Saturday, December 30, 2017

Pops for Champagne

Today I encountered a coincidence, so, of course, it is a Random Coinciday in the blog. And also Slattern Day, as I don't intend to do (any more) work. Earlier this morning, I was posting a set of 3 related Music for Music columns at Escape Into Life for our new(ish) columnist, Dan Ursini (also a musician and playwright). This involved embedding YouTube videos and finding cool images.

Here are the 3 posts:

Music for Music: Joe Policastro Trio 
Music for Music: Joe Policastro Trio, Part 2
Music for Music: Joe Policastro Trio, Part 3

Yes, a trio of posts about a trio! But that's not the coincidence! The coincidence is that Pops for Champagne, a champagne bar, popped into my mind, maybe because it is almost New Year's Eve, which involved champagne, and when I dropped into their website, I discovered that their live jazz house band is The Joe Policastro Trio! Who gnu? (Plenty of people knew, just not me. Nor did I know that Pops for Champagne had moved to State Street. I thought my brain had melted when I saw that address on the website, but another website told me the place had moved. Thank you, Internet, for providing information and not melting my brain. But wait, the Internet can melt one's brain...Stop talking now....) Anyhoo, Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

White Christmas

Remember this scene from the film White Christmas? They're on their way to Vermont on the train and sing a song about snow, which is exactly what's not happening this year in Vermont? Then there's the mini-miracle of actual snow on Christmas? We're having actual snow on Christmas Eve, and it looks like it will stick, so "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!"

My kids are here, safe and sound, my sister and her husband are on the way, from Nashville, where they saw their son and daughter-in-law in The Nutcracker. My niece will be on her way via train (perhaps singing "Snow," or at least looking at it out the window), and we look forward to a warm and wonderful time together, talking, playing games, eating yummy treats. I wish a great time to all of you, too.

While I wait for the gathering, I am 1) remembering Baklava for Breakfast, which could happen again, given the arrival of Mid-East Pastry this week (thank you, Basel!) and 2) tallying up the year:

I read 80 books, all noted in my yellow book journal that looks like the socks in Baklava for Breakfast. These included novels, books of poetry, short story and essay collections, and nonfiction.

Far behind in the 100 Rejections project, I sent out 26 submissions, had 8 acceptances or publications so far, 15 rejections, and 3 2017 submissions pending. (I think there are some pending from previous years, too, but I did not open all the folders....) I don't mind the rejections, as there are many reasons for that, but I do mind never hearing a response from some contests and journals. Sigh...  But that's a small peeve. And I prefer joy! 26 is far from 100 submissions, so I am vaguely peeved with me. Likewise, I forgive myself and go for the glee of the season instead. And I have 2 chapbooks coming out in 2018, so that'll be a lot of poems at once!

In the meantime, enjoy "Snow" from White Christmas on YouTube!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

I Dunno

I am reading Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich, and my heart keeps clenching and cracking open. I am reading a large print edition, as that's all the library had, and it's a good read. I await my new trifocals from the eye doctor. Sigh....

Meanwhile, good poetry news: Poetry East took 4 poems for the spring, and Red Bird Chapbooks accepted Spiritual Midwifery, a book of poems somehow about the birth of humans and the birth of the spirit, several in response to religious paintings. I'm very pleased because Red Bird published an earlier chapbook of mine, ABCs of Women's Work, and this press is so impressive and easy to work with. I admire the work of the editors and the work of their poets!

Plus. I feel deeply calm (despite the crud going on in our country). Perhaps it is because I resumed A.M. Yoga by Rodney Yee, at any time of day I'm free. Perhaps it is because there is early morning light again for a while, anyway, even as we approach the dark of winter.... I dunno.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy, Happy Valley

I'm glad I read Hillbilly Elegy, by J. D. Vance, a bestselling memoir I borrowed this summer and finally read this fall, in order to return it, reducing my stack of borrowed books. It helped me understand "hillbilly" thinking, and I wouldn't use that term except that Vance does, boldly, to identify the culture he grew up in. In fact, the way Vance talks about financial decisions in his community of origin ties right in with the behavioral economics I have been learning about, summarized here, in the press release related to the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, awarded to Richard H. Thaler of the University of Chicago. We don't always do what's best for us in the bigger picture, or what's rational, and Thaler has helped economists see and accept that psychology plays a big part in financial decisions, which affects the larger economy in often unpredictable ways...

Right now I am reading Paterno, by Joe Posnanski, about Joe Paterno, beloved and hated longtime football coach at Penn State in State College, PA, known as "Happy Valley" until that nickname didn't seem to describe a community wracked and ruined by the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal, which caused the ouster, too, of Coach Paterno. I started toward the end of the book, to gain insight on that aspect of Paterno's career, and now I have started over at the beginning, interested in learning more about him and about football and coaching styles. This is all part of my research for directing For the Loyal this winter, a play Lee Blessing wrote in response to the Sandusky situation at Penn State. In a way, the play is indeed "for the loyal," so they can consider how their loyalty affects everyone else; it is also for everyone else, so we can ask ourselves, "What should be done? What should we do? What can be done? What is the right thing to do?" Looking back, Paterno wished he had done more. Paterno presents us with the dilemma, as did the press at the time, of legal responsibility versus moral responsibility. What should we do?!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Rabbit, Rabbit

Whew! I was ready for a change, and it has come as a new month. I did not really know of the tradition of saying "Rabbit, rabbit" on the first of the month, except from friends, but I probably did read of it in a Trixie Belden book, The Mystery of the Emeralds, when I was a kid. See quotation in Wikipedia article for "Rabbit rabbit rabbit." Anyhoo, I'm a little behind in everything, dealing with some family matters in October, so I will fill you in on some Escape Into Life stuff.

It was CatOber as usual, celebrated by a poetry feature in which cats made studied or random appearances! And poet Virginia Bell told us about cat-fishing and her interesting father in an excerpt from her memoir. And you can travel down the River Styx with poet Susanna Lang in her new book of poems, reviewed by me here. Other posts gave us gorgeous art, lovely music, and "angel moments." Poetry resumed with Michael Meyerhofer's weird and wonderful work, coupled with eerie, funny black and white art by Alfred Gescheidt. And finally, on actual Halloween, as terror struck in Manhattan again, EIL featured some Scary Poems, one, by Lana Hechtman Ayers, about her dead brother, a "hero of New York City," who helped with 9/11 rescue efforts as a volunteer EMT. Oh, the world!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

You, Too

Maybe you, too, have been sexually harassed, abused, insulted, or assaulted. It's going on all the time, everywhere. It makes me so sad. One of the latest stories is in The New Yorker, by Ronan Farrow, about Annabella Sciorra and Daryl Hannah, Rosie Perez and more, actors I admire for their talent, work, and bravery. Maybe you, too, have chosen to speak out or to remain silent. Maybe you, too, have sought solace and advice from friends who could or couldn't give it. Imagine the horror and stress of the incidents themselves, and the ongoing stress of whether to speak out or not. Imagine all the factors and circumstances.

I am home today, doing such imagining and empathizing. I am not doing some other things because this, for the time being, takes precedence. Honoring these women by taking the time to think about them, by paying attention to what they are saying. Since I have worked as an actor, I know how hard that is, acting--the work itself, the artistic endeavor--and how hard getting the next job can be. Think what they were up against at all times as they proceeded in big time careers with all the forces and powers and even well-meaning people pressing them not to speak or ignoring them when they did. (My own acting career was "small time" but even I ran into shocking crap, and still do.) (And the literary world is not spared this crap, either.) Thank you Annabella, for Jungle Fever, and everything else! Thank you, Daryl Hannah, for Blade Runner, and everything else!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Me, Too

Yesterday I asked my husband if he was aware of the huge “Me, too” phenomenon on Facebook. He wasn’t (and he is on Facebook). “4.7 million people,” I told him, “reported that they had been sexually harassed, assaulted, or abused, and the real count is probably twice that.” Or three times. The “official” count is probably even bigger now. I told him briefly why I didn’t want to post a “Me, too” status on Facebook—I hated watching all the fights that ensued in people’s comments, I hated watching people climb up on all the podiums and bandwagons; I hated seeing people I like and admire say stupid things (even though I have said stupid things and step up on podiums and bandwagons, too)—but how I did share a short video my niece had shared, showing Tarana Burke, who started the “Me Too” movement ten years ago…and how sad and moving and inspiring that was. Burke spoke with her daughter, who can, alas, say, “Me, too.”*

(And because I am not on Twitter, I knew about Tarana Burke as founder of the movement before I knew that Alyssa Milano had encouraged a “me too” reply to a tweet and a follow-up Twitter boycott, etc., all laid out here in a New York Times article. I am glad that Burke and Milano are now friendly collaborators in raising awareness.

*I learned in the article that Burke started the movement in part because she “couldn’t even say ‘me too’” to a very young victim of sexual abuse. Burke’s movement is all about empathy, specifically “empowerment through empathy,” and she wanted to put people who had suffered together with others who could say, “Me, too.”** Burke has also started a not-for-profit organization called Just Be Inc focused on wellness and wholeness.)

**I am the one adding the annoying comma, though.

Today I saw the piece by Jenny Listman in Medium, about the time Elie Wiesel “grabbed [her] ass”—more sad news, beautifully written, making the issues (and the ironies) very, very clear. I’m waiting for what Bitter Gertrude might say. I will keep reading what these women have to say, and I hope you will, too.

Here's another woman to read, Sarah Polley, who shifted from acting to directing and moved from being objectified to being respected.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Body of Work

Ever since Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I have been reading his work, checking out his books from the library. I started with When We Were Orphans and then went on to The Buried Giant, the most recent, which takes place in a sort of Beowulfian/post-King Arthur world where the Britons have been in conflict with the Saxons, until they forgot about it. But what will awaken their memories?! It was a slow-moving, page-turner of a book--how do those two things go so well together? that is the mystery of Ishiguro, perhaps!--with a final moment worth waiting for. A book about memory, vengeance, war, and idealism, it made me very sad.

Fantasy is OK, but, frankly, I prefer realism...or, as in the case of The Unconsoled, surrealism, which is like a very long, pretty bad dream, but, as before, I was gripped and could not stop turning the pages. This one struck me as human and true and heart breaking. A guy comes to town to play the piano--he is a famous musician--and gets wrapped up in the lives of the townspeople, or as wrapped up as he can, given his own character, which resembles that of certain other characters in the novel. This one, too, made me very sad.

I wrote down many sentences. Here, the main character is recalling a moment when a classmate sought to console him in the past: "For one thing, even in my state of self-pity, I had been able to recognize the remarkable generosity he was displaying, and had felt a profound gratitude. It was also at that moment I had first realized, with a distinct chill, that there was another side to the school golden boy--some deeply vulnerable dimension that would ensure he would never live up to the expectations that had been placed on him." This is a moment of great insight into the other person's character, without the narrator 1) recognizing in himself the same thing going on and 2) being able to reciprocate in empathy, in the past or in the present. See the sadness?

Here, too, speaking to a child (who seems to vary in age), the narrator speaks wisely of regret without (quite) seeing in himself the same vulnerability to it: "And you see, once you miss it [your big chance], there's no going back, it would be too late. It won't matter how hard I travel afterwards, it won't matter, it would be too late, and all these years I've spent would have been for nothing. I've seen it happen to other people, Boris. They spend year after year travelling and they start to get tired, perhaps a little lazy. But that's often just when it comes along. And they miss it. And, you know, they regret it for the rest of their lives. They get bitter and sad. By the time they die, they've become broken people."

While it's not the kind of plot to which you attach the word the word "spoiler," I don't want to say too much about Miss Collins and her speech near the end of the novel, but I will quote her on this: "Me, the music, we're neither of us anything more to you than mistresses you seek consolation from." This is crucial since the title is The Unconsoled, and we do seem to be in the land of the unconsoled throughout the novel. In it, people do offer each other various consolations--words, food, drink, hospitality, advice, practice rooms....  Ah, but as one character puts it, "I had certain plans then, such as you do when you are young, when you don't realize there's a shell built around you, a hard shell so you can't--get--out!"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cats & Orphans

There are more poems this October, not by me, and these with cats in them, up today at Escape Into Life, in the CatOber 2017 feature. (We have Dog Days in summer, poems with dogs in them, and give equal time to cats in October.) Poems by Catherine Moore, Jessy Randall, and Rob Carney, with links to more!! Meanwhile, I am reading--and about to finish--When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, who just won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Here is a New Yorker piece on him that refers to "the itch of wanting to know" which is what I experience when reading Ishiguro. I had read Never Let Me Go and seen the movie of The Remains of the Day, which I also need now to read, or to read again...and some shorter pieces. There is a mastery in this writing. I want to keep turning the pages, not just to find out what happens, but to keep being told the story.... I like how this cover is a blur.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Poems in October

This has been a slow year for poetry for me--writing, submitting, publishing. I guess I was too busy with other things, or it could be a general winding down. (I hope not.)

My poetry tally is shamefully low; perhaps I will tally before I go... But on October 1, two new issues came out with poems of mine in them:

Rogue Agent with "We Ruined Our Teeth"
the museum of americana with "Sunset with No Motel in Sight" and "The Red Car"

Palindromish coincidence: Rogue Agent is issue #31 and the museum of americana is issue #13. (See creepy coincidii from yesterday here.)

Red herringish coincidence re: images. It is not really a No Vacancy problem but instead a "no motel in sight" problem, as that poem states in its title. And while aspects of each poem may be true or autobiographical,

1. We might not have been looking for a motel at all.
2. "The Red Car" is based on a dream and a myth.
3. Our teeth are not now constellations.

But it is true that the song "Drive" by The Cars makes me cry. The line, "Who's gonna drive you home...tonight?" I don't know why, really. I guess it evokes a time gone by...the 80s. Watch out: this is a sad, creepy music video (in case you don't know the song.)

2017 Tally:
Sent: 18 Rejected: 7 Accepted: 5 Pending from present or past: 10

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Magic for Beginners

I am creeped out. What are the odds that I would read two books in a row that contain a character named Ransom? Granted, in one, The Bostonians, by Henry James, Basil Ransom, is a major character, and, in the other, Aiding and Abetting, by Muriel Spark, Roy Ransom, a detective, is merely a mentioned character. (And his name might have been "Ranson," as it was printed the second time he was mentioned, though that might have been a typo. Or was it an intentional mistake, as he was mentioned in a character's notes, to lend verisimilitude. But does that happen? I found it weird.) And I did not read this particular edition of The Bostonians, but I liked this particular couple. They look ghostly or like they are made out of Hollywood ectoplasm, adding to the creepiness of it all. I read instead an edition with a good introduction by A.S. Byatt and excellent footnotes at the back, so I read with two bookmarks, to keep track of them.

The Bostonians is creepy as Ransom, a Southerner, not too long after the Civil War, is sort of stalking a feminist from the North (Boston)--or rather a lovely young woman with a talent for public speaking, who can be used by the feminist movement of the time. It was particularly creepy reading it in our times, in the context of the current prolonged backlash against feminism and the resurgence of Confederate flags and related controversies. And now I do want to see the movie with Christopher Reeve as Ransom, to ponder his charm, though I read the book casting the remake in my head, and Ransom was played by Adam Driver. Henry James describes Adam Driver's long, thrown-back hair, I kid you not. Creepy.

It is October, which adds to the creepiness. Now I am reading Magic for Beginners, a bunch of surreal short stories by Kelly Link. I just finished the story with many rabbits in the yard, so, if you have read it, you know why I am creeped out. Not only by the story, but also because my yard is full of rabbits, too, as we don't spray lawn poison, and I leave plenty of things in the yard for animals, birds, squirrels, earthworms, and insects to eat all year long. I mean seed heads, vegetable compost, and bread crusts.

And up this month at Escape Into Life is my review of Travel Notes from the River Styx, a book of poems by Susanna Lang, that is sort of a dreamy road trip in the Underworld. You can read it here if you want more creepiness! Meanwhile, the annual Evergreen Cemetery Walk continues in Bloomington, Illinois. I wrote a couple of the scripts for it, and the actors are doing a great job. The unifying theme this year is World War I, as this is the centennial of the USA's involvement in that sad, sad war. The ghosts of soldiers, Red Cross nurses, and hard-working, generous people of our community do walk again....

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Something About Mary

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been reading a biography of Mary Martin, Some Enchanted Evenings. I always learn a lot from actor biographies, sometimes more than I ever wanted or needed to know, but I love finding ways to connect to other human beans. Like Mary Martin, I get good ideas in the shower, and, also like her, I don't like to see myself on camera or videotape. Here, on p. 316, the two came together: "So I said to myself one day in the shower--that's where I get all my famous ideas, like washing that man right outta my hair--I never saw myself on stage, so there really is no need for me to see myself now, or I might never go back on television." She was a hit on live television, as Peter Pan, and on various taped TV specials, but people loved her dearly onstage, alive and natural, full of energy, in that ephemeral art that is theatre. I think I hate seeing myself (taped live) from my basic shyness and introversion, and I sort of don't want to know how I do what I do. I don't want to be any more self-consciousness than I already am! A great thing about live theatre is to disappear into the moment that is shared--with other actors and with the audience and in & with the world imagined and created by the playwright first and then interpreted by theatre artists. Now, back to Siri Hustvedt, whose fiction and essays I have been reading all summer. Also reading & reviewing poetry for EIL, most recently Whirlwind @ Lesbos, by Risa Denenberg.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Earnest is Over

The Importance of Being Earnest, the play I was just in at Heartland Theatre, is over, and we struck the set on Sunday, and I am still catching up with my rest and my laundry! It was fun to be Lady Bracknell, and audiences had a great time discovering or rediscovering this very witty, utterly ridiculous play by Oscar Wilde. My daughter was surprised that such an old play could be so funny!!

I have been reading a biography of Mary Martin--Peter Pan! the original Maria in The Sound of Music on Broadway, Nellie Forbush in South Pacific!--and am comforted to know that she got just as nervous as I do! It almost makes me want to do a musical again. Almost...

Meanwhile, the world and our country have been falling apart, devastated by weather, politics, violence, and idiocy. Which is why we do need musicals and ridiculous plays sometimes....

Monday, August 21, 2017

Going Normal

I could not help but connect with this book, as I loved Olive Kitteridge and had already read My Name is Lucy Barton. Anything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout, is another set of interconnected stories (like Olive Kitteridge)--though the New York Times calls it a novel (but the library calls it short stories)--and the book explores the characters back in Amgash, Illinois, Lucy Barton's hometown.

But I connected in a special way when I got to the story "Snow-Blind," with its Annie Appleby character, an actress.

"She had recently, though, had fantasies of 'going normal.' Having a house and a husband and children and a garden. The quietness of all that. But what would she do with all the feelings that streamed down her like small rivers? It was not the sound of applause Annie liked--in fact, she often barely heard it--it was the moment onstage when she knew she had left the world and fully joined another. Not unlike the feelings of ecstasy she'd had in the woods as a child."

I didn't know it was called "going normal," but I did this, and not just in fantasy, leaving the Chicago stage to marry, raise kids, and have a patch of garden in our backyard and then actually going to Normal, Illinois to let the kids grow all the way up near a set of grandparents. (Now they live and work in Chicago, and one is headed to new adventures in California very soon. I think we did OK.)

Now I am rehearsing a play again and revisiting the artistic dilemmas connected with that. I don't do it for the applause, that's for sure! (Sometimes I get sad or annoyed that people think all actors need applause and attention and ego stroking, but then I let that go, because I am older now and do not cling to my annoyances so much.) I do love entering the new world, the story of play! I love the immersion in the circumstances imagined by the playwright, even the ridiculous circumstances of The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde! We had a run-through last night, so we know we are not yet fully immersed, but we will be! That's what rehearsals are for.

And side by side with this imagined life is the ecstasy of my real life, my own backyard with its rabbits and chipmunks and squirrels and wrens and cardinals and occasional hawks, its cone flowers and balsam and Rose of Sharon, and its great night sky.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Stay Awake

Today I return to my report on my summer reading, here Stay Awake, a book of short stories by Dan Chaon. But I have to say I am preoccupied by current events, heartsick and sad about the violence in Virginia and now in Spain. Though perpetrated by different people, for different surface reasons, it seems to come from the same scared, angry place--little men, probably off balance, seeking meaning or purpose in the only way they can find, by hurting or killing others to make their lonely, alone, senseless "statement." The violence here in my own country does mean that we, its citizens and residents, must stay awake! Realize how deep goes the anger and hatred and displacement and lack of logic or empathy on the part of those doing the violence. They don't really know what they are doing, do they? If they did, they'd have to stop. They act in a terrible ignorance of their relationship with others, with the rest of us.

Dan Chaon's stories here are ghost stories. Or stories with a mystical or supernatural component or possibility. But all of them ring true at the psychological level, too, as just a state of mind, or a state of sleep, or a dreaming state....

I did not know his wife had died of cancer. Now I want to read her stories, too. Here is his loving account of her.

Monday, August 7, 2017

We Live in Seattle Now

It feels like we live in Seattle now, it's so cool and rainy. Meanwhile, Portland has turned tropical. That's all I'll say, today, about extreme weather and global warming. But I think I implied that I would tell you about my summer reading---specifically, my Michigan reading. Well, while in Michigan, though nowhere near Kalamazoo, Bonnie Jo Campbell's hometown, I read Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, a good book of short stories about strong, hard-working, not always entirely admirable women, but you can't help admire them, anyway, looking closely at their circumstances. I read like a daughter wanting to know everything. There were serious, long, and tender stories, short shorts, and a funny one called "My Dog Roscoe," about a woman who is convinced that a lost dog she adopts is her dead ex-lover reincarnated. Even that one gets poignant* by the end, all the more poignant for me, as I once knew a dog named Roscoe. In Michigan.

*New York Times reviewer agrees with me on the poignancy!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Swimming with Frogs

I have been back home and at work for a week and a half since an annual family wamily vacation in Michigan. We swam in pool and lake, some of us in inflatable kayaks. We read books (me), played golf and volleyball (others), did yoga (my sister), played games, and had great conversations. A time of togetherness. Here is a picture of most of us, this particular year. My son, who took the picture, is also in it, thanks to a timer. My sister's son, who was with us most of the week, is not in it, thanks to his life in the Nashville Ballet.

It has turned to August. How quickly summer slips by...

In Michigan one morning after a big rainstorm, there were tiny frogs in the pool. I swam with them, others fished them out. Back in Normal, during Early Bird Lap Swim, we early birds swam with a big frog, who stayed in two lanes, mainly, then jumped on deck, then escaped a big white bucket wielded by the lifeguard, then didn't. She carried him safely away from the chlorine pool.

Since my return, I have been attending rehearsals for The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, going up at Heartland Theatre in September. I am Lady Bracknell, no doubt closer to the Dame Judi Dench type than the Dame Edith Evans type, or the David Suchet type. (She has often been played by a man.) When I saw the costume renderings, I noticed the pearl-drop earrings and realized I have the exact pair, thanks to my mother-in-law.

Lady Bracknell is a bit of a toad.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Hand Me Ups

Once again, I thought I had made up an excellent term only to discover it is already out there. "Hand me ups" are items of older (slower) technology handed up a generation or two by young people who have upgraded to faster, better technology. A second definition at Urban Dictionary is the one I intended, when younger people, such as siblings, hand their clothing up to older siblings. In my case, I wanted to mention that I am now wearing some of my daughter's clothes, since she has moved away and left a bunch of things in the closet and in various bags I have not yet given away. I found this strapless dress in the closet and wore it to the Sugar Creek Arts Festival yesterday and found a picture of myself in it on Facebook. That's my husband and me looking at art. (I got some.)

The other day I wore a lacy yellow top over another yellow top, the exact same yellow, a perfect find in a bag of hand-me-ups. Hand Me Ups is also a thrift shop in Omaha and a consignment store in Anchorage. I am clearly unoriginal.

I just relived the 1980s (and learned a lot about videogames) by reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. So I will have read the book before I see the movie, which is supposed to come out next year. Now I am reading Cline's The Importance of Being Ernest, a book of slam poems--because he is (Ernest) and titles are not copyrighted! I was delighted to see that a book he loves is I Love Science! by Shanny Jean Maney, also a book I love! Both these poetry books are published by Write Bloody Publishing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

10,000 Hours

Happy first day of summer! I walked to work and back, just missing a midday sprinkle of rain. Here's what's blooming: Prairie Blue Eyes (lavender lilies), big yellow daisies, purple coneflower, the last of the white anemone, the beginning of the white hosta, the end of the blue & purple spiderwort, and a jillion orange day lilies. I've eaten a few early raspberries. There's work to be done (and hedgehogs to be folded), but I thought I'd fill you in on my recent reading.

I'm participating in the Adult Summer Reading program at the library, which asks us to read around in various genres. I'm reading a novel now, but I've already read my biography and nonfiction. I read The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage, by Daniel Mark Epstein, who also wrote the charming Lincoln and Whitman: Parallel Lives in Civil War Washington, about the near-miss, across-the-street relationship of the President and the Poet who loved him.

I also read The Death of Expertise, by Tom Nichols, a 5-time Jeopardy champion, as it turns out! My mom will be impressed. (She'd also be impressed by India Cooper, another 5-time champion and an actor I knew in Chicago!!) In The Death of Expertise, Nichols lays out the sad situation in straightforward language and with a common sense approach that also reveals that he's en expert. He sees a great loss of critical thinking among people today, including the college-educated, in part because college has become a consumer product rather than a place to acquire knowledge and learn how to think. This goes side by side with contempt for intellectuals and the "elite," which Nichols tracks for us in popular culture and politics. This book 1) made me sad 2) articulated what I have also observed in America today. Nichols warns that American democracy is in grave danger, reminding us that our democracy is a republic, one in which we elect representatives who should be, er, experts!

Reading the book reminded me of the concept of getting better and better at something by doing it a lot, specifically for 10,000 hours. I realized I am old enough to have developed some expertise in more than one area. I have done 10,000 hours of acting (in a 10+ year "career") and more than 10,000 hours of writing & editing, not to mention reading. I hope I don't spending 10,000 hours making book hedgehogs. (By the way, here is an instruction sheet on how to make the folds for a book hedgehog.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Book Hedgehogs

I've been busy. And not just making book hedgehogs. I've also been reading books, not just folding their pages into adorable animals. I've been helping our daughter pack and move to Chicago. I've been working, writing, rehearsing for a gala, attending the gala, editing, walking to work again, enjoying the fabulous weather, and, yes, swimming! Swimming with ducks. Ducks like the pool in the early morning. Or they did. Now they're onto us. Humans who swim in the early morning...

Now that I know how to make book hedgehogs, I know what to do with all the books I need to get rid of but can't quite part with, not yet. That's not quite true, I suppose, as these book hedgehogs were made from paperbacks soon to be recycled at the library. One was A Shropshire Lad, by A.E. Housman. and since you can get that easily via Project Gutenberg, I have stuck some blue eyes and backyard grasses into this one.

Hmm, he looks a little like a possum.

Here he is in the woodpile.

Speaking of recycling, I filled a giant recycling bin with my past life, part of a big spring cleaning project that made me confront the big chunks of what I had forgotten. Now I have remembered, briefly, and recycled those same portions of my existence. I do not think I will be teaching again in a college setting, so goodbye to grade books and syllabi! When the time comes, goodbye to book hedgehogs, as well.

What will happen to my blog now? My most viewed post, with 117,498 hits, is Hedgehog Hodgepodge, featuring the popular real-life creature. Now this...

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


I wanted to read Beartown, by Fredrik Backman, because I liked A Man Called Ove, and as a kind of research* for a play I'll be directing next season at Heartland Theatre, For the Loyal, by Lee Blessing. Written in response to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, For the Loyal is about a scandal that threatens a football program. Beartown is about a scandal that threatens a hockey program that means a lot to a small town in the forest. Both works keep asking us, "What should we do? What is the right thing to do here?" Backman's book is wonderful in how it keeps turning assumptions right around and opening up new ways of thinking about something and new possibilities of behavior.

*I'll be doing other research, too, which has begun with the documentary Happy Valley, about the effect of the crimes and scandal on the community of State College, PA, known as "Happy Valley" before things got so unhappy there. It is a careful, compassionate, and devastating exploration--with hope in it.

But this bit from the middle of Beartown, pertinent to its own plot, could apply to the state of things in the USA right now, where we seem to be headed for another Civil War, as uncivil as the last one.

Fredrik Backman in Beartown:

Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The word becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn't through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.

So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that's easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe--comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy. There are many ways of doing that....

This rings very true, and I'm watching it happen all around me. I'm sad about it. I keep expecting us all to grow up, but we linger in an easier immaturity, I fear, or in "the inability to tolerate ambiguity," as my dad used to put it. I grew up being warned about this, but here it is, still.

I do tolerate ambiguity. I'm an artist, a thinker, a reader, a witness to the complicated lives lived all around me. But I see people of hope and goodwill still choosing to oversimplify situations that are complicated, looking for easy solutions, wishing for good to defeat evil the way it happens in our fantasies, our myths, our hopes...and maybe forgetting that one side thinks it is good and the other evil, and vice versa, if we oversimplify. There are interesting, creative, reasonable solutions, but they take attention and effort, cooperation and compromise, and often do not "permit life to go on as normal." Fortunately, I live in Normal. Where unusual things keep happening...

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Poetry as Food

It's Poem in Your Pocket Day, but I forgot to wear pockets. I did find my envelope of tiny poems for your pocket yesterday, while cleaning up my office and listening to Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders. I wrote about that listening experience over at Escape Into Life, in the EIL Blog, including a poem about Lincoln, which is too long and too online to stick in your pocket, but you can go there via this easy link, if you like!

That poem was published in Feast: Poetry & Recipes for a Full Seating at Dinner (an anthology of food poems and, yes, recipes, published by Black Lawrence Press in 2015). It was included in the cocktail section, because Lincoln is toasting Robert Burns, and I also made up a cocktail, with help from the bartender at the Marriott, called the Lilacs in the Courtyard Cosmo. Walt Whitman's elegy to Lincoln is "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," but "courtyard" is, here, alliterative and more likely--drinks in the hotel courtyard! In any case, both poem (Whitman's) and drink (mine) are blue. I'm rambling. (So you know it's me.)

Then today the Food issue of Poetry East arrived! It's glorious. It is also set up as a full-course dinner, but a particular "perfect meal," as chosen by chef Mary Jo McMillin, of Mary Jo's Cuisine (a restaurant in Oxford, Ohio) and Mary Jo's Kitchen (her blog), with recipes provided. Mary Jo is the widow of James Reiss, a poet, to whom this issue is dedicated. He has a wonderful poem in the same issue, a funny poem called "Mary Had," with "little lamb / hunks" in it, and lamb is indeed the main course of the "perfect meal." The perfect meal is perfectly photographed by the Poetry East editors, who apparently got to eat the perfect meal in February of this year! There is also gorgeous art about food all through the issue. You can get a copy here. If you read this issue, you will be hungry and yet satiated. And you will enjoy "Fat Hamlet," which is about "grief bacon," as in "Kummerspeck--in German, excess weight gained from emotional overeating; literally 'grief bacon'"

My poem in this issue is "Glazed," in the dessert section, about a honey-sweet day in April, previously published in Crab Creek Review and reprinted for the PE food anthology. Many thanks to all for the food and the work and the love and the yumminess. Hmm, I should have posted this on Fat Tuesday, but it hadn't happened yet. But this had! So it's a Random Coinciday in the blog. On Poem in Your Pocket Day in the USA.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Lab Girl

I love this book! I knew I would when I heard an NPR interview with the author, Hope Jahren. The book came to the library, and I waited patiently for it to come back! Now it has, I've read it, and it's just come out in paperback, and my book group is going to read it, and all kinds of yay! This is a book about trees, about plants, about love and being a scientist, and about an interesting guy named Bill

Just read it.

I read it at the perfect time, while working on the play Photograph 51, about another "lab girl," Rosalind Franklin. Both of them had to deal with some men who didn't know how to respect women scientists as equals. I was surprised that it still goes on today, and I expect to hear more about that at a discussion by Dr. Cynthia Moore after the 2:00 Saturday matinee at Heartland Theatre on April 22.

This year I am keeping a reading journal in a notebook that looks like a library card. So far in 2017, I have read 33 books. Because I love to read. Some of them were plays and books of poetry. Some were novels, some short story collections, and several were nonfiction, including this wonderful memoir, Lab Girl.

Here are some sentences I wrote down in my reading journal:

"Tiny but determined, I navigated the confusing and unstable path of being what you are while knowing it's more than people want to see."

"Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life."

I could stop there...but I can't.

"It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not."

This comforted and bolstered me so much because 1) I have kept a diary since I was 10 and 2) I'm now keeping this reading journal.

"There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule." We have one as a prop in the play!

And, to reveal myself as I record what I value: "A vine becomes whatever it needs to be and does whatever it must to make real its fabulous pretensions."

I love that. I feel a strange affinity to vines. "Vines are not sinister; they are just hopelessly ambitious. They are the hardest-working plants on Earth." I'll leave you thinking about that!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Home From Away

I’ve been away from the blog for a while, but I’m back, at least for today. I was doing other things and not quite in the blogging mood. Some of the things:

1)      Democratic precinct work building up to the April 4 election.
2)      Assistant directing the play Photograph 51 at Heartland Theatre.
3)      Library work + freelance writing & editing work.
4)      Writing a poem a day in April for National Poetry Month.

Well, the election has happened, the play is up and running, I’m still working, and it’s still April, so I’m still writing a poem a day, but the blogging mood seems to have bloomed with the tulips, violets, dandelions, and bleeding heart. So here I am.

Our local politics have gone viral. Yesterday, my husband was reading his Daily Kos and said, “Isn’t that the lady who was in our front yard?” Yes, indeed, that was Chemberly Cummings, who had brought a campaign sign for our yard and was elected on April 4. She is the first African American to be elected to the Town of Normal town council. This is the new Normal!

Daily Kos and others had picked up the story from the Huffington Post, which had also done an earlier story on Cheri Bustos holding a workshop for motivated people like Jodie Slothower, to help them learn how to run for public office. I’m so proud of all our locals who stepped up to serve the public! The mayoral race was too close to call. Official results will come out today, and there may still be a recount. A reminder that every vote really does count.

While I was not blogging, I was also not sending out very much poetry, but that engine is beginning to rev up, too. I participated in a wonderful poetry reading for the museum of Americana at the McLean County Museum of History with fellow poets Justin Hamm and Tim Hunt. On April 20, we have the next open mic reading at the Normal Public Library, with an Earth Day/Arbor Day set of themes: earth, trees, weather. It’s from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the library cafĂ©. Local poets and poetry lovers, come on over!