Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thank Hues

Newell Convers Wyeth
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see 'em bloom, for me and for you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred nights
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces, of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin', "How do you do?"
They're really sayin', "I love you"

I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow
They'll learn much more, than I'll ever know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I think to myself
What a wonderful world
Oh yeah

Of course, all is not entirely well with the world. But these are the graces of today, this one designated day of the year in which we pause to consider and give thanks for our blessings, like (this morning's) pale blue skies, warm harvest moons, sweet potato pie, persimmon smiles, turkey-feathered giggles. And for family and for friends and for you.

To all of You: Thank you for being here
for reading, for contributing, for taking the time. For that I am forever grateful, I am.

Wishing you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

[I'll be traveling this holiday. And more, I've taken on a short-term project that will demand a good chunk of my time, at least, through Christmas. You may notice fewer postings
including the usual Friday Night Frolic—during the next month, but I will, sporadically, be posting and saying hello to you, as time permits. Be well.]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — Pointed Weights


It would seem Friday has become the place where the Suburban Soliloquist goes for a third person point of
view and a stiff drink. She steps inside its faux finished walls, glazed with a red lacquer, grabs a canapé and a dirty martini at the bar where she thinks she can also swap her first person POV for a third person POV as easily as Tim O'Brien did in The Things They Carried.

Oh, those stories are haunting, says the bartender. And, well, O'Brien is a wizard. What do you want to trade for, anyway? Stick with what you got, kid.

She gets it. She's knows she's not writing a classic. But she reasons. She says her pencil's not so sharp. And if her pencil's not so sharp, it's going to make some mistakes. Sometimes the pencil has trouble deciphering fact from fiction, or deciding which it prefers. She can barely get it to draw a straight line, and it spends too much time in the margins.

In that way, she tells the bartender, she's very much like the pencil.

And it weighs on her. She's thinks about embellishment. She considers stripping down to her skivvies.

Hey, look lady, this ain't that kind of place! the bartender growls.

She wonders if she ought to trade in the manual sharpener for an electric one. She wonders. Acoustic or synthesized? Bamboo or floral? Hardwood or carpeting? Paint or wallpaper? Verbose or succinct? Pointed weights or weighted points?

How come you don't ever have any music in here? she asks the bartender.

Lady, these walls aren't real. You get a band in here and the walls will crumble, he says, shaking his head as he towel-dries a brandy snifter. You do know this ain't real, right?

Hmm, she sighs. Yup, I know. I think I'm going to refinish my hardwoods tonight. Or maybe I'll paint my walls. My real walls.

Ok, Lady, the bartender laughs. You have fun, now. That's right, keep it all real and don't be switching viewpoints! 

Actually, she brightens, I'm going to go write a poem. With a pen. Then she walks out the door and shuts it, maybe a little too hard, and the walls fall down.

And she grins.

Rusty Belle, hailing from Amherst, Massachusetts, was formed in 2006 by siblings Matt and Kate Lorenz, and friend Zak Tojano. From their About page: "...rusty belle swings easily from sweet, simple melodies, whiskey lullabies, blood ballads, busted bluegrass, and folk-punk anthems, to tongue-in-cheek sleaze-rock, glossy-mag candy-pop, and down-home porch-tunes.  the remarkable thing is that its all done with honesty and respect for the music..."  

I think I'm going to have that martini now...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brushing Up

From Max's Art Journal

Yesterday I saw the GI specialist in Boston. Months of pain has held me hostage from feeling well, and emotionally, it's taken its toll. My refusal to undergo the usual diagnostic course of action (you know, the 50+ poke and scope plan) has been unproductive, I know, and it's time to take a deep breath and say, Fuck it. Alright, already, I'll book it! Let's start with something light, though, shall we? Like the endoscopy? Can we start there, please?

I'm a terrible patient. Fortunately, my mother-in-law introduced me to a doctor who is remarkably patient. Still, I'm not a pretty sight in the doctor's office. When Doc told me blood had to be drawn I nearly cowered in the corner, and I was glad M-I-L had left the room by then. And when we talked procedures, I think the good doctor understood that he was going to have to hold my hand. I know this is a teaching hospital, but no fellows! I said. I am paying for him, after all.

Anyway, what I'm doing here today, on this little blog, is taking a break from the penciled notes and sketches I've been making in my lined notepad (where I'm making progress, my friends!). The flip side of the front durable-covered, college-ruled pad has two columns. One lists Parts of Speech, and the other, Punctuation. At the very bottom is a list of Figures of Speech. And why I hadn't noticed this until today I do not know. 

Except to say...

Punctuation: apostrophe ('), colon (:), comma (,), period (.), exclamation point (!). You see what caught my eye? No, not the period (.). I've no longer any use for them... No, it was one particular punctation: colon (:). Colon: COLON! 

I'm searching for the metaphor under Figures of Speech. (:) When perhaps, I should be looking for a simile? (:)

A brush is like a pen is like a pencil is like a scope: All tools of the trade. (:)

(Natchez Steam Colliope--Sugar Blues)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — In Which Mr. Sawyer Forwards a Letter

Do to various commitments, and, to a lesser degree, technical glitches, the Suburban Soliloquist is unable to bring to you the regularly scheduled Friday Night Frolic. In lieu of this tragic turn of events, she offers you something, with relevance, found just this morning in a soggy box: proof positive the power of a teacher's charitable words to a then eleven-year-old wanna-be writer. Kindly note the second paragraph of the above letter, in which her fifth grade teacher, Mr. Walter Sawyer (of whom she's made past mention) replies to a letter and short story she sent to him the summer of 1972:

"I really did like Ban Rollon. I don't really have any stories, but a good way of getting ideas for stories is by listening to songs and making them into stories. Remember the song 'Drill Ye Tarriers Drill?' That would make a really funny story if you made the characters act like the Three Stooges."

And so you see, dear reader, Friday Night Frolics' seeds were apparently planted many, many moons ago. The Suburban Soliloquist doubts she has a copy of Ban Rollon, but she has a suspicion that it may have been sparked by this (remember In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida?):

The letter's flip side offers a sweet sign off and a joke that no pre-teen would appreciate today:

(Ten hours a day of homework. Sheesh!)

So there it is: evidence from where the Frolic first took roots.

The Suburban Soliloquist remembers Mr. Sawyer as not only an inspiring teacher, but also as pretty darn cool (the Fox Hollow Folk Festival and the Philadelphia Folk Festival in one month?).

Many thanks from the bottom of the Suburban Soliloquist's heart to Mr. Sawyer for taking the time to write and humor the skinny kid with big dreams. It took a long time for the seeds to germinate (maybe the soil was too heavy or dry or not well fertilized, or the seeds were slow growing and the farmer impatient), but they've sprouted, the crop's maturing and she's getting around to the harvest.

Every morning, seven o'clock
There's twenty Irishmen a pounding on a rock
The boss man says, "Shut up, keep still...
Come down heavy on your cast iron drill."

And Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill
And Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill
For it's work all day no sugar in you tay
Down beyond the railway
And Drill, Ye Tarriers, Drill

The big boss man, he down to the ground
Married a lady 'bout six feet 'round
She bakes his bread, she bakes it well
She bakes it harder than the nobs of Hell.

The foreman, name of John McCann
Swear I never met a meaner man
A premature blast went off
And a mile in the air goes big Jim Goff.

The next payday she come around
A dollar light poor Jimmy found
"John, what for?" comes this reply
"You're docked for the hour you was up in the sky."

Tarriers live on work and sweat
There ain't no tarrier, got rich yet
Sleep and work, and work some more
And drill right down to the devil's door."

There I stand me hat in hand
With two trains kissing in the Utah sand
There's no one now, who knows my name
An Irish derby is me claim to fame

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Edge of Arnold Mills — A Photo Essay

An Indian summer brings two days of consistently warm and glorious sunlight in which to ramble the oak, pine and chestnut-lined streets of my neighborhood. Yesterday, I strolled along the roads at nearly two o'clock in the afternoon when the sun is ordinarily high in the blue, yet it seemed to list a bit too far to the west, a reminder that all the worlds' (save for a few renegade countries) time pieces were set back an hour this past weekend, so I was, in actuality, walking and photographing fall scenery in three p.m. sunlightif that makes sense at all.

Today, I set out earlier, at about noon-time, to capture more iPhone snapshots in one o'clock sunlight. (Is it too obvious that I'm wrestling with the one hour adjustment and that I'm smitten with the Hipstamatic application?)

The town in which I live was settled nearly four-hundred years ago by a bull-riding Englishman, William Blaxton (Blackstone), who was the the first farmer to cultivate Rhode Island apples. His Yellow Sweeting was the first American apple to be named. (Blaxton was also the first to plant an orchard in neighboring Massachusetts.) His orchard, like so much of the old farmland in this town, was later developed for non-agrarian use.

Braxton was known to journey into Providence on the back of his commuter-friendly white bull, tossing apples to children along his way. Imagine waiting for the Apple Man, his pockets stuffed with Yellow Sweetings, to breeze by on his snowy bull each Wednesday afternoon. Yet the gregarious man, supposedly, sought solitude in this once bucolic town.

The street on which I live, I've been told, is an old gravel pit, which is hard to imagine as abundant fern sprouts along the brook that passes through my backyard (that is not my back yard, above) and among the broad tracts of wetland in this northern pocket of land. The yard borders an area known as Arnold Mills, which many years ago was surely a mix of forest and farmland, dotted with ponds and streams. Though much of the town is rocky, and white quartz is easily found in its park. (Diamonds! the children shout.)

Years ago, good portions of the southern part of town were industrialized with mills and iron works, especially along the Blackstone River. Cannon balls were once forged here for the French and Indian War, as well as the American Revolution, and the first power looms for American woolens were made in a local machine shop. Here, was the original home of the Valley Falls Company, an old textile manufacturer and precursor to Berkshire Hathaway.

The mills (except for retail operations) and iron works have since closed, so when this old bridge was in need of refurbishment a few years back it was shipped to New Hampshire for proper restoration, and the road was closed for nearly a year. It's one of two beautiful wood and trussed bridges adorning the quiet country road on which I meander.

From the now near barren woods below, which border the country road, you can almost see my home.

I want to run through the old pines and deadwood. But I don't. I'm still thinking about the empty Adirondack chairs placed in the side yard of a pretty colonial, wondering about the father and son that might have been sitting in them, freeing chestnut's from their spiky pods. I wonder if they made weapons of them, or roasted them in a prematurely-lit Sunday afternoon fire.

I'd better haul some wood inside. Indian summers are sublime, but fleeting.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Relax. Concentrate. Dispel Every Other Thought. Let the World Around You Fade.*

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn't Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:  
the Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages, the Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success, the Books Dealing With Something You're Working On At The Moment, the Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case, the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer, the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves, the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.
Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread and the Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them. 

*    *    *

Between required school reading, books gifted to her, YA novels downloaded to her Kindle, and compilations collected from various booksellers, Lulu read roughly seventy-six books last year. That's at least twice more than I've read during any year.

I'm the main character in Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. You are, too, by the way. You and I, we've peered through the shop window and sauntered among its aisles, following the book-lined trails. Books have mocked and scolded us, and literally, fallen on us in vicious acts of defiance, especially the books (the lonely ones back at home sulking on their shelves) that we, at one time, jump started with great enthusiasm, only to sputter out of gas midway along the track. We'd thought we had more fuel in the reserve.

But we can't read them all. We simply can't. Frustrating, I know. So we choose what fits best and we try to steal time and quiet space with our reads, hoping to lose ourselves in their thin leaves. And often we do. Unfortunately, time is not on our side. We've a myriad of other things to accomplish and daily minutiae with which to keep up (not to mention holding onto jobs to pay for our meals). Even if we read every minute of every day of all the remaining days left in our lives, we wouldn't get to read all the books we'd like to. 

So they mock us.

And that's OK. We've got a life to live after all. We have things we want to do, and learn and share. Lu comes out of hiding every now and then (well, often, actuallyshe's a magician of a reader: relaxes, concentrates, dispels all thought, world fades out entirely), as she did yesterday morning when she appeared in the kitchen announcing that she'd make the family's Sunday dinner, because: 

1) Surprise, surprise! Sunday's 6:00pm dance class had been cancelled; and, 
2) She had read another bookThe Silver Spoon for Childrenand was ready to cook her very first meal.

List in her hand, I took her to the market to collect the items she'd need for baked cod with vegetables. She, with her characteristic twelve-year-old vigor, shagged through the produce, deli and seafood areas, fetched the cod and pancetta and tomatoes and carrots and leeks and lemon, sailed toward check-out (briefly hitting the brakes to grab a warm baguette from the bakery), tossed everything onto the cash-wrap, grabbed my wallet, swiped my debit card and punched in my PIN. 

Back at home she did everything just like the book said. (And I do think it said.) She gathered all equipment and utensils, slid tools of the trade into the pockets of her apron, laid out cutting boards and commenced with the prep work. She pre-heated, washed and peeled, cut and drizzled, wrapped and squeezed, assembled and, finally, popped the overflowing casserole into the oventhe world around her completely faded.

Lu wore a particular glow at dinner last evening. The I-did-it-all-by-myself glow. I know that glow. I bathed in it when I bought and set up the new router last Friday, it was a sparkly I-switched-from-G-to-N-all-by-myself glow. The glow is born of a certain zone known as, you  know it, the let-the-world-around-you-fade zone. (A zone, or focus, that the remarkable Marylinn Kelly wrote of just this Saturday.) In it, you read all the books you've been planning to read for ages (so it seems), finish what you're working on at the moment, and shatter the barricades that keep you from performing a multitude of seemingly impossible tasks

One glow leads to another, too. The I-did-it-all-by-myself glow leads to the wow-I-can-do-this! glow, which is followed by the I-want-to-keep-doing-this glow, which inevitably flows into the I-am-the-master-of-this glow. Tu comprends?

Look at Lu. She's glowing. She read a cookbook and got inspired. In our finite lifetime, you and me, we may never get to read, do, listen or see everything we'd hoped to, but whatever our accomplishment(s), it's worthy in its own right. And if we've done it in that certain and all-to-hard-to-find zone, if we've sat down and really read the book, if we've relaxed, concentrated, dispelled every other thought, and let the world around us fade, we ought to be especially pleased by it. Doubly pleased if it opens us up to new worlds.

(Incidentally, dinner was fabulous.)

* From Chapter One, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Night Frolic — To Hadestown and Back

“We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.”
~Louise Glück

She'd been there twice. Once, in her early twenties, on a cocaine and booze fueled road trip to Florida. Later, as a mature mother with children in strollers. South of the Border is as grey and wonky as it looks on the thirty-year-old postcard whether one is stone-cold sober or stardust-spangled high, and she tries in vain to remember the man who sent it to her that briny-breezed May of 1982. 

She was in her senior year of collegethe year she lost her bearing and went astray. Her housemates worried. Up 'til then, she had merely flirted with drugs and alcohol. Or so she thought. Evenings were often equal part studies and getting stoned. She'd close the books and walk down to the beach with a pitcher of kamikaze mix, sit on the seawall and dreamy-stare at the curly waves frothing at the shore. Or she'd slip into a happy hour, which was as easy to find as the steepled churches that hugged nearly every street corner of her Franco-American hometown. There, in those sticky, beer-crusted shrines, or on the beach with her pitcher, she found hollow comfort from the demons that haunted her. 

But this guy, where had she met this guy? Why had he sent her a post card? She'd hardly known him. And he was sure to have been as much trouble as the man for whom she'd left the nice guy. She must have known this, somehow, in those hazy days of painful insecurities and indecisiveness, she must have sensed a danger. Even then, a doubtful girl, she was determined in her ways.

Blond hair, on the longish side was all she could evoke. Maybe a house party, dancing to Human League's throbbing, synthesized  musicDon't you want me baby, don't you want me, ooohhhoooblack lights, cigarette-smoke and stale-beer infused furnishings... 

He went to Key West. She knew this only by the Sloppy Joe's postcard he'd sent previous to his South of the Border note. It's all she remembers. Does any of it really matter? Back then, she'd settled into a long, bleary underworld siesta from which she feared she wouldn't wake.

But she did. She woke in time to keep herself from dialing the number.

*    *    *

In her fifth and latest release, HadestownAnaïs Mitchell, with her sweet Goldie Hawn-like persona and distinctive voice (an Eartha Kittiness quality to it) sings, with her Hadestown Orchestra, about love, sorrow, regret and displacement in a refreshing rock-opera based on the popular Greek myth of Orpheus, Eurydice and Persephone, only set in a post-apocalyptic American depression. (Sounds scary-familiar?)

Along with Mitchell as Eurydice, the cast in this opera includes an impressive list of voices and musicians: Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) in the role of Orpheus, Greg Brown as Hades, Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem) as Hermes and Ani DiFranco as Persephone.

Find out more about the Vermont-born and based Mitchell at her official website

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hallo It Be Thy Ween

Goodbye October. Goodbye. The nor'easter took you out in fiery-lion fashion, and ushered in a little lamb of November. Oh, she's sweet and lemony today except for the shaded corner of the deck where, on the edge of the rooftop, the storm's evaporating snowy surplus hits the wood planks in a fury. We were powerless at the endhad, even, to temporarily move to Mother's place when temperatures dropped suddenly during the weekend's electrical outage. Monday morning I returned home to a chugging furnace and well lit kitchen. We were lucky, others still remain powerless.

Mother's is always a treat. She has Enrico Caruso 33 1/3 rpm vinyls stored in their original accordion case. But the children... well the children had to plug laptops and printers into real live sizzling outlets and crank out end-of-quarter schoolwork. Kids don't write longhand any longer, you know. Teachers prefer the typed word, which is an impossible endeavor in a candlelit house.  So we clanked the night away at Mother's. 

(I'll be back to Mother's for Caruso.)

I imagined that the kids would be too old for trick-or-treating this year, but there's the candy. There's the neighborhood where Tedy Bruschi lives (with real candy bars!), there's peer pressure and teen-All-Hallows-Eve worshippers who are in no way ready or willing to give up the quest. There's being on the streets, in the dark, void of parental oversight. 

Doors will be slammed in your faces! I said.

Ha, Mom, they love us!, the monsters replied.

Who loves you? I don't want to see six-foot tall teens at my door. Don't come to my door!

Besides, they hadn't costumesI refused to buy them, refused to give in to the high commercialism of holidays and hallow days. Refused to believe that my little Lulu was too old for handmade costumes!

(And this is no way to depreciate the value of my two-year-old sewing machine.)

Mama, observed Lu, this isn't about store-bought costumes or me growing up. It's about you wanting to make another oversized ugly doll or an ice cream cone, isn't it?

The Ice Cream Cone 2010

The Ugly Doll 2009
Actually, my favorite was the floppy-eared hound dog with her litter. Come on, it's tradition, Lu.

All right, well maybe it is more about me and the machine and wizardry. But look, I do have to make my Singer Confidence pay for itself.

Last night, the monsters managed to piece together suitable outfits for the spooky occasion. Both came home with giant sacks of goodies. No one slammed doors in faces.

After school today, Lu announced that she'd reached her maximum fill of chocolate for the day (she'd snuck handfuls into her backpack), so I promised that I'd remind her of the same throughout the evening, that perhaps we should take the bonbon trough out of her room. Don't worry, Mom, she responded. It's NOT a temptation! It's under my bed and it's not like I'm going to get up in the middle of the night to eat a candy bar.

... Not a temptation.

... Not eating candy bars in the middle of the night.

Of course not. Mama shouldn't worry in the least.

I'm packing up the glow pumpkins, Draculas and rubber bats. Halloween has closed for another year, but its remnant confections shall remind us of the night for some time to come. At least they'd better.

Maybe it's time to start sewing up something for Christmas. (Poor, poor forgotten Thanksgiving.)

Lu & Max -- Halloween 2008