Sunday, June 26, 2022

Postcards to the World

I have a new chapbook out, inside the current issue of Poetry East! I found many copies packed in a box on my doorstep yesterday when I got home from an afternoon rehearsal. It had rained all morning, and I was canvassing for a county board candidate in the rain, but the sun had come out, and there was a lovely breeze, and the day was gorgeous. A lovely surprise then to find my Postcards to the World delivered! This is an assemblage of my chalkboard poems, literally written in chalk on a green chalkboard and posted on Instagram and Facebook at various times for comfort, commiseration, or cheer during the pandemic. Richard Jones, poet and editor, after enjoying my tiny poems over time, approached me about publishing them all together in Poetry East, where he, too, was seeking comfort and cheer. The last issue was "The Optimist," a rare thing these days, right? Sigh... 

I did need some joy, that's for sure. Rough, dark days lately in the USA, with more trouble to come, but also much hope. The January 6 hearings are laying out the facts about the insurrection. Biden signed the bipartisan gun bill into law. The range of responses to the overturning of Roe v. Wade show where we are and some paths forward. As several have said, we need to vote--here in Illinois on Tuesday, in a primary, and again on November 8, for people who will preserve democracy, not tear it down.

In the morning, passing through the Farmer's Market on the way to the Democratic Party headquarters, to pick up canvassing materials, I ran into two high school pals, here for an informal "Medicare Reunion." I am aware that they are probably not Democrats, and I was wearing my Democrats shirt. I'm sure they all had fun being (sort of) old and (mostly) Republican together! I've see the pictures on Facebook! Yay! I also felt (acutely) old later in the day, attending the 50th anniversary of high school summer theatre in the area, as I was in the very first season, as Marian the Librarian in The Music Man! The Mayor was there, various alums, and the cast of the current high school summer theatre production of Grease, cancelled for that night due to thunderstorms on the radar (which came at 9:11, as I was driving home from yet another meeting--what a busy day!), but the anniversary picnic event went off without a hitch, with unexpected but very pleasant bagpipes in the background, underscoring the theme of odd ambient soundtracks when you do outdoor theatre.

I'm delighted by the appearance of the chapbook in this form, as I never want to erase what's currently on the green chalkboard, the "welcome to our wedding" message drawn by Natalie, maid of honor and graphic artist, and set up at the "entrance" to the outdoor ceremony at my daughter's wedding in May. That arbor is still up, by the way, and still adorned with garlands from this box in the background (like bagpipes) against which the chalkboard is currently propped. Someday, maybe, we'll take it down. Or maybe something else lovely will happen there.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Down Time

It appears I've taken some "down time" from the blog, but I realize writing blog entries was often a kind of "down time" from other things I was doing! I guess I got a little too busy over the last month, getting my daughter married (yay! in my parents' back yard, at an arbor built by my husband, with bridal and bridesmaids' bouquets made by me!) and taking care of my parents' various health issues. Sigh... 

But all is well, and, as usual, I have been reading, my other kind of down time. I read This Time for Me, a memoir by Alexandra Billings, a performer I had seen in Chicago. You may know her from the series Transparent. What an interesting woman! And, in the Random Coincidays of my life, I read a time travel novel, This Time Tomorrow, by Emma Straub, that was sort of a cross between Groundhog Day and About Time.

I read a book of poems, book of short stories, and finally finished a novel that had sat on my coffee table with a bookmark halfway through it for maybe...a year? It was finally the right time to finish it. But my favorite reading lately has been The Book of Eels, nonfiction about...yes, eels. Fascinating creatures, about which we finally know a few things, but which remain mysterious. They are all born in the Sargasso Sea and then swim/drift elsewhere.

I have also been writing--a variety of things, including a script I got to see performed last night at the History Makers Gala, honoring 4 wonderful people in our community! My poetry feels on standby, but I do remember writing some, sending some out,* and storing some in the weird, dusty drawers of my mind. Sometimes, when I am waiting for something to come out**, everything feels on hold for a while. I just checked the mail. It isn't here yet, but it's still very, very hot out there. The poor mail carrier! And I do fondly remember Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys, included on this Random Coinciday, you know why!

*so far, only rejections...but nice ones!

**something not rejected!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Bird Walk

 

A further coincidence of pigeons occurred in my reading on p. 113 of The Comforters by Muriel Spark: "Soon a pigeon flashed out from its high loft and descended to the seat beside her. She folded the thin paper into a tiny pellet, fixed it into the band on the silver bird's leg, stroked its bill with her brown fingers, and let it go. Off it flew, in the direction of Ladle Sands."

Speaking of pellets, I went on bird walk today, and while we did not see the great horned owl in Ewing Park, we did 1) hear its call and 2) see its pellet the under its tree, containing a mouse skull, fur, and feathers. Our fearless leader, Given Harper of the local branch of the Audubon Society, held the pellet in his hands for us. We also saw a bald eagle flying (gliding) high above and far away, heard flycatcher and titmouse, and saw a migrating pair of black-billed cuckoos (I saw one in motion; others saw the pair in binoculars on branches). An early-morning birder had seen a kite. We saw a different kind of kite stuck in a tree, and plenty of broad winged hawks.

Earlier, as we walked through Hidden Creek nature preserve, truly "hidden" in town, in a residential neighborhood and just off the hiking trail, we saw an indigo bunting (vivid blue), Eastern pee wee (olive breast), and Eastern screech owl, red head poking boldly out of its screech owl box to observe us. I was mesmerized. As we walked, we passed a bench with yellow fabric roses tied to it, and a plaque. It was for Bill Morgan, my friend who died this spring. I sat down and put my arm around him, sort of. Lovely, lovely day. Bill would have enjoyed it, too.

Speaking of coincidences, Ali Smith introduced this particular edition (pictured at left) of The Comforters, and I just read How to Be Both, by Ali Smith, in the St. Lucia eyes-on-a-stem edition (pictured above). I love reading, and now I love birding. Both! 

Neither of these covers is the edition I am reading. The other coincidence is plot. The Comforters, written in 1955 and published in 1957, has a metafictional component, where a character is hearing voices and a typewriter tapping and realizes she's a fictional character in a novel. Just like Stranger Than Fiction, a movie I love with Emma Thompson, Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, and Queen Latifah! I can't wait to see what happens!


Saturday, May 14, 2022

Wild Columbine

My wild columbine is all abloom! And the lily of the valley has begun. It is in various stages, depending on the part of the yard it's in, so I hope there is still some of it blooming for my daughter's wedding on May 28! Likewise, the white anemone, just now showing its buds. The wild columbine is all that salmon and yellow color. I also have some dark purple columbine blooming in a side yard, and more columbine on the way, plus the large yellow columbine that will bloom later. Waiting for the blue spiderwort now...

Busy times in my body and brain. Attended the funeral of a young co-worker yesterday. Heartbreaking. I loved learning about, and hearing, the country music songs she loved. 

In the afternoon, I helped to pot tree seedlings to be planted in the fall. Part of a big tree-planting surge: 11,000 seedlings (stick stage) were planted this spring. These that have budded and begun to leaf need to wait for the fall. Hot, fun work, in good company, outdoors.

Then, there was a Zoom discussion of Book VII of Paradise Lost with an international bunch of people--mostly Chicago and Canada, but some were actually in Portugal for earlier Books, and some were walking El Camino in Spain while we were between Books. Here is a yellow lightbulb bee guarding the columbine, like 1) Rafael warning Adam not to disobey or 2) an angelic guard at the gate of Eden, alas.

Working on scripts with deadlines and wedding details with meetings with vendors, parking signs, et cetera. Need to take my mother shopping for a dress, but also need to keep track of various medical details for both parents. This morning I need to go get and then put up posters for the summer 10-minute play festival at Heartland Theatre, where both my parents used to act and volunteer (board, committee). Duty + nostalgia.

Last night, cool and pleasant respite at the Next to Normal Story Slam, resumed after 2 years gone in the pandemic. I got to listen to stories of luck, good and bad, on Friday the 13th in an art gallery! And here is a blurry red bee hovering over the blurry blossoms!

Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Coincidence of Pigeons

The collective noun for a group of pigeons is basically "a flock of pigeons" or, in professional breeding circles, "a kit (or kitte) of pigeons," but for my reading-and-blog purposes, it shall be "a coincidence of pigeons," making it a Random Coinciday in the blog!

I've read a lot of books over these past couple of years (and past couple of Covid weeks), but, coincidentally, I just read two novels with pigeons in them: Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos, and Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, by Kathleen Rooney. I had acquired Cher Ami quite some time ago, and it waited patiently in a to-read stack on my coffee table for the exact right moment to be read, and that moment came during my isolation week. In 2018, at the 100th anniversary of World War I, the Great War, the war to end all wars, I immersed myself in lots of WWI reading and movie-viewing, sort of curating a WWI film festival for the library. So I was well aware of the famous carrier pigeon, Cher Ami, and how she saved the Lost Battalion. And also how she was misunderstood as a "he." Hence, the male version of her French name. 

Kathleen Rooney develops all this so beautifully in Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey, also giving us a full look at the major who led his men into the Argonne Forest, following orders, and doing it brilliantly and efficiently, thus, accidentally, leading many of them to their deaths or maiming. Alas! Part of the charm of this book is that the chapters alternate in point of view, between the pigeon and the major. It was easy to believe in the way pigeons might "think," how their homing instinct might work, and how consciousness continues--especially if you are taxidermied and live on in the Smithsonian Institution. 

So probably Cher Ami pre-disposed me to pick up Dr. Bird's Advice to Sad Poets, to find out what a real pigeon/imaginary therapist might "say" to a depressed high school boy. Also, sometimes I am a sad poet myself. And I do love this book's cover (see above; at hand is the movie cover). I am glad that the boy also gets a human therapist. I watched a lot of movies over the past few years, but only today did I realize that Dr. Bird was released as a movie in 2021. (You can watch it on Hulu. But I can't.) I liked how the humor in this book ran gently under the depression and family dysfunction, and I loved Dr. Bird!

Here in real life, the sun has come out! I am clearing out gardens, looking at the pink and white bleeding heart and dark lilacs, and birdwatching. Coincidentally, my parents have actual nesting doves at their house!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Isolation Week

It's been a strange, sort of "lost" week, and it's not over yet, so not even fully lost. I've been busy, reading and writing, resting and drinking fluids, but time keeps folding over itself, like laundry, and drifting away, like lake waves... Despite relentless masking and a double booster, I did test positive (home test), and am in my isolation week before resuming my life in the community. Still writing a poem a day for April, National Poetry Month, and that, too, will slip away...on Sunday, right? May Day is coming.

On my first day of very mild illness, it was 80 degrees outside, and I rested on the glider, wrapped in a comforter, reading, journals at hand for any random poems or diary thoughts. A strong southerly wind blew over me. Out in the yard, my husband, mostly recovered from his own lost week, picked up sweetgum seedpods in the yard. Then it turned chilly for a while...

And now, suddenly, violets are blooming everywhere in the grass! The yellow tulips are fully blown, and the pink just beginning. My dark lilacs are also beginning their fragrant opening. Lily of the valley and hosta are spiking up in their distinctive curls! A little of the two-toned hosta has uncurled, green and white. And where are my celandine poppies? Did they not return this year? But my "library lilies," rescued from a revamp of the library's gardens, have auto-renewed themselves (ha!) and will give plenty of yellow blooms later in the summer. As much of my reading this lost week assures me, nothing is really lost...

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Poetry Sunday

This weekend we celebrate National Poetry Month at my church with Poetry Sunday, a sharing of favorite poems and original poems by members of the congregation. We're a small progressive church, a safe place for all kinds of seekers, and a good bunch. We're in between pastors right now, with guest speakers from all kinds of places, plus us, so, as one of our resident poets, I'm helping out and have chosen poems for all the readings, recitations, and prayers. Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Christina Rossetti,  James Wright, Louise Gluck. If I'm brave enough, I will also share a recent poem of my own, about the day my dad had a heart procedure.

I'm still writing a poem a day for Lent, and, now that April has begun, another for that, in an annual poem-a-day-in-April tradition. I'm glad I will have a jillion drafts to work on all year, plus the handwritten poems in a notebook that keep surprising me by even existing.

Also reading a lot of poetry, as usual, most recently Self-Portait with a Million Dollars, pictured above (cover art: Darn by Mary McDonnell) and available at Terrapin Books, here. Part way through Blood Weather by Alice Friman. These two poets will be reading at my local library, via YouTube Live, on Tuesday, May 17, 7-8 p.m. central time! Join us! And the library has acquired these two books. Perfect for our ongoing Adult Reading Challenge, as April's challenge is to read a book of poetry. Beautiful array of them, along with April raindrops, on display on the main floor!

(Cover art for Blood Weather is Memory, by Rene Magritte.)

Our April showers are actual rain, after tiny ice balls for the exit of March. In March I was re-reading The Girl Who Wasn't and Is, by Anastasia Walker, to review it for Escape Into Life. I love my stacks of books to read, and am already set for the Seeley Challenge in August! And ready for the warmth of summer...

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Big Old Cheese Moon

We saw the big old, recently full moon last night, looking like a huge cheese wheel in the sky! Turns out, it’s the Worm Moon, according to the almanac. And it’s not really named for the earthworms that are emerging here as it turns spring, but some beetle larvae that start coming out of tree bark about now. (Read all about it here, in the Old Farmer’s Almanac!) I am happy to see the sunshine on this first day of spring, especially after a gloomy, cold day of rain. I woke up sad and heavy with dismay, my brain scattered with tasks and difficult conversations. The week ahead looms risky, with a medical procedure for my dad on Wednesday, various meetings I prepared for in advance, so I wouldn’t forget, and which I fear, nonetheless, I might forget or feel unprepared for. Is this all part of the atmosphere when spring comes? I think maybe yes. And/or that continuing suspension of time that I felt/feel during the pandemic? Is it a natural part of the aging process? I do, relentlessly, write everything down now in list form, so I can check it off—but it’s not just the satisfaction of checking things off, getting things done, it’s also the need to remember to do the things at all. Is it not all memory rooted? Is some motivation gone, some desire? Has that been lost in the mist? In the dark gray clouds that obscured the big old cheese moon last night before it hung there so yellow and weighty in the sky? I did not see the worm…turn.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Parade

Here is a photo, taken by Merlin Mather, of the very cold St. Patrick's Day parade I told you about in my last post. This is me giving sunflower seeds to Ed, on the sidelines! Since that super cold sunny day, it has gotten warmer, then colder, then rainier. But the tulips, daffodils, iris, and daylilies are coming up! In yards and gardens better tended than my own, some are even blooming! Since then I have written several poems--one a day, in fact--and this will continue through April, National Poetry Month, adding prompts from one site (provided by me) to those of another site (provided by someone else), resulting in doubled poems in April. How will I ever keep up?

Also, how will I keep up with my reading? I did finish Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk, and now I want to read everything she's written. My library doesn't have that...in actual books (plenty of e-book versions)...which I prefer, so I have requested Flights through interlibrary loan. But previously, also through interlibrary loan, I got The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow, which, as you can guess from the title, is pretty thick. Two inches thick. Plus, I am still reading Paradise Lost with a Zoom book group.

So many Zooms. Despite Zoom fatigue and mask-optional locations and lower local positivity rates, Zoom meetings are resuming or continuing in my area. OK by me. (I am going to a theatre matinee tomorrow thanks to a masks-and-vaccinations-required policy!) But yeesh. I am also grateful for the safe, in-person gatherings lately that remind me I am human. In green gloves...

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Sharin' of the Green (and Pink and Blue)

Emotional ups and downs these days with family and world. With weather and woe. Spring interrupted by snow. Books and poetry steady me, and sunshine! When I woke up today, it was 9 degrees. How will I walk in the parade? I wondered. In layers! It worked. The sun was shining, and I was toasty warm in boots, several socks, and various green and other layers, under a glittery green hat, handing out sunflower seeds for Ukraine on behalf of a candidate in the local St. Patrick's Day Parade. In Chicago, they dyed the river green again. Here, we had a small but lively crowd, who knew to stay on the sunny side of the street. Dates and duties, tasks and meetings, appointments and worries--it all crowds my mind. Then I visit my folks, play cards, and we love each other into a state of calm. Each morning, I write a poem. Each evening, I fall asleep on the couch, reading.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Mardi Gras Lost

I fully intended to write a blog post for Fat Tuesday, since Fat Tuesday is an actual category here in my blog, one of the "eight days a week" on which I am (supposed to be) writing. Since I am not, and since I missed Mardi Gras, it is instead a Slattern Day...and, I suspect, will turn out to be a Random Coinciday and a Poetry Someday.

Indeed, I notice this random coincidence in my current reading: a cormorant, a kind of black and white aquatic bird. Satan, a shape shifter, sits in the Tree of Life as a cormorant to observe Paradise in Book IV of Paradise Lost, by John Milton. That was a surprise,* as we usually picture him as a serpent. Perhaps that's in Book V. So far, he has also sat "[s]quat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve," trying to invade her dreams. He is surely up to no good.

*a surprise, even though I have read this book before...but it was decades ago, in college... Now I am re-reading it for a Zoom book group.

But, back to the coincidence. I am also reading The Colour, by Rose Tremain, about gold** digging in New Zealand, and on p. 212, in the point of view of the character Pare, is this: "She heard a cormorant shrieking in her dreams." I hardly ever read about cormorants, but here are two in the same week. Plus, the bad dreams...

I didn't even eat a devilish sweet on Mardi Gras. Instead I am eating Harry & David pears,** a naturally sweet gift from my son and his girlfriend for my recent birthday. The pears, ripening gradually, are so delicious! Ah, perhaps they will make their way, plum-like, into a poem soon, as I am writing a poem a day, for Lent, with 40 Days, 40 Writes.

**One was wrapped in gold!

And I did submit some poems, by the deadline, yesterday, to a magazine I admire. Yesterday was also the "deadline," as in "best by" date, on that blueberry goat cheese sitting in the fridge since Christmas, slattern that I am. Why? I loved that cheese! Why didn't I eat it on time? I had my reasons, but still. And, hey, it's cheese, it's probably still good, but also probably not something I want to take a chance on. Sigh...

So here, instead of blueberry goat cheese, is a beautiful cormorant, by JJ Harrison, thanks to Wikipedia. See that random coincidence of the serpentine neck?!

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Back On

Now that the play is over, my wedding ring is back on! So, in a way, is my former life. This weekend, I'll be doing laundry, visiting my parents, and mapping out March, April, and May. Many writing, editing, programming, and wedding-preparation tasks await! This past week has been a lovely transition, as we housed a playwright, visiting to rehearse and see performed a staged reading of her play. The grant-funded playwright-supportive program is called The Play's the Thing, and this play, by Lisa Dillman, is titled No Such Thing, a lovely coincidence, making it a Random Coinciday in the blog! 

A further coincidence was a reference in No Such Thing to two pretty rare first names--Bathsheba and Penelope--that were also character names in Life Sucks, the play I just finished (as Babs/Bathsheba) and the woman who played Penelope was in the audience. We laughed and hugged about that! Masked.*

In the "back on" of my poetry life, I have 1) submitted some poems 2) researched and prepared some other submissions, and 3) looked again at a chapbook manuscript I will probably submit in March. Everything feels slow...but at exactly the right pace. Meanwhile, the poetry notebook continues to fill up with drafts, including a recent one based on a nightmare (morning mare) that I call "Scary America" in my mind (and in the notebook) but which I realize was premonitory, as in one day in advance of Putin's actual attack on Ukraine, which had been looming darkly in my brain as well as the news. The dream was like a juxtposition of the June 6 insurrection in the USA if it had continued into an overthrow of our government + the Russia/Ukraine situation. I feel further and weirdly connected, as my Life Sucks character Babs was of Ukrainian ancestry. Random Coinciday continues.

*But here in Illinois, the state mandate expires as of February 28, and many places will become "mask optional," with businesses and organizations still able to continue stricter guidelines if they want. One thing I can resume, post-theatre obligations, is seeing my husband's volleyball girls play...but it will be February 28, among the unmasked...and the schools have already been mask optional for a week or so.

My transition to my former life being "back on" is very leisurely, as I notice my jammies are still on...and that's OK with me.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Wedding Ring

My wedding ring is really a vintage anniversary ring we found in a resale shop decades ago, back when we were getting married. For three weeks here in Febrary, including, alas, Valentine's Day, I am not wearing it. Nothing is wrong with my marriage! I just play an unmarried woman in Life Sucks and don't want to lose it in the dressing room, so it's safe in my (costume*) jewelry box at home for now. Here, you see it posed on a beautiful mosaic plant table (created by my friend Kim of Got Bliss?!) under the newly-blooming again Christmas cactus, now apparently a Valentine cactus!

*I say costume jewelry to ward off thieves. I am not a fancy lady and do not have real jewels. Those are in the movies. The jewel thief movies!

The play continues to be fun, with warm, receptive, lively, laughing audiences. I love this play, and the people in it and who worked on it in all kinds of ways, and it's clear that the audiences are delighted and moved by it. I'm glad we got the all the obstacles--Covid, masks, snow--to get it out there in the world.

For Valentine's Day, I will be getting the required weekly Covid test and going to the dentist. My husband will be coaching sixth-grade volleyball. I hope you all have fun plans, too!

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Scary but Fun!

Well, that was scary! But also lots of fun. We opened the play, Life Sucks, by Aaron Posner, on Friday night, coming together in the theatre for the first time in front of an audience after two snow days off. It was a sweet, supportive audience--a combination of the Friday night reservations and the cancelled pay-what-you-can preview performance audience from Thursday. I was probably well prepared to do this by having been in the Free Shakespeare Company in Chicago in the 1980s, where we memorized our lines on our own and came together as actors for the first time in front of the audience to do the whole play together. 

Last night, Saturday night, was our Sponsor Night, with the entire audience invited to a reception afterwards in a wonderful banquet room decorated for Valentine's Day. Life Sucks (like Uncle Vanya) is about "love and longing," and this February time slot, though accidental, is perfect. The audience was masked (!), vaccinated (or recently tested) responsive, ready to laugh, and had a really good time. So did we! We have two more weekends of the show, and I am hoping for a February thaw, which often happens, to make it easier for everyone to get to the theatre!

My parents, who live out in the country, have been snowed in for days. They finally got plowed out yesterday, but overnight their long drive drifted a bit again, thanks to the wind across the fields, and they will need another scooping. Fortunately, they live in a cozy farmhouse with a generator and lots of food in the cupboards! They didn't have to go to the grocery store...and face those empty (anyway) shelves!

Somehow, my poetry life and my editing life have continued underneath the heaped snow and play nerves. Drafts appear in my poetry notebook, as if I put them there. (I did.) Rejections come by email, or I figure out that I wasn't notified by seeing contest winners posted on a website, etc. Over at Escape Into Life, I edited and posted the new Music for Music column by Dan Ursini, a Chicago writer and musian (and playwright!), about the artist Heirloome--a wonderful discovery. I love their "between-worlds" music, ethereal sound and visuals...!

I realized during yoga, as no doubt I have realized before, that my double mind can accommodate many things. Rodney Yee tells me what to do, and I do it, with full commitment if not full focus, as sometimes the play is also going on in my head in the background. Though this is not exactly what is desired during yoga, what is desired--a full acceptance of the body-mind in the present moment--means that yoga and I can both handle it. I am aware of, attentive to, and accept the fact that my body-mind is 1) preoccupied 2) can do two things at once, and 3) I am OK with that. Actors need to be able to do that, anyway, in case a doorknob falls off (the past) or a hearing aid in the audience sends out a whistling-tea-kettle noise (last night). We still carry on with the scene!

Thursday, February 3, 2022

No Groundhogs

It's February 3, and I just went through the house, changing the calendars from January to February. We are snowed in. Last night's rehearsal was cancelled, and perhaps tonight's will be, too, which is really a preview performance, but, egad!--we have barely had a dress rehearsal. Anxiety balanced by yoga. I did not see any groundhogs in real life or on the news (because I wasn't watching the news), but I did see what I thought was a large owl, hunkered down in the snow, scanning the yard for small prey. It transformed, via head movement, into a rabbit, a huge rabbit, just sitting out there in the snow, flicking its now visible ears. Oddly, there is a reference to groundhogs in Life Sucks, the play. Hence, another Random Coinciday in the blog.

My husband is repairing a sort-of-inherited broken snowblower in our family room. Occasionally, I go out and press the red bar while he watches the motor. A horrible sound has been transformed to a snowblower-motor sound by the adjustment of a shredded belt. More transformation! (See above owl-to-rabbit story.) Perhaps soon the driveway can transform from drifted to driveable with less back strain!

I have been resting, eating, reading, going over lines, doing yoga, and trying to transform myself from anxiety-ridden to relaxed. Watching comic movies sort of helps, in reassuring me that comedy is organic, coming from the usual human place. Plus timing.

Reading always helps. I read The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry, which is comedy (tragicomedy), arising from the usual human places. And now I am reading At Paradise Gate, by Jane Smiley, which might be too close for comfort. A man is sick in his bed upstairs, and his daughters want to move him downstairs. My dad is in the midst of planning a creative transformation of his own house, to move his bedroom downstairs. We none of us oppose this, and we understand the impulse while dreading the disruption to my parents' usual routines...

Meanwhile, it's still winter, it's newly February, some of my anxiety is from scheduling weekly Covid tests due to the play, and I am sort of happy to be snowed in.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Bathsheba and the Stinkbug

It sounds like the title of a fable, yes? "Bathsheba and the Stinkbug." But it's just a random coincidence, one of my favorite things. I'd been wanting to tell you that a stinkbug lives in our house, and how happy I am to see him, as I miss the praying mantis, who has disappeared from the houseplants--probably as a result of death, not perpetual molting. Stinkbugs, an invasive species here, often winter in houses, hibernating, or so Wikipedia tells me. (This image is by Hectonichus.) The stinkbug is known for its heraldic shield shape.

Then Facebook brought forth a memory, the cover of my book, Spiritual Midwifery, which has an image based on a painting by my husband, Tony Rio, of a woman at her bath (or that's what I see), just like the biblical Bathsheba, at her bath on a rooftop when David saw her, fell in love, and (perhaps on purpose) sent her husband, Uriah, to battle, where he conveniently died, so David could marry Bathsheba. You don't hear that name often, but my character in Life Sucks is Babs, a nickname for Bathsheba, her real name. And when I opened the new issue of Granta, dedicated to travel writing, the first article is by Bathsheba Demuth, who went to Russia to see the gray whales. What are the odds? 

Plus, Babs has Ukrainian ancestry--Ukraine of Eastern Europe, bordering and/or controlled by Russia at various times, and still vulnerable and in the news--and Life Sucks is "sort of adapted from Uncle Vanya," by Anton Chekhov, a Russian playright, whose birthday was yesterday. The gray whales are on the Alaska side of Russia. Probably Sarah Palin, also in the news again, for eating in a New York restaurant while having Covid, can see them out her window when she goes home again. Sigh...

I noticed that the stinkbug appears when I put in the A.M. Yoga DVD, flying joyfully (it seems to me) around the room to new age music, as I do my relaxation and stretching as a warmup for rehearsal, and to calm my distracted, mourning mind, or when I take a snack upstairs after rehearsal, often with vodka--the play is full of vodka--which 1) I can't have before rehearsal but which 2) is not such a good re-hydration beverage, so I also drink water and/or Gatorade. What do stinkbugs eat? Plants and fruit, not vodka or peanut butter on graham crackers. Why is the stinkbug in my bedroom and not in the kitchen with the houseplants and fruit?

And then I discovered...the other stinkbug! There are two! But they are probably not mating. And they might both be males. And there might be more than two. Wikipedia tells me one house had 26,000 stinkbugs. Fortunately, they are happy here, however many of them there are, and they are not stinking up the place. And probably they'll go back to sleep soon.

Yesterday was the memorial service for my poet friend Bill. What a lovely event, and we read several of his poems aloud. His wife and sons spoke, colleagues, and a close friend who is a retired Unitarian minister. Bill was not a churchgoing man, but he wanted her to say his eulogy. His son and grandson, opera singers, sang! Laughter and tears. Cello music. Veterans presenting colors. Masks. Exactly what was needed. Life goes on, and loss is part of it. Babs says something like this in the play. But nothing about stinkbugs. That's just me.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

My Heart Keeps Breaking

My heart keeps breaking. A friend just died, not of Covid but of Parkinson's, and though we knew it was coming, and he and his wife had time to prepare, it is still a shock and will be an ongoing sadness. Some of us mourners will read some of his poems at his memorial service later this month. You can donate to the William Morgan Poetry Award here.

Another friend feels "done." It's not quite despair but a kind of retreat into "winter blues." He expresses himself here and encourages our response, in words or the wise use of our time.

My parents are tired of the brutal cold, though grateful for the recent sunshine, as am I. They are very old: as of January 15, the same age, 89, for about a month, till Dad turns 90 in March. They have lived miraculously healthy, productive, creative, lucky lives, right up until now. More gratitude! But the end of their lives has been shadowed by this pandemic, as you can imagine, since we are all under the same shadow. Like my friend Basel, above, feeling the winter blues, I am weary.

Meanwhile, I continue to rehearse Life Sucks, a sort of perfect play for our times, given its title, and we are in that stressful time moving toward production week and an opening in early February. I am in the "What was I thinking?" stage I encounter with every play, but all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, do doubt.

Truly, what was I thinking? But I ran this by a counselor helping me through the stress of caregiving, and she was all for an activity that was not caregiving...which makes perfect sense. And my hope now is to float everything I am feeling and balancing into anything my character can use. Because what else can I do? Oh, read! Escape to Greece! Mythical and modern Greece, in A Thing of Beauty, a travel book by Peter Fiennes. For my downtime on the couch, cuddling under the blue fleece.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

All the Stars

It turns out my jumbled mind has pulled itself together via the stars. I read two books recently with stars in the titles and on the covers: The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue, about the 1918 pandemic as it affects a maternity ward in Ireland, and Wiping Stars from Your Sleeves, poems by David James. Both provided quiet moments of focus on something other than work tasks, home tasks, caregiver tasks, and memorizing lines. My mind moved back into its jumble rather easily any time I slipped in a bookmark.

For example, I actually reviewed the poetry book for Escape Into Life, as David James is one of our EIL poets. I set up the post to publish automatically...on Wednesday...and then forgot about it till Friday.

Caregiver tasks included visiting my folks several times and accompanying my dad to a doctor's appointment, where I was shocked to see a woman sitting in the waiting room completely unmasked. I reminded him to keep his mask over his nose, and I was double-masking (medical + cloth), but I couldn't understand why the medical receptionists hadn't reminded or cautioned the woman. Later, I saw her in her mask, so maybe it was just a memory lapse...something I understand. I had forgotten till I read it again in The Pull of the Stars that "influenza" actually refers to the influence of the stars, once thought to cause that illness.

And apparently I am still drafting poems I let loose and forget about. The working titles perhaps reveal my state of mind?: "Holding Myself," "I Wept," "Forgotten Forms of Joy," "Calories from Wine." And an untitled one that might turn out to be called "Hear Myself Sing," which sounds more optimistic!

I've come out of rehearsal at night into dense fog--so fitting!--and startlingly clear skies, full of, you guessed it, stars, stars, stars!


Friday, January 7, 2022

Lying to Myself

I haven’t been doing too much poetry writing lately, but one morning this week I drafted a poem called “Lying to Myself,” that sort of veered off topic as if to demonstrate the title. Furthermore, when I flipped the pages of the poem-drafting notebook, I saw that I had been drafting poems all along, just not doing much further with them. Sometimes I typed them into my computer, revising a bit, et cetera, but some just sat there languishing… 

Then a friend sent me a text with a link to a New York Times article on languishing as a state of unfocused mind during Covid, not depression but also not flourishing. Yes, it clicked. Thanks, Chris! It was an article from April 2021, revisited in December 2021, and I couldn’t read it on my phone, and I hope can see it via this link, but I could read it on my computer, thanks to an electronic subscription given to me by a friend. Thanks, Scott!

It was comforting to learn that I’d intuitively found ways over the past year and a half to both comfort and focus myself, and that I didn’t have to see all my tactics as escape or avoidance but rather as real strategies to fend off too much languishing. I could create temporary “flow”—that state of time both suspended and flashing by during intense focus on a creative project or sports—when drafting even the poems I forgot (or didn’t revise or submit later). I could get steady satisfaction from small daily tasks and goals. I could, as I did, immerse myself in other stories than my own, every time I read a book or watched a movie, and I did a lot of that. 

Right now, despite high Covid positivity and with plenty of safety protocols in place, I am rehearsing a play—an excellent form of distraction from the current reality that immerses me deeper in the ongoing human reality, and an excellent form of intense focus. Even if we never get to perform the play, if there’s another shutdown, this is a good thing to do. And if others get to see it, the immersion in the other human story—hilarious and sad—that will be good, too. As long as we are all vaccinated and wearing masks! 

I love that the play is called Life Sucks. And that life doesn’t suck.