Thursday, April 28, 2011

When the just-right words aren't there

For now I've put aside the post I am trying to write on how, I believe, most of us live adaptively. It is there, in draft form, resisting teeth-gritting efforts to make it behave. Susan mentioned a short story of hers that is convalescing. My piece is still at the dinner table, refusing to eat its big-as-a-quarter and mealy lima beans, the lights have been turned out and I expect in the morning to find that it has either run away or slept at the table, unwilling to give an inch.

An idea which appears so clearly, which I could probably articulate if I could talk it through, adjusting as I go, will not always surrender itself, at least not in the expected amount of time, to becoming orderly and coherent. In some ways I am still at the vintage Underwood, rolling a sheet of copy paper (and making a carbon copy) into place with the certainty that in, say, 45 minutes I will have something ready to go to press. It doesn't always happen that way and, as I would like to have one or two more posts written before the end of the month, this topic has been set aside.

I really don't believe in writers' block, though I have days - or more - when the words will not fit themselves together in a pleasing fashion, when I know my correspondence voice would speak for me but I reject it as being too informal or goofy or unprofessional. As though there were rules here.

Years after the fact, how many of us still subject ourselves to the black-and-white, good or bad, live or die rigidity under which we grew up? Standards, expectations of a certain level of work, keep us sitting up straight and, please, inhibit us from making up words like ginormous or bromance. Is there room for those of us who write to allow something to be good enough? Or will there always be the wish to polish and edit, to refine and clarify, to know that confusing isn't the word we want but murky is?

As I move with the caution of a bomb diffuser into poetry, I see how prose may be more forgiving, how fewer words require even greater precision. There are moments when I question whether becoming more demanding of my writing is the road to contentment and I know the answer is yes. It is about becoming better at what we love. I would not be happy as a half-assed auto mechanic and will do what I can not to be half-assed at writing. Eventually we reach a plateau, but if what we seek is growth and not immortality we may be able to rest there in peace. For now, the essay that cannot be coaxed wins. But in a generous, parting gesture it suggested something that might fill this space for now.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Revisited...a post from 2009...ASTRAL WEEKS

Saturday, February 28, 2009
From other postings, you may have seen that songs - mostly from other times - thread their way through my life and mind. I suspect they take me places I would not have found without their help. Consider this another in a succession of non-linear stories.

A phrase can be enough to dislodge a memory or coax an idea to draw breath. It has been said that singer/songwriter John Prine began his classic "Sam Stone" with two words: broken radio, as in, "...sweet songs never last too long on broken radios." Last Sunday I saw a listing by Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times entertainment guide. It read, in part, "Martha Wainwright with 'I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too'...made a gorgeous, hungry, sad, sweet album that anyone who's ever been recklessly in love should hear."

Recklessly in love. Oh no.

This morning on NPR's Weekend Edition there was a discussion about Van Morrison's 1968 album ASTRAL WEEKS which he performed live and in its entirety not long ago. Another such performance is scheduled. There was talk of it being considered one of the great, all-time albums by ROLLING STONE; a teacher at a New York university found that of 16 students in his class, 4 called it their favorite album; all 4 had been born long after its release.

Morrison was interviewed about its meaning, the personal experiences it illuminated. His response was that it was fiction, bits and pieces he'd collected from everywhere, "These are short stories in musical form." Others interviewed on the program said of ASTRAL WEEKS, " much of what makes music great is courage." (We are shown by the music that) " can be lived more deeply." I found my way to the album in 1970 and from the first listening, it was like sliding into a pool, sinking to the bottom, yet still being able to breathe. It made sense to me, I was unaware that it didn't match other music of that time and I found in it images that illustrated the inexpressible state of being, as I then was, recklessly in love.

Even after nearly 40 years, I understand, though I have learned to let go of such expectation, the madwoman wish to dip in bronze, to preserve, such rare merging of the human and the unquantifiable. At the time I didn't even have words for it, I just knew that I wanted to hold onto it in a way that was, at best, unwise and, at worst, extremely unwell, awarenesses that came to me much later. In THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, the thought, let alone the fact, of the gold is the source of insanity. I admit that some of us bring more than a little bit of crazy with us and under such conditions can reach states where instincts for self-preservation evaporate. And if those instincts were not too fully developed before recklessness took over, well, one might as well sit on the railroad tracks and stare at the sun.

I've not yet heard Martha Wainwright's album. I don't know if I expect to find consolation there or the uncomfortable reminder of what it feels like to be entirely in your body, yet out of your mind. I think of it as an obsessive state in which we imagine finding our way into a space of absolute knowing, a place from which we, or so we believe, cannot not be dislodged from our object, where there is, we hope, something substantial enough to grasp and trust, a place where we would be allowed to exchange reckless for real.

Surviving being recklessly in love elicits an ambiguous response in me; yes, I was there and managed to find my way back, but, like the last of our astronauts to leave the moon, will there forever be that longing for one final, impossible flight?
Posted by Marylinn Kelly at 2:02 PM

Patti said...

one last flight... the longing that is as reckless as the love... does the shimmer of that gold ever really fade?
incredible post, stellar writing, expressions close to home. a lovely, poignant read.
March 2, 2009 9:28 AM
LisaHoffman said...

" your body but out of your mind..."
How do you THINK Of such juicy and poetic revelations? The thing is this: You and I have many long phone conversations and I am a witness to the fact that these things slide off your velvet tongue with ease and simplicity. They come naturally. You are a poet, a writer who uses words like a full and dripping paint brush. I salute another great piece.
March 8, 2009 10:02 AM

If you want to sing out, sing out

Authenticity. How do we know, let alone become, the true self that breathes freely (or so I imagine) every moment? If there were not incidents, if there was never a glimpse of how it felt to be a creature without adhesions binding it to scars of the past. The scars may not even be real, or may not be the result of factual events. Surely I am not the only one who identifies with The Manchurian Candidate, unknowingly, perhaps unintentionally programmed for destructive acts triggered by a phase of the moon, a handful of words, brain chemistry gone momentarily askew, fatigue, disappointment.

We are our own potholes, we are the cracks in the sidewalk in which we catch our toes. There is power in that simple knowledge. And better still if the awareness comes when we have not just stumbled, when it arrives as an epiphany, like waking up this morning and wondering when vast segments of humanity became distracted from living their own lives by slavish devotion to professional sports. I am in the process of giving myself aching muscles about the neck and shoulders as I try to pull the Lakers, arm over arm, out of the funk they slid into before the regular season ended. At the same time I am not confused about whether their victories or defeats have anything to do with me, getting my car smog-certified, writing a blog post or seeing who has new designs of Japanese masking tape at the best price (it may be trivial, but it is MY trivia).

It is a daily, circular-seeming joust, this discarding of falsehoods, disposing of what only hinders so that we can take up the bouquets arriving at our own stage doors, those heady blossoms which we walk past, assuming they were delivered to someone else. Every day, an authentic stitch added to the sampler. We may, eventually, be able to see the whole picture.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thought for the day

 Be in love with beauty.

Whatever speaks to you expands the heart.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

National Poetry Month, Part 1

"Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience" from Leave Your Sleep, Natalie Merchant.

Less than half a month to go, poetry lovers. I trust enough time remains to have more than one post acknowledging the month, the form and those among us whom we call by that magical name - poet.

In his 2010 talk at the Ted Conference, Sir Ken Robinson (see earlier post, April 4) mentioned the presentation a day earlier, given by Natalie Merchant about her 2-CD album, Leave Your Sleep, on which she brings music to the words of 19th and 20th Century British and American poets, emphasizing anonymous rhymes, children's lullabies and bits of nonsense verse. Among the writers represented are Robert Graves, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Lear, Ogden Nash and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The Ted video includes a number of songs from the CD, as does the You Tube library. If you use the highlighted title link, above, to, you will be able to sample each cut.

Pasadena's body of you didn't know

Friends in other places are ocean-adjacent, river-adjacent, marsh-adjacent. We are inlanders but can claim a body of water not much more than 10 minutes away. Taking a southerly detour from the freeway coming home from work and daycare back in the 1980s, my son and I stopped there afternoons when he was a toddler. The place is Johnson Lake. Located in a, shall we say high-end, residential neighborhood in southwest Pasadena, the private lake is ringed with houses but, at least it was true 28 years ago, one could find a bit of access to the chain-link fence, through which mother and son could feed Cheerios to the ducks.

The photo is from Petrea Burchard's blog, which I just discovered today and will revisit to see how much of new and old Pasadena she has found to share with her readers. Her lake photo and the fact that she has created to celebrate our city, my hometown, make me absurdly happy on this breezy, just-warm-enough April Sunday. Peace.

(In an earlier version of this post, I had misspelled Petrea Burchard's name, the generous photographer who gave her permission to use the photo. And after my last post about names...sheesh. My error.)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

By any other name

This may be so pointless...this week, my ability to discern the wheat from the chaff is kaput.

Because we know each others' names in print, not hearing them spoken, I decided I would tell you that my name is pronounced Mary---Linn, no accent on either syllable.  No question mark, no mysterian.  A call today in which they asked for MAR'ilyn Kelly reminded me it is a name with which that can happen. I went through high school being called Marilyn by some and just let it go, as I did on this call. A small matter...yet as our community becomes more established, there seems a point to being thought of by my actual name, as myself. There, it has been said. In 12 minutes I'll probably ask, What was I thinking?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Saving the world, one sock monkey at a time

There is good afoot (no pun intended) in Vancouver where Kat Thorsen, self-described art therapist, visual artist, sock animal maker and craftivist! conducts adolescent treatment programs using art as one of the paths to restoration. When you click on the link, be sure to visit all the options offered the posts, learn about the program, visit the Etsy site and see the work offered by Kat and the program participants. Sock monkeys make me smile. I ought to have known they are capable of so much more. Stitched, stuffed healers, they and others of their handcrafted ilk carry messages of hope.

Felt doll by Hannah.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday wonderings

In her comment to the previous post, Denise saw our blog-writing brethren mirroring Quixote, donkeys as transport, windmills awaiting. As I read her words and composed my reply, I wished one of two things: that I was always courageous or that I had a true notion of what courage I possess and could feel sufficient with that.

As my thoughts ramble and weave during the day, it can seem as though the number of things which I need to learn and to unlearn are not equal; by far the weightier assignment is the undoing of false notions and distorted images.

Balance-seeking may well burn up energies that could be used more productively. But it is who I am and not likely to change. We have our priorities, which seem to have chosen us and not the reverse. If there are assigned parts in this cosmic drama, I am well to the back, stage left, thankfully not blindfolded, like justice, but wobbling as I try to make it all come out even. Which means, when the juggling doesn't get the job done, one must begin the mental weighing. How do we find light to equal the dark, identify gifts received that are comparable to the losses. Can we find a way to see what we have as enough without telling ourselves lies?

I am fortunate in this moment for these questions relate to my own internal process and are not asked because I have enormous, exterior world matters to try and resolve. But even they demand attention, without which I will sink beneath misinterpretation, assuming my less-appealing qualities are the real and only ones.

My family tree produced the stoic and reliable, as well as the twitchy and fragile. Who would have guessed the jumpy genes were dominant? Which causes me to wonder how much uncertainty swirled beneath those seemingly firm exteriors. Perhaps we are all committed to the unending work of steadying the rocking boats of self; some with more bravado than others.

Friday, April 8, 2011

It's a small, not-so-small world

Village, neighborhood, community. More contained, micro-sized reflections of the wider world, backdrops for the human experience, where we rest, work and live.

Chance connections within the web log universe have produced encounters, meetings with remarkable others, that continue to grow into relationships that are not covered by computer language. If it does not presume too much, I think of them as friendships, they are certainly admirations, and contain a degree of caring that comes from being allowed access to what honest communication reveals.

It was last spring that I began my intentional pilgrimage to meet writers along these paths. Some I have known for nearly a year, others not quite as long, but since we met through our shared ideas - and all that word might describe - we have collectively been through life's joys and sorrows.

In this short time, a one-time reader has become a blog writer with a wide, enthusiastic following; there have been losses - deaths, rejections personal and professional, disappointments; there has been illness discovered and treated, remarkable recovery, remission, slow healing and cyclic medical challenges. There have been births, promotions, romances, creative triumphs, graduations, departures, arrivals. We have lent support, emotional and practical, for fears and flashbacks, crises, uncertainties, bold crusades, diminished faith, times of questions about everything from the stability of our planet to our skills as writers, parents, children, survivors and reasonably intelligent adults.

We each occupy a tiny island, clustered in the great water, close enough to communicate yet separated so that our meetings, our kitchen table talks and tears, are virtual. That in no way dilutes their importance or weakens the ties we have found to each other. Within me is the sense that we are, in whatever realms we occupy, being asked to open and include. We have grown past the time of superficial interaction and are being urged to step up with our whole hearts for those in whose company we have landed. Whether through choice or luck or pure grace, we are no longer strangers, not by coincidence for I don't believe in that. My friend Lisa calls it our tribe, it has been acknowledged as a band, a band of not-entirely itinerant seekers... thinkers and creatives. Humans. Sisters and brothers of the mind and keyboard. A big gang of musketeers, silly and empathetic, not afraid to rush in.

May the gods of mixed metaphors forgive me. May they and their kind show you only favor, hold you, firmly and tenderly, in all your moments, carry you through.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

make it short

Wednesday must be what-the-hell day. Short things want me to post them on my blog; they don't care. Walk-the-talk Wednesday. Something new. Is it flash fiction, do I need to invent a name? I think there will be more where this came from. Be patient. And if it's a terrible idea, I will survive hearing about it.

It was a summer morning. Rose Tortora gave that sales guy a real cuffing. We had watched him muscle what looked like hedgehogs, porcupines with wooden handles, out of his sample bag. Nobody ever buys anything on this street, he carped, bitter as sweaty hands grabbed the sample brushes back from my mom. Not today, she told him, the kindly let-down. Rose might as well have grabbed his collar, how she spun him around with her words. No one here will buy from you again, talk to us like that. Didn't they teach you any better? He always seemed wormy to me, pale loser radiating like an atomic glow, sagging shoulders, too many sighs. But when he showed up the next month, he was less minus-seeming than before. A lot more polite. Mom looked at the whole line before picking a vegetable scrubber and whisk broom. Dad hung the whisk broom on a peg over the workbench. I got to scrub the potatoes.

Word play strikes again

When the compulsion to clump words into an expressive list waits like a hungry cat for you to wake up, you had best get to jotting.

In the January 31 post, I took Edward Gorey's examples of a "Thoughtful Alphabet" to create my own nonsense. I cannot not help myself, today I present my second offering.


Another barn dance concludes.
Desiree entombs, flaunts geriatric houseflies
inside jars.
Kestrels loop moonward
nearing optimal propulsion.
Queries reverberate
through underground vaults.
Wallflowers exhale,

It could just be me, but this seems fun. The more quickly you do it, the less (that word again) planning, the better. Shrinks may read deep meaning into these spontaneous erruptions. Oh well. Feel free to play along. xo

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fear, the demon so big it obscures the sun

Lynda Barry, 100 DEMONS.
There we are, my son and I, a simple plan, almost too simple to speak of, watching a few episodes of The Larry Sanders Show, season five, laughing, getting to sleep early. But Instant Netflix balks, balks further, and we try Hulu where the only thing that speaks to us is segments from TED conferences. We pick Ken Robinson talking about how schools kill creativity. And everything is changed.

What I heard him say was that we need to discover how to stop our self-limiting behavior, how to become courageously childlike, for some of us, a first. He said there was a time when we were not concerned about making a mistake, it hadn't occurred to us that we might get something wrong and suffer the humiliation of it. We were once beings who flung ourselves into whatever we were doing. He said we were once fearless.

I don't believe that I was ever fearless, not completely, though I have mental snapshots of moments. Lately, there seem to be a lot of moments. Fear is insidious, masquerading as caution, prudence, good sense. We don't know how frozen we are. I have carried a pack-load of fear that was not mine all my life and, to my unhappiness, passed it along to my son, not knowing how to do it differently. Last night was an opportunity to apologize.

We watched this Ken Robinson segment, then a more recent one, updates and variation on the theme of education. We then sat and talked at length about how we each might lose our fear and become airborne bodies launched from our own gigantic slingshots toward our dreams.

We talked of the feelings of outsiders, the ones who knew they didn't match the world around them, the ones who knew they would disappoint someone. How freeing it was to hear an intelligent, funny man speak about the isolation and sense of failure that come from not having uniqueness recognized or nurtured. The fact that I and my son had encouragement and opportunity for creativity was just not enough. It was creativity AND the expected academic skills, passion secondary to what, it was hoped, would be the path to grown up independence and success. There is a saying in 12-step programs, "Half measures availed us nothing." Hard to know if a thimbleful of creative encouragement is better than none at all.

But in my "never too late" world, we can backtrack and begin anew any day, any hour. In my world what I will call the universe elbows Instant Netflix out of the way and tells us the stories we need to hear. And, the wonder, we are able to recognize them, not confused that we are being led away from self-induced paralysis.

We are not idle. We both write, read, relentlessly track sources of inspiration, yet we move slowly, secretly wanting something fully realized and beyond criticism, success guaranteed, whatever that means. Now we have, dare I use the word, plans or at least hope, to find our fearless, improvisational younger selves, willing to leap and look foolish, step out and possibly stumble. Ken Robinson summoned the rescue party that is on its way back to find where we left those unrealized children we never quite got to be. We may now think twice before we criticize someone's work for a deus ex machina plot turn, a miraculous rescue, an impossible coincidence. Impossible things happen. Storytellers need to remember that.

Here is the video link. I hope it brings you illumination and the friendship of a resilient, remarkably brave child.
Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on

Sunday, April 3, 2011

...and a new use for bread

This led the soundtrack Saturday. My sister and I sang it, for reasons I did not know then and surely do not know now, as we stood holding our mother's hands in ICU recovery following aortic valve replacement and quintuple bypass more than 22 years ago. We thought we'd forgotten some of the words but we had not. It is a very short song.

(B.G. De Sylva / Lew Brown / Ray Henderson)

The moon belongs to ev'ryone
The best things in life are free
The stars belong to ev'ryone
They gleam there for you and me

The flowers in spring
The robins that sing
The sunbeams that shine
They're yours, they're mine

And love can come to ev'ryone
The best things in life are free


Because it works for me, as well as anything can, given the human condition and all, I gaze deeply into what seem like hard times, determined to find the untarnished sequin representing the good therein.

Relationships, reversals of fortune, unwise choices, life just being life, though it will not change the circumstances, sometimes we come to hold a prize that could not have been won any other way.

Which connects, somehow, to Sherry O'Keefe's recent post, men not named Andy and the word suchness and my thought of moments - not fully realized adventures - but moments that were reached via the splintery bannister.

A man not named Andy who sang to me, in a bar at Kennedy Airport, What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?. Who flew still-fresh, self-caught salmon from Seattle to Pasadena. Who sharpened my spatula-dull knives and sliced the onions, telling me that biting on a piece of bread stopped tears. Too many suchnesses to count, a glimpse of what may have been within reach or else far beyond it. It seems a fair exchange; moments are not nothing, not everything is designed to last, some thing never even become. After such a long time, crying over this seems unlikely, but still...I know without looking that somewhere in the catacombs of the fridge lurks at least one elderly piece of bread. I'll let you know if it helps with anything that isn't onions.