Monday, December 26, 2016

Word of the Week - 147

Saint Francis of Assisi by Sassetta.
Word(s) of the Week:  SAINT FRANCIS

I first heard this prayer in meetings of 12-step programs.  Among the readings that were part of every meeting, this was occasionally chosen in place of words from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Its message has resonated for me since then, more than 30 years.  Whether or not you subscribe to the form, I feel it speaks eloquently of this season, of all seasons.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Encore: The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas

Last year's two-part Christmas story, revisited in one place.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas


Vintage Christmas ephemera.
Episode One

"The trappings of Christmas must be perfectly executed," Ambulancia declared to all within earshot, which included passers-by who looked up, startled, and quickened their steps.  "I know perfection when I see it.  I just can't say ahead of time what it will look like."  This bit of last-minute holiday drama concerned traditional crackers presented to each guest atop their dinner plate at the Christmas table.  While her mother suggested the manufacturer's decorations were quite festive and would disappoint no one, Ambulancia, joined in protest by her sister Sireena, insisted on what she referred to as "tarting them up" with trimmings that would render them extravagant works of art.  Nothing less would do.

Once again, tulle became a material of choice, along with double-faced satin ribbons, gold German Dresden trims and ornaments, Victorian scrap images, sequins, glitter, cotton batting fruit and birds and additional bits of scissored crepe paper.  Fortunately, the girls always created in their room, their atelier as they called it, so the already tidy parlor with its slightly strange but mostly wondrous tree would remain undisturbed.

As had been the case at Thanksgiving, Ellington and Henri's parents found it necessary to be "away" at Christmas, some muttered explanation about a distant, aging and slightly gaga relative or some precarious businss assignation in a wintery, remote locale which, they were sure, would cause the boys hardship.  It was no hardship at all to stay over with their best friends for the entire vacation. They rolled up their sleeves and tested the glue guns for readiness.

Though it may have seemed to the untrained eye that the sisters procrastinated, plunging into last-minute flurries of holiday preparations in general, that was not the actual truth.  They had made all their gifts weeks ago, wrapped them, helped decorate the house, baked, gone to the movies twice with the brothers and eaten lunch in a downtown coffee shop.  They were not idle nor forgetful.  it was simply that when Ambulancia opened the box of Christmas crackers, she felt her heart sink just a bit and could not bear to think of that happening to their guests.  "Presentation," she exclaimed.  "Delight the eye, create anticipation.  Much of Christmas is anticipation.  We will not disappoint."


Thursday, December 24, 2015

The sisters and brothers throw themselves into Christmas, part 2

As long as there was someone at home, the girls insisted that any and all Christmas lights be turned on regardless of the time of day.  So it was that they crafted beneath the softened glow of a treasured old Santa, putting finishing touches on the now highly adorned crackers for tomorrow's table.

With one of her favorite holiday magazines beside her, should she need inspiration, Ambulancia sniggered and snorted at the photo of an impossibly lavish cracker, saying in her poshest voice, "Oh, Ree, did we include the Faberge eggs in the crackers this year?  I may have forgotten them.   We'll need to start over."  Her sister answered, "Yep.  Forgot them.  I guess they'll wait for next year."  Snigger, snort, heh heh.  "A witty motto, plastic charm and, my favorite, the paper hat, will have to do.  I love when we all have on our hats.  Nobody thinks they're too silly to wear.  We know the best sports, don't we?"
NOT the sisters' Christmas cracker.
"Will you ask our Dad if he's ready to take us to deliver presents?" the older sister asked Ellington.  Unlike the girls method of, no other word for it, bellowing from room to room, the Garrick brother went and found Mr. Charpentier in his den and asked if he was ready to drive them around to exchange gifts with their friends.  "Yes!" he told him.  "Yes.  And then a tour of the neighborhood lights after, how does that sound?"

"I feel a bit selfish," he told Ellington and Henri, who had joined them, "having the company of you guys while your parents have to be off in the Black Hole of Calcutta or some dismal place without you at Christmas.  Lucky us, I wouldn't trade."  His genuine kindness, his enthusiasm for having the fellows to balance all the female influences on every matter, always made the brothers feel they were as good as at home.

Turning off the lighted decorations, Mrs. Charpentier rounded up all the siblings, each carrying a small, paper-handled bag of presents to be dropped off.  The first year their father asked if they needed a ride to their friends' houses, the girls clapped with delight.  They also jumped, just a bit, and may have let out a shriek.  Christmas was so much fun.

With the mysterious packages, some of which were exceedingly lumpy, patterned paper wrapped around the contents like a second skin, exchanged, following rather extended chats on front porches and some familiarly shrill exclamations, all were back in the car.   It was officially Christmas eve, the sun had set and lighted trees filled front windows on every block.  Following their tradition, they stopped to get hamburgers to eat en route while they rode through the evening, visiting their favorite neighborhoods, the ice cream family's mansion lit up brighter than a Hollywood premier, the towering deodar trees beneath which all cars drove with headlights off.

"I remember the first time I was able to fall asleep on Christmas eve," Mrs. Charpentier said.  "I was so disappointed when I woke up.  I felt as though I'd lost Christmas, I'd lost the child I had been.  But I was wrong.  She's still here," she laughed.  "You girls and your father helped rescue her from having to be too grown up."  She blew kisses toward them all.  "Thank you," she said.

"Being able to fall asleep when it's Christmas," Sireena said, "I can't even imagine.  How awful that must have been for you."  Her mother nodded.

As they wound their way home, the children examined the presents they'd been given and thought of what they would do before going to bed as late as possible.  One thing they loved to do and not just on Christmas eve was lie on the floor under the tree in the darkened room and look up through the branches at the lights and they way they were reflected by ornaments and tinsel.  It seemed like a wishing place, a fairy place of pine scent and candles.  There would be carols playing softly and everyone knew, not just believed but knew, that the best things were entirely possible.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Word of the Week - 146

From our grandparents one Christmas, my siblings and I each received a Steiff puppet: Jocko, Gaty and Witty.
Word(s) of the Week:  SISTER AND BROTHER

I use the word Christmas rather than holidays for it was Christmas that my family celebrated.  It is our tradition.  It is the past to which I return this time every year.  It is my personal version of the Twilight Zone where I know it will be the mid-1950s, where my sister will be around five or six years old, my brother around eight or nine and I somewhere between 10 and 12.  When our mother isn't looking, we will make compressed balls of the tinsel and toss them at the tree, rather than draping it strand by strand as she  instructed.  When the lights are on, we will lie on the floor with out heads beneath the branches, and let our wishing minds carry us away.

The three of us have spoken as adults of the brief interlude, perhaps only one year or at the most two, when our mother sought the short-cut of what we called the Ready-Pack Christmas stocking.  A dime store standard of scratchy red mesh with a festive, stapled image atop a bag of, well, stuff.  We were used to receiving one of our father's socks with a splendid orange in the toe and a handful of personally selected treasures to open in the middle of the wakeful night.  We fussed terribly about the indignity of it, though the Ready-Pack gave us a lasting tradition:  the Chinese finger trap, ever after one of Santa's constants.
The Chinese finger trap found its way into the Novelty Items Hall of Fame.
They say that the act of recalling an event changes our memory of it.  Physics may one day prove that remembering can alter the event itself.  What I know is that, among all the joys that Christmas continues to bring to my life, the most enduring times, the ones etched most deeply into my heart, my very core, are the ones when Laurie, Mike and I were young together, almost swallowed whole like Jonah by the impossible magic of those days.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Word of the Week - 145

From Austin Kleon's STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST.
Word(s) of the Week:  MAKE THINGS

My sister, brother and I grew up following the model of a mother who made things.  She was a fine arts major and everything, including the elementary school newsletter, became art in her hands.  I have a faint but I believe accurate memory of one of her newsletters, featuring patterns for Three Little Pigs finger puppets.  She launched us each on a lifetime path of creating, each according to our specific muses.  Music, sports cars, carpentry, cooking, building, sewing, retail display, vintage fashion and accessories, drawing, coloring, paper craft, writing, my siblings and I continue to expand and explore the places our minds and hands can take us.

When fully immersed in the doing, I find it impossible to think other thoughts.  Existence in the moment shrinks to the point of a pencil, the heft of the scissors, the accuracy of glue placement.  It is another world, the realm of alchemy.  We are transformed, returned eventually to ordinary life, perhaps with the ability to see it through new eyes.
In a Facebook post a few days ago, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, sharing a video of extravagant, traditional tulip-pattern cookies, said this: "I often think of this in our fast food world, and HAIL! to the cooks and bakers. I find you to be HOLY people who bless others with your daily works. Thank you!!"

All that remains for you to do is GO.  Go to you studio, your garage, your kitchen, your garden, your shop, your factory and make stuff.  It is never too early, it is never too late.  Go.  Now.
From GO TO YOUR STUDIO AND MAKE STUFF: THE FRED BABB POSTER BOOK

 


Monday, December 5, 2016

Word of the Week - 144

James Thurber, self-portrait.
Word of the Week:  ENGAGE

I feel as though I do a poor job of explaining myself when called upon to do so.  That is probably because I believe we should not be asked to explain ourselves.  Years and years ago I realized I would never find words precise enough to say who I am to someone who couldn't or didn't want to know.

A recent conversation with my most capable, kind and interested nurse practitioner about why it was my priority to re-establish too-long neglected drawing as a daily habit before moving on to doing the same with chair yoga backed me into that corner of trying to say why this was so.  A few days later it came to me that art generally is how I engage with the world.  Writing, images - either my own or borrowed from the internet - are my voice when not conversing one-to-one.  How I am in and of the wider world is better expressed through essays or fiction, through the work of my own hand or photos of what has meaning for me.  The conundrum of how to be known without explaining.  The long and short-term benefits of a chair yoga practice are not lost on me.  However beneficial, though, they take a backseat to an act which carries me outwardly forward while inwardly grounding me more firmly as myself.

This is, you realize, my process.  It may not match yours, nor does it need to.  Had the internet not been invented, had no platform been offered for creating a free daily (or less often) written musing on any topic I chose, I could easily be, if such a thing still goes on, in downtown Los Angeles' Pershing Square shouting my truths at passing cars and uneasy pedestrians.  I could be pressing leaflets into their hands rather than having professional representation for my snowmen, cats, cupcakes, roses, suns, moons, flowers and citizens through rubberstamp companies that turn my drawings into product and send them/me forth.

That I am here for a reason I accept as fact.  What I interpret as the reason may shift, may adjust itself with circumstances though it never strays far from a notion of service in the form of that which brings more light than it takes.  We've no idea how long we have to complete our assignment, as though we ever could, and I feel some urgency about doing what I think of as my work better, more fully even at my decidedly slowed pace.  I can only be here, part of my own support staff, in so many ways on any given day.  I swear chair yoga is next.  Meanwhile, there is lettering to practice and pages to fill.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Word of the Week - 143

Various RubberMoon images with a bit of drawing.  Artists: Brethauer, Cather & Kelly.
Word of the Week:  STARS

For our Christmas program in the 6th grade, I got to be in the glee club.  I have no memory of how that happened, just that it was the vehicle to learning Christmas carols beyond those we sang in Sunday School.  We even learned two different tunes for "Away In A Manger" and I still remember them both.  Impossible yet true.

Suns, moons, cats and stars are among my favorite subjects for doodles and drawing.  The fact of stars assures me we will never unravel all the great mysteries, which comforts me enormously.  Carl Sagan said this of us: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
―  Cosmos

Stars and songs make a potent team.  To sing, or play, of stars positions them in the firmament, their rightful home.  John Fahey's guitar, "We Three Kings."


Don McLean's "Vincent,"


Louis Armstrong's "When You Wish Upon A Star."


Stars by another definition, The Kinks' "Celluloid Heroes."


The holiday season, of which all that shines brightly is a great part, is nearly upon us.  Candles, tinsel, lights, stars, the winter nights less dark for their warm glow, no matter how near or far.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Word of the Week - 142

Art by Fabienne Cinquin.
Word(s) of the Week:  WHEN IN DOUBT

In times of confusion, I turn or have turned variously to food, sleep, humor, dithering, weeping, growing quiet, snapping, any distraction like organizing my color pencils yet again, pondering and, as a last resort, making a very simple plan.

The holidays confuse me.  Relentless promoting of costly, material goods makes me sad.  It seems so anti-holiday.  I used to be able to participate so differently, certainly with greater energy and other resources.  That was a very long time ago.  What passes for The News confuses me for I mistrust most of it, either to be actually newsworthy or to be true.

While I would not call myself a tough cookie of the old school, neither am I easily confused so it takes a really large and seething mass of chaos to throw me any distance.  Also known as, when the holidays and news collide.
Which brings me to, "Ow-my head," and other home-grown things a bright girl can do.  A useful response to confusion is not unlike a healthy reaction to physical peril from, oh, a poisonous snake or other predatory, lethal life form.  For me, that means stand still for as long as necessary.  Do nothing big or noisy or fast.  Drawing, with or without coloring, fits that description.  When figures or forms seem too much, I draw words, often silly ones that somehow help me feel less disoriented.  As each of us is unique, what is medicine for one may be further confusion for another.  It is not one size fits all.

I freely admit to being a conspiracy theorist.  One of the suspected conspiracies involves someone/someones somewhere being highly invested in keeping us confused or distracted in ways that render us non-functioning.  This is not new business, this didn't just happen.  Our job is to be as present, as bright and alert as possible, as don't-get-fooled-again skeptical as we can be.  Getting caught up with all the other fish who swim around in circles renders us useless.

It doesn't matter how one combats this fugue state, just that we resist it.  There IS a way out.  It is our job to find it, to draw its picture so we'll know it when/if it shows up again, regardless of the disguise it chooses.  Each of us is responsible for being present, for being our truest and most solid self by our own definition.  There is much to be said for simply holding a place of certainty when doubt seems to have the upper hand.  It is not about being right, it is about being.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Walking the narrow path

Some years ago a friend told of a question asked by her husband when she was in the throes of a ta-do.  He asked, "Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?"  She chose, as I did and do, happy.  Every time.

We are, as a country and a planet, in a place of deep turmoil.  One of the things I know beyond any doubt is that my words will not change anyone's mind, nor will theirs change mine.  I forgot for a moment the truth of that.  It was an uncomfortable reminder.  Discord has no place in my life.  I simply do not believe in arguing, in feuds, in estrangements, in being at odds with those I love or even like.  I've learned through years of stress-induced ills and infirmities that fighting is very bad for my health.  It weakens the immune system, erases a quiet mind and produces only grief.  It steals sleep and the ability to trust in a good outcome.

I also don't believe that hate is an appropriate word to apply to other living things, least of all to my fellow humans.  Disagreement needs to include tolerance, the forebearing of hate-filled exchanges, of baiting, demeaning, ridiculing, insulting, oppressing, bullying.  It is unreasonable to expect to hold the moral high ground when one is spouting venom, no matter how perfume-drenched it may be.

I do not feel we are required to explain ourselves to others.  I believe all are entitled to the dignity of choice, for which we each have very personal reasons, strongly held ideas.

It is a narrow path, trying to walk through this mine field, not staying neutral but maintaining what I hope can be a respectful silence.   My voice added to the din would only make it louder.  I hear of families so divided they cannot sit together at the Thanksgiving table, detente a distant illusion.  My immediate family, never exactly large, has dwindled.  Its members are too rare and precious, our years here growing too short to treat recklessly in the election's aftermath.  A harmonious life is hard-won, not by abandoning our truths but by asking them to sit quietly in the back seat for the duration of the ride. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Word of the Week - 141

Excerpt from a short video of artist Ralph Steadman at work on "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."
Ralph Steadman cover illustration, one of several editions of the book.
Word(s) of the Week:  FEAR AND LOATHING

Saturday night, while watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show set in London, we saw Ralph Steadman at work in his studio and sharing a meal with Bourdain.  I realized my unexpectedly despairing, delayed reaction to Tuesday's election results might have been assuaged if Hunter Thompson were still here to tell us what really happened.   That is a story we will likely never know and certainly not as it might have been translated through the mind of Dr. Thompson, whose possibly best-known quote tells us, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."  It has officially gotten weird.  What none of us knows is what to do next.

About "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72":

“Thompson should be recognized for contributing some of the clearest, most bracing and fearless analysis of the possibilities and failures of American democracy in the past century.” —Chicago Tribune

"The best, the fastest, the hippest and the most unorthodox account ever published of the US government's presidential electoral process in all its madness and corruption. In 1972 Hunter S. Thompson, the creator and king of Gonzo journalism, covered the US presidential campaign for Rolling Stone magazine alongside the establishment newsmen of Washington. The result is a classic piece of subversive reportage and a fantastic ride on the rollercoaster of Hunter's uniquely savage imagination. In his own words, written years before Watergate: 'It is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal and incurably violent side of the American character almost every other country in the world has learned to fear and despise." Part of the item description from the bookseller, The BiblioFile in Gladstone, MI.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Word of the Week - 140

Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, thanks to this site.

"I'll be aroun' in the dark. I'll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there...I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready. An' when our folk eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build—why, I'll be there. "  

From The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck 

Word(s) of the Week:  WITNESS AND REMEMBER

In every way that is humanly possible, we are, I believe, intended to be present for each other, present in kindness, in love, in compassion, in support, in care, in listening, in holding with and to what is most sacred.

I am an old hippie at heart.  Before the hippies appeared, I clung to the notion of being a baby beatnik.  These were and are my people.  I will never not cry when Henry Fonda makes that speech to his Ma during those desperately hard times.  Whether or not he survives being one who continues to speak up to authority, he knows his witnessing, his naming, his presence will live on.

On Sunday, my brother Mike shared Gandalf's (J.R.R. Tolkien'a) words from THE LORD OF THE RINGS,  “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."

We are extraordinary ordinary people in possession of wisdom and strength.  We are healers and helpers, mourners, visionaries and heroes.  We are the answer to any question, or we are capable of being such.  We may, in some moments, feel as though we've lost our way.  We have not.  We have each been chosen to know, to witness and remember.  Let us not forget.




Monday, October 31, 2016

Word of the Week - 139


Word of the Week:  CHOREOGRAPHY

First, credit to Jerome Robbins for conception and choreography of WEST SIDE STORY.  The opening sequence has never lost its appeal, likely never will.

This week's word came to me while watching the Golden State Warriors play the New Orleans Pelicans the other night.  Having seen the Warriors throughout last season, including the playoffs and championship, I had a picture of what the court looked like during a game.  With the addition of Kevin Durant to the equation, it appeared to me that a new configuration was being eased into, one with which those concerned had not yet become fully fluent.  Where there had once been two principles, now there were three.  As one of the color commentators seemed ready to declare a team misfire part-way into the second game of the season, I saw the working out of new choreography.  When you go here, then you go there and you'll be ready for this.   Places, everyone.  Rehearsals have just begun.

I find that flux influences my days, flexibility and improvisation are required if one is to keep on one's feet, even figuratively.  It is still choreography, whether or not one is actively mobile.  Colliding with other dancers, with fixed objects, with change, happens.  Would that it happened less rather than more.  We have our routines, our expectations, the pieces of the production on which we depend - our own strength, our wits, our capabilities, all of them mutable.  Aging may bring these variations, this need to regroup regularly, into sharper focus, yet I know they've always been there for me.  A more youthful elasticity may have masked their constancy, whereas they now step boldly from the wings and demand a place on the stage.  The other dancers rearrange themselves with as much grace as they can muster.  They are learning not to grumble.

It seems my actions are all variations on working to make peace with uncertainty.  The phrase, "What fresh hell is this?" is one I utter often.  Not hell, exactly, but still surprising, unexpected.  I think of walls, the bricks hold their integrity while the mortar crumbles.  How to keep it all from falling down.

As words escape me, awareness seems easier to access.  It may be the product of greater stillness or the brain teaching itself new tricks.  A definition of evolution refers to, "the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form."  I don't believe it was ever truly easy, we just let ourselves be fooled into thinking it so.  My wish:  the ability to evolve as the situation requires.  There will be new steps to learn tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Word of the Week - 138

From "Letters to a Young Poet," by Rainer Maria Rilke. Translated by Joan M. Burnham. New World Library: 2000.
Word of the Week:  FERVENT



Yes, "completely baked" as spoken by Benjamin in THE GRADUATE would qualify as fervent.  Definitely feverish.

Fervent is never half-baked, never tepid, never neither-this-nor-that.  It is passionate, fiery hot,  may appear obsessive.  Heartfelt.

What is the point of showing up with indifference?  Let them talk.  "She seemed, well, awfully intense.  I'm not sure that is considered good manners."  Probably not.  This is life we're talking about.  As Mary Oliver says, "your one wild and precious life."  Be a shame to get over-excited about that and all the wonders it contains.  Perhaps I need to sit back down with a cool cloth to my forehead.

As I write this, we are having oddly balmy winds, none of the chance of showers forecast as late as this morning, and the neighborhood Amazon parrots are shrieking through the skies as though warning us of something.  They do a lot of jabbering so we don't take them seriously.  The point is that I sit at my table on the second floor, amid the trees where I can see no cars nor dwellings.  An hour ago a crow with a wingspan of several feet found delicacies in the palm tree just beyond my window.  His departure sounded like an old window shade that had been yanked down, then let go to flap and shudder.

Rilke knew that our ordinary moments are filled with texture, brilliance, joy, sorrow, sights and events to make our hearts leap or thud.  Best to take nothing for granted, to see it all as miraculous for the everyday is our most intimate universe, the room in which we spend the most time, the place it all happens.  Even peak events are cushioned by the everyday.  It is that with which we most surely need to fall in love, if we have not.  I had a stamp made that says, "Fall in love with everything," then I realized there are some situations in which that is difficult, many in fact, but as a goal, an aspiration, it seems a not bad fit.  I use the word love more and more, realizing that I do love so much.  I do, in loud and giddy and probably unladylike ways.  The list is longer every day.

I occasionally visit the Jet Pens website, perhaps to look at bottled inks.  Some of the colors, with names like Apache Sunset, Heart of Darkness or Dragon Catfish Pink, make me think of fervent correspondence.  Is there really any other kind?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Word of the Week - 137

Painting, "Araigami" (After Washing Her Hair), by Ito Shinshui.

Word(s) of the Week:  ORDINARY SACREDNESS

There is no way I could say it better, not even close, than poet Ellen Bass.

PRAY FOR PEACE

Pray to whomever you kneel down to:
Jesus nailed to his wooden or plastic cross,
his suffering face bent to kiss you,
Buddha still under the bo tree in scorching heat,
Adonai, Allah. Raise your arms to Mary
that she may lay her palm on our brows,
to Shekinah, Queen of Heaven and Earth,
to Inanna in her stripped descent.

Then pray to the bus driver who takes you to work.
On the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus,
for everyone riding buses all over the world.
Drop some silver and pray.

Waiting in line for the movies, for the ATM,
for your latte and croissant, offer your plea.
Make your eating and drinking a supplication.
Make your slicing of carrots a holy act,
each translucent layer of the onion, a deeper prayer.

To Hawk or Wolf, or the Great Whale, pray.
Bow down to terriers and shepherds and Siamese cats.
Fields of artichokes and elegant strawberries.

Make the brushing of your hair
a prayer, every strand its own voice,
singing in the choir on your head.
As you wash your face, the water slipping
through your fingers, a prayer: Water,
softest thing on earth, gentleness
that wears away rock.

Making love, of course, is already prayer.
Skin, and open mouths worshiping that skin,
the fragile cases we are poured into.

If you're hungry, pray. If you're tired.
Pray to Gandhi and Dorothy Day.
Shakespeare. Sappho. Sojourner Truth.

When you walk to your car, to the mailbox,
to the video store, let each step
be a prayer that we all keep our legs,
that we do not blow off anyone else's legs.
Or crush their skulls.
And if you are riding on a bicycle
or a skateboard, in a wheelchair, each revolution
of the wheels a prayer as the earth revolves:
less harm, less harm, less harm.

And as you work, typing with a new manicure,
a tiny palm tree painted on one pearlescent nail,
or delivering soda or drawing good blood
into rubber-capped vials, twirling pizzas --

With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your Visa card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Gnaw your crust.
Mumble along like a crazy person, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

Ellen Bass
 
 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Word of the Week - 136

With thanks to Plaisanter's Flickriver site.
Word of the Week:  MUCILAGE

These are days, it seems, to think about what exactly IS the glue that holds us together, either to maintain a congruity with self or a plural binding of one to another.  There is something, beyond gravity, centripetal force, magnets, chewing gum or baling wire, that stops us from dissolving into fragments.  Its forms are as numerous as are we who rely on its existence.

At its most exalted it is sticky and honey-sweet, with names like optimism, kindness, beauty and love.  It is scent, known to transport us in memory to other realms and times, or words, as used by poets to translate, impossibly, the ineffable into language.  It is color or form that jars the heart.  It is magic, mostly unintentional, the product of man or nature simply bringing forth what must be brought.

It is experiences shared, even if known in solitude.  It is recognition of me in you.  It is music, sounds raised in thanksgiving or lament.  Perhaps beyond all else it is music.

If I understand anything of the universe, it is this:  we are not meant to be divided nor to seek or invent ways that make us unalike.  We survive with each other, it is how we will thrive.  Our hands reach out to comfort.  With vocabulary we soothe and support.  In the rock-hard moments we remind one another that there are softer times.

We are the glue, aided by the wonders amid which we sometimes flounder, wonders which lift our spirits, replenish our hope.  There is no wonder too small or obscure to be considered medicinally adhesive.  It only requires - demands - the ability to illuminate what has been dimmed.  Circumstances have been known to abandon us in dark caves and haunted houses of the mind.  For me, the image of a rose, bodies of water from a puddle to a fountain, canal, river or ocean, the thought and, one hopes, the taste of dark chocolate, works of art, a hummingbird outside the window, the voice of a loved one or even sight of their name reconnect me to frightened and lost parts of myself.  They secure me to a greater circle where light prevails.

This is a gummy business and we serve as human fly paper to one another.  As we abide, fastened, we joke, we sing, we listen, we doze.  Our thoughts may wander but we, it is hoped, do not.  We are tethered for the long ride.  That is what's real.  Anything else is the illusion.



Monday, October 3, 2016

Word of the Week - 135

Wrestling a demon, one of many.
Word of the Week:  CONSISTENCY

My two great adversaries are gravity and consistency.  To turn an act into a habit is the product of focus, determination and time.  Landing on the same square, as it were, with each daily leap.  Letting not rain nor dark of night be a reason to slide, to neglect, to procrastinate or to be half-assed.  As to gravity, I tend to drop things a lot or they leap from my grasp, plus the earth seems constantly to pull me closer.  I used to be considered tall.

Somewhere, once, I read that it takes 30 days to create a habit.  Oh, if only.  Maybe if one is under the age of, say, 35.  When one is more than twice that number, well, do the math.  All I know to do is begin, and continue.  I've reached a point, much as I thought it would never come to this, when the day contains too few hours for all my intentions.  Certainly if what I intend is to do a thing well.  And who wants a sub-par habit?  I'm sure I have quite enough of those already.

The vow to self of returning to art as a daily product, not a for-sale sort of product, but a thing brought into existence in whatever form, whatever medium, is a current priority.  I have not yet committed to a specific amount of time every day.  I'd already be in trouble if I had.  As long as it is something that I can call art, I feel successful.  I have not betrayed myself.  Whew.  As I have said many times before, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

So a day becomes parcels, liked packed lunches.
Bento boxes.
On different days, the portions of each habit-in-the-making vary in size.  Too much consistency goes against my basic nature.  Perhaps it needs to be a dual word week - consistency and balance, with each day allowed to bring its own set of circumstances, to set its own schedule.  The fact that the world seems to see rigid consistency as more virtuous than flexible consistency is one of those slippery places.  I don't do rigid well.  I don't do rigid at all.  And thus, the challenge.

On the other hand, a day full of bento boxes would not be the worst thing.  I could reclaim time spent cooking and use it for art or serenity or stretching.  Meanwhile, we, as they say, start where we are with what we have and do what we can.  One can do no more. 




Monday, September 26, 2016

Word of the Week - 134

Lynda Barry's art and thought here.
Word of the Week:  ALLOW

"...when we forget that any kind of dancing is better than no dancing at all."  Lynda Barry

Enlightenment, in my world, refers to the process that takes me, by leaps or shuffles, from being  unknowing on any particular topic to be a bit less unknowing.  Example: I may twitch for a while if I stop eating dark chocolate in the quantity I prefer but I won't die.

We who have survived and emerged from places of trauma, terror, damage and examples of the bad behavior of others may have moments of doubt about our skills, our competence, our okayness.  We come to consciousness with too little knowledge about nuance, grey areas, moderation.  We are likely unfamiliar with allowing ourselves to be however we are in any moment.  Or, if not unfamiliar, still uncomfortable.  Unexpectedly, Lynda Barry's book, SYLLABUS is helping me experiment with the discomfort of being.  Lynda Barry, generally, is an appropriate direction in which to turn when discomfort shows up.  Hiding out with her characters as they speak her words, one is less likely to feel alone.  We discover smart people have covered this ground before and lived to tell the tale.

From Lynda Barry's WHAT IT IS.
Allow implies patience, a certain fullness of spirit, benevolence, compassion.  In allowing ourselves to be who and how we are, we make it possible to become whatever is next.  One way we learn to allow is to break old rules and habits, forbid behavior that leads us straight into the sort of trouble that fosters shame.  Ms. Barry has much clearer examples of how we may get out of our own creative way and, better still, how we may stop thinking about being anything but of service to our goals, desires and intentions.  As I remind myself when it seems a lengthy process, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it already.  We, you and I, are worth the time, the effort, the trouble. 
From Lynda Barry's SYLLABUS.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Word of the Week - 133

Illustration by Gabriel Pacheco.
Word of the Week: UNCOMMON

Let us not be content with the ordinary, the too-familiar, the comfortably common.  Let us venture a bit further afield, either in our minds or our steps, to places not-quite-known.  Let us befriend the strange.

Firstly, I believe on some level that it is ALL a mystery.  What do we really know?  How little of what does or may exist have we actually encountered and how much remains beyond the edge of our acquaintance?  Most, that is the answer.

Even within ourselves are caverns, craters of immeasurable depths.  We ourselves are as the ocean, of which less than 5% has been explored.  Think of it!  On a day when we feel at the high end of Smarty Pants-osity, we are actually rather short of the mark, not because we are lacking but because there is so much that remains, for now, unknowable or unseen, unimagined or, at the very least, rare.  Which is, you ought not to be surprised, the good news.  So much to discover.  The time of explorers is not behind us, don't let the history books fool you.  Just this month researchers learned there are four species of giraffes, not only one as had been assumed.  What other secrets are hiding in plain sight?

Mr. Kesey (of the quote above) was not one to accept much at face value, certainly not to accept it as promoted by the establishment.  I hope this doesn't tilt your planet too severely, but they don't always tell us the truth and they don't always know the answer.  In addition to existing mysteries, we have the power to fashion our own, to weave stories and paint pictures in which unknowns comfortably lurk.

All the most choice bits are not necessarily sitting under spotlights in display cases or showroom windows.  They may have burrowed in at the bottom of the Mariana Trench or could be skulking and incognito just about anywhere.  They hide within human hearts and keep life fresh with their occasional, often startling revelations.  Attend well.  Allow the world to surprise you, baffle you, and ultimately charm you.  It is waiting to do just that. 


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Shirley (not her real name) and the nearly-unbearable radiance

Art by Anna Silivonchik.
"I am my own lowering sky," thought Shirley.  "I am my own foreteller of misfortune.  I am Eeyore without the humor of irony."

With a mind that leaned, from years of habit and indoctrination, toward a fondness for putting on the white glove and setting out in search of grime, of which there was ever an abundance, Shirley knew the bum's rush was the only right action.  Don't let it get a toe across the threshold.  It not only reached above the door frames for schmootz, it gasped in alarm at any muscle twinge or skin irritation, racing, shrieking, down the inevitable highway toward agony and very bad news.

"I am Chicken Little and the sky is almost always falling," she said to herself.

And yet.  This was not an unceasing state of mind, for Shirley was actually not confused about much of anything.  She was not a pessimist but had been trained in the ways of vicious self-criticism, the unlearning of which, she knew absolutely, would take her the rest of her life.  And beyond.  The visual that came to her was a hapless child who had somehow, alone on a teeter-totter, slid down to one end and needed to get back to the middle where balance existed.  It was a tough, splintery scooch along that ancient board, slow going and painful.  She supposed unlearning a thing must take at least as long as the learning of it.  "Crap sandwich," she said, thinking if that were true there would be  decades needed for this particular educational curve.

What she believed, in a manner that might be described as "set in stone," was that each creature, each being of any and all species contained a unique brilliance, that each of those brilliances was essential for the well-being of the whole and that the loss of any was a loss indeed, measurable, just not by any instruments yet devised.  In her best, least white-glove-plagued moments, she knew it was true of her, though she might not have been able to assign it words.  She could feel the warmth of her inner flame, knew when traces of it showed up in thoughts or conversations, in simple intuition-inspired acts, in the prompting of kindness, in language that came to her, or rather through her, like channeling a greater wisdom.  And no matter how cloaked, how dampened and covered, how walled in and plastered over a flame had been, it persisted in each life form for as long as life continued.

It was not the sort of thing chatted about idly.  When the knowledge found Shirley, she imagined it was akin to being struck by lightning.  She was positive singeing had occurred, accompanied by a whiff of smoke.  To think, to even entertain the possibility that this was, as she assumed a Truth with a capital T, humbled her as nothing ever had.  And the responsibility, the task of bringing that nearly extinguished candle into the world to add its glow, "No," was her first reaction.  "Not me.  I can barely maintain on more days than I can count, the thought of just showing up for the most ordinary things overwhelms and depletes me.  Now this?  No."  Yet she knew the answer wasn't no but yes. 

Yes, Shirley, yes.  It is a process.  Give it time.

To be continued

Monday, September 12, 2016

Word of the Week - 132

Art by Miroco Machiko.
Word of the Week:  UNTAMED

Not domesticated or otherwise controlled.

After a great many years and actually hearing the equivalent of "What will the neighbors think?" as I grew up, I am coming to a gradual and reluctant peace with being under-domesticated.  There are turns of mind that simply do not adhere to rules of what some might call normal behavior.  Not that I believe in normal as an existing thing.  I think there is ideal, then there is pretty much everything else.

For some an untamed state may manifest with variant hair, clothing, piercings, modes of transportation, lifestyle and numerous outward signs with which I am unfamiliar.  In others it may reflect more a way of thinking, of seeing, that does not quite line up with the indicated borders.

Though the dictionaries do not seem to offer it as a choice, the word "unsquelched" probably comes closer to the state which has occupied my thoughts.  As squelched indicates forcefully silenced or suppressed, then its opposite would be determinedly outspoken or assertive.  In short, being one's self, true, authentic.

A voice or voices within are, I believe, always urging us toward our own truths, toward the inhabiting of our authentic shapes, so to speak, not seeking camouflage as creatures less brilliant than we are, usually for the sake of others' comfort.  Each of us shines with a unique light which, if dimmed, can exist no other way.  The world will have to get by somehow without it, an unquantifiable loss.

Believing in the rightness, rather than the wrongness, of us being us is a source of swelling optimism.  The tiniest loosening of that too-tight belt of self-squelching can free our minds, hearts and spirits.  We expand, not in miserly, mincing half-steps but in a gush, a whoosh, a genie-out-of-the-bottle burst of what was too little becoming, suddenly and happily, enough.  We are meant to be one with all that is wild and wonderful, big and beautiful and oh-so-bold, never to be silent and small again.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Word of the Week - 131

Peter Weller,  "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai."
Donald Sutherland, photo by Bardo Fabiani for Getty Images.
Word(s) of the Week: BOYFRIEND VISION BOARD

What I love about movies is a story almost too long to tell.  This will be a tiny sub-section, the idea shamelessly borrowed from one of my son's friends.  The two of them - as do I - take great pleasure in burrowing into older movies, no era excluded.  The 70s and 80s are particularly rich.  She has found those pictures to be full of tasty morsels for what she has proclaimed her Boyfriend Vision Board.  In short and on a rotating basis, it is the imaginary wall-covering eye candy of actors as they were.  Recent inhabitants included the bearded Sterling Hayden from Robert Altman's THE LONG GOODBYE and James Garner as seen in THE ROCKFORD FILES.

When my son discovered a remastered Blu-ray of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI had been released by Shout Factory, well, things were looking up.  The title conjured an image of Peter Weller as that young actor and my boyfriend board began to take shape.  

Film, like amber, has the ability to seal time.  I try to understand how it must feel to be an actor, held forever at 27 or 38 or 49, to be swooned over by succeeding generations of fans, while enduring ordinary human aging, as though one had traded that face for this.  It is not different for us regular types, the mirror, gravity and all that constantly catching us by surprise.  But an actor's face, once upon a time only seen so much larger than life on a theater screen, has truly been the stuff of dreams for billions of us since Hollywood began to sweep humanity under its spell.

Take a reflective moment.  Who is on your vision board today?  Young Donald Sutherland, as seen above, is there with Mr. Weller, both of whom I still delight in seeing. My son's friend limits her choices to four at a time, no easy task.  I'll stop at two for now and lose myself in the fantasy of who else will make the team this week.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Word of the Week - 130

Word(s) of the Week:  CONTEMPLATED LOSSES

On Saturday a Priority Mail package arrived from my 83-years-old stepmother.  It contained a letter, some current photos of deer nibbling on everything green in her yard and an album, with this description:

"I am sending you the enclosd because the fire at Lake Nacimiento is moving west (we smell it and sometimes see the smoke) and the folks on San Simeon Road are on evacuation alert.

"This photo album of Russ from babyhood to newspaper reporter and columnist was prepared by Russ and given to me one Christmas and I have treasured it.  But my feeling is that it really belongs to you and your sibs and I would feel terrible if, in the continuing drought and very long fire seasons, Cambria might be decimated and this album destroyed."

The album holds photos of my father, now gone nearly 22 years, that I'd never seen before, including the one above of a tiny fellow in a sailor-type suit, long before his naval enlistment in World War II.  I wept for the words in the letter, for the pictures never seen and the faces of my brother and his son, perhaps a bit of mine, so clearly present in the serious and smiling images of my father.

As of Sunday afternoon, I have not been able to reach her by phone, will keep trying and then send off a letter in the morning if that fails.  She tells of packing the car in preparation for evacuation notice, which it seems did not come.  Having been through that once myself, I am familiar with the sense of unreality and terror that comes with contemplating the loss of all material goods, the notion of sanctuary and home, the always uncertain whims of weather and chance.

She mentions also, during the description of California's more than 60 million trees dead from drought and bark beetles, that the five trees she and my father planted on their hilly lot have had to be chopped down.  "The two redwoods at the foot of the driveway are turning brown," she says.

That she felt the need to part prematurely with Dad's gift left me without coherent words to speak into the phone on Saturday.  Thinking of her on her own having to decide just what to save if word came to flee caused me to admire, not for the first time, how capable she is, how good at figuring things out.

Loss, the contemplation thereof if we must, and the memory of it, never leave us.  For too many, this will be the summer of smoke, of ash, of tears.  For some, it is a small, sweet-smiling boy and a book reluctantly surrendered to keep it safe.  May we be good stewards of this gift.