Friday, March 28, 2014

Spoonflower, my new best friend

Photos, hence the unironed folds, etc., of the fabric pieces as mentioned in yesterday's Facebook post.  Here is a link that may or may not take you to my page or gallery or what-have-you.  They are under the name buttonbunny, which is what I picked without thinking a few years ago when I first signed up.  Good luck trying to go back and change it, though I may still try.  There are a few other patterns of which I have not yet ordered sample fabric but think I will having seen these.  My first attempt, with the computer skills of a right-brained 69-year-old.  It is an amazing world.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Word of the Week - 3

Word of the Week:  GRIOT

Pronounced gree-oh, I met the word in a review of poet Tim Seibles' collection Hurdy-Gurdy last week.  I'm not sure I had ever read or heard it before.  Defined as "any of a class of musician-entertainers of western Africa whose performances include tribal histories and genealogies; broadly :  storyteller"
Poet Tim Seibles
This is the quote in which it appeared:
Listening to Tim Seibles sing the poems in this sizzling collection is like listening to the voice of the griot praising, admonishing, cursing, blessing, and calling us together. . . . As a reader of poetry, I appreciated his exquisite crafting and cool, streetwise lyricism. And as a somewhat envious fellow poet, I wished that every rich, textured stanza were mine. (Patricia Smith)

I imagine you can understand why I needed to make the acquaintance of griot.  It was one of those words that bumped into me like a pickpocket at the carnival in another age, helping me to my feet, brushing the sawdust from my sleeve, looking me in the eye.  It is a word that makes me happy it exists, that there is a specific name for such a group, such a person.  It overflows the banks of storyteller and meanders in all directions.
Toumani Diabate, griot.
There are names and phrases by which we might choose to be identified, collections of words that paint who we believe or know ourselves to be, definitions of all to which we aspire.  Twenty years ago, two friends and I met on Saturday mornings and worked through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way until we each arrived at a seemingly unreachable destination.  For me it involved having a rubber stamp made of my name with the word artist on the line beneath.  In the same chamber of imagination where I once pictured my foot fitting into the faux glass slipper that held the Cinderella wristwatch, I will now dream of the California girl who somehow grew, morphed, blossomed and expanded into being likened to a girot. Any of us who seek to bend and tame language, even for a moment, to our will could share the longing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Robert thinks of chickens and summer

Robert was not expected at the hardware store until the afternoon.  He'd half volunteered for, half accepted an inland assignment that involved a chicken coop and had loaded his tool box into the trunk of the car, imagining the less watery sunlight on his face as he drove east.  Chickens had been scratching through his memories since the call came in the day before.  Chickens.  He had some experience with chickens.
Art, "Bock Bock," by Catherine G. McElroy.
James told him to "eyeball the situation" and call for back-up if the job hinted at complications.  Sometimes James sounded more like an undercover operative than a handyman/hardware emporium magnate, temporarily sidelined.  When The Reading Man began to hear the music to which chickens danced, it was not so much the creatures that filled his thoughts but the circumstances in which he'd come to know them.

He was a book-loving city child, used to spending some of his Saturdays and allowance at the movie theater, the Early Bird as they called the monthly morning showing.  For twenty-five cents you saw the chosen picture, not brand new but not old, a cartoon, one episode of Flash Gordon and got to enter your ticket in the prize drawing.  He never won, never knew anyone who did, but that was the least of the experience.  What dark treachery did Ming the Merciless have hidden up his flared sleeve?

When Robert's parents announced he'd be spending two summer weeks, without them, on his aunt and uncle's farm, a less well-behaved boy might have tried to kick a hole in the wall.   His neighbor Bobby had done just that when his eccentric (they drove a funny, flat-sided German car and walked around the house naked) and indulgent parents told him he HAD to go back to school.  They lived in a less substantial back house, two on a lot, without solid walls.  His tempermental foot had gone right through to the outer boards and he was never punished.

This rural banishment, as he thought of it, was absolute, no discussion, no yielding.  Fait accompli.  At least his father drove him there, didn't put him on a bus and leave him to the indifference of the road, the company of strangers.  How fortunate his aversion to people he didn't know eventually wore off.  The aunt and uncle also read books, had senses of humor and, summer or winter, had cinnamon toast and cocoa before bedtime, at least when Robert was there.  Whatever homesickness or notion of it he'd packed, heavy as an anvil in his suitcase was soon as poor a fit as his roller skates along the gravel driveway and country roads.

As he reached the highest point of his inland journey, Mr. Apotienne could feel his arms, with shirt sleeves now rolled up, absorbing what he thought of as appropriate seasonal heat.  The weather in his aunt and uncle's valley was hellish, yes he spoke that word in argument with his parents, without swaying them, but they reminded him how it sweetened the ripening fruit,  just as it did here less than ten miles from Billington's Cove.  Ginger peach scones, berry cobblers and tarts.  With summer in his mouth, he tried to shoo his thinking back again to the chickens but found he'd become stuck yet again in what he could easily believe was actual time travel.  The memories were so present, his senses so alert, it would not have surprised him to find his uncle and aunt waiting for him at the end of the Brewsters' driveway.  It didn't seem likely that he'd need to call for back-up.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Word of the Week - 2

Word of the week:  HABITAT

The magic of place.  Their, ours.
Photo from the book ELEPHANT HOUSE or, the Home of Edward Gorey.
A postcard from Cuba of Hemingway's desk.  Assorted views of Edward Gorey's home on Cape Cod, the not-quite teetering stacks of books, the objects.  Stuffed toys in The Alcove.  One's natural environment.   Our part-Airedale, Heidi, dug herself a cool, snug nest beneath the oleanders and wallowed until she could raise a cloud of dirt in a snowstorm.  Then she'd come inside, eat whatever meal my mother had fixed for herself and lie on her bed, hogging the pillow.  In the Heidi museum, all aspects of her personality would be recreated by her habitat.

We are comforted by whatever holds us in place.  In a favorite movie, LAURA, Clifton Webb's character says without Laura, he would run amok.  So would we all, minus piles, bed covers, trinkets, talismans, the arrangement of pens in a specific box, the exact notebook within arm's reach.  I am happy to know there is a ruler or, in a pinch, a tape measure in almost every room.  You never know when the size of an A7 envelope will be the most important thing on the agenda.  There are scissors in every room that I frequent.  There is southern light, a luxury we missed for too long, and a view of tree tops and sky.  Drawers of paper, ribbons, clear boxes of rubber stamps.  My newest favorite thing is the "down alternative" comforter I began using in December.  There was too much piled on the bed to enjoy it before that.  I am not sure how other people, allegedly grown-ups as I may be, create a space that approximates Heidi's trench.  I know the books standing and piled to my left beneath the window have a heartbeat.  They give off warmth, pulse and speak.  In moments of depletion they seem to rally round.  Whether I consult them or not, I know they offer wisdom, perspective, safety, an identifiable version of sanity.  They are part of my blanket fort, the quilt draped over the card table on a rainy day, pillows encased in cotton washed a million times, softened and faint of hue, familiar and dependable as a grandmother's hug.  This is home.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Some things just ARE

In trying to find attribution for a quote which I remembered vaguely as "not everything that counts can be counted," my first source credited Einstein.  Further investigation seems to disprove that.  Too bad, for I can see Einstein as a guest on the old Muppet show, had they existed simultaneously.  He might have sung.

"In 1967 Lord Platt writing in the British Medical Journal deployed the maxim (about counting). He cited the 1966 article just mentioned, and hence he also credited Stephen Ross [LPSR]:

"Research is supposed to train the mind into channels of scientific (and therefore respectable) thought, but does not this kind of research sometimes encourage the erroneous belief that only that which can be measured is worthy of serious attention? “Not everything we count counts. Not everything that counts can be counted,” was wisely said by Dr. Stephen Ross." (article here) Much truth to be found in, "...sometimes encourage the erroneous belief that only that which can be measured is worthy of serious attention?"

It has been months since the mental jukebox had a tune waiting for me to wake up.  Today it was "Inchworm," possibly retrieved from the depths by thoughts and discussions a few days ago with a friend just back from a group tour of Cuba.  With chronic (invisible or not) illness or disability, one often learns to live a highly adaptive life.  I believe all lives are adaptive, for making-do is how the world works.  Some adjust to it more painlessly than others.  Descriptions of the Cuban people they met, sharing of stories they heard gave flesh, dimension to a population from whom we are estranged by politics and its inflexibilities.  Neither lack nor plenty defines us, those are only circumstances, the counting, the measuring of things.

More than 50 years ago I dated a man who, when someone told him they'd had a book published, would ask how much it weighed.   It was not his only annoying trait.

For good and for ill, there exists an infinite catalog of things, of matters that just ARE.  Grief is one of them, beauty another.    I have no idea what either of them weighs.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Word of the Week

For at least three years, perhaps longer, I had the opportunity to write an introductory paragraph for a rubber stamp store's weekly email newsletter.  My home stamping heaven, Stamp Your Heart Out in Claremont, CA, closed on March 5 after 25 years.  My friend and owner Joan Bunte is now retired.  While all who've been fans rejoice for her, we snivel for ourselves.  There is so much we will miss.

The paragraph, Joan's idea, was called "Word of the Week" and in it I was free to choose a word or short phrase and then just riff on it with whatever ideas, memories and emotions came to me.  It was one swell gig, made all the better by comments and letters of support, of appreciation.  No writer could ask for more.

One day there may be another newsletter or some form of communication with her ample mailing list, one day after Joan has time to discover a life that is not wall-to-wall responsibility.  Until then, because I miss my task, I think I'll start my own Word of the Week here on the blog.  And here I can include photos or music or videos.  Shall we begin?

Word of the Week:  LEPIDOPTERA

Judith Clay lepidoptera illustration.
What the order of insects that includes moths and butterflies offers is the ultimate model for transformation.  The process of evolving from crawling to entering soupy suspended animation to emerging with wings reminds me - as do attentive friends who remember what I often forget - about process.  Not all aspects of process may look or feel attractive, appealing.  If one was always just dandy, it wouldn't be process.  After a brief guided meditation in which I discovered my spirit totem creature was of the lepidopteran persuasion, I shared the story here.  Redemption and transformation are two favorite themes, experiences that I believe may be ours but that we achieve not by coming at them head-on but by either tripping over or backing into them, possibly while asleep or in any one of a number of altered states.  I feel both are the product of grace, pure grace and not determination.  As I examine my self-proclaimed or self-suspected slackerish leanings I know that grace alone will deliver me.  So I look to the lepidoptera and an observable arc of changing from this into that, as aware as I am able to be that my metamorphosis is a lifetime's journey.  Ebenezer Scrooge may have received a miraculous overnight awakening.  A transition which takes longer is no less welcome, no less a miracle.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Gloria and TRM explore footwear, envelopes and tea, always tea

"I would like to know you in the tropics," Gloria said to The Reading Man, "away from woolens and layers.  See your hands tucked into the pockets of linen pants, a collarless lawn shirt.  Would you wear espadrilles?"

"Even if I had to import them," he said.  "I consider them manly footwear.  Possibly eccentric yet still manly footwear."
Sara Midda watercolor of espadrilles from her charming "South of France - A Sketchbook."
Robert and Gloria sat in the shop's kitchen before she opened for the day.  He was on his way to the hardware store, tool kit set near the back door.  He had his reporter's notebook out, seeing how many house calls he needed to make that morning, then checking his pocket and finding that yes, his paperback DAVID COPPERFIELD was there.  Reading at the library that afternoon, come one, come all.  One thing he loved about the book was the way it erased dividing lines of age, education or circumstance.  He especially loved how it ensnared his heart with each reading as though it was the first time.

They reached a contemplation of other climes when TRM said he'd written to Jack Guscott at an address the friend had given for an estate in Darjeeling.  If he was off wandering about, they'd hold his mail, he'd said.  Mr. Apotienne showed Gloria the envelope, filled with an eclectic assortment of commemorative stamps for sufficient postage and enhanced with a color pencil drawing of James' tool box, highlighting the hammer.  "Illustrated envelopes seem to belong to another universe, not just another time," he said.  "Small anachronistic acts keep me on my toes."
Hand-illustrated mail by Sir Henry Thornhill.  Click on the "Send a card" link at the blog and you can share facsimiles of Sir Henry's envelopes with anyone who will appreciate his unique, delightful mail art.
"More Graham Greene than India," Gloria had said.  "'Our Man in Havana,' though perhaps sultry plantation days would call for a similar look.  Actually, and maybe I've carried it over from our aloha shirts, an island.  I would like to see you on a South Sea island.  My imagination might have overdressed you."

"Then we'll hope for another heat wave.  Costumes encouraged." 

To  his new job Robert took the shopping bag Gloria filled with cellophane packets of cookies and scones.  He thought he could see a boxed lunch beneath the sweets and mouthed a second, silent "thank you" after he thanked Gloria and said goodbye with a kiss on her cheek.  She was slow to close the door, watching after him as he stepped smartly into the foggy morning, a man about his work.

Footnote:  Not unlike Jack Guscott's fictional Teas of the World, Amazon (and I'm sure a number of other places) carries products from Steven Smith Teamaker.  A friend shared some Big Hibiscus with us.  It was fragrant, soothing and carried a subtle, spicy aftertaste.  In looking it up, I found the flavor called Bungalow 47, from which I borrowed some of Jack's travel details.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Temporarily detached, it's a good thing

Don't say yes if yes isn't the answer.  When the three friends with whom I went to Girl Scout camp raised their hands for the "wilderness experience" I know why I raised mine.  I would have been even more lost without them than I was, what seemed like miles away from all normal activities, through chaparral hiked every day, on the "roughing it" adventure that had me writing pleading letters home.  The main lodge, sadly, burned down in the middle of one night, all the girls from the main camp waking us up as they trudged the fire road to our location.  Everyone regrouped and waited for rescue.  My parents accused me of starting the fire.  It was not the end of my volunteering.  Not volunteer work, a worthy endeavor, but being somehow drawn into, let us say, situations.
Celluloid image of hapless volunteer.
Whatever inclination I once had for joining, for group activities with their blatant or more subtle pressures, has waned, evaporated.  We learn essential lessons among our fellows, whether family or school or voluntary groupings.  Unless things are dysfunctional beyond repair, we learn sharing and compromise, listening and even democratic process.  We learn to take turns.  If we continue to join, sign up, agree to too many tasks not of our choosing, we burn out.  Or, as with Scout camp, freak out.

It is taking me a lifetime to know myself, to realize that when a person or circumstance is a poor fit, there may be no fault.  That I do have strong friendships and enjoy company of my choosing may keep me from being a true loner or it may not.  I was comfortable and happy teaching rubber stamping techniques.  I enjoyed traveling about and the people I met were grand - store owners and students.  The same is true for store demonstrations where thinking on my feet, spontaneity, improvisation and doing more than one thing at a time was required.  The hidden portion of the iceberg that is prep time was what eventually wore me down.  Showing up was the easier, more fun part.  If a crowd gathered outside my door in the next ten minutes wanting to be shown color pencil shading, I could do that and enjoy it.  I would decline an invitation to teach anywhere at some future time, knowing the stress of sample-making, kit compiling and organizing materials would grind me to a nervous nub.

What opened the creaking door to these thoughts was Monday's brief post about the rain and my realization that one of the things I loved about that weather, when I didn't need to be out in it, was how is placed me in a small circle of self with everything else separate and beyond the rain.  While I lead what can only be called a very quiet life, there are further degrees of stillness, the rain's gift.  One March (that could have been February) afternoon was enough.  It brought restoration of a sort that ordinary contemplation doesn't offer.  While the storm could not end California's drought,  it gave me needed disengagement, it filled my well. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

It did rain

It did rain, as predicted.  Here in South Pasadena it rained sideways, it caused a power failure, brought one burst of lightning and several of thunder.  In Los Angeles it brought more rain in a day than had been seen in a year.  By Wednesday, our sunny temperatures will be back in the 80s.
Art by Michael Sowa.  "Rabbit on a Rainy Street."
If it had been a leap year and thereby still February, Saturday would have been the perfect revisiting of that once-rainy month from younger years, spent reading and napping.  As it was, March delivered  the wished-for island that rain creates, dropping a curtain between me and anything beyond the downpour.