Friday, July 30, 2010

Burqa, Bikini, Bronte

What would Emily Bronte say about the Burqa - Bikini debate? It's Emily's birthday today, so figured it would do as much good to ask her as it does to ask anyone else.
Don't know if Emily's passion would be fired up over the proposals to ban  the Muslim burqa in public places in Spain, France and Belgium, but I find the discussion worthy of some thought and some passion. I don't know how this has become such a contentious and important focus today in Europe, but it sure has. Maybe there's been a sudden resurgence of people watching the classic film Battle of Algiers again only to become fearful of the enemy under the burqa.  But life in Algiers during the late '50's isn't life today in France or Spain.
I've read a fair number of articles and position papers that come at the question of banning the burqa from multiple perspectives, but none of the rationale fit well with me..Is the burqa a religious statement? political? social? anti-feminist? patriarchal? cultural? historical? all of the above? 
I know, I'm not French or Spanish, not part of the European Union, and have none of the nuanced historical  background and don't live with the contemporary social and economic tensions that people in these countries have. To tell the truth, I'm not sure I've seen more than two women in burqas in Denver.  Women in headcover, yes...hijab, abayas, yes. But burqa-wrapped, fully veiled women - very few. So I don't see a terrorist threat under every scarf. Maybe I would if I lived somewhere else. I'm trying to take all of that into my mind as I solidify my thoughts.
Is the burqa oppressive, anti-woman, anti-everything? (I found the photo above on Boing-Boing, a French protest against the banning of the burqa by 'bikini-burqad women). Nothing is sacred when satire comes looking.
Does the burqa represent the ultimate male fantasy of domination over women, the diminution of a woman into even less than an object. Objectification? Nothingification?
Maybe. But how can we go there? How can the French, the thong-bikini French, carry on about objectification of women? How can anyone call out the burqa and not call out stiletto shoes, breast implants, and the bikini? And to another group - how about those cute little Amish women all Amish-costumed out to walk in the heat of the Washington DC zoo?  What if we banned every article of clothing or accessories that could be seen as deliberately objectifying women? Don't go there.
Then there's the concept that security is endangered if we can't see the faces of people in our presence....the whites of their eyes, so to speak. I'll grant that one is a little tricky. We love faces and we love identity. We want to see your smile or your grimace, arched eyebrows or sunken jaw. In our culture, civility and transparency are deeply valued. There's a reason so many people on Facebook have photos, why so many Facebook 'friends' can identify one another, even if they've never met.
We don't like what's in the shadows, people covered up, and hiding their profiles from us. It feels unsafe. We'd rather see too much flesh than too little. It's a western thing....Well, yes, it's western culture, unless you were 'Negro' in America, a black man who lived in a time when you could be shot for looking into the eyes of a white woman. Head down, boy, eyes lowered. ... But times change, and so do fears. We're in a fearful time now...fear of the new and increasingly powerful Other, fear of how religion and politics do and don't mix, fear of not understanding the mores and culture, fear of the loss of 'when in Rome do as the Romans do (i.e. don't wear your burqa in Catalonia or Brussells, fear....
In the end, I fear that all the reasons lined up so carefully on the side of banning the burqa are discriminatory. What would Emily Bronte think?
What do you think?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

So Denver

Sooo Denver. So uncool, so John Denver as Poet Laureate in 1977, so we're not a grown-up city yet.
Why? Just yesterday afternoon I was falling all over myself, gushing about Denver's park system, seduced by the City Beautiful concept. Twenty-four hours later the love affair is over. Stood up. Betrayed. Left standing, outside the Denver Art Museum with another 200 plus jilted people.

Santiago Calatrava, the world renowned architect, artist and engineer was speaking at 5:30 pm at the Art Museum. The invites from the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs said FREE, no reservations, but seating would be first-come first-served. His structures, buildings and bridges have won awards world-wide. Later in the week he would be unveiling a design for the addition to Denver's International Airport. But Wednesday night was going to be about his career, his vision, projects from Spain to NYC, completed and projects on hold.

The long line stretching around the museum came into sight as we drove towards the parking lot. Steaming hot summer afternoon, not a tree in sight on the entrance, but there they were.
"Amazing. Hundreds of  people lined up to hear an architect speak. Denver is so cool," I said, with visions of the city parks still dancing in my head.
Amazing, yes. Amazing that no-one anticipated so many people would show up. Amazing that the Sharp Auditorium only holds 220 people. Amazing there was no back-up plan. Amazing, in retrospect, that there was no rsvp to the e-vite.Amazingly hot in the city sun and amazingly irritating.
The doors opened and the seats were filled. A couple of hundred people stood outside, still trying to figure out how and why this had happened. By now it was 5:45. The museum itself was closed, as was the gift shop. I'd call that a missed opportunity or two. Too early for dinner in the city; too early for drinks in the city. Stranded outside the stunning Daniel Libeskind 2006 DAM addition.
Several people suggested that the museum have a second event at 6:30. "We'll wait. What else is there to do?" said the man behind me.
"What were they thinking," said another woman. "Did the Office of Cultural Affairs think no-one would show up, that we're not cultured enough to come listen to a world famous architect?"
Sooo. . . Denver. So awkward and adolescent an event plan -- not quite grown up, not quite sure of itself and its persona. Not a Rocky Mountain high last night. All dressed up and nowhere to go.
And with a coincidence too close for comfort, just before posting this, I received an e-mail from Tara, with an article proclaiming that the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford CT just beat out the Denver Art Museum in the first round of Modern Art Note's America's Favorite Art Museum Tournament. First round knock-out. And that was before the Calatrava calamity.
Game on and out.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

City Beautiful

Yoga in the morning, followed by chunks of sweet, juicy watermelon. Lots of joy at Karen Quinn's house this morning. But more on that love story at another time.
Wash Park was buzzing when I drove by around 7:30 this morning, so I decided to stop and check things out after yoga. Washington Park was part of Mayor Speer's scheme in the early 1900"s to transform  Denver into the Paris of America. I see no signs that the haute couture, existential angst or culinary refinements took hold out here in the wild west, but the park system surely did. City parks and mountain parks have stayed a priority in Denver and its outskirts ever since Mayor Speer's City Beautiful plan took hold. True, Wash Park is not Versailles, but we aren't really Paris.

On any given day, Wash Park, Sloan's Lake, the Civic Center, City Park are all a twitter, the sound of birds silencing the fingers of the tweeters and texters. The Park is a place to get away from all that.
So what did I see this wondrous morn at Wash Park?

The spectrum, from what appeared to be Elderhostel to Nannyhostel. Kiddie camps, people meditating, a group doing yoga, people in wheelchairs, babies in strollers, tricycles and bicycles with thin and fat tires.
Lots of runner. More walkers. People reading alone or talking in groups. Our collective mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers, friends and foe, teachers and learners. Broken hears and hearts on the mend....Only signs or shouts of anger came from a few bicyclists, left hands jamming cell phones up against left ears, one shouting directions to a realtor, the other to a co-worker.
Hopes dashed and stirred, goals created and revised, dreams deferred and rising.... a microcosm of life on a sunny July morning. Lots of dogs, and far too many geese.
Where would all these people be without the vision, the call for The City Beautiful, the Paris of America?
Here's an excerpt of that vision, taken from Thomas Noel's Mile High City.

In 1907, Mayor Speer spoke thus to the city council: "We are in a plastic state. As the twig is bent so the tree will grow.... Denver can be made one of the ordinary cities of the country, or she can be made the Paris of America. It will cost money, but this investment will pay ten dollars for every one spent. Let us start [with Civic Center] plaza near the business center—have statues, trees, and flowers—where our people and tourists may gather each evening under the most artistic electric lighting—near the spray from grand fountains and listen to the finest music in the land....Then build not an ordinary, but an extraordinary drive or Appian Way into the mountains.... Take these forward steps, and you will never turn back—our future greatness will be assured."

The City Beautiful Plan
Mayor Speer could be found in his office evenings and on weekend mornings pondering plans for new parks and public buildings. In the heart of the city, Speer proposed a gracefully landscaped Civic Center. Between the State Capitol on the east and a projected new City and County Building on the west, he had some of the nation’s foremost city planners design grounds, monuments, a central library, fountains, and an outdoor Greek theater. This park-like heart was step one of a four-part plan for transforming Denver into a City Beautiful. ....

There's more in Noel's books and on the Denver History website. But  I was grateful indeed for the Paris plan. A tip of the sunglasses to Mayor Speer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Death & Life of Ice Cream and Reading

It's one of those 'a picture - or video - is better than a thousand words' days.  Too much Denver sun.

On another quick note, I was so occupied catching up with my skeletons yesterday that I forgot to post the results of my weekend attempt to finish off a few pages on my endless reading list. Here's what I accomplished:

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead - great descriptionsT
Travels and Adventures of Serendipity -- re-read the beginning, because I started so long ago, I remembered almost nothing.
Faithful Place -- should never have started this new book with so many older books sitting in various piles. But I like her writing.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Almost finished, but decided not to finish. I like the metaphor..the tale is just a tale.
The Five Languages of Love -- or was it four? Why can I never get it straight?
'As I Stand Here Ironing' Tillie Olson. Again. Is there a better short story anywhere?
'Escapes'  Joy Williams. ANother favorite short story.
Some Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Mary Oliver.

As you can see, no rhyme, reason, order...nothing close to a plan. Walk-by readings. Melted ice cream, good words to melt by.


Monday, July 26, 2010


Every once in a while I take time to visit the skeletons in my closet. That way they don't decide to come out on their own.

So many skeletons, so little time. But it is true, or at least for me it's a truth, that those old skeletons don't fade away completely into the vast unknown, never to again return. They do fade, become less onerous or  humiliating over time, and get pushed to the deep recesses of the closet.  But just when it seems they might be gone, a gaggle of them twist, squeeze, waddle or tumble into the forefront.

 I figure it's better if I open the door and let them out to party for a while, instead of having them burst through and set the party theme for themselves.  It's a control thing.  "Y'all can come out for a short stay, tell your 'remember when' stories, but you have to go back into the closet of what's done is done.

So what or who are my skeletons? Some of the usual suspects, some unique. Couple of boyfriends, family disasters, dishes thrown, obscenities screamed, bad thoughts, bad decisions, bad actions. The triplets Should Have, Would Have, Could Have reside in the closet as do old-time favorites Shame, Fame and Re-Claim.  Drs. Buttinski and Superior finally stopped trying to share their vast knowledge.
Some skeletons have made their way into confessional boxes, some processed through one psychological theory or another, a few got lost in limbo and a couple have been transformed and earned early release.

Over time, as their powers diminished, I've come to count on a couple of those skeletons to help me through some judgmental times. For example, there's the skeleton dressed in a very mink-skirted London paisley maternity dress; she's the one with the hair that is semi-bouffant and semi hippy straight. Cigarette in one hand; martini in another. Big pregnant stomach protruding from those stick legs. Off to hear Donovan. The 'I'm so cool' and a total idiot skeleton.
Oh, there's Ms. 'I hate my mom and she embarrasses me with those old lady shoes she wears in public' skeleton. Yep. That would be the skeleton who didn't recognize that her mother's feet might be filling her during twenty years of working the first shift and raising four kids. Sisters 'If Only' and 'Why Should I Care?' huddle in a corner. Couple of ironic skeletons in there: "I'll never be like you," and "What goes round comes round' perched next to the reflective mirror.

Those are just a few. But you get my drift. Better to acknowledge them, give them their places in the the ancestral chorus line, thank them for hanging in the background, keeping me honest...and grateful that they are no longer in the foreground.
How about a Skeleton Reunion?

Friday, July 23, 2010


Just a few questions before the weekend begins.

Will I ever read all the unread and half-read books in the bookcases, on my desk or next to the bed?

Will I ever read the ever growing pages of unread books on my Kindle?

Why do I have a scrap of paper with four book titles sitting next to this computer?

If I do read all the fiction, non-fiction, poetry, fragments waiting for me, will I become a different person?

Putting on my glasses. Check with me on Monday to see if I made any progress. Hope you make progress on whatever your unfinished business may be.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Call Me Back?

It turns out that not only are people not calling you back, they aren't even calling. And they are not listening to your voice message. Or at least that's what Clive Thompson says in The Phone Call is Dead. (Wired Magazine, August).

Well, not quite dead yet, but all signs point to a slow but inevitable death of the phone call as we now know it.
Apparently the number of mobile phone calls (guess we should assume the land line has already been given Last Rights, and is just hanging on by a tube or two) being made has been declining since 2007.  Even more interesting, at least to me, is the fact that since 2005 the length of phone conversations has plummeted. In 2005, the average length of a call was three minutes; now they are almost half that.
I think I spent half my adolescence with one ear attached to the phone. Didn't we all? And every adult within hearing distance thought it was all an utter waste of time. They were probably right. But that problem is solved.
With texting and its abbreviated little language, most teenagers can thumb through high drama in nano-seconds. That leaves more time for more drama, be-friending and un-friending, sexting and de-sexting, more time for using other media.
But what about the rest of us, those of us post-adolescence or in a state of perennial adolescence?
What are we doing with all that freed-up time? Certainly not writing letters. Have we just run out of things to say?
But Thompson provides a happy ending. Perhaps. Better planning, perhaps. We can text first to make sure someone is available to actually use her or his voice on the phone at a certain time. Then  we can be more efficient in our calls, knowing we haven't interrupted someone (Aha! the unplanned phone call will now be relegated to the extremely poor manners section of whomever is left writing or texting about manners these days).
Be polite. Use your phone dates to better arrange your play dates. I'm not sure I really get all of this. If I already ignore your phone call (thank you, caller ID) what will prevent me from deleting your text or e-mail unread?
Thompson takes a turn towards the end of his article, breathes some life into the dying phone, by suggesting that we'll save all our really 'deep' conversation for the phone. Sacred talk will be saved for the phone.
There is some irony and hope here in Thompson's belief that we'll still have 'deep' conversations. Will we still have deep, or deep as we now know it?
Our other 'talk' will morph into video-chats. Tele-presence will be ubiquitous in the future.Don't sign me up just yet.
I don't know about you, but I'm not evolved enough to be tele-present all the time.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Went to see Objectophilia, an exhibition connected to Denver's Biennial of the Americas, a celebration of the arts, an international event that, as they say, celebrates the culture, ideas and people of the Western Hemisphere. Reviews say the Biennial is the largest international event of the year in the U.S. I'm not sure what the 'largest' means, but the Objectophilia exhibit is relatively small, using space in two downtown buildings.

Seventy percent of the artists showcased in the Objectophilia exhibition are from Colorado. All too often local artists are left behind when a city snags a large event.  But Lauri Lynnxe Murphy (whom I don't know, but wish I did) wasn't about to let the Biennial belong to the western hemisphere at large without carving out a piece for the local talent. And so she did. Brilliantly. 
So what is Objectophilia and who has it? Which of the many 'philias' do you have - or wish you had?

According to the exhibit definition, Objectophilia is a love of objects so intense that individuals form emotional relationships with inanimate things. As fetishes go, this seems rooted in culture, drawing our obsession with over-consumption to its logical conclusion. We love our computers, find our cars sexy, and lust over shoes, while driving the economy and the planet to the brink of orgiastic collapse. This exhibition asks artists to examine their relationship to these commercially manufactured items and icons, and the impact on the world around us. The flip side of love is hate, and creation is destruction: where do our objects exist on that continuum?  
Which of your objects do you love..or hate...or love and hate? Hard not to think about yesterday's post and our love/hate relationship with our techno-objects. Do we all suffer techno-objectophilia, fall into withdrawal pangs when separated?
I have all sorts of religious or spiritual objects around my home: little Buddhas residing next to shaman; Santiago hanging out with Saraswati and Francis of Assisi; santos and sinners; the Star of David sitting on my copy of the Five Pillars of Islam, signed by Muhammed Ali. Truth. 
What does it all mean? I don't know.
What do people collect? matchboxes, matchbox cars, storybook dolls, baseball cards, shoes, scarves, spoons, bookmarks, cereal boxes:
Gumby and pals, G.I Joe, stamps - You name it, someone has a love affair with it. Cars, boats, books, friends.....Friends as collectible objects. Cars are in a category alone. Keyboards, cellphones, plugs, old watches, new playing cards. Remote controls....Elastic bands.....Keys......
What are your objects of desire?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

To Be or Not To Be

To Be Present or Not Be Present..

Listened to an interview earlier today with William Powers, author of
Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age.  

  "Of the two mental worlds everyone inhabits, the inner and the outer, the latter increasingly rules," says Powers. The 'conundrum of connectivity,' and its affect on our lives is not new, suggests Powers.  He points out the benefits and the harm of our unrelenting external connectivity and offers advice on how to live a better, deeper life both because of and in spite of our connectivity.  For example, he talked about his family's experience and the collective decision to take weekend sabbatical from all those devices that connect us 24 hours a day to the external world.

Shortly after listening to the interview, I was sitting in the waiting room at Kaiser Permanent. Arms flailing in the stagnant waiting-room air, and voice on high volume, I heard a woman bellow, "You done nothing wrong. When you talk to my lawyer, Attorney YYY, he will tell you to fire Lawyer XXX and come with him. He'll get you the money you deserve, girl."

Well, I opened my ears and riveted my eyes on her face. Most of the people in the waiting room were more polite -- merely casting glances at her when her face turned to the other side of the room, but a couple of others sat up and stared also. She talked, grimaced, laughed, lectured right into that blackberry-type instrument in her right hand.. Must have been set on speaker phone for anyone within a city block. I stared. She'd look up and around, as if to say, 'Listen all you want. I have business to do." And so it went, rant upon rave. For the first time ever in a physician's waiting room, I was sorry my name got called early. 
I don't know either of the lawyers, but have seen both their TV ads. That's more than enough, I know. But what if I were mother, sister, girlfriend, wife, client of one of the other?
I hear endless discussion about the loss of privacy, moans about Facebook, Twitter, I-Everything delving into our lives, stealing our privacy from under us. Maybe. But from my observations, a large chunk of contemporary community, in a waiting room, airport, restaurant, bookstore, or library rejects privacy. It's more an in-your-face 'Listen Up.' I'm going to buy or sell shares, sue somebody, or end my relationship and you are going to listen. And there's no ability to erase. It's all open book.

"Back in the 1800s, Henry David Thoreau wrote that the man who constantly and desperately keeps going to the post office to check for correspondence from others "has not heard from himself in a long while." (Rasha Madkour in his review of Hamlet's Blackberry). Maybe we don't want to hear from ourselves, don't want to know what's abuzz in the internal world. I think that's Powers' point: we connect in order not to connect.

And the lines from E.M. Foster's Howard's End
"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect . . ."
 Who ever thought that we'd follow the path of 'Only Connect' right into the hole of Disconnection?
And with all that pontificating, why I am still wondering whether Lawyer XXX or YYY got the case.
Too much static in the air.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Plagiarism Not

Dirty fingers. New York Times ink still rubs off, and these days it's a great reminder that the news isn't pristine, all nice and neat, but is dirty and sticky. And the crunch of the paper sounds good in a black and white movie nostalgic way. I can't imagine I'll ever leave the world of print behind. It may leave me, but I won't be the one to call a permanent end to our relationship. We may stop meeting on a daily basis, but I'm in for a lifetime love.

Had a chunk of time on Sunday to muse over what I read, and decided I'd just capture some of my favorite sentences, sentences I wish I had written somewhere. Found I had so many sentences highlighted in neon yellow (way old-fashioned schoolgirlism for you) that I had to whittle my list. Committed more of my leisure time to shuffling the inked paper, marking big yellow X's across some of the star sentences. It wasn't easy to let some of those beauties go, but I got down to a precious few. No surprise, is it, to find Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman here?
And in salute to the academic Honor Code gods and goddesses, I think I'll give a little credit to the real writers. It's something some of us like to do.

Maureen Dowd, Rome Fiddles, We Burn

"The Church still believes in its own intrinsic holiness despite all evidence to the contrary."

"If Roman Polanski were a priest, he'd still be working here."

". . .  It didn't seem possible that the arch conservative II Papa and his paternalistic redoubt could get more unenlightened, but they have somehow managed it."

Thomas Friedman, Can We Talk?

"To begin with, what has gotten into us? One misplaced verb now and within hours you can have a digital lynch mob chasing after you - and your bosses scrambling for cover."

"In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints."

Benedict Cary on The Boss Unbound

"In studies of group behavior, it is usually the overconfident, outspoken individuals who take on leadrship roles."

"That's why, in the end, the most effective leaders find a way to mix some patience with their Patton, to persuade rather than intimidate."

"When you're in power, and you want to stay there, you are not free to be yourself; you are expected to live up to your role as a dominant decisive, absolute authority - and to internalize it, to drink your own Kool Aid."  (Jennifer Overbeck, psychologist at U. Southern Cal , quoted in Cary's article.)


Tell me you don't feel at least a twinge of  writer's envy. I do. I feel a wanna-be surge.  But mixed with the envy, I find such joy in these carefully crafted thoughts. Each of those sentences makes me smile, fills me with "That's it. Nailed." Perfect.

Don't think I needed the quotation marks, but stuck them in anyway. Staying on the sunny side of honoring these wordsmiths.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Gone Bananas

Bananas.  Going Bananas. Last night was Mixed Tastes: Bananas and The Book of the Tibetan Dead at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver. Challenge: Connect the dots, see the relationship between the topics.
These Friday night soirees at the MCA always agitate, propel the thought process across boundaries, through labyrinthine memory paths, and into unconscious and uncharted territories. All in an hour and a half. Not a bad way to jump-start the weekend. 
I try to figure out the relationship. The bananas take me to Woody Allen's Bananas. Nutrition, potassium, and all that jazz. Gone bananas. Bananas and monkeys. Monkeys bring me to the powerful Tibetan tale of the monkey-mind and the thangka painting that illuminates the path from monkey-mind to nirvana. (not much linear going on here, but that's my path). Nirvana. Enlightenment.
I look on the web for the derivation of the term 'gone bananas.' According to one source, the term is derived from the state of mind that overtakes monkeys when they've eaten the over-ripe (fermented) bananas lying on the ground. Monkeys on bananas. A tad crazed, probably...ecstatic perhaps... gone bananas...out of their minds.
Aha! the mind. I know very little about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but do know that it is about that stage or transition between death and the next re-birth.  Part of the transition from reality to all those oft-undocumented moves through levels of consciousness or un-consciousness, the purple haze between death and re-birth (told you I didn't know much). Maybe the state of transition is momentarily similar to going bananas.  Just trying to make connections, didn't say I was going to find any.  Just trying not to slip on any banana peels.

I also remember  back in the early day when I thought I'd conquer yoga, meditation, serenity all in one long weekend.  Some wise person/mentor told me to follow the old adage and find myself a ripe banana.
The adage:
A struggling student, full of self-doubt and uncertainty, came to the Wise One looking for advice.
"Go and find some ripe bananas to spend time with. Green bananas ripen faster when put next to ripe bananas and it is the same with people."
I should have followed the advice. I've gone from green to ripe, but should have sought out more ripe bananas on my journey.
Maybe that's the connection: The banana doesn't get ripe until it's close to death.
No.  Too long a stretch.
The temperature is creeping towards triple digits. I've vowed not to turn the air conditioner on this summer. It is so hot up here on the second floor. I'm going bananas with the heat. Going to find a nice air-conditioned movie theatre before someone is reading The Book of the Dead over me. That's the best I can do today.

Friday, July 16, 2010


I said I wouldn't rant on this blog, but this morning is an exception. Having a bratitude attack. Feeling like a brat who wants the world to be a better place, but doesn't want to do much but whine about it.
If you live in CO you know we have a candidate for governor accused of plagiarism...not just a line or two from sparknotes or wikipedia. No, whole passages written by others. $300,000 for copying a friend's words and passing them off as his own. "But my friend said it was ok."
Having spent far too long in life teaching all sorts of writing, it's such an old, boring story. I've had students tell me writing papers for others was how they made money for college.
"Professor Wright, How can I be in trouble. Jamie paid me to write his paper. Writing papers for others improves my writing, and I want to be a writer. This forces me to take on different voices and be creative." Yep.
Or "Whoa, it wasn't me. My roommate must have copied parts of my paper off the computer after I left the room. How else could we both have the same paragraphs in our papers. He is so stupid."
"My father is a lawyer."
"I thought collaboration was important. You always talk about teamwork in class, and now you are against it."     On and on and on...and on.
Friends don't let friends plagiarize.
And Mr. McInnis....wanna' be gov'  ...What is wrong with quoting sources, giving credit where credit is due?
I know, most people could care less... hey what's a word or two in the scheme of things...your words, my words, they are just words. And who reads those damned reports anyway?
So it's a multi-rant on all of this for me:  rant that the politician plagiarized; rant that he doesn't think he did anything wrong; rant that he was paid $300,000 for a writing a report that could have been far better researched and written by real thinkers and writers for a lot less money; rant that so many people don't care.

AND then there is our frenemy the Vatican.  Another long report, informational guidelines . About time  they (I'm never sure who they are at the Vatican) tightened up the Doctrine of Faith, developed more 'rigorous, coherent and effective' guidelines on sex crime allegations. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, the dean of Germany's bishops conference, declared, "The injustice of the past is being cleared, and the conclusions for the present and the future are being drawn."  Sounds good. I'd call it a beginning; if you look closely enough there actually have been some small changes. the same document, in order to be inclusive, and make sure no-one thinks the Catholic Church has found its way into the modern world, the writers of the Declarations of Morals included the serious crime of ordination of women in the document. I quote ...this is a "way of codifying two of the most serious canonical crimes against sacraments and morals that the congregation deals with."  Really? Sexual abuse of children and ordination of women in the same breath?  Ah yes, the ordination of women is 'a wound,' a serious, 'grave' violation.  This is a group of thinkers and writers who might have been better off having someone else write the document. Surely a seasoned writer, a practitioner, would know enough to write two separate essays. Collect money on both.

So, my bratitude is showing again. And my rant is multi-dimensional:  it's not just the mushy changes to the sexual abuse code; it's not just the outrage at the idea of the ordination of women as a wound and a crime; it's not just the bad writing; it's also the two topics wrapped together as if they are a coherent whole.

That's my bratitude attack against parts of the world that should know better. Hope I'll be more tempered next time we meet.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010



Sometimes it is necessary to re-teach a thing its loveliness - Galway Kinnell

Thinking today about a beautiful seventeen year old woman I know sitting in the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Not for me to say or know why or why not she is there and someone else is or isn't; not for me to judge the unhappiness or despair that floats in and out of people's lives; not for me to have a solution or resolution to any of it. I leave most of that to those who are trained in the fields of the mind and soul, the professionals. That's my head speaking.

But in my heart I think the poets often offer us clues, ways through the labyrinths. Why and how do we forget our own loveliness? How do we lose that self that is full of love, loving, and inspiring? And once it's lost, beaten-down, pummelled or buried, how do we re-learn our own loveliness?

Who are the teachers wise enough to bring troubled souls back to original loveliness?  I'm not sure there's a psychotropic drug yet created that can do that. Maybe a compound of chemicals can remove the veil and shadows that cloud one's sight, so the re-teaching can begin.

In my heart, I think the poet captures the core truth: it's not about learning to live by the rules, to do the right thing, speak up or shut up....not about who's to blame or whom to game....It's about re-teaching a thing (person) its own sacred loveliness.

I'm stuck on the concepts of re-teaching and re-learning. It's an oft-repeated cliche that 'when the student is ready, the teacher appears.'  I think that's true, but I think what's equally true is that lots of teachers have had to plant some seeds, do some nurturing and nourishing to set the student up for the teachable moment.
And we have to believe in the ability to self-teach, to teach ourselves again that we are full of love and lovely.

Poets teach and re-teach us about the sacred and the profane...and our own loveliness.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Celtic Thoughts; Fleeting Expletives

Random thoughts roaming my radar today.

During the World Cup semi-finals, the Cathedral de Santiago postponed mass until after the game, and then celebrated a massive mass of thanksgiving. It's a holy year on the Camino de Santiago this year, and any Catholic pilgrims who make the certified journey into Santiago for a compestela are forgiven all their sins. Truly. It's a long story, but I'm proud to raise my hand as someone who did the Camino on a Holy Year and decades of sins vanished right in front of my eye (they didn't say practicing Catholic, so I figure I still count)..
Alas, I've picked up some spanking new and not so original sins since then, but my soul still has a cleaner slate than it had earlier. Imagine the World Cup Finals and the Cathedral de Santiago celebration when the overtime clock ticked away, giving Spain a 1-0 win over the Netherlands this past Sunday. Those great balls of incense must have been puffing their lungs out. Sins of all kinds must have been wiped into the great black hole of religion's neverlands, never to be seen again. Raise that flag, raise the eucharist, raise hopes to heaven's stars. What a year to be a pilgrim on the Camino.
Our beloved friends and tour guides from Spain (Fresco Tours) Alex and Jason and gang watched the game in O'Cebreiro....a perfect spot along the Camino to watch Spain win a World Cup.
It's a long hike, following Alex Chang's footsteps to O'Cebreiro on the Camino path. It's a rolling hill rolling straight up into what appears to be an ancient, magical world. As one ascends the path, the clouds come in and rain comes down. This is no road for a stylish rainjacket or jogging pants...when it rains on the path to O'Cebreiro, you want to have REI's best rainpants and poncho, raingear ...whatever it takes to repel Celtic rain and wind.
It's a wet, windstorm walk into an ancient Celtic land...a magical, sacred place enveloped in mist, a place where druids, Celtic gods and goddesses hide behind rocks, in the lush green hills, behind trees. Even parts of Ireland don't feel as Celtic as O'Cebreiro. Having trudged up that hill in the wind and rain three times in my life, having gone to pilgrim mass and eaten far too many desserts at the inn, my mind was transported to O'Cebreiro for the match.Transported right back to our dessert of gummy bears and cheese, with little Buddha karma.
 Felt myself surrounded by Roscoe, friends and other pilgrims, listening to Alex explain and describe Basque philosophy, trace roots and thoughts across lands, and laugh with wet joy at having completed another day on the Camino.  It was Spain's day, and I was there in a Celtic corner of Spain. Virtual pilgrim.

As usual, I have more to say than is necessary about the World Cup. Fortunately, for you all, so many writers have waxed both eloquently and not so eloquently on each game, country, player, coach, referee, score, kick, missed opportunity, luck, brilliance that I need not add my redundant thoughts. Somewhere in Brazil someone is preparing for World Cup 2014 and that's good enough for me.

Let's hear it for the sacred and the profane. Cheers for that Celtic man Bono and his fleeting expletives heard round the television world in 2003,  praise to the courts that stood firm for fleeting expletives and George Carlin's Seven Words.How many fleeting expletives does it take to levy a fine? I love the term 'fleeting expletives.' Sometimes those little suckers just flee before you can take a deep breath or pull your lips tight.

1978 the Supreme Court allowed the FCC to fine a radio station for airing George Carlin's Seven Words made clear that scripted (nasty, intentional, dirty stuff) words could be cause for fine, but then the greedy little FCC went further in 2003, looking to fine a tv station for Bono's unscripted, fleeting expletives.
I think it was in '09 that the Supreme Court heard the case to make it legal and appropriate to fine stations for the unscripted words also. Luckily, judiciously, and wisely, the case was turned back to an appellaate court and today's NY appellate course decision struck down the decision that would allow the FCC to fine stations for the fleeting expletive. Damn...
Did we really want everthing scripted? No chance for Joe Biden, Mickey Rourke, you and me to make fools of ourselves in a fleeting way. Whose world is that?
Seven Deadly Sins, Seven deadly words....and a dwarf or two or seven....May it always be legal to have fleeting thoughts and words, expletives included. you see, it does all come together if you give those random thoughts some time together.

Monday, July 12, 2010

To kill a mockingbird

Read the blog previous to this for the To Kill A Mockingbird posting. Thanks!

Fifty Years of The Mockingbird

Still thinking about the real-life saga of Susan when my eye catches the headline noting the 50th anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird.  My memory of reading the book is clearly distorted. I imagine myself being eight or ten reading it, talking with my friends about it, determined to always do the right thing. But the math doesn't add up. I was older than that....but it still feels like, remains positioned in my memory as a book I read when I was young. Obviously this memory is not a reliable narrator, so I'd better be checking it often.
It doesn't really matter. I loved the book. I had no idea Harper Lee was female. Embarrassed to say, I don't know if I even thought about the gender of the author and I'm not sure I would have known how to respond to the fact that the author was female. That was my life, at least, before the Civil Rights Movement, Women's Movement, Gay Rights, all the movements that so radically shaped my life and the lives of those around me.
Something inside me today makes me happy to have been overwhelmed by the story, the 'moral' if you will while just wearing my own limited lenses. So here's Jessie Korbuth's homage on the anniversary.

'To Kill A Mockingbird' Anniversary: On Its 50th Birthday, Why Is 'To Kill A Mockingbird' Being Attacked? - Jessie Kornbuth

"I never thought I'd see the day when the lawyer who argued Brown v. Topeka Board of Education before the Supreme Court and went on to be the first African-American to sit on that Court would have his career reduced to that most dreaded of all contemporary labels: "activist."

"I never thought I'd see the day when you can legally carry concealed weapons into airports and bars and --- my sweet Lord! --- churches.

"I never thought I'd see the day when allegedly smart adults would tell me that America's poor were so powerful that, given the chance to own real estate, they bought so many houses they couldn't afford that they tanked the economy of almost every country in the world.

"But then I never thought I'd see the day when "To Kill A Mockingbird" --- a novel that has inspired readers for half a century --- would be derided as a book about "the limitations of liberalism" (by Malcolm Gladwell, no less, in The New Yorker, of all places) and "a sugar-coated myth of Alabama's past" with a hero who's "a repository of cracker-barrel epigrams" (by Allen Barra, in the Wall Street Journal)

"But as we approach July 11th --- the 50th anniversary of the publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird"--- it's probably not surprising that we're seeing one of America's best-loved books criticized for its "politics."

"And it's definitely no surprise that the downgrading is done by men.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a woman's book.

"Written by a woman, Harper Lee, but more, written by a woman who dared to see herself as her region's Jane Austen. Told by a six-year-old girl. With a hero who's not, in any traditional sense, manly. With a message of kindness and empathy generally associated with female values:

"And one more female value, once common in the heroes of Western movies, but less and less common by the time Harper Lee wrote her novel --- a willingness to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Readers often forget, but this is the foundation of the character of Atticus Finch: He takes on the legal defense of an African-American, knowing he can't prevail in court.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand," he tells his children. "It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."

"I'm not one for stereotyping, but how many men do you know who step up to confront unpleasantness and conflict? Here's Atticus: "Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open."

"Atticus Finch is --- let's just say it --- a feminized man who appeared a decade before America started hearing about feminism. No wonder he appeals to English teachers, who tend to be idealists. And no wonder the film is a "family" favorite --- mother choose it in the hope it will make their kids kinder.
"In the long clock of history, we have, only a moment ago, pretty much stopped killing each other over resources --- as individuals, anyway. Since then, we make progress, we take a step backward; civilization is a fragile concept. But I take it as an unvarnished Good Thing that readers have persistently loved "To Kill a Mockingbird" for as long as it's been in print. I think it's just great that Mary Murphy has written a book about Harper Lee's book: "Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of 50 Years of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'"
And it pleases me no end that, in a year when men denigrate Thurgood Marshall and get off on carrying guns in public and blame the poor for every failing of men in expensive suits, that some of the most passionate defenders of a book you'd think needs no defense are male. ---- "

Good. This is one 'd like to keep out of the gender wars.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Susan's story

Four teeth. On the bottom. The rest were long gone, a few stubs here and there, but mostly gone. That's what she had when I met her last Tuesday.  Hand covering her mouth, her story came out in bits and pieces.

At the age of nine she already had a bridge for the nine front teeth in the upper part of her mouth. I don't know why. Maybe a fall, an accident, rotten diet, neglect, knocked out by an abusive parent. Somehow, over the decades, she managed to pick up a nursing degree and an EMT certificate, but as she was picking up those credentials she was slowly losing her teeth.  And it seemed for every tooth that crumbled, broke off or was removed, she added weight. Lots of it. Got herself up to 325 pounds at the peak, but then lost a hundred of those as eating became more and more difficult. She said it didn't really matter. People shouldn't judge each other by looks. If they do, they aren't worth knowing. Judge a person by what they do, how they act is the way she wanted the world to be. We know better: that's not how the world spins. Not how any of us spins. Every story has a spin on it and no teeth makes for a bad spin.


Manhattan. New York.  9/11.  Susan and a co-worker were on an EMT call, with a rookie in the back seat. He was in training, observing a couple of seasoned responders. Within four hours of their morning duty they were in the middle of the zone, looking for live bodies. Didn't find many. She was the one who had to explain to the rookie that those yellowish clumps on the ground were body parts. "Body parts. You put a number on them and hand them over. Just keep numbering and handing them over. Somebody will want to know about these body parts. It's our job and we'll number every one we can. Each number is an identification."  She's not worried about her teeth. This day, and the next, it's about arms, thighs, bodies. Not about Susan.


What does she do now? She's a caregiver for a family in Maryland.  The man she cares for worked on The Manhattan Project. That Manhattan Project - the one where all the brilliant engineers and physicists from Princeton purchased one-way tickets out of town, heading for unknown sites to develop the atomic bomb. To use the power first....How's that for a New York kind of irony? Susan works with and for Ted Rockwell, one of the best and the brightest scientists in the US.  Worked on the creation of the atomic bomb in Oak Ridge Tennessee. A legacy, a man of peace. He's still working on the effects of radiation and is core member of the group working on peaceful uses of nuclear energy.  But this isn't his story; it's Susan's.
She lives with him and his family full-time and they consider her part of the family.  I don't know how the man and his family found her or how she found them, but it's been a pretty long relationship, and a fulfilling one.  "You must get your teeth fixed," he kept saying.
"He and my grandmother always telling me to get my teeth fixed. They'd find the time and help with the money. but there was never time and I didn't want to take money from anyone."
Her grandmother recently died and left her some to get her teeth fixed.
"First I thought I'd get a large tattoo with my grandmother's name. She was one wonderful woman. But decided to honor her wish and start to get my teeth fixed. Made my boss the happiest man in the world when I told him. It's been a long haul, and I'm closing in on the finish. First part of the implant process is over. It's killing me. Good news is my mouth is so sore I can't eat. So the pounds are rolling off.
Tomorrow the temporary bridge goes in. Four months with those in place, and then I'll have real, permanent teeth in my mouth. Well, maybe more than four months.  By February I'll have the last of the money I need. I've had lots of support for this. " That's Susan's story.

CUT to Thursday.

I recognize the New York Yankees tee-shirt, but not the woman wearing it. I don't know this woman with the beautiful smile, the beaming eyes, the lit-up cheeks. I do not know who she is. Truly.
Francesca says, "Sheila, look at Susan."
Susan. In the Yankees shirt. At least fifteen years younger, two inches taller. Smiling, smiling, smiling. Her hands are not covering her lowered chin and her half-closed eyes but are gesturing in space as she speaks her truth.  Her body is graceful, animated, alive, singing in its movement "I am someone." She grins. Laughs out loud.  This is a Cinderella story, with a much better ending. Susan didn't find the prince; she found her self, found her beauty, claimed all that inner beauty and exposed it front and center to the world. :Can't wait for my boss to see me," says Susan. He will be so happy. I cry. We all do.

Fiction doesn't trump reality. Reality reigns. Makes one believe in the power of love and goodness.  Susan's story.... for now.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Fiction Trumps Reality

Yesterday I was taken by the plight of an individual person with a broken heart.
But at  9:00 last night everything changed. Francesca is still heart-broken, but now it seems the whole city of Cleveland Ohio has heart pains and palpitations. A heartbroken city, of all things.
  One wants to say "Hey he's just another guy...never promised you anything, never said he's stick around for ever. No "my lifetime partner" or "til death do us part"stuff. Monogamy wasn't part of the deal. It was just a hook up. What did you expect, Cleveland? A hook up in a minor city and you thought you had a keeper?
And what's with the silly font sans comical to express your despair?
Too many talented sportswriters out there for me to take a stab at writing about LeBrons James' Betrayal.
Personally, I see no comparison between Francesca's heartbreak and Cleveland's heartbreak. A city can sob and slobber together; spill its intimacies and beliefs across bar room tables and the chain gang. The single heart-broken person stands alone, so alone. The city whose heart breaks over a basketball player has a million crybabies with whom to commiserate.
On a non-heartbreak note: I'm on a fiction binge right now and it's delicious. Something about delving into other people's lives, imaginary worlds, suspense, horror, complexity, problems - and not owning any of them - makes  for a rich life of the mind. And it's summer. One is free to read beach fiction, light fiction, chick lit, detective lite,any old kind of easy reading there is. Let's get out of Heartbreak Hotel and hang out in somebody else's fictive life for a while.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tax Revolt

I've been musing on broken hearts today and reflecting on the many ways hearts are mended or get healed. I've been thinking about the woman I wroe about yesterday and how she will find her way. Not much to say, really. I don't think one escapes this life without having a heart broken - or at least shattered. It's part of the human condition, part of the geneological journey.

Not wanting to dwell on sadness, I went looking for some other thoughts or news that might move us away from broken hearts. Well, I found it. Reason to be angry; reason to protest; refuse to pay taxes. It's the new and as some would say, in capital letters, DISCRIMINATORY tax on tanning.

Here it is: Now you'll be heartbroken for the completely crazy thought process of human beings. Hearts will survive, but the mind? Oh, my.
'Tan tax' discussions include allegations of reverse racism
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 8, 2010; 5:18 PM
Mention the new "tan tax" in a major news outlet and cries of discrimination and reverse racism often follow.
The case: Since patrons of tanning salons are almost exclusively white, the tax will be almost entirely paid by white people and, therefore, violates their constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

• 'Tan tax' discussions include allegations of reverse racism
• Poll: Is the 'tan tax' racist?
• Some at Arlington salon grow heated over 'tan tax'
View All Items in This Story
The complaint surfaced on reader comment boards to blogs and news Web sites back in December, when it became clear that the levy -- a 10 percent surcharge on the use of ultraviolet tanning beds -- was likely to be included in the new health-care overhaul bill. Since then, it's been repeated by conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Doc Thompson, a fill-in host for Glenn Beck who intoned in March, "I now know the pain of racism."
When an article about the fallout from the tax -- which took effect last week -- appeared on the Washington Post's Web site Wednesday, dozens of commenters questioned the tax's legality.
The case can seem deceptively simple: Since patrons of tanning salons are almost exclusively white, the tax will be almost entirely paid by white people and, therefore, violates their constitutional right to equal protection under the law.
But does the argument have any merit? Not remotely said Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School specializing in racial conflict and law.
"There is no constitutional problem at all, because a plaintiff would have to show that the government intended to disadvantage a particular group, not simply that the group is disadvantaged in effect," he said.
Kennedy said that this is why courts have upheld a raft of other laws that also happen to have a disproportionate impact on particular groups. For example, laws that impose higher penalties for possession or trafficking of crack cocaine as opposed to powder cocaine resulted in far harsher sentences for African Americans compared to whites. And laws that offer preferential treatment for veterans are much more likely to benefit men than women. But in both cases judges ruled that, because lawmakers did not intend to disadvantage black people or women when drafting those laws, they are legal.

What would it take to prove that President Obama or members of Congress intended to discriminate against white people when they included the tan tax in the health-care law? There would have to be some record of direct or indirect comments by the officials involved, Kennedy said. Or there would have to be no possible alternate reason for adopting the tan tax.
But the levy's supporters argued from the start that it had a dual purpose: to raise funds to cover some of the cost of extending health coverage to the uninsured and to discourage a habit that scientific studies have linked with increased risk of cancer.
"To say that this health rationale was a mere pretext for wanting to stick it to white people is completely implausible," Kennedy said.

You read it here....We might have oil spilling into the oceans, but, more importantly, we need to protest the Tan Tax. Save your money. Forget the tanning bed. Go directly to the blackened-oil ocean. Petroleum tans are definitely the new black.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Not Cinderella Today

I watched for at least an hour. She was the most beautiful, elegant woman I have seen in years. Creamy, olive skinned, unscathed by wrinkles, light veins,or facial fuzz, lips just plump enough to be original, hair long, brown with low-lighting and highlighting. Dressed simply, with tan muscular shoulders and tight bulging biceps holding up the thin arms with hands grasped together.
Her eyes, big circles, color of Yeats' hazelwands, were flooded. Her whole body leaked thick tears.
In that self-made and self-absorbed puddle sat the most visually stunning and painfully sad woman I have ever seen in my life.
And I've seen lots... but never anyone so wracked with sobs, so desolate, so so so all the adjectives and adverbs I don't have in my word hoard upon which to call and recall for you this beautiful sad woman.

'This is what it looks like when the world has broken your heart,' I thought. The words must exist, waiting to be carefully enunciated, short syllable by short syllable ...tucked away in Spanish, French, Italian, Farsi...somewhere are the words that could capture this woman in her grief.
I come to you empty-handed, minus the language skills, to tell the story.
I waited, waited until most of the crowd cleared.
"My eyes were closed from crying" she told me. "Doctor had to make little slits, two stitches on each side, to release them. Little hernias."

Later I learned she was from Rome, just recently moved there from Madrid. Four children, ages 8 - 18. Can you feel the story edging up? Yes, she gave up her career where she used her four languages when the youngest one was born. Yes, her husband is leaving her. Next week. The lawyer will call to make arrangements. Yes, the children can live with her in Madrid. Money. Not much. Not for her or her kids.
Another woman. Younger. Professional. 'Exciting'. Leaving her and her beauty.
Yes. Another career for her? Has to be. What? Who knows. 'I have to find a whole new self to create from this sadness. All new. Where to start?'

'How can I heal my heart and soul?' she asks me. I smile and tell her that this is proof she has hit rock bottom...No place to go but up. If we have somehow been placed on these seats so you would ask me how you can heal your soul, your God or Goddess has a strange sense of humor. So humor must be the answer. That's where we must start. First we must smile together.

I really can't write anymore about this today. She is as deeply beautiful as is deeply wounded. I feel wounded also; vacant, vacated. I want to reach inside me and find something to give her. but there is no 'there' there. I don't know how to help. I see, almost inhale the decay of her soul's open sores, scabs not ready to fit over her heart. Raw, dark sadness.
I have no answers, very little to say. But her beauty is so radiant, swollen eyes and hollowed rims aside, I want more than survival for her. I want her to heal, to spread her beauty whever she treads....
I think Spain winning the semi-finals is the World Cup today might be a symbol that a change of luck, a heart-mending is coming her way. 'All of Spain is smiling for you today, everything is on your side, all good hopes coming your way. It is Spain's day and your day."
How feeble of me. But I laugh anyway at myself for seeing games as signs and symbols for the future. how childish, how desperate. But I am desperate. At a loss.
I don't even have her e-mail address. And I want the charms, luck, karma, prayers of the world to be with this woman, this fleeting friend, today.
I wish for her wholeness to return.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Story time.

Just came across a little notebook with two hints about writing scribbled in pencil across the left-side page.

Hint 1: No Conflict, No Story.

Hint 2:You're Either Cinderella or You Aren't.

Simple enough.

The Prince turns into a frog. Not a story yet.

Boy runs over frog with bike.
Girls is allergic to frogs.
Boy captures frog and brings him home.
Frog turns into a prince.

Now we have the kernel forfour possible stories.

You have a mean stepmother whose foot fits in the glass slipper.
Your foot fits in the glass slipper.
The prince is looking for a male whose foot fits in the glass slipper.
The prince likes your foot, but not you.

Choose your own princess story, as best fits your life as it is today.

I'm looking for a story this afternoon, but can't seem to find one. Actually, more tan a story, i am looking for my glasses. I'd take the bifocals or the reading glasses, which ever shows up first. So please excuse the typos and misprints because it's all a blur to me right now.

On the right (not Mrs. Parker's right) page of this little 3x5 inch notebook are two very strange lines scribbled in pen.

Line 1: Weave your purpose into your tapestry.

Don't know about that. Maybe it should be weave your tapestry into you purpose. Did I miss something? No, maybe that's it. I should be doing things, thinking, being the pieces of tapestry that support my purpose. That sounds hard. Maybe it would be better to look at this tapestry that is my life and declare its purpose. Sort of like looking back and saying: Oh that was the Renaissance. I just didn't know it when I was living through it. Maybe.

Line 2: The Collective Wisdom of Estrogen.

Really. Is this a collective you would join? I hae no idea what it means, but I bet there's a story in that line. Loads of potential conflict, with signs of either a joyous or devastating ending.

That's my story today: Never throw away notebooks full of scribble. There's many a tale between the covers.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mindful Messenger on 4th of July

Sparkling, rumbling, loud holiday, as well it should be. Independence is always hard won; never comes easily to anyone or any country. It's a sort of Platonic ideal, and we've come pretty close to that ideal here in the US. Still miles to go for some in the US and the journey is without peril. Many miles to go on other places around the world and that journey is one of a thousand steps, and not always in a straight line. Still, it's a day to celebrate the freedoms we have, acknowledge them in red, white and blue, and give some gratitude for the gift of freedom.
I've been searching for appropriate Independence Day or Fourth of July poems. There are many; so many that I couldn't find exactly what I wanted.
But then Mary Oliver saved me. These two poems aren't celebrating Fourth of July. They rock Fourth of July. They celebrate the independence of heart and mind that bring us to the beauty of this world. Happy Fourth and continued Independence.

    Every day
   I see or hear
         that more or less

kills me
   with delight,
      that leaves me
         like a needle

in the haystack
   of light.
      It was what I was born for—
         to look, to listen,

to lose myself
   inside this soft world—
      to instruct myself
         over and over

in joy,
   and acclamation.
      Nor am I talking
         about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
   the very extravagant—
      but of the ordinary,
         the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
   Oh, good scholar,
      I say to myself,
         how can you help

but grow wise
   with such teachings
      as these—
         the untrimmable light

of the world,
   the ocean’s shine,
      the prayers that are made
out of grass.

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.
Mindful and Messenger – Mary Oliver
Raise that flag one more time.....

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Jimi Hendrix - Star Spangled Banner

Not to everyone's liking, so listen if you choose. Otherwise, enjoy some silence.
Just tuning up for tomorrow's fireworks.
Hate to admit it, I went to Woodstock (good news), but missed Hendrix (bad news) on the last morning.
Other good news -  Saw the original flag that inspired the original song just last week at the Smithsonian so am in an historical frame of mind. Such a wonderful sight and reminder. Raised at Fort McHenry in 1814 (thanks, Rob).  Thanks Mary Pickensgill and her two daughters for the good job.
Think it's time for me to re-learn what I once knew about the War of 1812. Well, maybe it's time to actually learn about the War of 1812. Have a feeling I was passing a note in U.S. History when we on that chapter. See you tomorrow to revel in independence.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Stories on the Table

Drug Interactions and Psychiatric Patients sidled up next to Your Wedding Planner. PTSD  plopped on top of Special Weddings. Those are the books left behind on one empty table at Barnes and Noble. Putting my unnamed titles on the floor, I skim through the books left behind by the previous occupant of the table.
Now here's a drama about to be lived, a story waiting to be written.

For whatever reasons, I assume a woman left these books behind. She may have found better books to purchase. Maybe she decided to call off the wedding. His problems were too large for her to handle. Or she may have had her own PTSD triggered. The reader could have been a therapist trying to help a client...maybe a woman with PTSD from an early childhood sexual assault about to try happily married life. Perhaps a researcher looking up the relationship between expensive weddings, divorce and PTSD. 

Sitting alone, adrift in thought and a tad sad for this woman I've never met, I am brought back to the present by "Is anyone else sitting here?"
"No. Feel free" I say, and quickly slide the books to the edge of the small table. The two women sit and begin talking simultaneously. Unloading their books on the table I notice "It All Starts with a Box." Turns out to be, I think, about knitting all kinds of cute hats once one conquers the basic box.
Who is out there with a square head?  Between them they must have a dozen books on knitting hats for babies and toddlers. They chatter in earnest about a depressed friend, the colors to choose for a box hat for a yet unborn baby.  OMG...I hope the woman planning a wedding decorated in PTSD isn't having a baby with a square head. How much can one person take? The knitting outside the box women leave, and now we have boxhead books added to the collection.
I look down at my books, waiting for my attention. What do I have? Orange is the New Black (women in prison), Women, God and Food (not sure of the word order), The Reluctant Fundamentalist and a book on indigo children.
Alas, I've spent the time I had for the bookstore on imagining other people's lives, so I don't even skim through the books I picked up. But I do add them to the collection on the table. We now have a gigantic Rorschach test waiting for the next innocent victim.
Check out your local bookstore. You never know what story is spread out on a table, just waiting to be written.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Delinquent Writers

 I knew it. I knew if I came to this dinner, I'd draw something like this baby on my left. They've been saving him up for me for weeks. Now, we've simply got to have him - his sister was so sweet to us in London; we can stick him next to Mrs. Parker - she talks enough for two. Oh, I should never have come, never. I'm here against my better judgement. . . . That would be a good thing for them to cut on my tombstone. Wherever she went, including here, it was against her better judgement. This is a fine time of the evening to be thinking about tombstones. That's the effect he's had on me already, and the soup hardly cold yet. I should have stayed home for dinner. I could have had something on a tray. The head of John the Baptist, or something. Oh, I should not have come. (Dorothy Parker, But the One on the Right.

Goat cheese and fig preserves on crackers. Tilapia and pineapple on the platter. Strawberry, orange, banana, melon, berry salad on the table. Tony on the grill. Not his head on a platter, just his writing on the grill.
Yes, this was Tony's night to be basted and grilled. Gently, tenderly grilled. But grilled.
Nobody does interior monologue better than Dorothy Parker; I think no-one does robust exterior critical dialogue than the Delinquent Writers.
The five of us are seasoned delinquents. We write. Then we don't write. Then we talk about writing. Sometimes we don't mention writing because not one of us can get through the block. We've been getting together on a regular basis for over two years now, so we're long past the 'only say nice things' phase. We go around the table, taking turns with positive and thoughtful  comments. Then we go for more finicky analysis.
But Tony had delivered his tale weeks ago, giving some of us a bit too much time to take the red and black pens to the prose. And somehow, before dinner and critique, we got to talking about those short stories that wowed us when we were young, from The Lady and the Tiger to The Lottery.

So we were ready for three hours about point-of-view, perspective, first person and omniscient narrators. I know, this isn't table talk that would draw a lot of people. But we are peculiar when we come together. We don't always agree, as in 'The dream sequence works for me. It's a compact, visual piece that kept me reading' to 'Well, to be honest, the dream just didn't work for me. The prose is too wordy, scenes too chopped up even for a dream'  That's how it goes. Marcela, having put a tale or two together herself, remembers everything she's read or heard about writing: 'Andrea said there's only room for one main character in a short story....or maybe she said if you are just starting to write short stories, it's better to just give one point of view. Really.'  Patrick? Our ex-reporter for USA Today, now in the National Parks (oh, it Forest) can splice and dice a phrase with the best of them.  Me? Always something to say. It may not be all about me, but I like to get myself in there. Always good reasons, but always reader response in the end.
Tony's story, The Road Not Traveled, ended up being dessert also. We just couldn't let it go. Tony thinks the male character should have an even stronger voice; Marcela, Patrick and I agree we don't want to hear one thought of his. We want just his actions. Back and forth. Rational, thoughtful Julia is in NYC, so we don't have rock-solid reason in the room. But it's such great fun: sitting around a table until the sun is so far down we're forced to turn on lights to see the words on the page. Hard to imagine anything other than the written word that would have brought us all together. Such a gift.
Always, we each walk away with a new list of 'must read' books and a handful of new hints about writing.
We always learn something new about one another. For example, as Marcela is from Argentina, we knew she'd be supporting her team. What we didn't know is what rabid fans of the World Cup we all are - and ended the night reeling off statistics, judging the referees, asserting our preferences.  Not enough tension in the dialogue for a short story, but we can work on that next time.
When is next time? Some night in August. Whose work will we critique? I hear the fountain gurgling outside. I hear the little night bugs making night sound outside. Silence inside.. Inspiration creeps up on all of us in unpredictable ways, so we'll just have to wait to see who's grilled next.
Put your name in, if you wish.