Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tenderizer

There's been a hammer on my kitchen table for two days now, along with two boxes of tiny nails and four spools of cotton thread for crochet projects, silver, gold, purple, and teal. And this morning I bought a metal meat tenderizer, because yesterday I realized once again that I didn't have one, and some meat needs pounding.

At some point it occurred to me that all this was coming together for Thor's Day (Thor = hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder) in the blog, and I was taken aback.  There are articles and blog musings out there about how blogging is changing people's consciousness, as is the whole technological revolution--cellphones, iPods, iPads, texting, cloud thinking, etc., etc.

Wait! Am I My Blog?!

I'm pretty sure I am not my blog: I have a life outside it, I don't do things just to blog about them, and, as I like to tell people who ask what I'm doing or how I am these days, I have a rich inner life.

But blogging sure is fun, and I've "met" a bunch of really nice, interesting people doing it. And learned a lot of new things. So, thank you all, readers and fellow bloggers!

OK, the hammer, nails, and spools of crochet thread are related to math projects by my daughter and her boyfriend, accomplished separately but together in this house, after a trip to Hobby Lobby. Beautiful string designs on blocks of wood.

The meat tenderizer is for pork tenderloin sandwiches, eventually, yes more from the "noble pig," or, as Homer Simpson calls it, that "magical animal" that is the source of everything he likes to eat. I love the noble pig's contribution to survival on the prairie and to medical science (insulin). Thank you, noble pig.

I respect anyone's dietary restrictions against pork. (Don't read the bacon and chocolate/drunken goat cheese blog entry.) And against meat or red meat. I am gradually getting rid of red meat in my diet, and note that pork is advertised as "the other white meat." Tonight's dinner is entirely roast vegetables! Including fresh asparagus!

And I've been thinking about how the pounding life gives us can indeed tenderize us.

Tenderly yours,

Not Just My Blog

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Drunken Goat Cheese

It all started with drunken goat cheese, my fascination with stuff that tastes good with wine, or might actually be soaked in wine, as is the case with drunken goat cheese.

I discovered drunken goat cheese at a local wine bar, back when I had a full-time teaching job, so 1) I really needed a wine bar and 2) I could afford to go. I did imagine a drunken goat, but I have enough brain cells left also to imagine the actual soaking process, which you can read about here, where drunken goat cheese is referred to as "booze's best bud."

Alas, the wine bar has closed, but last night, after the poetry reading, I discovered hot goat cheese balls at Reality Bites, a local tapas bar. Goat cheese balls are lightly rolled in breadcrumbs and served warm on a plate with honey and cayenne pepper.  Wonderful with 14 Hands merlot.

Kim and I had gone carousing (on a Tuesday night, after a poetry reading at the local history museum, to give you a context for our kind of carousing), so we were recalling spiced nuts and other wine-associated pleasures, and that's why it is both Fat Tuesday and the Hump of the Week in the blog today.

The reading went very well!  A big bunch of people came despite the morning's snow, including an old friend who now makes cheese!! The Ropp family also has field trips to help the kids of today know where milk and cheese really come from, and we know it's true that some kids are growing up somewhat detached from that knowledge.

Many nice comments after the reading, plus the exciting news that Bill's daughter-in-law has a blog called Bacon and Chocolate.  In my desperate search for it this morning, I found instead  Noble Pig, a site that is "...a little about food...a little about wine...and a lot about nothing," so, of course, I highly recommend it. And there you can find a recipe for bacon chocolate chip cookies.

And there's also Chocolate University Online, where you can read about Scotch with chocolate covered bacon and other bacon & chocolate delights.

Wikipedia covers chocolate and bacon, as well, including chocolate-covered bacon on a stick, for all of you meat-on-a-stick lovers out there.  (Or There's Something About Mary lovers.)


I'm sure I'll talk about books again soon, but for now I'm waxing poetic about stuff you ought not to be eating, Lent or not.

Update! Bacon and Chocolate found! And followed! She hasn't updated lately, but she's been busy. And you will enjoy the other food pix & recipes!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Brave Old World

I finished Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, last night, and will re-read it again before the shared inquiry discussion of it in late April at Great Books Chicago. 

I love shared inquiry, which works by way of interpretive questions and answers supported by evidence from the text.  We are all together in the adventure of discovery; we are equals, responsible and accountable for what we think and say, we talk only about the text, and we learn a lot from each other. 

We are not being lectured to by an expert—neither a real expert (although I love listening to real experts at other kinds of events) nor a fake expert, male or female, who mansplains.

A Great Books shared inquiry discussion is like going to a really good book group where everybody has actually read the book and will talk about it. Not about their work day, or how they got bogged in the middle of the book and went golfing and realized that Huxley was the same guy who took LSD in the 1960s, or how Oprah got poets to model the new spring fashions.

I just realized it must be Cranky Doodle Day in the blog.

And I just realized "cranky doodles" are a real thing, and people draw them and blog about them.  See A Bird on the Head for more wonderful cranky doodles, like "Extremely Depressed Poop."

Anyhoo, I did read the contextual material at the back of this particular paperback edition of Brave New World:

—a  biographical essay, “Aldous Huxley: A Life of the Mind”
—a summary of the critical reaction to the book, “Too Far Ahead of Its Time?: The Contemporary Response to Brave New World (1932)” (literary critics saw its shortcomings as a novel, and it has some, but it surely became a popular classic as social criticism, science fiction, and political philosophy)
—A letter from Huxley to George Orwell, upon receiving 1984 from Orwell’s publisher in 1949
—a list of Huxley’s publications, reminding me to get Point Counter Point and Eyeless in Gaza from the library someday, and to re-read Island, which is on one of my bookshelves

OK, Huxley did sound like a bit of a mansplainer in his letter to Orwell, telling him that the future will probably be more like his own description in Brave New World, based on the advances in hypnosis, and that “the ultimate revolution” with which 1984 concerns itself really has its roots in the actions and philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, etc.


According to Wikipedia, Orwell suggested that Huxley must have been influenced in his dystopian vision by the novel We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, but Huxley denied this. Orwell says 1984 was modeled on We, and Huxley says he wrote Brave New World in response to H.G. Wells. More re-reading and library visits to come, although I am afraid of the cover of We.

I am happy to hear from all experts, science fiction readers, and, yes, mansplainers on the connections between these novels! As long as you’ve actually read them.

In weather news, it’s snowing.  The brave old season, winter, has resumed, just in ironic time for The Architecture of Spring: A Poetry Reading in response to A Passion for Detail: The Architectural Legacy of A. L. Pillsbury, tonight at 7:30 at the McLean County Museum of History.

Thanks to Julie Kistler for covering it in her blog, A Follow Spot, where she gives biographical information about Pillsbury, the golfing architect.

Until spring returns, I'm still with Ella, a Little Girl Blue.  

Monday, March 28, 2011

Little Girl Blue

Well, it's back to school and back to work for some of us who just finished up Spring Break around here, making it a Blue Monday for some. And, alas, back to snow shoveling for others, making it a shivery blue.

So my imaginary playlist for today is all Ella Fitzgerald, from The Rodgers and Hart Songbook, Volume 1:

"Spring is Here"
"Little Girl Blue"
"The Blue Room"

But I'm having some fun writing people's names on little slips of blue paper, folding them up, and dropping them in a recyclable green plastic cherry tomato basket in the Big Poetry Giveaway!  If you want to play, comment on that post or any post in April, and I'll put you in the basket, too!

Yesterday, on Poetry Someday, my workshop rehearsed for The Architecture of Spring, a poetry reading coming up this Tuesday night, March 29, 7:30-8:30 p.m., at the McLean County Museum of History, 200 N. Main, Bloomington, Illinois.  It's free!

We've written poems in response to architecture and, in particular, to the current exhibit, A Passion for Detail: The Architectural Legacy of A. L. Pillsbury.  A contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, Pillsbury designed many homes, schools, and public buildings all over Illinois.

Off now to sing along with Ella!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Big Poetry Giveaway

I’m participating in the Big Poetry Giveway 2011 initiated by Kelli Russell Agodon at her blog, Book of Kells.  This is to usher in and help celebrate National Poetry Month this April!

If you are a poet who wants to participate, click here for Kelli’s instructions.  If you are a poetry reader, see Kelli’s post here, to sign up for the books she is giving away, and look to the left at her blog to see what other poets are participating.  Comment here on my post (or any post in April) if you want to enter a drawing for the books I am giving away.

Poets will be giving away two books and will pay the postage to mail them anywhere in the world.  We give away one of our own books and also a book (new or gently used) by a favorite poet. 

So here is what I’m giving away:

My poetry chapbook Broken Sonnets (Finishing Line Press, 2009), a set of poems that “break” the sonnet form in various ways because the subject matter of the poem is about some kind of breakage or fragmentation.  There are poems of grief (“Damage,” “Roof Leak, Mima Calls”), of joy (“A Perfect World,” “Here in Paradise”), and of daily, human life.

In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare, edited by David Starkey and Paul J. Willis (University of Iowa Press, 2005), first edition, first printing, new, shrink-wrapped!  Shakespeare is one of my favorite poets of all time, and In a Fine Frenzy includes poems by Marvin Bell, J. P. Dancing Bear, Kathleen Lynch, Charles Harper Webb, Eva Hooker, Cecilia Woloch, Ken Pobo, Sherod Santos, and many more (including me, which is why I have this extra copy!)

Bonus gift:

October, by Louise Gluck, Quarternote Chapbook Series #3 (Sarabande Books, 2004), first edition, saddle stapled.  Gluck is one of my favorites—especially her book The Wild Iris—and I have two copies of October because a poet friend gave me one for my birthday and I had at some point gotten myself a copy.  So I am keeping the gift and giving away this very gently used copy, along with the other 2 books.

So, if you want to enter the drawing, leave a comment here with your name, and I will write it on a slip of paper and put it in a basket to draw out randomly in early May.  (Look for the winner announcement here in my blog on May 1, 2, or 3.) Once I announce the winner, he or she should then leave me a comment with mailing address (which I will record but not publish to the world), and I will send the books out that week!

You can also comment on any post here during the month of April, leaving your name and saying you want to participate in the Poetry Giveaway, and I will put your name in the basket!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Brave New World

I'm now re-reading Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, in this Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition with back cover blurb reminders that it is terribly pertinent still today. Ack, it is!

It is a dystopian novel that first came out in 1932, but it does anticipate a world built on self-centered and money-based values we have now in a future he imagined, satirically, then.

Workers and citizens tend not to have a say, as they are genetically engineered and socially predestined.

I'm only on page 27 of this re-reading, having first read it in my teens--and will re-read again, as this, like Genesis and Willa Cather, is for shared-inquiry discussions with Great Books Chicago in April--but already I see shocking connections to now.

"A love of nature keeps no factories busy," says the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning, explaining why babies are being taught to hate and fear roses.  "It was decided to abolish the love of nature, but not the tendency to consume transport."  Nature is free.  Cars, gas, and other consumer goods keep the economy going.  Oh, yes, and time is figured as A.F. in the brave new world: After Ford. (It's all coming back to me now.)

The society and the economy also run on: "Standard men and women; in uniform batches." Alphas, Betas, Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, a biological class system, specifically: "The principle of mass production at last applied to biology." People no longer live in small families with a "mother" and a "father" (now "smut" words) but are raised in appropriate groups according to society's needs.

So it's icky and funny and makes you think and re-think. There are technologies Huxley couldn't predict--card files for record-keeping instead of computers--but it's a good way to think about drastic changes during his time, after one world war and just before another, and ours.

Horribly, discussing the need to replenish the population to produce more workers after "unforeseen wastages," Mr. Foster of the hatchery says, "If you knew the amount of overtime I had to put in after the last Japanese earthquake!"

Moments like that in this book make me cringe. In addition, I now read it in the light of Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which both my mother and father (not smut words; instead, terms of respect and love!) have now read. And the Matrix movies.

The Wikipedia article on Brave New World shows us the blue first edition cover and traces Huxley's inspirations and (disputed) influences, including that he "found a book by Henry Ford on the boat to America." I love details like that, showing how what's at hand comes together in a piece of writing.

And how the title comes from Shakespeare--Miranda exclaiming on the beauty of humans in The Tempest--and a Kipling poem that contains these lines:  And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins / When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins...

My husband came to bed last night, finding me immersed in Brave New World, with updates on the nuclear power plant in Japan. Alas, as great writers keep suggesting, the man who doesn't pay for his sins commits future generations to that awful debt.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Right Hand Pointing


It is an online literary magazine with the funniest writers’ guidelines ever, arranged as a slide show. Sometimes I watch it just for fun.

But a couple of times watching the slide show guidelines has actually resulted in me sending some poems, hoping to land a raw carrot in the brain of the poetry editor!

(Makes actual sense if you watch the slide show.)

Anyhoo, this last time it worked, and, despite my own harsh math challenge, I have 2 poems in issue #40: Harsh Mathematics, along with a bunch of other cool* poets, including a longtime favorite, Mather Schneider.

*them, not me; I’m so not cool it sometimes burns a little.

I think I once revealed to Mather my secret fantasy that I would get to ride in his taxi. I actually went to Tucson once, and waited, full of hope, at the airport, but it was not to be….

I first found Right Hand Pointing when I read of it in the bio of poet Ron Hardy, so then I checked out the archives.  Shortly thereafter, Nancy Devine appeared in it!
  
There are various related publications—Left Hand Waving, chapbooks, including a birthday chapbook for Dale, the poetry editor (whose brain was not damaged by the carrot).

And in #40 you’ll find the actual phrase “harsh mathematics” in a poem called “Four Noble Lies” by Bill Yarrow.

To read, you can click to the issue page, then click the little right hand pointing to see the next page, or click on any poet’s name.  Even the Contributors’ notes are fun.

And we really did come upon a house in the road taking the scenic route one day….

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Genesis on a Thursday

I am re-reading Genesis in preparation for leading a discussion for Great Books Chicago: In the Beginning…in Chicago in April. 

I am always surprised by how quickly things happen in Genesis, by how many stories are jammed in there, and by how little specificity there is, except about who begat whom and how many years they all lived.

Much of what I “remember” about those old stories comes from other people’s assumptions and interpretations. It’s good to go back to the text and see what’s there, and what isn't.

Of course, Genesis coincides with Thor’s Day in the blog—thunder, justice, and vengeance galore. 

What I’d forgotten was all the Vagenda. No, really.
  
Chapter 16: Verses 1-2: 

Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.

Well, he does, of course, and there is a child, a son, Ishmael.  But Sarai regrets her vagenda: My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes.

Uh oh.  Sounds like Hagar has her own vagenda.  Later (21:9), there is more “mocking” perceived by Sarah (renamed by God by now), and Hagar is sent into the wilderness. 

Sarah’s vagenda is to protect her son Isaac as Abraham’s heir.

[Painting by Adriaen van der Werff, Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham (public domain)]

On and on it goes. There is water in the wilderness for Hagar, provided by an angel. Much good, and a terrible test, come to Abraham. And there will be two nations descending from these sons Isaac and Ishmael.  Turns out no woman’s vagenda really mattered back then.

But I am also reading, for the same event, Willa Cather, “Tom Outland’s Story,” about discovering the ruins of a beautiful Indian cliff-dwelling civilization.

Thunder here, too, on the mesa, and questions of justice and injustice.

There is even a hammer, or the lack of one.  Tom Outland goes to Washington to try to interest government officials and members of the Smithsonian in preserving and studying the beautiful Cliff City. He encounters bureaucracy—its delays, incompetence, and self-interest.

Then he is advised to take the Director to lunch—yes, on a Thursday!—but he hardly gets a word in edgewise. “I was amazed and ashamed that a man of fifty, a man of the world, a scholar with ever so many degrees, should find it worth his while to show off before a boy, and a boy of such humble pretensions, who didn’t know how to eat the hor d’oevres any more than if an assortment of cocoanuts had been set before him with no hammer.”

Poor Tom has more to be “amazed and ashamed” of soon enough—and I find it important that he takes on what should be the Director’s own shame—but he also has a summer of happiness, living in the Cliff City.

“Happiness is something one can’t explain. You must take my word for it. Troubles enough came afterward, but there was that summer, high and blue, a life in itself.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Vagenda

My son is home for Spring Break and I watched an episode of Fringe with him, something we’d watched together when the series first started. It’s a fun science fiction television series with convoluted plots, special effects, decent acting, and humor.

Fringe includes an alternate universe. My son had to fill me in a bit on the developments there.  Walter is Walternate in the alternate universe, from the perspective of the original universe (but which is which, and who would know?), and Olivia is Fauxlivia (as Fox News is Faux News).

Anyhoo, on a past recent episode, Walter, the character we love, a mad scientist of sorts, fragile, goofy, and brilliant, said the word “vagenda” in passing, referring to Fauxlivia’s agenda.

After the show, all these comments appeared, along the lines of “Did Walter really say that?” Walter really did. 

I love this word. Vagenda. I hope it makes it into the coined word hall of fame and into all the new dictionaries.

Vagenda. I think it could spur controversy and conversation.

Oh.  Already has, already there: Urban Dictionary. Well, some of those definitions are mean, as they so often are in the Urban Dictionary, which is part of the point, I suppose, but some are funny and get at it. (See also mansplain.) 

So much for this hump of the week.

****

Nope, I'm back.  With this:


Ghazal with a Vagenda

A manipulated man believes, at most, vagenda,
to explain his helplessness, though post-vagenda.

It’s a circular way of thinking, back to the womb.
If only he’d append a trust agenda.

The first cup of coffee, after all that eHarmony,
tastes a little bitter, with an edge of boast agenda.

But she’ll give it try—she’s lonely—full-bodied denial,
and decide it might work, that, yes, it’s just Splenda.

It’s no use arguing with a man who mansplains.
All she can manage in the morning is a toast agenda.

He opens his laptop and closes his account.
Her middle name, Virginia, is almost vagenda.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy Twosday

Happy Birthday to poet Billy Collins and lyricist Stephen Sondheim!  I love The Writer's Almanac, for its daily poems and birthday news. Today's poem is "Forgetfulness," by Billy Collins, and you can read it there, hear it, or both, and it does trace the loss of memory and also, coincidentally, nods to the Supermoon.

At Writer's Almanac, you can read brief stories of the development and careers of these two witty writers. Though Collins hung out with the Beat poets, he is identified now with charming domestic and "suburban" poems and often bashed by contemporary poets who are bored by his "accessibility," a bad word among some poets.

As for me, I enjoy accessible poems as well as less accessible poems, that need more unpacking, as they say, as long as there is something gripping there, something more than a virtuoso display of language or self.  As Collins says, "I don't think people read poetry because they're interested in the poet. I think they read poetry because they're interested in themselves." So Collins, writing honestly as himself, addresses a real reader and thus escapes the trap of self.


Mostly pleasant and unaffected in his poems, Collins allows himself some edge and annoyance in Ballistics, as if some of the criticism and negative opinion has gotten to him.  And wouldn't you know, this is a book people tend to like less? But I like that he can be as spiteful and petty, in spurts, as the rest of us. And he has a good answer to the charge of accessibility, too:


"I think clarity is the real risk in poetry because you are exposed. You're out in the open field. You're actually saying things that are comprehensible, and it's easy to criticize something you can understand."

And, of course, hard to criticize something you can't understand. So it tends not to get criticized. That, or meaning itself is given up by critics and poets alike, something else elevated in its stead.

Sondheim not only means, he rhymes! And does so with great sophistication and cleverness in songs that revolutionized musical comedy, using while twisting the prevailing conventions.

I wish I could say the two-pound weights were pertinent. They are not to suggest either writer is a lightweight. Nor to suggest that I am using 2-pound weights in my exercise class. I have shifted to 3-pound weights. Do you think that will make me a more muscular writer?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Shoes

It should be Blue Monday in the blog, but who could be blue at the beginning of Spring Break?! My kids' spring breaks coincide this year, and my son is coming home from college on the train today. In full Random Coinciday fashion, he ran into my daughter on Michigan Avenue yesterday in Chicago, where she is beginning her spring break by doing fun things with her boyfriend's family. Today I expect my daughter to run into my friend Kim and her daughter who are up there doing fun things, too!  I am dog sitting a dog named Wolf.

But I'm here to tell you about shoes. These are the shoes on I put on (Facebook) for St. Patrick's Day and the coming of spring.

On Friday, the local college students, just returned from their Spring Break, walked a day without shoes to raise money and collect donations for people in Japan.

The third annual One Day Without Shoes is coming up April 8, as you can read here, an event that raises awareness for barefoot children in developing nations, sponsored by TOMS Shoes.  You can also find a walk, to fund raise for particular causes, here, at Take the Walk, if you are someone with money for nice shoes who also wants to do a good deed.

And you may be particularly interested in Take a Walk in Her Shoes, an event in which men stand up for women and against sexual violence by taking a walk in high heels.

We've been discussing the book To Kill a Mockingbird in our house, with the poignant advice from Atticus to his daughter Scout, about not really knowing someone until you take a walk in his shoes, as my daughter wanted to finish up a paper on it before Spring Break!

And what started me on today's shoe focus was this wonderful poem, "Converse," by Hannah Stephenson at The Storialist, where she posts poems inspired by images.  Read the poem, and then click the title/image under the poem's title to see what inspired her.  I tracked down the OSU Urban Arts Space performance piece in order to "Like" it at Facebook, where you can see additional marvelous images. And here is the OSU Urban Arts Space's page for the piece, Domestic Matters: A Performing Installation!

May you walk barefoot in joy and empathy, or shod with the shoes of your choice (or your charity), and may your path be the one that takes you where you need to go.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Beauty and Terror

It’s Poetry Someday, and my little poetry workshop meets at my kitchen table this afternoon, and later I’ll take dinner to a friend who broke her shoulder and knee going for a walk on the first really beautiful spring day we had this past week.

Here is a link to read/hear “Go to the Limits of Your Longing” by Maria Rainier Rilke, from The Book of Hours, translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, read by Joanna Macy as part of an interview with Krista Tippett for Being, a public radio program. The interview program, here, is called “A Wild Love for the World,” and Macy is an ecologist, philosopher, and Buddhist, as well as a translator of poetry.

The Rilke poem contains this inner stanza:

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

It reminds me of a beautiful song, “I Must Be Saved,” by Madeline Peyroux on her Bare Bones album.  Lose anything and everything, says the speaker, but not me.  Somehow a great love song and a great spirit speaking, at once.

Let everything happen to you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Of Cabbages and Queens

This is another gorgeous painting by Jonathan Koch, called Cabbage, Potatoes, Shallot, Carrot, Parsley. 

And here is the current issue of blossombones, edited by Susan Slaviero.

The random connection: I have 3 poems in this issue, and there’s a cabbage in one of them. All three poems respond to paintings, and the cabbage is in La Fruitiere by Childe Hassam.

Slaviero is the author of Cyborgia, where she explores the red queen hypothesis in poetry!

Tonight is the “Supermoon,” but, as this PBS.org article warns us, don’t call it that. And don’t expect it to cause natural disasters. By chance, I recently looked again at Moonstruck, which has certainly got a supermoon in it. And you might also recall the comic supermoon from Bruce Almighty.  Cher is really good in Moonstruck. The moon is the queen of the sky.

I hope the skies are clear tonight where you are, and where I am, so we can all see the really big full moon very close to earth.

Two-Day Old Irish blessing:

May the moon rise up to meet you smack in the face, and may you enjoy your leftover corned beef and cabbage. (Hey, it’s Slattern Day in the blog. Did you expect me to cook up something new?)

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Am Not an Ostrich

Today is John Updike's birthday, and you'll want to read the story about his childhood (and lifelong but subdued) stammer in today's Writer's Almanac. He was not an ostrich.

I understand the urge to write because of a speech deficiency, having had "inaudible" written on my report card in 4th grade. I did find my voice, but sometimes I wonder if all the years of my acting career should have been spent writing.

And the "should have" shuts me right up.

Today is Random Coinciday in the blog. Yesterday, on Thor's Day, I wrote about the silver hammer of fate, so you can bet I got a little shiver when the word "hammer" was part of the dialogue of the movie I saw last night, as was "fate" and "freewill."

As I watched, I kept feeling it was charmingly old-fashioned for such a new-fangled film. I went knowing nothing about it except that Emily Blunt was in it and I'd seen part of a trailer for it with guys in business suits trying to get a politician to "follow the plan."

Then the credits: it's based on a story by Philip K. Dick!

Dick is the guy that guys keep telling me to read! I have a box of Dick books from Doug! Including Blade Runner,with a movie tie-in cover and that title, with the real title, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, underneath, since The Bladerunner as a piece of writing is something else altogether: a novel by Alan E. Nourse + a screenplay adapted from it by William S. Burroughs. (How's that for random?)

The Adjustment Bureau official website.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Maxwell's Silver Hammer

It's Thor's Day in the blog, and today Thor is wielding Maxwell's silver hammer, that pretty little tool Paul McCartney evidently used to symbolize "when something goes wrong out of the blue."

Earthquakes themselves may come out of the blue, out of the deep blue ocean and out of the earth's multicolored crust, in the natural course of events.

But nuclear disasters have a manmade component. We always have another choice. I won't get into arguments here about energy sources, but, as the human community, we always have choices on how to generate and use energy. We can choose to close down nuclear power plants, as Germany did. We can choose better safety regulations and oversight agencies for existing plants, as the United States recently didn't. We can choose to build no more. We can choose to use less energy, and/or to make more efficient use of energy.

We can choose to put human energy into innovations that do not harm the land and its creatures, including us humans. So often, "we" don't make that choice, and "we" know perfectly well why.

I won't speak for anyone else, but I will vote and act according to my choices on this. And I hope we will come together at least as far as 1) helping Japan 2) changing our practices enough to avoid similar disasters in the future. You can choose your own charity or private/public action.

My dad was laying out his ethical system (again) when I visited him Monday, and it is based on choice. (I grew up on this.) Any government or individual or boss that takes all choice away from its citizens, fellow individuals, or employees is using its power unethically in my interpretation of my dad's system. Working out the details and complexities is important, of course, but you can easily see that the boss taking away the employees' collective bargaining option is unethical in this system, and you can see from protests in the U.S. that many workers agree.

I stopped watching 24 for many reasons, but mostly because Kiefer Sutherland kept saying, "I had no choice" to justify doing whatever he wanted to do. (He had a choice, and he made it. Why say he didn't?) I kept watching the original Star Trek for many reasons, but partly because Captain Kirk kept insisting there was another choice, even in a really tough spot.

And, hey, just because stuff went wrong out of the blue for Maxwell doesn't mean he should bang other people on the head with his silver hammer.

You can hear or read this fabulous poem, "The Beatles," by Dorianne Laux, at The Writer's Almanac.

If you want to see Steve Martin as Maxwell Edison, crazed plastic surgeon from the film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, starring the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton, there are many clips to choose from at Youtube.

And I don't think it's right to be a serial killer, but I am fascinated by Dexter, who is trying to work out his own, er, ethical system. Maybe someday he will put away his silver tools for good.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Cloud At Last

Yesterday was rainy and cold.  I woke up, very early as usual, before the alarm, and in the dark, thanks to the time change earlier this week, and I just didn't want to go out. "Hmm," I thought, dialogically* in bed in my head, "I seem to have caught some of my dad's malaise."

*dialogically: coined word meaning 1) talking to oneself in one's head 2) talking illogically to oneself in one's head or out loud and/or 3) diabolically, or 4) dialing oneself up on the phone in one's head when one can't remember any other number, especially if one still has a black rotary phone bedside

The day before yesterday I had visited my dad to take to take him Solace as he was suffering from 1) a sinus condition and 2) a general malaise, partly induced by images and news of Japan and partly from finishing Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro.

My dad, a very strong and smart man, is also a sensitive and fragile man. After 9/11 he was troubled by nightmares of people jumping from burning buildings. Sometimes he was one of them. So he's taking Japan to heart, too, as so many of us are.

But I did go out yesterday, early and on time, and it turned out to be my last day on my new, perfect job, which is as it should be, as this was by nature temporary and part-time, and maybe my favorite job** ever (!), so my morning sadness seemed a bit premonitory in retrospect, as premonitions...are.

**as International Woman of Mystery

It may not surprise you that I am reading Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, which is 1) nonlinear 2) interrupted 3) soon to be a major motion picture.

So now I need a new job and have started/continued to think about college teaching again, which has so many joys to it, and summers off, but tends to drain me of lots of the energy I need for writing. Shared dilemma of so many writer/teachers.

In my stumbling around to get through this hump of the week, I also found another Cloud Atlas, with a World War II setting, by Liam Callanan. Everything's coming up Japanese weather balloons.

Finally, today, there were good things! Blue sky, faint clouds. And I posted the new poetry feature, by Risa Denenberg, at Escape Into Life. I find her spare lyricism bracing and healing, wounded and fragile, all at the same time.

And the images, stark but beautiful, are overhead views quite different from the overhead views we have been seeing of Japan.

I can't explain how this all fits together, but you see it does. And I do sort of understand why I kept mistyping and got Cloud Atlast.  But really I'm glad to see the sun at last!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Real Solace

Too much, too much.

How to console, this will be an ongoing question.

 How to change, what to do to help.

At the moment, I am grateful to Ellen Wade Beals, and glad that her anthology, Solace in So Many Words, begun when she wanted to give solace after 9/11, is coming out now.

Here are a few excerpts:

From "Bleeding Heart," by Constance Vogel Adamkeiwicz, the first poem in the book:

Amid the rubble
of demolition,
where nothing else has survived,
a bleeding heart grows,
red blood dripping
from delicate arcs.

In my own flower bed, the tiny first spikes of bleeding heart are coming up amid the tulip spears.

From "And What If I Spoke of Despair" by Ellen Bass:

And what if I spoke of despair--who doesn't
feel it? Who doesn't know the way it seizes,
leaving us limp, deafened by the slosh
of our own blood, rushing
through the narrow, personal
channels of grief. It's beauty
that brings it on, calls it out from the wings
for one more song.

One more song, one more song of beauty, let us keep singing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Real Help

Imaginary Playlist:

"Blue"--Joni Mitchell

"Blue Lips"--Regina Spektor

"You May Be Right"--Billy Joel

This weekend, like many of you, I spent time reflecting on Japan, reading news accounts, viewing photos and videos, hearing radio interviews, and reading some personal, eyewitness accounts. I alternated this with daily, familial joys and the usual duties and chores, feeling intensely my human responsibility to live on and live joyfully, somehow a way to honor those lost in the midst of their own joyful lives.

Plus church, which provided more reflective time, on the topic of mercy.  "Blessed are the merciful..."

You know how you often find mean, annoying anonymous comments after online news stories? Here and there, of course, someone angrily says something along the lines of "No prayers, please! Real help is needed." (Or money. Always a good stand-in for real help. To erase the hint of sarcasm there, money does pay for real help and supplies.)

I have to confess, I don't pray. Not in one traditional sense, of asking a personal God for help. I do ask for help--from actual people, and in a huge open-ended plaintive way. So, if God is a person, ze* can hear. But God is not a person for me; it is the name we give to What Is. This idea of what God is honors all religions (and atheism and agnosticism) and does not put them in conflict, but only in my little mind. Clearly, in the world, they are still in conflict. (But I may be right. Or I may be crazy.)

I must also confess that I send good vibrations out into the universe whenever anyone asks. Recently, I sent healing energies to my sister and her family in Ohio. I paused in the middle of the day, upon reading emails from my sister-in-law in Santa Cruz, to send vibrating sighs of relief and hope to the people connected to her company in Japan, rippling out to everyone. This may not be "real help," but I continue to do it.

I hope to find ways of really helping the world in this situation and others. I think there are dark shared times yet to come, related to the pollution and fallout from this particular disaster and to our continued habits on the earth. But right now Japan needs real help, urgent and particular, and I see our world coming together to give it, in whatever ways we can.

*gender-neutral pronoun

Birds again, from Pamela Callahan.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Daylight Volley Time

I remembered to spring forward on the upstairs clock, and I saw a lot of springing forward at the 7th grade state volleyball tournament yesterday, so I am giving you the heads up: there may be sports analogies. My brother-in-law, a dancer & choreographer, finds sports analogies annoying when applied to art, and I have met people who hate them in a classroom. Fortunately, ignorant as I am about most sports, I don't use many. But I was pondering networking in terms of school volleyball, and it helped me illustrate a point in my own nitpicky little head. Alas, that humorous adjective is too close for comfort, as nits are exactly what you'd want to pick off your head, but here goes.

I've been pondering a good discussion of networking in the blog of Sandy Longhorn--its virtues, its attendant doubts--in the context of sending your writing to magazines where you know the editor, or being asked to send work, and how this parallels job networking, applying for a job where you know someone. I understand that, these days, most jobs really are had by networking, not by answering newspaper ads or filling out the online application form, but I continue to be troubled by a world that works primarily because of "who you know." That aspect still seems smarmy somehow.

Lest I be misunderstood (see yesterday), I am all for the generosity of recommending people to each other (in workplace or literature) because they do good work and are not too flaky to handle the job requirements, editorial deadline, etc. I'm fine with the boss's son being hired in a position of responsibility, if he can handle it, and eventually taking over the company! That's part of why his dad founded the business, right?

The only part I don't like is somebody getting the job because she knows someone if she's not really the best person for the job. Somebody else was; she applied, too, but the friend of a friend got it. This has not happened to me, but it happens around me, and it disturbs the nits, who raise a ruckus. (I should have warned you of the lice analogy, too.)  Anyhoo...

Let's say a girl has played volleyball since grade school, learned her position well, been a real team player, played freshman and junior varsity in high school, practiced hard, cheered from the bench when she was not a starter junior year, because it was a senior's turn to start, and comes to tryouts her own senior year, and someone new has moved into the district who is trying out for the same position.  Let's say, middle hitter. Now the girl knows she will have to compete for the position, and that's fine.  But let's say the new girl is the daughter of a friend of the coach, and it turns out the coach told her friend what neighborhood to move into to be sure to come to this high school, and now the coach puts the new girl in as a starter even though she is not as good as the first girl! This has the specificity of gossip, but I assure you I am making it up. (I write short stories, too.) This is the kind of networking I don't like.

Caring for the area volleyball players is on my mind because of all the great playing, good team spirit, and heartfelt commitment I saw yesterday. Great spirit on the floor, great spirit on the bench, and good matches. Good referees, too, which helps the spirit in the gym! May the best teams win Tuesday night at the championship, and I hope I get to see it.  My husband and daughter will be playing in their adult league, where my daughter is now a substitute for someone who can't come for a couple weeks, and that's not really a spectator situation, so I might go to the 7th grade finals on my own. Cheering on strangers.

P.S. I do not have lice.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Miss Understanding

How I love the blog Confessions of Ignorance, where Seana Graham is "Correcting My Limitless Lack of Knowledge, One Post at a Time." She keeps me from many a parlous mistake, although, alas, I go on and make many mistakes of my own. Hoping to be tactful, compassionate, and kind, I have too often in life said the wrong thing...or, the other side of this coin, been heard wrong. If my legacy were to be remembered as Miss Understanding, well, that, too, would be heard wrong.

I remember working on a board, hoping to solve a sticky personnel problem, and reassuring a colleague that I was "a pretty politic person" and could probably handle it.  I meant "politic" in its political philosophy context, as judicious and having to do with the group's existing policy, looking out for the body politic, doing what's wise for the whole group, with connotations of prudence and being a good citizen. I later realized my colleague heard instead connotations of being "political" in the glad-handing, shrewd sense, saying what needs to be heard to get something done expediently, the cunning sense. The icky feeling of being misunderstood was compounded by the realization that somehow I had confessed to being worse than I probably am.

The ickiness increased when this same person asked me, when I was moving to a small town from the big city of Chicago, if it was to be "a big fish in a small pond." I couldn't answer at first, astonished by the tactlessness of this, and how it had so little to do with our decisions to scale back, live at a slower pace, raise the kids near my parents, and send them to public school. My status in the community was not a concern; feeling part of a community was indeed a goal.

After a short silence, I said, in seeming complicity, "I guess so," which is what I always say now when what I must mean is, "I guess that is the way you see it, yes." My friend and colleague could only see me through the filter of her own literary ambition.

So it was with understanding, delight, and a parlous background feeling of vindication that I learned that poet Arielle Green Bywater (Given) is leaving her fulltime job in Chicago and moving back to Belfast, Maine, where she will feel part of a community that already loves and welcomes her, and live with her family a simpler life. I sense it is a whole-life decision, a  choice to live according to principles and beliefs, and it helps me understand her poem "This is to Find Out About Something" in the book Brute Neighbors in a whole new way. Her poem ends, "Do not end with the wind or grey / that is the name Chicago."

And now I send you to parlous, part 2, Seana's account of a particular misunderstanding involving Santa Cruz, and her sense of the "Pacific being just a small pool."

And I send myself off to enjoy the sunshine and blue sky of this day, and the junior high state volleyball tournament, the joys and pleasures of my little life on this earth in this community, while they are here. They might not be here by 2:45 p.m., as many in Japan suddenly learned in the midst of their daily lives.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Les Fleurs du mal

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a retrospective poetry reading by James McGowan, who graced us with a few poems from each decade of his long career.  He is the translator of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs de Mal (The Flowers of Evil), from Oxford University Press, and re-released as one of the Oxford World's Classics. (I've linked you to Amazon, but locals can probably find a fine copy at Babbitt's!) He read from this sexy edition, but you'll see another cover below.

Jim organized the reading by decade, starting with a few poems from the 1960s, and incorporating some translations along with his own work (including a collaborative translation from a German poet! Why didn't I write stuff down? Enthralled, I guess.)  He had a perfect balance of humor and seriousness. For example, he revealed that the only poem he's written since 2010 is a limerick...and he'd spare us that. (Of course, now I want to hear it.)

And he left us, somehow, gazing at a universe of stars and listening to the breathing of whales.

I'm delighted to report that Jim used the two-poem warning--in fact, a three-poem warning--something I recently read about at Voice Alpha, a site devoted to advice and support on reading poetry aloud.  He began, "I have two more poems from...and then one more poem," and made the audience laugh with "only three more poems to go," but we were perfectly content!

There were other poets in the audience. So lovely to see John Knoepfle, whom I had also heard read on the Illinois Wesleyan campus, though in the new Ames Library, and Lucia Getsi, who had returned from retirement in the South for this event in central Illinois. Poet Jim Plath introduced his colleague. Kathryn Kerr, of Turtles All the Way Down was there, and Kirstin Hotelling Zona, the new editor of Spoon River Poetry Review.  A plethora of poets, an abundance of love.  And a fine turnout from the community, as well.  A roomful of joy and appreciation, for the flowers of evil.
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