27 December 2009

Happy Holidays!

Stopping by to post a photo of the snowy day we had here today and to say that I intend to be back in this space regularly in 2010. See you then! Happy New Years!

08 November 2009

Things to do when not writing NaNoWriMo Novel

* Play Scramble on Facebook on the premise that you are a) limbering up your fingers for typing, and b) it involves words so it’s a pre-write exercise.

* Take a nap and have a dream where one of your minor characters makes a case for importance in your plot and then proceeds to tell you how she dies. Get up and write that chapter.

* Get so enamored with one chapter that you just want to edit, edit, edit instead of write, write, write.

* Use Find/replace to change all contractions to two words, thereby increasing word count by 50 words.

* Think of ways to color code your characters to aide in building a mind map of the plot lines. Spend too much time on which color is just right for each character. Be glad that you have a set of 64 colored pencils.

* Recalculate every hour how many more words you have to write to ‘catchup’, then whine about your swine flu setback.

* Check FB again in case something important has happened. Be amused by swiney cartoon son has posted on your wall. Decide that one of your characters liked Winnie the Pooh as a child. Consider this research.

* Peruse the NaNoWriMo Forums and wonder if everybody is writing either FanFic or Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Have an episode of self-doubt that you shouldn’t be doing this.

* Remind yourself that it’s just a goal to get a first draft completed.

* Realize at 11:17 that due to the time change the perfect sunbeam for napping is almost in place. Move laptop to bed. Realize 45 minutes later that the sun doesn’t move as quickly as you thought.

* Think some more about your characters. Maybe even write a character sketch.

* Write a blog post to tell your 5 readers that your word count is now 6828, which isn’t bad considering that you didn’t write for 4 days.

* Wonder if bullet pointed blogs posts count towards word count if you can attribute them to a character? After all, 392 words would increase your count to 7220, leaving you with exactly 1860 more words per day to write to meet 50,000 by Nov 30th. Consider that would be 380 words if you removed the contractions.

* Take another nap. The sunbeam is now perfectly aligned with bedroom window.

01 November 2009

That wasn't so bad for a start....

I was excited yesterday about doing NaNoWriMo. I even thought that maybe it would be okay if I started writing, since my outline had energized me. But, I decided that I needed to pace myself (and follow the rules if I'm participating), so I waited until today.

So, what did I do when I woke up this morning? Did I rush to the computer, armed with my outline, a cup of coffee, and thousands of good ideas rushing through the grey matter?

Are you kidding?

I drank my coffee, read about 75 pages in a book (Marilynne Robinson's Home, which I'm liking quite a lot), and then went back to bed. I crawled out from under the covers just before 10:30, just in time to see the nature montage that always closes CBS Sunday Morning.

After a few hours of procrastinating, I finally turned on the laptop. More time with email, news stories, Facebook, and other diversions, I finally started to write. I only had 300 words after a half hour. If I continue at that pace, I'll never finish in a month!

Finally, I started to write. My story went off in a direction I hadn't anticipated, but that's okay. I have now completed the first draft of the prologue and I'm content that I wrote not only a little more than 2000 words, but that I said what I wanted to say in the opening pages. All in all, not a bad start. Let's see how it progresses, some of which I hope to document here, though I don't anticipate doing that daily. No, NaNoWriMo and NaBloPoMo would be too obsessive, too much for anybody.

Happy wordful November, everyone.

31 October 2009

NaNoWriMo Minus 1

Having a few hours to kill in an airport and on a plane, I made use of pen and paper to begin planning my NaNoWriMo project. As I understand the rules, prework is okay before November 1st, and since I've never written a novel before, I thought I might at least explore a few ideas.

Yesterday, I saw a televised interview with John Irving. One things that Irving said that intrigued me was that he doesn't start writing his book until he knows the last sentence. It was, he explained, the only way he knew how to begin a plot driven work.

I'm not going to doubt a best-selling author's process, just as I would not doubt someone who had written several unpublished works, because I really haven't a clue how one writes a book. What I think the follow up questions should have been, though, was this: how often does that sentence remain the last sentence?

I wrote a last sentence and it isn't too bad as sentences go, but it really was no more than a prompt. It started me thinking and, although it was a workable sentence, potentially a poignant last sentence that with lots of work might be within reach of Fitzgerald's green light Gatsby close, I quickly realized that I probably didn't have a book. So much for that idea.

The fun part about imagining is not knowing where your brain is going to take you. I continued to write down ideas, drifting away from my last sentence. Soon I had several seemingly unrelated ideas, but I saw a pattern revealing itself.

So, while I think that there is more to the pattern to be found, and that the discovery will come in the writing -- and more certainly in the editing to follow after Nov 30 -- I now have a core idea. Nature, time and place will figure prominently in this project. What I'm envisioning is a series of loosely related stories. I've outlined the chapters and have given them working titles. The titles will serve as writing prompts. For about half of these, I already know either the characters or the plot. Some characters will be recurring, but in some chapters, place and nature/season will be what ties the piece to work as a whole. It may not work out, but it's where I'm headed right now.

I don't know why I feel compelled to put the working chapter titles here, but in some ways it makes it seem more real. If I focus on one of these a day for the next 30 days, I should have at least something of length, even if not of significance by the end of NaNoWriMo. This list is in a vague thematic order that is more or less seasonal, but it is not the order that I think that the book will actually be.

The Map
Driving Lessons
The convertible and the tree
A Tale of a Bird Watcher
Ah, Pioneers
Flower and Patio
If It's Worth Building
Summer Storm
Getting Glasses
Home is not home if there are no oak trees
Fireflies and fireworks
Spook Spoof
Putting Dad to Bed
The Greenway Trial
Cowboy Camp
Deerhunters and the Tea Party
Fire Sale
Selling the Farm
An Accident
5 Cents or The Dr. Is In
I'm Older than John Glenn
It was colder than this in 1875

As I actually get some words down on paper, I might be willing to share some of this with readers I trust. Let me know if you're interested...I probably will not look at specific criticisms until I'm ready to begin editing in December, but I'll take any encouraging words throughout November.

30 October 2009

I will blame Courtney...

Courtney unsuspectingly put the bug in my head a few days ago. I'm going to attempt to expunge a poor first novel by writing it during NaNoWriMo. We'll see how far I make it. I haven't posted here much this year, so there probably won't be much change in what is posted here for the next month. Wish me well.

This may be one of the pictures I gaze upon when trying to find new ways to procrastinate -- err, I mean -- write.

28 October 2009

Book Review: It Happened in Italy

It Happened in Italy: Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust, by Elizabeth Bettina, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2009.

This was a selection for my book discussion group this month. I was intrigued by the subject and was expecting something more than I got from this book.

Bettina, in this book, tells about how she learned, unexpectedly, that her ancestral town in Italy, where she traveled frequently as a child, had been the site of a Jewish internment camp during World War II. Even more surprising, though, was that this camp was not like the horrible death camps run by the Nazis. Unlike their fellow Jews in other parts of Europe, most of the Jews in Italy survived. The survivors documented in this book repeatedly talked about the generosity of the Italians who treated them humanely, and, when the Germans came, saved them by hiding them.

This sounds like a great story, right? I thought so, which is why I was so disappointed in this book. Great stories don't always make good books if the writing is not good. The book was more about the author's journey of discovery than about the survivors. As such, it was repetitive and boring. The book is desperately in need of very serious editing. If any chapter was submitted as a draft in a college writing class, I imagine that 'Show; don't tell" would be written across the pages.

Still, many of the photos and documents reproduced in the book are fascinating. It is uplifting to know that there were good people who worked to save their fellow human beings. The author writes about how she and her colleague videotaped the survivors of the Italian camps that they met. I'm sure that a documentary of the survivors would be much more interesting and I would watch it if it were available. Nowhere in the book does the author indicate that it has been distributed. Too bad. I think it would be more interesting than her story of finding these individuals.

26 October 2009

Dusting off the cobwebs and ....

...chasing out the ghosts on this blog to actually respond to a tag. Emily has tagged me for her Haunted Halloween meme and I thought I'd do it rather than risk being cursed by spurned spirits.

1) Which urban legend ghost scared the bejeezus out of you when you were a kid? One could have scared me with any of them, but the one that frightened me the most was a local one: The House of Blue Lights. Living only a few miles away, I was both excited -- and terrified -- by the thought of a nearby haunted house, illuminated with blue strobe lights where some crazy old man kept the mummified corpse of his wife, buried in her wedding dress, in a casket. There were many versions of the story of how she died and none of them were pleasant. The land was donated to the city many years ago and is now an urban nature park with forest and prairie plantings. I still live nearby the area, and I have no idea if school children still tell tales of The House of Blue Lights, but if they went on a walk through Skils Test Nature Park, I'm sure they could make some up when they came across the occasional reminder that there was once a house on the property.

2). Which horror movie has the best premise? Hands down, the best is Hitchock's The Birds. Scared the birdcrap out of me the first time I saw it. And the second. And the third. And many times thereafter when seeing a flock of nasty, cackling crows. The only time seeing the movie didn't scare me was when I watched part of it through a store window on a foggy night in Lucerne, but that probably had something to do with the beer I had consummed.

3) What is the most disappointing "treat" to receive in your bag on Halloween night?
Necco Wafers. I detested the chalky circles that always reminded me of an old granny's handkerchief drawer. It was such a disappointment to find them in my trick-or-treat bag. I was always suspicious that they were tainted with some foul-tasting substance that was probably good for you, like cod-liver oil. I'd always grumble about who was the cheap old meany that passed them out as treats. The mother of a friend loved Neccos and at her wake a few years ago, her granddaughters passed out wafers to everybody. A few weeks later, another friend and I were walking along the greenway and I realized that I had them in my coat pocket. As an odd memorial to our friend's mother, we opened the pack and popped some of the dusty wafers into our mouths. A few seconds later, we both spit them out, laughing at how horrible those nasty smelling things are.

4) What's the best non-candy item to receive? The smiles on kids' faces when they're having fun on Halloween, especially the little ones when you remark about their costumes. Or when you tell them you weren't expecting trick-or-treaters so you'll have to give them money. I guess that might be the best non-candy item to receive. It's worked the few times that I've been caught without candy.

5) Did a monster live in your closet when you were a child? I sometimes thought that the monster that lived in the hallway in my aunt's house sometimes visited my closet, but I was quite happy when he would return to her house and the creepy long, windowless hallway that lead from the front door to the butler's pantry. I didn't know what a butler was, but his ghost frightened me. Worse, we weren't' allowed to go through the living room in the morning, so the hallway was the only way to get to breakfast. If you made it to the end of the dark hallway, you had to open the creaky door with the stubborn doorknob quickly, because the butler's ghost might have made a trip to the basement and catch you by the stairs before you escaped into the safety of the kitchen. No wonder I started drinking coffee at an early age: needed it to calm my nerves!

6) Which supernatural creature sent chills up your spine when you were ten and still does? I had enough fears embedded in my young brain by the nuns and I so feared vengeful angels would scatter my sinful soul to the four corners of the earth that those other creatures didn't faze me. Come to think of it, maybe the nuns were the supernatural creature that sent chills up my spine!

7) Which supernatural creature makes you yawn? Vampires and werewolves.

8) What's your favorite Halloween decoration? I don't decorate for Halloween, but the best decoration when I was a kid was my neighbor's house. They would have candles lining the driveway and walk, a coffin on the front porch, and a gigantic spiderweb about 10 feet across, reaching from gutterline to front walkway that you had to walk under to ring the doorbell. The neighbor would dress as a witch. Creepy music would play. Unsuspected trick-or-treaters would be startled as she slowly raised herself from the coffin, or jumped out from behind the bushes to deliver candy. She always wore ghoulish costumes. Her daughter was always dressed as a fairy princess. Is it any wonder that I occassionally have dreams where I'm running through suburban yards and suddenly realize that it is that house?

9) If you could be anywhere on Halloween night, where would you be? At home. If not there, somewhere where nobody teepees your trees, smashes your pumpkin, soaps your windows, graffittis your car, or drinks beer as they escort their kids through the neighborhood. That describes my old neighborhood and it makes me happy that we've only had a handful of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood in the last 10 years.

26 September 2009


One has 4 days in NYC, Fri - Mon. Already scheduled: Play Sat Evening (Hamlet), musical on Sunday afternoon (South Pacific), and the Met Opera on Monday evening (Le Nozze de Figaro). What are your suggestions to fill my days?

Please note, the following are not on any list that will be considered: Empire State building (unless it is to laugh at the fools who take video pictures of a stationary building. It doesn't move, people!), Statute of Liberty, the Circle Cruise, staring at the empty pit that was WTC (I've taken the PATH too many times and it always saddens me to see it), eating overpriced oysters at Grand Central Station, congregating at Rockefeller Plaza during the Today Show, seeing real buildings where fake people supposedly lived (cf. Sex & the City tour), touring the Intrepid or strolling purposelessly through the blaring, sense-numbing, migraine-inducing wreck that is Times Square. In other words: I've been forced to do the tourist stuff too many times and am looking for other things to do. Suggestions involving good food or things of beauty always considered.

07 September 2009

Not laboring today

I had planned to write a post today, as I did yesterday, the day before, and many days in the last few months. I haven't moved beyond a few ideas, and one great title (Goose à la Road may still find it's way into written form). I've thought about doing the Alphabet posts that Courtney, Charlotte and others have done, but while I already have great things for b, d, i, s, and w, I can't seem to settle on something for a.

But, today is Labor Day, the ceremonial last day of summer. Here, in the Heartland of the US, it's chilly and grey. Unseasonably cool nights have already signaled to a few trees that it's time to turn color and prepare for dormancy. It's 2pm and I'm still in my pajamas. I looked at my blackberry once, said "not today", and threw it back in my bag. No laboring for me today.

Yet, I will encourage you to watch the clip below about work. But not just work. Hopes, dreams, struggles, and what the nature of work can mean regardless of one's economic status. One's life work is not necessarily one's job.

Makes me feel even lazier on my non-laboring day. Even that is okay once in awhile.

30 July 2009

One Word Meme

One last post for the month - and a lame attempt at that! Lots of ideas for posts this month, but never found the time to write them. Found this meme at Emily's site.

1. Where is your cell phone? Table
2. Your hair? long-ish
3. Your mother? newlywed
4. Your father? deceased
5. Your favorite food? comfort
6. Your dream last night? forgotten
7. Your favorite drink? manhattan
8. Your dream/goal? writer
9. What room are you in? dining
10. Your hobby? reading
11. Your fear? failure
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? comfortzone
13. Where were you last night? home
14. Something that you aren’t? thin
15. Muffins? Nope.
16. Wish list item? nothing
17. Where did you grow up? Midwest
18. Last thing you did? facebook
19. What are you wearing? jeans
20. Your TV? off
21. Your pets? none
22. Friends? Great.
23. Your life? hectic
24. Your mood? fair
25. Missing someone? no
26. Vehicle? Passat
27. Something you’re not wearing? shoes
28. Your favorite store? books
29. Your favorite color? blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? 8pm
31. Last time you cried? Friday
32. One place that I go to over and over? NYC
33. One person who emails me regularly? SWG
34. Favorite place to eat? out

08 July 2009

Who Am I? Am I A City?

And the junk stood up into skyscrapers and asked:
Who am I? Am I a city? And if I am what is my name?
And once while the time whistles blew and blew again
The men answered: Long ago we gave you a name,
Long ago we laughed and said: You? Your name is Chicago.
Early the red men gave a name to the river,
the place of the skunk
the river of wild onion smell,

- The Windy City, Carl Sandburg

Love Chicago? Love poetry?
Don't know Chicago? Don't know too much about poetry?

Whatever your answer, you should check out the Poetry Foundation's Chicago Poetry Tour.

This is an amazing feature produced by the Poetry Foundation with several tours of Chicago, featuring poetry from many Chicago poets. You can watch the tours online, with audio recordings of poets reading their works about or inspired by the city. Or, you can download the audio to play as you walk through the city. The site also has downloadable maps. There are 22 tours of downtown Chicago landmarks and surrounding neighborhoods. You can listen to Carl Sandburg reciting The Windy City, or Gwendolen Brooks, reciting her We Real Cool, as well as readings by other poets, writers, and critics. You can navigate to specific poems or poets, rather than navigating via the tour map.

I often think that New York is my favorite city in the world, but if I give it 'Best in World' title, I think it could be exempted from the competition for the Best in US laurels, a title which would then, undoubtedly, go to Chicago.

I'd love to see similar features of other cities, featuring snippets of poetry and prose of and about each city. Hmmm...this has me pondering what I would choose to include if this was done for my hometown. I think that's a future blog post.


Ms Musings, from her sofa, nominated me for some sort of nameless award, provided that I write of seven personality traits. She was thus tagged by ZoesMom and passed on the honors to me and others. In what I'm sure is evidence of that old 'telephone' game we played in school, where one person would whisper a statement in another's ear, and by the time it traveled to the other side of the room would have transformed into something entirely different, I'm fear I've missed some important feature of this award. I think the photo above is part of the award. It's a nice one for this blog because it features a book, and the admiration of books and a sense of humor certainly would be the ninth and tenth personality characteristics I would list (alongside not playing fair and square with rules) if the rules allowed me to expand beyond seven. Perhaps the award itself is in the doing, as writing usually is.

Now, onward with my seven traits:

1. Unlike Ms. Musings, I'm rarely punctual. I live in my own timezone. Good for me that I have the flexibility with my job to come in when I please, because I'm not sure when my 'starting time' would be if I had to punch a clock. I always think that I'll be better about this, but I never seem to put forth much effort to change it. When it really counts, like airplane flights, funerals and such, I'll be there on the spot, but don't expect me, for heavenssake, to be early. If I am, there was probably a time change that I didn't know about. Best thing about this trait: I can lose hours reading a good book!

2. Like Ms Zoe's Mom, I am a shy person. I don't know how to make small talk. I am not very comfortable in new surroundings where I don't expect to know anyone and I haven't been before. Unless -- and I realize this is so narcissistic -- Ihave some sort of role in the gathering. For instance: recently I co-hosted a fundraising event and was expected to MC the evening. I could put on my competent MC/party planner/fundraiser hat without any problem. I pulled it off, looking cool and competent. Well, not cool, as it was 95 degrees outside and the AC wasn't working properly. Had I just been an attendee, I would have been quite agitated at having to chitchat with people I didn't know. Positive aspect to this trait: I've learned to compensate for the inability to small talk. Sometimes I'll talk about a book I've read; however, this fails monstrously if you're with non-readers.

3. I detest talking on the phone. I have a few exceptions -- some friends, a few members of my family, some colleagues with whom I'd rather not sit in a meeting room -- but generally I find it very difficult to understand the gist of conversations while on a telephone. If I can't see you, I just can't seem to understand all of the nuances of our conversation. How I deal with this trait: on important phone calls I outline items to cover before I dial; on conference calls, I love the MUTE button.

4. I find it too easy to take on the moods of others. Crabby people bring out the uber-crab in me. I don't like getting on that fast train to bitchiness, but it can be so easy at times. I want to avoid grumbly people. I struggle with it all the time. If I could change anything about this side of my personality: I hope for a time when that grumpy, cranky, crabby inner me stops wanting attention, shrivels up entirely, and falls into some dark, forgotten, flat corner of the world, leaving a much better, happier, joyous person out in the world. That would be nice.

5. I sometimes feel that I have no sense of what people think about me or why they get the ideas that they do. I remember a friend who had previously been a student in one of my writing classes, telling me about how some students talked about me one day. They envisioned me having gourmet dinner parties with lots of friends, fancy china and crystal, perfect centerpieces. I don't think I owned two plates that matched at that point in my life and my idea of gourmet was buying a salad at the drive-thru and serving it in a pretty cut-glass bowl, one that I had borrowed from my mother but not yet returned. Another friend told me recently that when she first met me 20 years ago, she initially disliked me because she thought I was everything she wanted to be: competent, confident, outgoing and portrayed those traits with ease. I guess she only started liking me once she saw through my facade. A true friend, indeed, who loves me as I am, not as how I appear to be. The upside: the older I get the better I am at understanding how my words and actions might be perceived -- and the less I care about perceptions and misperceptions.

6. I am very inquisitive. I know all sorts of trivia because at some point in time I thought "I wonder why that is?". I used to make myriad trips and calls to the reference library to satisfy my curiosity. Now, I just have to google it. I've been this way since I was a child. My sister used to tease me, calling me Encyclopedia Brown. I don't know why I file away the obscure but I do. An example: my doctor could tell you all about the very specific type of foot injury I sustained in an automobile accident a few years ago, but I would tell you only that this particular injury is named after Napoleon's gynecologist. You have to admit it: it's much more fun to know that than the anatomical details of healing torn ligaments. Potential benefit: As a result of this lifelong curiosity, if I could have a garage sale of trivia facts stored in my brain, I'd make a killing.

7. I have never revealed so much about myself to acquaintances as I have since I started blogging. I think my blog persona is more easily able to be an authentic person than I can be in real life, but also a much better person. Maybe that is because blogging, with it's ability to craft/draft/edit my voice, doesn't take all that energy to put up a facade. Benefits aplenty: I don't have to worry about being on time or too shy; I don't have to talk on the telephone, make small talk, or host dinner parties with matching china and crystal; I can easily choose not to let my crankiness surface here, and I won't see you roll your eyes when I share an obscure fact that I find fascinating and you find absolutely boring. Thanks for stopping by to read my blog and letting me be me. :)

Tagging seven bookish bloggers who I am glad share their voices through blogs:

Danielle, A Work in Progress
Ted, Bookeywookey
Dorothy W, Of Books and Bicycles
Stefanie, So Many Books
Diana, Diaphanous
SFP, Pages Turned

07 July 2009

15 in 15

I started this almost a month ago, but never found the time to go back to proof and publish. But, I really did this in 15 minutes. I am resisting the urge to change some of these now that I've had time to reflect, but I am leaving them as-is.

15 Influential Books (list comprised in 15 minutes):

1 The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Although I first read this in English, I remember it because it was also the first book I ever read in French. I read several French existentialist while a student, but Saint-Exupéry's book is the one that I not only remember, but I remeber enjoying. Besides, isn't it nicer to remember a fairy tale that Sartre's "L'enfer, c'est les autres"?

2 The Witch of Blackbird Pond A Newberry Award Winner. I remember this book because I didn't want to return it to the school library. I renewed it so many times that the librarian refused to let me check it out again. A boy in my class wanted to keep a book about the WWI and the Red Barron. We checked out each other's book and traded, content to continue reading our chosen books.

3 Biography of Jane Addams - The first biography I ever read. I remember this was part of a series of biographies. The books were covered in blue cloth and had nice end papers. The series was mostly about men, but three books were about women.

4 Biography of Amelia Earhart This book was in the same series as the Jane Addams book. (The other woman was Dolly Madison.) I remember that these books were my companions during a period when it seemed like I was continually grounded. Seems like I read them in my room on rainy Saturday afternoons.

5 The Great Gatsby. F.Scott Fitzgerald. I have read this book many times. It was required reading in high school and in two college classes. Each time I have read it, I have discovered something new that is particularly wonderful, whether it is Nick's elegy about the green light at the end of Daisy's dock in the final paragraphs, or the desolate description of Jay Gatsby's mansion after he has been killed, or the languorous way that Daisy and Sigourney endure the heat and boredom seated on a sofa, or the sense of fatality in the party scene when the group rides into the city before Myrtle is killed. There isn't a bit in this book that didn't awe me the first time I read it and I am never disappointed when I re-read it.

6 The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs. I read this three years ago and it opened my eyes to not only the horrifying nature of poverty in much of the developing world, but the equally horrifying realization that even though it is solvable, the "haves" of this world are not doing nearly enough.

7 Moby-Dick. Herman Melville. I read this during a short summer session while in college. Daily, I would pull my lawn chair into the yard of the run-down house I rented, grease myself up with suntan lotion, take a few cold beers from the fridge, and read. And read. And read. If it rained, or was just too hot, I would shift my location to the dive bar where my roommate worked, where I would sit at the end of the bar, usually the only "customer" in the afternoon, and continue plowing through this tome. I was surprised that I not only finished the assigned reading, but that I loved the book. All of my classmates thought I was crazy. Maybe it was the ever-flowing beer, but I think not. Although I don't know that I'll ever re-read Moby-Dick in its entirety, I think it will always remain near the top of my Best. Books. Ever. list.

8 Fire-Starter, Stephen King. This book was given to me as a birthday present, shortly before I graduated from college. The gift-giver told me to try to not be a snob and enjoy the book. It was the first book by Stephen King that I ever read and it taught me that there is a lot of merit in reading pop culture-type books. A good lesson for a snobby, newly graduated English major - especially as she learned in the midst of a recession that the real-world of work was not nearly as nice as the world of literature.

9 A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle. This may be the book that got me to give up on reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I thought L'Engle could see inside my head and based the character of Meg on me: smart, nerdy, few friends, short-tempered. I so wanted a Mrs. Whatsit or an Aunt Beast to drop into my world and take me away to some planet where I could be nurtured by them.

10 The World According Garp, John Irving. After reading Stephen King, I thought I could try another foray into pop culture. I had heard that Irving was a good writer, but I laughed at the marketing of the book (you could buy the book in one of several different colored covers). I rushed home every evening from a routine job -- my first "real" full time job -- to sit on the patio of the dull, little apartment I rented to read about the life of Garp. I thought it was wonderful that when he first meets his wife, she tell Garp that she wants to be a reader. How could I not love a book about someone who wanted to be a writer, and someone who wanted to be a reader?

11 A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving. It was several years later when I read A Prayer for Owen Meany. It is the Irving novel that I most often recommend. By far my favorite one of his books.

12 A MidSummer Night's Dream. William Shakespeare. It is possible that I saw the play before I read the play. I know that MidSummer's Night Dream is not the first Shakespeare play that I had read. High school requirements forced me to read Julius Ceaser, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. Hamlet, Lear and Richard III were all required reading early in my college work. But it wasn't until I read MidSummer Night's Dream that I fell in love with Shakespeare. I'm a sucker for any version of this play, and I think that I've seen most of the film adaptations of it.

13 Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain. I can remember my grandfather coming to live with us when I was about 14. I was intrigued that he would read books like Alice in Wonderland and Huck Finn. (He read the encyclopedia too.) He told me I should read Huck, but I had a difficult time with the dialect. A few years later, during my Jr year in high school, Huck Finn was on the syllabus. My grandfather had just died, and I insisted on reading his copy of the book, having to cross reference the assignments from the school-issued version and mine. My English teacher was one of the coolest teacher's that I had; when she first spotted the dogeared volume I had, held together with two rubber bands, she asked about it. I explained it was my grandfather's. The next week, she had a special assignment sheet for me, adjusted for the page numbers in my book. While my reading that copy of the book was an emotional thing, Huck Finn is the book that I credit as being one of the most influential in making me a lifelong reader. And, when people have asked me if I want to write the "Great American Novel", I'm often tempted to say: "Already done. Go read Huck Finn.

14 Love Story, Erich Segal. Laugh. Snicker. Snear. Why is this book on here? It was one of the first "forbidden" books that I ever read. My mother had a copy on her nightstand and I would sneak into her bedroom to read it every day as soon as I got home from school. I would get about 3 pages read during the 10 minutes I had before my older sister would arrive home. I distinctly remember that the characters frequently called peopled sobs. I couldn't figure out what that meant. (Give me a break; I was 12). It took me most of the book before I understood that it was an abbreviation because I was reading a Readers' Digest Condensed version. I imagine that "sonofabitch" was just too racy for Readers' Digest.

15 The Once and Future King. T.H. White. I was mesmerized by this book. I never could understand why Guenevere would have fallen in love with Lancelot because Arthur was so wonderful. I had read A Sword in the Stone in 9th grade and didn't want the book to end. A few years later, when I learned that it was part of a longer novel (see note on English teach & Huck Finn), I had to get the book. It remains one of the few books over a 1000 pages that I have ever completed willingly and without being "required" reading. (Thanks to a short attention span.)

04 July 2009


I saw this most recently at Becky's blog, but it's been done by Queen Emily and Zoe's Mom as well as others.

A – An advantage you have – born into a white, middle-class, educated family in America. Birth should not be an advantage, but it is. Although women can be discriminated against and that is unjust and shouldn't happen, white, educated middle-class women shouldn't bitch about discrimination as if it were the same thing as racial or socio-economic prejudice. It isn't; get over it.

B – Blue or brown eyes – Undeniably, boring, everyday brown.

C – Chore you hate – Toss up between cleaning and grocery shopping.

D – Dad’s name – Alfred. Because I hate the one-sided patriarchal nature of this question, here is my matriarchal lineage: Helen, Anna, Elizabeth, Freda-Lena, Anna. And on the other branch: Helen, Margaret, Elizabeth. I was named after a grandmother and a grandfather, which I think is cool.

E – Essential start of your day – Coffee. Big, tall mugs of American coffee, with lots of steamed milk. I love European coffee with it's stunning aroma and immediate jolt of caffeine, but it will never replace my slow entrance into daylight accompanied by my coffee.

F – Favorite colour – Blue; the deep, vibrant blue in mid summer after the sun has set on a clear day, just past twilight, before it is really dark, kind of blue.

G – Greatest thing you’ve ever done that made you feel really good – Anything I thought to write here seemed a little self-serving. I'll keep it to myself.

H – Habit you have – lots of bad ones, but I broke the nicotine one years ago.

I – Issue you hate that the world tries to make you pursue – That there is a clear demarcation between the two major parties in America. This leads to the demonization of each by the other. It's sick, but if you're interested in politics -- and every concerned citizen should be in my opinion -- it's hard to avoid being sucked into the vortex that is partisan politics.

J – Job title – Manager, Business Systems. Yep, I manage the BS department. How appropriate, some may say.

K – Kohl's or Target – Target. I almost went to Kohl's the other day but my son advised me that it was for old people. I then changed my plans, but I don't think I found what I wanted to buy. Maybe I am approaching the age of Kohl's shoppers.

L – Living arrangements – House that is way too big to clean, but is set in lovely woods.

M – Music you like – Springsteen, Dylan, Neil Young. Female vocalists with strong, clear voices who might have been 'torch singers' in earlier decades, like Carly Simon, KD Lang, Alison Kraus, Roseann Cash (although her stuff sounds too much alike). I also like opera, but I'm not an opera aficionado. I'm not likely to identify an opera from the opening measures of an aria or by the usually far-fetched plots -- that's what an aficionado would be able to do.

N - Nicknames – more varieties of my name than some characters in a Russian novel. One of them is in the title of this blog. Some idiots assume that my first name ends in an 'ee' sound because it is spelled with one 'e'. That's one of my nicknames but there are fewer than ten people in this world who are allowed to call me that. If you're reading this, you're probably not one of those individuals.

O – Overnight hospital stay – Twice. Once, when my son was born. But it was only 'overnight' in the sense that it was throughout the night. I was in the hospital less than 24 hrs. The other was following an episode where I passed out in the library and emergency personnel thought I had a concussion. And my glucose levels were something ridiculous like 15, which apparently means you should be comatose.

P – Pet Peeve – When people say 'We was..' or add an 'r' in words like 'wash', confuse effect/affect, sit/set, or pronounce pin/pen as 'peen'. Never heard of people speaking like that? You've obviously haven't spent time in Indiana. Welcome to my world; I live in the land of accents that sound slightly better than the noise emitted when dragging nails along a chalkboard.

Q – Quote that you like most – I honestly can't think of any right now. Guess I don't quote many people.

R – Right or left handed – Yes.

S – Siblings – 2 brothers, 4 sisters.

T – Time you wake up – Alarm sounds at 6:15. I'm sociable by 10.

U – Underwear – Usually. I've been told I have an obsession with finding well-fitted, comfortable bras. If you'd ever meet me, you would understand why.

V – Vegetable you dislike – Eggplant. Repugnant.

W – What makes you run late – Not enough coffee or time to gently ease into the day. And an innate disability with regards to the marking of the passage of time. I live in my own time zone, apparently.

X – X-rays you’ve had – neck, teeth, jaw, back, shoulder, chest, spine, elbow, hand, digestive track (ewwww -- nasty chalky stuff to drink), knee, ankle, foot. Jeez, what's left? Brain was done as MRI & cat scan, kidneys & gall bladder by some other sort of radiological technology. And some laparoscopy too. And then there's the other kind of GI tests that are a little more invasive than XRAYs. When I was a kid, a common curse was 'Up your nose with a rubber hose!" Who'd ever thought to turn that into a medical test? But, I'm not a hypochondriac -- smash up a couple cars and you'd get most of these. Live 5 or more decades and you'll have most of the others. Being something of a klutz explains the rest.

Y – Yummy food you make – My son loves it when I make him creamy mac & cheese with tuna fish. Spouse calls it 'cat food casserole'. Obviously, a divergence in opinion as to whether it is yummy.

Z – Zoo animal – Birds in the aviary. I always want to free them. I feel sad for most animals in a zoo. They all look bored. Wouldn't you be, too?

03 July 2009


As longtime readers of this blog may know, I live in the woods, on a beautiful piece of land I call, rather tongue-in-cheek, 'Old Oak Hill'. It isn't the grand plantation or manor home that the name suggests, but there is a grand oak tree that crowns the hill and can be seen from a half mile away, towering over the other trees in the woods. When the weather is icy, I refer to my homeplace as Mount B----- (the name of the street I live on). Mount B seems like a Cat 3 climb in a difficult Midwest winter.

I drove by Old Oak Hill on my daily commute for seven years, always admiring the trees that shrouded the house three seasons of the year, the deer that sometimes jumped out of the ravine and into the road, sometimes a opossum or fox that would scamper once the headlights of the car would beam around the bend. When the For Sale went up when we were looking for a new home, I called my realtor although I was skeptical that the place could actually be mine.

We looked at the house in September, when all the leaves were still on the trees. My son, then 10, was excited that he could identify 27 different types of native trees on the property, thanks to a recently completed tree unit in his science class. When we went back for a second visit before making a bid, I noticed two tall trees stumps, about 15 feet tall and 15 feet apart, standing totem-pole like at the edge of the drive. Neither tree had any branches; when the surrounding trees were in leaf, you wouldn't notice immediately that these were stumps. In the late fall, once the leaves of surrounding trees had fallen, they stood like sentries, guarding the woods behind them.

Over the last 11 years I've watched myriad birds perch on the sides of these stately stumps: robins, wrens, sparrows, and crows, yellow-belly sapsuckers, red-headed flickers, and pilated woodpeckers. Squirrels and chipmunks would crawl up them. For a few years, before the insides began to rot, they spent time sunning themselves on the tops on warm spring days. Snow piled on top of them during winter storms, looking like caps with earflaps hanging down the sides. I've taken a lot of pleasure looking at these trees, not only watching the wildlife, but also imagining how magnificent they must have been when they had leafy crowns.
Over the years, though, the insides have started to rot. The flickers and woodpeckers finding food in the crevices of the bark were a sure sign that lots of small inhabitants of the insect world had made their homes inside the trunks. The flat tops of the stumps caved in, leaving ragged edges. Large sections of bark fell this spring, reveling the decaying insides. It was interesting to look at the cracks and crevices in the rotting tree. The variety of textures on one tree -- smooth, cracked, powdery -- revealed nature's progress at returning the tree to the earth. But, while Mother Nature was doing her things, decomposing the tree slowly over time, it became clear that either tree could easily be toppled in a storm, presenting potential dangers to people, property, or other still thriving trees. Sometimes being a good steward of the land means you need to remove a tree. And that is what was done yesterday.

As the tree trimmers felled the more solid of the two, I heard them laugh. One reached over, picked something up and held it for me to see. "A little mouse", he laughed, as he gently set it down at the edge of the woods. "He had a nice home, there". So, I was not only destroying a perch and pantry for birds and a playground for squirrels, but a home for field mice.

When I woke today I heard the birds chirping and the squirrels squeaking. "Where's the big tree", I imagined they were saying. I walked to where the trees had been to survey the area this morning. The negative space where the trees once stood looks stark: only bark and sawdust shavings remain, and two large holes in the earth.

I'll miss seeing these trees from my house. Soon the negative space will fill in with other trees and ground cover. The woods will recapture the holes and all sorts of interesting things will grow. The birds, squirrels, chipmunks and deer will still visit the woods, foraging, nesting, resting on or under other trees as they have always done. Still, I think I'll put out some extra bird seed this afternoon for my feathered friends -- and their furry woods neighbors.

02 July 2009

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is one of those books that has been on one of those self-created "I should read" list since it was first published in 1982. I'm not sure why it took over 2 decades to finally make it's way into my hands, but once I opened the book last week, I couldn't put it down. It even provided a brief respite during the middle of a busy day, where I closed my office door and read for 15 minutes -- something that I never do.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant was a choice for my book group this month, selected from a list of book options in the local library's "book group in a bag" program. This is a program of a nearby town's library system that allows one person to select a title and checkout 8 copies and a reader's guide for 6 weeks -- a great program for book groups. They even can provide copies in large print, which two of the people in my group need. This is the kind of 'your tax dollars at work' thing that just makes me smile.

One person in my group had read the novel previously and spoke highly of it. She told me the other day that she could not wait to discuss it because she had an entirely different perspective reading it 20 years later. Two other members of my discussion group have commented that they didn't care for the book. I look forward to a lively discussion this evening, although I suspect that I might have to refrain from shouting: How could you NOT like this book?

Dinner is the story of Pearl Tull, a hard-working, determined, emotionally distant and bitter woman left to raise three children on her own. The book covers four decades in the lives of Pearl and her three children, Cody, Ezra, and Jenny. Cody is smart and handsome, but spiteful and plotting, and so envious of his brother Ezra that it consumes him. Ezra, soft, doughy, and somewhat clumsy as a boy, is a peace-maker, the kind of person who wants to make everybody happy, even at the risk of his own happiness. He offers care for others in their woundedness and is loved for it, except by his siblings, who scoff at his efforts. Jenny, though determined like her mother, struggles to not be a stiff-lipped control-freak like Pearl, and she finally settles into a chaotic family life that seems to bring her some sort of purpose and acceptance of life, if not peace, in its total disorganization.

Each chapter of the book focuses on a different character, sometimes presenting the events totally from the perspective of that character. One chapter, in the middle of the book and in the middle of the chronology of the plot, is even written in the present tense, which I found a little disconcerting. When I read a book where the narrative perspective changes, I find myself wondering who the book is really about. The first several chapters of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant appear to be about Pearl. But, then the book changes, and seems to be about Ezra and Cody, stuck in a life-long struggle, like Esau and Jacob. Sometimes the book feels like it is about Ezra, but then the reader's perspective is swayed, and you feel like it is really about Cody who can never quite leave his family behind, no matter how desperately he tries to distance himself. In the end, the book isn't about any one of them, but about a family; a dysfunctional one for sure, but a family nonetheless. Reflecting the name of Ezra's restaurant, The Homesick, an underlying theme in the book is that although one may hate one's family, one is often wistful that we can gather into families where all are happy and without regret, homesick for the family we want, not the one we may have. Like Tolstoy's famous opening line of Anna Karenina, we are reminded that such idealized notions don't exist. 'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is not a happy book. It's characters all have flaws -- like any human being. This unhappiness is why I suspect that people in my book group may not like it. But, I think it is what makes the book so good. Tyler's novel is beautifully crafted, and, despite the sadness and gloom of the lives of the Tull's, is a great book to read.

14 June 2009

What are you reading this summer?

Poets and Writers Magazine posed the question on their FaceBook page Friday: What's your summer reading list? I don't usually have a specific reading plan, regardless of the season, but it seemed a good time to look at some of the books that I have 'on deck'. My resolve to not buy any books this year hasn't held, but I have made a slight progress through the mountains of unread books. My list is 10 books, and 3 books of poems. Probably a bit idealistic, but I on extended summer until the first frost, I may be able to complete at least 50% of this list. What is your summer reading list?


The Time Traveler's Wife. Audrey Niffenegger. My book group read this a few months ago, but it was during a period when I was busy with work, so I only completed the first few chapters. Reading LitLove's recent review has brought this back towards the top of the reading pile.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler. This is the selection for my book group this month. This has been on a list of books to read for years. I'm looking forward to reading this.

City of Thieves, David Benioff. In a weak moment, (as far as my "no new books" rule) I was talked into buying this by a clerk at Border's. I have only read the first few pages so far -- not enough for it to capture my full attention, although I have heard very promising things about this book.

Short stories:
In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway. I was thinking about this book recently, and was prompted to buy a copy when I was bookbrowsing in Paris. Yes, it's an American writer, a book in English, but I was at Shakespeare and Company, a place where Hemingway hung out in the 20s, so buying a book by him while there didn't seem so out of place, just a bit touristy. Courtney wrote a few weeks ago about launching a "Haunted by Hemingway" reading group. I hope she includes this book.


Mark Bittman Food Matters. I purchased this book several weeks ago and was eager to read it immediately, but was disappointed when I opened the book to realize that the first page was page 53. I did exchange it for a copy that had all of the pages -- and in the right order -- but it seems to be a book that I'm reading in short spurts. Somewhere in the stacks are other books by Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, and Barbara Kingsolver on food and ethics of eating local and organic.

My Stroke Of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor. I'm reading this for another book discussion group. A brain scientist, Bolte Taylor was able to learn about her area of expertise in a way few of her peers ever had when she had a devastating stroke at 37. This book is about insights learned during her long recovery.

Leaving Mum and Pup, Christopher Buckley. I saw an interview with Buckley a few weeks ago and was intrigued enough to go buy his book. The first few chapters have made me laugh in parts, and, in other parts, sympathize with his pain over the deaths of his parents. I've read about a third of the book, and while it can't help but be name-dropping -- it's about Bill Buckley the standard-bearer of conservatism for decades, for christssakes -- there is something in this book that goes beyond the celebrity nature of Buckley's parents. I'll probably write a post about this book at some point. I have a copy of one of Christopher Buckley's novels that a friend gave me a few years ago. It promptly made its way to the bookshelf with the cover not even having been opened. I may find that book when I'm done with this, as I do like his prose style.

Letters On Cezanne, Rainer Maria Rilke. Another book that I've had for some time. Rilke's letters to his wife regarding multiple visits to a Cezanne exhibit. I find writing about art very difficult because I do not have the vocabulary of an art critic. These letters, though, are not a critique, but a description of a personal experience with the paintings. I'm planning to avoid the lengthy commentary at the beginning of the book until after I read through the letters.

I usually have a book or two with a theological or spiritual focus that I'm reading. Right now it is L William Countryman's The Poetic Imagination: An Anglican Spiritual Tradition. I am expecting a heavy dose of Donne and Herbert in this book, but I am mostly interested in reading this because I have an interest in exploring the intersection of spirituality and art. This may be a bit too academic for "summer reading" -- maybe for any kind of light reading.

Always have a few books of poetry that are close at hand for perusing, rather than languishing on the bookshelf. Current volumes are:

Sixty Poems by Charles Simic
After by Jane Hirshfield.

While in Paris, I purchased Into the Deep Street: Seven Modern French Poets, 1938 - 2008. The poems are in both the original French, and translated into English. This may take a long time for me to get through, but it should be interesting and challenging. I am unfamiliar with the 7 poets in the volume: Jean Follain, Henri Thomas, Philippe Jaccottet, Jacques Reda, Paul de Roux, Guy Goffette, Gilles Ortlieb. Actually, I'm unfamiliar with any contemporary French poet.

And, as for working on my French skills, I had to purchase a copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Le Petit Prince while I was in Paris. A favorite of mine since childhood, I use to have a copy in french that I first purchased in Paris 30 years ago, but I couldn't find it recently when I wanted to. I'll probably reread this again soon.

That's enough to last me through the season and beyond. We'll see how many of these are read in the next few months or what other books may grab my attention.

I'd love to read what you is on your summer reading lists. Leave it in the comments.

10 June 2009

Celebration of Life at Six - OR - I love my nephew, but my sister can never read this post!

Imagine a cinematic depiction of the most nightmarishly chaotic child's birthday party.

Now imagine that the scene lasts twice as long as necessary in this hypothetical movie: the audience has understood the point; it's time to move on.

Nothing could be that bad, right? But, for the sake of expanding one's knowledge -- or just to experience some party-crashing fun -- extend the scene into complete steadycam coverage of the 90-minute party. Except, here is the catch: while it may be theatre, it isn't film and there are no funny outtakes.

That is the how I spent my evening.

Kindergartners running rampant in the house. Toddling babies moving too quickly for their grandmas to catch them in a non-infant proof house with steps leading into every room. Food choices consisting of cold, greasy pizza and chocolate-dipped fruit arranged like flowers on plastic GIJoe spears stuck into a Sponge-Bob bucket. Drink: no sugar (good), no caffeine (bad), and wine in a jug so large, so Brobdingnagian, that it makes the extra-super, super-sized Tub-O-Coke at the QuikMart look like an palate-cleansing aperitif.

Orchestrate the scene to a soundtrack of a performance by STOMP! with harmony provided by a lively Labrador, located in the laundry, with a wood door as a washboard accompaniment, capable of performing simultaneously in two distinct voices: a high-octave yelp and a window-rattling, basso profundo woof.

And, to think that the sugar wasn't even introduced until the last half hour, served suitably, if not predictably, atop store-bought chocolate cake.

As we left the party, I turned to my recently injured son, hobbling out to the car without crutches, and asked: Got Vicodin?

For more party snarking, surf over to Cake Wrecks and laugh while you rubber-neck at some other party disasters.

08 June 2009

Economic Balancing Acts

The theme for the current issue of Qarrtsiluni is Economy. Browsing the site this evening and reading a few of the entries posted thus far this month, was all of a writing prompt I needed. After writing the poem below -- which certainly could benefit from additional revisions at a later date -- I listened to audio clip from 1-Jun, an interview with a Newfoundland resident, which gave me the last line for this poem.

Also linked on ReadWritePoem, prompt #77.

Economic Balancing Acts

Stretch dollars
till the green fades
and the faces blur
and you strain to hear
the clink of coins.

Stretch pot roast:
three lunches, two dinners,
the potatoes thinned to the point
of not remembering the dank,
loamy dirt of their birth.

Cramped in economy
class, with no room
for flailing arms
or growing legs
or new shoots,

You must conserve your movements,
and your thoughts,
and all divinations
for the future of your humanity.
Turbulence will leave your skins bruised.

Conserve your finances.
Conserve your energy.
Conserve your life.
Keep from others what you do not
want loose in the world.

Check your pulse.
Wear a crash helmet.
Catch your breath.
Avoid late blight.
Know your heart's capacity.

Know your heart's capacity.
No bailouts are needed;
only manage your own household.
Memorize all the thresholds of
the many-chambered dwellingplaces:

hidden caves,
deep, ancient crevasses,
undiscovered streams --
so you do not forget
your tuberous roots.

What you give, you'll never miss.

29 May 2009

While thy Booke doth live

Thou art a Moniment, without a tombe,
And art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,
And we have wits to read, and praise to give.

- Ben Jonson "To the memory of my beloved, The Author Mr. William Shakespeare: And what he hath left us:

A suitably bookish thing to do on a sunny afternoon in Paris is to stroll through the Latin Quarter and stop to browse for books here:

or here:

Liked the signboard outside the shop:

28 May 2009

Art High

I've had a dream before, where I am in the Musuem of Modern Art, New York: There is a particular spot, between two galleries, where I could lie on the floor, or float perhaps, to soak up the art around me. In this spot, one could turn in one direction and see one of Monet's paintings of waterlillies. In the other direction, you would find a grouping of Brancusi sculptures. To your left, colorful masses replicating the effect of light on water and flowers. To your right, almost colorless, almost mass-less, sculptures defining a shapeless spirit. One a breaking down into parts of light to see what we don't always notice; the other a distillation of beings -- bird, tree, human -- into the simplest of forms, so that we can see beyond form alone to the spirit of the thing.

The first time I saw the grouping of Brancusi works, I had walked around the corner from another gallery to be stunned by this collection of sculpture; I gasped. When I later decided to move along to other parts of the museum, I turned slowly from the work to see, through the doorway to the next gallery, the large Monet painting, its familiar blue and mauve colors, making me smile like I was seeing an old friend.

There was a tug on me from these two very different installations: the many parts to see the one, the one to see the many. Is it any wonder I have since dreamed of being able to move around these works, undisturbed, in solitude? It is a nice dream.

This week, while not dreaming, nor able to circulate freely around artwork without hinderances of security features and other museum visitors, I was able to see works by both Brancusi and Monet. A bit of an art high for me.

First, Monet, at the L'Orangerie:

These works were created for this building, designed specifically for the curved walls of the L'Orangerie. Renovations to the building, completed a few years ago, adding skylights so that the works can be seen in a subtle, diffused, natural light. There is a tangible feeling of cool and calmness in these rooms that cannot be captured by a photograph of the paintings (as if any photo could capture a painting!).

Details from the larger work:

Then, Brancusi's Atelier, at the Centre Pompidou:

Brancusi left the contents of his workshop to France, with the condition that his studio be recreated as-is. In later years, Brancusi did not sculpt, but worked on the arrangments of his works in his studio, grouping them in various ways. With the aid of photographs, his workshop has been recreated. It's unfortunate that for security reasons the studios are set behind glass, but, you can observe the entire collection as a whole without having other patrons walking amongst the sculptures, taking away from the setting.

Brancusi lived with his sculptures. Note the loft area where he slept in the photo below, as well as the golf clubs on the wall, and a guitar in the back. See second photo below for enlarged detail of back of studio.

I also like this view as you can see the entrance into the studio. It too has a roundness of form that complements Brancusi's sculpted heads.

Here is a video clip from a 1996 Charlie Rose broadcast, with the late art critic, Kirk Varnedoe, discussing Brancusi. About 8 minutes into the segment, Varnedoe discusses Brancusi's arrangments in his studio.

Perhaps later I'll post on some of my other art-viewing adventures in Paris this week.

12 May 2009

Spring: unfurled, unseen

Spring unfurled unseen.
In times interwoven with rain
the warmth penetrated, luminous
diamond pipes between drops,
soaking into the loam, finding possibilities
archived from the shedding of previous years,
only faint jasmine scents of pleasures
in the gardens of Alhambra.

I forgot to listen at night
for the furtive sounds of the shoots
climbing a steady moon-lit path,
past decaying leaves to stand still
at dawn like vampires, lest they be seen.

And what of such duplicity?
What covenant with angels unknown have they made
that keeps secrets disguised by chlorophyll --
their colors so bright, so luminescent
that they hide behind ordinary greens --
so that we can never be
what they have always known?

12 April 2009

If Jesus Was on Facebook

Happy Easter!

I thought this was clever: The Passion: Facebook Editon.

04 April 2009

Can you spare a word?

The following was posted on the Read, Write, Poem site. This is part of an yet-to-be announced "assignment". A writing prompt, I assume.

Poet, Can You Spare a Word (or 50)?

This is part two of Welcome to NaPoWriMo Day! For future use this month (don’t worry, you’ll find out why soon enough), please use the above statement in an email to a poetry pal. Ask someone you know well, or ask someone you barely know (check out our participant page, perhaps, or the sign up list in the intro post here) for a list of 50 words. Feel free to ask for interesting words. Ask for wild words. Ask for mean words. All you really need is a list of 50 words and a poet (or two) willing to provide them. Stay tuned for your 50-word assignment(s)!

Can you provide me with a few words? Leave them in the comments. I'll use them in some way related to the prompt when it is posted and share the results with you. Those of you who have followed me for a while know that I don't follow rules very well, but I'll try to do it without stretching the boundaries into something unrecognizable.

Thanks for your contribution. Think of it as a contribution to National Poetry Month.

31 March 2009

Poem here and gone

Surrounding me, filling me,
a truth found, waiting impatiently,
to be chiseled in stone, written on the heart.
Ego satisfied, sitting back
in awe of the perfect poem.

Slipping through my hands
before the pen, leaving only
the forlorn residue of escaped words,
finding the quick path to immortality
somewhere near the horizon line,
filling in between the trees,
expanding around the clouds.

Seen. Unseen.
Forgotten. Felt.
Out of grasp of hand and tongue.

17 March 2009

Kiss My Fat Ass, Laura Ingraham

Anyone who read this blog during the most recent election knows that I'm not a Republican. This is not an ode to Meghan McCain, about the current strife over identity and direction in the Republican Party, or even about Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham. I know little about Ms. McCain, Coulter, or Ingraham, other than that one is a famous daughter of a political family, one a cultural critic whose approach to her ideology (and reproach to those who disagree with her) is too distasteful and disrespectful for me to read, and the last I recognize in name only as a conservative media personality. I could not have told you prior to this week if Laura Ingraham opinions appeared in print, on broadcast media, or on the Internet -- or all three.

Meghan McCain recently has written on her blog on The Daily Beast criticizing Ann Coulter and the Republican Party, claiming that they are out of touch, offering little to younger voters. Laura Ingraham, taking umberage with McCain's comments did not attach her views. Rather, she commented about McCain's body size, calling her 'plus size'. McCain's response on The View yesterday: "Kiss my fat ass!"

Kudos to Ms. McCain for clearly identifying two important points: 1. personal attacks do not cultivate intentional, effective discourse; and 2. it is ridiculous to buy into the current unrealistic media images regarding body size. McCain is a size 8 - 10.

To attack McCain's appearance because her opinions differ is unbelievable for someone with a national audience -- or anywhere. What does one's appearance have with one's capabilities? Nothing! Ingraham, continuing her childish spat with McCain today, called her a idiot and a pawn of the liberal media. Unable to sustain her comments from a few days ago, and apparently unable to counter McCain's comments about the failure of the Republican Party to attract young voters, Ingraham continued her ad hominem attack on McCain. She has not moved forward any sort of reasonable debate with McCain and others who have criticized the Republican Party. It would appear that she doesn't care too. Perhaps Ingraham has unwittingly proved McCain's point of why some conservatives are out of touch.

That Ingraham would even suggest that McCain's weight has any bearing on her opinions, her writing, or her capability to comment on current political or cultural events is so beyond the pale of acceptable debate. One's weight should not have any bearing on one's professional capabilities. Haven't women been fighting this type of thing for years - that women must conform to certain stereotypical ideals in order to be acceptable? Had a man said what Ingraham said, he would have been vilified, perhaps asked to resign from his job (cf: Don Imus). In most workplaces, a man would have been fired if his opinions of a women's appearance were made known.

Yet, women often put up with this. We are barraged by unreasonable, unrealistic images of what we are 'suppose' to look like and are considered failures if we don't. As someone who works in a young company, I am one of the 'older' people in the office (I'm in my late 40's). Rarely is anything said about men in my office -- most of them much younger than me -- having gray hair. While nobody has said anything discriminatory to me regarding my quickly silvering hair, I have had many women ask me why I don't dye it. "Aren't you afraid what people will think?" "Will you dye it if you have to look for a new job?" "People will think that you don't care what you look like."

What? I'm always neatly clothed, even for a work environment that is jeans and tee shirts, wear makeup in the office, have nicely styled hair. How could anyone think that I didn't care about my appearance?

Like gray hair, weight is an issue. I've heard comments from men who have had beer bellies for 10 years and hair growing out of their ears regarding women who have a bit too much weight on their backsides, or heavy legs, or flabby arms. And we let them get away with it. We don't stand up against it. We do it to ourselves.

Women shouldn't put up with anyone verbalizing these ideas. We especially can't let other women do it. We can't perpetuate these weight-obsessed images with negative comments about how we look. We need to fight back for ourselves and our daughters -- size 8 is nowhere near a 'plus size'. And is it necessary to call any size a 'plus'? Being healthy and accepting of one's body type -- whatever it may be: curvy, slender, buxom, athletic -- is what we should celebrate. Not adhering to some unhealthy media image is the right thing to do.

Join me in echoing Meghan McCain's retort to Laura Ingraham, telling all who think that it is funny, snarky, or a legitimate response to disagreement to suggest that one's capabilities are determined by the size of one's skirt: KISS MY FAT ASS.

You can read Meghan McCain's response to Ingraham here.

14 March 2009

Writer's Block?

I was speaking with an acquaintance yesterday, who called me from BVI where she lives in the winter. We were speaking about some events that have impacted both of us and many friends, trying to come to terms with our feelings. I had written an email to her earlier in the day.

"You write so well", she said, "you should do so more often".

I found myself saying "I used to write a blog..." I startled as I realized I had used the past tense.

"You should do so more often," she said.

Yes, I should, but I just haven't been able to sit down, clear my thoughts and write for so long. Funny how the longer one goes avoiding something, the more daunting it becomes. Even when I have drafted something in my head, I have been unable to get it down with pen and paper or keyboard and screen. Posts about books and movies and plays, about daffodils and bleeding hearts starting to poke through the leaves in the woods or pictures the old dead stump of a tree that is about to fall, about the small joys of family, or how I've struggled to recognize the good in a difficult employee and suddenly we are able to laugh even when we disagree; about how writing status updates in 160 characters is too confining to me and that I think Facebook for finding high school friends is stupid, but that it has been a wonderful tool for communicating with a specific circle of friends, even in times of crisis: all of these and more would have been great posts; perhaps some will appear in the future.

In the grand scheme of things, I'm not worried about not being able to write again --it is temporary -- but I wonder how much of this is a general malaise that I see in many of my friends right now. I don't know if it's being at mid-life, if it's the economy, if it's only because it is still winter, despite the recent warmer days, but it seems that everyone I am friends with is going through some sort of major life stress -- stress at work, fear of losing their jobs and the fear of not being able to find another one, sickness, death of elderly relatives, struggling relationships, pain from one kind of loss or another.

It is all very real, painful; psyches bobbing in rough wakes. Not quite gale force winds in open seas, but stormy. It can wear you down and make it seem like there isn't time, or strength, or determination to do things like write.

As I read through this, I can predict that some people might conclude that I'm depressed. Let me assure you that it isn't something as drastic as that. It isn't as if I can't laugh, can't enjoy family and friends, or am ready to jump off cliffs real or metaphoric. It is only that writing is the activity that is getting squeezed shut right now.

Thanks to those of you who periodically stop by here. I don't intend to let the past tense to describe permanently this blog. But I don't know if I'll be back here tomorrow, or next week, or in a few months.


08 February 2009

Holy Water

A guest post, by David J. Marsh

Knowing how nearby Walden slept, I had gone to bed the previous evening like a grade schooler – hopped up on the stimulant of an impending field trip – the pillow proving an obnoxious barrier between myself and wonder. Late into the night, I had flipped from one position to the next like a fish in the grass. And having no memory of having found sleep, I was shocked to consciousness by the blare of my wife’s cell phone alarm. Unlike that little kid, I had a most miserable time getting out of bed, and a foundational need for strong black coffee. Tall Americano. No, make it a grande – big day today.

Sunlight flickered across the dash, pulsating within and slightly warming the cabin of the rental car as we made our way up Route 126, having left Marlborough after a light breakfast an hour or so before. I was drowsy, relaxed and happy.

If my map reading skills and recollection prove trustworthy (you’ll not risk insult by checking), Route 126 becomes Concord Road just south of Concord, and before reaching the Pond transforms itself into Walden Street, preparing to meld into lovely Concord, Mass. At some point a few miles south of town, nestled in-between spacious lawns, is a lush community garden plot. It must be several acres, announcing itself with a sort of arch, lettering painted or pinned to it, declaring its purpose. As I anticipated the day ahead, I found this to be especially quaint, as we don’t see this sort of thing so much in the Midwest. We read about it in progressive magazines, but somehow we fail in the execution. I suppose I may have over-reacted a bit in response to this cultural artifact. Forgive me, for I was by that point brimming with the anticipation that I surely must be within only a few thousand yards of the hallowed kettle. I should mention that we were on a family vacation, a road trip. The back of the car was packed with our three offspring (our very greatest legacy), and all the trimmings. Our final destination was Cape Cod. I had lobbied long and somewhat hard for this detour in the itinerary. The stop was for me. Sure, someday the kids would come to recognize where they had been, and my wife had a passing knowledge of the importance of the place, but it was I who felt the urgency to visit this cathedral of American letters.

I knew little of what to expect. I had read the book, of course, and had been to the web site, sparse though it is. As we drove, I could not recall if his cabin was still there. That would certainly be an embarrassing question to ask. (I did ask. I asked an overly youthful attendant at the bathhouse. I figured I may not know about the cabin, but I had read the book…more than once. Surely the scoreboard would favor me.)

We arrived well ahead of many other visitors. I wondered what other visitors would mark such a milestone in their lives with a visit today. The bookstore was not yet open. All the cars in the lot could have parked in my driveway. Crossing the road and descending the incline, my first view of Walden Pond saw not a human in sight. She lay in the clear morning, a diorama, not a ripple, still – like one of those fake ponds behind the stuffed bear in a state museum, made out of some sort of epoxy that slowly fades into a landscape painted on the wall. The Pond is large – much larger than you think. Where I call home, northern Indiana, such a body of water would be termed a lake. Ponds are tiny and overgrown as far as my kin are concerned…certainly not large enough for a boat, and in no way suitable for human contact.

What a fine job of preservation she had enjoyed. Many women, I know, would delight in the opportunities she has enjoyed at being aided in retaining her youth. Either a diligent conservationist had been through the evening before, or there was a sacred understanding that littering here would bring existential turmoil. (Allow me to prefer the latter, won’t you?) The site is pristine, an outdoor, interactive American original. No discolor, no odor, no scum…would that I had a vat of her in which to soak my feet at the start of this New Year, or better, I suppose, a winter visit to see the bubbles trapped under the edges of her icy skirt.

As I reviewed the map, I thought, how fortunate is Walden. There seem to be others who could have stolen her glory. HDT could’ve set his compass on Flints or Farrar. If he’d desired less H2O, there may have been Crosby, Goose, or any number of others vying for his attention. Walden, however, was easily accessed; it was on the rail line, fell nearly due south of town (remotely at the time) and was only a short hike from his parent’s house. Location, location, location.

The morning saw us hike the entire circumference of the pond, taking the better part of a couple of hours. All along there were small places to sit – enough of an easement for only one or two – a few steep steps made of rock to lower you to water’s edge – a promotion of solitude. At one point was a pass, a land bridge just enough to separate the pond proper from a marsh…such a marsh as could’ve been a watering hole to mammoths, so untouched.

The sun overhead, we returned to the car to grab our swimsuits and change. It was here, that a graceful old gentleman, with an accent that sang a tune under his words, gave my son a beachball he had found. He was careful to explain that he would have had to either take it home or bequeath to another, as to leave it to the elements would not be an option in such a place. My son was delighted. I imagined myself living closer to the Pond, balding, retired. My respect even greater than it is now, I would come each evening and carefully inspect her shoreline for foreign objects and clear her eyes of splinters. I would tell no one. It would be my contribution to her office, my way of rubbing elbows with the ghosts who rest just a few miles hence in Sleepy Hollow.

Late afternoon, I climbed up out of the water, past the many other bathers and sat down in my lounge chair, to warm myself in the sunshine. I had just gone swimming with my kids in Walden Pond. I turned to my wife, and said (borrowing from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.),

“If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is”.

01 February 2009

I'm Back -- with survey results

It has been almost a month since my Year End survey closed, but I had yet to post results. I decided today, that if I didn't do it today, I might never. Sometimes it's hard to get back into something if you leave it too long. But, I felt I couldn't post on anything else if I didn't publish the results. I wish more people had participated this year; maybe next year I'll do something different. So, here are the results

1. Favorite book you read this year:

Wesley the Owl

Imperium (nonfiction)

Paper Towns (YA)

Chess Story (Short fiction)

Stranger on a Train, Jenny Diski

The Gone Away World, Nick Haraway

2. Favorite Blog you read regularly:

Bookfoolery and Babble

Tales from the Reading Room

"I have too many to play favorites"

"I can't choose one favourite. I keep my blogroll small because it is the people I look forward to reading".

"I have a long list of blogs I read. I can't keep up with all of them on a daily basis. What I read each day depends on how much time I have and what sort of blog I want to read. I read some blogs that are strictly book reviews, others more general topics, some criticism, so it really just depends on my mood and available time. The problem with not reading some blogs every day is that you lose out on the comments discussions as others have moved on to more recent posts."

3. What surprised you most about blogging this year?

"How international blogging really is."

"How wide-spread the blog phenomena have become."

"How I really have come to know some bloggers, and regard them as friends. Sure, I only have a limited perspective presented in their blogs, in emails, etc., but I only present certain faces in some public arenas. I'm not sure what to call them if not friends."

"I didn't expect to get to meet so many bloggers in real life and to have online interaction with them in places other than my blog (email, Facebook, Twitter)."

"What always surprises me is that anyone out there wants to read what I write! And also, that a fair number of people are very interested in shoes."

4. Did your blogging change this year? Why?

"More posts."

"Yes, I feel as though the character of my blog 'settled' a bit and that my writing became freer."

"I began to post less frequently than in previous years, mostly because I have less time than I used to and perhaps a bit less energy too."
"It reduced, because I have less time at home."

"I thought I had posted less frequently but I checked and I had the same number of posts last year. I wrote less about books this year, but I also read fewer books."

5. How many books did you read this year?

21 -50 1 respondent

51-75 3 respondents

76-100 1 respondent

6. How frequently do you post?

1 -2 times a week - 2

3 -5 times a week - 2

daily - 0

1 -4 times a month - 0

Randomly - 1

7. If you participated in any sort of blogging challenge, how did it impact what you read and what you wrote? Did it challenge any assumptions you had? Change the way you read or wrote? etc.

"I hosted the Southern Reading Challenge. It opened my eyes to the amount of readers a little Mississippi blog could generate. I did add more "southern" posts during the challenge."

"The only thing challenges end up doing is frustrating me. I say I'm going to read many things, but the nature of my reading is more impulsive and I really like it that way. I still ended up reading and blogging on whatever I felt like. I don't know why I bother to do challenges, but I will probably do a few more next year."

"I didn't participate in any challenges. I'm trying to keep my reading plans as open as possible."

"I tried to participate in a reading challenge, and realised they are not for me. Even though I just fitted what I already wanted to read into the challenge, as soon as I committed to reading those books, I didn't want to. But, I thoroughly enjoyed NaBloPoMo, even though it was a lot of pressure. It showed me that I could find more blogging time when pushed (although I have fallen back into my old ways since)."

"I am always tempted to join every reading challenge I come across, but I've learned not to make commitments, since I never seem to meet the challenge. I do follow some of them though, as I discover interesting books that I might want to read. "

8. Participants:

Maggie Blogging since 2005

Ted Blogging for 1.5 years

Dorothy W Blogging for 2 1/2 years

Becky Blogging almost 2 years

Thanks to those who participated and thanks to all of you who continue to stop by my blog to help blow away the cobwebs. I intend to be posting more regularly in Feb and beyond. It was good to be away -- but it's always great to return to home!