Thursday, February 28, 2013

In case you don't know John Fullbright-REVISED

My friend Melissa Green, who knows her blues and folk genres like nobody else I could name, steered me toward John Fullbright and this song when I mentioned some unknown lyric that was playing on my internal jukebox a morning or two ago.  I was a little bit off, thinking the words were "Judas and St. Paul."  I believe this is what I was looking for.  As one of the YouTube commenters says, this guy is the real deal.

One was simply not enough.  Try this, too.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Ballad of Easy Rider

Oh, ho.  This is the song my mind sang to me as I fixed the morning oatmeal.  I'd forgotten the river lyrics - connection to yesterday's post?  Who can say.  The Byrds forever.

I saw EASY RIDER at a drive-in under the flight path to Los Angeles International Airport.  Regardless, it resonated then as it still does.  I didn't want one of the videos with clips.  I remember (I was much, much younger) that I yelled and wept in protest at the end.  Good thing it wasn't a walk-in theater.

Not that long before, I'd lived in Washington, D.C., volunteering for and living among what was called then The New Left.  Those months were leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, for which many were preparing.  At the time, I had no idea of financing sources for any of the endeavors, no idea of agendas other than stopping the war and trying to fit my liberal but very straight self into a counter-culture lifestyle.  I remember coming down the stairs in our Church Street co-op in the mornings to go to work, never knowing who would have taken refuge in the living room while I was asleep.   The experiences there, the companions old and new, remain unlike any other part of this river journey.  No matter how iconic the film, I will not, cannot see it again.  Knowing now that I have always been of hippie heart, some stories are too close to bear.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pass the potato salad at the Picnic of Chaos

It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.
Henry Miller in Of Art and the Future

Once again, Brain Pickings and Literary Jukebox boil it down to the bones.  Flux, we keep meeting like this.

My dreaming last night/this morning was of an estate on a river.  At first the river seemed slow and narrow but I walked with dream companions to other points where it was waterfalls, deep still pools and wide expanses with swift currents.  I thought about rivers when I woke up.  Water - flowing, changing, moving - and the closest I can come to a connection is that the river equals all of this, life as we live it out here in the world and inside, the universe(s) we contain and constant, continual metamorphosis.

I think at least some of our peace comes from letting go of the oars or tiller, acknowledging that we are of and with the flow of things much more vast than we.  In looking over our shoulders to be certain that whatever we just left is still there, fixed and unchanging, we find instead that the water is too fast, the point is much too far behind us and even if we could see it, it would be different than we expect.

This is not information I grew up knowing or even imagining.  Yet what I suspect is on a level of deeper awareness, this is not really news.  I have tried for much of my life to nail everything down, each corner, all the sides.  I've held the image of the picnic tablecloth spread on the ground, pegged down every two inches to keep any corner from lifting or the whole thing from taking flight.  The combination of denial and wishful thinking that I constructed has been evaporating until now only the memory of it remains, along with the reasonably enjoyable Picnic of Chaos, not really all that bad once you admit it is what we have, it is all we have.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It might as well be spring

Though my translating skills leave much to be desired, hearing French sung seems so romantic in a teenage interpretation sort of way.  I am half-way through the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning AMONG OTHERS, by Jo Walton and her protagonist, at 15, is miles beyond my own dreamy, moony self at more than four times that age.  The recommendation for the book came from a source I can't remember and while I try to write such things in a journal next to the computer, sometimes the notes end up on scraps or back of envelopes and sifting through them - yes, they are mostly still around - would take great gobs of time.  If any of you who read here passed on that title to me, could you let me know?  My brother and I both have grateful thanks to extend.  So here, for a bright and warming Los Angeles morning, something lilting with no (thank you, Woody Allen) heaviosity.

IT MIGHT AS WELL BE SPRING (condensed version) by Rodgers and Hammerstein from STATE FAIR
I'm as restless as a willow in a windstorm,
I'm as jumpy as a puppet on a string.
I'd say that I had spring fever,
But I know it isn't spring.
I'm starry-eyed and vaguely discontented
Like a nightingale without a song to sing.
Oh, why should I have spring fever
When it isn't even spring?
I keep wishing I were somewhere else,
Walking down a strange new street.
Hearing words that I have never heard
From a man I've yet to meet.
I'm as busy as a spider spinning daydreams,
I'm as giddy as a baby on a swing.
I haven't seen a crocus or a rosebud
Or a robin on the wing.
But I feel so gay,
In a melancholy way,
That it might as well be spring,
It might as well be spring.


Friday, February 22, 2013

Edward Gorey and others make their way through the Panama Canal

Happy 88th Birthday, Edward Gorey.  Issuer of licenses to be odd to children who may think they are doing it wrong.

One form my oddness takes is forgetting to do things that make me happy.  I forget, sometimes for what seems months but may only be weeks, that I love to read.  Then, with shrinking thoughts of having ever been away, I find myself shoehorned back into gobbling books, not wanting to do anything but read, planning - or wondering - what will be next.

And if my thoughts are filled with other matters, I can forget the necessity of music.  I do not have much knowledge of classical or opera, so I return over and over to folk and some of what was popular from the 50s until the 80s, after which I lost my way, somewhat.  Broadway shows, Cole Porter, New Orleans jazz, other styles are shuffled in.  Most times when I am awake in the middle of the night, there is someone singing in my head.  Since Sherry O'Keefe mentioned it several days ago, it has been Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country."  My version includes Johnny Cash.

I have no wish to put my forgetfulness or neglect under the microscope, peering at cells that may indicate a disregard for self, or not.  Having given it as generous a ponder as it's going to get, I've decided that I, and likely most of us, have been nearly eclipsed by overwhelm, the world is too much with us no matter how we wish or labor to have it not be so.  If I keep track of somewhere between four and a dozen things that matter to me in any given day and spend some time with each of them, I feel I'm doing well.  Sleeping, breathing, writing and seeing that the household is fed and watered. That would be a minimum day.  Each added favored activity is another step up my personal evolutionary ladder, if only for that day.  I survive through a combination of compartments and the water that lifts and lowers essentials; my life is the Panama Canal.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

No action required at this time

In a tribute to Human Powers of Observation, I noticed that my life had lost its shape or had taken on a new, unfamiliar one.  There is too much drift, too much that feels as though I've become unmoored from what seemed steady and almost virtuous. These are not items large enough to be seen from space, they can barely be identified when in the same room, but they were my almost-constants, like drawing, color pencil work, staying in touch (other than Facebook, without which I would be substantially incommunicado), making stuff, staying awake more, not wandering through my days like a person wearing oven mitts who is trying to replace the screw in a pair of reading glasses.

Having now spent nearly a week with this awareness, I come, once again, to the crossroads of duality.  Perhaps an amorphous state does not signal failure to measure up but instead merely indicates what is.   And how is one to know?  As the day begins here with a burned-out light bulb in an inconvenient place, a shrinking amount of good drinking water and probably two or three other pesky matters, my strongest guidance tells me to let it go, for now.  Keep it simple.  All will be resolved, or not, and that, too, is a resolution.

I am coming around to the belief - too bad there's not enough material here for a manifesto or to gain tax-exempt status - that all is in flux and may always have been in flux, flux is not to be feared or avoided, flux and chaos are second, possibly first, cousins and every thing that is is a process.  An evolutionary process.

Shining brightest in the midst of what for the moment I will call knowing is that immediate action is not indicated.  Rather than action of any sort, a passive yet grace-filled state of allowing has been asked for. At last, an assignment to which I may be equal.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Rosa Mira Books and Melissa Green

If we are fortunate or paying attention, beauty dances across our path more times a day than we can count.  I will take this occasion to share a bit.  Before I link you to the announcement by Rosa Mira Books of the newest work from poet Melissa Green, I wanted to include DAPHNE IN MOURNING, which was printed in the New York Review of Books.

Daphne in Mourning

July 19, 2001

Melissa Green

Palm fronds have woven out the sky.
Fog has infiltrated every vein.
My hair has interlaced with vines.
Cobwebs lash their gauze across my eyes.

I’ve stood so since the world began,
and turned almost to stone some years ago.
Who passes by perceives a lichened post,
my girlish features, ghostly, nearly gone.

My bark is warmer than the dead’s.
Human blood still lulls the underside of leaves.
My fingers hold the very dress I loved
to dance in, when dancing mattered—and it did.
Visit our Anniversary Page

And now, the unveiling of Rosa Mira's and Melissa's collaboration.  A gift for us all.  Hooray to everyone concerned.

Rosa Mira Books: Melissa Green, poet extraordinaire, writes memoir

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Detail and disorder

Other than 18 months in a fiction workshop 27 years ago, some sub-contracting work on children's books, then trying with faintly observable success to create series proposals for tv animation, my writing has been non-fiction for more than 40 years.

So of course I followed the guidance, source: either self or other, that suggested I begin writing a novel.  Genre, target audience, still being determined.  I find what steers me with the firmest hand is reading writing I admire.  Right now, that is Michael Chabon's Wonder Boys.  The movie never grows old - the cast, the characters, its smartness - but the book has become a new best friend, the one who tells you what you've done is good and that you can do so much better.  Valentine's Day seems the occasion to say I love Wonder Boys and I love Michael Chabon and I love that, rather than discouraging me, it is the pointy stick that makes me want with monomaniacal fervor to be a better writer.

My son, who frequently reads articles and reviews to me from his iPad, has had to listen to me - and watch my near-swoon - as I thumb my way back to the description of the younger Grady Tripp, narrator, painting with a fine-bristled brush his bold, writerly self, (I paraphrase) as the Spaniard with the knife in his boot and the hibiscus in the band of his Panama hat.  Detail, oh the magic of detail.

Earlier in the book Chabon's narrator tells us, "...It was in this man's class that I first began to wonder if people who wrote fiction were not suffering from some kind of disorder..."  They, or I mean we, may be.

So now as I fall asleep, I leaf through years of moments, objects, circumstances and conversations to see if I retain enough of the specifics to use them, even if only as exercises.  Going back into the monogrammed, brass-cornered trunk under the immaculate garage workbench of one's life to see what is there with new eyes or fresh awareness is assignment enough.  I'll start with that.  Today I don't need to know if any of my recollections will find a home in a story.  First, they need to be brought to life.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Abraham Lincoln

Excerpt from "A Blessing of Women," by Stanley Kunitz in his National Book Award-winning PASSING THROUGH, The Later Poems New and Selected.

"BLESS MRS. AUSTIN ERNEST of Paris, Illinois, whose husband, a local politician of no other fame, organized in 1853 a rally for the Presidential candidate of the new Republican party, following which she gathered the material used to decorate the stand wherefrom the immortal Lincoln spoke and, with scissors and needle and reverential heart, transformed it into a quilted patchwork  treasure."

In her work, shown last year by Lori at Humble Quilts, Susan Macduff shares Mrs. Ernest's recognition of Lincoln as a quilt-worthy subject.

Abe Lincoln quilt by Susan Macduff from Humble Quilts blog.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Yes, I found it on the internet

Because I do not spend internet time in places that annoy me, even to the most microscopic degree, I find it a rich land where the good-of-heart nourish and encourage each other.  We pass along the most choice morsels we find here, and go about our day with greater wisdom, a fresh outlook, new intention.  With passionate thanks to Lisa Hoffman and, by extension, Mary Ann Moss, for the following video and the worlds to which it introduces us.

ink&paper from Ben Proudfoot on Vimeo.
It is not exaggeration to say these are my people, my places. I am shocked to learn that I live perhaps 25 minutes from these businesses and did not know they exist. They speak to me of early childhood, visiting the back shop of the second newspaper where my father worked, after the war, after college. The ink and metal and paper smells mingled. They spark memories of my first job at the Huntington Library, running departmental errands to the bindery in the basement, Italian marbled papers - talk about love at first sight - also letterpress, leather, glue. There was a clerical job at the Washington Post in which I kept records of typesetting production statistics, followed later by a feature writing position for a local daily that had not yet transitioned from hot to cold type. I loved proofreading almost as much as writing, getting to stand next to the aproned men in the composing room as they discarded the metal equivalent of lines I'd just deleted from a story. No wonder I became a fool for rubber stamps. Alphabet sets, almost like letterpress, cardboard, learning the weights and finishes of paper, inks. Look, I'm a cottage industry.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Period of research

"The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research 'childhood'.” Michael Chabon on Wes Anderson's Worlds, here.

Explaining is one of the things I don't believe we have to do, an inalienable right, so my connective leaps, which may not make sense to me but I trust them all the same, are not expected to make sense to you.  Hooray if they do and if not, we press on regardless.

Earlier I posted about what resonates and remains, the way in which all we are, all we seek somehow connects to that "period of research" to which Chabon refers.

Since then a 4 a.m. thought threw its opaque cloak over me and hissed that we get to rewrite our story.  A classic of duality, the thought spoke of all that we previously experienced being everything and nothing: every loss, trauma, disappointment, conversation, prayer, lover, child, dance, story - all of it fitting together inside the skin shaped like us, while simultaneously falling away like the boosters that carry spacecraft just far enough so that additional oomph can be discarded and the craft can navigate on its own.  If being asked both to retain and jettison our childhoods does not represent the model of contradiction and ambiguity, then I guess I'm more confused than I believed.

Again, all the words have not yet come into neat alignment, again it is more of a sense than a prepared lecture.  I have no proof, other than my split-screen image of how all the history exists and is the cumulative everything and is something we leave on the other side of the closed door as we move on.