Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — The Low Anthems of a Dysfunctional Winter

A Scene on the Ice -  Hendrick Avercamp 

No ice
not even snow
on this island
that sits low
by the sea

Ponds long
to be cut
with silver blades
a fishing hut
or a puck

No such luck.

Where has winter gone?

Suburban soliloquists
take trains
stare out windows
at city's winter rains
dreaming of frost

Skis of copious length
on which to mount
a field of firn
to linger, scout
a winterland struck

But fuck.

Where has winter gone?

To the Dutch
they've it all
ice, skates, kolf
snow wonder they stand tall
on glacial ivory

The brilliance
of a Vermeer
Jan Davidsz de Heem's
flowers, oh dear!
Steen's palette instructs

Winter's not amuck!

As it should be:

Swirling, whirling crystal
fleecy drifts severe
white-out hypnotics!
The island's absent pearlescent smear
and Khione's heart despairs

So to Avercamp
the scenes he'd deliver
lustful heads turn
toward his frozen river
away from this muck

What's known as winter yuck.

A dysfunctional winter.

* * *

The north wind blows and brittle branches scratch against the clapboards, yet I don't hear the siren calls of winter. Temperatures have dipped (somewhat), but the blizzards of last year seem merely a dream. How can that be? The last time we Rhode Islanders saw snow around here it was cavorting with fall, just before Halloween. That was the trick. The treat has yet to follow, and I fear my friend snow may not remain as it should: a going concern. 

In a corner of the garage, my cross-country skis sit lonely, and I almost want to curse our pulsating sun that fights the brume for attention. This is not as winter should be. Not here. Not in Lil Rhody!

What we do have, thougheven during abnormal wintersthroughout the year, is a vibrant music scene, and a history of serving as a launching pad, or at the very least, sowing seeds, for several remarkable bands. Members of the Talking Heads met at RISD. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lisa Loeb, Duncan Sheik, Jesse Sykes (Jesse Sykes and The Sweet Hereafter), and Chris Keating (of Yeasayer) graduated from Brown University. And let's not forget one of my very favorites (especially when he's with his partner, Gillian Welch), David Rawlings, who grew up in the very next town from where I was born and raised.

In Providence, the local music scene includes, among others, The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones, Deer Tick, and The Low Anthem:

Ghost Women Bluesas well as other songs from The Low Anthem's most recent release, Smart Fleshwas recorded in an abandoned pasta sauce factory located in Central Falls, RI (home to Stanley's famous burgers), which is, like most places in R.I., barely a stone's throw away from my home. 

Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (2009) was recorded on Block Islandin the midst of its deep-freeze winter months. TLA is known for using locally found materials as percussion instruments, as well as its album sleeves and art. (Aha dumpster's treasures.) And I wonder what charms they dug up along the bluffs of one of the Last Great Places.

On My Space, TLA describes its music as minimalist, psychedelic and comedy. I think it's beautiful. (Or, wicked awesome, as the locals like to say.) And hope for more treats from them, as a going concern.

Now, please, Khione, bring on the snow!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesday's Weekend Wisdom

The Suburban Soliloquist is starting a new Page (up top, by The Muses, etc.) entitled Weekend Wisdom which will feature an amalgamation of original photography and quotes from the wise ones--our humble writers, philosophers, artists, scientists, educators--thinkers and doers. The most recent WW photo/excerpt will be shown at the top of the sidebar (as the passage from Candide does, at this writing), refreshed each weekend, and will link to the SS's Weekend Wisdom photo album. (The Suburban Soliloquist tired of seeing her profile accentuated due north on said bar and has quietly redirected it south).

And although it is not the weekend, it is Wednesday (a beautiful one at that--the kind that makes you wish it were the weekend), which fits in with the semi-alliterative theme here on the SS pages and sidebar. So, please forgive this confusing introduction, as well as post-publication edits. Oh, you didn't notice?

Anyway, that is all for Wednesday. More this weekend, when the Weekend Wisdom page will be published (up top!).

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday Night Frolic — A Mouse is a Mouse, For All That

"It's a constant battle between mice and men."
~ Lulu

Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast,
 O, what a panic is in your little breast!
 You need not start away so hasty 
With argumentative chatter! 
I would be loath to run and chase you,
 With murdering plough-staff.
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
 Has broken Nature's social union,
 And justifies that ill opinion
 Which makes thee startle
 At me, thy poor, earth born companion 
And fellow mortal!
I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;
 What then? Poor little beast, you must live!
 An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves 
Is a small request;
 I will get a blessing with what is left,
 And never miss it.
Your small house, too, in ruin!
 Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
 And nothing now, to build a new one,
 Of coarse grass green!
 And bleak December's winds coming, 
Both bitter and keen!
You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,
 And weary winter coming fast,
 And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
 Till crash! the cruel plough passed 
Out through your cell.
That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,
 Has cost you many a weary nibble! 
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
 Without house or holding,
 To endure the winter's sleety dribble, 
And hoar-frost cold.
But little Mouse, you are not alone,
 In proving foresight may be vain:
 The best laid schemes of mice and men
 Go often askew,
 And leave us nothing but grief and pain, 
For promised joy!
Still you are blest, compared with me!
 The present only touches you:
 But oh! I backward cast my eye, 
On prospects dreary!
 And forward, though I cannot see, 
I guess and fear!

~Robert Burns, "To a Mouse, On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough" [Standard English Translation] *

* * *

Our furry mortal companions, after all, are merely trying to meet the three basic needs of any living thing: water, food, shelter (and clothing for us lesser humans). Air and sunlight help, too. So what exactly is the battle? What is this compulsion to subordinate nature to man? Can we not work together, in harmony? Maybe this is why Michael leaves peanut butter out for our critters? (She naively asks.)

The thing is, though, the mice have come into our natural world. Our home. And they are, to be sure, small and crafty. Their careful approach to the mouse trapsevidenced by clawed peanut butter globs atop the plastic cheese of traps set around the houseillustrates their slyness and resolve. We are housing and feeding the beasts. Like hell they startle at us!

Up until Michael found a few mini-Santa chocolates haphazardly unwrappedbroken pieces of Santa-shaped, teeny-gnaw-marked chocolate bits scattered under the Christmas treethe children were accused of consuming too much candy and leaving foil wrappers strewn about the house. Not one of you will fess up, eh? And why the heck are so many ornaments knocked off the tree? Well? They stared at me with eyes narrower than usual. You mock your mother?!

Soon after Max's and Lu's acquittal, while de-decking the house of boughs of holly and sucking all traces of pine into a monster canister, I broke out the vacuum's brush attachment, lifted the cushions from the living room's couch and found a trove of bird seed that had been hoarded by the mice. Under the cushion of a fabric-covered chair, I discovered a small, sugar-sprinkled gingerbread cookie (a treat left for our Santa chimera), shredded ribbon and other scraps. I wondered if it hadn't taken a platoon of mice to conceal their booty. Our house had become the bandits' very own Moveable Feasta splendid place brimming with tasty morsels and sparkly lights, with ample nooks and chinks for notable adventures. Who needs Paris?!

And then my breast went a-panic. Bold rodents! What have they to worry about? They'll tear apart the pantry! I thought about d-CON (for a moment), and shored up all food-filled containers, vacuumed and sprayed and scrubbed. And then Michael went for the traps.

But our mice are much too clever.

There's a little voice inside me, though, thanking the gods for not mashing the head of one mouse in those traps. Yes, the fields are bare and wasted, and the bleak winds of winter have arrived, but the critters are merely trying to survive. There must be a more humane way to rid our domain of them (for it's quite impossible and far too unsanitary to co-exist in the same domicile). Is there not?

Until we figure it out, Max will carry on about the pests' scratchy evening shenanigans keeping him awake at night. And I'll stock up on glass containers.
* * *

King Rat (an illegal whale hunt protest) by Indie rock band Modest Mousehas an official animated video, directed by the late Heath Ledger, that's apparently been hijacked by VEVO. If you'd like, you can see it here. Modest Mouse has been making music since 1997, but it wasn't until 2004 that they established mainstream success with We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, for which they enlisted musician and vocalist James Mercer of the Shins, and Broken Bells (with whom we Frolicked here), as well as help from Johnny Marr (former Smiths guitarist). Marr ultimately toured, in 2007, with Modest Mouse.

You can find more information, including tour dates, on MM's blog. They'll be playing in San Francisco, at the Macworld/iWorld convention, January 25, 2012.

Hmm, the only modest thing about our mice is that they don't make a show of it while we're still puttering around the house. But in the evenings, they Frolic!

*Burns's poem inspired at least two book titles: Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, and Sidney Sheldon's The Best Laid Plans. Per Wiki, in 2007, Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull) read the first stanza of the poem as a prelude to his remastered One Brown Mouse, adding the line "But a mouse is a mouse, for all that" (referencing Burns's Scot song, "Is There for Honest Poverty"popularly known as "A Man's A Man for A' That") which I sneaky-as-a-mouse stole for this post's title.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New England's New Year

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
~ Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Despite the briskly falling snow in New Hampshire, the new year brought temperate weather
uncharacteristic of most January firsts. In Sugar Hill, there was not enough fluffly ground cover for the tread of our cross country skis and, certainly not, for our snow shoes. Our cargo carrier remained unopen the entire weekendall the winter sports apparatus untouched. 

Rain fell on Saturday concocting a mud-slush, so we drove into Littleton, had lunch and poked around in Main Street's shops. It was there, in just L, an intriguing little shop that sells vintage-mod furnishings and accessories, that I found a collection of pastel linen-covered children's novels, like Little Women, The Heart of Dog,  Kim and The Water Babies, that charmed me for some time. I wanted to pull them from the antique bookshelf, but they were all so delicately pretty that all of them, all of them, spoke to me so, reminded me of the children's book I'd always wanted to write, and I fell into a gentle trance that precluded the stroke of my fingers upon their spines.

* * *

On our route from Rhode Island to New Hampshire, a portion of the highway we travel cuts just below Lowell, MAan old mill city where Jack Kerouac was born. Each time we drive below Lowell, I think of Kerouac. I wonder what he may have written had he lived more than his too short forty-seven years. I think about his travels, his search for the Absolute Being, for God. And as I write this passage, I think how I may never, ever, remove from my writing literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,* and how I often feel that what I'm writing may never, ever, be as original or unique as anything Kerouac put out for the world, and wonder why I can't stop fretting over perfection of sentence and paragraph, all too aware that it threatens every work on which I embark.

Except for one piece: the children's book I'd always wanted to write, which I wrote (the project I mentioned here), finally, and which my son illustrated in one crazed month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Hence, my long absence.) I didn't, per se, have a specific story I wanted to write, but I had a long standing vision that I would, at some point in my life, get to a children's story. Christmas, and my young nephew, gave me the impetusand those of you who read me know I work better (or shall I say, work with more discipline?) with looming deadlines.


Here is a photo sampling—not necessarily in order by page of Klute and the River Flute:

And I think the words are fairly simple! (To get there, though, my son had to drop a few hints about some of my word choices.)  Though the process of writing this book, the research, the illustration work, the water colors over Max's illustrations by myself and my dear friend Lindawhose water color over Max's pencil sketches is shown above on the cover and on the second and third photo (you can see the difference in her skill level versus mine)consumed a multitude of hours, and was much more work than I had anticipated. There were a few mistakes, setbacks and frustrations, like technical glitches converting the project to a printed book, and not using the proper paper for water color. Learning how to water color, alone, was quite an undertaking, and I owe Linda more than just a few paint brushes for her kind tutelage and expertise. I was not only surprised by the sheer amount of work that was required, but also, by how much I enjoyed the process. I have to admit, too, that I was surprised that the book was finished in time (by the skin of my teeth) for Max and me to give it to my nephew as a Christmas present.

Who knows, I may just attempt it again. But perhaps I'll give myself more than a month's time.

Anyway, that Kerouac quote above, that's my resolution for 2012. I'd like to make it stick.

Happy New Year!

* Jack Kerouc, “Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials” from a 1958 letter to Don Allen, published in Heaven & Other Poems, copyright © 1958, 1977, 1983. Grey Fox Press.

The accompanying Klute doll, made from an old sweater and felt scraps. A (very) limited edition. ;)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas, Cards and Cookies (Just in Case)

Fa la la la la, la la la la...  ♪♫

(I know, I know, a month long absence but I hadn't planned it! I've been involved in a writing project, a collaborative effort, of which I may share a bit here at SS at a later date. Now, on to other current happenings...)

And just how was I supposed to get a respectable Christmas card from this photo session? It's nearly impossible with my two. That's because my two are what you might call, well, "non-directable." Which is why I only got to mailing semi-decent photo cards on Thursday night. 

Here is the thing about having card-age children: their shiny facsimile simply must appear on the annual Christmas cards. This is one of the unwritten rules of parenting. And as you know, I am not a professional photographer. It wouldn't make any difference if I were, either. The one and only time I brought my children to see a professional photographer (who took--it seemed--hundreds of pictures) for a photo shoot, I secured from him only two semi-decent photos. Of course, it didn't help that we were in a big, beautiful park on a bright and warm day, and the children were simply beguiled by the parks stunning landscape. They clawed and climbed every tree, chased every duck, jumped in the pond, and mauled the poor photographer for his camera.

Anyhow... those now teenaged children let me in on a little secret this year. It went something like this:

Oh, Ma, the girl said, You don't have to play that game anymore. Max and I know there's no Santa. And we've known for a while, really.

(I'd asked her only for a list. The usual Christmas list for Santa.)

Ok, well, you may not believe, I replied, but you should probably write something up for Santa anyway. You know, just in case.

(She may be over Santa, but I intended to perpetuate the charade.)

So the girl gave me not only a multi-paged list written on lined paper torn from a small notebook, but she also stuck raised bunny stickers to mark--like asterisks--the special items, and stapled applicable coupons at the top of her list (which, by the way, is no longer addressed: Dear Santa).

Every year Lulu's list looks the same. Boots, clothing and stocking stuffers like lip balm, nail polish, eye mask, body lotion, socks, duct tape and anything else that happens to cross her mind at the moment the list is suggested. Pages and pages. This year, she added a laptop to the manifest and then crossed it off when she realized that she had virtually no chance of getting one. (She tinkers on my old clunker--as if that's not good enough!)

Meanwhile, her brother can barely produce a single page. Oh, whatever Santa wants to bring is fine, he says. Listen kid, I want to tell him, need something! I can't go hunting without a list, I need to follow a scent, something to scratch and stalk! I suppose I could have said that to him this year--and probably the past several years--but then the poor kid wouldn't have been able to carry on the charade, himself. And he certainly doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

Last night, as we put finishing touches on some of the festive  decorations, Lu announced that she'd still like to leave milk and cookies on a tray for Santa. Is that so, I said.

Well, Mom, she smiled, even though I know that Santa doesn't really exist, I'd like to leave the milk and cookies for him. And, you know, pretend. Just in case.

Just in case. I think no matter how old we get, we all want to preserve the magic of Christmas. Tonight, we'll put the milk and cookies out. And then the magic will begin...

Merry, merry, merry!