Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No cake, just music - Dylan Turns 70

That today is Bob Dylan's 70th birthday is, by now, news you have probably heard at least four times. That some of us of certain ages find this worthy of note is not news at all.

If you haven't seen them, the Martin Scorsese documentary, NO DIRECTION HOME, or the D. A. Pennebaker-directed, DON'T LOOK BACK, offer a lot of Dylan as he spans the years.

His third album, THE TIMES THEY ARE A'CHANGIN', was released after I'd left home. It was not one I would play on the living room stereo while I sat on the floor, trying to learn the words. The title song still reaches me. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What's all this then?

As I thought this morning of the universe, churning and thrashing and kicking some (or all) of us in the head as it seems to be doing of late, the visual that appeared was of George Clooney from the Coens' Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? His Ulysses, startled, mystified and unprepared for the events which overtake him, expresses those emotions as they rampage through me.

My state-of-mind veers from peaceful and reasonably content to confused and distraught, without apparent cause and definitely without warning. "Boys, we're in a tight spot," Ulysses says on more than one harrowing occasion. It is just that I'm not sure what the tight spot is.

Mixing protagonists, I would say it seems the game is afoot, but again, what game? Going where and for what reason? Is it just me, a wonky chemistry, a wobbly constitution, or are these unsteady times, uncertain in a way that eludes capture? Things feel jittery around the edges, a bit carsick at the core. Then it subsides. If I am in this alone, I've made a low-grade spectacle of myself here. There are times when a modest readership is a good thing.

Ulysses, as he and his fellow chain-gang escapees wrangle with each other over who will lead their trio, says his vision is for someone with, "...the capacity for abstract thought." May be there is such a thing as too abstract.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hollywood, revisited

The following is reprinted from April 27, 2010, based on a question from Laoch in his comment to yesterday's post. My answer was Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. All things Raymond Chandler seem to jam their foot in the blog door often. Herewith, a real connection to a fictional world.

Within a few months of my son's birth, the two of us had a part-time job that involved typing at home, then doing errands all over Hollywood. Our employer was a non-profit organization, funded to develop programs that would improve the employment rate among unions in the entertainment industry.

"The Institute," part of its actual name, had its public office in a Hollywood Boulevard building, rumored to be the same location in which L.A.'s greatest hard-boiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, was based. How could you not love it? The Institute director actually worked from home, first on Cahuenga near the Hollywood Bowl, then in a Beachwood Canyon house with the standard show business pedigree - as in, "This house used to belong to...(fill in the blanks)." I never met a dwelling in that town that didn't have a history.

With my baby in his stroller, we walked the boulevards and avenues - from the photocopy shop on Highland, owned and run by a family from India who greeted my boy like a prince each time we visited, to the elevator at Marlowe's location, frequently sharing the ride with clients of various agencies at that address, many of whom were in states of loud and raging delusion. In the early 80s, as it may still today, that simply went with the territory.

From his much-closer-to-the-ground seat, my son - with his early verbal skills - greeted the locals as they gleaned cigarette butts from the gutter. Because he saw them at eye level, he engaged them all with a smiling "Hi!" and opened the door to conversations that I might have preferred to sidestep. I don't remember seeing many other children, let alone babies, in that part of town; had I been the one bent over the curb, I know I couldn't have resisted him. Had I been looking to make new friends along The Walk of Fame, I had my little rolling ice-breaker.

During my year in the job, it was such a gift to be able to have his company while I did paper work at home or acted as delivery girl in the shadow of the Chinese Theater or Musso and Frank Restaurant. In that year of my administrative assistant duties, the Institute held two benefit concerts, one for the striking Screen Actors' Guild, later for the Musicians' Local when they struck. There was a touch of show business glamor to balance the more real-life aspects of providing services to under-employed creatives.

I think these memories were sparked by the news story yesterday that Hugh Hefner had donated the final $900,000 needed to keep the land around the Hollywood sign from development. With his sum added to the gifts already received, the sign will be protected and its surrounding terrain will belong to the people.

As a native daughter, I have never minded that aspects of Hollywood are only glittering in our imagination, for the truth is powerful beyond illusion. The dream that lured the writers and actors and immigrant entrepreneurs west has not diminished; we are captivated and transformed by images on film. I choose to believe that, should I need to hire him to buy back incriminating photos or locate my missing chauffeur, Raymond Chandler's hero still keeps office hours on Hollywood Boulevard, no appointment necessary.

I've included the comment left at the time of the post. Penny and I and a number of other bloggers, including Donna and Robert had recently found each other. Not long after this note from her, the Australian writer/wife/mother/friend died from injuries received in a single-car accident on a road near her home. We miss her.
Posted by Marylinn Kelly at 7:33 AM

Penny said...

It's good to know that the Dream Factory is still a lure. No irony intended :)
I have just spent a delightful lunch hour reading many of your posts luxuriating in phrases such as "lasso the moon" or "Finnish foozle cloth" or "fluent in happiness".
I'm going to put you in my blogroll, if you don't mind, you're a treat to be savoured.
I've not read Proust either, yet.
April 27, 2010 8:39 PM

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Werner Herzog reads "Curious George" and I wonder about stuff, too

At Twisted Knickers, Susan T. Landry's statement of purpose, I would call it, is, "trying to get things straight." At what point do we acknowledge this has become our life's work?

Keeping sight of the bigger picture is my great wish, my primary intention. If only there existed a monitor to alert the staff when I fell below a certain level in that aim. As it is, I have my own warning system that only kicks in once I've slipped all the way off the wagon. It, life, feels like trying to recreate the cute basket of kittens shown on the puzzle box when some of the pieces are missing. The next step is finding a way to be happy with the gaps and vacancies while not seeing yourself as a chump.

This could be easier if, say, one was a horse with the option of blinders or blinkers or winkers, take your pick, which restrict vision to the rear (don't look back) or the side (deadly comparisons) and, "...keep them from being distracted or spooked." But blinkered or winkered mean not engaged, not part of the flow, uninvolved in the exchanges that layer and texture and embellish our days. Or that mystify us and, with a rough hand, shove us forward, trying to get things straight.

Since my primary source of confusion is my relationship with self, reweaving that tattered fabric, the blinders would serve no real purpose. Somewhere along the journey, what may once have been whole became fragments. While able in brief sprints to create an illusion of completeness - or maybe the truth always leaked through - such artifice was not sustainable. Reclaiming and restoring the scattered parts became a true do-it-yourself odyssey. Nancy Drew and the Stormy Search for the Self. The job demanded new skills: scraping, resilvering, soldering, stripping away...any task that might be mentioned on This Old House or Antiques Roadshow.

If all of the above does not match your experience, I can tell you that I spend my days in activities that are not all weeping and wondering. Well, yes, there is a lot of wondering but much of it in the abstract for there are no answers, or none that can be accessed, and that leaves the hands and part of the mind free for light-hearted pursuits.

Nearly 45 years ago I had a friend who saved my life. She referred to human existence as, "this vale of tears." When she first said it, I thought veil, as in something worn for the purpose of hiding. It made sense. By either spelling or definition, it was a sentiment I shared. Perhaps I did have some of those winkers once upon a time and when I wore them, all I saw were the dents and the damage. They were all I felt.

Light, however, as wave, particle, or a measure of weight and speed, finds its way through that which seems impossibly dense. In her post of May 15, Beth Coyote, under "Squirrel Adventures," tells of such persistence. And so, despite hammered barriers and exhausting vigilance, our true natures find us. It was after I began designing rubber stamps, images referred to as whimsical, that I realized cunning optimism had built a nest in my attic.

Life, as it appears to wish to be lived through me, is a relentless stalker. It pries me out of hollows on the undersides of beach rocks. It pulls the closet light cord to reveal me crouched behind outdated computers. It wants me to play and cannot BE discouraged. How am I to make sense of that? So many years, more than half believing simply being here was a mistake, replaced by occasions of untainted happiness.

Since the third grade, my favorite reading has been mysteries. In fiction, unlike what we think of as reality, there were solutions. Seventeen years ago, one of my early stamps said, "It's all a mystery." This is one of the days when I see that as the best possible answer.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Playing for time

Today's blog writing has become a progressive dinner...appetizer here, entree there...not the way I work best. So instead I will post a bit of mail art created in my active rubber stamping days. Rubbermoon Stamps shared it on Facebook today.

Watch This Space. Writing. Here. Tomorrow.

(I am unable to make the photo larger without losing definition.   If you are on Facebook, please take a look at Rubbermoon's photo album and visit the link above to see their stamp line.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why there is not a REAL post today

Two posts wait in draft...such plans I had for Sunday. In the gentlest of spring showers, at 7:34 a.m., neighborhood power transformers exploded and electricity has just been restored...telephone updates told of workers being summoned, restoration times ranged from 10 p.m. to unknown. I have passed the point of writing anything today that would be worth reading. And it has been weeks, I know, since I visited, let alone commented upon many of your blogs. A new week looms, a fresh start.


Sunday, May 8, 2011


This morning my son is having coffee, as he does every week, with his step-mother. When she phoned several years ago to tell us of his father's death in another country, she asked me if he would still want to see her. I promised that he would, for I knew it was the truth.

Rebecca, at Radish King, suggested that today we honor the good in our children, which had already been my intention. To be the mother/parent/guardian of a person who is strong and reliable in friendship, kind, generous and forgiving, funny and quick and not a bit fooled by malarkey is a gift bigger than all the iPads, books, new-to-me used cars and cleaning services in the world.

At 12:30 my son and I will sit with our favorite-restaurant take-out lunch and watch the Lakers either find the oomph for another chance or end their season. Watching movies, sports, comedy together really became a habit as he recovered from illness. Without his teachings, I would be stuck somewhere around 1994, ignorant of Asian martial arts and crime dramas, embarrassingly ill-informed about the NBA, clueless in the world of graphic novels and directors any younger than Sidney Lumet, a dinosaur among robots in a society that I could not hope to keep up with, were it not for him.

I met his step-mother 4 1/2 years ago when he was in Intensive Care. It was not the easiest day of my life but I knew the more people around him who loved him, the better his chances. Their mutual affection has meaning for them and for me. I am glad to share his Mother's Day with another who knows his worth.

Friday, May 6, 2011

...as we watch the comfort zone growing smaller in the rear-view mirror

Guided by intuition, on Wednesday I landed on a podcast phone call talking, by turn, to women whose titles were, respectively, Intuitive Life Coach and Medical Intuitive. I have never done this before, never listened to these programs or speakers before. And, in a life that, at one time, included visits to many psychics, I have never been so clearly seen, been unmasked, with great kindness and compassion, so that hiding from myself no longer seems an option. My belief is that spiritual and emotional affliction manifest in the body; my difficulty with mobility I see as an example of that, but one for which I had no answer.

With the intention of trusting my inner wisdom, not drowning my enthusiasms - which are more accurately passions - before they can draw breath, I've made a first attempt to translate the interior process into text. It is here because thumb-tacking it to the phone pole seemed indicated.


Connect, the intuitive said, your head and feet. No problem there, other than all the ME that dwells between them. I blame the head, the mind which throws its weight around - thinks it's so smart. There is always information, some might say facts. It never shows up intending a fair fight, the mind. It is the impossible squabble that says, "you ALWAYS" or "you NEVER" and all your reserves go into defending, dispirited. There isn't enough fortitude, starch, to see the debate through to resolution...in your favor. That mind was present at the scene of every crime. It knows and relishes moments of failure, of fragile and unwise choices. The encyclopedic memory replays with sadistic glee scenes of shame and humiliation, betrayal of self or others, weak and crazy longing or terror or futile surrender. It is a shrewd organ, misinterpreting its assignment which is to know, to be the reliable source, repository of what matters, of what grows us, rather than the source of poison that reduces us to trembling, wobbling specters of our magnificent selves.

In China's cultural revolution, citizens too steeped in the old ways were sent for re-education. I have volunteered my mind, tattler that I am, for such a program, deep in a rural province. While it may not have been entirely effective in China, hard as it is to impose in any lasting fashion a bureaucratically-generated national amnesia, I am willing to try. Some amnesia allows healing. It is the seed that grows forgiveness. It is the pardon, the reprieve, the mercy so deserved, so essential for any forward movement. The quality of mercy falling, down, down, past organs and systems, trickling, filtering, washing away all that blocks the mind's wisdom of love and grace from reaching the feet, to watch them uncurl, move and flex, wiggle and leap and dance.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Will we ever know?

At my son's place of employment, the security staff has extra duty in the warmer months. They become rattlesnake wranglers.

In the hills of Pasadena, chaparral and eucalyptus flourish and an asphalt parking lot becomes fine sunning ground for groggy reptiles. Last week, van-pool riders could not disembark until security had vanquished the rattlers. My son reported that the "Watch out for rattlesnakes" notices would be posted at once.

When we sign on for a job, a relationship, a task, we can never be sure how it will turn out. I hope the job description covers these scaly doings in the wild kingdom, but years of drought have brought animal life closer to civilization and construction has carried civilization deeper into what was once untamed. What might have been two required captures per season may now be dozens.

All things are not as advertised. We edit. We don't always choose to tell each other about the snakes.

Truth, though, has its own natural laws and eventually foams out past the tightened lid. Or explodes in the manner of my grandmother's canned peaches, stored in the garage rafters, unequal to the heat of too many summer days. With or without warning, someone is left to clean up the fermented goo and side-step the broken glass.

We learn wariness, which can blossom into cynicism. It is not a thing I admire in myself. I want to think well of people, to trust their motives and take them at their word. Some evasions we can survive, more or less intact. Others leave us scarred and altered. But I am unsure whether, in my case, the bad surprises were really secret or did I not want to see them. After the fact of some earth-shaking revelations, I have been told that others knew, could see, but decided not to tell me. What is the right answer? I like to believe that I am mature enough (in age, at least) to behave well when told an unwelcome fact. But I can't swear to it.

Some of these thoughts are the result of wondering how much of the real story we will ever know regarding events from 9/11/2001 through the May 1, 2011 death of bin Laden. It has been years since I felt our government, or any government, allowed us the dignity of handling the truth. I don't know if we are a society or a planet of secrets. Reasons are so wide-ranging, nationally and personally: shame, fear of retaliation, fear of spreading panic, fear of loss, fear of humiliation...shame and fear, various mutations thereof.

Will we be fooled again, at home, in the street? Are we being fooled now? Not impossible. Our best hope is to pay better attention, maybe not shout down intuition when it wants to be heard and believe in our own ability to endure, to prevail, to carry on.

(The lyrics to Won't Get Fooled Again may be found here.)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Eye and heart

First order of business: I am grateful to Antares-Cryptos for his recently-presented blog awards, on which list I was included. Thank you for your ongoing comments and for beginning your own posts, which entertain and inform. I am delighted to be in such rich company.


In a previous life I worked in network television, tangentially connected to the departments involved in selecting the pilots which would become series on the fall schedule. The first of May meant longer office days, weekend work, seeing my family less and, often, having to be at my post on Mother's Day. That was two decades ago and I have tried to pay attention to what spring, or May, means now. To judge by the past few weeks, it signifies an unhealthy lust for new art supplies.

Some of you will recognize the symptoms and others may see their own obsessions, translated into the language of paper arts. After learning what local artist/teacher Kelly Kilmer considers the best permanent glue stick (I KNOW! A question you never thought to ask), I spent too many hours on line trying to find a source of fewer than ten sticks at what I considered a reasonable cost for shipping. This took place over two, possibly three, days.

Earlier I devoted much of the week looking on-line at floral scrapbook papers, now plentifully available as opposed to their non-existence last year when I went ahead and created my own. My eventual choices cost as little as 20 cents a sheet. I felt like my child self with a nickle to spend on candy at the neighborhood market, my Puritan ancestors whispering, warning me not to make any foolish choices.

It may come back to recent thoughts about being in love with beauty, the ways in which what pleases the eye gladdens the heart. A glue stick may not be beautiful, but the Coccoina brand, in its silver tube with its almond scent, comes close. The papers and a small but choice clutch of Mrs. Grossman's stickers make me smile. So do the commemorative stamps, including Negro League Baseball, that will further brighten decorated envelopes.

The relationship between eye and heart is as indelible as first love, as inseparable as macaroni and cheese. The past week also brought the gift of a couple dozen poetry books to expand my slim collection and explode my imagination. Looking at their spines, titles and writers, I swear made me light-headed. As I began to flip through the volumes, thick and thin, what my vision took in began to fill my heart and caused tears...and laughter.

To compare flowered cardstock to words of immortal significance is not to trivialize poetry but to indicate that we love what we love, we respond to beauty where we find it. It may be the new drill press, sewing machine, game console or designer bag. It may be Chanel lipstick or the Houdini biography. The yearning and delight are not restricted to spring; we are allowed to lust year-round. But when the clouds part or retreat altogether, the sun glints off shiny new growth, the heaviest of the blankets can be put away and our hibernating minds return to life and its possibilities, what is good becomes better in the company of visual happiness. If I could only decide which is the most perfect spiral-bound journal.