Thursday, April 28, 2011

Jai Guru Deva om...

Irony is never lost on me. So when Paul kindly handed me this award, I must confess I felt somewhat of a fraud. (Hey, it's National Poetry Month, people!)

Truth is, I haven't felt inspired for some time. Thus, I don't know how I could possibly inspire.

For a while, though, a long time actuallyperhaps since I started this blog last JuneI'd felt like I'd been traveling through magnificently aureate high altitude terrain. I'd barely had time to acclimate. I just went. When one is in the zone, so to speak, one does not worry about acclimatization. One goes. One climbs. One keeps their eye on the zone, its horizon and zenith.

But here's the thing, traveling to, or at, high altitudes can be quite dangerous. As it was when some years ago I was out skiing Arapahoe Basin, CO, whose summitat over 13,000 feet above sea levelis one of the loftiest (as in vertical and noble) skiable mountains in the States. Oxygen thins. Pressure increases against vital organs. Even when you think your marching along just fine, acute sicknessthat hard headachestealthily sets off its missiles. There's no bomb shelter for this sort of thing.

(And no matter what they tell you, you cannot see beyond the horizon. You simply cannot. Not physically, anyway.)

One morning, not long ago, I woke up and I wasn't at the top of the mountain anymore. I was in a plateau. I was looking at the mountains. Out there. On the horizon. It wasn't particularly ugly where I waslevel land with just a bit of leafy growth and little fauna. Though not much to keep my attention, except for snow-dripped tips dotting the mountain range. This isn't a manic-depressive thing. It's not bipolar. It's just where I was that day, and where I remained until, well, this morning.

But last week Paul (of Pfeiffer Pfilms and Meg Movies and a major pundit of all things Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer), who I've met only by way of blogosphere, sent me the Inspiration Awardwhich I pass along (acceptance of which is not required) to Cricket and Porcupine, and to Shopgirl, and to Leah, and to Tim (who I suspect is one of his students' favorites), and to David. All wonderful writers. All inspire. (Really, you All inspire. In one way or another. You All deserve a great big Inspiration Award. Take it from me. Literally.)

And then, yesterday, Sean (whose bloghad he oneI would happily follow. Sean?), who I've met only on few occasions, family gatherings, sent me this:

(Yesit's National Poetry Month, people!)

And this morning, a carpool conversation about this weekend's school trip to Washington (my son leaves at 4:00am tomorrow) in whichin a rather circuitous waythe following was discussed:
  • The lush golf courses of Palm Springs (only because I thought someone had mentioned Palm Desert, where I had, in fact, golfed); 
  • How one needs only a golf cart to get around Palm Springs or Palm Desert; and, 
  • Golf shirts as appropriate Spirit of Washington cruise attire for boys. 
And as I made my way to the off ramp from the highway, on the opposite side, a flatbed carrying golf carts was about to get on the highway. Golf carts.

These types of coincidences happen often. I take note of them. It may seem a little kooky, but I don't believe that coincidence is just coincidence. I don't know what these coincidences necessarily mean, but I know a deeper meaning coincides within.

I don't have time to piece it all together, all of this babble above. Maybe you can help me out?

But I do know, I trust, that the World, indeed, conspires. Forging mind and matter, spirit and sensation, the World clears way for us all. It plots and schemes. The machination of all forces of life, animate and inanimate, in karmic swirls. Birds sing, fish leap from ponds, cicadas buzz on warm summer nights. Great works of art hang on white walls in museums. Musicians perform in the round. Shakespeare still appears in red velvet curtained theatres. Fiction continues to be composed. And poetry. Our voices, our words, are heard. The World awaits us with open arms and embraces us. It does.

So... Big cyber hugs to Paul and to Sean, to the kids in the car, to golf carts, and Across the Universe, where I know they will be felt. And I'll feel them back.

Sounds of laughter shades of life
are ringing through my open ears
exciting and inviting me
Limitless undying love which
shines around me like a million suns
It calls me on and on across the universe
Nothings gonna change my world.

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Phantom Thoughts

Internet source unknown

Because I've barely unpacked one bag and am packing another for a weekend in Nantucket, where Easter will be celebrated with family...

An abbreviated version of FNF appears below.

(It's not what you think.)

Including (and limited to):

(a) A confession;

(b) A hustler, charlatan and genius; and,

(c) Fabulous music, of course.

As follows... 


(a) Opera. Oh, don't say it. I never liked it either. Until 1984. Then, I fell under a spell. Mostly a Puccini, Verdi and Bizet kind of spell. Mostly with arias. Mostly in the shower;

(b)  Malcolm McLaren: the hustler, charlatan and genius who sold clothing on Kings Road, a costumer and stylist who managed the Sex Pistols, and the New York Dolls, dabbled in advertising, TV, film and a musical career of his own, a prompter and maybe even a bit of a Prima Donna, who died a year ago this month; and,

(c) Fans, 1984. McLaren's symphonic productiona version of operaa tantalizing fusion of musical genres, was the spit and flare, that in my young mind, like a toasted coconut marshmallow moment, quick and thick, fired all things operatic.

Madame Butterfly:



Gianni Schicchi:

An artful new meaning to bel canto. Arias drained of vibrato, absorbed by fire. Oddly haunting and beautiful.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Force of Gravity

Can you imagine tumbling over this in a wooden barrel?

A seven hour drive takes us along the undulating banks of the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal, detouring at Charlie the Butcher in Buffalo for beef-on-wek, and up to Niagara Falls, Ontario, where I hadn't before been. In fact, I hadn't much desire to go. Niagara, I had been told, is a tourist trap. Stay on the Canadian side. And as I am an American only two generations removed from my one-hundred percent French-Canadian lineage, I, of course, choose to stay on the "other side." Ontario, as it turns out, is every bit as hospitable as its neighboring French-speaking Province.

Because we have just seen the documentary, Niagara: Thunder of the Waters, and it is barely a day away (and in my mind, a better option than Disney), and Easter in Nantucket anchors the far end of our vacation, we decide a Niagara to Nantucket vacation is manageable.

Mom, will you ever take us to Disney? Lulu asks.

I've successfully been avoiding Disney for nearly a dozen years. I've no intention of breaking that streak.

Mmm, probably not, Lu.

With the girl, it's always best to be perfectly candid. She stares at me, arms crossed, head tilted to the side with her I-can't-believe-you face. Every-body takes their kids to Disney.

Look, kid, I tell her, to be honest, I've no interest in Disney. I've been to Disney several times, once on a joy ride and many times for business. It's entirely manufactured and I don't care for it. Besides, your brother has motion sickness. It's not how I want to spend a vacation, walking around with a pocketful of Dramamine and, well you know, the proverbial barf bag. When you're an adult you can take your own joy ride down to Florida.

Oh, I don't care, 
she says. Whatever. Niagara Falls will be fun. It's fine.

(It's always all fine with Lulu, so long as she is in motion. Going somewhere.)

In fact, the fabricated world constructed in Niagara Falls is more like a miniature Las Vegas than Disney. Old Vegas. Tired casinos, beat-up arcades, low-end wax museums, haunted houses, and bland, over-priced restaurant franchises. To be sure though, a bit of Disney, a fifteen minute high tech movie ridea motion simulator in 4D—at a cost of fifteen dollars for two, a  four-times-around sky wheel for forty bucks (and in high winds, the scare of your life), and a ten dollar ticket that gets you a five minute run through a paint splattered plywood maze.

But what it does have that the twinkling desert city out west or the fantasy world down south does not is a natural wonder, a remnant of the ice age, a force so magnificent that, when harnessed, may illuminate up to 3.8 million homes.

And ice blocks amassing in the Niagara River mid April.

The entire city is laden by mist. Cold, gray and rainy (except for when it snows) for the length of our stay, making the Falls feel all the more dramatic. At Table Rock one can feel the Fall's gravity. You can almost dip your hand in its chilly current, but you don't as you sense a violent pull into its churning belly.

Further north, Niagara-on-the-Lake sits at the edge of where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara Rivera micro-climate of abundant grapes protected by the Niagara Escarpment, its landscape a stark contrast to the neon lit Falls. Picturesque and inviting, its residents have settled there from around the globe, and many operate quaint boutiques along its charming Main Street. At least two dozen wineries thrive in the rich clay soils outside of the tight knit village, and Shaw Theatre runs shows (including Shakespeare) year round.

Monday, snow was falling along Niagara-on-the-Lake's Main Street. The shopkeepers assured us that the weather was unique for this time of year. At The Olde Angel Inn, an historic inn dating back to before the war of 1812, pints were served along with bangers and mash. There: a chance meeting with an old acquaintance of my husband's, a man from Manchester, England who'd fallen in love with southern Ontario and had made it his home for nearly fifty years. A soccer (or football, he would say) fanatic. A Union leader who many years ago played a pivotal role at United Steelworkers Canada by securing a mill position for the first female steelworker (aside from women who'd been hired as clerical help) in Ontario. A story unto its own.

And so it went that we ventured, unexpectedly, from the power of the Falls to the power of people, all within the span of a few miles. Such is the force of gravity. In nature. In man. What we can harness around, about and within ourselves. Should we desire.

Stumbling out of Peller Estates Winery—our final stop in the lakeside town—the air had warmed and clouds parted. Lingering snow and mist, evaporated. In Monday's early evening glow, nestled in the Escarpment, I felt the weight of the region's natural wonders. Like a daring drop over the falls in a wooden barrel, it was exciting.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - You Know What I Mean?

Internet source unknown

During dinner the other night, just my daughter and me, we kicked about a sticky situation. One of those whatever-I-do-there'll-be-goo situations. I advised her to not get caught in the middle. Let her friends find another fixer and emollient.

You know what I mean? I asked.

She, with that too-serious-for-an-eleven-year-old look of hers, shook her head and said, I know what you mean.

I know you know what I mean, I replied. (I couldn't help myself.)

She straightened in her chair immediately. Little pings going off in her head. A what's-mother-trying-to-do-here kind of smirk. She bleated, I know you know that I know what you mean.

Quick I said, I know you know that I know that you know that I know that you know what I mean.

She squirmed in her chair, and tucked the lower half of both of her legs underneath the back of her thighs so that she sat higher above the table, and spouted, I know you know that I know you know you mean that you know that I know what you mean!

It went on like this, like a 1930's vaudeville act, like Abbot and Costello, like Laurel and Hardy, until we laughed so hard it ached, until we could no longer count the knows and means, and by the time the verbal volley ended she had all but forgotten the knotty position in which she was tangled.

I thought about the old slide projector, and the tripod-style white-textured screen Dad rolled up, hooked to the top of the metal rod. And the black and white movies, and all that equipment. The nights before we ever thought to say, Not the slides again! On those nights Dad pulled the projectors, slide carousels and round, brown canisters of 8mm film out from under the window seat, set it up on a TV tray, plugged in reels, and threaded film through the heavy projector, and we watched grainy slides and the brilliant banter of Abbott and Costello in Who's On First.

While I know Luluthe girl who loves word play, puns, clever linguistic twists and rhetorical excursionswould appreciate an Abbott and Costello video, I didn't mention them. I'm going to wait until I can retrieve all that heavy equipment and dazzle her with a vintage movie evening with Abbott, Costello and the like. In the meantime, I had  her listen to another form of vaudeville, a musical vaudeville nouveau that dazzled me with its honest lyrics and brilliant rhetoric.

April Smith and the Great Picture Show:

Sassy, quirky music full of swagger that takes you back to the days before CDs, vinyl, cassettes or 8-track. Way back to the early days of the juke box. Cabaret. Burlesque. Vaudeville. And then, zip, right back to today.

With stunning vocals. (By a girl who made her first album with the help of

You know what I mean?

Oh, one more...

I can't help myself.

Friday, April 8, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Instruments of Love

Internet source unknown

Just when I thought I was making headway, covering some ground, having masteredwith the aid of Banjo Method Book Ithe C, D7, G7, Em and D chords on my shiny banjo, with my now calloused and painful fingers, strumming a strained, discordant version of The Drunken Sailor, and Oh Susanna, along comes this guy with his band of string benders to remind me and my scaly finger pads that I've barely scratched the surface of the very layered, very complex world of stricken and plucked instruments.

Never mind notes. What I know about Christopher Thile is what a gentleman to whom I was serendipitously adjacently seatedin the coffee shop told me yesterday: Thile's a virtuoso who began playing the mandolin at the age of five, formed the band Nickel Creek three years later, and recorded his first album (with original compositions) when he was just thirteen years old. A year earlier he had won the national mandolin championship in Kansas.

This gentleman happened to be a singer/songwriter/ mandolinist himself, who's had his songs played by musicians like Alison  Krauss. He had seen a teen Thile making love to his mandolin at a Carolinian festival. Making love, he said. In a coffee shop. In his radio voice. In No-Place-Special, Massachusetts. We were both surrounded by our respective laptops, books, notepads and coffee. In the sort of spousal disclosure that married people do with strangers, we had both dropped the "H" and "W" words as our conversation rolled along, so there was tacit understanding that discussing the intimacies of music was proper within certain confines. And it was. Confined. And proper. I took furious notes, but I couldn't shake the image from my mind. Making love. To his mandolin.

How does one make love to his mandolin?

You still with me?

It does evoke a certain sensation doesn't it? All that pulling back and thrusting forward of flatpicked notes, the intensely expressive music, the arousal of senses, culminating in a pleasurable and satisfying climax of vibrations...

... I know, how cheap.

So much for subtlety...

But I must tell you that I now understand what the gentleman with the radio voice in the coffee shop in No-Place-Special, Massachusetts was talking about. And as I gaze at my book of chords and quarter notes and forward rolls, and attempt to strum some kind of discernible piece of music from the simplest of chords, I am highly aware of the unfortunate fact that it may be a long time before I can bounce back and forth between Bach and bluegrass. Or make any kind of clumsy love to my banjo. (As if this will ever happen at all.)

It could be a very long time.

And until then, I'm going to keep beating down the path. Callous fingers and sore shoulders. No shortcuts. Straight forward, over the hills, through the potholed valleys, comin' round the mountain... banjo clutched closely to womb... when she comes. A long, long time from now.

It'll happen.

Until then, enjoy Chris and the Punch Brothers.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Startling Subterrane of Demons

Source unknown

Ironically, the advanced fiction class I'm taking leaves little time for writing, but it affords big reading opportunities. Like Mary Gaitskill whose short, Tiny, Smiling Daddy, I read last week. Gaitskill's writing is not comfort food. It doesn't warm your palate. It's a cup of coffee laced with hot, hot, hot sauce (yes, I've tried thisunwittingly). It burns and curdles inside. And Gaitskill doesn't walk hand-in-hand with you through the park on one of those perfectly cloudless summer afternoons. Rather, she tends to push and poke you through a dark, sweaty, stalactite and stalagmite studded cave that appears to be closing in on you. Mighty spears threatening to impale and devour from head to toe.

But what is so terrifyingly good about Gaitskill's writing is that she gets to our demonsthe base, primordial madness of neither good nor bad peopleexposing demonic sensibilities and the way we live and/or cope with them (or the way we bury them in that Cimmerian cavern, or drown them in its murky pool). And she's master of matching simple plot with thorny theme and narrative.

This past February The New Yorker *uncharacteristically* published  her short story The Other Place. (Perhaps, a turning point for The New Yorker?) It is a haunting piece about a father's obsession with violence. Women and violence. Bad thoughts that dangle out there in the periphery. In that other place. And because this story begins perfectly normal (however that my be defined) and naturally, it is all the more jarring. Because she writes it from the father's point of view, makes it all the more real.

Gaitskill's story examines that other place inside us all. The darker place. It's a place I often try to write about in my fiction. While my writing here tends to be light and airy, my fiction takes on much darker themes. Maybe that's because I'm keenly aware of the light and dark sides, and the common wall they share. I think being a parent sort of nudges that. Or maybe it's that I feel I'd be less aware if I were not so responsible for the shaping of little ones.

Good and evil reside in all of us, but it's our conscience that holds the keys to the duplex's doors. Gaitskill explores more of that here. I can't seem to stop exploring it everywhere.

Friday, April 1, 2011

"Friday Night Frolic" - Shoot The ...

Internet source unknown

en·dur·ance noun \in-ˈdu̇r-ən(t)s, -ˈdyu̇r-, en-\

1 : permanenceduration (the endurance of the play's importance)
2: the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity (a marathon runner's endurance)
3: the act or an instance of enduring or suffering (endurance of many hardships)

My daughter's sixth grade basketball team is headed to New Hampshire for the CAL Regionals today. That's right, her little nine-girl, one-practice-a-week, Catholic school basketball team! Yep, we're driving north early this afternoon, for what might be a full weekend of hoopsif it is, it will mean that they've not only endured, they've conquered.

And while they've been celebrating for the last two weeks (culminating with the big Pep Rally, in their honor, today) the Regionals await in a southern pocket of New Hampshire, and the girls are keenly aware of the double-kissed magic chips they'll have to pull from that pouch for further crowning glory. They'll be up against tough competition, but they've spirit, stamina, talent and desire, and they know how to have fun. I've never seen girls giggle and smile so much on the court as this little team. Come to think of it, they've got all the magic they need tucked away in their own silky pockets.

Regardless of where those chips fall, as this year's Division I State Champs they've already had a mighty sweet taste of triumph. They know what it takes to get there. So, too, do their coaches, bless their hearts (basketball is a full, six month season). They know a thing or two about endurance.

So today, we're gonna pump up the volume, get 'em ready for the games. Nothing gets my girl more pumped than the rock-n-roll resonating from her favorite British bands (she's enamored by all things British.)

Here, the soundtrack, the music that makes Ms. Lulu scream 'til her throat's achy and her voice, blissfully hoarsethe music of endurance: the beat of jump shots, finger rolls, dribble drive motion...

Hook shots, McNasties, steals, defensive rebounds...

Free throws, blocks, Hack-a-Shaqs...

Fast breaks, chase downs, three pointers...

Layups, hook shots, alley-oops, and MUSIC... like this little sixth grade team... that's endured.

(You didn't really think we'd get through this post without Mick, now did you?)

Play to the whistle girls. Game's on!