Thursday, March 28, 2013

Jazz standard #5

Three-thirty Wednesday afternoon.  From the high school across the street a solo trumpet and "I Can't Get Started With You."  Someone putting in extra time before Wednesday evening band practice.  How sweetly it floated, timeless.  The kids are alright.

Not the trumpet but does it matter?

After receiving Erin's comment, I felt remiss not having chosen this version. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

BioShock Infinite: video games are not what you think

The debut of BioShock Infinite (a video game), curious topic for a woman of certain years.  Just proves to me again there is much to learn.

Because a friend of my son worked as a level designer on this eagerly-awaited release, I have felt a certain kinship to the project as it went along, though I am mostly clueless in this world.  Yesterday he brought home his purchase - game, lithograph, playing piece for the future board game version, key chain, remarkable character figure and a small representation of "The Art of..." book that will be released later.  Between the litho and the book I found too many favorite things - a Chinese paper lantern, airships, what seemed to be the remnants of a World's Fair and possibly an amusement park from the early 20th century.  The visuals are nearly overwhelming.  Here is what the game's creative director Ken Levine said:

"When I was working on Thief with Doug Church, way, way back in the day, we always said that vibe was more important than story. I think that's the same thing as what you're saying. Put the player in an interesting world and make him feel like there's interesting things around the corner. That's way more important than specific details about what's going on."

If you're interested, this article pretty much explains it all, far better than I could from my spot here at the bottom of the learning curve.  I'll just mention that interviewer Tom Bissell likens the BioShock aesthetic to the films of Terrence Malick, "conceptually audacious."  I can imagine a lot of things and what I am capable of scarcely begins to graze the surface of what is required to put something so layered and complex together.  And P.S.  Video games are not ruining the world.  That culprit would be ignorance, hand in hand with indifference.

ONE LAST NOTE, ENTIRELY UNRELATED.  Yesterday was the 500th post on this blog.  Yes, there have been a few - two in the last week, good grief - reposts but, over the years since August 4, 2008 and the first "publishing," there have probably been fewer than 10 repeats.  So I am declaring this as the 501st post.  In bloglandia, where many write with brilliance and dedication every day, this may seem like small potatoes and it may be.  For me, though, it gives me a sense of consistency and determination which I was unsure I could achieve.  And the beat goes on.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ink, glorious ink

Pilot Petit1 Mini Fountain Pens - Fine Nib
In my fiction pages this morning, a character discovers her fountain pen is missing, has obviously been taken.  She offers as proof the ink stain on her middle finger, which she describes as unavoidable, one of the joys/pitfalls of writing with actual liquid ink.  In case you don't know about Jet Pens, they are heaven-on-earth for kids like us, the writing and drawing fanatics, nerds, collectors and glorified doodlers.  Not that I necessarily imagine reading a letter written in glowing Apricot Orange would be easy on the eyes, I am still captivated by it with lust in my heart.  I plan to order at least a few of these before the sun sets.  We can let our dancing fingers go wild here.

In the realm of making one's mark, Rubbermoon Stamps is preparing to introduce a new line of stamps and, for the first time, stencils, all of a Mid-Century Modern persuasion.  They are not yet available through the website and will probably first be offered through etsy.  A visit there now will not be time ill spent.
Rubbermoon sample, stamps and stencils by Kristen Powers using new products.
Had I not had a live-in tutor, my son, I might never have learned how to do even the limited things I do with a computer.  Pencils, ink and paper have called to me all my life.  Their voices have not become muted as another form occupies my time.  If anything, as the choices expand, so does the desire for them.  Such simple bliss, going back to drawing with a stick in dirt or wet sand.  None of it will last forever or even come close.  We get to make our marks.  For the moment, it is enough.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Our divided selves - Repost of "Saturday Night Pink"

“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.”
James Joyce, Dubliners 

If you don't know The Band, if you don't know The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,  playing it loud is better than playing it softly.  If you do know the band and this song, I don't need to make the suggestion.  As I listened just now - acknowledging that I am not sure where my mind and emotions have gone other than to admit they were last seen limping away from a jump made from some great height, which is to say I scarcely know what I'm thinking and not a clue why - I heard an American voice whose plaintive cry has yet to die away.

I haven't the experience of a lifetime of mindfulness training, of how to be consistently unified within my fragmented, human and opposing selves,  and spend what seems too much time trying to resolve inner conflict.  Not big things, just whether to allow my shrieking control-driven aspect to shout down the calm, compassionate and almost wise voice.  We may not at this moment be standing in formation on two sides of geographic lines wearing uniforms of different colors but as I look at us it seems we are every bit as deeply at war with each other as we were when our country split in half.  If we are really paying attention, we are at the same time working to call home our personal vagrant parts, the bits that drifted away when leaving seemed to offer the best chance of surviving trauma, loss and uncertainty.  As the minstrels able to show us who we've been and who I believe we still are The Band has no modern equal.

This updated preamble and the repost itself demonstrate my own diverging paths of thought.  I hope no one expects the necktie to match the hankie.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Night Pink 


Of The Band's five members, only Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson remain after Levon Helm's death this week.  If you're interested, Wikipedia has background on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down here.  That Helm, it reports, never again performed the song after this concert, filmed for Scorsese's The Last Waltz, tells a story.  His "Saturday Night Pink" would be enough to make me want to be a writer, wishing for such a phrase to drift in on a summer-like wind, if that wasn't already my plan.
Moving on to a separate topic which is not, as far as I know, connected at all to the paragraph above.
The scraps of paper - envelopes, the backs of on-line craft store receipts, bottom of a page listing color pencil product numbers - on which we preserve the you-never-know fleeting thoughts,  are repositories of the arcane.  In front of me is a note that says, "phrase - suicide mollusk."  For now, I'm viewing this as a misfire, not an internal prompt, not a Sherlock-worthy mystery to which I have been assigned.  It might be easier to draw than write: a colossal squid holding its breath.

Wonder is an appropriate response to the creeping, dawning illumination that we are actually amphibians, afloat in the infinite sea.  I think, I suggest: write how the inexpressible feels, choose words for the horizon-to-horizon journey as what we were certain did not exist begins to take vaporish form.  Can you explain, I ask myself, the ways in which life as an out-of-body experience differs from being here?  Or are they different?  One of my favorite characters on television is John Noble as Dr. Walter Bishop in Fringe.  His advanced state of "otherness" may be the result of long-term experimentation with mind-altering drugs but I suspect they were merely enhancements for his true nature.

Refrigerator words will not help me now.  I'm not certain there are words in contemporary reality that don't pare down and blanch our vibrant possibilities.  At last I've awakened to the allure of science fiction as a medium of revelation.  (Mad Men's Ken Cosgrove finds or found an outlet, moonlighting as a sci-fi writer, for plots that would not fit into ordinary fiction.  *smacks forehead*)  Fantasy, speculative fiction, science fiction, the shape-shifter that is called magical realism, create opportunities for telling stories that may well be true but unprovable, real yet invisible.

When I began this post, first wanting to give a farewell wave to Levon Helm, then hoping to give credible voice to what presently rolls through my mind, I didn't know we would end up together in the section where Dune, Farenheit 451 and Slaughterhouse Five reside.  But here we are.  And I get to consider that languages of other worlds may be the source of words that are so elusive in this one.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sometimes we look behind - repost

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.


Isabel Doyle said...
Dear Marylinn
What an intriguing correspondence you've hinted at, with glimpses of full-bodied characters waiting to revel and hide.

This could be turned into a longer piece - have you considered that?

Hardly a 'flash'.

Best wishes, Isabel
Isabel Doyle said...
er, ... reveal ...
susan t. landry said...
one of the challenges in flash fiction is to give every word layers of resonance, like a minimalist dinner in a fancy-pants restaurant, the few meaty bits hinting at a hearty meal.

i think you have done this beautifully, marylinn; the clever dialogue, the language that illuminates the two people, whom we get to know just enough.

brava! what fun! and you are so skillful ...
pattinase (abbott) said...
This was such a lovely flash piece, Marylinn. Thanks so much for adding it to our challenge.
JeannetteLS said...
HOW on earth do you writers do this? I meander and wander through stories, and while I try to have each word count, in rhythm, if not substance... I cannot seem to write flash fiction. I cannot write poetry on a regular basis. My mind doesn't do it.

YOU did it here, moving my mind through a story as well as moving my heart through the pain and beauty.
Yvette said...
I thought immediately of poetry when I read your story, Marylinn.

Just gorgeous. Such imagery. Really wonderful. This has a definite tone and 'feel' to it.

Something you can almost touch. Would want to touch.
Jayne said...
Marylinn- As one who savors and saves each bit of mail, I just loved this piece. What a joy to read your fiction--the voices resonate and I want to know more! :)
Rob Kitchin said...
Like the prose and the mystery in this. Kind of tangible and intangible at the same time.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Isabel - Thank you. At the moment I don't know about a longer piece; that has never been a strength of mine, that sort of expanding. I would say I feel more comfortable with stories not-quite-told. We shall see. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Susan - Thank you. It was great fun and I feel more than fortunate if I managed to meet some of the genre's challenges without having known what they were. Ignorance of the rules can be a blessing. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Patti - Thank you. I so enjoyed participating. Marsh made a great springboard.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Jeanette - Thank you. All I know to say is that sometimes a piece comes together, more in spite of me than because of. I would say alchemy but that is too precise a formula. Which, I suppose, is why we who write and want to write keep showing up, putting words on the page. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Yvette - Thank you, and thank you for the introduction to this challenge. That fiction has not abandoned me causes quiet jubilation. I enjoyed doing this so much.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Jayne - Thank you. It fascinates me, the way the imagination - or the mind - gathers familiar, seemingly unconnected elements and weaves them into something new. One is writer and reader, equally surprised by what appears. xo
Marylinn Kelly said...
Rob - Thank you. Perhaps it is an expression of my peculiar notions about what is real or true belonging to a state whose language we have just begun to learn.
beth coyote said...
Holy wow, I loved this.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Beth - Thank you. Thank you.
Antares Cryptos said...
I hope there is a second installment.

Wouldn't I love to see and read those cards and stationery.
Marylinn Kelly said...
Antares - Wouldn't I, too, love to read those messages. Thank you for the thought of another "episode."

Saturday, March 16, 2013

What's that mean?

This is over quickly and you may need to turn up the volume.

So much uncharted territory.  Because each moment is a place we've never been, a place that never existed before, confusion may ensue.  I have changed from whatever I used to be to someone who looks for and usually finds meaning.  Perhaps I make it up, squint so that what may be nothing looks to me like, well, something.

Because life as I experience it is an ongoing process of evolution and change, dawning awareness and acceptance of the fact that questions outnumber answers, each day carries an aspect of starting over.  Why not?  As a recovering, world-class baggage dragger, any sense of a new beginning is freeing, each morning a jolt of unsullied possibility, clean and separate from flubs and shortcomings of yesterday.

It may be nothing more significant or rational than the study of crop circles, this quest for meaning.  Today I wondered for a least an hour if I had it wrong.  As I find my way with surer steps  into the belief that life is lived in the moment, that worry and regret deplete me and that a quiet mind may keep my joints from hurting, I exist in a big picture of small moments.  Always the overview; the satellite sees what I can't possibly.  It is in the wider shot, the David Lean pan of T. E. Lawrence's desert, where meaning, if such exists, dwells.  That vista is not always available; sometimes we are just too close.  In those moments we wonder, "What's that mean?"  While we may never know, we always have the option to believe.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Poetry as teacher


                                    I have walked through many lives,
                                    some of them my own,
                                    and I am not who I was,
                                    though some principle of being
                                    abides, from which I struggle
                                    not to stray.
                                    When I look behind,
                                    as I am compelled to look
                                    before I can gather strength
                                    to proceed on my journey,
                                    I see the milestones dwindling
                                    toward the horizon
                                    and the slow fires trailing
                                    from the abandoned camp-sites,
                                    over which scavenger angels
                                    wheel on heavy wings.
                                    Oh, I have made myself a tribe
                                    out of my true affections,
                                    and my tribe is scattered!
                                    How shall the heart be reconciled
                                    to its feast of losses?
                                    In a rising wind
                                    the manic dust of my friends,
                                    those who fell along the way,
                                    bitterly stings my face,
                                    Yet I turn, I turn,
                                    exulting somewhat,
                                    with my will intact to go
                                    wherever I need to go,
                                    and every stone on the road
                                    precious to me.
                                    In my darkest night,
                                    when the moon was covered
                                    and I roamed through wreckage,
                                    a nimbus-clouded voice
                                    directed me:
                                    “Live in the layers,
                                    not on the litter.”
                                    Though I lack the art
                                    to decipher it,
                                    no doubt the next chapter
                                    in my book of transformations
                                    is already written.
                                    I am not done with my changes.

                                    Stanley Kunitz

Shared by Claire Beynon in her Feb. 12 post.  In her current post, she offers excerpts from Pablo Neruda's BOOK OF QUESTIONS and an introduction to this week's Tuesday Poem, which the editor calls "oceanic."  I would also call it mythic, ancient and exemplifying the truths we find nowhere but poetry.  While at Claire's blog, please take time to see her art.  For reasons I can't put into words other than "light," her current work speaks to me of William Blake.  My first job, begun when I was 14, was at the Huntington Library.  On coffee breaks and lunch hours I visited the exhibits.  Blake was just outside my office door.  Without poetry, without illumination,  how would we describe ourselves?  What could we possibly know?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jukebox mornings on Silver Strand

Silver Strand Beach, Oxnard, CA

There is a Los Angeles television news phenomenon known as Storm Watch.  If even 1/3 inch of rain is forecast, reporters are dispersed throughout the region to check on creeks, low-lying freeway underpasses, to compare rush hour accidents on clear and inclement days.  Only rarely does the rain arrive as advertised, especially this winter.  We get a fair amount of what my former husband knew in his native South Africa as "a monkey's wedding," which means it is raining across the street while the sun shines on you, or vice versa.

In another life I, by which I mean we,  lived one house from the beach, the beach shown above. At the end of our street, back in the 1970s, there were no houses built right on the sand. During the wildest winter storms, we could stand in front of our cottage and see the waves breaking higher than the built-up berms, higher than our heads which were fortunately many yards inland. The street flooded, blowing sand pelted, wind and water roared. In one such storm we went house hunting across the channel.

It was a two-story, whittled down (or artlessly added onto) from earlier comfort and was called Windy Gables because local lore said Clark Gable had lived/stayed there.  With stairs so steep and narrow we couldn't have gotten anything larger than a side table up them, we still debated the move when we saw a terrace that opened onto Hollywood Beach, oh the stormy goodness.  Coastal California's version of winter fury is just the right size.  No digging out cars - though British sports cars were very balky in puddles - no ice, no freezing.  A lot of bluster and crashing surf.

There was the season of fog, then at times like Christmas, a season clear and bright and warm.  The storms were usually later in the winter.  We'd sit on the sand after work and watch the sun outline the channel islands as it set.

While we lived there, we acquired a jukebox, a Rock-Ola.  It played 45s and as we had no neighbors near enough (or unaltered enough) to complain of morning noise, Saturdays began with sounds reminiscent of beer bars or soda shops we'd known.  Elvis on the Sun label, Gram Parsons, Phil Spector groups, "Geronimo's Cadillac," Jim Croce, Linda Ronstadt, this:

Much of the music that visits my sleep or the time just after is from those years.  While not a compartment of undiluted bliss, neither is it a time of crushing woe.  When I hear Meryl Streep's voice over say, "I had a farm in Africa," I think of having a house snug as a boat and a jukebox on the Silver Strand.  Not the same, yet not entirely different.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Do you believe in magic?

Posted on Facebook by the remarkable Mr. Finch.
This tiny shoe was found in 1835 by a farmer on a remote sheep trail on the Beara Peninsula in Ireland. It measures 2&7/8" long and 7/8" at its widest.It is black and shows wear at the heel. The farmer gave the shoe to the local doctor, and eventually it was passed to the Somerville family. It was reportedly examined by scientists at Harvard University and found to have tiny hand stitches, well-crafted eyelets, and appeared to be made of mouse skin.

Makes you think doesnt it!

It certainly makes ME think.  Just when the noise and window-rattling sonic booms of ordinary life tell us there IS NO MAGIC left in the world, someone appears to say, "Not so fast.  What about this?"

To believe in magic, we don't need anything more than the suggestion, the possibility, a finger pointed toward that which is unlikely and rare.  Proof is not required, hope is enough.  Would one of you like to start knitting some tiny socks?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"this little piece of earth"

Found via a link borrowed with extravagant ease from Susan T. Landry for the sheer wonder and beauty of the poem.  From James Lineberger.


 We don't talk about it but her garden
 began as a healing device
 and perhaps a form of meditation as well,
 for at the most basic level, she's much like her mother,
 a pill junkie herself, who has always
 had a love for plants, and passed that on to T., along
 with all the rest of it, the anxiety, the hunger,
 the embittered need to fight things out on her own,
 but this little piece of earth that T. has laid claim to was already
 a garden of sorts before she took hold of it
 and started digging big holes two and three feet deep into which
 she pours the potting soil to cushion her
 tiny-root darlings who have no need for such extravagant comforts,
 or the fertilizer, either, from Lowe's,
 which she mixes up by the bucket, some fancy green stuff
 that killed off
 half the annuals the first time she applied it because she
 poured it over the flowers and leaves, not
 the soil, shocking them to death with the sudden
 ferocity of their commingling,
 an act her mama would laugh at were she not so senile now
 so into her "dementia" as the doctors are prone
 to describe it, that she can no longer dial 911, let alone place
 a call to T., who has been forbidden to talk to her
 anyway by the younger sister, K., who got herself appointed POA
 and controls all of mama's funds, dribbling it out
 to T. in niggardly amounts while she spends outrageous sums
 (T. grumbles) on herself and her husband
 and their lazy married daughters,
 thoughts which trouble T. less and less, however, as she digs up
 and discards the Iris bulbs
 my mother sent down here from her New Jersey backyard
 before she died, hoping
 to leave something behind, she said, for she knew about
 the Alzheimer's already, knew she wouldn't
 outlive her second husband after all, and wanted, nay,
 prayed for, some corner where her soul might linger in peace,
 but they never bloomed, those Irises,
 God knows why, coming back stubbornly every year,
 only to leaf out, sans flowers,
 sans any overt reason for their being save this: save
 the spirt that dwelt within,
 that grew up on her own mother's hardscrabble farm
 where every flap and fragment of everything
 was saved, used, cooked, or disemboweled, and none of it
 abandoned ever, including the feathers,
 but now, in the name of beauty, of art, of that mysterious will
 to carry on, T. has shoveled
 up the miserable transplanted bulbs and tossed them in the wheelbarrow
 along with the red dirt and crabgrass, working even, get this,
 by flashlight, arms in the wet hole
 up to her elbows as she digs anew,
 unanointed shepherd to her Zinnias and Petunias and Persian Shields,
 but as close to God as the dust, the wind, the broken wings
 of his cherubim.
James Lineberger