forward. I wish I had more of her work, but there are other siblings in the family. But if she reads this and feels so inclined, I’m happy to take more (wink, wink).

Flower painting.
Painting by Joni Bist

My mom isn’t professionally trained, although she took a few classes many years ago. Her painting is nature-based and it probably the reason why I like to take photos in nature (since I’m still unsure about trying my hand at painting).

Painting of river running through a forest.
Painting by Joni Bist

Unfortunately, she hasn’t picked up a brush in years. It happens. Life can get complicated, we get older, our priorities change. She now has grandchildren and great-grandchildren to occupy her time. However, a few years ago I bought her a painting kit in the hopes it would inspire her to pick up the brush again. Maybe once she gets settled in a new home and new surroundings she’ll find the time to return to the medium that brought so much joy to her friends and family.

RB

February 18

Capturing Moments

I’ve previously posted about photography, mostly regarding how I find inspiration in old photos, but I’ve also enjoyed taking photos. It started when I was a teenager in high school. I got my hands on a Canon AE1 35mm and fell in love with it. At one point, a friend and I set up our own darkroom in a shed behind his parent’s house. We’d spend hours taking photos around town and then spend several more hours developing the negatives. We mostly worked in black and white because it was easier to process. Occasionally, we’d try our hand at color, but it wasn’t much fun shaking those tubes of paper and chemicals for what seemed like hours. And while I’d love to have another professional camera, I’m content with my iPhone.

Bottles in sunny window.
Bottles in sunny window.

My personal preferences are portrait and nature photos. In fact, I take photos whenever I’m out and about, walking in the park with my partner and our dogs, or motoring down the St. Marks River and out into the Gulf of Mexico on a friend’s boat. I see little moments of beauty that I want to capture and keep with me, and occasionally I’m successful.

Mushrooms in the grass.
Mushrooms in the grass.

The thing about photography is that it’s not just pointing the lens at something and pushing a button. There’s framing, lighting, the Rule of Thirds, shutter speed, formatting, and so many other things to consider. I’m by no means a professional, but I do try to take all the particulars into account when capturing an image.

I also find inspiration in photos. As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy looking through old photos, even when I don’t know anyone in the images. Looking at those captured moments, my mind wanders as I wonder about who these people are, what they were thinking, what were they like, and what happened to them. 

When it comes to photos of relatives, many of the same questions come up, especially with the ones I never had the chance to meet. Great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles, distant cousins…they all become characters in my imagination. I don’t concern myself with how close to the truth I may get with my daydreams. It’s all make-believe. 

Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t been cooperative lately. Almost constant rain temperatures ranging from the low 30s to the mid 70s have not been conducive to spending quality time outdoors. That hasn’t stopped me from taking photos, however, it’s just limited my roaming.

Autumn Leaves.
Autumn leaves on a tree in my backyard.

In fact, my backyard is a great place to take photos, and not just of my dogs. I’ve let a bit of it grow wild to attract birds, and a few years ago I spread mushroom compost (from a local mushroom farm) and now we have all sorts of interesting fungi sprouting up. It’s really a nice mini-nature retreat within the city limits. 

And most of the photos I take are spur of the moment, like when something catches my eye. It might be the way the sunlight is illuminating a batch of flowers, or the way some mushrooms are growing on a rotting log, or maybe the way a bird is perched on a branch. I don’t necessarily look for the shots, I stumble upon them.

Moss on a rotting log.
Moss on a rotting log in my backyard.

Photography, to me, is a unique art form in that it’s used to capture a moment in time, something that would otherwise be lost with the blink of an eye. That’s both special and inspiring. 

RB

February 8

Creative Storytelling on Television

I’m not much of a television-watcher. Sure, there are certain programs I’ve enjoyed and will rewatch, like Firefly, Babylon 5, Deep Space 9, Doctor Who, and the original Twilight Zone. Most of it I find less than compelling. My partner watches a wide variety of programming, sitcoms, rom-coms, dramas, sci-fi…if it catches her attention, she’ll watch it right until the last episode. Me? Not so much.

The thing is, I don’t find much that interests me. I get frustrated by poor writing in shows that are supposed to be dramatic or realistic. One that comes to mind is The Walking Dead. The first season was fantastic, spot-on writing, great acting, wonderful production. The following seasons kept the acting and production, but the writing got sloppier and sloppier, with gaping plot holes, inconsistent character actions, and too much redundancy. I found myself talking back to the screen and wondering what the hell the writers were thinking.

But every once in a while there’s something new, something original, that rekindles my interest in television. The latest show to do that for me is WandaVision on Disney+. And no, this isn’t a plug. I sincerely love this show and the way Marvel Studios is integrating streaming programs with their cinematic universe.

WandaVision Logo

I’m won’t go into any plot details in order to avoid spoiling the show for anyone who hasn’t tuned in yet. Instead, I want to focus on the way the show is being presented and how they are telling the story.

Basically, Wanda (aka the Scarlet Witch) has the power to mold reality, and in this show she has created her own reality where she and her lover, Vision, live as a happily married couple. The show utilizes the sitcom format, filming some scenes in front of a live studio audience and using laugh tracks for other scenes, but it’s definitely not your standard sitcom.

What I think I like most about the show is how it plays on the sitcom tropes and play homage to classic shows. For example, each episode of WandaVision focuses on an era of television and incorporate elements from popular shows of that time period. The first episode was a homage to The Dick Van Dyke Show (which is still one of the funniest shows to ever air on television), even presenting it in black and white. The second episode was a tribute to Bewitched, the third was The Brady Bunch, and the fourth episode was Family Ties. For those outside the US, these were all shows that were popular in their respective times and are icons of television that are still referenced today.

Black and white photo of Wanda and Vision

The writers on the show are also doing an amazing job. They do a fantastic job of capturing the essence and quirkiness of each show from each era. For example, in the first episode the neighbor comments about Wanda not having a wedding ring and that she’s surprised an attractive eligible woman isn’t married yet. So very 1960s. In the fourth episode – the Family Ties one – the writing slips effortlessly between 1980s humor and drama, incorporating the ‘teaching moments’ that were popular in sitcoms at that time.

Scene from WandaVision

The thing is, there is so much to unpack with this show, but in doing so I’d be revealing spoilers. Maybe once the show ends (it’s only a nine-episode run), I can really dissect it for you and write about all the amazing nuances. Just to give you a bit of a teaser, there’s much more going on than just these old sitcoms. There are weird asides, odd occurrences, and things that just don’t seem to fit quite right into Wanda’s reality. Each episode reveals a little bit more of the overall story.

Wanda with toy helicopter

It also goes to show that television programming can be original, creative, and challenge viewers to think outside the box. Too much of the stuff currently available simply isn’t well written and isn’t thought out. Looking back at some of the shows I listed at the top of this post makes me realize that I like tend to have overarching story lines. You know, where episodes can stand alone, but when put together provide a long-form story.

If you haven’t watched WandaVision yet, I have one word of warning: It’s helps to have some knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You don’t have to go back and watch every film from the first three phases, but it would be useful to at least watch the last two, Infinity War and Endgame. Those will provide enough backstory to get you into the wonderful weirdness that is WandaVision. Check out the trailer below for a little taste.

RB