Friday, October 25, 2013

Gloria and TRM take to the road

Truth in blogging:  As this is a work of fiction, Billington's Cove is and can be located on the East and West Coasts as suits the author's whim.   Wherever it is is just where it needs to be.
Welcoming photo, thanks to this vendor in Manitoba.
Rose Creek Road was not the shortest route from Billington's Cove to the almost-urban bustle of San Luis but it was the most graceful, the one most likely to calm a racing pulse, quiet a chattering mind.  As it wound past fields where horses leaned over the fence hoping for a car to stop, apples already sliced for generous sharing, the air warmed and the scent of wild dill, oak dust and agriculture replaced salt-tinged mist.  Gloria told The Reading Man who owned the farms they passed.  It was a short list.  Land in the valley did not change hands often and holdings never decreased in size.  It was as though well-being was among the crops that flourished there.

There was to a newcomer the sense of being held in a warm embrace, safely placed out of the rasping wind where all was softness and comfort, benevolence beaming through branches that overhung the two-lane tarmac.  He likened it to being one of Gloria's muffins, popped out of the oven and into quilted mitts, at last enfolded in the napkin-lined basket.  So different from the feeling of home he encountered at the Cove where hypnosis was induced by a thrashing or tranquil sea.  He found the opposing elements provided balance.

(This is only half or a third of a post, but it felt so long since our friends made an appearance .  Episodes are episodes.  Some are more complete than others.  The bookstore will play a role in the next act.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Matt W. Moore fund-raising poster for RESILIENCE JAPAN 2011.
Awake briefly for CBS Sunday Morning, I saw part of a segment on resilience.  The report offered neurological (it appeared) components of this particular strength.  It is a strength.   At times it seems like a super power.  The ability not to be overcome by the defeating potential of circumstance, known to us all.   Challenge finds everyone.  The word optimism was used to describe the state of mind necessary for resilience.

Illness, accident, nature run amok, reversal of fortune, abuse, neglect.  The human condition, life, has built-in pitfalls, opportunities to abandon ourselves as we have, perhaps, been abandoned.  That we prevail by any definition is remarkable.  This is not to compare trauma or pain.  Bad things are bad things.  We have grown up with examples of how uneven the portions seem to be.  New ones emerge almost daily, if we pay attention.  The point is, we are still here.  Even if there have been months, years, when just getting out of bed in the morning seemed overwhelming, eventually we got up.  Sometimes we got dressed, combed our hair, got to a 12-step meeting, got in the car and drove away from a life that would have killed us if we let it.

I am writing this because I think we underestimate our strength.  Or, should I say, I think I underestimate mine.  There are so many fronts for which I feel ill-equipped, failing to take into account the fact that I am still here.  I allow unsorted piles (of valuable resource material shuffled in with useless rubbish) and frightening deposits of dust to outrank the fact that I do not actively seek to make the world a worse place.  I have an old habit of magnifying what I will call shortcomings and undervaluing the fact that I reside on the planet in a state of frequent humor, kindness, joy and hope.  The journey to this place may seem, seen from the outside, to be one of comfort and privilege, ease. The peril has certainly been greater for some than others.  That does not make our own unique resilience of any less value.  Does it matter whether the heart of our security has been taken by a hurricane or undermined over time by termites of addiction and terror?

If you have ever survived anything that you thought would sink you but didn't you are a member of the club.  We all understand I am not talking about the day your hair didn't turn out in the back.  If you managed to escape with a portion of your soul or body intact,  surviving attacks that would have robbed you of either or both, you may need to see yourself anew.  Some are heroic in public. Their models give us courage.  Some of us are brave in more private ways,  our stories untold, unacknowledged even to ourselves.  This seems as good a day as any to claim, to embrace strength we have downplayed for too long.  At least promise me you'll think about it.  I'll do the same. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The barbecue awaits Gloria and TRM

Gloria sliced the Thompson grapes in half to stud the tops of her custard tarts, alternating the green of the grapes with red raspberries.  The miniature pies and their adornments spoke to her of bounty, fruit of the land, and an over-arching abundance that left nothing untouched.

Answering a knock at the kitchen door, she greeted Mr. Apotienne.  Having seen him so recently in the front room, it made her think of the way Dopey, among the seven dwarfs, got in line again to receive another goodbye kiss on the top of his head from Snow White before heading to the mine.  This dignified man of adult height did not arrive hat-in-hand, there was nothing visibly shuffling that she could pinpoint and he was not dopey in the least.  Still.  The sight of The Reading Man and the association made her happy in a way that she wished could be thumbtacked in place right there on the door or the jamb.  No matter how time might fade it, that the moment once happened could not be disputed.

He asked if she'd like to go with him to the barbecue that night, the first since he'd arrived in the region.  She said, "What a good idea.  Could we go early for the markets?  I think you'd enjoy them."  They arranged a time when he'd pick her up, agreed that his car could accommodate any produce and second-hand goods they might find.  He had considered handing her a note earlier, something more direct, less "aw, shucks" appearing but hadn't quite gotten to it. His walk had not quieted the internal chatter as he'd hoped.  In fact, when it stilled at all, he had the feeling he had somehow gotten himself caught in the rip current of his rare but not unknown over-thinking and what was called for was genuine quiet and reliable intuition.  Mentally, he was hyper-ventilating.

Before he'd reached the paved walk, Gloria called to him, his first name, "Robert," and came down the steps with a fresh tart, wrapped for take-out.  They nodded to one another, see-you-soon, thanks, why don't we just stand here and act daffy because it makes me think I'm about 10 years old, but managed to collect themselves and turn in the appropriate directions. 

As he sloped along toward his cottage, the fog began to thin.  It should be a fine afternoon drive over the hill, he thought.  With no warning, TRM's intuition yanked him by the ear and told him he did not have a secret, to stop thinking about that silly and small business and return to the moment, or he'd miss all the good parts. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gloria, Season Two: The Reading Man decides

Mr. Apotienne knew Mongolian wrestling, at least as an observer.  He had seen it, had taken part in the festivities that surrounded it.  Where he once thought of his inner struggles as Greco-Roman matches, he came to know they were full-on Mongolian, one of The Three Manly Skills.  When he had a dispute to resolve with himself, he now pictured the open field, the crowds, the deep hues of traditional wrestling attire, ferocity and strength.  He knew the better man would win.
So he presented both sides of his mostly logical argument as to whether or not something was truly a secret if it was just information that had not been shared.  As he debated the intention, which was not to hide anything shameful but more to maintain a comfortable, low profile, he grew aware that the facts gnawed at him like a secret, which let him know it was one.  With a solid thump, wrestler A dropped to his left knee, which in the Mongolian interpretation meant losing.  Wrestler B stood in triumph and Mr. Apotienne sighed, preparing to tell Gloria he was somewhat, however slightly, other than as he appeared.

For a creature with even a pin-dot less integrity, this would not have been an issue.  No manly men would have needed to suit up, no massed locals collected to watch.  It would have been a non-thing, a factoid dropped in casual conversation.  There were occasions, not many, for which he and all who knew him were grateful, when Mr. Apotienne over-thought matters. 

Before arriving at the tea shop, The Reading Man had decided to ask Gloria to dinner that evening.  He was comfortable with any answer she gave.  It was short notice but it was also spontaneous.  Inland, one of the towns held a monthly barbecue during the summer, late spring and early fall, and fluffed it out with a farmers' market, swap meet and shops staying open longer than usual.  TRM had seen a flyer or poster somewhere the day before, reminding him of the event.  His plan was to knock at the kitchen door after his walk and extend the invitation.  Having wrestled his way to an answer already, he anticipated a peaceful time up and down the shore, time to empty his mind, let go of doubt or debate and allow inspiration to visit, if it cared to.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Repost: Still trying to loofah the past

It has been said that although we seem to find ourselves living life in circles, revisiting the same situations - and feelings - again and again, the shape is actually a spiral.  We have managed to ascend, to reach a different level.  It is not the same place, we are not the same people.
 Photo borrowed from here.
Three years ago, in this post about surrender, I must have thought I'd achieved some epiphany.  Perhaps I did.  What I know now, and probably knew then, is there will always be more to jettison.  Another box left at the curb, another vigorous exfoliation, another match set to piles of rubbish.  Today's secret word:  patience.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Well, THAT happened.

Today's headline is a quote from the David Mamet film, State and Main. It is truly a line for all seasons, it fits all sizes, all occasions.

Much as I indulge myself in thoughts of the impossible, even I acknowledge that when a thing has happened, it cannot un-happen.

Surrendering to life as the ultimate big shot who makes the rules is a process. You're not the boss of me. Oh, but I am.

THAT gives us two choices: remain caught by the wrongness, the unfairness, the awfulness, the horror, the grief, the guilt and shame, rage and resentment, like banana slices in a Jello mold or give it to the past. If option two was the easy, natural choice, history and all fiction would tell very different stories.

In thinking about this essay, I drew up a sketchy, mental list of incidents where the less savory option one was my pick. As a theory, I've understood letting go for a few decades. As a practice, it is much newer business. It is the result of the desire, the intention, to become more conscious, more compassionate. It comes from the wish to lead a life less fraught.

Too much stress, a response over which I have some measure of control, produces too much cortisol which goes on to interfere with and upend healthy physiological activity when it hangs around too long. Every issue, or crumbs of issues, that we continue to push around on our plates overloads us with stuff that will stop our engines.

Every time I thought about an event or outcome that should have gone differently, I embezzled a bit of vitality, perhaps longevity, from myself, by raising my blood pressure, messing with my blood sugar, creating inflammation and undermining my immune system. Even doing a little research while writing makes me queasy and, oh ho, stressed by thinking about how long I've resisted letting the bad stuff roll off my back.

I know I've written about all this before in various forms and I know I'm not done. It is the heart of my struggle. Awareness helps the process. Reminders can be beneficial, like Jake Gittes' being told, "Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown," by one of his old pals from the LAPD. If you're not ready to let the injustices go, reminders probably don't change things.

To find and maintain a mostly peaceful response where peace is not the norm can cut us away from the herd. But then I've never been one to run with the pack. Solitary is not unknown terrain.

In the simplest language I can find, I want to stop poisoning myself. We are cautioned of - and frequently alarmed by - threats from outside. We are in danger at least as great, I believe, from how we react to the world, to the models we are shown...endlessly.

THAT is going to keep happening. I choose to think we are capable of finding a different way to view all the THATs which have lined up, awaiting their spotlight moments.

They are the grifters who linger along our daily paths, not panhandlers or the truly needy, but slick types whose patter makes them semi-believable. Say no and keep walking, walk faster - exercise is good - don't make eye contact, don't get sucked discord, debate, blame, outrage. Remain calm (Keep Calm and Carry On!) and if action is required, take it from a still and centered place. Robert Towne's dialogue had it right, too. On a metaphoric level, it's all Chinatown. Forget it. It happened. Let it go.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Juan Romero (1932-1996)

Unsure where I've been not to have known the work of Juan Romero before this morning, I will simply express my joy at the discovery.  The timing is perfect, for word came early today and over the weekend of friends in whose lives serious road accidents have played too prominent a part.  Both have survived and will heal but in the meantime, pain and fear and uncertainty.  We know beauty can help relieve those.  Then the oft-mentioned Alice Vegrova shared three of Romero's works.  Quickly Googling, I acknowledge the result:  this seems to be love.   See for yourselves.
All paintings by Juan Romero.
I wish I knew my way around a Blogger template better, for these need to be seen BIG or BIGGER.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A poetry angel

A Moment

I'm walking on the slope of a hill newly green.
Grass, small flowers in the grass,
just as in a children's book.
Hazy sky, already turning blue.
A view of other hills spreads out in silence.
As if there had been no Cambrians or Siluries here,
rocks growling at one another,
upthrust abysses,
no fiery nights
nor days in clouds of darkness.
As if no plains had moved through here
in feverish delirium,
in icy shivers.
As if only elsewhere had the seas been churning,
tearing apart the edges of the horizon.
It is nine-thirty local time.
Everything is in its place and in genial accord.
In the valley, the small stream as a small stream.
The path as a path from always to ever.
Woods in the guise of woods world without end amen,
and on high, birds in flight as birds in flight.
As far as the eye can see a moment reigns here.
One of those earthly moments
implored to linger.

translated from the Polish by Joanna Trzeciak

For well more than a year, my friend and poet Melissa emailed me a poem a day.  I awoke one morning craving poetry, to know more about it, to discover more of its practitioners.  While poetry was discussed and read in a fiction workshop in the 1980s and I used my lunch hours from work to haunt the poetry alcoves of used bookstores in North Hollywood, I had nearly lost forever the heart for this extraordinary form in a junior college class that required us to deconstruct everything.  It began with Yeats in a way that felt he had been exhumed and eviscerated and I along with him.  For that and so many other reasons, formal education and I decided we were not a good match.

Melissa and I met through our blogs and she fashioned a pillowy nest for me in the poets corner, sent a box of books from her own shelves and began to free me from the long-clinging disappointment of that dreadful class, circa 1963.  While I have wished to be a poet for no other reason than to be called one, I knew that was not me.  I've surrendered those delusions but to write more poetically seemed possible.  There are days when I think it happens, many when it does not.
A story on the radio yesterday morning reported that the Juno spacecraft would fly past Earth "...for a gravity assist that will slingshot the probe onward toward Jupiter."  By whatever metaphor seems apt, we are all, at the moments we need them most, sent what could well be called angels to aid and lift, to move us forward.  I think of booster rockets which fall back to Earth when the craft is well on its way, free of pesky gravity.  Add that smooth slingshot maneuver and I consider myself  not only grateful for all Melissa's gifts, I feel amply launched in the direction of my destiny, files full of words  dancing in ways I would not have thought to use them, inspirations for my work, insights for ordinary human life.

Without poets and poetry, we are leaden, too dense of spirit to lift our feet high enough to reach the next step.  We grow dull and unresponsive.  Without the poets' saying, "look there...and there" we miss the beauty and the truth, magic eludes us.  Poetry freshens the air in a stifling  room, pulleys open the blackout curtains and unbolts the door.  Fill your lungs and run now.  You've kept her waiting long enough. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Fly away, just fly away

Original art by Steve Cieslawski.
If I thought about it longer, I might interpret this differently.  Upon first sight, I thought of all those whom we carry,  pull along behind us,  somehow never manage to escape fully.  As a visual, it becomes much easier to imagine simply cutting the strings.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

This is why...

In the world of eyebrows and so much more, Frida Kahlo is an icon.  Even in finger-puppet form, as created by Abbey Christine, shared here, that steady, sturdy line bisecting her face speaks.
Every day I wear my Angela Smyth "Anything is Possible" badge, for I believe it to be true.
Today, I noticed that my long-missing left eyebrow had returned.  Alas, its companion, the right, has only partially materialized but as I shall keep wearing my badge, I am optimistic.  The disappearance of both seemed the result of a fluctuating thyroid and heaven only knows what else that can befall a woman of a certain age and temperment.  And kind of like the line from Leonard Cohen's song, Famous Blue Raincoat,  "...I thought it (obvious eyebrow absence) was there for good so I never really tried,"  I adjusted my expectations downward.  But after a few years of not worrying at the poor depleted things (even the most feathered drawing-in attempts looked like bad stage make-up), hey, presto,  the seemingly impossible reappearance.  This is why we never give up.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gloria Chronology

For simplification, for anyone interested, here are the Gloria installments in link form from first to last.  This makes having to go backward through the blog an unnecessary chore.


































































Conclusion of Gloria, Season One: The Reading Man is invited

When Gloria hired Fiona, a summer job with options, they agreed every now and then to trade spots.  Gloria would wait on customers and Fiona would cook.  There was no risk involved, as Fiona shared the knack for knowing what would work and how it would taste when it was done.  She began with  Toad-in-the-Hole French Toast.  (Photo borrowed from this site.)
As prepared, her breakfast would include fresh strawberries and grilled fresh peach slices with cinnamon and a hint of lemon juice.

This turnabout happened on the day which followed Mr. Guscott's departure, the meal the three friends had shared and The Reading Man's beach pondering and explorations.  He'd found three objects that he felt qualified as treasures and carried them in his pocket.  He had also traded Noel Coward, which had been presented and, he believed, enjoyed, for a perennial summer favorite, David Copperfield.  Even in a mass-market edition, it was a a bulky creature, only just fitting into the non-treasure-bearing jacket pocket.  The day was nowhere near stormy enough for the all-weather coat with its great roominess.  Mr. Apotienne was quite content to read Dickens silently to himself should that seem the indicated thing.

Whatever self-consciouness he had felt for a time over his noticed constancy at Gloria's shop was now in the past.  To be the first patron of the morning made him happy but he also found it pleasant to be greeted by recognized Cove dwellers when he walked in.  Early-bird tourists were equally friendly, as though the town did not know the word stranger.  On that morning, from which the fog might or might not lift, two of the tables were in use and his favorite spot was free.  He nodded a greeting to the family of four already tucking into Fiona's special.  Even though it had nothing to do with him or much of anything, really, he was glad to see the boy and girl, ages perhaps 11 and 9, eating with gusto something that had to be a bit out of the ordinary.  They did not appear to have issues about various foods touching each other and likely had not shrieked about pouring maple syrup over a baked egg.

Though her back was turned toward the door, he recognized the Cove librarian, Irene Ripley, as the other customer.
When he passed her, she looked up. He smiled back warmly, asking how she'd enjoyed the movie nights.  They agreed each had been its own specific magic and wondered if, before it left, the summer would bring any other such opportunities.

He had the copy of Dickens on the table but had yet to open it.  Gloria brought his plate and said, "Oh, David Copperfield.  One of my favorites.  I hope you'll keep reading to us."  Though she hadn't said, "To me," Mr. Apotienne took that to be the message.  Being read to is lovely.  There is reassurance in it, a cadence or tone or just a circumstance that we connect to sleep, to the safety and comfort of our own bed.  We feel attended to, indulged, enlightened.  The right voice adds to an author's work and we can lose ourselves in the gift of it, whether we actually take in the words or not.

"We have story hours at the library," Irene said, "when the students are on vacation.  You could bring Dickens to life in a way that might help them find a love for him, especially this story.  Would you consider it?"

"Why, of course," said TRM, surprised that his spontaneously odd behavior at Gloria's brought him such an invitation.  "I'd enjoy that very much.  Thank you."  Smiles all around, arrangements made to visit Irene and develop a plan.  When she had left and Gloria was moving among the tables, he took the three found objects and lined them up between his plate and teacup.  They were a rusted yet legible, empty, lithographed rectangular tin for what he supposed was a Chinese spice, a piece of tumbled lavender sea glass that had worn in the shape of a heart and what looked like a wing feather,  brilliant and distinctly apple green from a bird not native to that shore.  Gloria stopped to inspect them, touching one at a time.  Mr. Apotienne said he thought he was meant to bring them to her, explaining that his intuition caused him to behave in ways he never expected.

As he was handing her the feather, he remembered the other word he'd been given yesterday, the one whose meaning hadn't been clear, at least not then.  Secrets.  And he thought, "Oh, crap sandwich, how could I have forgotten."  It seems The Reading Man did have at least one secret and it seems the time to reveal it was drawing very, very close.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rubber stamps and color pencils, it must be love

In another century I taught a series of workshops called How to Make Friends With Color.  One of the tools we worked with was a page of the same rubber stamped images repeated in order to practice working with different combinations of color.  This was the sample sheet.
Images from Rubbermoon Stamps, designed by Dave Brethauer, Jane Cather and Marylinn Kelly.
The workshop began with suggesting that students start by keeping a color journal, something in which to save swatches of fabric, ribbon, paper, yarn, anything that spoke to their personal color preferences.  Clippings, photographs, color copies, anything and everything.   I also mentioned watching movies with the eyes of a color detective, haunting galleries and museums, buying posters and postcards and taking notes.  "You are an artist in search of your voice," I told them.  "Leave no stone unturned."

For the hands-on work, they played with layering soft-lead color pencil, my favorite medium, color over color, color smudged with fingers or a paper towel, erased color.  Becoming comfortable with any medium involves practice, i.e. play.  Developing authentic self-expression in any form is a process.  With the luxury of time, my process took the form of stamping then sitting and coloring with pencils every day.  For hours.  I experimented with shading and erasing, retaining or discarding.  A word or two about shading:  it doesn't have to look natural, these aren't photographs.  Shading - with any color, in any areas of the image - adds dimension, texture and interest.  I described the process as being less like trial-and-error and more like discovery.  And my confession is that I have never worked with a color wheel, not that I discourage anyone from doing so.  It was just not my path.  The colors seem to tell me what would work with what.  Sometimes it happened, sometimes not.
Stamp images from Stampington and Co., designed by Marylinn Kelly.
Rubber stamped designs offer coloring-book opportunities to play with color pencils or whatever medium you choose.  When I started producing stamp designs and samples in the mid-1990s, Prismacolor pencils were probably the most popular.  Now many art stores carry their own brands and the field is wide open.  What you want for the sort of result shown in these samples is a soft-lead pencil, not the ones intended for watercoloring, though any experimenting could include anything you find in the marketplace.
Three panels of Rubbermoon stamps, copyright Marylinn Kelly.
Both Stampington and Co., for a collection of my designs called The Un-Usual Suspects, and Rubbermoon for my most recent collection, six sheets of unmounted stamps, offered customers color versions of the stamps to get the coloring process under way.  For Stampington, the packages of cling-mounted dies even came with written instructions for pencil coloring

You can find the Stampington collection here (watch for the color) and continuing on the next catalog page.

Rubbermoon's website, with images listed by artist, has the unmounted sheets shown, plus three others and individual images here.  Just a year ago, Rubbermoon was purchased from the Valoff family which started it 20 years ago.  The new owner, Kristen Powers, has produced a 110-page feast of a catalog with images going back to the days when the company began.

**For those of you relatively new to rubber stamping, a catalog that offers art going back 20 years, into what certainly seemed like the golden age of stamping, is a rare thing.  There may still be a few manufacturers remaining that were in business then.  I don't know how much of their classic art is available.  Kristen's true labor of love shows designs from the company's original two artists, Jane Cather and Joanna Taylor.  Work by all the designers who have been part of the Rubbermoon family are shown, including the newest work by Kristen.  The catalog, a keepsake which includes pages for journaling, stamping, coloring and more is available through the etsy site.**

If you are on FB, you can find Rubbermoon there and see that Kristen has put out the call for members of a new creative team.  Check the site for details.

If you have any questions - about the stamps, about coloring - you may leave me a comment on the blog or email me at the address given in my profile.  For a comment, check back here for the reply.  Here are a few more images which I hope will encourage you to make friends, if you aren't already, with color.  xo
Top two illustrations Marylinn Kelly stamps for Rubbermoon.  Lower illustration, bird by Kristen Powers, cat quartet and rose, Marylinn Kelly for Rubbermoon, Santa hats drawn on.