Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Wasted Day, Part 2

I've already taken The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl, back to the library, shortly after it renewed itself for me, so to speak. I remember getting a wee bit bogged down in the middle--somehow fitting, given my preoccupation with possible laziness, and more my fault than Hampl's, I'm sure--but then personal details about Michel de Montaigne (all the deaths he'd experienced, and how his retreat into essays was to contemplate death) and her marriage brought me back, as did a second pot of coffee...

"The job of being human is not figuring things out, but getting lost in thought," says Hampl, contemplating all the contemplative writers, thinkers, and born daydreamers. On Augustine's Confessions, Book 10, a meditation on Genesis, she writes, "Reading, therefore, is concentrated life, not a pastiche of life or an alternative to life. The soul, pondering, is experience." Yes! That is indeed what it feels like when I read.

Randomly, I used my diary to record some of my thoughts on her book. In my reading journal, I recorded some of her reflections on her marriage, noting its similarity to my own. In The Art of the Wasted Day, the "you" she addresses is her husband. "In a moment of great tenderness I once confessed...that I loved living with you. It's like being alone, I said happily. You cocked your beautiful head and said mildly, I gather that's a compliment?" That reminded me of our side-by-side lives in a long marriage, a double solitude for which I am grateful but that has sometimes left me sad. It is, though, the perfect marriage for two artists. Hampl also quotes Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, saying, "Rilke describes the ideal relationship as a love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other."

All through the book, Hampl is aware that the contemplative life, the life with enough leisure to daydream, is a privileged life. She's aware of Rilke's desertion of his own wife as he spent his solitude in the homes of the wealthy. But back to her own marriage, and its similarity to mine! "After a whirlwind courtship of eight years, you liked to say, we got married." I say "courtship," too! And we "courted" for eight years before we married, as well! And that makes it a Random Coinciday!

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Right Book at the Right Time

I love it when I read the right book at the right time...and when it automatically renews itself at the library for me! Right now that book is The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl. I'm reading it as I waste this particular day, the day after Christmas, which feels meandering and slow compared to yesterday (cooking the dinner) and the days before (preparations, small as they were, for this year's holiday). It's the right time in the sense of following upon my Laziness vs. Diligence blog entry, comforting me by affirming me in my "laziness" that is not quite that, and in my slatternly ways on a Slattern Day in the blog. 

In her Prelude (brief introduction), Hampl is speaking of Michel de  Montaigne, creator/practitioner of the personal essay, whose father engaged a lute player to follow him around the house as a child, encouraging his son's imagination, daydreaming, indolence. "There was fugitive genius in this indolence," says Hampl, ultimately praising Montaigne as "the first modern daydreamer."

"He divined early the value of being sluggish, lax, drowsy..." I needn't worry about my own bouts of sluggishness! As an aware, daydreaming child, sitting under a beechnut tree, Hampl, too, committed early to "the life of the mind," her italics. 

Revising my own previous worries, as someone who, like Hampl, later in life, makes relentless to-do lists, I can concur in regard to late-stage laid-backness: "This isn't sloth, it isn't laziness. It isn't even exhaustion. It is a late-arriving awareness of consciousness existing for its own purpose, rippling with contentment and curiosity. One's own idiosyncrasy reveals itself as a pleasure, without other value--but golden, amusing, integrity hard-won and now at its leisure. Hand on heart, this life of the mind, lolling--tending to life's real business." 

I'm comforted, too, by Montaigne's own thoughts on essayistic writing, liberally quoted by Hampl: "If it doesn't go along gaily and freely, it goes nowhere worth going." This is how I feel about my ephemeral blog writing--it goes along gaily and freely, usually composed on the spot, though sometimes I take notes--say, in my reading journal, if I want to quote something (as I have done here), and both Hampl and Montaigne are/were note takers! The spontaneity of blog writing is good because (Montaigne again) "the anxiety to do well, and the tension of straining too intently on one's work, put the soul on the rack, break it, and make it impotent." So far, my soul is not on the rack, it is not broken! 

Oddly, Montaigne doesn't look all that gay and free in his frilly ruff!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Laziness vs. Diligence

When I get cold or melancholy, a kind of laziness overtakes me. At bedtime, I don’t want to take off the layers of t-shirts under my clothes to put on my jammies. (Fortunately, I am good at taking off a bra under my clothes and out through a sleeve like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.) On sad days now, when I look at the Christmas tree and know my kids aren’t coming home, I don’t want to get up from the couch, where I am bundled in a soft, blue blankie, reading a book, even though I know I should get up and move every hour—to keep warm, to keep the body moving, not sitting, because it’s wiser, healthier, not as sad.

And then I do it, because I am in the habits of diligence. I hear the washing machine stop, so I go put the clothes in the dryer and start a new load. I hear the mail carrier come, so I get the mail, then put on a coat, and re-deliver a mis-delivered piece of mail to my neighbor next door. I diligently write down who sent a Christmas card, and when, on my little list, and commit to writing a card back, if I haven’t sent one already, during this especially good year to maintain connection with people…. 

I wondered if the more precise word was lassitude, but I don’t think so. Lassitude is a weariness, a lack of energy, and so is lethargy. Laziness is a disinclination to work. At these sad, cold, lazy moments, I am disinclined to get up and do the necessary bit of work, but, once I do get up, I have the necessary energy. I do a lot of small, steady tasks, all the time. I have patience and perseverance. I keep to-do lists. 

Yes, my laziness is temporary, cold-induced, connected to melancholy. I’m aware of this…and of the way sadness can clutch at me sometimes. I can feel the pull down. I have various ways of saying no to the pull, even as the tears fill my eyes and start their spill, even if it’s just getting up from the book I’d rather read than do anything else, to do anything else. 

And then, back to the book. And on to the next book. So far this year—and there are two weeks to go—I’ve read 155 books. These include plays, poetry books, chapbooks, and graphic novels, as well as novels, memoirs, books of essays, books of short stories. My coffee table is stacked with books ready for a second lockdown, books not yet begun, finished books not yet shelved elsewhere, books in progress with bookmarks sticking out, library books that will automatically renew. Clearly, these books, these stacks, represent my combined laziness vs. diligence, conflict resolved. And a Slattern Day in the blog.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Christmas Movies 3

Well, 1) I did watch The Shop Around the Corner, and it was charming. The scene in You've Got Mail where Tom Hanks has his friend (Dave Chapelle) look in a coffeeshop window to check out the blind date waiting there (Meg Ryan) is just like the one in The Shop Around the Corner, down to the dialogue, but with Jimmy Stewart, Felix Bressart, and Margaret Sullavan. 2) We saw two more not-really-a-Christmas-movie Christmas movies in the tradition of Die Hard: Peppermint and Olympus Has Fallen. I love 13 Going on 30 and Juno so was happy to watch Jennifer Garner be strong and vengeful in a Charles Bronson kind of way; yes, it was sort of a Christmasy Death Wish. Sigh... 

I also watched Miracle on 34th Street and its remake, and I'm sure I'll get around to It's a Wonderful Life. Because it is a wonderful life. On Thursday it was sunny and 60 degrees, and I took an extra walk on the trail, after walking to work and back. I ran into Santa!! At first I didn't recognize him, because he was wearing sunglasses and he wasn't wearing his Santa suit. But he will be! I saw him back in May or June in his Santa suit, waving at cars on Vernon Avenue, and he plans to do that again next week, bringing lots of joy. He's sorry he can't have kids on his lap at Santa Station, as in past years, but this will be good, too.

That same day I walked the outdoor labyrinth and ran into a live concert, sort of. In the bandshell, a group of guys with guitars and one harmonica were sitting in a socially-distanced circle, playing music. Lovely! I was a bit worried for them, as there was some singing, and their circle faced in, but I am hoping they are OK because they were outdoors. I was at a distance on a bench, with my eye also on an adorable toddler Husky out walking his man.

And today I did some holiday baking: chocolate oat bars. This is something I baked for my husband 39 years ago--what?!--dating during our first holiday time together. Now it's almost our 31st anniversary, so they're here to go with the champagne, which is already purchased (on "datenight," our weekly early-morning grocery shopping trip) to remind us to celebrate. **runs off to put champagne in fridge** So it's a Fat Tuesday (on a Saturday) in the blog, thanks to the chocolate chips melted with sweetened condensed milk and buttery cookie base. Good thing the oatmeal makes it healthy! 

And also a Slattern Day, because my work is done! Ta-ta and toodleoo!

Update: Speaking of Die Hard, you might prefer the lesbian Die Hard mentioned here.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Day Got Away

Yesterday I had plans, a to-do list, et cetera. Nope. And also, yes. I did change the sheets. I did get 75 letters to my precinct printed out, stamped, signed, and addressed! It was a letter thanking my precinct neighbors for voting, reminding them that we have an election April 6, 2021, wishing them Happy Holidays, and reporting that we were the best precinct!--with 87.26% voter turnout! Wow, right?! I had planned to send the letter in time to say Happy Thanksgiving, but the individual precinct results weren't posted yet, so I waited. I had planned to walk into town in the sunshine yesterday to mail these letters at the post office, but the day got away from me, and dark was falling as I signed the last of the letters in red and green, drawing holly exclamation points. 

Before that, I had planned to meet a friend for a hike in the woods. But first I had to check my email... 

Yesterday's email contained a poem acceptance. So first I attended to the contractual details there. Then I updated all the files (physical and digital) related to that, because, these days, if I don't do it in the moment I might not do it. The poem was part of a 4-poem submission, and I wondered where the other 3 might go next. Again, I have to do this in the moment, or the moment gets away. For example, I had been thinking of a particular place to send these poems if they came back, but that deadline had just passed 6 days before. I looked at another journal I've wanted to send to--and, yay, they look at only 3 poems at a time. Perfect! But was it perfect? Was this the right place to send these 3 poems? Now I'm following two roads that are diverging in the woods I was supposed to be hiking--one road has poems I might send, and the other has places I might send them to. While I'm on the one road, I keep going down little unfamiliar side paths that turn out to be poems I wrote in April, or, when did I write that? Finally, I give up and fold the sheets fresh and warm from the dryer.

A few years ago, I joined other poets in trying to get 100 rejections a year, because to get that many rejections you have to do a lot of submissions. Then we'd report on our stats. Now it feels like I can barely count, that I don't remember how I tallied things. Yes, I sent out 20 submissions in 2020. That's all! I got 13 rejections, 6 acceptances, 1 pending response. Carrying over from 2019, my work appeared in 9 publications--a total of 16 poems, newly published or reprints. The more recently accepted work is forthcoming in 2021. I can do the figuring, but I can't quite see how it all adds up. Or, in an existential way, why I'm doing it, or, since I do keep doing it, and thus it must be valuable or important to me, why I'm sometimes forgetting the actual poems. Yes, I'll get back to them, see what they were about, revise them or leave them alone, but it's odd to feel so disconnected from a previous practice, one that I do in the privacy of my home, anyway, that doesn't depend on the previous human connections. The disconnect has entered my brain. 

Now, perhaps, the same thing is happening again, the day getting away as I write this blog entry, as I tally my statistics for the year, as I look back at things I forgot I did, poems I forgot I wrote. 2020 has crammed my brain full of worry and details and strange little poems...and to-do lists of things that do and don't get done.

And yet, I am glad of the voting stats, the super local turnout. I am glad that my tiny chalkboard poems reached the hearts and minds of those who saw them. I was connected that way, during the disconnect. Someday I may look back on 2020 with the cliched hindsight...and understand things I'm not understanding now. Sigh... I already wear tri-focals.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Goodbye Poem

In November, I resumed my one-month-on, one-month off, poem-a-day practice, writing a poem a day on a chalkboard, posting a picture of it on Instagram, plus the picture and poem text on Facebook. 

I also posted in a Facebook group dedicated to 30 minutes a day of creativity for the 30 days of November, to help creative people through that difficult month, including several performing artists who cannot perform in their usual ways. I was inspired by all their new and unusual ways of being/staying creative and the small daily ways we can be creative and keep our spirits up. 

And I was touched again by how many people enjoyed and responded to my tiny chalkboard poems. I did this in July and September, too, and I was moved and delighted then by the outpouring of love and appreciation. People are sad when I say goodbye.

My last few poems in November became people's favorites, as if I was finally warming up just before I had to stop. That's how it goes sometimes! But I knew I needed a rest and a shift in December, and to move the chalkboard down to the basement again. I yearned for a Christmas tree, and that might mean a furniture rearrangement. Yes, indeed. Where the chalkboard once stood, in front of the poetry bookcases in my home office, I have put a nice rocking chair for reading, moved from the living room to make room for the tree. Decorating the house and the tree has been one of those small, daily ways of being/staying creative!

Lots of people liked my tiny poem about singing to my kids:

Grown Children

I sang to them,
their whole small lives,
and sometimes now
they burst into my wild
hilarious songs!

November 25, 2020

And lots identified with the blues in this one:


Sad in a cozy
little way, wrapped in a blue
blanket, reading a blue
book of short stories.

November 27, 2020

A co-worker painted watercolors in response to two of my poems--one about wind, one about the wind blowing a "sideways mum" into my yard--and someday maybe we can hang her paintings and my poems along with other staff art in the little art gallery in our public library! Someday when people can return and the gallery isn't full of quarantine bins of returned library materials...

History Lesson

Yesterday the wind
rode thuglike through, disbanding
the organized leaves.

November 16, 2020


The wind blew a sideways mum
into our yard, pulled from its pot
still blooming, the way my mind
tips out sometimes, lost and unlikely.

November 22, 2020

People liked this one a lot, often mentioning the image in lines I almost cut!

All the Way Light

It’s all the way light now,
even a sheen of light
frost on the grass, grill, picnic table,
like the ghost of summer caught napping,
soon to wake invisible.

November 28, 2020

I almost cut "the ghost of summer" in case it was too cheesy or unclear, though somehow that was exactly what I was seeing out the window. Glad I trusted myself and my readers! Likewise, the colors in this little poem inspired a variety of responses and moods, and several locals had stood as transfixed by the sunrise as I was!

Before Breakfast

the sky was striped pink.

Softly, then, suffused by gold,
it slipped into tangerine peel,
then sliced peach
on a pale blue china plate.

November 29, 2020

"The Goodbye Poem" came out blurry, captured my mix of feelings, and seemed to provoke a similar mix in my readers. I do think I'll be back--in the spring or sooner--and hope that most of us will also be back. What times of grief and loss we are going through. And what times of hope for joy and change!

The Goodbye Poem

I want to say I’ll be back
in the spring—or sooner!—
but who knows anything now?
Still, I think I will…

November 30, 2020

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Christmas Movies 2

You already know the answer to this. What do Die Hard and The Santa Clause have in common? Yes! They are Christmas movies, but, specifically, they start with unlikely work parties on Christmas Eve!! But what I want to tell you about today is how I got to delight myself by announcing loudly in my head, "It's a Thanksgiving movie!" while re-watching You've Got Mail as a likely Christmas movie!! Tom Hanks sticks his head through a turkey photo op cut-out! There is more than one turkey image in this film, and more than one holiday, and it goes through seasons, ending with love in the spring, but, yes, Christmas is crucial in determining whether the bookshop will survive.

You've Got Mail is based on The Shop Around the Corner (which is based on a Hungarian play), and that resolves on Christmas Eve. We have that one at the library, so it's likely to be up next in my Christmas-movie queue! I remember a sadness at the heart of it, a human complexity sometimes missing in popular contemporary holiday movies, but maybe I'm just becoming a curmudgeon. 

Other surprises from You've Got Mail: character names Kathleen and Christina (my sister and me!)! Kathleen owns the bookshop, and Christina works there. Christina is played by Heather Burns, also in one of my other go-to feel-good, funny movies, Miss Congeniality. Kathleen mentions Rudy Giuliani! She confesses during a break-up scene that she forgot to vote in the mayoral election. His opponent was Ruth Messinger, so she maybe forgot to vote for Ruth.

Yesterday and the day before I took long walks in the Thanksgiving weekend sunshine, mailing a first batch of Christmas cards at the Uptown post office, avoiding the shopping strip (though I do love our local shops), restocked the Little Free Library with children's Christmas books for Iris Harley, and hung a strip of tiny white lights on the patio door to dangle free and loop around the houseplants. I yearn for a tree. We'll see. I have lost track of the day of the week, but since I did all my housework yesterday, I'll call it a Slattern Day in the blog.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Christmas Movies

What do Love, Actually and Die Hard have in common? Well, 1) Alan Rickman as the bad guy 2) airport scenes 3) specifically, a girl running to a guy in an airport and jumping on him, wrapping her legs around his waist, and 4) they are Christmas movies. I have begun the annual watching of the Christmas movies with these two, plus The Santa Clause and White Christmas. (I may have started this in the spring or summer, but I have started it over now in the usual seasonal fashion.)

Not everybody loves Love, Actually, but I do. The lush interludes of music, during which someone does or doesn't get the guy/gal, always grab my heart. Emma Thompson listening to Joni Mitchell, through tears, as Anton Chekhov would say. Certain things always make me laugh, cry, or cringe, and I enjoy the pop songs. But this year, the airport scenes were excruciating. They had all their original power as scenes of love and joy, as people greet each other, but I saw them side by side with news photos of people in airports for Thanksgiving travel, and I ached with worry and dismay.

Because I tend to watch these movies late at night, to fall asleep, I fall asleep. Then I pick up where I left off to see the rest, so I watch them gradually over mostly consecutive nights. This morning, though, I wanted to finish White Christmas with breakfast (yogurt, granola), and tears sprang to my eyes when the old General sees his old soldiers. I'm a silly old fool for love.

I am glad to say these movies have managed to cheer me up, as did a long walk in the afternoon sunshine. I have much to be grateful for, and I am indeed thankful. And I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving weekend, good vaccine news, and merrier times to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Soft Joys

Probably a cherry cordial Hershey's kiss is not a healthy breakfast, but today it was one of the soft joys keeping me (emotionally & spiritually) alive. We had our weekly grocery shopping date early this morning, and I got the $2.99 special on Hershey's holiday candy (if you buy 5 packages), an item actually on my list, because I had been decorating my house, and it was time to put colorful (individually-wrapped) candy out in the various dishes...for us to eat for several months, as nobody else is coming in our house... Sigh... 

But, back to the joy part, I had no trouble picking out 5 bags of what I wanted, including mint, almond, plain milk chocolate, and peppermint bark bells. Instead of eating breakfast, I was placing the dishes around the house. Somehow, this helps.

Mid-morning at work, I saw the email showing a picture of (individually-wrapped) goodies and little Starbuck's iced coffee bottles! So I had some! Then home to a Honeycrisp apple, and the Governor, live, telling us we are back in Tier 3, to please stay home, starting Friday, to keep us all alive. I am glad that my little chalkboard poems are "soft joys" for those who see them here, or on Facebook or Instagram. I'm grateful they are hitting the spot.

Likewise, I was delighted with the response to my story, "A Retiring Woman," and grateful to Calyx for publishing it online. My daughter and her boyfriend were gripped by it, and she quoted a passage on integrity of voice. My son said he laughed out loud! Yay! It's a long story, and so many people read it and responded. I am wowed. 

Those are big things in my life, but the little, goofy things help, too. One day, I found myself gardening in pearls. Ah, it was Election Day, a lovely warm day, and I was wearing (fake) pearls to honor RBG, and there was yard work to be done. Another day, I was dusting in earrings, post Zoom, which is the only time I put on drop earrings. It felt good to dust, and to re-stack my stacks of books awaiting the second lockdown, as I sometimes think of it, but nobody likes the word "lockdown," and the Governor is just announcing a return to Tier 3, for all of Illinois, to help avoid a firmer stay-at-home order. This is a stay-at-home-as-much-as-you-can situation. Till then...(on a Fat Tuesday in the blog) I've got candy.

Saturday, November 14, 2020


Well, I got over yesterday's cranked-up crankiness and actually got even more work done than expected! So today could be an official Slattern Day, except I am actually working from home this afternoon--virtual poetry event at the library--and, as usual, working on various things in my home and home office before and after that. I am glad that Cranky Doodle Day is a fairly rare day among my "eight days a week" regular blog practice, but I suppose the crankiness can build up.

Today is sort of a sad/glad day, dark and cold outside, with a wind advisory. When I checked the weather app on my phone, the expected precip 

I congratulate all those people who put up their holiday decorations during our warm spell! I am pulling out interior decorations gradually, and I am glad I planted that tiny tree in a pot to decorate with blackberry lily seeds and leftover earrings. Every little bit helps. My chalkboard poem for today is "Sad/Glad," about my children. When I walk into my daughter's room now, I flip the light switch to turn on her string of tree lights left behind...


I walk into the rooms
of my children

who won’t be coming home
for the holidays.

I am glad
they are alive.

I had some good news: my story "A Retiring Woman," which has gone through many revisions and various titles, coming back now to its original title, was first runner up for the Margarita Donnelly Prize in Prose Writing at Calyx. For fellow writers, I've been working on this for years, and years ago I sent it to Calyx, thinking that was the perfect home for it. It was rejected. Back to revision! And back to Calyx! I love how this worked out. 

Also, Calyx is in Oregon, and so is my daughter, so it's a Random Coinciday in the blog!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Friday the 13th

I'm a person who gets a lot done, partly by putting off some of what needs to be done. That is, if something I have to do makes me nervous, I will do a bunch of other stuff first while procrastinating. In that way, everything...and even more...actually gets done! Today, to avoid starting one of these things, I put up my sweet turquoise-colored wooden Christmas tree decorations atop the piano to make myself happy. 

Superstitiously, I also put off posting a poem on my chalkboard by writing a mock-superstitious mock-haiku. No joke, though, I really didn't want to jinx anything by posting the real poem I'd been working on...and I have learned to listen to my gut.

What things make me nervous? Sometimes it's communicating about technology via technology! I'm big on communication but aware that a lot of people don't like to read emails or communicate promptly. So, mixed fear and annoyance about lack of response. Sometimes it's dread of certain people who find fault with anything I do. I know this is probably from their own fears and insecurities, but it still gets to me, hurts my feelings. Sometimes it's because if I say something like that, someone is bound to jump on me and say I'm the one in control of my own responses to other's people's negativity, et cetera, blah blah blah. I'm laughing as I type this but also annoyed!--with them as much as me, BECAUSE, to quote from the musical Company, "I'm a living thing, too, you shithead." Wow, I didn't know that was coming. I guess it's a Cranky Doodle Day in the blog!

Anyhoo, the sun is shining, and it's pretty outside, though still below freezing. I'm staying in today to do all the stuff I am currently putting off. Happy Friday the 13th! As the Internet memes keep saying, "What could go wrong?" I love you, Captain Picard.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Fingerprint Not Recognized

Could it be all the handwashing and surface wiping? Frequently now my phone says, "Fingerprint not recognized" when I touch my finger to it to see what's up. Am I gradually disappearing? Well, yes, figuratively, but now, I guess, maybe literally! Fingeratively. 

What joy, joy, joy and relief I've been experiencing since yesterday! I'd gone into my front yard at 11:30, maybe to put out the mail? My across-the-street neighbor said, "We've got some good news!" This was the first year her daughter could vote! Yay all around! So many pictures of champagne later in the day, the spread-out family toasting! And all of us had beautiful weather wherever we were, the weather joining in the figuratively/literally thing.

And some terrible sadness, a family member lost to Covid-19. I only hope that family can grieve now inside a feeling of protection and relief surrounding them.

It's Sunday and I've got that "Love thy neighbor as thyself" feeling. Neighbors have been out in the fine weather, so we've been able to chat from an appropriate distance in the fresh air. I still love my back yard neighbors who probably voted differently than I did, the down-the-way not-so-responsible (poop) dog owners, and the neighbor who left conservative/religious books in my Little Free Library as an obvious message (since the yard signs recently in my yard were also an obvious message). Yes, let's heal, work together, and love one another as best we can.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Freight Train

I'm back to a poem a day on a chalkboard for November, with the easel-style chalkboard moved inside to my home office. So far, though, 1) the weather has been gorgeous and warm, and I could have left it outside, and 2) a lot of my poems are about patience and waiting! 

Turns out, I'm writing longer poems in my head as I walk back and forth to work, but those disappear into the bramble of my brain. I remember salient images from them, and their walking rhythms, but they are mostly gone. That's probably fine. I recall, and often use, a composing/revising technique I learned years ago of writing a draft of a poem and then not looking at it and writing it out again. Only what is important comes back!

Yesterday, freight trains came through town on both my walks. On the way into town, I saw the marvelous graffiti that gave me this small poem that started as a haiku, expanded into a double haiku (not really a thing), was briefly a reverse haibun (also not a thing) in the bramble, and eventually became two stanzas that fit on a chalkboard.

Freight Train

Graffiti on its box cars
gives me the finger
over and over.

I smile in the sun,
admiring the patient art
of angry artists.

On my walk back home, I was joined at the corner by a friend on his way back to our neighborhood. We chatted, masked, for a long time, as all lights were red, waiting for the long freight train to go by. He'd been an election judge at our polling place and gave me a few more details of his day. We waited long enough to see the bad behavior of impatient drivers--turning right or left from the wrong lane, U-turn on a one-way street, driving too fast for the delayed traffic--and eventually witnessed an accident. A young woman took the right turn too fast and smashed the corner of her car into the corner of a building. She began to scream, continued screaming as she got safely out of her car, and as masked people came to help. I was calling 911, and so were several others, evidently, as by the time I got through, the police knew about it.

The train was stopped now, all crossing bars down. I could see that no emergency vehicles would be able to get through until the bars went up. The police station, blocks away, is on the other side of the tracks. Et cetera. Drivers continued to make bad choices, especially when the crossing bars went up, and they surged and turned into the path of police cars to get where they wanted to go, but finally help reached the woman, and she walked into the ambulance with two fellows helping. My friend gave a witness statement, and I chatted with a young man with a bike, who had come to work in the building she'd just hit. He had a bandage on his head from an accident that morning--bike, car--and seemed a bit befuddled, repeating his story with exact words to everyone who came near.

Walking away, I could see how easily we could have been in the driver's path. There were two white turn arrows painted on the street. One pointed to the sidewalk a few feet from where we stood, and one pointed to the building where she had crashed. These are advance warning arrows, but it was as if she had followed the second one exactly. Her car took the arrow's path, not the street. How is she doing now, that young woman? What a horrible day for her, on what a beautiful day.

I went home and collected yard signs for candidates (to return or recycle) and raked the side yard of tulip poplar leaves and sat in the back yard with the squirrels and read a book and drafted more poems and said hello to a tiny dog that had been running around the neighborhood and eventually into my back yard (where the gate is stuck open), explaining some past incidences of poop. And now I know the identity of the dog's people...the back yard neighbors down the way who curse a lot. Maybe they'll turn up in a poem someday.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Yard Signs, Gun Shots, Trick-or-Treat

I'll start with the gun shots. After some chores on Saturday, a sunny, windy day, I took a long walk on the hiking/biking trail to keep heart and mind open, to see and breathe nature, and to stop by the labyrinth for centering. Right after I walked the labyrinth, calm of mind and loose of limb, as I went to collect phone, mask, and gloves, I heard two gun shots from the apartment complex beside the cancer center. Phone at hand, I called 911 to report this. The officer was calm, like me, and said they'd drive through the complex to check it out. No news of tragedy later that day, no sound of sirens as I continued through the beauty of the afternoon. Somehow, this is my/our life right now, yes? Possible, potential, even probable disaster near at hand, but uncertain, and maybe not. Maybe we'll be OK.

Maybe it was a Halloween prank. We did not turn on our porch light for trick-or-treaters this year. Instead, I put book hedgehogs and candy in the Little Free Library in case anybody came by. Somebody did come by, leaving two bags of peanut M&Ms, my favorite! But I haven't checked yet today to see if some books went home with kids or grownups, and whether I'll need to bring candy back inside. I had put some solar lights in the ground that day, and they worked: they lit up fine at night.

There was a Trump rally in our town on October 22. I found out about it after the fact--900 people at the local baseball stadium. Pictures showed the masked and unmasked, and people sort of spread out in the bleachers. It was a watch party for the debate, with the debate on the big electronic screen out there. Yes, Covid cases have been on the uptick since, but that's happening everywhere. The direct result of the rally that I saw locally was the appearance of yard signs. A news photo from the rally showed all the Republican signs stacked up for people to take, and, sure enough, they started popping up over the next few days in my precinct, which had mostly Democrat yard signs before, plus some perennial Republican incumbent signs.

Of the above, the labyrinth, the fall beauty, and the Little Free Library give me joy and peace. Hang in there, everybody. We really are all in this together. I hope we make it through with as much love and kindness as we can muster, "muster" being a battle term, alas, or a group of peacocks.

Monday, October 26, 2020


Yes, I do hope for a lambslide. But in the moment, I am just happy for small joys, like finding the book Lambslide, by Ann Patchett, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser, as part of my work today! As things change and adjust during these Covid times, I will now sometimes process children's books, as well as grown-up books, plus movies and music, at the library. So Lambslide came my way, and I hope that Escape Goat, their newest collaboration, will, too! 

As you can see, Lambslide is about some sliding lambs, as well as how to work together to help create what you want in the world. Plus voting. Looks like Escape Goat has a similarly wise message delivered in a similarly charming way, as I can tell from its book trailer here! And I bet you'll like this interview!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Broadcast Hysteria

I had not intended to impose a quarantine on my blog, but many, many days have gone by since I have written here. I've been reading and writing and getting out the vote in my precinct, working, gardening, and doing a little outdoor visiting, safely, while I can. The weather has changed several times--rain, chill, return to summer--so I've done some of my reading outdoors, and I've transplanted five bright yellow mums into the ground, hoping they return, as, for me, yellow is the color of joy.

I feel suspended, at loose ends, busy, scattered. I know it is election anxiety on top of Covid uncertainty, flux, change, stasis...  I've written some small monster poems, a couple inspired by the book I am now reading: Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, by A. Brad Schwartz. I'm reading it to get ready for a broadcast of Howard Koch's radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, the science fiction novel by H.G. Wells*, coming up October 30, at 8:00 p.m. on WGLT, our local NPR affiliate station, and produced by Heartland Theatre Company. This is the famous radio play broadcast on October 30, 1938 as part of Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre of the Air,** and some people who tuned in late, after the announcement that clarified it was fiction, an entertainment, did get scared and confused, thinking the "fake news" aspect of its presentation was real news, about a possible meteor landing, poisonous gas attacks, or Martians taking over the earth. Apparently, most who heard the Martians part realized it was science fiction...but some ran out of their houses to escape, just not as many, as this book makes clear, as newspaper reports the next day seemed to suggest. 

This Schwartz book is from 2015 and is firmly aware of the contemporary "fake news" problem, also situating "fake news" in history as an ongoing sensationalism-to-sell-papers thing and a more complicated and subtle freedom of the press vs regulation thing. Interesting! And fun to read about Orson Welles and his theatre, radio, film projects in this context, too.

Mostly, I am avoiding any personal broadcast hysteria by regulating what I read or watch or listen to in terms of news. Sigh... And cleaning out the basement.

*I remember first hearing about this as a kid, from my dad, and getting the two "wells" people mixed up in my mind, which has lasted into adulthood even though I know the difference between them. Memory and the mind work in weird ways.

**I meant to say "Mercury Theatre on the Air" (not "of") but I'm correcting my typo down here (instead of up there) because I like the ethereal feel of a theatre of the air!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

40 Days, 40 Writes

Before I resumed the chalkboard poems in September, I was engaged in two other projects--one was reading: the Sealey Challenge to read poetry books in August, and one was writing: 40 Days, 40 Writes, designed to immerse you in daily writing practice. These projects overlapped and kept me very busy! And I recommend both!

Writing for 40 days again reminded me that the word "quarantine" refers to a 40-day period, a definition I encountered in various places as we all socially isolated starting in March. Ships had to stay docked for 40 days before passengers and crew could disembark during the Black Plague, though isolation periods for contagion existed long before that particular word came into use. One of the upcoming sessions at 40 Days, 40 Writes will use prompts created by writers during an earlier coronavirus quarantine session.

The new sessions start September 7, Labor Day--the basic session; September 14--a memoir session, and September 21--an alumni session for those who have done an earlier session. Programs are free, but you can donate. I recommend this for those who want to develop a daily writing practice as regular as a daily yoga practice or meditation practice, something you look forward to that also challenges you and helps you create your own rituals and/or insures you make time and space to write. Leader Robin sends little encouraging tips and reminders as you go, answers questions, and solves problems!

Since I have various forms of daily writing practice, I tended to use this as a freewriting opportunity, using the prompt and the suggested amount of time (in minutes that gradually increase) to explore what was on my mind and in my subconscious at the time of writing.

This alternated with times I read the prompt early and then mused on it during my walk to work and back, so the writing might be more rooted and planned by the time I physically wrote it down observing the time period.

Some of my writing came out in poem drafts, and I did notice a gradual readiness for new poems by the end of the 40 days, which may have been reinforced by all the reading during the Sealey Challenge! Of course, now I am writing poems about cryptids for a call for submissions from Jessy Randall, guest editing at Snakeskin! This one is the Kraken, aka Colossal Octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort.

And now it is raining, though probably not for 40 days and 40 nights...

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Chalkboard Poems

On September 1, I resumed my little chalkboard poem project, a poem a day on an easel-style green chalkboard (stained from paint and pastel crayons) standing beside my front stoop. I did this in June, to bring a little cheer via Facebook and Instagram, and it did! But I knew I needed a rest and other projects to feel freshly inspired, so I did a lot of reading and other kinds of writing over the summer, and now I'm back to the chalkboard at back-to-school time. 

I was feeling a little down yesterday--had visited my folks outdoors, my "down in the dumps" mom who was (yay!) no longer down in the dumps, and came home feeling suspended, meaningless. It's the whole Covid thing, yes, the general isolation, the local worry from an extreme uptick in cases (related to college students returning*), and missing hugging, but I realized this morning that I always get a little nostalgic and sad at back to school time, because I'm not going back to school! And neither are my kids (grown). And neither are a lot of kids now. My heart goes out to all the teachers, students, and parents coping with the wild disruption and worry of school right now. Along with everything else.

The chalkboard poems are another way to structure my day, my month. I rise early, write the poem on the board, often in first light, with the porch light on, take the Instagram photo, email it to myself, and arrange text with image at Facebook. It is cheering my online pals, and I'm glad of that, though not all poems are/will be cheerful. Some will be melancholy, like me, some stark, some with dark humor, and some with bright joy. The whole mix. A little blurry.

I tend toward a haiku-like poem that will fit on the board, some depending heavily upon their titles. I say "haiku-like" because I learned later in life that haiku doesn't really have that 5-7-5 syllabic form we were taught in American grade schools. Nor titles! So mine will often be variations. I tend to write them during the day, or in my head during a walk, adjusting them in chalk, as needed. 

I got new "dustless" chalk over the summer to prepare for this, having used chalk stubs for the June poems. Perhaps these will grow more lush. The days continue to be beautiful. I ignore my indoor chores, though yesterday, guilt drove me indoors long enough to dust the living room surfaces, including my stacks of books and journals ready for the winter hibernation coming all too soon, perhaps with a second lockdown. (I've written that poem already and hope I don't have to use it.)* So there you have it, my first week of back-to-the-chalkboard poems, with pictures and invisibility.

*Not all the students are to blame, of course. Just the ones who congregated hugely in parties as if no one would get sick, and ignoring the rules (the way I ignore my chores, slattern that I am). I'm pleased to see students walking around town now in masks. Thank you! As doom looms, let's be kind to one another.