Monday, October 31, 2011

Dime store days

Neither my brother, sister nor I would know how to do Halloween if we found ourselves as children in 2011. In the 1950s, Halloween began at the dime store.

Several years ago, I participated in a Halloween-themed collaboration for Somerset Studio magazine. My contribution was memoir/fiction, illustrated with watercolor vignettes of childhood Halloween highlights. The elementary school carnival with its cake walk and cascarones (confetti eggs), the five-and-ten wax lips and masks, our mother's enthusiastic costume creation, all run together, one year indistinguishable from another, all happily revisited.

Whether or not what I remember is the literal truth of the moment, I trust the feeling that I've carried forward, certainly about Halloween. Yes, a huge bag of candy was an enjoyable pay-off, yet the heart of the holiday was more nuanced, more affectionately recalled. I hope the sight of jack o'lanterns and aisles of miniature Snickers put you into a state of smiling reverie.

Watercolor-illustrated trick-or-treat bag, from a collaborative project for Somerset Studio, several years ago.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Borrowed beauty: Sherry O'Keefe

The following is a reprint, with permission, from poet Sherry O'Keefe's blog. Rather than a link, I wanted to share its fullness and add the mentioned song, which continually repeats itself in my head since I read this. When at her site, please explore the categories atop the page. I apologize that the formatting here varies somewhat from the original. About that, I share my grandmother's saying, "It isn't Boston but it IS Massachusetts."

Thank you, Sherry.


He is not the sort to say It is raining on my windshield. There is a difference between that and: Will that truck need our help getting off the sandbar now that it is raining. And this matters in a vast, desolate country. Desolate being the word we use for the way any beauty hurts.

Forty-five miles past this point is the valley’s airport: a strip of prairie grass, mowed; a length of cones, white; a small 1960′s camper serving as the tower, one red hanger providing shelter for one blue prop plane. Open range country means the cattle are not fenced off the runway.

Not five miles west of the truck almost stuck on the sandbar, serious mountains redefine the landscape. We count the cords of wood (six, seven, eight) stacked near each homestead we pass on the way to the cabin we’ve rented for the weekend. There are seven cabins in this hunters’ camp and this being opening weekend for deer season, the rates are $1 higher than they were this summer: $36.00.

I point out a salmon-colored shack set in a russet-colored meadow. How odd, I say. He says, all chimneys are that way up here. What way is that, I wonder, realizing again I am slow to see past the obviousness that is me. I hadn’t even noticed (yet) the chimney.

Didn’t you notice chimneys rise higher above roof lines here than at lower elevations?

Um, no.

Long winters, deep snowdrifts on rooftops.

I smile. He smiles. We are both feeling warm and round: Earlier we’d caught eight large trout. Such a blessing, such a gift from the waters! We kept four and returned four. This is what abundant feels like, I tell him. He mulls this over. What is it to say: enough or many? What is it to feel: plenty? A word to measure the difference between how much we want and how much we actually need.

And from there, we move into deeper conversation. A rustic cabin, complete with a propane stove, but no running water is just a few minutes ahead of us. Steamed trout, fresh tomatoes. Brown bread from a can! And Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash dueting, North Country, on the CD permanently stuck in the CD player of his borrowed car. Whose voice is worse than the other, we debate. Worse being the word we use for what is most stirring.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

When lost...

Found on Kelly Kilmer's blog this week, where she offers a bright, enlightening post on artist Mary Blair, a quote from Henry David Thoreau which tells some of my story: "Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves."

When lost, panic is pointless. What serves us is a version of treading water, staying in place, yet not idle. And companions, as they might be called, such as flat tin boxes of watercolors or polychromos (is it not a graceful word?) pencils. As I became lost while going about my life in my own home, I, in the only true preparedness I can claim, had emergency supplies on hand, including, in no particular order: a blank envelope, a pencil, a very fine-line waterproof pen, scissors, a glue stick, a sheet of white card stock, a Prismacolor Sunburst Yellow pencil, something red, glitter, color photocopies, paper for drawing, a good eraser, a rainbow ink pad, alphabet stamps. Bottled water and dark chocolate are also recommended to keep one company for the duration.

If there is a trick to what Thoreau described, it is to be lost long enough for awareness to wander along and sit down, let us get caught up in its story and realize that lost is not who we thought it to be.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flash Fiction Challenge: Lifeguards

At her blog, Pattinase invited readers to create flash fiction, 1,000 words or fewer, based on a painting by social realist Reginald Marsh. For each entry, she pledged a donation to Union Settlement. My first flash fiction challenge.

Reginald Marsh, Lifeguards, 1933

“Rainwater collects in the dents of my car hood. That is, the ones that don’t slope. A few, perhaps three, remnants of a fearsome hail storm, are perfect little craters. Yet I believe tomorrow will be sunny.” Yr. friend, Warren.

For more than three years, Warren had sent a postcard each month, the card always arriving on the day of the full moon. He wrote letters, pages of precise and immaculate self-taught calligraphy. If he had illuminated the first capital on each page, she could imagine them as work from an ancient monastery. His stationery was rich without opulence, creamy in color, high rag content, a good tooth yet smooth enough to cause no unevenness in his penmanship. She savored and saved each bit of mail.

The postcards began with this message:

“Though Morris died 41 years ago, I have the feeling I need to find some place where I can go and talk about him. That he is gone does not unwind the tangle in which he left my life. As I am the only one remaining, it seems up to me. The other knots will not be undone. Perhaps some of mine will.” Yr. friend, Warren.

His cards, which she pictured him choosing even more carefully than he selected a peach at the farmers’ market, were photos of writers or actors or scenes with bodies of water, if a river may be called a body of water. She thought that really described a sea or a lake, something that stayed in place. She wasn’t sure that bodies meandered. Other months, he chose the reproduction of a painting, something she would lean on her desk where she could look at it, turning it over occasionally to study what he’d written. It wasn’t hard to memorize the few sentences.

“As I hear the stories other family members tell in these meetings, I am relieved to know I was not alone with such thoughts. Yet I still struggle to keep hold of a belief in love that can emerge from the wreckage I know. Perhaps I will ruminate upon a word that could rename a love so battered.” Yr. friend, Warren.

Of course every postman who ever brought one of his cards, and every post office worker between him and her mailbox, read what he wrote. She could never leave that sort of information out for her neighbors to see or for her mailman to know. Warren mentioned that he always delivered them to the post office. It allowed him to hold on to some of his anonymity. Still.

“They have ceased the manufacture of my writing paper. It feels like having to find a new therapist, something perhaps more trouble than it is worth. Though I do not believe I am so fixed in my ways that change is not an option, to weigh the balance of cost and quality, to search and experiment, holds no thrill. Would you recognize me in drugstore ballpoint on a lined yellow pad?” Yr. friend, Warren.

She wrote to him in response to all his letters. There was not one specific product she preferred to another, though she could not abide a pen that skipped. At times, she sensed her handwriting was becoming less legible. Even she was unable to decipher notes written quickly. She thought, “I am becoming my father,” whose brief addenda to long-ago typed letters remained mysteries unsolved.

“It is a fellowship here, as they describe it, in these community rooms and church halls. Transgressing what I presume to be written and unwritten rules, I have identified favorite speakers whose words invariably echo recent awareness of mine. I feel less like a dazed fish who flops on the pier, less like one whose lungs cannot draw enough from the atmosphere to sustain me.” Yr. friend, Warren.

Left to make whatever she wished of the coinciding post cards and full moons, she saw it as a way of keeping track, for someone who found no beauty in dates or weeks or ordinary measures of one’s life. Where she once noticed the moon’s phases by the light cast through her east window, she now sensed the rhythm of time, felt more aligned with its flow. It did flow, as those pictured rivers, not taking its own pulse constantly.

“After speaking of Morris last night, our final moments, my helplessness and despair, a young woman touched my shoulder as I was leaving. I recognized her but could not remember the sound of her voice, which must mean I had not heard it before. The word she chose to call me was lifeguard, one who watches over those for whom the water becomes too turbulent. After tonight, she told me, I know I will be able to stay afloat.” Yr. friend, Warren.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Revisited: Post from March 10, 2010

In the foothills above Pasadena, hiking trails either slope or climb quickly, delivering adventurers to nature's version of quiet - songbirds, raptors, running streams. A reverie, not quite a dream, during the night took me to a long-ago afternoon in the headland of the Arroyo Seco; it must have been spring for the water ran clear and fast from bank to bank. We crossed it on rocks as we found them for it was too deep to wade.

The picture I retrieved was of a moment when the stream paused, fallen limbs created a pool before the run-off picked up speed once more. On the grainy bottom, amid pebbles and spotty plant life, a coral-colored salamander or newt lay in the shade. It was bright and warm of hue, an element of fire that shone its small light upward through the dimness. I remember surprise at discovering the amphibian; that land spends most of the year with few options for a water-lover to dampen its skin.

Soon that memory shifted to another, yet the day had been returned to me, filling my cells with the information they absorbed, afoot for only an hour or so with my father and brother, just out of view of neighborhoods, roads and outward signs of civilization. It did not feel random, the gift of moments from a much earlier time. Was there a message and, if so, would I be able to decode it?

As I considered the pieces, collectively or sequestered as their separate parts, I made the hasty leap to a dismissive attitude I often have regarding dreams: it was an entertainment, an amusement, just an anonymous offering my brain decided to bring forth. Yet as I also find with dreams, the awareness of journey was strong. When your senses tell you that you've gone to a place other than where you began your sleep, believe them.

Operating on the assumption that our first sincere take is the true one, I found myself thinking of hidden jewels: the half-dream, the salamander on that day, all the clips from all the years that hold blessings unacknowledged. I had asked for inspiration and illumination yesterday and here was a story, breathed in my direction like a dandelion wish. A barrier had fallen, a path had been cleared. Having lived more of my life than not with a mind that selectively offered grim and discouraging thoughts or images, what a reversal of fortune to be shown the peaceful and lovely.

I will pay attention today to the ghosts that stop by, willing myself to embrace scenes from the shadowbox past. I will welcome the unexplained and know it is here for a reason. The gleam on the creek bed may be fool's gold, yet if what matters is the glow it casts and not its worth at the assay office, I'd say the effort has been rewarded.

2 comments from original post:

Erin in Morro Bay said...
And how interesting that the fire element shone through the crystal clear water. I love that imagery - it must mean something. I think you should run with!
March 10, 2010 10:29 AM

michael jameson said...
so your marylinn im michael jameson , im the misguided philosopher and the thoreau translator/commenter, you made a comment after me,i smiled so curiosity bit me and i looked,i too have to write!, mind and memory! i enjoyed some of your stuff! so a note was in order! stay safe and happy and jot an email when it moves you to do so! michael
April 1, 2010 10:23 AM

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Nothing Is Impossible Thursday

Go on with your miraculous selves. Everything awaits. xo

Rubbermoon image, copyright M. Kelly

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When you care enough to send the very best...

Send Mail Art.

Mail art by A. D. Eker (Thuismuseum), 1985, from Wikipedia article.

Once I discovered rubber stamping, I found mail art. It seems the definitive text from the 1980s is still available. The Rubber Stamp Album may yet be found, along with newer books, many focused on using recycled material.

In Southern California, Anne Seltzer's "Postmarked" shows raised funds to purchase books for prisoners through auctioning donated art. If you Google "call for mail art submissions," you will find current opportunities to take part in larger projects. What I still like best is sending - or receiving - something that gives them something to talk about at the post office and along the routes between here and there.

Rubber stamp images, copyright M. Kelly.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


Copyright M. Kelly

One of the tells of otherness might be cutting one's own hair. Which I have done for nearly 32 years, this go-round. A natural curl is very forgiving. I'd much rather, if there were the funds, pay someone to houseclean than to cut my hair. Yet I know I am a minority voice here; and, thus, know this inclination to be part of my own brand of otherness. Well, it wouldn't be otherness, would it, were it being practiced in the same way all over town?

I wonder, do we recognize it in ourselves first or does it scream at family members and schoolmates? Regardless, we know it soon enough and then, oh, joy, get to spend the rest of our lives growing into a state that looks eerily like acceptance of it, of us. Bless its pointed little head.

There is otherness in each of us, only some received larger portions. I suspect it is most clearly exemplified by states of mind and heart, conditions best known to ourselves, not as screamingly public as the wildly gesticulating hands or the breathless rush to describe a just-seen photo of the dream box of cheaper-than-cheap watercolors in 36 named shades. But there are further giveaways: vocabulary, the diverse categories of arcane gleanings we share too willingly in conversation, our passions, our pasts.

When I asked my son what the word otherness brought to mind, he reeled off two of my favorite things: a parallel universe and astral projection. That is atomic otherness, or simply, purely, other. In my dreams.

As the news continues to show footage of Steve Jobs and recall his life, I feel we are observing otherness in full flower. Unassigned territory is where all about us that is not sameness gathers its strength and gets to practice its best parlor tricks. I put more faith than is probably wise in what we each bring that is unique, for who can know where our one-of-a-kind brains will take us, possibly take us all.

Where I lose patience, and try to know as little of these matters as possible, is with bullies of all ages whose own inescapable otherness is so unbearable that someone must be punished. It is a world full of weirdos; we're all bozos on this bus. My former in-laws, people of superior-to-extraordinary intellectual gifts, were once denied the Checker automobile they wanted to purchase, told by the sales person that they were "not self-realized enough" to drive such an other car. I think he misread the signs.

My favorite show on broadcast tv is FRINGE - they still have dirigibles in the alternate universe! And they/we have Walter Bishop, played with such range by John Noble, who has my vote as poster boy for everything that is other. That the character was institutionalized for 17 years has contributed to his inability to blend, yet he would be exotic, unidentifiable and far from ordinary had he somehow managed to run the toy department at a Target store for that vanished span of time.

While the sense of being the one thing that is not like the others may have felt like a pox on your life since you began to think for yourself, it, too, is something so different from what it seems. Strangeness, oddness, peculiarity, individuality, all are really synonyms for special, wondrous, rare, unique. Each of us, whether it can be seen by the masses or requires a closer look, a more intimate knowledge, is in some way or multiple ways as other as it is possible to be. There are very few who can disguise it forever, and who would choose to spend so much energy for so long trying to pass for normal, a state which doesn't even exist.

What is great in us comes from our otherness. It is the compost in which we bloom and thrive. It will carry us past our imagined limitations. All we have to do is scratch it behind its curiously-shaped ears and love it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (aka: Happy Birthday)

Copyright M. Kelly for Rubbermoon

There were showers this morning, just after dawn. Actual early-in-the-season rain is forecast for later, tomorrow and, perhaps, beyond. We have also entered a big month for birthdays. Sincerest happy wishes today to Jean, and for tomorrow, to Alia and Morgan. Before the week is over, Joyeux anniversaire to Dana. Ah, Libra, fellow air sign, fellow troublemakers. Blessings, all.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday tune

What was playing on the mind radio this afternoon.

(P.S. Happy Birthday, Wallace Stevens)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

And then it was now...

Rubbermoon stamp images, copyright M. Kelly.

It is a Rip Van Winkle day, this first of October. If I had thoughts, and I did, I do, of making Christmas gifts or cards, it is already what I think of as "too late to be early." October doesn't dither about, though in LA it may bring our hottest days; no matter what, no one can pretend it is still summer.

Here, at 3:15, a warm (high 80s?) breeze rustles the palm trees and sways the curtains in light that would signify, on a true summer day, that it was around 5:30. With no effort I could swivel my chair and commune with air and sky. Which is how I end up sitting in October in an August state of mind.

One can grow weary of self-rebuke, of always at least half-assuming the label "fixer-upper" applies. But, argues that prissy Puritan Ethic, there is evidence. Yes, and perhaps there will forever be.

My affliction today seems to be Autumn Fever. It has nothing to do with baseball play-offs. It certainly is not connected to professional basketball, which may have gone the way of Kodachrome, just when I was beginning to know the who and what of it. I believe that some of us, for I cannot be the only one, have a touch of benign narcolepsy. We fall asleep, not behind the wheel of a moving car, but while punting on the slow-moving tributary of a larger, swifter channel. We drift...I see willow branches trailing in nearly-still water...for what we think is an afternoon but awake to realize it has been a month, maybe more. It is an enchanted state in which thirst, hunger, appointments and obligations are erased, until the spell ends.

And then, as a friend once said so precisely, it was now. I am not prepared to say what any of this means. The best I can do today is tell you that it IS. Once again, time and I have turned in opposite directions, to meet later by the Union Square flower stand that sells gardenias year-round, blinking at each other in happy though faint recognition. At what point must I admit that my fluid relationship with time is the real thing, not some dalliance, and simply surrender to it?