Sunday, June 30, 2013

Happy 1st birthday, Josie Simone - repost from 6/30/12

Josie Simone, birthday girl, and her mother Meg.
If we tell ourselves the truth, they are ALL days of miracle and wonder, aren't they?  Somewhere within, under or beside whatever fakakta C.O.D. parcel has been randomly dropped on the stoop reside gems.  Pearls.  Gifts.  If I tell myself the truth, I can probably not name any day ever that did not bring one welcome, valuable contribution.

Today, at the top of a list that will continue to grow, is word that my nephew Griffin and his wife Meg are now the over-joyed parents of Josie Simone, born in Shanghai, bestowing light all around.  Welcome, beautiful girl; international congratulations.  Miracle and wonder.

In my Baptist Sunday school days we sang "Brighten the Corner Where You Are."  Over the past several weeks there have been hunched and shadowy forms - and not entirely without cause - perched on my head, shoulders, the foot of my bed, selling their only product, gloom, with the zeal of mattress retailers on a holiday weekend.  During some moments I lost track of those deeply-rooted instructions and became hunched and shadowy myself, not who and how I wish to be.  Sing along if you wish:

  1. Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do,
    Do not wait to shed your light afar;
    To the many duties ever near you now be true,
    Brighten the corner where you are.
    • Refrain:
      Brighten the corner where you are!
      Brighten the corner where you are!
      Someone far from harbor you may guide across the bar;
      Brighten the corner where you are!
  2. Just above are clouded skies that you may help to clear,
    Let not narrow self your way debar;
    Though into one heart alone may fall your song of cheer,
    Brighten the corner where you are.
  3. Here for all your talent you may surely find a need,
    Here reflect the bright and Morning Star;
    Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed,
    Brighten the corner where you are.
When something is weighing and waiting, though I may be able to quiet my mind temporarily, my body still unmasks me for the charlatan I am.  It breaks out in patches of unsightliness - eczema, cold sores, eye inflamations.  Yet, when I get out of myself, truly step away from thoughts of what might or might not happen, I am not beset, not afflicted.  For all their immeasurable flashes of illumination, our minds have that other side, the so-called friend who delights in sharing bad news.  And she always drops by when we are already twitchy and fragile.

Twelve-step programs have to be among the best advocates of reaching out, of pouring balm on our own aching hearts by being a beacon for someone else.  No better way to forget one's troubles than to be the ear for what another is going through.  We all have the potential to be sources of light, it is the mandate; at the very least it is one of the assignments.  As one of the truths, it is also easy to forget.  One can become awfully wrapped up in woe, real and imagined, gathering speed - and reinforcements - on that downhill roll.

In opposition to the far-flung imaginings and forecasts of those internal wet blankets that would snuff out our attempts at a fragile glow arrives Josie Simone, bright and unflickering.  A rocket, a reminder to make room for, to seek out the distant lanterns that tell us respite is at hand, is always at hand, though it may be temporarily disguised.

I feel I have weaseled and wriggled out of my way-lighting duties for too long. We are all needed on the front lines.  While I coax my flame into, I hope, useful brightness, Josie Simone gets to do the heavy lifting.  How grand that she is more than equal to the task.  Then it will be your turn.  Do not wait. xo

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mr. Guscott presents while Gloria and TRM attend

In the still-cool quiet of the tea shop, Mr. Apotienne witnessed what he felt was a combination of ritual, a bit of P.T. Barnum flummery - without malicious intent - and a way of doing business that might be passing into the mist.  Because all of it was taking place in Billington's Cove, a location he was not entirely sure appeared, at least not accurately placed, on most maps, he thought that here, perhaps, Mr. Guscott could continue to carry on indefinitely his ancient trade with flourish and  mystery.
Sample tea, photo courtesy of this blog and this vendor.
From his sample case, the purveyor of teas had begun to pull his wares, packaged so that they appeared to have come from a Chinese apothecary in 1910.  Gauzy drawstring bags of dark green leaves, glassine envelopes and bags, one size as small as a postage stamp, seeming to hold herbal cures.  From other regions he produced origami-fold packets of rice paper and enameled tins that reminded Mr. Apotienne of a snuff box exhibit he'd once seen.  For each sample he brought forth, Mr. Guscott seemed to have reached into a shadowy corner of Asia-past for surely this was not the stuff of modern business.  Accompanying the show was the tell as the salesman, such an ordinary name for one whose gift is the skilled choreography with which he held them captive, told of each location from which each most special tea had come.
It wasn't a lengthy unveiling.  As a spectator, The Reading Man could tell the degree to which Mr. Guscott savored these moments.   Gloria allowed herself to be enthralled by the patter, for that was clearly how they always did it, arranging every aspect of herself to be the perfect audience for a performance which a wise eye could tell had seen many rehearsals, many revisions.  Perhaps Gloria was the only customer honored with this feat.  Perhaps Gloria was the only customer.

When the names of the teas had been spoken, the names of the villages where Mr. Guscott found them revealed, he leaned back in his chair, a bit winded, a man descending to earth after the high wire act of putting it all, so to speak, on the table.  His heart, possibly, and maybe his soul could be nestled there among the fragrant plant parts.  This was who he was, this was his full and complete bag of tricks.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A hot spell of unknown duration - is it too hot for Gloria to turn on the oven?

Royalty free stock photo of dry teas, from 123RF.
The meeting and subsequent visit of Robert Apotienne and Jack Guscott, in the company of Gloria, deserves further exploration, which it will receive in good time.  That door has not closed.  Other matters call.

As they have been known to do, the winds buffeting Billington's Cove ceased abruptly while our friends were indoors, mostly indifferent to the weather.  No only had the wind stopped, the temperature rose in an unforeseen fashion and, had the Cove been a sailing ship, it would have been stalled, becalmed there in the now-still sea for who knows how long.  Investigations would have been made into the state of provisions, especially drinkable water.  Fortunately, any vessels well off-shore as the elements shifted had engines or motors that would see them safely back to port.  On land, most dwellings and establishments had ceiling fans at the ready for such times.  No air conditioning unit had ever been installed in the Cove, or, if it had, it was hidden, silent and never spoken of.

When Mr. Apotienne left the shop for his calorie-balancing walk, the first thing he noticed was how overdressed he was and removed his all-weather coat, this being perhaps the one weather for which it was poorly suited.  He rolled up his shirtsleeves, unbuttoned his collar a daring two buttons and put on sunglasses.  Mr. Guscott, whose inland-rented car was air conditioned, offered him a lift wherever he was headed but understood the desire and need to walk.  The next thing The Reading Man noticed was an upsurge of foot traffic along the road and the surf line.  A startling upsurge.  People in shorts.  People in bathing suits.  People carrying striped canvas beach umbrellas to shelter themselves from a sun suddenly too hot.

The fishermen's outfitter was housed in a salt-stained one-story wooden structure from which an equally weathered pier led a short distance into the bay.  Mr. Apotienne quessed they would have some information - either scientific or anecdotal - about this meteorological anomaly and might be eager to speculate on the turn of events.  He was not mistaken.  "Is there  a name for this phenomenon?" he asked, stepping into the shop.  "Is this normal?"

"You should have been here in '74," said the owner, Reggie Doland, whose name appeared on a carved sign by the cash register.  "First everyone ran out of ice and then the power failed.  We got that taken care of.  Hasn't happened since.  We just call it the other side of summer.  Looks like you dressed a bit too warm this morning.  Got caught off guard."

"Can you tell when one of these is coming?" TRM asked.

"Not from very far away, maybe half an hour," Reggie said.  "Not much warning."

"No," agreed THRM.  "No, it's not.  Can anyone guess how long it will last?"

"Not from any farther than a half hour," he was told.  Accordingly, Mr. Apotienne thought himself into flexible mode, trusted all would be well on land and sea, felt a bit cooler immediately and was glad he had brought clothing for every occasion and change of climate.  Wisely, one did not take anything for granted in Billington's Cove.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tullio Pericoli, illustrator

Discovered this morning, once again with thanks to Alice Vegrova, FB friend and collector/poster of art that sweeps me away - Tullio Pericoli.  The art shown here is all his work.
The second piece, located through Google images, is Pericoli from Thomas Haller Buchanan's feast of a blog.  What a day for unexpected humor and riches.  And the revelation that someone has been looking under my bed.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Physical therapy

This morning I had my first session of in-home physical therapy.  I cried three times:  first when I was shown than I could pull my foot back and kick better than I had imagined, second with the relief that comes from knowing I don't have to figure this out all by myself and third at the mere thought of perhaps, one day, again dancing a step or two.  The therapist reminded me that not all dancing is done standing up.  I will keep my options open.

We begin where we are.  We work with what we have.  We work and we work some more.  I began the exercises last Thursday and can tell I am able to do a bit more.  Life has this galling ability to cloud the mind, to make it seem as though everything has to be done right now, to send us into overwhelm which is the last stop before paralysis.  I have never been here before.  On my best days I need to sit and collect myself, my thoughts, my possibilities and then I need to sleep.  Much to be discovered, more to be revealed.  It is the first day of kindergarten.  I may cry again before the day is over.  I have no problem with that.

Blessings for all who help us, in their unique and necessary ways, become more than we thought we could.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Amendment to Gloria of June 16

In the original Gloria post of 6/16, I mentioned Google, not realizing or remembering that this story takes place in a world I'd like to inhabit, not the one in which I mostly live.  Therefore, the mention has been removed and timelessness restored.  Well, timelessness if you don't count the telephone, moveable type and the internal combustion engine.  This world, like the past, is a foreign country, they do things differently there.

A Nightingale Sang and Gloria's playlist grows

Once upon a time, before we became who we are, Natalie Douglas and I worked together along that avenue of entertainment, network TV in the 1980s. Now lucky New Yorkers have the opportunity to see and hear Natalie on a regular basis, including her show tonight, June 24, at Birdland in NYC. One of the LA venues at which I saw her was the now extinct but legendary Al's Bar where her a cappella version of "Amazing Grace" silenced every sound. I'm not sure if anyone achieved that distinction since.

As Gloria and The Reading Man (characters in this blog's on-going, episodic fiction begun on April 22) have begun to inhabit my dreams, naturally I think of their unspooling story as day dawns. Here in trademarked late June LA fog, Natalie's "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" had to join the Billington's Cove songbook. There is magic abroad in the air. Big magic tonight, Natalie. I miss you. xo

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Teas of the World come to Gloria's

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”
Charles Darwin
I suspect there must be a tool, a skill, for self-preservation, something that might be called Darwinian, protecting us from knowing the magnitude of change that is rocketing in our direction.  In repose - which for me is a state of blankness not far from sleep - I sense the multitudes at work, running and engine-gunning and rearranging cars like valets at a Hollywood soiree.  Roustabouts continually dismantling, transporting and re-erecting the circus in a new town.  It seems that things were/are afoot,  the smallest portion of them knowable, visible, fathomable to this human mind and I am glad not to have been granted the long-ago wish to know what comes next.  I can barely absorb what is here now.  Once in a while, however, there are glimmers.


Mr. Guscott felt the sun on his generous forehead as he stepped out of the rental car, his sample case in hand.  The sun's warmth, in spite of winds so insistent they created whitecaps off shore, caused him to consider his good fortune, the warm hand of blessing upon him as he traveled the world seeking and selling fine teas.  Today, uninterrupted good fortune, it was the day to call upon Gloria.

While a man of his time in many ways, Mr. Guscott had built a safe inner chamber where he protected, like a premature, orphaned mouse,  the suspicion that he missed the era for which he'd been intended.  There was still adventure and discovery in his work, though not on the scale once known to those who sailed for the East India Company or its competitors.  The long voyages would likely have left him queasy, rubber-legged and underweight, but in his imagination, in his reading, the romance of it all would have been sufficient to encourage him through hardship.  Thus he was a representative of a construction that encompassed traditions, intrigue, the power of the British Empire, the real-world commerce of tea and a good deal of time spent in moments that were not presently occurring.   A man with feet in two worlds.

As he reached the shop's door, Mr. Apotienne had just turned onto the entry path and followed Mr. Guscott into the fragrant, surprisingly chatter-free room, moving in the direction of his delightfully unoccupied favorite table.  First to appear from behind the scenes was Fiona, welcoming The Reading Man, smiling her acknowledgement of his table being empty and quiet.  Next arrived Gloria, untying her apron to leave on a kitchen counter, grasping Mr. Guscott's free hand in both of hers, calling him by name and asking if his travels were treating him well.  "It is always fair weather," he said, "when I am on the road.   Though I have seen a monsoon in Sri Lanka, which I continue to think of as Ceylon," he added as a bashful, time-warp aside, "that I wasn't sure I'd survive.  Still," he said.  "Still."

The Reading Man, being the only other guest in the shop, of course heard this exchange while attending to the menu card for the day and bringing out his book, though it did not seem quite the time for reading aloud.  While Mr. Guscott seemed to be an American, no precise accent from elsewhere, there was a cadence, almost a audible patina to his words which anchored him, he would have been thrilled to know, to another place and age.  He was without pretension yet it almost seemed as though he was traveling incognito but making a rather unsuccessful job of it.

When Gloria had seated him and he began to rummage through his sample case, to which order would need to be restored, she stepped closer to The Reading Man and said, "Perhaps you would like to meet our visitor.  Would you mind joining us here?" as she indicated the round, window-lit table where Mr. Guscott and his tea samples were establishing a base of operation.  The Reading Man nodded and stood, Mr. Guscott stood and, before Gloria could make introductions, proclaimed himself to be "Jack Guscott.  Teas of the World."  To which The Reading Man, shaking his hand, said "Robert Apotienne, tourist."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Take-away goodness - We hear from Gloria

(This is the on-going, episodic fiction about Gloria and Mr. Apotienne, aka The Reading Man.  It began on April 22 and today's is, I believe, the 21st installment.  Give or take.)

Of course there was no reading that day, not aloud, not for the undiluted pleasure of it.  No, there was no reading.  It would have been all wrong.  Mr. Apotienne already felt like a minor sideshow attraction, a specimen, when he sat down with the four women.  He was determined to go no further into performing-seal territory if he could help it.  He imagined one Sherlock facing four Moriartys.  Holmes could do this, he thought, and so can I.
When the attempted, though seemingly benign grilling was over, when Mr. Apotienne had escaped into the sky and sea and air followed by just a whiff of roses from the cottage climbers, he carried a packet of leftovers in one of his deep pockets.  He could play the role of affable, not-exactly-brilliant man-person as well as anyone but the doing of it took a toll.  It made him wary, triggered his instincts for self-preservation, squelched his appetite and, in general, spoiled his favorite part of the day.  As he gallantly though gently insisted on paying the bill for all of them, to thank the women for including him - though everyone knew exactly what was really going on - he remained at the table a few moments after the others left.

He expressed silent, passionate gratitude that he had never been one to sweat under pressure, that he had learned to control his facial muscles - other than smiles which simply burst forth - and that he may have managed to hold on to some fraying fibers of privacy.  When Fiona brought his change - oh, her tip was generous that day - she handed him one of the shop's recognizable paper bags which held a portion of shirred eggs wrapped in foil, warm but not runny, a biodegradable fork, one cellophane pouch of orange peel/pecan shortbread cookies and another with a fist-sized bunch of red grapes.  Next to it she placed a take-away paper cup of what he knew was Earl Grey tea with milk and a hint of Belinda's honey.  "A bit of picnic for later," Fiona said.  Gloria did not appear, which surprised him not at all.

As his steps took him from the shop, he looked along the coast and saw the rock on which he would sit to enjoy his bit of picnic, to ponder the events of the day thus far and to let the ocean, the wind, the gulls' cries and his own long-cultivated capacity for stillness bring him back to himself.  When he arrived at the rocky perch and opened his treats, he found a slip of paper on which had been written, "For remarkable sang-froid.  Please enjoy.  (signed) G."  He thought he might be the happiest man in the world.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Shirred eggs for five - Gloria thinks quickly

When Gloria experimented with a new recipe, which is to say invented one, she served the result as a sample to customers present.  It was a tactic from the school of maneuvering on two flanks,  market research and good will.  That there had never yet been a dud or anything close to it did not cause Gloria to become over-confident.  Each dish was a voyage into terra incognita, though she could be reasonably sure of the result.  On the morning Mr. Apotienne encountered and pulled up a chair with some women of the Cove, Gloria had been puzzling whether shirred eggs could be prepared with a bit of toasty bread in the ramekin, along with, perhaps, asparagus and an enhancing cheese.  She was ready to pop the whole business in the oven, as Fiona waited tables, when the hubbub began and Nancy extended her invitation to The Reading Man.


This could be a real crap sandwich, Gloria thought, knowing how capable those four women were of prying information out of a mollusk.  Her heart and spirits sank, thinking of TRM, not exactly running but stepping smartly away from the table, the shop, the town and, mostly, her.  And before they'd even actually gotten acquainted.  Berating herself for not heading all of this off by steering the group to a different table with an explanation she knew would  have caused her to light up like a tilt sign, she realized her only choice was to act as normal as possible, giving no good reason for the drawing of conclusions.

From the corner of her eye, she saw Fiona gather the teapot, cup and saucer for Mr. Apotienne, arranging a most appealing choice of pastry.  Fiona, too, found him rather captivating, wished he would be there reading until she grew old and, generally, liked to put the shop's and her own best feet forward when he was around.  She was never indifferent or, unthinkable, rude to any customer, with generous tips as proof if any were needed, but we all have things or people we like better than others.  Fiona liked the way Mr. Apotienne seemed to make her feel more like Christmas morning than she had in a long time.  Before she returned with his order, Fiona heard Gloria call to her softly.  "Ask them if they want to sample a new recipe in about 15 minutes," she said.  "Shirred eggs.  Just a taste."  Of course no portion at Gloria's was ever "just a taste" but that left less room for refusal.  Who could say no to a wee bit of this or that.  Gloria thought back to a crossroads moment in her younger days.  I could have joined the Coast Guard, she recalled.  Yes, it would have been a terrible choice and not the best use of my gifts but it would have kept this moment from happening.  For a second she forgot how fond good fortune was of clothing itself in elaborate disguises.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The tables, so to speak, are turned - Gloria waits offstage

Within our own atmospheres the planets and constellations need not actually collide to produce shock waves.  A square here, a conjunct there and one is giving another the stink eye while we're left holding the exploding dye pack of plans gone shockingly awry.  If those drifting orbs have taught us anything it is how to remain limber.  A facile mind is money in the bank.

Mr. Apotienne arrived at the tea shop on a blustery yet bright Tuesday, allowed time for his eyes to adjust to the more subtle interior light and stepped toward his usual table, only to find it claimed.  It was occupied, filled with chatter and, had he been feeling more charitable, pleasingly uninhibited laughter from a quartet of women whose tousled hair and wind-pinked cheeks he'd come to associate with Billington's Cove.  Wanting above all else to keep from looking like a trapped ferret ready to gnaw off his own foot rather than sit at another table, The Reading Man retreated into his breath and quieted his grumbling mind and clanging heart.

Plan B, he thought, one must always have a Plan B.  In a general way, The Reading Man was a highly adaptable creature, as unlikely to start a fracas as a clam would be to grow legs.  As the women looked up to see him there, they smiled and nodded greetings for they all recognized him from his coastal rambles and his steadfast presence near Gloria's kitchen.  "Oh, please," said the one whose name he thought was Nancy, "we still have room here."  To prove it, they all moved, for a moment in the wrong directions, to make space for him among them.  He was about to arrange his thank you, but no, face and began edging to an empty table when maybe-Nancy said, "We'll even be quiet if you want to read.  It would be a treat for us.  Do say yes."  Though he didn't shift his eyes, his mind looked skyward and silently said, not this, not today, and in equal silence the answer came.  Yes, this, today.

From his reservoir of good manners aided by panic now somewhat stilled, he answered that he would find that delightful and thanked them each with fleeting eye contact.  The one he thought might be Ruth had a wariness in her glance that didn't escape him.  I shall have to be very alert, he thought, no falling asleep at my post this morning. I shall be, for this time, the perfect stranger, in spite of his certainty that they gossiped about him regularly and wanted to turn over the rocks under which, they assumed, he kept himself hidden.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Great books

Surprising benefits arise from not having read at an appropriate time the books one ought to have read, of having saved them for a time when they may have more meaning, when we may be smart enough to keep ourselves nourished on them, page by page.  I am just reading SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut, not half-way through its brittle pages yet, and Billy Pilgrim keeps breaking my heart.  In turn, Billy Pilgrim breaks my heart for all of us, which is to say, Kurt Vonnegut breaks my heart or reminds me that it has been broken for a very long time and it is not the worst thing I can think of.  How much worse it would be to think everything was fine.

Great books, those we haven't read, those we don't even know about, those that haven't been written, are the (non-explosive) helium filling the airships as they line up to carry us away.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A ballad for Billington's Cove

Swift is not life's only pace.  Some in Billington's Cove dart on scurrying feet.  Others undulate to this, which they've taken as their theme song.  (Thank you, Mike.  How did I not know this?)

Lyrics by Donovan for "Epistle to Deroll" from the album, A Gift From A Flower To A Garden.

"Epistle To Derroll"
  Come all ye starry starfish
living in the deep blue sea
crawl to me i have proposition to make thee
would you walk the north sea floor
to Belgium from England
Bring me word of a banjo man
With a tattoo on his hand.

The spokesman of the starfish
spoke as spokesman should
"If'n you met our fee then
certainly we would,
If you cast a looking-glass
upon the scallopped sand
You'll have word o' this banjo man
with a tattoo on his hand."

"Come ye starry starfish
I know your ways are caped
maybe its because your astrologically shaped,
Converse with the herring shoals
as I know you can
Bring me word o' the banjo man
with a tattoo on his hand."

The eldest of the starfish
spoke, after a sigh,
"Youthfull as you are young man
you have a 'Wisdom Eye';
Surely you must know a looking-glass
is made from sand?
These youngfish are fooling you
about this banjo man."

"Come then aged starfish
Riddle me no more,
for news I am weary
and my heart is sore;
All on the silent seashore,
help me if you can,
Tell to me if you know
of this banjo man."

"All through the seven oceans
I am a star, most famed,
Many 'leggys' have I lost
and many have I gained,
Strange to say quite recently
I've been to Fleming Land
And if you are courteous
I'll tell you all I can."

"You have my full attention"
I answered him with glee,
His brother stars were twinkling
in the sky above the sea
So I sat there with rapt
attention, on the sand,
very anxious for to hear
of the banjo man.

"I have seen this tattooed hand
through a ship port-hole,
Steaming on the watery main
through the waves so cold,
Heard his tinkling banjo and
his voice so grand
but you must come to Belgium
to shake his tattooed hand."

"Gladly would I come oh
gladly would I go,
Had I not my work to do
and my face to show,
I rejoice to know he's well
but I must go inland,
thank you for the words you brought
of the banjo man."

I walked along the evening sand
as charcoal clouds did shift
revealing the moon shining
on the pebble drift
Contemplating every other word
the starfish said
whistly winds they filled my dreams
in my dreaming bed.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Updated re-post from May 28, 2011 - By our rags you will know us

Boro Japanese textile shown here, with photo credit

In an email yesterday, my friend Lynne wrote about a community-wide tag sale going on in her Hudson Valley town. Today she added to the narrative, sharing what she had put aside to purchase. One item she mentioned but did not buy - as we on her mailing list wonder how it was priced - was described thus: We also found a very tiny slim volume, with a rubber stamp inside that read "From the Library of Anais Nin". Well! If you visit Lynne's site, please click on Fine Art and look at the paper quilts.

Paper quilts seque into fabric arts, as revealed in new wonder by Denise who just gave me the word "boro" which is Japanese for rags. The worn, the discarded, feel like extensions of my thoughts.


The California deserts, in the late 1950s, early 1960s, had not yet been over-run by anyone with off-road capability. They were, with few exceptions, places only real desert rats would seek out. In our forest green, new-to-us Jeep station wagon, my family had access to the previously unreachable ghost towns whose sirens sang to our father. Most of our trips, out and back home in one long day, were made with older friends whose experience in that unwelcoming country, and whose winch, saved us...from being stranded, from being sealed in with the angry tension that always traveled in whatever car we took. They brought cake and humor for our picnics.

The unexpected made a cozy home for itself among the rocks, steep dirt roads and flat expanses of Death Valley or the Mojave...the surprise of coming upon the fellows who gathered in the desert because they liked to shoot at stuff or the recluse with the alarmingly disfigured face who helped us find the highway late one Sunday afternoon, our father alternately thanking and apologizing to the man who clearly just wished to be left alone.

Too much quiet still causes me unease, empty quiet that is the sound loneliness makes. I wonder at childhood hours transported from our well-behaved and frequently silent home lives to the solitude, even with five of us together, of so much nowhere. I wonder what energies, what spirits, may have lingered near the ruined towns, the shells of homes, the abandoned mines of unknown depth; what emotion clung to the discarded egg beater or cup, the faded shreds of wall paper in rooms that once held such promise, the sink, the bedstead, the iron-fenced cemetery.

We carry our boro packs, bound with twine. Rags are remnants, not useless, not at all. I see my life as a series of compartments, not always connected, not always a common thread to tie one to those before or after, other than whatever has been salvaged from each leg of the journey. Our rags, fragile souvenirs, evidence, sometimes held only in the mind. We are each the quilt, the patched scraps of all our moments, all the places, all the hearts and hands, bleached rectangles of loss stitched next to moments of bright triumph.

In the still air - Gloria muses

Original art by Nancy Orme Mysak.

In rare times, when the sea winds stalled and shore birds waded trance-like in the shallow film of ocean on sand, in the trees of Billington's Cove, the warblers and trillers could be heard.  Avian song, not shrieking, not squawking, felt so pastoral, so English novel, so inland, that Gloria imagined she could see herself glide over a forest path opening onto a wildflower-spotted meadow, her floral cotton lawn skirt a classic Liberty of London print, her picnic hamper bearing a feast for body and spirit.

Rather than wishing for it to be otherwise, Gloria relished the variables that influenced her menu.  Weather was always a factor, a song that played in her head when she woke up, a color that appeared as though spotlit, the shape of a cloud, a dream, a memory, stillness or birdsong, mood, all had ways of dictating or at least suggesting what would most please her customers that day.  And what would please them would also please her with anticipation and diving into her tasks.  The spontaneous response to life was part of Gloria's works in progress.  She was unlearning ancient habits, the belt-AND-suspenders approach to days so planned and prepared for they lost all mystery.  A change of such magnitude felt like a series of chapters, rites of initiation, into the arcane art of living by intuition.  Its call was so insistent, its spell so magnetic, she might leave her house without shoes or dressed only in a slip, no longer reliably mindful of what she once thought was absolute.  How, she wondered, could days be as disorienting as the blindfolded spin of Pin the Tail on the Donkey yet leave her with no fear of stumbling.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"where closed human understanding is pried open by fate"

Navajo storyteller doll.

Thomas Moore on stories from The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life:

"Themes are interventions of providence that make an opening through which life can be born again and again, and the many stories with their many themes keep us aware of the liminality of everyday experience, the threshold where the human and the divine converse, or where closed human understanding is pried open by fate.  It is at this very point of convergence that enchantment is born, for our stories grasp and contain the mystery of that wonder of divine incarnation that gives our lives purpose, meaning, and value beyond all personal, human capacity."

and this:

"We are all bundles of stories that are interlaced, embedded in each other, and connected to stories of greater scope.  One story, even an autobiographical one, only hints at other stories that could be told."


"The enchantment of a story lies in its capacity to take us away from the rules, expectations, physical laws and moral requirements of actual life, and that is why the best stories usually betray an influence of mythology, fairy tale, sacred parable, or some form of magic.  A good story is like a wand brushing against the mind, sending it into trance, teaching it lessons from another land, beyond East and West, or from a golden time before and outside this realm of fact and history." 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Butter to the rescue - further Gloria

Cover art from Josephine Tey's The Singing Sands, illustration by Harry Bliss.
Last night while sifting through books, a frequent activity here in the house of teetering piles, I was startled to see The Reading Man with a hat he would never have chosen looking back at me from the cover of a Josephine Tey mystery I read last year.  The lesson:  do not underestimate the power of an image to establish a base in the mind and begin sending out scouting parties to see what may be possible.  And here I thought he was, at least in part, my creation.  I admit the reading and Noel Coward are real.


If only life could be belled like a cat to let you know when it was about to pounce.  None of that soft creeping in kung fu shoes.  Had it not been for the children's nature program and the moments she paused to watch about Galapagos tortoises, Gloria might not have had the words and pictures so near to connect her unusual state of being mysteriously uncomfortable with sensing herself shell-less in an inhospitable clime.  The serenity she found in baking, a task she could begin in moments, felt as though a portion of the balance had been embezzled, leaving her with not quite enough.  Where there should have been the kitchen's morning calm, there seemed to be someone swinging the ferris wheel seat above her, behavior that made her nervous as a child, trouble to come signaled by the dropped flip-flop that usually bounced off her head on its way to the ground.  Gloria's aversion to crowds amid sawdust and forms of forced public hilarity had only grown over time.  What, she wondered, had drawn her to, as it was now called, the hospitality industry?  Oh, that's right, she thought, straightening her hair where the non-existent flip-flop had made its imaginary first landing, the magic born of effort and heat and butter and flour and sugar and eggs and the people who were, however mildly, transformed by eating them.  Of course.  The fragrance of anything being cooked with butter  is one of the greater (as opposed to lesser) spells, her discomfort enigma was, for now, gone.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why I love martial arts movies

This is Tony Jaa, who does all his own stunts - no CGI - in Ong-Bak The Thai Warrior, with a review here.  While the film is given 2 1/2 stars out of 4 here, Netflix gives it, I think more appropriately, almost 5 out of 5.
Over the past weekend, we watched three martial arts pictures, including the Indonesian Merantau, the first mention of which my son found at, home of Vern, the Outlaw Critic and also home of Badass Cinema.  Of his 2006 Badass 100 titles, I, not to mention my son, have seen, if not all, certainly a lot.   This is how we roll when I'm not stamping or pondering or describing The Reading Man's PTSD.
Our third recent viewing, another Thai production, was Raging Phoenix.
Here are some of the reasons why I love martial arts movies.  It began as a shared adventure with my son after his father left.

He bought a book about Hong Kong action cinema - John Woo and others -  started reading it to me in the car on the way home.  We began to track down as many of the mentioned titles as we could.  While not all specifically martial arts, it was a new world and a place to begin.  There were themes of ghosts, revenge, myth, might, honor, valor and a lot of bad-ass-ness.  We have a Bruce Lee poster in the living room.

I find the action involving as it is real, actual skill and training being practiced there on the screen, discipline to be admired and appreciated.

How we found our way back to this genre last week was the result of trying to watch a Gillian Anderson mini-series which sounded okay and turned out to be yet another sad depiction of a serial killer.  I will not watch another underwear fetishist/psychopath and think of it as entertainment.  Correction:  I will not watch another underwear fetishist or fetishist of any kind/psychopath and think of it as skilled storytelling.  It is a cheap and lazy device.  Happily, our Netflix queue, thanks to Vern's recommendations over time, held other choices.

We were both flattened by whatever drains on psychic and other energies had hold of us and wanted to be transported, to other ways of being, to other locales.  The three movies we saw, on three separate nights, each followed by a new episode of Arrested Development, depicted, variously, commitment to tradition, values of honor, family and community above self, anti-materialism - not necessarily the intention but certainly the result - courage, physical and mental strength, focus, spiritual practices - lives with a strong spiritual component - and dazzling feats of skill. And attractive, appealing lead characters.  Always a plus.

Whether it is Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa, Jet Li, Iko Uwais, Gordon Liu, whether it is kung-fu (Shaolin and other varieties), Muay-Thai, drunken boxing, karate, Akira Kurosawa directing Toshiro Mifune's ronin (who undertook the most dangerous stunts himself), JeeJa Yanin playing an autistic woman with powerful martial arts skills in Chocolate, or a Quentin Tarantino-sponsored festival of Shaw Brothers kung fu movies rarely, if ever, seen in America, it is all Junior Mints mixed with the hot, fresh popcorn.  These pictures - action and stories - transport me, take me out of myself and restore proportion.  The village scene at the end of Ong-Bak, in which Tony Jaa demonstrates that his love of elephants is as great as his passion for martial arts, so touched me.  While our tradition of watching movies together goes back to my son's second or third year, our fanboy/fangirl status for martial arts has been going on for nearly 20 years.  It's a gift.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The art of materializing

Thanks to Women Who Run With the Moon here on FB today for sharing Karen Salmansohn's work, part of her "Self Help for People Who Wouldn't Be Caught Dead Doing Self Help."  It was especially resonant for me, as I hope it is for you.  xo

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ancient magic - Gloria continues

Alchemist illustration thanks to this site.
It was not a conversation she'd ever had with anyone other than herself, how cooking was alchemy.  As she readied to start her day at the tea shop, Gloria was, of course, involved with thoughts of supplies ordered, supplies on hand.  She listened for her own wisdom which suggested choices of pastry and other product to be created.  She thought, briefly, of the actual business of business, profit, expense, depreciation, upkeep.  Mostly she saw herself setting to an ancient task, that of turning one form of matter into another.  She did not speak of it for it seemed a topic that was not easily translated into conversation.  She was clear that thinking about cooking, baking in particular, as a sacred act, was not a matter of ego.  It was a matter of being called.

Gloria Grace, her mother always used both first and middle names when she pitched her voice lower, softer, to pass on wisdom which experiences provided, felt the daily stretching of living in two worlds, or possibly three.  Body, mind and spirit.  She tended to lump body and mind together for their actual, quantifiable and verifiable physical presence, setting spirit off on its own separate atoll.  It was able to thrive there and not perish of loneliness due to the company of other spirits that had been similarly dispatched.  An integration of all the parts, happy and harmonious and no one living in anything like exile or seclusion, would, of course, be the ideal.  As it was, Gloria Grace, the younger and the less young, felt grateful that she could identify and claim her separate parts, that she knew their functions and could live, not always as simultaneously as desired, but at least in sequence, with the parts being aware of each other.

An alchemist, as the ancients would have described him, would not have been an idle man.  It was thought - known - to be a man's work, and not a poor man.   One of some substance, education, stature.  She envisioned him stepping from his doorway for the walk to his laboratory, his retreat, a fine renaissance cap of velvet and brocade as befit his station handsomely worn with garments of equal quality.  She saw her apron, which she donned fresh when she reached the shop's kitchen, as her robe of office, again without ego.  It could have been a mechanic's coverall or the fisherman's pants or the nurses' scrubs.  The ritual of dressing for a part, an assignment, a commitment.  Then she gathered her raw materials and began the magic of transformation through an application of heat.  As she stood with her implements, The Reading Man glided across her inner screen like a shadow puppet.  He appeared not in profile but faced her, a visitor pausing briefly to say without words that he knew her work, he knew the process.  Even when the image faded, Gloria sensed she was not alone.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

More about the socks - Gloria, part 12

Mr. Apotienne had thought, on specific, unsettled occasions, that someone who was not him might write a book called Get Over It:  It's ALL PTSD.  As he packed for his holiday, gathering to himself all his dark woolen socks, he found his hands shaking as he confronted the open suitcase - how did it grow to be so cavernous?  -  his breath turned to rasping gulps and his eyes tearing.  One of the things about post traumatic stress disorder is the way it piggybacks into the room, like a brown recluse spider that lurks in the packing material of a long-awaited parcel.  The tick hidden behind the ear of the golden retriever you stop to pet in the courtyard.  No wonder we've been subjected to exorcisms and the casting out of demons, he concluded, once the ground stopped heaving.  How to understand that we continue to haunt ourselves with our own horror stories, not by intention but by the fact that they happened and will not unhappen and each new occurrence could not possibly have been foreseen, the mind making its own connections and we, always the last to know.

A piece of his generalized haunting might have come from an experience of his mother's, she and her brother having been sent to spend the night with a neighbor while their parents were out of town.  Mr. Apotienne recalled the description of the babysitter, accurate or not, as an elderly single woman who found it easier to mimic sanity in the daylight than in her own night-darkened chambers.  With the two children in her care and locked inside her two-story stucco house, she had thought it amusing to drape herself with a sheet and creep into the room where they slept, flapping and shrieking and terrifying them so.   It was fortunate neither had a weak heart.  These are the crossroads, he thought, where we begin to lose our trust.

For The Reading Man, there had been a near-drowning in paralyzingly cold water and, once safe, feet that never seemed to feel warm or dry.  Planning for times in the days ahead when he could be certain his feet would be both wet and appear nearly bloodless with the chill, he stocked his arsenal, saw there was ammunition in every pocket and loop of his bandolier, yet stood mystified as he began to unravel while he stockpiled his socks.  Once he permitted himself the necessary island of seated weeping, he recognized the devil for what it was and wondered just how many turns he would be forced to take around the dance floor with this death grip on his shoulder before he not longer had to endure it.  He could only imagine how much worse it would be without years of therapy.  So, he said. Socks.