Monday, February 28, 2011

Scenery today, debate...maybe tomorrow

It was not to be, not this February, though we came close. On Saturday night it did not snow in Pasadena but it did snow in Burbank, enough accumulation to make a modest snowman. But once, within my lifetime, it did snow here.

January 11, 1949. Above, the reflecting pool at Pasadena Junior College/Pasadena High School. Below, Pasadena City Hall, which you may recognize from The Big Bang Theory and Parks and Recreation. Yes, that IS snow.

In a winter that has slapped much of the nation dizzy with sub-freezing days and record blizzards, Los Angeles had news crews at altitudes as low as 500 feet, waiting for the weakest flurry. And they came. I am honest about my lack of enthusiasm for what we call cold weather here. The term candy-ass pretty well describes the majority of us. Hey, residences are not insulated for 29-degree overnights, nor do many of the older homes or apartments have more than one room with a heating unit. I creak and wobble when chilled. Still...the view of our foothills and mountains, with at least a day of snowy peaks, delights us.

What I planned to write about today was the difference between reality and truth. This was my plan as I, yet again, pushed past the noise of my chattering mind to locate balance and quiet. While the internal debate feels significant and may be the source of equilibrium, it also felt like juggling cinder blocks and I was not in the mood. There are days when the words can outwait us (or outwit us). But don't think you've escaped, you weighty thoughts. I know where you hide and I can be very patient.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Love the red hat

Simplicity, tranquility, time spent in contemplation. Antidotes for the stress that finds us no matter how far under the covers we hide. In the eternal quest for that quiet mind, a friend and I made a pact, that we will share good news with each other every day. It is part of a practice of gratitude, noticing and acknowledging any sign that civilization will prevail, that the good is always playing Drop-the-Hankie with us (of course, our backs are turned) and that there is infinitely more to appreciate than condemn. As I said, it is a practice, calling for diligence and forbearance. Identifying some of the news may require tweezers and a magnifying glass, some will be simpler to locate.

Examples: the Caltech men's basketball team won its first game since 1985 this week. The weatherman on local morning news has been ill with pneumonia for months; he will be back on Monday. Today's LA Times has an interview with Ed Ruscha. Dover Thrift Books have poetry anthologies for as little as $1.50 - new.

Seen earlier this month (a bit behind on posting, please excuse) two of these acorn woodpeckers, agile-footing their way around our nearest palm tree, wearing their red beanies. It took a while to identify them and it seems they are after insects who've burrowed into the trunk. I hope they know the welcome mat is always out. At second-floor height, they are safe from the building's multiple cats. This is a much clearer photo (courtesy of Mark Schmitt, via The Backyard Birdman) than I would have gotten, shooting through the window. I admire the nature photos that many on my blog roll post, the sense of environment they provide.

The state of our minds is in our hands, you might say. I think I finally understand this. Whatever I can do to elevate my thoughts, my spirits, is a responsibility I accept. Cheerful, gloomy, not that difficult a choice.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Must be fangirl day

My son's stepmother just returned from a vacation in London and Paris. They meet every Sunday morning for coffee. Her recent trip provided another source of longing for him and, by extension, for me.  It is the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, located on Paris' left bank.  A place with dizzying literary history, it sounds so welcoming, so civilized, so irresistible.  That is the shop exterior, circa 2004, shown above.  Below is the poet's corner.  Huge sighs and offerings to the gods of good things that our world contains such bounty.

On the subject of books, Netflix has three seasons (brief, British seasons) of a series called Black Books, a foolish comedy featuring possibly the world's worst shop proprietor.

Kelly Kilmer posted a reminder that February 22 was Edward Gorey's birthday. I hope belated, posthumous wishes are being accepted. Figbash, above, may be doing a precarious dance of joy in acknowledgment.

Through a string of blog links which I cannot, at the moment, retrace, I found that I share my February 8 birthday with the poet Elizabeth Bishop. The post I discovered that day spoke of how she felt her birth date was significant, that its influence may be found in her work.

As I searched for a photo to post, I learned that Boston University celebrated her with a party on February 10, Elizabeth Bishop at 100. One of the participants was Melissa Green, a poet and friend whose comments you may have seen at this site.

Melissa was mentioned this week in a news flash by New Zealand artist and writer Claire Beynon. The flash follows her Tuesday Poem post.

Monday, February 21, 2011

From hard-boiled fiction, this...

"In Love With Raymond Chandler" by Margaret Atwood (poetry reading)

I claim Philip Marlowe as a fictional crush and his Hollywood world of the thirties and forties as part of my imaginary biography. Margaret Atwood's poem builds a wing, or two, onto what I thought I saw in Raymond Chandler. I'm just going to sit over here and be delirious.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


From Nick Demske, a featured debut poet in the Jan/Feb issue of "Poets and Writers," these thoughts: "...I realized that, in general, the human body is a bad form for the human spirit. Bad form. Bad form"

My son and I had been given Border's gift cards. As rumors swelled that the chain would file for bankruptcy this week, whether for re-organization or liquidation was not known, we indulged in magazines. Prices of books seemed like bad jokes after establishing a frugal, cautious Amazon habit. (Note: since I began this writing, they have filed for Chapter 11 and announced that the Pasadena store will close.)

What is now Poets and Writers was once called Coda. I was a subscriber then, submitting short-short stories and even applying for a residency, an act as rewarding as throwing money in a fountain. This, the Inspiration Issue, was the first copy I'd seen in at least six years.

It is a changed world. Discovered on the first flip-through, MFAs in creative writing were offered on nearly every page. Is there, will there be employment and publication for those who earn the degrees? If enrollment matches the zeal of recruitment, that seems unlikely, though I can only guess. I felt I'd wandered into a parallel universe in which everyone is or wants to be a writer, which left me estranged from the machinery behind my former profession. If one no longer earns a living from the work, I guess it ceases to be a profession.

At 18 I left school - a semester and half of junior college, attended infrequently and in an altered mental state not of my choosing - and my family home and proceeded to unravel. I still held a half-plan, half-dream of San Francisco State and writing. That never happened. But eight years, one marriage and two public relations jobs later, I was hired by a daily newspaper as a feature writer. It was the early 1970s and in suburbia a degree had not yet become mandatory.

Skip ahead to the spring of 2010 and blog exploration. Links led to further links and I found myself among poets. I had not written poetry since high school. None of it survives, for which I am pitifully glad. But so many years later, poetry clutched at me, beckoned to me. I fell in love, to use Karla Bonoff's words, "...with the wild heart of the young." I am excited  ecstatic, foolish, hopeful . It feels as though I am teaching myself to juggle and ride a unicycle. I am a very mature freshman, wanting to know poetry, more grateful than I can say for the generous company in which I have landed.

Seeing the ads in Poets and Writers brought on a sense of futility about this process of self-re-education. But I don't need to earn a living from whatever this endeavor becomes. Income is welcome, but not expected, nor used as a measure of success.  Poetry and I are in the all-consuming, breathless, infatuated and blinding start of an affair. This time it could be the real thing.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"...none but ourselves can free our minds..."

What the song and the post have to do with each other is not clear. I just know they arrived, presenting themselves as a package deal, and who am I to question?

Upon first examination, the dream disturbed me. It was after 7 in the morning, in Southern California latitudes, and the sun had not risen. My son was a school boy, his father and I taking him on unknown streets in unnatural dark. Then I realized it was not the missing sun that troubled me but the fact that not one other person even noticed. And when I mentioned the anomaly, they shrugged, appearing to assume it would arrive at some point or, their body language implied, it was no big deal.

Just how big does the problem have to be? If the sun failed to rise this morning, and Lady Gaga arrived on stage at the Grammy Awards last night in a large egg, which would get the coverage? I am weary of being trivialized to death.

I am no oracle but I sense there are changes afoot. Global events do not happen in a vacuum. We are connected to each other and, therefore, to political, social and natural events that are born and grow thousands of miles from us. When I am still, I swear there is a mild wind that blows across my skin. Its origin is not local, its temperature and hint of fragrance, matters of curiosity.

The nearest I can come to saying how this all feels is that I, we, are being called to stand closer together and extend ourselves in love. I wouldn't even put these words into print, were it not for a community of writers whose blogs dissolve barriers. Not one of them would be indifferent to an unrisen sun. They know and tell of barometric fluctuations, interior and external. And I will guess that at least one of them can tell me why Redemption Song was chosen as today's anthem.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Doris, our lady of "never too late"

The sheer tonnage of this (ahem) unusual book makes you pay attention. The gold-edged pages, the red ribbon bookmark, the vast size (10+ by 13+ inches) and the quotes on the back, including Maira Kalman's, "I wish Lauren Redniss would write and illustrate my biography in the DREAMY, LUMINOUS way she did Doris Eaton Travis's," demand you muster your strength and lift it for deeper examination.

Referred to by as a "bargain book," which I interpret to mean that few copies remain, Century Girl is a life story told in oversized collage/journal style by Pulitzer Prize-nominee Lauren Redniss, a teacher at Parsons School of Design (as of publication in 2006). It is the biography of Doris Eaton Travis, at 14 the youngest girl in the Ziegfeld Follies, recipient of an honorary doctorate at 101. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate in history at the age of 88, she could easily be the poster girl for all of us who, having reached senior citizen territory, know we still have aspirations.

Yes, the volume was not published in the last few months, but that doesn't keep me from feeling all squishy and admiration-filled toward Regan, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, for their boldness at producing this journaler's fantasy of a book.

There a few aspects of life that have just one dimension. Situations, objects, theories and people are layered and nuanced, their meanings not always accessible in the moment. In my apparent role as amateur contemplative, I seem to have the assignment of looking, as best I can, behind the curtain. I think messages - and messengers - appear to us, a line of hesitant job applicants who want us to coax information from them instead of speaking up. Intuit, interpret, question and dig, for the truth is not always sitting there like a miner's fantasy nugget beside the stream. I received Doris Eaton's story as a gift, a wrapped present and, in the way of so many encounters, as a teacher.

Let us agree, if we can, on the fact that I am going to sneak up on the topic of "it's never too late" from as many directions as I can. Maybe I should have some warning code in the post's title, saying we are back in the same old territory, a variation on the spoiler alert.

IT IS NEVER TOO LATE. If we are drawing breath on our own, we have the potential to move with a bold or tremulous step forward along our ever-unfolding path. Discouragement is not our destiny. This is the Big Adventure. Woody Allen is credited with saying, "Eighty per cent of success is showing up." That is absolutely where it begins. In whatever way, by whatever definition, we need to keep showing up for ourselves. We are here to grow, to inch or leap away from where we stood yesterday. You are the only one who knows what the next step needs to be. How excellent, for then no one can tell you that you're doing it wrong.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Delivered by Theo Jansen's Strandbeests - Wallace & Gromit's World of Invention Episo...

Saved from my own gloomy old business and evil mind chatter by the wonder of invention. Bless all the dreamers. xo

Friday, February 4, 2011

February, let me count the ways

Yesterday there was a mention on Facebook that this is Niece's Week. In honor of that, let me introduce you to my only niece, Alia, who is an artist living in Fremantle, West Australia. The painting, Feeding the Fish, is a piece she created, by invitation, for the Vasse Art Awards silent auction there.

As February is now 1/7th gone, it seems redundant to write the welcoming post I'd had in mind. Simply stated, I am a big fan of this little month for the following reasons:

When growing up there were two school holidays.
Paper crafts at home and school connected to the honored Presidents and Valentine's Day.
Valentine candy.
My birthday, on the 8th, and my elementary school best friend's birthday on the 10th.
Cupcakes, parties, my mother's crepe paper party hats, multiple Nancy Drew books.
A lot of red and many hearts.
Winter trips to Yosemite with my Girl Scout troop. Hanging around the Lodge, imagining myself to be a skier.

I will always be a fool for paper. February is a permission slip to indulge that obsession with abandon. Heart-shaped stickers know no season, nor does glitter. Lacy doilies, ribbons, the list reaches from here back to the walnut office desk upon which I did my crafting until I moved away from home. My sister still has the desk, a gift from the newspaper owner who employed our father. With the desk is its original chair, recovered who knows how many times.

There is nothing flimsy about February. Its holidays have tradition and substance. As I have spent decades making my own Valentines, it am not troubled that the so-called romantic event is a greeting card, candy and, more recently, diamond retailer's dream. Sweethearts come and go, love remains, the heart as a symbol endures. It is a shape that pleases me. If I had been a 1950s movie star, of course I would have a heart-shaped swimming pool. Or a Judith Leiber bag. Or both, plus plenty more.

A February surprise was waiting for me this morning when I checked my email. In the mid-1980s I wrote a story about an inflatable toy, Bulgy the whale, which is posted on my desperately out-of-date website. "Bulgy the Whale" in the subject line from an unknown address got the day off to a mysterious start. The writer had found one of the elderly toys and, through Google, was led to my story and me. I told him what little I could about my beach toy and about an amusement park ride friends had mentioned, also named Bulgy. As I checked Google, there seemed to be lots of information related to the ride. That the writer found my link, and sent a note, felt like a message, a sign, of some sort, though I could not say what.

I would like to defend my month but the recent brutal and excessive weather she/he delivered cannot be prettied. There are many who will not think kindly of February because of it. Knowing that anything, everything, can change in a moment, I will sit with thoughts of Februarys past, of today's unexpected communication and drawers filled with Valentine materials. Even without the indulgence of candy, birthday cake or ice cream, it is still a sweet month, one I am happy to claim as mine.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Year of the Rabbit

Last night we watched Micmacs, the trailer for which follows. Haven't even written the "so long, January" post that was intended for Sunday, Monday at the latest. But when there are such movies to see, other thoughts skip off and hide behind suitcases at the top of the bedroom closet.

This is a new Kelly favorite.