Monday, February 28, 2011

Teacher Was Strict

"The real writer is one who really writes."

~Marge Piercy

I stole that quote from Go Into The Story, a blog about the craft of writing and the creative life. Lots of valuable info there, particularly if you are interested in screenwriting, so go take a gander.

Despite what I said about austerity back in mid-January, I have somehow managed (that would mean a very generous hubby, and forfeiting dinners out for some time) to scrape together enough quarters to get myself into a fiction class at Brown. It meets Monday evenings, and tonight being the second class, I have my work cut out for me. But good for you, this will be a quick note.

I've finished the required reading, but I've much to write before this evening's parking melee on Providence's East Side
—an event which always precedes the evening classes. And since Professor C. reintroduced me to Rick Moody (who, by the way, was educated at Brown and wrote, among many other things, The Ice Stormthat chilling tale about WASPy suburbia and key parties *it's a helluva movie, too*), and his short, The Grid (from this), and Delmore Schwartz's fixed hallucination masterpiece In Dreams Begin Responsibilities (the title story remarkable), and a reading list to die for, I am suddenly replenished with noun and verb and phrase, and I am excited! 

(Phew. Take a breather. I'll betcha Professor B. wouldn't have liked that run-on.)

Which is fortunate, as it is necessary for me to produce
 fiction of my own. And if Ms. Piercy is correct, if I am to be a real writer, then I must really write. (Wait, am I not doing that here?) So while I'm off writing fiction, I'll leave you with this:

The Spring by Delmore Schwartz
Spring has returned! Everything has returned!
The earth, just like a schoolgirl, memorizes
Poems, so many poems. ... Look, she has learned
So many famous poems, she has earned so many prizes!

Teacher was strict. We delighted in the white
Of the old man's beard, bright like the snow's:
Now we may ask which names are wrong, or right
For "blue," for "apple," for "ripe." She knows, she knows!

Lucky earth, let out of school, now you must play
Hide-and-seek with all the children every day:
You must hide that we may seek you: we will! We will!

The happiest child will hold you. She knows all the things
You taught her: the word for "hope," and for "believe,"
Are still upon her tongue. She sings and sings and sings.

(One last note: Last week I got an Editor's Pick—and a slice of the cover page—for this piece  at Open Salon, where I also, occasionally, write. Yes, I smiled BIG. And the piece, my friends, was inspired by You.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Sigh No More (the weekend is here!)

Zest and Gusto.

There's a distinct drop beyond that gentle slope: the steep cut of the double black diamond. And though you have a map, you can't be sure of what lies beyond the gnarly, spiral drop. The mind sees the angle and asks, How the hell do I maneuver down this, and where does it smooth out and straighten?  The passage is narrow, with a double fall line which will require some skillful carving. You're going to have to pick your way down this baby.

She closes her eyes for a while, and forces a patient smile. She wants this. After all, she introduced us to the run, skated right up to it, and declared she was ready. Ready for the double black.

Alright then, I say, let's do it.

Wait, I'm not sure, Mama! she shouts into the clouds. I've already worked my way down a portion of the upper ledge; I turn up toward the top of the mountain where she's leaning on her poles, and nod affirmatively, reassuring her that she's ready, reminding her that she brought her brother and me to this sleek, snow-covered gap. So she swallows the fear, and tears down the gully, edges dug in, teeth grinding, thighs burning, and arrives at the bottom with the widest grin I've ever seen her wear.

This is how Mumford & Sons introduce their music to us. With zest and gusto. But they also understand and accept, even appreciate, inevitable weak moments. They are young, so young that my maternal instincts kick inhell, I'm old enough to be their motherwhen I hear them cry about giving their all, rolling stones away, bellowing how love will not betray you, dismay you or enslave you. Boys singing about desires, regrets and redemption at such a young age can bring a mother to tears. I want to pull them into my bosom and reassure them of their capabilities and marvelousness, tell them I'm happy for them, excited by what they've become and what they will continue to be and do. Embracing their talents and gifts, they're carving a unique place for themselves in music's history.

But these young menBen Lovett, Country Winston, Marcus Mumford and Ted Dwanehave apparently received plenty of good mothering. Yes, some sweet love and attention and encouragement. It's evident in their song, voice and posture. There's warmth in their hearts, in their music, and even on their website, which includes Marcus' Book Club (where he discusses The Outline of Sanitya visionary manual exploring the increasing common suspicion that there must be an alternative to the "fast-paced and meaningless blur of modern life"which he claims changed his life);  Ben's Recipes (like an alternative full English fry-up, and other on the road catering ideas); and, Ted's Photographybeautiful sepia-toned rooftop portraits in which the London sky threatens storm.

They are approachable and real, their music steeped in raw honesty, as well as a distinct Shakespearean influence. At the heart of their songwriting is love, life, death, and true poetry.

Inside their debut album's liner, they offer recognition by noting: "We would like to thank our makers and keepers, with all of our heart; those who are close to us even when we are far away. Without you we would not have made this album."

I'd like to echo the majestic mountain's desire: Design your own maps, or wing it if it so pleases. Blaze the trail. Carve through narrow passages. Keep digging those edges in. Don't worry about the fall line or where it all straightens out. You see far beyond ita parallel glide through sweeping landscape of mountains and valleys, and sunny skies.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Zen in the Art of Life

I don't remember the infraction, but she did follow the directive and wrote the sentence 110 times—the extra ten for good measure. Sometimes you have to do a thing that many times for it to sink in. (If you're really lucky, you don't.) It was an effective consequence. For a while. But as it is, my little muse will be who she will be. And it's alright. As we all do, the girl sometimes forgets.

I've been told that I'm forgetting my children. This by my children, of course. They seem to think they've been lost to my laptop. I don't think it's true. The culprit is my mind, and its incessant swoosh of words and phrases that pull me inward and freeze me in time. I need to rectify it, obviously. And though the kids are secure in my love for them, they also need to know that they have my respect.

And I'd like to show them this without writing it out longhand 110 times.

So this being school vacation week, I'm going to be taking a little hiatus, take my kids to the movies, cook some real meals for them, play some board games, and head up north, to the mountains, where we can shoot down the trails to our hearts' desire.

It was Ray Bradbury who said that one of the most important items in a writers makeup, what shapes his material and rushes him along the road, is to look to his zest, see to his gusto.*

Time to look to, and create, some of that zest and gusto with my babes.

I'll be back, though, for the Frolic on Friday. Until then, with much zest and gusto: So long and be well!

*Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Friday, February 18, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Dance to the End

Leonard Cohen

You thought it was over didn't you? Your week dragged on and you thought the magic had ended. Poof. Kaput. Now you're looking for it, you want it back.

You've arrived at this point, at this very juncture, this Friday, feeling like all life had been sucked out of you. Leather-faced and bone-dry, you're nothing but a desert of thorny shrub and tumbleweed straight out of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western, that haunting harmonica score wailing in your achy head.

Everybody wants a piece of you. All of 'em, all the characters: the kids, the boss, the job itself, the partner, the spousethey all want something from you, don't they? But you feel like you've nothing left to give. And maybe you don't. Maybe, when you get home today (or maybe you're already home) you just head straight for bed. For a long slumber.

Or maybe not.

Maybe you can't sleep because you're obsessing. You want to know why you have to carry all the bags and juggle all the ballsyou don't get this brand of entertainment. You want to know what's in it for youwhat's it all for? Time is endless, yet finite. Where's the meaning? Obsession's got its twisted fingers around your neck and it's suffocating you. It's going to finish you off unless you take it down by its knees. You gotta get it straight. Flatten it.

So you turn on the light—the one with the alarmingly bright bulb that you'll never get to changingand grab that book sitting on your bedside table. Yes, that book, the one with all the answers, or so you thought. You leaf through it and start thinking about all the characters in your life, how you oughta just sit 'em all down and have an intervention. Set 'em straight. Tell 'em you're tired of doing It. All of It.

And then you do it: you call them in and gather them 'round the edge of your iron bed. They're pretty comfortable, those characters, so what do they do? They all sit on your bed, all around it, on that nice, freshly dry-cleaned, linen jacquard coverlet. And they start yackin', a cacophony of voices you don't recognize. It's all garbled and crazy, completely absurd. You picture yourself in a Beckett play. Or maybe more like a Monty Python movie, only you're not laughing. So what do you do? You're too nice, so you offer them a beer or a milk or a glass of chardonnay, hoping that will shut them up. (There you go againgiving.) But it doesn't.

You clear your throat (loudly) and ask them what the hell they all want from you. You tell 'em you don't know if you can do It any longer. You're barren wasteland and haven't much left to offer. You're done, you say, you are tired of It.

There's a quiet in the room. Lover looks at boss, boss looks at bags, bags looks at kid, kid looks at balls, balls looks at job, job looks at all those damn dinner-time fundraising calls, and calls doesn't know where to look. They are befuddled.

And so you say, Get out! Just get the hell out. I don't know what I called you in here for in the first place. I've forgotten, dammit. I'm done with It. I can't do It anymore!

Then you get out of bed, pick up the balls and start juggling them. Now you're smiling, hey that feels good. You remember what you loveyour music, your books, your work, your family, whatever it is, and that it's Friday night and you're still alive! You start to whistle and clang your tambourine, and feel as free as a gypsy.

And those things, aside from your loved ones, those things that brighten the world and make you feel alivethe collision of harmony, poetry, literature—stand before you and smile back. They're humming a poesy that makes you feel fluid:

And in your desert springs a glistening estuary that gently greets the wide open sea:

And you know you can do It. It's alright, yes all straight now, and you'll sure as hell dance to the end.

For more Leonard Cohen magic (and one of my favorites) go here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Variable Angle Reflections

I've so many magical things for you today. Really. Little magical tricks. And yes, that illustration up therethe one that turns the world on its sideis one of them. But you're going to want to see all the magic here today. I promise.

My son penciled this sketch in response to a school project, and not the one for his Art class. The assignment was for Algebra. The directive: pick an Algebraic term (like axis, ordered pair, coordinate, slope, horizontal, etc.) and make a creative illustration of its meaning. The goal being to relate the term to something other than its mathematical meaning, while still accurately illustrating its meaning.

Had I been handed the criteria, I would have scratched my head for a long time. And then I would have drawn a tree. Or maybe a ladder. I'd probably forget to draw a straight line for grounding. And so my primitive art work wouldn't demonstrate a relation would it? It wouldn't show its horizontal axis of reflection. In other words, it wouldn't have perspective.

It would be much easier for me to just define certain angles, or use them metaphorically, as I did here (relative to age, ugh), because that's my comfort zone. I don't know if it's just meand if you've been reading me you're aware of my mathematical limitationsor if its the fact that as we age we become a bit more set in our ways. Or maybe it's just that we like to stay in our comfort zones. We like the speed limit. We know what to expect.

But Max, he knew exactly what to do. Why did he know exactly what to do? Is it because he's still too young to drive, and therefore doesn't understand the concept of speed limit? Well, it's several reasons I suppose, but I think the main reason is that he's able to look at things from various angles and perspectives. And maybe that is because, at thirteen, he can't yet get his license.

So, what is magical about the illustration is that it reminds me that sometimes one has to turn a thing on its head, or its side, to really understand its meaning. It reminds me that tunnel vision is limiting. It reminds me to seek perspective through unobstructed peripheral vision. (Otherwise, I really should get off the road.) It reminds me to not take a thing for granted. To not jump to conclusions without first exploring all sides. Sometimes I need pixie dust thrown in my face for this to happen. That's what my son's illustration is. It is pixie dust. It is magic.

Hang on, more magic, the best is yet to come...
Sourced from internet

All right, the next bit of magic involves more lines, and arcs, too, and is especially for my writerly friends. BUT (big but) it is magic for ALL. It's something I read long ago, and something my friend Maria reminded me of not so long ago. Maria, by the way, is also magic. Really. She knows how to fling pixie dust. (And I'm so looking forward to getting me some of her dust this weekend!) So if you've any desire for a dusting, go see her.

Alright, are you ready? This is really exciting... pure magic... Wait. I'll give you a hint. It has to do with this guy:
Photo via www
Again, if you've been reading me, you know how I feel about this guy. *Hearts*  This guy is also magic.

Ok, here's that other bit of magic I promised you: Hocus Pocus. Don't be shy, go ahead, click on Hocus Pocus! And don't come back until you've been thoroughly doused with that silky, glistening dust, until you're entire body is sparkling.

Ah! You're back! Wasn't that awesome?!  Look how sparkly you are. Is that man not genious? Magic?

Now are you ready for the best yet to come? Voila, for my last trick, the final bit of magic:
Sourced from internet

You think I'm kidding don't you? Yes, it's a mirror. Look at it. Look into it. What do you see? Oh, you see yourself? YES! Correct! It is you. You, my friends, are the magic. You, over there on the right side of my pagemy Google Friends, Facebook friends, Open Salon friends, Networked Blogs friendsand You, other friends who don't like to put your picture up on walls, but still stop by for a visit on occasion, and drop comments in the box (or maybe you don't, and that's fine, too). You, on the Blogs I Follow and My Favorites list. You, who may not be on any list, You are what keeps me coming back here, and what keeps me looking out there, to YouYou didn't realize that you had pixie dust stashed in your back pocket, now did you? Well, you do.

Yup, Youthe best of the magic, my friendsyou who have such vision. You're perspective is important. You, we, who love to share perspectives, ideas, writing, comments, photographs, our soul, with the World. The whole World. How exciting is that? It kind of takes some guts, don't you think? I'm not necessarily known for guts, but You help. (Not to mention the internet which is also magic.) We read each other, we learn from each other, we become friends. Even if it's only in cyberspace, we still become friends.

And You and Iwe know the magic of sharing. Thank goodness it's the one thing (hopefully, not the only thing) that we didn't lose when we stumbled, oh-so-gracefully, into that darker world of adulthood. We may have lost our innocence, we may have lost some perspective (but you know magic can bring it back), but we sure as heck still know how to share. We learned of its importance as a child, and we still know it to be true, effective and empowering. We know we need to share to make it all work nicely. We know that sharing can change the World. Just look at what happened in Egypt! (Not that I'm proposing a revolution, but you know what I mean.)

So keep sharing your perspective everyone. I love hearing from you, I love reading you. I love sharing you. (Hope you don't mind.) I love all of your angles and reflections. I'm so happy you share. It's nothing short of magic.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Drunk and Naked and Running Wild

Internet source unknown

It wasn't always all chocolate hearts and roses. It wasn't always so romantic. The Romans had a way about them, and legend has it that in the third centurywhen public showing of pagan rituals hadn't yet been outlawedduring the days from February 13th through the 15th, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia (named after Lupa, a she-wolf who cared for Remus and Romulus)a festival in which the city was purified, evil spirits released, and health and fertility channeled. It was a bloody indulgent mess.

Goats and dogs were slain as sacrifice. In the name of Fertility, women were willingly slapped with the bloody hides of those slain animals. There was a matchmaking lottery, and men drew women's names from an urn. They all paired up and everyone got drunk and naked and ran around with goatskin thongs, the same with which the women were lashed.

And because the Romans made better lovers than fighters, their Emperor, Claudius II, forbid single men from marrying, lest they'd never leave their love making for war making. This is when a righteous guy named Valentine (maybe a priest) defied Claudius's order and performed secret marriages for young lovers. In return, Claudius ordered Valentine's death on, perhaps, February 14th. But before he was executed, Valentine was imprisoned, and fell in love with the jailor's daughter, to whom he wrote a loving letter that he signed: "From your Valentine."

There you have it. Oh what a time it was.

But things changed in the fifth century when the church decided to "christianize" the pagan festival, and the Roman lottery system for matchmaking and other rites were outlawed. The festival was civilized (or done away with) by the church, and Lupercalia went the way of Byzantine sports. I suppose this was for the best, as both running around drunk and naked, and chariot racing, could be rather dangerous.

Well, I don't know about you, but I kind of prefer the old Roman way. Down and dirty, drunk and naked (except for the fertility flogging). And no mass marketing, no cards or chocolates or roses.

And here, one more civilized thing for your day of hearts and lovin' (in the language of love):

I want to sing to you eternal stories,
And of falling suns and full moons, and dark nights...

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Ready For Some Bad BAD Bird Watching?

She's on the flyway... the muse, the sprite. Like an Osprey migrating northward, she'll be soaring in by mid-afternoon. She'll be LOUD. She'll be EXPLOSIVE. She'll be BIG. AMPLIFIED. DYNAMIC. *Whoosh.*

Her overstuffed bag will land heavy in the nest, fly open and spill its guts: gritty relics, marbled stones, the tattered short feathers of a White-Breasted Nuthatch (who tread down timber headfirst). It'll burp up environmental scrap, bits of deciduous tree, oak sticks and gummy balls of sap, spraying them across the floor like a game of jacks. But no gift shop plastic souvenir will tumble from its basin, for there was no shop, and "money" was on the Leave at Home list.

She'll  be tired. She'll wear the black mask and buff fringe of the young Osprey. She'll wrap her pinions tightly around her half-rested, fairly refreshed mother bird, and give her a squeeze that will linger for days. She won't want to talk adaptation, exotherm, endotherm, or torpor. Na'a. She'll declarelike she's just been cranked and loaded with exclamation pointsIt's Friday! The horses are on the track! Let's go, let's get out! Can you believe a 10:00pm curfew in that mudhole? You don't even make me go to bed that early! Gah! Hey, I've gotta tell you about Sophie and the bullfrog... *Whoosh.*

She'll plunge into the habitat and eye her brother like he's feed in seas. I bet ya missed me, Max! Check this out. Her talons will be gripping an object that will not, just then, be discernible. She'll move toward him, but carefully, suddenly conscious of her top-of-food-chain behaviorshe: a narrow, long-winged beauty, direct and fast in flight, and he: a raptor's prey.

He will have forgotten his complaint: the stillness, the quiet, the lack of pestering and poking, cawing for attention, and his admission to missing his 'lil sis after first denying the same. Hey Lu, he'll say coolly, and look up from his conservation, welcome home, kid.

Pick yourself up off the floor! she'll shout back at him, seeing him still crouched on the hardwood, snapping mechanical goons together, lost in the labyrinth of his mind. She'll still be clutching the objectthe dead pond specimen in a plastic container, or a giant, pilfered sugar cookie from the mess hall. She'll shove it right in front of her big bro's face. She'll forget about personal space. Come on, check this out! Don't know what you're waiting for! *Whoosh.*

He'll get up, he'll smile, stretch his arms out to her, offer some big brotherly love, and pull her into his lean, muscled chest. Alright then, he'll say, patting her wide wingspeering into her steely blue eyes, bring it on.

(The mother will remember that before there was BAD, there was a clashThe Clash. And this thought will please her.)

That's fascinating Babes, the mama bird will deadpan. Now that you're settling in, tell us about your stay at camp.

And the feisty one will answer, It was really vile weather, they practically chased us out of town.

What? the elder bird will shoot back in disbelief. What happened? she'll ask. Food fightSneaking in the boys bunk house at midnight?

Mama, the baby bird will purse her beak and snort, Ma, I'm telling ya, you could hear the six guns sound as they chased us out of townWe were practically imprisoned! *Whoosh.*

(And the mother will also remember that by the time the musethe baby Ospreywas three, she knew this Show's lyrics, or at least her versionin their entirety.)

No, really Lu, her brother will demand, straight-backed, hands at hips, how was it? Really.

Dude, it was the the BOMB, she'll screech with the widest, wickedest grin. She'll grab her big brother by the hand and race down to the bowels of the roost, to where the guitars, harmonicas, keyboard, karaoke, computer, foosball, acrylics, paintbrushes and costumes wait for her generous sweep. She'll be ready for the comfort of rituals. She'll  fasten her padded talons on everything, in one fell swoop, and everything will smile, everything will come alive again. And though fatigued, she'll feel light, as airy as her feathered friends. *Whoosh.*

And then they'll fly off to her brother's meet, the one where he swims like a fish. *Whoosh.*

**Welcome home, Lulu Bird. Now we can get back to normal. We can get BAD.**

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Smuggling Sleep and Other Stuff

And this:  Sleep Deprivation Increases Risks of Strokes, Heart Attacksa headline that Coyote Prime posted on his blog, which is an extraction of written passages, stories, aphorisms, and any other newsworthy, noteable, quotable material. (Coyotea smuggler is what he is, and a good one at that.) 

Well, no kidding. And migraines and sinusitis, too. Can you add that to the headline Coyote boy? And I'll bet getting sugared up on Jelly Belly's doesn't help much, either. But that's what I'm doing right now, to keep my eyes open, because I've gotten so little sleep (and bone-dry mouth from a daily Sudafed diet) in the last few nights that perching myself on the swivel, poking keys, and thinking in this condition may very well place me in a near perilous position. So this may be short.

Or not.

My little muse has gone off on a three day excursion with her school-mates. Every year the middle-schoolers set off to a semi-remote location to get some hands-on environmental education. Where she is right now, on a couple thousand acres of forest, farmland and lakes, is also a place that provides a retreat setting for adults. Hmm, no wonder there's no lack of parent and faculty chaperons. She will be sleeping (using that term lightly) in a heated knotty-pine cabin with all her girlfriends, dining on home-cooked comfort food by a fieldstone fireplace, running outdoor challenge courses in the snow, tapping maple trees for syrup, roasting marshmallows by the fire, and learning about how animals adapt to cold winter months, and about a thing called hibernation.

Sounds pretty good, huh? You know what the best part is? As a condition precedentand as a sort of right-of-passageto this excursion, the children had to leave all electronics at home, including iPods, Kindles, radios, laptops, flashlights, electronic games of any sort, and cell phones. That is the short list. What they were permitted to take along: non-cyber books, journals, teddy bears and other fuzzy luvvies. Ah, nothing like getting back to nature with spined paper leaves and Teddy in your arms.

Isn't it fabulous?

And what all of this means, what is even more fabulous, is that perhaps tonight, tonight will be the night of full-on sleep. Not to put my insomnious issues on my little sprite, but sometimes she does wake me from a deeply satisfying delta or a rather pleasurable REM, if you know what I'm saying. See my muse doesn't slumber, forever gets up with a novel idea bobbin in the noggin, why she may even be... *ha! moment of realization* ... is it possible?... a.... somnambulant-somniloquist!talking and walking in her sleepand as I work this all out in my fuzzy head, I'm thinking I should maybe get her tested. Really, she ought to have sea-legs in the morning, swaying all night like she does. You can get away with little sleep and sea-legs when you're eleven, but hell doth loosen when you're considerably older than that. But tonight, tonight is my repose. 

Only... the last time my daughter went away for an extended time, a weekend in New Jersey to visit her Gramps and K and her adorable year-younger, half-aunt partner-in-crime, she called me three hundred times. Ok, well that's a bit of an exaggeration. She was, after all, with the kindred spirit (to whom she refers as her "cousin", a sly attempt to preserve the pecking order), the one who can party down like no pre-teen's business'xcept for the muse herself. Rock and roll all day and night, those girls cut a path of chaos like a double typhoon. Truly, truly adorable.

Did that packing list say no cell phone?

A promising tidbit, which I happen to know for a fact by way of my other musethe bigger one, the quiet, artistic one, the happily-lives-in-his-head one—who has also been on this very school trip, that students are not allowed to call home unless, and only in the rare case, of an absolute emergency. And should anyone not obey packing list orders, they'll be shipped back home on the next bus. That little man also left on a Wednesday and we didn't see or hear from him until he returned on Friday evening. But he's a by-the-book kind of guy. He doesn't prescribe to the "rules are meant to be broken" theory (although it happens on occasion). He wouldn't think to smuggle a phone in his duffel.

Here's the thing: My daughter is my son's polar opposite, a precocious provocateur. She'd think to smuggle in her cell phone. She'd find the slice between the lining and shell of her suitcase and slip her phone right in. She may even be packing a flashlight. Then, again, she'd hate for the fun to end prematurely. But that phone.

She wouldn't have. Would she?

You know what one of the biggest causes of insomnia is? Anxiety. Stress and anxiety. Not muses. Prowling the internet, I can't pull up "muse" anywhere as a reason for sleep disorders. Try it: muse + sleep disorder. Although, Mommy Muse Blog does solve your sleep problems via the ”Pantley Pull-Off” processor, How to get your newborn to sleep. (Oh, how I loathe the How-To.) Yep, anxiety. And here I am going on about hoping to get some sleep, praying I won't get a middle-of-the-night call. Enough. 

I'm gonna go slip on my Coyote clothing and smuggle me some sleep.

And don't be fooled by all of this, I will miss my muse.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Where Did You Go?

We give too much credence to technology, and the notion that it brings rapid change to everything: that everything is all hurry up and get this done now because it is all at your fingertips, and there is no good reason why you can't be on top of it at this very second. You can email this, fax that, write and read books on your phone or tablet, and do just about anything and everything that needs doing, all at the same time, from anywhere in the world. In fact, you never, ever have to take another vacation without getting work done. (Ah, the beauty of technology.) And while this is trueaccess to unimaginable amounts of information, indeed, at our fingertips, practically coded under our nails, and trafficking it no longer comes at risk of burning paper cuts—you can always shut it off. So you see, technology hasn't changed everything. You still control the buttons.

You do.

At my mother's yesterday to pick up the kids from a sleepover with their Nani, I poked around the living room bookshelf, the one my father built. He built just about everything in that turn-of-the-century colonial. He tore the whole thing apart, inside and out, and put it back together again. (I grew up, quite literally, on sawdust, paint-stained tarps and the ever present scent of freshly sawn Pine.) And he made lots of room for books. Books he read, books he collected, books he loved. No book he loved more than J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. When he died, he was buried with a well worn, dog-eared copy of that novel in his hands.

Every year, he had his senior honors English class read the book. I was in the class my senior year. We read the book, of course. I won't bother you with its details because if you were a teen in America anytime after it was published in 1951 you have most likely read it. But here's a quote: "Don't ever tell anybody anything.  If you do, you start missing everybody." 

And if you haven't read it, then do. It's a terrific, timeless story, but what I most love about the book is that it has never changed. By this I mean that the imagery, the story, the voice and feel of that book is forever the same in my mind because no other version, no media, no movie, has sullied my take on the story. Although he was vigorously pursued, thanks to a grudge against the film industry Salinger wouldn't cut a movie deal. Now that Salinger is no longer with us that might change. I'm hoping not.

Sure "Igby Goes Down" (2002) was based on The Catcher in the Rye, but Igby is not Holden. No one can be Holden but Holden. And I agree with Matt Zoller Seitz, this novel should never be made into a movie. Nope, never.

But back to technology. And the fact that some things don't change. They  may be augmented, yes, but not forever changed. Proof that this is true:

"Where Did You Go?"
"What Did You Do?"

Swiped off those carefully crafted, stained Pine bookshelves, authored by Robert Paul Smith in 1957, this beaten hardcover (photo up top) now sits to the left of my laptop. It is Smith's memoir of growing up in the 1920s and 30s. It's about boys being boys, it's about girls, too, and about what happens when kids are left to their own devices. It's to be read, as Ogden Nash said, "with delight in one gulp." Go read it. It will not only quench your thirst for days past, it will remind you that they're not really gone. Not entirely. iPads, and iPods, and iPlenitude for God's sake, be damned. Kids will always be kids. And when you ask them what they've been doing, you can bet your last horse chestnut that you're going to hear: "Nothing."

And thanks to modern day technology, you can find Smith's book here.

Back, inside cover.

Friday, February 4, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Living On The Edge Of A Precipice

War creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent 
human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. 
Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice.
 ~C.S. Lewis

In Egyptthe land of pharaohs and the Great Sphinx of Giza, where children skip through streets acting out tales of One Thousand and One Nightsin The City of a Thousand Minarets, where the sun sets over the Nile and Orion's Belt beats down on ancient ruins and dusty roads, a barbarian polo game is being played in Tahrir Square. Camels and stallions are draped with Persian carpets and mounted by riders brandishing mallets, beating back the dense crowd of chanting opponentsunarmed peaceful resisters. Looters ransack age-old buildings, thugs hurl firebombs and slabs of stone from rooftops, snipers fire into a mob of anti-government demonstrators. People lay dying on the quad knownin Englishas Liberation Square. From Cairo a great eruption spreads across the river and desert, a plague of boils and darkness over the land that hearkens Moses. 

And the limestone Sun Goddess cries tears of blood that trail into the raging Nile.

The Pharaoh refuses to step down, unwilling to go quietly into the night. What is his worry? Has he no royal cartouche? His people throw their fists in the air, urging democracy, demanding an end to his rule. Today is the last day, they shout. Even the Pharaoh's army will no longer support their king. And the swelling, praying, protesting crowd will not back down. Today is the day of departure

barefoot African princess has come east from her archipelago, and sits calmly on Mount Catherine's summit, her weary voice burning ballads against the tonal sky...

... Who will show us the way? She knows hardship. She knows suffering. She knows revolution and solidarity. She knows morna. And when she sings it, the Egyptian people—the whole world—know freedom. 

Cesária Évora's latest album, Nha Sentimento (2009), is a collaboration with Cairo musician and composer Fathy Salama.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cruising With Khione

I don't know why, but I have a distinct feeling something is coded in the snow's weekly plummet to earth. It may be global warming, the shift in climate, or just my wild imagination, but the downfall occurs with such regularity of late that I sense there's more to it. So I got out in it, in search of it's meaning.

The heavy fall began near rush hour this morning, but no school delay was called. Rather than have to make up yet another day lost to snow, school officials opted for an early dismissal. Thus, I had a porthole in which to voyage solo aloft the glistening, fleecy ground cover.

There is something about getting out on my cross country skis, alone, scraping through fresh snow, cutting a trail, that awakens me. There is an immediate peace, an instant sense of becoming one with nature. And even though my trek was along suburban streets, it was still for some time quiet but for the Song Sparrows' trills from across the partly iced-over brook. I wondered if this were not the message—the snow, and the birds, warbling in harmony just for me (skiing the flats has this effect, delusions surface, and I can see crystal clear beyond the horizon)—a dawning of a virginal earth, unstained by human nature.

Until the snow plow hammered past, leaving noxious fume in its path, returning me to Earth present.

(When I return home nearly two hours later, I am to find via research that people have been cross country skiing since prehistoric times—meaning since human beings first appeared on Earth—along the Baltic Shield. That's right, snow has never immobilized Scandinavians. And the repetitive motion of my skis are the same as earliest man's. This makes me feel even more like a snow goddess. Khione. I am she.)

* * *

Presently, I make my way along Rawson, down a small decline, and onto a flat with a certain cadence: a slightly bent leg out front,  the back one in a deeper bend at the knee, dragging behind. I let it linger there until I can glide no more, and then thrust the back leg forward, and the other falls behind. The arms—poles in hand—do what the leg does opposite, and the method is repeated until I reach a soft coast.

I glide past homes where large icicles cling precariously to rooflines, azalia bushes are buried in white fluff, the rims of basketball hoops are salted like margaritas, and a small trampoline looks like a snow cone. I see a "land clearing" sign, and I feel a wisp of sadness.

No one, except for a few cars passing slowly, is on the road but me. I am alone, keeping my own pace, no one to catch up to, no one to wait for. I've got a rhythm going, and it feels good. I feel it's all I really need. But then I see the hill ahead, and my heart rushes. I hurry up the incline, suddenly aware that I want to get to the top. I am in full stretch because I need to get to the top.

Because I need to go down.

And so I reach the crest and circle round, adjusting myself at the top, peering down to the bridge, where I know my downhill coast will come to a halt. I dig my poles into the snow under me, and push off. A joyful scream erupts (I am not even conscious of this) as I careen down the small slope, pass over a stream and arrive atop the bridge, where my stride is broken.

I do this three more times. It is like a drug. A selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitor. 

On my final descent, a car passes and I notice it's a neighbor bringing her daughter home from school. They smile and wave. Another car passes, and it's also a mother and child. I begin to feel guilty for not picking my kids up at school. I begin to wonder if I don't live for my kids. But I don't live for my kids, I realize. Is this a horrible thing to discover? Is this the message? Wait, maybe I'm not thinking straight. I live with my kids. I feed them and clothe them, and give them everything they need. Is this not enough?! Why, I do live for my kids, don't I? I am confused. I begin to think that I mustn't love my kids amply, for if I did, I'd be fetching them at school. I begin to feel less like a goddess, and—gripping my poles—more like something that is horned, tailed, and wields a pitchfork. This is the message, I decide. I need to get off my drugs and return to the real earth. Or perhaps I need a different drug. Something more like Xanax.

I leave the mountain and head toward the flats again. I turn down a side street in Arnold Mills and ski past the pond. More cars drive by. It's odd, but I think that one can tell a lot about a person simply by observing his or her reaction—especially to that of witnessing one skiing on a snow covered street. There is snow. Lots of it. I’m not on blacktop for Heaven's sake. So I can’t help but wonder why some people seem so puzzled. Or annoyed. Or doubtful. While others grin gaily.

And then there is the snow plow and its driver, whom doesn't care much for me. Not at all. Nor I for him. Not at all.

Alas, my son is soon to be jettisoned from a big yellow clunker, so I slide back toward home and wait by the the street corner's snowbank—my journey complete, though no portent had been decoded. Or had it?

At the corner, I greet the little man, who seems no worse for the wear. He doesn't mention the extended ride, or the fact that other children were picked up at school. I wonder if my daughter will feel the same way.

I wonder if I'll be going out for another winter hike when she returns home. I wonder when we shall see the next snowfall.