Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Whiskey From Mash

"In art economy is always beauty."
~Henry James

Internet source unknown


1. to let fall, exude, or precipitate in drops or in a wet mist
2. a: to subject to or transform by distillation (distill molasses into rum) b: to obtain by or as if by distillation (distill whiskey) (able to distill humor from personal loss) c : to extract the essence of : concentrate

I lied.

I didn't keep this piece Kono raw. Sorry Kono, I couldn't help myself. But I made only minor changes. Negligible. Barely noticeable.

I gave the unedited piece to my writing professor, as I had drafted it as the skeletal beginnings of a short story. He didn't mark it up so much, but where he did, it counted. Where I had doubted or debated, he discerned. He suggested the deletion of a sentence, rewording of another, addition of tension, and a title change. But since I've already published it, title modification would require some magic. If I'm able to spin its threads into a luscious fabric of short story I'll woolgather title then.

In any event, this is not only about tweaking of story, it's springtime and I am working on distilling. (As it appears to me that my life, in general, would benefit from assiduous editing as well.)
"Art, it seems to me, should simplify finding what conventions of form and what detail can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole—so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader’s consciousness as much as if it were in the type on the page." ~Willa Cather
While doing thatdistilling, editingI'm cleaning and moving things around, adding here, subtracting there, attempting to extract the essence of a thing. All things. So, it's a little topsy-turvy here, on this blog and elsewhere, but this is what happens when one distills. Things can get quite messy during the process, even a little sticky, sour and odiferous. But it's worth the effort, as the residual is often sweet tang.

I'm looking around my house at all the Stuff. All the kitchenware, Weller and McCoy pottery, old glass and antiques. (I cleaned drawers recently and found eight different bottle stoppers—what does that say about my wine habit?)  Do I need any of this Stuff? Does it enhance my life? Does it help me better understand the universe? No. It's just layers of Stuff. Layering. Layers are nice, layering is good in story and it keeps us warm, protects and adds texture. But the weight and grandiloquence of  layering also suffocates. If I pare down, can I retain the spirit of the whole?

It was DaVinci who said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

I think editing is successful when the act of omission is not a liability. And when addition does not change the sum of all the parts.

So I'll keep editing. Weed out the yard and house: toss old cans in my pantry, purge my wardrobe, trash magazines, whittle away at all my Stuff. That goes for my habits, vices and attitude as wellI'm going to be separating wheat from chaff. I'm going for essence. I'm distilling. And hoping for bountya stiff shot of rare and exquisite whiskey.

Bottoms up.
Source unknown

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Paper Moons and Cardboard Seas

In honor of National Women's History Month, today's Frolic is dedicated to the late, great Ms. Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song.

Internet source unknown

It is a breezy spring afternoon in 1952, Mama walks across the Court Street bridge, her pleated skirt ruffling in the wind. Daddy pulls up to her by the curb, in his orange MG roadster, and offers Mama a ride home. She doesn't know him except for the fact that he and his family live in the neighborhood. She's heard he's smart, and she thinks he's good looking. He attends the public high school, and Mama goes to a private girl's school. Daddy is gregarious and confident. He's the President of his senior class, and the Captain of his baseball team. Mama is quiet, and reserved, and prudent, but she accepts his offer, and hops in the convertible, two-seater. 

And Ella croons smooth, easy, jazzy notes.

It is 1954 and Daddy leaves Mama with a diamond on her finger, flies out to Korea and Japan. Two years later, he returns with colorful kimonos, wooden Geta sandals, a black lacquered jewelry box, and a pearl ring for Mama. They dance every Friday night at Rhodes on the river. They jitterbug into the moonlit night, until the dance hall locks its doors.

On a hot summer day in 1957 Mama and Daddy are married. They live in a small apartment in the city. Daddy goes to college on the GI bill and Mama writes curvy, longhand characters for the businessman. Daddy drives their only car to class and Mama takes the bus to work. 

And Ella taps and scatsdoo-wap-dee-do-do, sham-dingly-dee-da, shabu-dee-do. 

It's January 1963 and a pregnant Mama changes the cloth diapers of three bare-bottomed babies. She pins clean white sheets at their hips and returns to the stove top where a stew simmers in the Dutch oven, and glass bottles sterilize in a pot of boiling water.  She stirs their dinner with a wooden spoon and dreams about slow dancing, and a jitterbug, across the dining room floor

Daddy teaches History and English at an elementary school and in the evening drives to college, in a bigger city, to study for his Master's. Before he leaves work he calls Mama at home, in the new colonial, to see if there's anything she needs from the market. Mama no longer works in the businessman's office. She is bloated with baby, and tired, and stays home with the clamorous children. She keeps mixing up their names. She turns on the Hi-Fi and tries to smile.

And Ella swings and sweeps and tisksso-lo-wee, no-no.

It is June, 1968 and five scruffy children set up a carnival in the backyard. Scrap boards from Daddy’s workshop are hammered together, holes dug in the sand, and croquet balls lined up for tossing games. Daddy's jostling his push reel mower around the azalea bushes at the edge of the lot. Mama comes out of the colonial and yells into the yard, "It's time!" Daddy stops pushing his mower, leans it against the wood fence panel, and runs to Mama. They go inside and then come out again with a pink suitcase. Daddy helps Mama into the long, white Buick and they drive quickly down the street and across town to the hospital, where she delivers her last child.  

When Mama returns the next day, the house is clean and Grammy has made pork pies for lunch. Mama walks in with the baby boy, and Daddy steps in behind her, carrying her suitcase. They spend the afternoon setting up a swingy seat that sounds like a metal noisemaker when cranked, and a woven bassinet in their bedroom. They take a long nap with baby. They are too tired to jitterbug. For dinner, Daddy serves green beans from the can and a ham Grammy had basted all day. They make beds and bathe the little ones. The eldest helps dry her youngest sister. The children pinch and poke the sleepy, golden-haired baby boy.

And Ella sways and hushes.

It is Christmas, 1993. All the children have graduated from college, moved out of the colonial, and are working. Some are married. There's no longer the patter of little ones toddling through the house. Daddy's retired from teaching high school English and his part-time job at the bank. The six childrenspouses, boyfriends, girlfriendsare home for the holidays. Turkey roasts in the oven and wine is poured in cut crystal goblets. They visit relatives and unwrap too many gifts. 

When the grown children leave, the house is quiet and feels too big for Mama. Daddy and Mama go to the movies, and out to dinner with friends. They take island trips and Daddy builds a lakeside summer home. They marry off a few more children, and hope grandchildren are not far behind. They smile and sing the oldies, and fly off to Europe. They jitterbug and twist, and rock slowly, closely, along the dining room floor.  

And Ella hums and lilts and floats.

It is the Millennium. Mama and the children bury Daddy. They gather together at the old colonial. They cry and write poems, collect pictures and choose songs for the choir. They remember Daddy's smile and the way he hit the ball with a wooden bat, and how he danced the jitterbug. They remember dinnertime jokes and tales, and the sound of the table saw in the basement. They can still smell the sawdust. They remember years of grading papers and banging nails, working multiple jobs. They recall family vacations that were more like school field trips, because Daddy was always teaching. They compose, or imaginebecause they cannot write, they cannot speaka eulogy. 

They watch the casket lowered into the dark ground and the tumbling, trailing roses gathering in a heap upon the coffin.

And Ella sings the blues.

And everybody knows Daddy would have liked that. He would have liked it very much.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Trophy

Me & my cutie-pie, a few years back,
doing one thing I like to do.

(I'm going to tell you some things about myself in this post. But first, a bit about trophies.)

Wouldn't that be something to get a trophy every Tuesday? Oh, you made dinner last night?! Here's your trophy.  Look, you showed up for work! Here's your trophy. You didn't run out of gas yesterday?! That's right... here's your trophy.

I'd get a lot of trophies if this were true. Especially for the gas matter. However, I'm not normally the recipient of shiny metal objects perched on wood slabs. (Unless it's a butcher knife jammed in the cutting board.) I don't get trophies like my kids get trophies. I think the fanfare's a bit overdone, especially as it relates to sports. My kids aren't yet in high school and they barely have enough shelf space for all their trophies, medals, and ribbons. A few are hard earned, but somemostare simply for participating. Interestingly, my kids are as confused as I am about this.

You participated in the pinochle tournament! Here's your trophy.

Huh? But I didn't win. I didn't even place.

Don't sweat the details, kid, just take the trophy.

I never got trophies like that when I was a kid. I know, oh woe is me.

But this isn't Tuesday's Tantrum, this is Tuesday's Trophy. My trophy! And I'm not sweating the small stuff.

Last week, I received my very own special Blogger trophy (prettier than metal and wood)an award from the very kindhearted Barbara over at Notes from the Second Half.  Yes—thank you, Barbara!

Barbara has some very interesting stories, and she's the champion of introducing and welcoming new bloggers to the blogosphere, so make sure you pay her a visit.

Accepting the award means rule compliance, a show-and-tell-and-pass-along-thing, but you know I've a  little rebel in me, so those bloggers who receive this award from me are welcome to show-and-tell-and-pass-along as they please.

Thing 1)   I'm a middle child. Third in line in a family of six children. Middle sister. There you have it. That should explain a lot of things.

Thing 2)   I'm having an affair. (Don't tell my husband.) With Chekhov. You'll understand when you hear why: Not only is he a brilliant doctor and writer, but he is sexy and hunky. (Look at him!)

Do you detect a hint of Eric Clapton here?
I go to bed with him every night, absorb his every breath, caress each rune of his words, rest my head among his platitudes. He's gifted.  He's sweet, witty, soft-spoken and sensuous. Wields exquisite instruments of expression. And demands very little of me. What can I say? I'm mortal. I'm weak... darling Anton.

Thing 3)  But, I'm also fickle. So when I've turned his last leaf, crinkled every corner, see that the end is indisputably THE END, you know I'll be moving on... darling Anton.

Thing 4)  Many years ago, when I waited tables at a swanky Italian restaurant in New York's South Street Seaport, along lower Manhattan's waterfront, a very kind waiter and actor (they were all actors, except for me) gave me a set of six miniature Mexican warrior dolls, nestled in a woven, oval box. I think he felt sorry for me. I was/am a klutz. I couldn't open a bottle of wine, I fumbled over every plate, couldn't memorize orders, and certainly didn't earn my share of the tips we had to split equally. The worry dolls were good for me. They didn't magically make me a savvy waitress, but they made me feel special. I still have them. I think I lied a wee bit to get the job. Maybe that's why I was so worried.

Thing 5)   My hair was kinky back then. In New York. Very kinky.

Thing 6)   I listened to a lot of Grace Jones. In New York. She's kinky.

Thing 7)   I was engaged back then. In New York. To a man I never married. He was kinky. Too kinky for me.

Thing 8)   This is how I have fun with myself. Outside of New York. Just a little kinky.

And who would want an award from klutzy, kinky me?

Friends, I present you with the following "must sees":

Nessa Roo from Words from the Wench. Nessa's confused. And somewhat ordinaryso she claims. However, she's anything but. She's sharp and talented, and cranks out some engaging fiction.

Bth from A Little Light in London. Bth is a young London dreamer, whose visions are dusted with elegance and luminosity.

Billy Pilgrim, child of the universe, from Enjoy the Moment. Because he always makes me laugh. And anyone who goes by the name of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five protagonist (loosely based on Vonnegut himself) deserves an award. Now, I wonder if Billy is as tall and magnanimous as Slaughterhouse-Five's main soldier?

To whomthe aboveI happily bestow The Versatile Blogger Award. Best to all of you. Bravo!
(Do tell us about your trophies!)

Friday, March 18, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Meet Me at the Playground

Internet stock photo. Source unknown.

Or in the park. Or anywhere the warmth of the sun and cool, breezy air conspire to liberate those astrictive burdens weighing heavy in your worn, leather satchel. (Gosh, that arm must be sore.) You might want to swap the satchel for something light, like a crisp canvas tote bag filled with peaches and champagne and a Frisbee. Wear your All Stars. Or your woven slip-on sidewalk surfers. Or flip-flops. Or nothing at all. Bring your felt Indiana Jones hat, or a baseball cap, or a straw fedora, or anything brimmed and easily stolen by the wind.

It's been a long time.

How will I know you? Will you still look the same?

Remember my small Brooklyn Heights apartment on Kane, where I gazed at Lady Liberty from the third floor paint-chipped window? I could walk to the park from there. A long walk. I won't do it like that, though. Not this time. I want to get there quickly. I'll take the subway from Cobble Hill to Prospect Park. (If I can still do that. If it's still there.) Up Flatbush. I always liked the underground surprises along Flatbush.

I'll be waiting for you. At the swings. Adorned in a long, gauzy skirt, white t-shirt, beige linen blazer and crinkle scarf. And flip-flops. We'll spread a colorful cotton Peruvian blanket under a large singing sycamore, pop the cork and consume the fuzzy fruit and bubbly. Our cheeks will blush with a lustrous shade of spring golden rays and mossy budding trees, cherry plumaged cardinals and deep blue blossoming crocuses.

Late afternoon you'll decide to pull the old drum sticks from your tote and bang them against the tin filled with chocolate mouse layer cake. I'll be amazed you've kept them all these years. I'll want to cry, but I won't. The ice cream guy will come by with his cart and you'll buy two vanilla bean ice cream cones, and we'll toss the Frisbee while licking chilly streams of sweet goo slipping off its crunchy, inverted spire.

Then we'll head over to the playground. Remember how we used to play? Hopscotch or jump rope, or the see-saw or monkey bars? You used to dangle from the center bar and never let me pass. We'd spin on the little merry-go-round 'til we were dizzy.

Remember some kid almost lost a leg on that spinny thing? We won't spin this time. But we might hop on the springy frog. We might go for a slide on the big one with bumps in the middle, and jump through recycled tires.

Or we might just sit on the colorful cotton Peruvian blanket, and eat ripe peaches. And layered cake. And vanilla bean ice cream. And we'll listen to spring's symphony:  birds, swaying trees, the little waterfall, babies on the carousel, and pedal boats on the pond.

And get to know one another again.

When it's silent, in that shared-grin moment, we'll know it's time to pack up our bags. We'll meander by the playground one last time. I may even challenge you to a monkey bar duel. But this time, I know you'll let me pass. This time you might even hold my hand. In mid-air. As I pass. Your arm will no longer be sore.

We'll remember that we were always layers of percussion and harmony.

We'll still like each other. A lot.

I'll want you to take the subway back home with me. So we can get there quickly.

*Pearl and the Beard. Percussion and Harmony.*

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Nature's Pernicious Power

Georgia O'Keefe - Black Mesa

As usual, I am woefully late to the partythat is, the celebration for National Women's History Month. But to tell you the truth, I haven't felt much like writing. My mind has been hyper-focused on the natural disasters that literally swallowed much of Japan, and the ensuing meltdown at its nuclear power plants that is sure to have horrific lingering effects.

Maybe it seems so surreal that I'm not yet able to wrap my mind around it. I have read that the earthquake was so large that it may, in fact, have shifted the earth’s axis four inches, and the main island of Japan eight feet. I simply cannot fathom the enormity of these earthly violent convulsions, nor can I imagine the monstrosity of an ocean swell that sweeps away entire towns. Not even as I watch the constant, streaming video of these images can I believe it. I'm beginning to feel like a grotesque voyeur, helplessly viewing someone else's nightmare.

But Japan's nightmare belongs to us all. It reminds us of the fragility of life, of our inability to ever have complete control over all things. We may be able to predict certain Acts of God, and perhaps even mitigate some of the damage, but domination of a force of nature is unlikely. As the disaster deepens, and radioactivity from the second most-dangerous leak in history threatens to contaminate Japan's food-chain and water resources, there will be far reaching consequences. 

Myourdeepest sympathies go out to the Japanese people. There are ways, though, for us to help. The American Red Cross is accepting donations to aid Japan's earthquake and tsunami victims. You can also donate via text message: text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 for the Japan earthquake and Pacific Tsunami. Also, The Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund has been launched by Global Giving. Its funds will be distributed to a variety of relief organizations helping victims of this disaster. 

Pondering all of this during a month that celebrates women's history in America, I think of Georgia O'Keeffe, who revolutionized modern art with her vivid paintings. Her work is pure, stark and startling, evoking the power and emotion of the natural world. Much like Mother Nature herself.

O'Keefe- Red Hills with Flowers
Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven't the time - 
and to see takes time like to have a friend takes time. 
~ Georgia O'Keefe

March 16, 2011 UPDATE:  Some amazing bloggers are organizing to help the people of Japan. Rach (from Rach Writes) spent a year living in Japan, and has teamed with a group of writers who will soon be holding an auction to raise funds for those affected by this disaster. If you are interested in participating, please visit Rach for more info on WRITE HOPE for Japan.

Friday, March 11, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Yodelayheehoo!


He'd been playing his whole life. He "couldn't live without it," he told Derek Richardson in an interview back in 1999, seven years before his death at the age of seventy-two. He had realized his biggest dream and sung for the first time at the Grand Ole Opry just two weeks prior. By then he was known as the "Pavarotti of the Plains." An accomplished guitarist, singer and songwriterA yodeling cowboy. Slim Whitman's chummy and chubby doppelganger.

He sure had come a long way from that shy kid who'd climb trees and sing only to the wind.

Strumming what's known as roots music since he was eleven, at the age of sixteen he shared  local club bills with fourteen year old Buddy Holly, who lived sixty miles north of the older musician, up Highway 87a straight shot from Lamesa to Lubbockat the southern edge of the Texas Panhandle.

Nine years later, Buddy would be killed in a plane wreck.

Had he imagined what if? If he had played Holly's final concert in Clear Lake, Iowa? If he hadn't refused to change his style? If he had chosen to leave Texas, lured by rock'n'roll and dreams of celebrity and riches? If he'd been chartering planes? If he'd been on the Beachcraft that hit the frozen, snow-covered cornfield outside of Clear Lake in the early morning of February 3, 1959?

His name was Don Walser. And to wonder would have been a luxury. Walser had stayed in the Panhandle, sidelined his music aspirations to raise a family in the dusty plains, high winds and boundless horizons of the northwestern Texan sky. He'd grease gears as a mechanic and work as an auditor for the National Guard. At night, he'd scrub his hands with powdered Boraxo, pick out the grime from under his nails, and leave his small ranch house to play local clubs with The Texas Plainsmen. Or he and his band might gather at a radio station and bang out a few numbers for its listeners.

Walser wouldn't sign a record deal for another thirty-five years after Holly's death.

But all of Texas had known him anyway. If he'd not put family before fame, he might easily have been just as much a household name as Holly. All of Texas had sung his songs, had waltzed and two-stepped and howled (and in later years, even moshed) with Don Walser for nearly half a century. All of Texas had heard the radio dispatches from Lubbock's KDAV deejay, High Pockets, rooting out a teenage Walserwho had no phoneso that he might appear in a local gig.

Walser would later play festivals with Tommy Allsup, one of Holly's back-up band members who took the bus that fateful February evening after losing the coin toss (for a plane seat) to Richie Valens.

When Walser was first discovered in 1990 by a talent scout who found him playing in Austin with his new band, Pure Texas Gang, he was singing Rolling Stone From Texas, a song he'd written at least thirty years earlier.

                                    (Music kicks in at 1:08 -- WAIT for the yodel at 1:55!)

In 1994, at almost sixty years of age, and after he had retired from forty-five years of serving and working for the the Guard, Walser signed his first record deal.

In 1996, he opened for Johnny Cash at the Erwin Center in Austin, TX.

Don Walserfamily man, gifted musician, happy cowpoke, cultural treasure of the Lone Star Statedied in 2006. He'll forever be remembered for his music, his perfect tenor voice, his down-home sensibility, and his masterful yodeling.

Like Holly, Walser's music appealed not only to country fans, but also to rock'n'rollers around the globe. The old Texas country music with which he'd spent a lifetime preserving was embraced even by punk rockers. I wonder if the little guy who sang in trees would have ever imagined that.

Yodelhayhee, yodelhayhee, yodelhoo.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

100 Commentaires and Merci Beaucoups

Source unknown

This entry marks my one-hundredth post. 100. I remember when my great-grandmother turned one-hundred and the family had a grand celebration that brought relatives to Rhode Island from across the country and down from the Province of Quebec, including Grand-mama's sister's family. I was fifteen at the time, and Grand-mama's birthday marked not only a century of living, but for me, a certain fin-de-siècle: the end of life as I knew it in my backyard, and the beginning of a life-long friendship with relatives in Quebec. It marked the first time I traveled by air with my same-aged cousin Pascale (Grand-mama's sister's granddaughter)whom I thought so glamorousshe still isreturning home from Montreal. Just the two of us.

It was a certain coming-of-age.

There was timorous footing on water skis. The long, measured drag of a cigarette. Sweet, raw honey scraped from its cut comb. Singing all things Supertramp. Driving a car. The taste of hashish. And beer. French television. A Grateful Dead concert. Dining on frog's legs. Summoning the spirit of Little RoseFrancophone mystic-stigmaticin her garden, by the statue of St. Francis cloaked in brown garb, his cupped hands doubling as a bird feeder. Spinning of the bottle. Learning every word to Bob Dylan's Hurricane. The dissection of a heavily formaldehyde-scented frog. And a first kiss. Ribbit.
Not to say I was corrupted by my French relations, or that any of these scenes were set in Canada, or with my cousin. Non, non. It was all so many years ago, and the haze hanging over those years is grey and dense, and who remembers when anything so long ago really happened, or precisely what happened. It could have been a hundred years ago. It might as well have been!

But it was not. It was most certainly when I was fifteen.

I have another special affair to acknowledge in this one-hundredth post. Though it didn't occur when I was fifteen. The matter being my recent receipt of an awardthe Memetastic Award—from Caterpillar, a sweet blogger friend. Go see her. Darling and sparkly, she is.

Many thanks to Caterpillar for recognizing my blog, and passing this award along to me. And many thanks to all of you who've come along for the blog ride.

I'm not sure of the award's origins, but as with many blog awards, it's delivered with some rules, which in this case are as I like themsimple: a) Tell four lies and one truth and let your readers decide which one's the truth; and, b) keep the award rolling.

Well, there are fictional and non-fictional illustrations in the third paragraph of this post. I think. So, have at it.*wink, wink* 

To keep it moving forward, I shall lavish the lovely Kate
a stupendous sonneteerat Suppertime Sonnetswith the Memetastic Award. Congratulations Kate! 

One last rumination: mememtastic
—is that a word? Not in my dictionary, but it did remind me of the French term for grandmother: Grand-mère, or Meme for short. Which reminded me of Grand-mama (and her 100th birthday), who wouldn't permit me to speak in any language except French. En Francais!

Comme ce:

Bon soir mes amis. C'est tout!

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Take Refuge

Source unknown

A five string banjo sits in one corner of my bedroom, a thin film of dust coating its heel, fret board and sandpaper-like head. The banjo was a gift to my husband, but he hasn't had time to figure out how to play it. He barely has time to fiddle with his standard six-string guitar.

I love the bright, clear, bell-like sound of the banjo.

I'd been thinking about this banjo for some time. Thinking about how lonely it looks in the corner, like it's been punished, banished to a junction of pale walls as penance. But it's shiny chrome parts and virgin strings are entirely innocent. I'm certain it's waiting for the gentle touch of nimble fingers.

Which are not mine.

But I picked it up anyway. This morning. I did. I've had a soundtrack running through my head for a while. (A soundtrack Abigail Washburn could easily compose.) This happens sometimes when I read certain stories, stories that come with a haversack of depth and emotion. Heavy luggage that can't be shed. Even if the luggage belongs to someone else, even if it's not real. It still haunts. As in the case of Tim O'Brien's stories about Vietnam.

I still remember the tears of exhausted sixth grade classmates. I remember the MIA and POW posters. I remember friends who lost loved ones in a senseless war. I see that not much has changed. Except, perhaps, for the draft.

The soundtrack is one of refuge. Refuge is what we search for. It's what O'Brien's characters long for. I often find my refuge in song and music. And for some mysterious reason the resonating soundtrack while reading Tim O'Brien was filled with folk, blues, bluegrass vibrations. So I grabbed the banjo, opened my laptop and went to eHow to figure out how to tune it. Then I learned about its chords, like G, D7 and Em, watched a video, opened up a chart and tried to roll. Don't try this without metal picks. It hurts. And I think my hands are too small and my fingers too short.

But I'm going to keep trying.

I want to make my own soundtrack. And someday maybe I can do this:

That beautiful voice belongs to Abigail Washburn. Fortunately, Ms. Washburn abandoned her plan to study law in order to develop an alternate conduit of communication. With her banjo. I won't abandon writing. But I'm going to work on that banjo.

Abigail Washburn's new album, City of Refuge, can be found here. Interestingly, the album was made by Ms. Washburn with the hope that, within it, everyone would find a sense of belonging.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


There are some times when a mother can't help but feel like a failure. Especially when she gets a phone call late afternoon, from a member of the Campus Ministry Team at her son's school, reminding her to send in the now overdue letter she was supposed to write for her son's 8th grade Recollection, which is on Friday. Especially when all she does is write.

To be honest, I'm not up to snuff on the Recollection stuff. Or, for that matter, any of the Catholic stuff. Max attends a Catholic school, and even though I was raised Catholic, I didn't listen much. But that's no excuse. I should be more attentive. Especially when my kids are in Catholic schools. And why we send him to this particular Catholic school, aside from its rigorous academics and excellent fine arts program, has a lot to do with the Campus Ministry phone call. And those people behind the calls. It's about caring, and watching out for one another, and taking the time to call slackers and say, Hello, did you forget? (No, no! I didn't honest *God strike me dead* I'm bringing it in tomorrow morning!) It's about teaching kids not only academic crap they'll forget years down the road, but about the power of kindness, and compassion, and dare I say, even prayer: Moments to meditate, to ponder their soul, to think about their purpose in this world, and how their actions, their thoughts, have real effect on mankind. How they can use all of their gifts and talents to better the world.

Hey, is that not Recollection?

Well, when I was a girl it meant begging for forgiveness for all the bad things I did (oh, and there were so many, but sometimes I had a stretch of a few good days and had to make things up for confession so as not to appear too perfect) from secret, and very stern, priests hiding in dark, screened booths. Oh, wait a minute, that was Confession! Or Penance. Or something scary like that. (Sorry, 'tis all I remember from my Catholic school days.)

So, because I'm a seriously deficient Catholic mother, I looked up the term on a religious website and found this definition for Recollection: Attention to the presence of God in the soul. It includes the withdrawal of the mind from external and earthly affairs in order to attend to God and Divine things. It is the same as interior solitude in which the soul is alone with God.

Moments to meditate. This sounds like a good idea to me. Not too scary. Take a breather. Reflect. Withdraw the mind "from external and earthly affairs in order to attend to God and Divine things." Recollect. I guess I wasn't too far off with that first thought. Phew. Perhaps there's still hope for this Catholic lady.

The letter. The letter is to be delivered to the students at some point during their day of Recollection this Friday. The theme, this year, for Recollection: Belonging. I thought that was a beautiful theme, and why I didn't respond immediately I don't know. I mean, what an opportunity, what a precious gift to give to your child. A letter. About belonging. Don't we all need to feel like we belong. Maybe I had to let the theme percolate.

In any event, it's done. Sealed. And includes a photo of Max when he was just a very little man hangin' and jivin' in bouncy seats. I hesitate to publish my letter here, but there's this voice saying, Oh Hell, tell the world how you feel about your son, and belonging. And then there's the other voice that says, It's private. And yet another that says, Boy, this is going to confirm how kooky your mother is, poor kid.

But no matter, we're all kooky in our own way, aren't we? And we all belong somewhere, doing some thing, being some one. In our own kooky way. So if you want to look at some kooky mom's letter, you can read more below. If not, stop here, and recollect. (You don't have to be Catholic or religious to do that.) You belong.