Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Notes to self

To live authentically, expressively, first, sit down.  Clear the decks, clear your mind.

Many, many years ago there was a tv commercial for PanAm,  which said, in part, "Leave the phone off the hook, teach the cat how to cook."  Do those things.  Come to know, without being obsessive about it, what matters.  And what doesn't.

Complete, within reason, every possible task that cannot be postponed or ignored.  Give yourself a time, and if not an hour or minute, then at least a date on which you will bring all of you to the table.  Narrow the deadline down as finely as possible.  Find the balance between flexible and determined. 

Taking ourselves seriously can be a rugged assignment.  Treating our dreams and possibilities like the rare blossoms they are means kicking other stuff to the curb.  A certain sort of ruthlessness is stimulating, even when no one but us knows of its existence.

Don't put up with the shilly-shally, the dither, the general farting about for which you are almost famous.  If you DON'T know, this moment, what to draw (or write), you soon will.  Believe in that and the fact that you WILL be able to do it.

I no longer fool myself with notions of doing it all.  That didn't work when I was young, or did work but to my detriment.  Now each moment brings a choice, each minute is legal tender that can only be spent once.  We can but make our best guess about how to use this fleeting resource.  What I work at is practicing patience, acceptance of my imperfection and how I invest myself.  Life is a bossy partner, it insists on leading when we dance.    I simply try to keep up in reasonably good humor.

There are projects of varying sizes that I actually dream, or at least daydream about, trails my heart urges me to follow.  Writing, drawing, painting, crafting, being.  I do what I can.  Too many measures of what might be called success exist to let ourselves be bullied by just one.  Our first allegiance is to our own star, the following thereof.  I offer this because it is essential that I believe it myself.  We will not, we cannot do it wrong.  Trust that.  Just trust that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sophie Blackall, Illustrator

"Coney Island," by Sophie Blackall, available here.
Furiously scanning my mental index cards, "Arcana that could become blog posts," the name Sophie Blackall lept forth.  Among the photos on my desktop is one of her illustrations.  I think of her, if briefly, every day.  With the chance, not to mention purpose, of exploring her work in greater detail, it occurs to me that illustrators, like poets, are translators, taking our human experiences and returning them to us in forms we can absorb, process and even enjoy.

I suggest you Google her, in text and images.  I will share some links, such as this Brain Pickings article that offers interview excerpts.  At her website I could sit indefinitely and watch her subway riders glide past.  She has one blog about her "Missed Connections" project and subsequent book, another about more current goings-on.
From "Spinster Goose: Twisted Rhymes for Naughty Children" by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
At this late date, it seems unlikely that I will ever grow too old for picture books  Or toys, for that matter, but I digress.
Find a review here.
Here, in her own words, a bit more about Sophie. 
And, in closing, more fine thoughts from Brain Pickings.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Word of the Week - 60

Artist, Troy Brooks.
Word of the Week:  RED

I left you notes on pages from old ledgers, tucked into manilla coin envelopes with your name, "Red," written with a brush-tip pen after practicing over and over, getting the lines just thin enough here, thick enough there so it mimicked Copperplate which I haven't quite had time to master.

The correspondence couldn't be called anything but mash notes, professions of love from the moonstruck, the spellbound, the captivated fan.  We couldn't date in any usual sense though I would be so proud to escort any of your manifestations anywhere.  I've worn you as a scarf, a zippered and  hooded sweater, ballet flats, a Norma Kamali shirtwaist with shoulder pads and side-seam pockets.  You've become my favorite shade of lipstick and I'd still choose you for lingerie, just another eccentricity.  My response is Pavlovian when I see you in a painting not seen before, in a newly-designed couture gown, in exotic textiles.  You make me want a pair of Converse hi-tops and the shorty coat I had in 1963, the one with big buttons and deep patch pockets.  For you I would wear nail polish.
To the best of my detective ability,  I think the art is by femme hesse.
Because of you, mostly, Valentine's Day remains a dreamy holiday.  Red roses rock, ditto cinnamon red hots.  Without you, romance would be a sad, pallid business.  Dear Red, Do you even know how hot you are? Sound of sizzling, followed by a tango.
Silk painting by Alice Vegrova.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The relevance of dinosaurs

Kaylee's Pink Dinosaur, with thanks.
Situations arise which remind me I have become a dinosaur.  I have become a quill pen, high-button shoes, a hoop skirt, a car with no computer anything that also requires high octane gas, a 50-cent grilled cheese and Coke lunch at a Woolworth's lunch counter, the lunch counter itself.  I am happy among the unhappy characters of MAD MEN because we are almost contemporaries, my age at the time falling between Sally's and Peggy's. That is a world I knew.  We were alternately baffled and dazzled by protests, a war, assassinations, then men landing on the moon.  I have become a time capsule.

I am happy, though sometimes thwarted, being analog in a digital environment.  In the ways of master craftsmen who preserve and perpetuate skills nearly lost to the machine age, I suspect that some of us are needed to play the role of relics, like directors who still shoot their projects on film.  Arm signals seem, to me, a reasonable method of alerting other drivers to pending turns.  That is not my practice yet it still feels natural, the way my foot sometimes seeks the long-absent clutch.

Products that vanish, businesses that close, remind me that change is inescapable.  Becoming accustomed to it is not the same as becoming comfortable.  I like to talk with service departments on the phone, I get to ask questions and take notes.  I get a name and an extension to call again, should I need to.  The Edison Company still operates this way.  I know from our frequent and on-going power outages.   They may be eligible to join me in the Dinosaur Hall of Fame

Life as I experience it calls to me to seek the wider view, the higher path, the softer response.  It reminds me, in a gentle way, to slow down, do one thing at a time, be in the moment.  It has taught me to value silence, either by refraining from speaking all my thoughts or by sitting still and doing what appears to be nothing.  There is no up side to being in a hurry, nor any I can find for what I refuse to refer to, except in this instance, as multi-tasking.  Even when young, I believed I heard a different drummer.  I had no idea just how different it would become.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Secretly in love

I acknowledge that I am inclined to do romantic love badly.  We mistake it for things that are close or familiar in shape or size.  Love causes visual impairment.  A horse, seen at a distance in a field, ought not to be mistaken for a cow.  So much energy, way too much time are devoted to trying to make it, what we think is love, come out the way we want it to.  Doubt, suspicion, insecurity, jealousy, lack of control over the actions of the swoon-inducing other, fault-finding, impatience, under-developed compassion, estrangement from one's true self, spoiled and bratty demands and expectations, self-involvement, fragile ego, childhood issues, and general confusion turn what we like to think of as love into the war zone of disappointment we've created.

When we mistreat love we harm ourselves and any hope of the connection we believe we desire.  It takes a true veteran, of this lifetime or something previous, to maintain the balance of trust and surrender necessary for love to be anything but a dream and one's love object to be anything but the victim of an attempted hostage situation.  Mature, patient, accepting love is not often seen and because of that is frequently misunderstood by observers.  As with the rest of life, love requires being comfortable with what is not shown or said but simply known.  Simply applies to love in so many ways, chief among them acknowledging that love simply is.
For these reasons, and probably dozens more as yet unnamed, I took the above quote to heart.  There IS romance to being secretly in love, even as a two-way street, meaning secret to others but known to those involved.  There is the primitive fear of angering old gods by speaking aloud of something at once fragile and enduring, of diluting red passion to a watery shade of peach with too much talk.  Not all who love are shown a clear path of action for such does not always exist.  In a state of no apparent next move, we decide it must not be love because we can't see where it might go.  It doesn't have to become anything.  It is already there.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 30 is Poem in Your Pocket Day

Pockets.  Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in KEY LARGO.
Pockets are among my favorite things.  Containers.  Sanctuaries for hands at a loss.  Homes for poems.  You have a week to select your most pockety ensemble, then fill those pockets with printed copies of a cherished poem, ready to hand out.  Or just one copy or a book of poetry which you can read to a captive audience in an elevator, a doctor's waiting room or standing in line at a food truck.  The point of the day is to share poetry that you love with friends and strangers.  It is pleasant being read to.  We get to bask in the attention and possibly acquire new information.  Practice reading before loosing yourself on the populace.  You want this to be smooth.  If it's an intensely moving poem, you and the listener(s) will likely begin to cry before you reach the end.  That's good.  Stay steady.
For more about the day, about National Poetry Month and about poetry, please click here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Word of the Week - 59

Word of the Week:  IMPERFECT

My maternal grandmother had an expression, "It isn't Boston but it IS Massachusetts."  I have used it hundreds of times to describe why what may seem second best is not so far from being just right.

Consider this: if perfection existed, we'd never have learned how to make-do.  Aren't you just a little bit pleased with all the problems you've solved, all the crises you've mended, by finding the second, third or fifteenth good-as-perfect way to make things come out?

Life is filled with circumstances guaranteed to make the sane turn crazy and cause the crazy to combust spontaneously.  The more relaxed, the less invested, we can be about the means and the end, the happier we are likely to remain.

The fact that we prefer a thing to be a certain way does not mean ours is the only answer.  Absolutes do not appear often in matters of, say,  arranging spices on the kitchen shelves.  Collectively, we confuse "preferred" with "right," i.e. perfect.  Nay, I say.

In much younger and massively less enlightened days, I thought to myself of my then-husband, "If you loved me, you'd take out the trash NOW."  Good luck with that, we see how IT turned out.

It is not just about making peace with what is, though that is part of the equation.  This existence is not the GOOD WILL HUNTING math problem with one, only one, solution.  (I use a movie reference for my own math experience stopped long before reaching such a plateau.)  There are so many ways of being right, or at least of being adequate, workable, acceptable and okay.

Imperfect is an opportunity to find another answer.  As we celebrate so many things we love in April, poetry, letter writing, libraries, why not add imperfection to the list.  It isn't going to go away.  It truly is the thing that wouldn't leave.  Let's try to pretend that we love it until we really can.
P.S. Mr. Schulz.  They will try, they will not succeed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Word of the Week - 58

Art by Lynda Barry.
Word of the Week:  MULL

"How is a thought like an iceberg?"  Ponder, contemplate, consider, weigh, think.  Good thing I'm not a zealot for quantifying.  I don't want to know how much of any day I spend asking myself rhetorical questions, posing conundrums, seeking answers where perhaps none exist.  It is not time wasted, however.  If we don't wonder about things, we are marooned.  Mulling gives us bearings or at least tells us where we are not.

"My apologies to great questions for small answers."  From her poem "Under One Small Star" by Wislawa Szymborska.
Painting by Quint Buchholz.
The moon often appears, or plays a leading role, in the art of Quint Buchholz.  The moon is an attractive object for mullers.  Mystery is attractive to mullers, or more accurately, is essential.  If we knew the secrets we would have no need to ask the questions.

To mull is not to deconstruct (shudder).  If I arrive at any truths, ever, it is by widening the screen, not narrowing my focus.  It seems to be a process of allowing rather than intention, clearing space on a shelf then leaving the room to see what comes to settle in the empty spot.  Mulling, contemplation generally, is similar to my approach to writing fiction.  I stand at the curb waiting for a car to pull up, then watch to see who gets out.

Rilke told us to love and to live the questions.  Do not forget that being comfortable with not knowing isn't the same as not asking.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Robert recalls bits of the dance, not quite sure of his reality

Thank you, Sizzler, for cheesy toast triangles.

Robert couldn't remember the author who had said of growing older that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.  The name would come to him before lunch.  "Or so help me," he muttered.

Another morning of golden cheesy-toast benevolence beaming down.  Limbs that sang, "Younger Than Springtime," with an off-stage whisper of, "Older than dust."  Pent-up anticipation could make joints twinge, nerves jump, muscles ache.  So could dancing until the sun was due, eating seven kinds of dessert after midnight and what felt like four hours of dreams for which one could not swear to being either asleep or awake.   The thought that he had conquered lucid dreaming gave him a sense of accomplishment.  Perhaps conquered was too strong a word,   At best he had stepped from one reality into another and back again.  Not quite enough to add to his CV but not nothing.  He began to noodle with suppositions about a job that held lucid dreaming high on its requirements list.

But I digress, he told himself.  The dance.  Yes, the dance.  And Gloria.  Would she fall back into his arms when he reached the kitchen,  missing his closeness as much as he missed hers?  Would they waltz through the tearoom, delighting themselves, possibly amusing others, or would they experience that initial distance that says, "You imagined the whole thing," until each remembered they had not, in fact, imagined any of the good parts and they were all good parts.

He didn't need to decide it right that moment but Robert was considering never again washing the shirt he'd worn, never wanting to lose the scent of her, of sugar and strawberries and a summer night.  It had its own fragrance, that he knew, and feared he could never catch it again if he washed it away.  Then he reminded himself that fairy magic, while seeming fragile and fleeting, was really the kudzu vine that wove lives together.  Meanwhile, the shirt in question could make friends with other denizens of the laundry basket.  Or perhaps he would just fold it and slide it under his pillow.  I am twelve years old, he thought. Lucky me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Word of the Week - 57



The temporary acceptance as believable of events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. This is usually to allow an audience to appreciate works of literature or drama that are exploring unusual ideas.


samuel taylor coleridgeThis term was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 with the publication of his Biographia literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions:
"In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."
The state is arguably an essential element when experiencing any drama or work of fiction. We may know very well that we are watching an actor or looking at marks on paper, but we wilfully accept them as real in order to fully experience what the artist is attempting to convey.
Poetic faith.  A good story is a good story.  Over the weekend we watched INTERSTELLAR (directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan) which I've since learned opened to very mixed reviews.  I loved it, was so deeply in its thrall that my frequently twitching legs were still for nearly three hours.  My mind never wandered, my eyes never left the screen.  When the last credit had rolled by, my son said he wished he'd seen it in IMAX format, though our home tv did not disappoint in any way.

I have no intention of deconstructing the movie to, if it were possible, discover why my poetic faith was so intense.  That fact that the science involved was so far beyond my ability to comprehend, I could not possibly scoff at any theories put forth.  Mostly, it was the humanity of the characters that held my attention and belief.  They expressed a version of humanity sometimes missing in science fiction, which is no deterrent to my enjoyment of the genre.  It made identifying with them in their extreme circumstances so much easier.

Staying away from chat rooms in which rancor seems to be the over-riding tone is near the top of my list for how to remain relatively sane.  My son, younger and more resilient, will visit them, read so much utter drivel that he begins to rant and thus has information about what bizarre opinions are expressed on any and every topic.  I have very old-fashioned views about what ought to be allowed into the collective dialogue and what should not.  I feel strongly that we get to enjoy, even to love, what pleases us, without explanation or challenge.  That my feelings are not universally shared is fine, it's expected.  All I ask is to be left in peace with my choices.  Whether from cranks or experts, I prefer not to hear about all that is wrong with a story that has touched me.  We choose to suspend disbelief in our own ways.  Without spoiling the plot of INTERSTELLAR, I will just say that to the best of my knowledge no human has experienced a black hole.  We can only theorize, as in guess, how they behave.

Some reviewers called the movie cold.  It felt anything but cold to me.  For science fiction, it seemed quite warm-blooded.  The real issue, though, is that a writer gets to tell his or her story.  We either buy into it or we don't.  I have a number of sci-fi movie favorites, including BLADE RUNNER, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, ALIENS, STAR WARS (or is that even considered science fiction?) and many others in print form.  I grew up on Ray Bradbury.

What I enjoy is being transported, taken from ordinary reality and everyday concerns to a place where the circumstances are far removed yet not unfamiliar.  There are multiple sites where you can read either reviews of INTERSTELLAR or a synopsis of its plot.  If you decide to watch, you will likely know before too many minutes have passed whether or not you can accept the premise, the characters and their plight as real or not.  Fiction, film or print, gives us vicarious lives to live for short spans, though the memories of those adventures can remain with us for decades.  The measure of a great story is our ability to inhabit it fully, whether in this world or another.