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!

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.