Wednesday, November 9, 2011
This little guy, well, he really makes my day. He has such a blythe spirit, naturally infused with ebullience and enthusiasm for the world around him. He asks me questions like, "Who drew the first straight line?" He wakes up singing. He holds my hand. He loves my cooking, and says so emphatically. He hugs on impulse. He's not afraid to say "I love you!" Jack, you are my sunshine...
Monday, October 31, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
A complete stranger recently asked me, in the middle of a fundraising meeting, "Are you a poet?" "E-excuse me?" I stammered back, unsure if I'd heard her correctly. "I wonder if you're a poet; you look like one." While I was pondering whether she meant I look like a poet she knows, or if I simply have the air of a poet, someone else answered cheerily, "Well, of course she is!" Everyone in the room chuckled, including me, but the metaphysical implications of the question have been nipping at my heels ever since.
True, in concrete terms, I was poet laureate of my high school class and even won a few awards in college. Then I put aside my sophomoric efforts in pursuit of more serious endeavors, like getting a paying job. The highlight of my poetry-writing career came several years later, though, when a friend-of-a-friend at a party I was throwing came across an unfinished poem I'd scratched out on a scrap of cardboard and hastily stuck in a bookshelf. I watched his face go from a jovial grin to something like, well, profound recognition. He pressed it against his chest and stuck it back where he'd found it. I felt hotly embarrassed, a voyeur in my own home, until it suddenly struck me that I'd done my work: a poem is supposed to speak to the heart.
Intrinsically, "Are you a poet?" isn't a question of title or position, it's a question about how you perceive things. Are YOU a poet? ARE you? What do you see around you? Can you see beauty in the ugly and mundane? Could your sadness be a song? Is there ecstasy in the everyday? There's poetry in numbers, the poetry of food, the epics of human touch, the dirty, disambiguated poetry of the streets, the sublime sonnets of nature; there's even something poetic about the laundry, the fragrance and the folds of it... How you interpret the world around you means the difference between loving life, or just living it. By that right, yes, I hope I am a poet. And I hope you are, too.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
More often than not, I find myself staring at the glowing green of my alarm clock, waiting for it to slip from middle-of-the-night into Time Purgatory, that hour between 4 and 5 a.m. If you find yourself awake at this hour, you're part of a special club, one with three distinct branches. There are those who are just slipping into bed at that hour after a feverish night of who-knows-what. There are others who are just getting up, because they have a hellish commute or they're baking your bagels and brewing your cuppa. And then there are the folks like me who are, well, just AWAKE in those wee hours of the morning.
Seeing the time turn over is part of the ritual. Suddenly you're transported to a place few people inhabit. The Time Purgatory is a weird space, not exactly normal, because it's really not a regular time to be wandering about. In a house like mine, with paper-thin walls and very few doors, there are very few acceptable 4 a.m. activities. Sometimes, in sheer desperation, I turn down the brightness on my backlit screen and reach out to the other Purgatorios out there. Sometimes, I stare out the window and do some of my best critical thinking. Sometimes, I just close my eyes and sigh. *sigh*
There's a poet named John G. Rives who delivers a brilliant and amusing TED talk on some surreal coincidences surrounding 4 a.m. I for one am a believer. Strange things happen at this hour of the day... I just wish I weren't awake for so many of them.
Monday, October 3, 2011
It's a cliché, but undeniably true: life is full of unexpected turns, both good and bad. And if there's anything I've learned to embrace in life, it's another cliché: expect the unexpected (you'll rarely be disappointed)!
This is particularly true in parenting, where you never know when your 5-yr-old might whip off his shirt and start belly dancing to "Do You Know the Muffin Man?" in the middle of a dinner party. Or the teenager actually does take out the trash without being reminded. Or the 8-yr-old uses some unfortunate "mature" language. In church. In front of the Bishop. Oh well.
Last month when I took Chloé to upstate New York, we were both feeling glum over the dilapidated industrial feel of her new college town. The waiter at our surprisingly good restaurant, who turned out to be an adjunct professor of Visual Arts at Syracuse University, told us we had to go see Green Lakes, a few miles east of the city. The lakes, transformed to a startling shade of aqua by the calcium carbonate in their waters, were breathtakingly beautiful and utterly unexpected. We were transported by the morning song of a Northern Oriole, and our outlook brightened considerably. It was a good turn.
The turn I took on my ankle a couple of days ago was not so good, although it must have been amusing to see me sprawled out in the handicapped parking space where I fell because I missed the dip in the sidewalk intended as a wheelchair ramp. I'm a motley mass of sprains, scrapes, and bruises, but nothing's broken, and I'm reminded how good I've got it just to get through most of my days without disaster.
There are days when I spend too much energy spinning my wheels (or rather, grinding my gears) in an effort to follow a friend's advice: "One day at a time, with a plan for tomorrow." Tomorrow's coming anyway, plan or not, and sometimes I just want to know my seatbelt's working so I don't fly out when we go around the curve. Occasionally, it's top-down-exceeding-the-speed-limit and I don't worry about what's coming around the bend. The only thing you can be sure of is, whatever's headed this way, it will probably be unexpected...
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Not long ago, I recruited my friend Heather to help me sort and sharpen a large bin full of colored pencils. It's testimony to the kind of friend she is that she didn't say "You're crazy," but simply rolled up her sleeves and got to work. 4 kids X 1 box a year X 12 years = a LOT of pencils. They were all different sizes. The leads kept breaking. It took two hours. Ostensibly, this exercise was on behalf of the children, but I felt a deep sense of personal satisfaction when the task was completed.
Second grade was a game-changer in my day; that was the year we graduated from crayons to colored pencils. I can still see it clearly: seated in the front row of class in a black-and-white checked dress, with a bow in my hair and a gap in my teeth, I gripped that box of pencils until my knuckles were white. Getting your own box was a rite of passage; it meant the grown-ups trusted you with things like fine lines and delicate shading. Colored pencils were liberation and progress.
The world has changed since then. Nowadays, the kindergartners get a package of Sharpies straight off the bat. (What does that tell you about society?) For me though, a colored pencil is still the slender totem of creative possibility. An entire cup full of them, points upward, offers an irresistible urging to do something great. Whatever I can dream, I can draw. And I don't even have to stay inside the lines...
Monday, August 15, 2011
Mundanity has a way of killing creativity, either in one fell swoop or by degrees. Perhaps that's what compels constant travelers to get out the door, just go, before their souls are swallowed up in a sea of grey. As I survey the everyday scene surrounding me -- dishes, dirty laundry, dog toys -- I try mightily to hold on to that glimmer I felt over the weekend.
At the Travel & Food Writing & Photography Conference I just attended, I basked in the glow of some of the brightest minds in the industry. If you were to ask me why I was there, I'd probably give you the standard-form answer: to further my career as a professional writer and get those creative juices flowing more freely. Obviously, I didn't know what to expect.
Somewhere amidst that crowd of brilliant authors, erudite editors, market-savvy bloggers and fine-eyed photographers, I ran into someone I hadn't seen in awhile and might not even have recognized: Me. "Hey, wow, how are you?" I asked. "Good, good; where have you been?" said Me, "We should get together sometime. You can bring your ukulele." Now, there's an idea.
It wasn't a revelation or a transformational moment. Really, it's just a matter of recognizing and remembering that somewhere in the juggling act, in the barrenness of a busy life, you still have to be true to self. It's good to keep company with like minds. And it's great to parlay your passions into your life's path. "Do what you love and the rest will follow." Who's to argue with that? Not me...
Monday, July 18, 2011
seldom won —
by the sleeve
at the end of the world,
when the sun
has long since
the cusp of midnight.
Exhilaration and fear
ionize the air.
I sink onto
the closest outcropping
to inhale the atmosphere
and pay humble respects.
the ebb and flow
of human emotion,
swell and slam and shudder
against the shore —
manic, insistent —
one inch more.
Earth trembles, moans, with
a 3 a.m. longing
only the sky
You’d think the world
would split wide open from
all that desperation.
Exhaustion enfolds me —
amidst Nature’s infinite chaos
I am swallowed by sleep —
my small sacrifice
offered to appease
that lunatic heaven...
knowing tradition better,
slink silently away,
tide pools trickling
their fullness through
the crevasses of time.
An eagle cries,
dim light haunts my eyes.
In the late morning mist
I see those craggy cauldrons,
once full and fomenting,
now empty, exposed, excoriated:
an image of
my own cupped hands,
a reflection of
my very heart.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Wynham turned 16 today, but he never stopped moving long enough for me to get a decent picture. Karen was more obliging as she whipped up her "prize winning" salad with greens from her garden. I've never been able to top, or even duplicate, her dressing; she should be selling it in gourmet grocers across the country!
Saturday, April 23, 2011
The senior advanced theater class put on an amazing performance at CellSpace in the city. They wrote the show themselves and I have to say it's the best production I've seen in a long time. Chloe sang a couple of original pieces and she continues to astound...
Friday, April 22, 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Some words of wisdom crossed my path yesterday: "Hang your future on a rusty nail." Meaning, don't sit around waiting for things to be perfect; get out there, jump the fence! Who cares if you rip the seat of your overalls on the way? A more humble, down-to-earth piece of advice than "Hitch your wagon to a star," but more accessible in the everyday, and one worth considering.
The words came with a strong visual, a memory of a college weekend when I left the books behind and tagged along with a handful of friends who said "Come on! Let's go!" We ended up in Sonoma county on a warm Indian summer day, hiking high into the hills, coming back down to the borders of a friend's farm at sunset, tired and parched.
And there, hanging on a rusty nail in a fence post, was this beautiful bowl. Glazed in celadon and burgundy, graced with the impression of some ancient fossil, it mesmerized. "That's gorgeous. Why is it here?" I asked. My friend, the inhabitant of the farm, said "My sister made it. She figured the right person would come along and claim it." With that, he took it down off the nail and handed it to me.
We filled the bowl with blackberries found growing along the fence, and pulled water from the well, and watched a silvery crescent come up over the Valley of the Moon. All those memories are held in this vessel, and other things too: a reverence for simple beauty, the wonder of things unexpected, a reminder to look past the usual boundaries. Yes, I think I'll hang my future on that rusty nail...
Monday, April 18, 2011
Coming home from San Francisco on Saturday night, I was somewhat disappointed when I couldn't fully appreciate the moon over the fog-enshrouded city (necessity requiring that I keep my eyes on the road). As I walked in the door, Chloe said, "Hey Mom! Look at these pictures I took with your camera tonight..." In that perfect, synchronistic way of things, she had captured the very moment I'd wanted not to miss.
Funny thing about our beloved Golden Gate, shown in this photo in particular: it's an ever-changing tableau, one that even the most jaded among us never tire of, and a humbling reminder of human excesses and limits. Majestic yet fragile, beautiful and ominous, a mecca or a means to an end, revealing things seen and unknown, shadow against light -- the perfect reflection of a tender and terrible heart.
Something to fear, something to love, something to live or die or hope for... Let's meet in the middle...
Friday, April 15, 2011
"Not Friends. A friend, after all, is someone with whom you need not discuss important subjects, though you often do. Nor do you have to clarify the status of the relationship, except when you must. Your good news doesn't bother him too much. Bad news brings out the empathetic best in you both. And each of you knows what small misfortunes to keep to yourself. To be just an acquaintance is normal enough. But terrible to be an acquaintance when you want to be a friend. Terrible when one person is thinking friend, the other acquaintance, and, after a long separation, those rapid, uncomfortable pats on the back when they hug. Show me a back patter, and I'll show you an acquaintance lost among his intuitions, whose body's Morse code is doubt, doubt, doubt. At a party full of acquaintances, it's almost as bad. What do we say after we've said what we usually say? Better to be a stranger with small hopes and a plan."
from What Goes On by Stephen Dunn
painting, Three Friends by Milton Avery