Monday, February 28, 2011

Cranky Doodle Two

I was on the train this morning at the time I usually blog, coming home from the Oscar party in Chicago and finishing The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.  Oh, how I love the mixed crankiness, tolerance, melancholy, and sweet joy of Renee Michel, and the yearning for meaning of Paloma Josse, and the acute intelligence of both these characters.  I recommend this book to anyone who doesn't mind pausing to philosophize or to examine grammar & usage before the story resumes.  It's worth the wait.

Madame Michel gets a bit cranky when the upper classes look down on the lower classes, and when the rich and powerful cannot even imagine that "ordinary little people" might have thoughts in their heads or a sensitivity to beauty. "Who has ever heard of a maid and a concierge making use of their afternoon break to ponder the cultural significance of interior decoration?"

When she continues in her meditation, I am sure I am one of the "ordinary little people," though firmly in the middle class in the USA.  "You would be surprised by what ordinary little people come out with.  They may prefer stories to theories, anecdotes to concepts, images to ideas--that doesn't stop them from philosophizing." I am an ordinary person, so, yes, I prefer stories, anecdotes, and images, and a poet, so I prefer the concrete to the abstract, but there is a place for all of it, and this book pursues that, too.

Another thing that makes Madame and me cranky is what is overly academic or wasted intellectualism.  She respects the great mind, of course, just as I respect the erudition and prose style of historian and academic Marilynne Robinson, but she is impatient with the usual course of the academic's career. Looking over a student's thesis, she sees it as "a perfect illustration of the way the university works: if you want to make a career, take a marginal, exotic text...that is relatively unexplored, abuse its literal meaning by ascribing to it an intention that the author himself had not been aware of (because, as we all know, the unknown in conceptual matters is far more powerful than any conscious design), distort that meaning to the point where it resembles an original thesis..., burn all your icons while you're at it [and here she lists the personal icons of the student writer], devote a year of your life to this unworthy little game [and here Madame Michel resumes the story and her own sharp humor, having been roused before her work day officially began by the rich girl student who treats her like a servant and whose father can afford a courier] at the expense of a collectivity whom you drag from their beds at seven in the morning, and send a courier to your research director."

Of course, living down to the expectations of the upper classes, Madame Michel also removes the paper from the unsealed couriered envelope and reads it, and later accepts a dress not her own from the drycleaner.  Ah, well, but we all have our flaws and the price is dearly paid. (Read the book!)

The cover of my book (see above) is blue, and I'm a little blue that I was bumped twice by people flinging their bags around and spilled coffee on it.  But at least I spilled coffee on my own and not the red-covered Gourmet Rhapsody, also by Muriel Barbery, same characters, same residential hotel, the first novel, happening before The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I borrowed from the Oscar party hostess! So now you know what I'll be reading next!

And the elegance of the rooster comes from Nashville Scene, where you can visit the Red Rooster and the Blue Rooster restaurants....

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Cranky Doodle Day

Tonight I am going to an Oscar party, woefully unprepared to vote because I have not seen enough of the nominated films, not even Toy Story 3, which has been around for a while, and which everyone tells me is wonderful and will make me cry.

I have seen:

True Grit
The Kids Are All Right
The King’s Speech

I could be cranky with myself for not having seen more of the Oscar nominees before Oscar night, or I could accept that it will be cheaper to get them from the library and it won’t hurt my ears so much, as movie theatres are really, really loud these days. I’ll just be cranky about that. And about the commercials, for cars and tv shows, that turn up among the movie previews and concession stand jingles nowadays.

But enough of that.  I am very much enjoying The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, in the voices of a 12-year-old girl and a 54-year-old French concierge autodidact philosopher. I had to look up the word “loge” which I had always thought of as a theatre box (see Renoir painting above) but which is also a sort of compartment, apparently, where the concierge lives, inside the elegant residential hotel, with a door easily accessible to the public.  “Loge” can also mean “lodge,” and thus a dwelling, not just a kiosk or box.

But, in random coincidii mode, it is also the name of a moon of the planet Saturn and the Swedish or Germanized name, Loge, of the Norse God Loki.  The gods Saturn and Thor appeared in my blog posts this past week.  As a compartment or area of theatre seating (also the front rows of the mezzanine), it is pronounced lozh. As a natural satellite or person, it has 2 syllables, and the "g" is not softened by a "z" sound.

I am making these distinctions and clarifications so Madame Michel, the French concierge, a fictional character who is deeply offended by the misuse of a comma, won’t get cranky with me.

And, so Lorel J won’t get cranky with me, I credit her with the actual Crafty Doodle Day on which Cranky Doodle Day is based. Lorel puts Crafty Doodle Day to much better use, such as an elegant light switch cover she made herself! But we are building up anticipation for the book purse party, yes?!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Slattern Day

It's Slattern Day in the blog, and here are a few things I won't be doing to celebrate:


It's not that these chores don't need to be done.  It's that I will be attending the junior high volleyball regionals to support the hubby coach and the area girls I've been watching all season.

I don't think anyone who knows me would call me a slattern, in either sense of the word.  (Alas, one sense is "slut.") Perhaps, yes, some would call me slovenly or untidy in appearance, due to my layered lackadaisical fashion sense and hair in a perpetual scrunchee.

Once, for about 4 years, I wore the same golden suede boots everywhere. They were comfortable, OK?

Those of you who have read the Bridget Jones books will recall that Helen Fielding uses "sluttish" to mean careless washing up (see the Wikipedia article!). But when I do wash up (the dishes), I am careful, and when I do do the laundry, I fold it straight out of the dryer so it won't just lie there and wrinkle. (I just wanted to say "do do.") Anyhoo...

Saturday was named, not for slatterns, but for Saturn, pictured in a somewhat slatternly stance above.

Friday, February 25, 2011

If I Had a Hammer

I told you I might have a non-linear week.  On Thursday, I wrote about Jorie Graham, making it Poetry Someday, and on Friday, today, it's Thor's Day.  Thursday really is named for Thor, the Norse god of thunder, a guy who wields a hammer. Unfortunately in this painting he seems to be wielding it on humans and horned goats, rather than using it for good.

But I've been flailing around for a name for the day I might rant, and I've tossed out Petty Peeves as I don't really want to be petty or peevish.  There are better things to do with one's time and energy, like build a cool bookcase. If I rant, I want it to be funny, so it might go into the Hump of the Week. But I'm human, not a god or a stand-up comic, so I might fail at all of this, and flail some more.

As to the Wasteful Love aspect, the Throwaway idea, love so plentiful we can fling it around, well, yes, but neither of those names quite works.

So, for the nonlinear time being, Thor's Day it is, a weird catchall for stuff I love or stuff I might be tempted to complain about, right before smacking myself in the middle of the forehead with a rubber hammer for being so petty.

For instance, yesterday, there was Jorie Graham, wrapped in scarves, casual among the formally robed academics milling about before the convocation at Wesleyan, walking up on stage to clear her area of the water bottle, notes, et cetera that she had placed there by her chair, kindly contributing to the formality, leaving the stage bare before the rituals and music and words that would fill it...and nothing to complain about, but I didn't know how to interpret her actions till afterwards, after hearing her, after placing them in the context. A petty complainer might have seen her 1) drawing attention to herself and/or 2) disturbing the formality by picking up the items 3) she shouldn't have left there in the first place, and 4) I have made many a petty assumption like that in my past, alas, and/or 5) sat beside people who make them.

Likewise, soon all the academics file in down the two aisles of the auditorium, in their robes and hoods of colors that mean something specific (where they were educated, what degrees) and among them is Jorie, with a paper cup of strong coffee, and all the items she previously removed from the stage, dressed as before in layers and scarves, not formal academic robes, though she is a major formal academic at Harvard.  I am just watching, noticing, sifting, not judging, yes, categorizing a bit (as in classical rhetoric), but not forming any particular opinions (what have I got as evidence for any opinion yet?), just feeling a bit apprehensive about whether this will all be too formal and intellectual and academic to mean anything to me, one of the assembled masses. (I've worn robes, too, but I cringe a bit at long-winded introductions, if that helps convey a part of my apprehension.) An onstage organist is playing Bach. We remain standing for the invocation.

And then?!: everything is sweet, everyone is plainspoken, students perform in a brass quintet, and Jorie Graham blows me away with her call to empathy.  No need for apprehension, in its meaning of petty fear, dread, foreboding; only for apprehending, in its meaning of understanding.

And that's Thor, above, in layers, being dressed as a woman, a bride, in an elaborate prank to fool a guy who has demanded the goddess Freya as his wife and stolen Thor's hammer as a way to get her. Although it's a comic poem, it's not going to end well (see humans and goats above). So, on Thor's Day, I might rant and rave, I might rage against the man or the machine, but I will hope to do it humorously, in love, and aiming for a better understanding, so I don't break anything with my hammer.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jorie Graham

Yesterday I went to hear Jorie Graham speak at the Founders' Day Convocation at Illinois Wesleyan University.  Wow!

It was a call to empathy. A powerful, honest, sometimes funny, humble and humbling speech. She wants those of us who grew up with empathy to reawaken and exercise it, to walk out in the world again and know it, cherish it.  She wants those of us who are growing up on technology to realize there's a real world, not just a virtual one, again by walking out in it.

She wants us to have empathy for future generations we will never see; we must imagine them in order to feel for them, of course, so we will be exercising our imaginative as well as our empathic parts to do so. She told us that the part of the brain sparked by empathy is the same part sparked by information received at the tips of our fingers.  (Nancy, your reading on the brain, learning, and Braille connects to this, yes?) It's as if our fingertips are an insect's feelers or a cat's whiskers, alerting us to what's all around, helping us to function, warning us of danger. Graham wants us to put our fingertips out metaphorically into the future, with empathy, so we don't with our actions now make it horrendous for our descendants, if there are any, then.

Will we be satisfied with cute animal pictures on the Internet, she asked.  What about the real animals? Likewise, the Disneyfied world of animated animals.  What about their real lives on the real earth?  Yes, she was asking us to reconsider what we value and make sure we care for and appreciate what we have, so we don't ruin it.  An environmental call to "arms," asking us to embrace our world and our task, which will be to change our behavior.

Atlanta ran out of water, she said, and asked Mississippi for some. Mississippi said no. The federal government had to step in. We are already saying no to our fellow humans, in our own country, she was pointing out, and already using up our natural resources. We must change.

This is all summary and paraphrase, mixed with my own interpretation and examples. I hope she will publish the speech somewhere (the college paper?) and/or that essays of this ilk are out there for you to find and read, and her poems certainly are plentiful and available.  I have The Dream of the Unified Field, her Pulitzer Prize-winning Selected Poems, 1974-1994, which I will return to now, galvanized by this speech.

At the end of her speech, she read 5 poems, not her own (which will interest the Voice Alpha people!), about human empathy. I confess they made me cry, even though I had read them before, in that gasping, OMG-not-in-public kind of way. But it was OK: semi-dark auditorium, shared empathy, we were/are all in it together.

She read the poems from the page, in a voice like talking, as they were projected behind her on a large screen, so we could read them, too, white letters on a black background, stimulating two main parts of the brain! (And, I hope, the center of empathy.)

"You Can Have It" by Philip Levine
"Hook" by James Wright
and also
"Saint Judas" by James Wright  (Click on "A Blessing," too!)
"Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden (click the audio!)
"The Panther" by Rainier Maria Rilke

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tootsie Roll

It's the hump of the week, as they say, Wednesday, the little hill in the middle of a work week that many people just have to get through in order to make it to Friday. In my last part time job, Wednesday was my day off, so I had a little valley mid-week, in which to loll around and handle chores, errands, and medical appointments.

In my blog, Wednesday often became a similar catch-all or hodge podge.  And I do hope it mostly has a humorous or fun feel henceforth. Or shall I say humpforth? (This is why you don't want me to do stand up.)

But the Libyan people are on my mind, their protests not going so well as those of the Egyptian people. And the people of Christchurch, New Zealand, their daily lives toppled by an earthquake.  All over the world everyday, someone is struggling with some awful reality. It makes me all the more grateful for my little life, and its littler humps.

And for the Tootsie Roll.  I read about it today in Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac as "America's first individually wrapped penny candy," as of today in 1896, a chocolate candy almost anybody could afford (not just rich people). Now it's true, then, that the Tootsie Roll may have started us on our way toward addictions to high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, but we don't want to think about that right now.  Nor how it gets stuck in our teeth, or to our braces or dental work.

In fact, I gave 4 little Tootsie Rolls away the other day, to a friend with two young children, as I know they will handle Tootsie Rolls much better than I do now.

But let me turn my mind to Tootsie Pops. Fond memories of childhood, yes, all the flavors of hard candy wrapped around a Tootsie Roll center.  I don't eat those anymore, either.

No, what I'm pondering is amaretto and orange juice, a holiday beverage mixed by my brother-in-law that, to me, tastes exactly like an orange Tootsie Pop.  A semi-healthy (Vitamin C) drink to get you through the hump of the week.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Marginalia! It sounds like a bunch of one-celled organisms with hairs on the edges slithering around on a glass slide. But it means writing in the margins of books.

I love writing in books, and I love finding and reading marginalia in books! As this article in the New York Times points out, some of that went by the wayside when teachers told us not to write in our books (raises fees on book rental at school, etc.), and writing in the margins might be a habit lost forever with the new surge of e-readers. 

On the other hand, college writing programs have been using electronic notation systems for a several years, so I’m sure, as they say now, there will be “an app” for e-book notation soon enough.

But, yes, it’s great to find that wonderful note in the margin by a famous writer!

Or that sweet anonymous note by a previous reader!

Or that mass of underlining, circling, stars and symbols, and words-followed-by-definitions…all evidence of the close reader, the engaged reader!

Yes, that will be harder to do and harder to find with the new e-reading trends.

But, in Fat Tuesday fullness of life mode, I confess that a bunch of my books are full of marginalia.

I re-learned messy marginalia when I started discussing books with the “shared inquiry” method at a Great Books home salon and the public event called Great Books Chicago some years ago.  It is so much easier to find the page with the quotation you need if you have highlighted or underlined it, written a star in the margin next to it, and dog-eared that dogarned page.

(Good to do this with Dover Thrift or Penguin paperback editions.  Not so good to do with first edition, first printings!)

I often fill the margins with questions, too. And then ask them of my fellow readers!

Yes, you might call me an engaged reader.

Some people are reading not to engage but to escape. They might not want to take notes, make stars, or write questions.  E-reading & the lack of marginalia won’t be a problem at all for them!

And that’s a circling around to the what-are-you-reading-and-why project I began a little over a year ago. I am still reading to learn how to live in the world.

It’s working! I’m still here, still reading.

Now check out this Speak Your Design blog post about marginalia as book graffiti!

The fabulous green “Yes” marginalia image comes from NewYorkette! 

And thanks to the Christian Science Monitor for the e coli...

Monday, February 21, 2011

Blue Monday

And I don't mean melancholy. I mean that the sky in the early morning dark, as I write, is a misty blue.  When it is full morning, I doubt the sky will still be blue, as rain is already dashing the windows on the north.  Looks to be a misty Monday, with precipitation.

Here are some categories I've been musing about:

1) Blue Monday, posts on melancholy, color, and who knows?  In non-linear time, it might not even fall on a Monday.
2) Fat Tuesday, posts about wonderful food, indulgences, and maybe confessions (as some other bloggers I visit have a Confession Tuesday).  "Fat" will be a good word, about the fullness of life.
3) Hump of the Week, which may or may not fall on Wednesday, the hump of the week. These might also be sexy posts. Or not. I imagine there will be attempts at humor, my quirky brand of stand up comedy. Possibly typed with my figners* glued together.
4) Throwaway, which might apply to Thursday or random coincidii or the vast abyss. But I want to incorporate recycling and gratitude, too. This may turn into Wasteful Love as a category suggesting we have so much love we can "waste" it by handing it out freely wherever we go, a John Shelby Spong idea re-seen in this context.
5) Petty Peeves, an opportunity to rant and complain, possibly on a Friday. Might also be called Cranky Doodle Day and involve *crafting.
6) Slattern Day, for all things slatternly and the general celebration or avoidance of housework.
7) Poetry Someday, which might fall on a Sunday, or any other day of the non-linear week. Poetry reviews, explications, samples, and/or occasional prompts.

Do (any of) these appeal to you?!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's My Party

It's nice to share a birthday with 1) Ansel Adams and 2) women I know at church.  I love the photography of Ansel Adams, and I can hook elbows with the women at church when we stand there at the beginning of February for the monthly rendering of "Happy Birthday."

Today's imaginary song list includes:

1) "It's My Party," sung by Lesley Gore (but read the whole story here!)
2) "You Say It's Your Birthday," sung by the Beatles (but read about Ringo Starr's 70th birthday here!)
3) "Happy Birthday, Mr. President," sung by Marilyn Monroe, with additional lyrics to "Thanks, Mr. President" here!)

Why does it look like the sparkles are just painted on?!

So, yes, I can cry if I want to, but I think I will sing along to The Weepies and Pink Martini in the kitchen, or wiggle my hips to the soundtrack of Moulin Rouge, as I do laundry in the basement, instead. We'll see, won't we?

The somewhat vague birthday plans still include a poetry meeting (unless there's a bad thunderstorm, as my poet friend is driving over from Peoria), no cake, and probably wine instead of Wild Turkey.

But church and volleyball wolleyball are out of the picture, as the kid is driving herself today, due to midday transportation issues involving the dad-coach/tournament schedule. Hence, the singing and dancing household chores opportunity. My life is a musical comedy, and I like it that way.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Wild Turkey

Yesterday's blog entry, featuring Buddhism and J. Wellington Wimpy, got no comments whatsoever, making me think I might have gone off the deep end.  Then I went to see Proof, at Heartland Theatre, where going off the deep end is a central concern of the brilliant mathematician family wamily.

So today, I am just going to mention that I will be seeing a lot of volleyball and making turkey chili with green olives and raisins.  (But no slivered almonds, as the family wamily doesn't like to find nuts in foods.) Finding nuts in the general area of the kitchen is OK.

I won't be drinking any of this--Wild Turkey--and I notice you have to enter your birth date even to enter the official Wild Turkey website.

Speaking of birth dates, mine is circling around again tomorrow, making me finally old enough to enter the Wild Turkey website.

Heh heh.

No, really, this is the year in which I will be reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, because I will be the same age as the French concierge philosopher woman.

No particular birthday plans with family wamily, but a poet friend is coming over in the afternoon tomorrow, and that will be a treat.  I will offer her leftover turkey chili (leftover is the best! spices steep, etc.) but no Wild Turkey, unless I can get hold of this beautiful bottle. And then we might just want to run our fingers over the glass ridges. Because we are poets.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Common Liberation

I have been reading The Common Review, current issue, Fall/Winter 2010 and first issue under the new editor, Danny Postel.  You can see table of contents and samples here, and read Postel’s generous editorial praising the previous editor, Dan Born. 

Postel also praises the recently departed historian/writer/political philosopher Tony Judt, who sounds fascinating for the complexity and nuance of his thought. I always appreciate reading about people who can balance apparent contradictions and who don’t have to take one simplistic, trendy, or extreme stance on a topic. 

But what I’ll report on today is a book review in this issue, by John Clark, of the book Why I Am a Buddhist, by Stephen T. Asma. And I’ll start right off with a digression by saying I love this title because it reminds me of a poem I like, by Molly Peacock, called “Why I Am Not a Buddhist.”  (And that’s just one of the ways I myself balance apparent contradictions and dancing angels on the pointy tip of my origami brain.)

The Asma book’s subtitle is even more fun: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey, and hints at both the “blue-collar Buddhism” the book’s author celebrates and the problems addressed by Clark in his critique. While there might indeed be ethical ways to eat meat for some contemporary and historical Buddhists, Clark brings up today’s “ethical vegetarian” Buddhists (including traditional herder Tibetans) and the “factory farming” that compromises meat-eating in today’s economy and in a philosophy of compassion.

I pause to recommend My Year of Meats, a novel by Ruth L. Ozeki. (And to mention the contradiction that last night I ate a hamburger.)

Back to John Clark’s review in The Common Review

But first, I have been pondering my own Emily Dickinsonish retreat-from-society tendencies and how, oddly, they do not at all conflict with my yearning for social justice, nor with Dr. Zhivago’s insistence that caring for individuals is the way to make a truly livable society.

I pause to note that I connect strongly to a dead reclusive poet and a fictional character poet.  How shall I live in this world?!  Anyhoo….

Clark: “It is said that the final message of the Buddha was that we should work out our own salvation with diligence.  We do, indeed, need to travel that lonesome highway.  However, the Buddha also taught the doctrine of no separate selfhood.  The suffering that is so central to the human predicament is not ultimately an individualistic thing.” 

We all suffer.  So we can all have compassion for one another. And both of these things bring us together.

If you live in a state where the needs of the society are elevated above the needs (and rights) of the individual OR if you live in a mental state where one individual (the self or the totalitarian dictator) is elevated above the community, no one is going to be happy.  Or not for long.  Push will eventually come to shove.  The people will gently or violently push out the reigning government, or the individual living in a shack in the mountains will email his buddies and create a flash mob with AK-47s in a mall, right?  There’s got to be a better way.

“Perhaps the best reason to be a Buddhist,” says Clark, going on to clarify that not every “awakened person” need actually be a Buddhist, “is to have the opportunity to be part of a compassionate community in which we ourselves, those we love, our coworkers, and our fellow citizens can all be part of, as Asma says, a ‘collective flourishing’or, as the Buddha put it, a common liberation.”

I think this “common liberation” can start as a state of mind, one that would lead to an exemplary human community, and generally is a state free from all kinds of fear. 

Blessed indeed are the meek, who keep saying no, standing up to oppressors, asking them to reconsider, and courageously shrugging off their fears and burdens.

“And I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011


Maybe once I had a mind like a steel trap. But now? Well, you've heard about the muffin. You've heard about the origami. Now it might be more like holey cheese. Holy Cheese! That fits perfectly.

Some things stay. Some things get away. Like mice. I love sweet cute little mice. In children's books. And mice are fine, close up, in real life. But I don't like them in houses I live in. They poop a lot in kitchen drawers. I grew up in a farmhouse, where my parents still live, every winter catching a lot of mice that run in from the fields. They keep a running tally. Last year they caught 99 mice, as I recall.

But I might not be recalling the actual total from 2010, just from a particular conversation on a certain day in 2010. I am fascinated by what happens in the nips & tucks of our whole and demented brains.

And that brings me to Agatha Christie, dementia, the fugue state, and NPR. I'm sure I heard a reference to Agatha Christie's failing memory in her later writings, and her possible defense of that in a later book, on an NPR story this past Sunday morning, probably on Radiolab. But I can't quite track it down. Paul Auster was mentioned, too. I can search these terms, but everything folds together into the other stories offered there.

So I leave you to listen to Vanishing Words and to read about the Nun Study, which have folded into my blog before. Agatha Christie really did run away from home one day in 1926, possibly in a fugue state of near amnesia, stressed out and depressed by her philandering husband.

And she really did write a mystery play called The Mousetrap, still running in London, that started out as a radio play called Three Blind Mice!

And we really did experience another mystery in our household, this one The Mystery of the Mousetrap. It's this kind of a mousetrap, the plastic recyclable kind that you can get here, at Trendy Gadget, but which we got at a local hardware store. We caught a mouse in it (sigh...moment of silence/sadness) and put it outside in the snow, where the actual dead mouse was quickly extricated and devoured in the circle of life. (This comforted my husband, whose father did keep, feed, and live with mice in the house.) The trap was left there on the ground to be cleaned later and then, yesterday, appeared on the corner of the picnic table, not placed there by a human who lives in this house, not by a Dog Named Wolf, and not by a passing garage door repairman.

Who put the mousetrap on the picnic table?  Was it a) a crow b) an owl c) a squirrel or d) Agatha Christie?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A New Window

In my capacity as poetry cheerleader, I draw your attention today to a new feature at Escape Into Life, which previews a new book, Neruda’s Memoirs, poems by Maureen E. Doallas.  The book is dedicated to her brother, Patrick William Doallas, lost to cancer in 2009.  At its heart, then, is a central grief but also joy, patience, and acceptance.

The beautiful cover art is by Randall David Tipton.

Like her book, Maureen’s blog, Writing Without Paper, is full of variety and attention to details, facts, and sources.  Check out her poet laureate posts, art posts, and all the ways she shares her knowledge and appreciation of art, dance, talent, culture, and beauty in the world. 

In my capacity as mystery writer, I know nothing more than I did yesterday about the muffin.

In my capacity as window washer—oh, wait!  That was J. Pierpont (“Rosemary!”) in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying 

In my capacity as wage earner, then, and to reassure any who were concerned, I started a new job yesterday that is, by nature, temporary and part time, and a perfect fit right now for all concerned.  

So all of you who said a new window would open were right! 

In my capacity as Great Books discussion leader, soon I will be reading Genesis, Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, and Tom Outland’s Story, a novella by Willa Cather.  This is something I do every year in April, gather with people from all over the U.S. and Canada (and sometimes farther places) to talk about books and see what’s going on in Chicago!

There’s still time to register for Great Books Chicago if you want to come!

And in my capacity as Emily Dickinson collage bookmark maker, I need to get hopping and glue some figners together! And what about that book purse?!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

True "Facts"

I have returned to reading Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, the book covered in post-it notes and briefly mentioned and pictured in a past entry, Looking Back, and the current selection of my book group. Ouch, ouch, ouch.  People keep losing their jobs!

But it's also very funny.

See, I will keep telling you what people are reading, but I am not going to keep track of days.  Still planning to introduce some categories of existence in future blogging, but today is a busy day of new starts, errands, and appointments, so I am just going to fill you in on the true "facts" of the memetastic award entry, and be random.

OK, to set your mind at rest (as I already set my mother's mind at rest), no pipe has burst in our house!  No, we will not paint the house lavender.  And, while people do come to the door offering to paint our house, trim our trees, and replace our windows, no one has yet arrived on a Saturday night, drunk, to offer these services. A friend and neighbor assures me that the finger gluing is impossible, as she repeatedly tried to glue her fingers together as a child, and failed, so that leaves....

The Mystery of the Muffin.

We still do not know why a flattened muffin wrapper and many chocolate muffin crumbs appeared in the middle of the kitchen floor the other day...but a Dog Named Wolf was visiting, and we feared the worst. Diarrhea, followed by death.  But the Dog Named Wolf is fine and evidently did not eat the chocolate muffin.

Who did?  Every human who lives in the house has been questioned and denies the recent acquisition and ingestion of a muffin.  (I know from the weird news that sometimes people live in attics and come down to eat and steal things while the homeowners are away, but I don't think that applies in this case.) That leaves...

The Garage Door Repairman.

Did he, in fact, have a crumb-covered muffin wrapper in his coat pocket after a hasty breakfast and early morning garage door repair job?!  Did said muffin wrapper fall from repairman's pocket to our kitchen floor to be nosed to the center of the room by a Dog Named Wolf?

These and other true "facts" may never be known.

But it's "true" that I have compared my brain to 1) origami 2) gray batter and 3) a blueberry muffin.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Train

Happy Valentine's Day!

Here's a big heavy heart.

A couple of things to share with you today:

1) A Visit from St. Valentine for those who resist all pink & red sentimentality

2) The lovely blog of Susan Rich, who always shares the love.

She's the author of The Alchemist's Kitchen, a book of poems with this green and lavender glow (though the cover has more of a matte sheen than a glossy glow in real life).

And I've been waiting to feature this book today because of this poem, "At Middle-Life: A Romance," for any of you who might be waiting for or right now experiencing a romance at middle life.

It's like a train!

So here are her couplets, in italics, followed my responses, in regular font.  I do love couplets in a love poem.

Let love be imminent and let it be a train;
let it arrive at dawn, its whistle whiskering the air--

all brightness and verb.  Let it nearly race by

but not quite--this could be the story of your life.

You can hear and see the speed of this train, partly thanks to those dashes.  And the "whistle whiskering" sound is something to say out loud.  Try it!  It also creates the hiss of wheels, the train pausing for us.  The urgency here is powerful, life-changing, and the poet has rapidly put us on the train and created suspense.

Don't hesitate outside the dining car of eccentric
and dark-eyed strangers, contemplating their espresso--

ordering half the nerve. Let love be a breakfast
of creme cakes, pomegranate juice, a lively Spanish torte.

We do get to hesitate outside the dining car on this rumbling train, peering in at the exotic possibilities, maybe at tables with white tablecloths, as on older luxury trains, or in movies.  We don't want to be "ordering half the nerve," do we?  We want the full, lush breakfast!

Love ambles its way through post-industrial towns,
past fields of alfalfa blooms, past poplars

that have always been there, though you've never
sensed their sacredness before. Let love be amazing.

Now that we're aboard the love train, love can take its own sweet time.  We can be happy with the scenery.  And look at how we get to see the poplars, suspended at the end of a line, the ones "that have always been there," but that we've never really noticed, for themselves or for their sacredness, a surprise that love can bring, and that makes the poem's claim different from "a silly love song" on the radio.  (Though John Lennon and Paul McCartney also worked that out.)  Love is amazing.

And when the next station appears in full view--
all green tones and jazz tunes;

let two of these travelers disembark--
primed to begin their nights in pursuit.

Well, that's a happy ending!  But we do have to remember that it has all been imagined, and hoped for, and brought on with the word "Let," which is both plea, as in, "Let it be me," and command, as in, "Let there be light."  What an amazing balance and suspension.

There are many other amazements in The Alchemists's Kitchen that I'll let you discover on your own!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Blessed Are the Meek

I couldn't give Susan a Memetastic Award at her professional/church blog, as it wouldn't be appropriate for her to copy the image and send along the rules, but I can give the Meektastic Award for today's reflection in church, one in an ongoing series on the beatitudes.  In random coincidii mode, it collided with Evolution Sunday, in celebration of the birthday of Charles Darwin, who shares a birthday with Abraham Lincoln, turning out to make perfect sense, after all.

Not so random is her apt association of the blessedness of the meek with the people's nonviolent revolution in Egypt.  The word origins and historical meanings of the word "meek" are wonderful to hear.  You can read the reflection here, Blessed Are the Meek, where Susan also provides links to her source materials.

You can read many thoughtful, provocative reflections by Susan Ryder and Bob Ryder at Reflecting Pool, a blog for reflections (not sermons) written and spoken at New Covenant Community.

And if you need your dog trained, go here: Pawsitive Transformations.


Karen Weyant (aka the Scrapper Poet) gave me the Memetastic Award, which I am to pass on to 5 other bloggers who are willing to:

1. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.

2. Display the graphic from the award creator.
3. Post five facts, four of which must be lies and
4. Pass the award to five other bloggers who should follow these rules.

I pass the award and these rules to:

--Julie Kistler, of A Follow Spot, a fantastic theatre blogger
--Hummus Anonymous, a great place to go for hummus, hilarity, and unusual holidays
--CollageMama's Itty Bitty Blog, where CollageMama makes fabulous collages and writes wonderful things and see things in the world and takes pictures and knows stuff and cares about children and old people
--Sherry O’Keefe, who knows about Montana and poetry and silence and beauty
--Confessions of Ignorance, where I always learn a lot

There are numerous blogs I could award, and some I have awarded in the past, but these “memetastic” bloggers might well pass the award around to some of them!  I think that’s the meme idea.  To memefinity and beyond!

5 “Facts”:

1) Despite leaving the cupboard door open and the water slightly on, the upstairs bathroom water pipe burst in the recent sub-zero cold/thaw incident.
2) Making an Emily Dickinson collage bookmark, I once glued two of my fingers together at the first knuckle (fingernail polish remover helps, wash hands thoroughly).
3) A muffin wrapper and crumbs inexplicably appeared in the middle of the kitchen floor on Friday morning, partly eaten and vaguely smashed.
4) A  man appeared at my front door Saturday night, loudly yelling and vaguely smashed, and offering to paint the house (not this man).
5) This summer we will be re-painting our house a very faint lavender (with a fancy commercial name).

Vote for the fact you think is true!

Happy Lincoln’s Birthday and Valentine’s Day Weekend! 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Succeed

I got to see a live college production of How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying on Friday night, with reviewer Julie Kistler of the theatre blog, A Follow Spot.  You can read her charming review here.  It's always a thrill to see such talent in young people, and I wish them well in their careers.  At which I know they'll really try!

This is a musical that spoofs the business world in a good-natured way, showing how a window washer can rise to the top of a big American company, how easily incompetence can reign for a time, and how heads can roll!  Fortunately J. Pierpont, the get-ahead-fast window washer, has real gumption and will be headed for politics soon.  American politics, in a capitalist society.

And that brings me to a comment I got recently on my quitting-my-job blog entry, that I chose not to publish.  My first impulse was to publish it--why not?!--it was cleverly written and made its points well about bosses being kings and employees being peons, but it ended with an insult and was signed with a humorous but fake name.  That is, the commenter claims to have met me, but doesn't own up to a real identity.

I guess in my blog you can't get personal if you won't be a real person, or acknowledge common humanity.

And I guess that means I'm still queen here.

Ever since I read Shakespeare and Company, by bookstore proprietor Sylvia Beach, after reading two books about literary feuds, I've been wanting to quote this generous and tolerant comment: "Wars between writers blaze up frequently, but I have observed that they settle down eventually into smudges."

I'm sure this feud, too, will settle down into a smudge soon enough.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt & Dr. Zhivago

In my ongoing are-these-DVDs-damaged? project (some DVDs we inherited were subjected to rain), I watched Dr. Zhivago in two parts over the past two days.  I remembered it would be a very long movie, and I kept waiting for the scene where the writing room is covered in snow and the appearance of Julie Christie and Omar Sharif.  The actors playing young Zhivago and young Lara were doing a wonderful job, and the one playing young Lara looked amazingly like Keira Knightley.

Because, of course, she was.  I finally realized I was watching the 2002 British television version, not the film I remembered from childhood.  (Must have still been a little discombobulated from quitting my job.  I also forgot to go to my exercise class, but I blame that on the broken garage door.  Intense cold, broken coil spring, etc.)  It also explained why the destroyer of Zhivago's father and seducer of young Lara looked so much like Sam Neill.

But watching Zhivago coincided with following the news on the people's revolution in Egypt, where things continue in turmoil and where I have a college friend covering the events for the news and also posting notes at Facebook.  I worry about her safety and her spirits.  And caring about her is key to the difference between one way of looking at the world and another.

In Dr. Zhivago, the doctor cares about the individuals more than the society, knowing that this care and love is what makes life worth living and would lead, anyway, to the best kind of society.  Boris Pasternak, who wrote the book (which I read in youth after seeing the film), was criticized by his own society, for just this kind of love and way of looking at things. He was forced by the USSR to reject the Nobel Prize he was awarded after first accepting it with gratitude and awe.  Pasternak tried to figure out how to live in his world, a repressive one, and met criticism from within his country and without, because it was a hard figure.

Whether the Russian revolution, the French one, the one in Egypt, it's clear to see that those in power will never willingly give it up, and those who take power run the risk of becoming the new oppressors or the new dealers in violence.  I hope for the safety of my reporter friend, and for the safety of those attempting peaceful protests and working hard to change their country.  I hope for a transition that values life.

And Dr. Zhivago is a poet. Pasternak, too, was a poet.  The book and film show how poetry is easily, and sometimes not so easily, dismissed by the powerful and beloved by the people.  In story and in life, Zhivago and Pasternak were spared arrest or execution because of their genius and integrity.  I find that inspiring, and see how it leads to a great responsibility.


Update:  Holy Moly, Mubarek stepped down!  Yay for the persistence and patience of the people, and for their conviction, and ability to stand up for one another.  Let there be peaceful transition now.

CBS radio roundup: "Revolution in Egypt"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Among Women

Thank you all for the outpouring of love and support in response to my blog post yesterday, Wait! I Quit My Job?!, in which I accidentally but for real quit my job. I cannot express how touched and amazed I was by your generous and feeling responses. So, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I did not sleep that night, and mostly forgot to eat the next day, but your support, and a similar showering of hugs at Facebook and in real life, plus naked cuddling with my husband, has done wonders!  I woke up smiling!

Hey, I don't have to go to work today!

Before that unexpected blog post sprang up in my life, I had planned to tell you some things I learned from 365 days of blogging about what people read, both about reading trends and blogging stuff, including what seems to inspire blogger comments.

I learned on Day 366 that revealing one's vulnerability and raw need, risky as that is, inspires the most comments. Again, thank you.

And that brings me to Among Women, a book of poems by Jason Shinder, an astonishing and beautiful book of vulnerability and raw need.  It begins with revelations in the first poem, "The One Secret That Has Carried," and never lets up.  Here are the first few lines:  "Irene loves a man / who is afraid of sex--/ she's attended // to everything, / said it was okay, / held me until I slept.  (Those slash marks are line breaks and stanza breaks, for you non-poets.)  At the end of this poem is the revelation that some things must be denied: "I've never told this story. / Even at the moment / of dying, / I would say / it was someone else's."

This is especially poignant because Jason Shinder did die, young, recently (2008), and his last book, Stupid Hope, was released posthumously.  Here is his New York Times obituary, and here is an article by a woman he once dated, discussing his dance with death.  I was astonished at how much I connect with him in what I learned from Melanie Thernstrom in that article--he was "a cheerleader for poetry" and he avoided chemotherapy.  (Which I would probably also avoid.  Having some similar throat symptoms, by the way; yes, that kind of over-identification sometimes occurs when I read, but I'm pretty sure it's from thyroid issues that run in the family wamily, so don't worry.)

While some thought Shinder was in denial of death--and denial is a complicated and risky business--he was evidently confronting and accepting, while also fearing, death in these last poems. You can bet Stupid Hope is on my wishlist!

And the experience of not being able to stop reading a book of poems is the one I want to share with you.  Among Women was a non-stop read for me a couple nights ago.  As people say of thrillers and "page-turners" of all sorts, I could not put it down.  I tend to read books of poems more slowly, as I've mentioned before, sometimes poem-by-poem, sometimes section-by-section, mostly straight through in order after perhaps sampling a bit, but not always without interruption by other kinds of reading.  This one grabbed me and wouldn't let me go.

It challenged and inspired me.  I want to write a book like that, that someone won't be able to put down.  I will have to look at the poetry-manuscripts-in-progress with that in mind.

Thanks to poet Sarah J. Sloat for recommending Shinder to me over at Goodreads!  And thanks again to Pamela Callahan for yesterday's bird paintings.

The pertinent random coincidii:
--the cover is a painting by Edward Hopper called Excursion into Philosophy
--naked husband and I both love Edward Hopper
--I've written a poem called "Excursion into Poetry" that responds to this same painting, published in Poems & Plays
--Jason Shinder started out as Allen Ginsberg's assistant (HOWL!)
--last night I was "among women" beginning to plan a women's retreat about nurturing our...selves.
--the whole "cheerleader for poetry" business mentioned above
--raw vulnerability (Will it Blend?)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wait! I Quit My Job?!

Good thing I finished the 365 Days of Reading blog project yesterday.  Yes, in the same way I started my blog--accidentally--I quit my job. 

Now I knew something was building to a head because I found myself requesting a conversation at work, as I felt we needed to clear the air about a few things.  

During the conversation, a few things did become excruciatingly clear.

In short, that I was disposable and easily replaceable.

So I left.

No job is perfect.  I can put up with a lot—the chaos of the back room, shoveling myself out of the back lot, you know, the annoying crap we often find ourselves stumbling around in, sometimes literally, if the cat box gets too full, low pay, etc.—but I’ve never been able to stay in a situation where I’m just plain not valued.

And it always takes me just a little too long to realize that.

Call me human.  Call me equally human.

I loved my job.  Goodbye, charmed life with books.  Goodbye, random shop talk.  Goodbye, hourly wage.

And I felt icky leaving.  But, as often happens, reading came to my rescue.  Not only that, but Marilynne Robinson, one of my favorites. She’s the author of Housekeeping, Gilead, Home (three novels) and The Death of Adam, a book of essays so intense it took me about a year to read. (Plus, Mother Country, which I yearn for.) So I was reading another of her intense, dense essays, the one that saved me, before a junior high volleyball game (at Epiphany!!!!), and I had to read the same three paragraphs three times over during the loud warm-up music to actually retain the words and their meaning. 

OK, and I also might have been a bit preoccupied by accidentally quitting my job.

I might have been replaying in my head a moment late in the day, one I can already laugh at for its perfection, but which was pretty icky at the time. 

It needs a little set up. 

Trying to explain to my boss about ways he might value his employees intangibly, as that can go a long way toward employee satisfaction, I’d told him that I wished he wouldn’t keep saying, when people came in looking for work, “All my current employees are tenaciously holding onto their jobs.”  I knew he meant it as humorous, but it was getting tedious to hear.

“It’s not funny anymore,” I said, “and it makes it sound like if I’d just get out of the way you could hire that person.  But we do need more staff.  And you’re not hiring for other reasons.”

This open and honest communication, something I was asking for more of in the workplace, did not go over well. 

So, having mulled it over in a somewhat fragile state for a few hours, alone in the store, tending to a string of customers and people bringing in books, and handling a series of phone calls, while also trying to attend to my real job, of data entry….as I said, later, when the boss returned, now almost unable to look me in the eye, but I have a gentle manner, so, eventually, he did, I said to the boss, referring to how he’d spoken to me earlier, “I don’t ever want to feel like that in my workplace again,” and offered him this option: “Should I just leave now, or should I give two weeks notice, so you have time to look for sometime else.”

“I’m not firing you,” he said.  Yes, now he was looking me in the eyes.

And then, as in a movie, a tall, skinny college kid walked in and said, not knowing which one of us to address, “Are you hiring?

“Yes, as a matter of fact we are,” said my boss.

There was a flurry of small cruelty, on his part, and math challenge, on mine, as I totaled the hours on my last pay card, and off I headed to the volleyball game.  Easy come, easy go.

What I read three times over during the volleyball warm-ups was this, a summary of the contemporary myth, in America, that has replaced other origin myths: 

A central myth of ours, if it were rendered as narrative, would sound like this: One is born and in passage through childhood suffers some grave harm.  Subsequent good fortune is meaningless because of this injury, while subsequent misfortune is highly significant as the consequence of this injury.  The work of one’s life is to discover and name the harm one has suffered.

This is not a myth I live by, but I realized yesterday, at Epiphany school, it is a myth lived by many people whose lives I have passed through.

And, believe me, I respect myths.  In fact, Myths to Live By, by Joseph Campbell, is on my bookshelf, held together by a rubber band.  So, yes, I confess that the myths I live by are probably all ancient.  And that I recognize them as myths.  Stories that tell deep, abiding truths.

But Marilynne Robinson has a bit of a problem with the current abiding myth: “It is a myth that allows us to keep ourselves [my italics] before our eyes as the first claimant, in extreme cases the only claimant, upon our pity and indulgence.”

Ourselves the only claimant.  Doesn’t sit right with me.

Marilynne Robinson continues, “This entails indifference to certain values celebrated in older myth, for example, dignity, self-possession, magnanimity, loyalty, humor, courage, selflessness, reverence expressed as gratitude for one’s experience of the goodness of life, reverence expressed as awe in face of the pain and mystery of life.”

I cannot tell you how awed and glad I am that the last words I said to my boss were, “Thank you, Brian. I’ve loved it here.”