Friday, January 30, 2015

Ezekiel's Bones

Background music: "Dem Bones" by James Weldon Johnson.

I'm not really cranky, but I am really sick--yes, I caught my husband's cold/flu ickiness--so it's a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog. It also helps explain the recent weepiness as sickness was coming on. And it's a Random Coinciday, too, because my last blog post was Bittersweet, and that's the title of the most recent book by Colleen McCollough, who just died and got a shamefully weird obituary that her fans are currently mocking.

It contained this actual sentence: "Plain of feature and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless [sic] a woman of wit and warmth." (Perhaps Australians leave out that expected comma after the "nevertheless." Nevertheless, I had the urge to say "sic.") (Them bones, them bones, them wry bones...) Consequently, other authors are writing their own silly, personal mock obits in response.

Here's mine: "Kathleen, holier than thou, who just wouldn't dye her hair, still managed to write a few good poems."

It pains me, actually, to type that--literally because I started coughing in the middle of it, which hurt, and figuratively (and superstitiously) because I have to stay alive for another 21 days, at least, thanks to the Internet Death Quiz, before I can rest easy....

I've lost 3 pounds in 3 days, from not eating, not a diet I'd recommend, even for the "certainly overweight" Colleen McCullough, not because I have the gastrointestinal "flu" but because, in my case, the upper respiratory case, the lung bone's connected to the stomach bone, and coughing is a general disaster. I do like chicken soup and carbonated beverages.

There are a jillion books titled Bittersweet, and none of them are on my bookshelf. The closest is Eros the Bittersweet, by Anne Carson, and I'm still on page 108 (the perfect number!) of that. But these are all versions of McCullough's Bittersweet. I'm liking the audio book because of the sympathetic and handy nurse, and I love the teal cap, and how about that politically incorrect fur collar?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I did not mean to sound mopey or weepy yesterday, a Blue Monday in the blog, in a post celebrating The Weepies and their beautiful bubble! (I enjoyed counting the chapbooks in my box in the closet, and many thanks to Maureen E. Doallas for buying 4 of them, which will change my 2015 totals to report to the tax man in 2016!) I think, according to Facebook, that it is Deb Talan's birthday--singer/songwriter in The Weepies. Many happy returns!

I know I am one of the lucky ones in life. I have my health, a loving family, and work I love (even if it is ludicrously un-lucrative!) Today is Fat Tuesday in the blog, and I am celebrating leftover chocolate and the fact that my husband does not have strep throat and thus will not spread it to his volleyball team! In the waiting room, I was re-reading stories by Lorrie Moore, in Bark, a pre-birthday gift from my mom. She knows I read the hardback from the library closer to when it came out and also that I love Lorrie Moore and will want the paperback edition on hand for relentless re-reading of favorite stories and passages.

Here's one, from the story "Wings," which is a sort of re-imagining of Wings of the Dove, by Henry James (just as The Innocents, by Francesca Segal, is a contemporary re-telling of The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, and now I want to re-see the film versions of both The Wings of the Dove and The Age of Innocence, and this parenthetical moment is an example of what I mean by "Fat Tuesday" in the blog; it's not always about food). Anyhoo:

"Bitterness came when one had done the long good thing and then gone unrewarded. Dench would never operate that way. She,* on the other hand, had been born with a sort of pre-bitterness, casting about for the good and unacknowledged deed that would explain her feelings---and not coming up with it. So instead a sourness could beset her, which she had to appease and shrink with ice cream and biographies of Billie Holiday."

*"She" is a singer/songwriter in this story, making this also a Random Coinciday in the blog. And this is bittersweet, its innocent white flower, its two-toned fruit above, with many thanks, as always, to Wikipedia. But see the food? And the perfect definition of "bitterness," the ice cream needed as a sweetness to counter it? And Billie Holiday?! Oh, how I love Lorrie Moore.

Monday, January 26, 2015

In a Bubble

I love this sweet picture of The Weepies, a band my niece introduced me to and one my daughter also likes! Here's their love story! And I love their music.

It's a Blue Monday in the blog. The Weepies. It got cold again, after a great Saturday, 40s, two-hour walk in the sunshine, etc., and now it has snowed. Worse for those in the East, I hear. My friend Paulette is sad, but she also knows how to feel better, so that's good. And my hubby is sick, but has been resting and drinking liquids. (I do not plan to get sick in response.)

It's not just flu season, it's tax season. The organizer came in the mail from the tax man* and the various W2s and 1099s are arriving, and I have been counting my depreciating inventory: unsold chapbooks in a box. (Paulette, that's a little depressing, yes, but I'm oddly cheery, maybe because, despite my math challenge, everything's adding up! Math is fun!) I have 20 copies each of two books, 1 each of two others, and 44 copies of my first chapbook. Hello? Five bucks each. Even the fabulous Dianne Wiest has money worries on this Blue Monday....

In church this past Sunday, we had 10 full minutes of mindfulness and 7 steps to it, etc. I noticed that I did not, in being mindful, block anything out. I let everything in. I noticed the rain that had turned to snow, the breathing and hacking of the woman next to me, my own breathing, the sweet faces of the congregation, poor Colleen rolling her eyes and checking her watch (we hugged and laughed about this afterwards!), the calm music, the wonderful black legs of chairs against the gray carpet like a miniature stylized forest. I don't see mindfulness as living in a bubble. I see it as walking in the wind, fully buffeted, fully alive, fully aware.

*"Tax man! Tax man!" (Dialogue from Stranger than Fiction, a movie I love! My kids gave it to me!)

Friday, January 23, 2015

Valentine Tree

For those who keep track of this, year by year, post by post, and there are a few of you, yes, my tree is still up, but by now it is fully converted to the Valentine Tree, with wintery but non-Christmasy ornaments on it, plus hearts, a red apple, birds, lovebirds, and small greeting cards that are valentiny (meaning small and valentine-ish): "I Love You" in many languages, a sweet opening-night card from an actress in The Language Archive; a New Year's card from poet Molly Spencer, with a red window, red shutters, red curtains; and a New Year's card from poet Jeannine Hall Gailey with a pair of love bunnies looking at the moon. I love my life!

And this is a bunch of grapes, by Jonathan Koch, roughly in the shape of a heart. Right?

I have been busy with various things. Everything happens at once. I was glad to get my 2015 calendar in time to put these things in it before they happened. It's a New York Times crossword calendar, handy for waiting, if 1) I have a pencil 2) I can forgive myself for being so bad at the New York Times crossword puzzle. (I think I can, I think I can.)

The sun has been shining lately, melting the snow and giving me "earth lust." Really, I was re-reading the book Earth Lust, by poet Julie Brooks Barbour, reviewing it for Escape Into Life, and getting sort of lusty and eager to smell the dirt again. If I walk outside, and I do, I can sort of smell the mud.

These are currently available paintings by Jonathan Koch, by the way!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Imagining Plato

In my ongoing discussion of various gifts, I want to thank my friend Kim for her annual Christmas gift subscription to The Sun magazine. She knows how much I love it! Thank you, thank you!

In the January issue, newly arrived, I got wrapped up in the interview with David Hinton, on translating ancient Chinese poetry, and even wrote about it for the EIL Blog on Wednesday ("Thoughts on Translating Poetry"). The cover photo is by Harvey Stein, with more Coney Island pix inside. (That's not Plato.)

In the middle of the interview, I got stuck on Plato again. I love Plato, but I always run into people blaming Plato for all the faults of Western civilization, for kicking poets out of the Republic, and for the mind/body split, for example. I don't think Plato would kick out any poets; he was one. He was just, in a dialogue, having one guy give advice to another guy that boils down to this: Poets will encourage empathy and imagination in the citizen, which will allow fellow feeling and individual thinking, and if you don't want that in your ideal state, you'll have to get rid of the poets.

Anyhoo, in this interview, David Hinton says, "The ancient Greek philosopher Plato came up with the theory of Forms, which said the truest reality is one of abstract ideas. He thought that Being with a capital B was not part of this everchanging reality [mentioned earlier in and throughout the interview] but some nonmaterial Form that sits behind or above reality and doesn't change, because it's eternal. And because it is changeless, it is more real."

In a walnut shell, I think that is Hinton interpreting Plato, and I think I interpret Plato differently.

I think the key here is that Plato "came up with the theory"--that is, he imagined a way of thinking about reality that helps us organize our perceptions into essences but is not to be mistaken for reality itself; we can conceive of a table even if there isn't one right in front of us, but one is a conception and one, the table, is a table. It's not that hard (unless it's made of stone). I can't eat off an imaginary table, but I can eat off a real one. Reality, itself, as a larger concept (with a capital R), contains both the imagined table (Form) and the real table (Table). (Eating [and italics] are extremely important here.)

Back to David Hinton: "Most of the time we take it for granted that we are our mental processes, the analytical back-and-forth. Meditation reminds us that we're not. When you're meditating, watching your thoughts, you see them rise out of nothingness and recede into it. Next comes the question: If I'm watching this mental process, then I must be separate from it. So what am I?"

Um, might you be an essential Form?!

That's my awkward sense of humor. But what I am saying is, I feel connected to others and to life even while I am a separate (temporary) "I" who is a compassionate "I" who is not very lonely in the world because I already feel connected to other humans and to Nature with a capital N, and I still love Plato, a guy with imagination, who has been used and misunderstood, as well as understood, by others for a really long time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

36 Questions

Last night I spent 4 hours on the phone with a friend, asking and answering the 36 questions created by psychologist Arthur Aron and referred to in the article, "To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This," by Mandy Len Catron, published in the New York Times on January 9 and circulating on Facebook ever since. We weren't trying to fall in love. "I'm already in love with you," said my friend. We love each other from way back, from doing theatre together. She's a divorced mother of one, I'm a married mother of two, and it's not about romance for us; it's, evidently, about deepening our friendship over the phone. My ear hurt a little when I hung up--land line, actual receiver--but it was worth it!

Obviously, we did not do the staring-into-each-other's-eyes-for-four-minutes part of this process, and we skipped some of the painful questions (about death and family) or awkward-over-the-phone questions, and we were not near strangers, which is part of the premise of the 36-questions experiment in falling in love, but we had a good time and learned a lot about each other and ourselves. Indeed, I think my friend's impulse to call and do this with me came from a deep and important place in herself; she is at a crucial juncture in life, and it's about knowing and accepting who she really is, before it's too late. That's bold to say, but I trust its truth.

This listening and sharing is yet another of the gifts I've been discussing as this new year begins, here, the gift of friendship, deepened, as well. My friend ended our conversation expressing her gratitude--me, too! I sense that we both felt the evening to be an unexpected gift.

And let me again thank gifted artist Jonathan Koch for letting me use his paintings at my blog. You may know that I yearned for his painting, Walnut, thinking I could not afford it. Well, artists have payment plans, and small paintings can be affordable! So I got myself this gift this season! Plus, I learned I'm not a tough nut to crack.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Gifts

Yes, my Christmas tree is still up. Yesterday, I finished reading The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, but, even after Three Kings Day, I am still recounting my gifts, with joy and gratitude: I wrote about the yoga mat here, a gift from my husband, the The Poet Tarot here at EIL, a gift from my son, and today I will riff a bit on gifts from my daughter, who gave me a practical pink hair dryer (er, to replace the one she took to college) and a mix tape of songs she knew I would like,* plus Regina Spektor, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, which contains the fantastic song, "Firewood," a song that arrested me in the kitchen just now. I stood there, listening, rapt, turned to wood. (Wow, that's a really long sentence.) Lyrics here.

*My daughter knew I would like the songs because whenever her music is on in the car, I ask, "Who's singing that?" It's often Zee Avi or Ingrid Michaelson. Interestingly, the first song on the tape was one she didn't know I'd know. "I know this song!" I said. "What?!" "It's from Grease," I said, always delighted to reveal the musicals in their lives to my family members who claim to hate musicals but who love The Simpsons, which is always spoofing musicals by doing musicals. The song was "You're the One that I Love," sung in sweet slow motion by Angus & Julia Stone. Wikipedia tells me Regina Spektor now has the gift of a child.

In The Gift, Lewis Hyde tells of Ezra Pound being turned into a tree in a poem, "The Tree," that begins, "I stood still and was a tree amid the wood...." Reading about Pound reminded me of a similar thing happening to me in college, not in a wood but in a window. I stood transfixed, immobile, and turned into a golden tree, the one shining in the sun on the campus quad that fall, and, likewise, wrote a poem about it. I stood just as still listening to "Firewood" in my kitchen this morning. It contains the repeated line, "The piano is not firewood yet." Last night, as on other nights, I tried to play the piano, and sing, and broke down into tears.

"Some day you'll wake up and feel a great pain," sings Regina, "and miss every toy you ever owned." My husband, who left most of his toys behind in Cuba, speaks of a similar feeling. "You'll want to go back, you'll wish you were small," sings Regina. Now that the relationship with Cuba has begun to change, my husband may be able to go back! 
"You'll take the clock off of your wall," sings Regina, "and you'll wish it was lying." I don't know about that, but I do know it corresponds to the beautiful image of a backward clock from a film by Eduardo Yagüe made to one of my Claudel poems, “Broken Figure.” You can see it here, at The Poetry Storehouse, or here, at Moving Poems, where it is accompanied by a companion film, “Figura Rota,” made for the Spanish translation of the poem, also by Yagüe. Many thanks to Eduardo, to Nic Sebastian at The Poetry Storehouse, and to Dave Bonta at Moving Poems. All of this is a gift!

Hyde quotes Pound’s speculation on the origin of myth: “The first myths arose when a man walked sheer into ‘nonsense,’ that is to say, when some very vivid and undeniable adventure befell him, and he told someone else who called him a liar. Thereupon, after bitter experience, perceiving that no one could understand what he meant when he said that he ‘turned into a tree,’ he made a myth—a work of art, that is,—an impersonal or objective story woven out of his own emotion, as the nearest equation that he was capable of putting into words.”

“Love what you have and you’ll have more love,” sings Regina Spektor. I think that’s the underlying message of The Gift, too, and of all gifts. “Everyone knows you’re going to love, though there’s still no cure for crying.” Thanks, Regina. Thanks, my sweet daughter! For the songs and these beautiful images! And the pink hair dryer!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


For Christmas I received a beautiful yoga mat. It is seafoam green with a mandala illustration in the middle that helps me center and align myself, quite physically, as Rodney Yee tells me what to do with my body/mind. "For seventeen years I have started my day with yoga...," he says, which must be 32 or more years by now, based on the copyright on the VHS videotape, which was rendered in Roman Numerals, leading me to an online converter, because I am Roman Numeral challenged.

Uh, today I started my day shoveling snow, and A.M. Yoga with Rodney Yee will probably become P.M. Yoga with Layers On. Here's what it looks like, rolled up, and here's where you can get it. (Unless you are me. If you are me, you can just go upstairs and unroll it!)

Happy New Year! It's been a great holiday season of connecting and re-connecting with friends, family, my inner child, and my same old, yet, yes, renewed, outer self. I am re-reading The Gift, by Lewis Hyde, the same old 1983 paperback edition I got soon after it first came out with the subtitle Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. It has appeared since with other subtitles, and the current 25th anniversary edition (?? are we all date challenged??) is subtitled Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. (I am tickled at the coincidence of my own recent 25th anniversary, and, likewise, our numbers are screwy, too! 25 + 8 years of courtship = 33! Which, you will be glad to see, I did not attempt to render as Roman Numerals.) I like how this somewhat abstract Shaker basket of golden apples suggests endless abundance despite the ragged, woven boundary....

None of these subtitles seems to get at what the book is, which is marvelously hard to categorize! It explores "gift economy" as cultural anthropology and is part history, economy, comparative religion, literary criticism...and, in short, wonderful. It means even more to me now, more than 25 years later, as I've got way more life experience and it rings all the more true. (I see that the new cover includes testimonials from Margaret Atwood and David Foster Wallace.)

When the mat is unrolled, you can see how the mandala illustration has its edges "cut off" which makes it extend to the infinite in imagination somehow. And makes me feel kind of skinny. Despite leftover Christmas cheesecake for breakfast.