Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sailing Alone Around the Universe

Sailing Alone Around the Room is one of my favorite collections of poetry by Billy Collins. I like poetry that doesn't require a Ph.D. to figure out. But, I'm not going to talk about Billy. Although he is a fine subject for another time. I'm just going to borrow his book and poem title, paraphrase it, because that's what came to my sleep-deprived brain. It's the middle of the night and I can't sleep. Again. So, what do I do? I go on The Cosmic Path, an astrology site I check out from time to time. Okay, okay, every week. It's sort of an interesting, semi-pleasant way to pass the time. I don't know how much stock you put in these things. I try not to get all tangled up in assessments and projections of what my life is like, or going to be like. According to the Universe and all. Maybe it's part of my control issues. I gotta tell you, though, this week is supposed to be the week to end all weeks. This is The Week That Was. This is the culmination of all sorts of things and new beginnings for a bunch of other stuff. If you don't believe me, check it out. and see for yourself. Blue moon, lunar eclipse and all.

We're going to be "revising and releasing." There will be "disclosures and door closings" (have you noticed how astrologers seem to like using alliteration?). We'll be "tying up loose ends." No alliteration there, but I've heard that before. "Loose ends" defines my life. Then what will I do? She tells us the "metaphoric paring knife is out." Yikes! I never like it when they talk about kitchen knives. I know that's supposed to bode well in this case, but I gotta tell ya, paring knives doesn't sound good. Never has.

One of the things that caught my attention is that this week supposedly ties into stuff that happened in 2001. Now, I don't know about you, but besides the obvious biggie, I had my own personal 9/11 that year and I don't intend to go back there. Why not just tell me I have to be 12 years old again and finish me off for good? Yes, there is an upside to it. It sounds like it's all about personal empowerment, getting our mojo back and stuff like that. It's actually narrowed down to a lunar eclipse that happened on December 30, 2001. Remember what you were doing that night? I do. I was en route to my new life in Santa Fe. Literally. It sounds wonderful, right? Wrong. I was in the emotional fight, or was that flight, of my life. Going head-long into a life I'd always dreamed of, but with the unappealing, bordering-on-harrowing (no, it was definitely harrowing, no bordering), experience of my life. Yet again. To borrow and paraphrase a line from "Dumb and Dumber," 'She's a little slow.' Boy and girl relationships have not been my forte. I have not fared well in the courtship game part of life. Some might even say I didn't play well. Or fairly. As Mark Twain once said, "Things ne'er do go smoothly in weddings, suicides and courtships." You're tellin' me.

Anyway, Rob Brezny, my favorite astrologer, yes, I checked out another site, tells me that characters dressed in medieval garb right out of the Tarot, i.e. the warrior, the magician, and the priestess, are going to help me find the wild blackberries that are growing on more accessible branches.They're ripe and ready for the pickin' and I get to eat them. I hope I get to have cream with them. I'm also hoping the punctuation police aren't walking up to my door at this moment. And that this gal at Cosmic Path is right and the Universe is supplying her with all sorts of signals and symbols that point to this year being The year. The, meaning good stuff is going to happen.

She says, "Sweep out the old and immerse yourself in time present. That's where you live: now. And that's where each day of next year will take place: in the now."  Now. That works for me. Been workin' on that one. A lot.

Blue Moon Lunar Eclipse?  Let's Dance.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I'll Be Home For Christmas, But Not With Faron Young

It's nigh on four in the morning and I couldn't sleep so I thought I might as well get up and do something half-way constructive. I hope this qualifies.

I'm leaving Texas at daybreak and heading north. I want to be home for Christmas. Every time I use the phrase, "It's four in the morning," I can't help but think of Faron Young. He had a song a whole bunch of years ago with that title. He's another bad boy whose dark, good looks caught my attention at an early age. He was quite a bit older than I, but he looked out at me from those album covers and I did a fair amount of looking back. I was young and foolish.

Many years later, when I was in my songwriting phase, I was hanging out at the bar in the Holiday Inn in Nashville and there he was. From the next table over, he leaned in to do a little flirting. I remember feeling absolutely frozen. It was Faron Young, for Pete's sake. He looked as handsome as ever and none the worse for wear. He and Patsy Cline had a torrid affair back in the early '60's (just a bit of trivia). Anyway, Faron took his own life in 1996, and I've always wished I'd flirted back a bit more. Just a bit.

I left Santa Fe a couple of weeks ago and headed down to Texas to visit my sister, Chris. Chris is the former tomboy of the family who used to gussy up her homemade knives with some classy woodburning. She and her hubby, Frank, live in the hill country, west of San Antonio. I love the rolling hills, the live oak, and the longhorns, but the winding roads (and I do mean winding) are always a challenge for my motion sickness issue. Driving over to Comfort is less than comfortable, but the end result is lunch at an outdoor table amongst the trees, which always includes some killer scones with cheese and jalapenos.

Her house sits not too far from the Guadalupe River. That is one beautiful river. When I think of the river of life we are all floating down, I think of the Guadalupe. It's so clear and there's a peaceful quality along its banks. Along with a few gnarly old trees, it has some pretty big boulders.

I spent a few days there with them and their miniature schnauzer, Dixie Chick. She is the sweetest little thing, and we get along famously. She's always happy to see me and keeps me well-entertained with her goofy antics. I think I'll post a picture I took of her when she was just a young 'un. It was taken at the breakfast table at their place down in Port Isabel. No, she isn't allowed to eat at the table, or beg for food while circling it. But, still, somehow she ended up there and she was just so cute ... which brings me to the next leg of my journey, here on the Gulf, where I've been for the past week.

Port Isabel sits on the Gulf,  just before you head over the Queen Isabella Causeway to South Padre Island. It's been a week of overcast skies, but much warmer than Minnesota, so it's been a good place to be. Palm trees and flowering shrubs and quiet walks at night along the canals off the Gulf make for a nice way to spend a week in December. The shrimp aren't bad either.

I head out shortly. Real shortly. I'm all packed and ready to go. Now I'm just stalling. Once I get in the car and get a few miles under me, I'll probably start singing Elvis Christmas songs. Good thing I'm traveling alone.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

And the Beat Goes On...

I was going to write about music but got sidetracked by Jack Kerouac. Tonight, I just want to concentrate on Jack.

I was going through some books I hadn't paid attention to in a while. One of my favorites is, Angelheaded Hipster, by Steve Turner. One of the great things about this book is that it has a lot of pictures. Pictures are good, especially pictures of Jack. I could look at pictures of Jack for the next hundred years and never tire of them. But then, I never had the misfortune of actually being his wife or one of his girlfriends.

I fell madly, divinely in love with him the winter of 1970. I believe I may have mentioned in an earlier post my little problem of falling in love with dead men. When I read, On the Road, for the first time, I was in heaven. Beatnik heaven. I loved his jazzy talk, his wide-eyed wonder, and his desire to rush headlong into life, guns ablazing. I have a diary from that time and I actually wrote down, 'He's one gone cat.'  Seriously. It was that bad. I think it was his smile, but I also had a secret penchant for bad boys. Bad boys who walked the razor's edge quietly stole my heart again and again. Jack was one of them. After reading, On the Road, I discovered he had died just weeks before. I was bereft.

I went on to read everything he ever wrote. When I read Dharma Bums, I knew I'd read what would become one of my favorite books of all time - that's out of a fair amount of books - and it still holds true. He has a style of writing referred to as stream-of-consciousness. It takes a few pages to get into the swing of things, but once you get his cadence down it's pure magic.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts from several years back is a CD of Jack himself reading sections of, On the Road. I've listened to it while driving down parts of old Route 66. It includes a recording of him singing, "My Funny Valentine." Man, that is some kinda cool.

I decided not to post the usual photos of Jack that we see but to include two of my favorites, pictures that show him caught in a moment in time. The one on top has notations underneath by Allen Ginsberg. It was taken in New York City when Jack was writing, The Subterraneans, and is dated "Fall, 1953." The other is Jack tuning into a radio station.  Sigh.

Looking through Angelheaded Hipster today reminded me of how fun it was to be young and full of expectation, feeling invincible, like anything is possible. But, I wouldn't trade now and what I know now for anything in the world. And loving bad boys is one of those things that sounds better in theory. Even so, I still miss him.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Camel Ride I Didn't Take

A few posts ago, I talked about my sixth-grade class trip. It triggered a host of memories, hidden by time, starting with the golden horses. When I was in Santa Fe recently, I went out to visit my stuff at my storage unit and to look for photographs that might be fun to use in illustrating future posts. Lo and behold, I ran across a couple of photographs I'd taken with my very first camera while on that trip. They were tucked in the pocket of an old suitcase - the golden horses on top of the capitol and one of St. Paul's Cathedral in the distance, taken from my perch next to the horses. I know the double-exposed one of my class and the capitol exists because I saw it not too long ago. I may have made the near-fatal mistake of using it for a bookmark. God help me if I really want to find it someday.

As I mentioned previously, standing outside next to these horses was exciting, but climbing the circular stairway, hidden behind an old door-way leading up to them, was the real adventure. I was a big Nancy Drew fan and this had all the ingredients of a mystery novel in the making. I made an attempt at writing a mystery novel when I was about ten, but I must have gotten distracted and The Mystery of the Swinging Potato Sack never got written. More about that, perhaps, some other time.

I visited St. Paul's Cathedral thirty years later and spent a wonderful hour or so wandering around inside, getting a feeling for the history that this place represents. And, although I am not a Catholic, I lit a candle in the stations of the cross passageway behind the altar for reasons that remain known only to me.There were several nice photo opps around the outside of the cathedral, angles and angels made out of stone.

Another memory it triggered was a previous visit to Como Zoo when I was even younger. I must have been five when my parents took Jane and me to a suburb of Minneapolis to visit my Aunt Gertrude, Dad's sister. A visit to the zoo was one of our adventures. Among the more memorable things were the very smelly orangutans, who performed for us in their own, uh, inimitable way, a bumpy, but wonder-inducing ride on a giant tortoise, and a camel, which I didn't ride. Shortly before we left, my dad was talking to the man who held the reins of this camel. Next thing I know, the man asked me if I wanted to ride him. In my fearful youth, I balked, shook my head no, and could not be budged. I remember wanting to, very badly. I kept looking up at it and thinking, 'How do I sit on him?'  My dad understood the value of having adventures and he wanted me to have this one, but my resistance could not be overcome. I, to this day, have a small wish that I had been a bit braver, had an actual ride stored in my memory bank. Years later, while attending a Renaissance Fair, I had an opportunity to ride an elephant and did not pass that up, remembering the camel ride I didn't take.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Home Hair Salons and the Geneva Conventions

The year is 1959. As you might know by now, money was tight when I was very young. But, apparently, Mom had the funds for hair salons and permanents. The word permanent is scary enough for me, but Mom's home hair repair must have been scarier. I mean, how bad could it have been, that This was considered superior?

This all took place in a home salon in Walker. That means that it was in the home of the "beautician." I use that term loosely. It was all a front. My interrogator was a woman named Merle. That's right. Merle. I remember it well. Because I was scarred. And not by her name. It was the happy way she went about her craft as though she was blissfully unaware of the damage being done. And not just to my hair.

My sister and I did everything in pairs, so I would wait. And wait. While she went through her own tortures. It was interminable. For kids who ran around outside, from early morning 'til after dark, this clearly defied the rules of the Geneva Conventions.

The hair salon sink was, I believe, the first instrument of torture. "Pain in the neck" was coined by an early salon-goer. I still, to this very day, do not want my hair washed in a salon. With all the advancements in the world, how can it be we are painfully stuck with hair salon sinks that suck?

Then, there was the smell. Egads! That smell! I couldn't stand to be around myself! I did play alone in the woods a good deal of the time. I think I'm still suffering from the effects of being chloroformed. Or whatever that was. It would explain a lot.

You think you've had bad hair days? Try bad hair years. Thank God the '60's came along and I went with the Cher look. Straight hair, no bangs. It must have been a reaction to the terrorist practices of The Permanent Years.

The picture posted is me. Six years old. First grade. I cut my own bangs for the picture. Can you tell? I think it has sort of a New York art gallery look to it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

To the Coen Brothers: You Can't Be Serious.

Remember when I said in my profile for Bloggerville that I liked "anything by the Coen Brothers?" Well. I lied. Have you seen their new one? "A Serious Man?" Seriously. WTF? I have never been so seriously bored. In My Life. I really wanted to like it, too. I mean, the Coen Brothers. Come on, Bro's. What were you thinking? I can go with the avant-garde flow as well as the next cineaste, but this taxed my ability to even try to "get it." No can do.

I've been with you through thick and thin. Thick being "No Country for Old Men." I still think it has metaphysical undertones that make it the classic movie it is. Thin being, well, "A Serious Man." Very thin. We're talkin' hairline fracture. There will be those who will say that I "just don't get it." And I will say... well, I'll say, 'I think I do. I get that there's nothing to get.' I can't go with the conspiracy theory, that this is a really big joke on your movie-going public, which would be a bad move. The other possibility is, you mean it, which would be a bad move.

I wait for your movies. And this is it? The best moment in "A Serious Man," was at the end, when a tornado was bearing down on the high school. I thought, 'Yes! Yes! Something is finally happening!' Please don't make me wait for a year or two for you to redeem yourselves. Please find something really kick-ass to do. Soon. Because I'm waiting already. Life's short. Film now.

P.S. I just had this thought: What if that's exactly the reaction they were looking for? What if the plan was to bore us stiff for two hours, so that when the tornado showed up, we'd be as glad as those equally-bored middle-America suburban teen-agers were in the film? It's all about the boredom of suburbia! Good grief. Two years is a long time.

P.P.S. I almost forgot. There was one other good thing about the movie. Adam Arkin. I met him when he came in the art gallery in Santa Fe (yes, I'm perfectly capable of name-dropping). He is one cool dude.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Had a Farmhouse in Ansel

One of my favorite opening lines in a movie comes from "Out of Africa." Meryl Streep, as Karen Blixen, begins by saying, "I had a farm in Africa." I have had a life-long love affair with the continent of Africa, although I've never been there. Maybe that's why. But several friends who have spent time there, and still do, also love it. Someday I will visit, I'm certain, but that's not what this post is about. It's about my farmhouse in Ansel.

Ansel is the name of a township in north central Minnesota. I bought a farmhouse there in 1990. I read a real estate ad for it and was taken with the description of its porches. I resisted looking for a couple of weeks, as it was fifteen miles from the nearest town and I wasn't certain it was a wise move, to drive back and forth to work forty miles one way in the winter. I finally just had to go and see it. I was almost hoping I wouldn't like it, for practical reasons. But, I could sense myself looking forward to seeing it more and more as I got closer and closer. I drove a couple of miles down a dirt road, which turned into a dead-end road, and at the end of that I turned into a long driveway.

I immediately knew. I had come home.

I didn't even have to look inside to know that. The landscape told me. It was springtime and huge lilac bushes were blooming on all sides of the house. There was a hay shed, a clothesline, which I discovered later was draped in grape vines, and a chicken coop, complete with chickens. The house had two porches, one across the front and another, a screened-in one, tucked into the corner back by the kitchen. It wasn't the perfect place to build a fort. It Was the perfect fort.

As I wandered through the house, I discovered a bathroom had been added where there had once been an entryway. It had a door leading outside, to the porch across the front. The door had a window of frosted, etched glass, exactly like the door to my grandparent's house many years before. And Exactly as it had appeared in a dream a few weeks before; weeks before I knew this house existed or that I would be thinking about buying a house and leaving my rented house at the edge of town. A bit more wandering about and I opened the door leading upstairs. There was a green and cream wool carpet in a muted pattern going up the stairs and into the main bedroom. Again, Exactly as it appeared in my dream a few weeks before.

From the windows in the bedrooms upstairs, I looked out past a line of trees, a small chunk of woods, and across rolling fields in all directions. No neighbors, just grazing cattle from the ranches a few miles away and the small original farmhouse, now ramshackle and barely standing, out beyond the fence line. It was a delicious sight.

My son and I inherited a cat named Betty, a dog named Rex, four laying hens, and a rooster in a lilac bush. These were definitely free-range chickens. The people we bought the place from were retiring in New Mexico! They couldn't take the animals with and Betty and Rex were used to life in Ansel, so I was glad to have them stay right there. It was perfect.

We spent a wonderful decade there. Many kittens were born in the hay shed, a few jars of grape jelly were put up, a great tree house was built by my son and several forts as well. We found long poles in the pasture and a tee-pee was put up with old blankets. I crawled inside at my son's invitation and felt like I was seven again. Many magical things happened there. I will write about more of them as I go along. Monarch butterflies and sand hill cranes, a family of fox living in the old house, star-filled summer nights and walks with Rex under crisp, full moons.

A friend recently asked me if I regretted giving up my farmhouse in Ansel. I hesitated, because it was such a fine time and I wouldn't mind having a farmhouse again, but regret? No. If I hadn't made the choices I did, perhaps I'd have never made it to Santa Fe and my dream job at the art gallery and a life I had yearned for since I was a child. I might not have met the people I did. But, I did. And I just put out the word with another good friend, who has known me since the days in Ansel, that I may be looking again. I'm going to start paying a bit more attention to my dreams, and we shall see... I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

Yesterday, I received a photograph from my friend, JB, over in Moab, Utah. He had been out scrambling around on the red rocks, as usual, and ran across an old abandoned car that provided some pretty cool photo opps. I'm jealous. I spent much of the '90's photographing abandoned cars, abandoned homesteads, abandoned barns. Do you see a pattern here? I loved the details. The grill of the car, rusty dashboards, the shadow of Chevrolet or Oldsmobile still attached to the hood. A doorknob, a hinge, a reflection in a window. Old red gingham curtains, torn and tattered, left perhaps when the Mrs. passed from this life and things were never the same (I'm telling this story). I had photo opps that still tug at me years later, a few I didn't respond to and wish I had. I try not to look at life through a rear view mirror, but these deserve remembering. There were the yellow daffodils (are there another kind?) alongside an abandoned house outside Russell, Arkansas, gray and forlorn, except for that beautiful yellow underneath where the windows used to be. A sign outside an abandoned gas station (here I go again) still asking for the business of passers-by. Little slices of life that have come and gone.

I remember like it was yesterday, the day I got my first camera. Taking pictures had always been something someone in our family was doing. They had these old Brownies-in-a-box. Wish I had them now. It would be the base for what could be a burgeoning collection! Anyway, I longed for my very own camera. And money was, shall we say, tight. I was scheduled to go on my sixth grade class trip that week: state capitol, state historical society, planetarium, Como Zoo, my first escalator ride, stuff like that. Remember, I was a country girl. I had just woken up when Mom came in to give me my birthday present a couple of days early. And there it was ! My very own camera. I thought I'd died and went to heaven. I was so happy I could hardly speak. I know, hard to imagine.

Needless to say, my first efforts were less than stellar. There were the golden horses on top of the capitol. This was back in the day when you could climb a small circular stairway and get to the roof, right next to them, back before lawsuits became a favorite American past-time. There was the class picture, double-exposed against the state capitol itself. I'm pretty sure I ran out of film before I ever got to the zoo. I've never been known for self-restraint.

Now, I need to get myself in gear and do more photographing again. It might help if I actually read the instruction manual for my digital camera I bought over a year ago. I'm still stuck on film and that process. My head hasn't made the adjustment yet. I suppose I should get with the program. It's time. Digital cameras being what they are, I don't even have to show restraint! In this endeavor anyway. I do have a few photos I've taken with my digital camera that I rather like. I'll post some on my blog. What the heck. The one of the car at the top of this is JB's, though (I got his permission to post it). I couldn't resist showing you that blue.

Like all artistic, creative endeavors, one can get obsessed pretty quickly. In a good way. You want to stay in the flow, the energy, that seems to carry you along from idea to idea. Once you start seeing the world through fresh eyes, watching new vignettes of life unfold, life becomes a smorgasbord. I'll take a smidgen of songwriting, a photograph or two, a poem, a little of this, a little of that. There's a name for people like me. Dilettante. Skip past definition #1, i.e. 'superficial dabbler,' and go right to definition #2: 'a lover of an art or science, especially of a fine art.' That's the one. It's a working definition. That means I'm working on it. Right along with that self-restraint.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Hymns and Hers"


I'm up on Taos Mesa, in a small "off-the-grid" community. I was invited to spend time at a friend's house while they are away for Thanksgiving. I'm loving the solitude, the quiet, the peaceful feeling. The energy is so good it's palpable. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains are the backdrop for this magnificent scenery. Some people might not like miles and miles of sagebrush, but I love the wide horizon, the openness that is also opening my heart, my thought, in some pretty wonderful ways.

I appreciate more and more every day the synchronicities that life shows us when we are willing to pay attention. While I was driving to Santa Fe a few days ago, my friend, Diane, called just as I was pulling into North Platte, my usual stagecoach stop. She has been reading a book by Stuart Wilde, Infinite Self, and wanted to share a passage that she thought described my own present "journey." And she was right. It hit the nail on the head.

Just before heading up here to The Mesa, I found myself driving to Border's, knowing I should buy that book. It would be the perfect reading material during my "retreat" here. It is sooo perfect. He is a Brit, with a great sense of humor. He makes spirituality/metaphysics really fun, but he also has some really solid ideas; ideas many of us have heard, more than once, but he has a style that speaks to me and makes me realize that spirituality can and should be filled with joy! Not ponderous or heavy-handed. Laughing is good for a person! Finding the humor, the absurdity of our human experience is, I believe, essential to our spiritual growth. It raises the energy, not just our own, but all the people we share it with; having fun as we awaken, remembering who we really are.

Today, a mutual friend of Diane's and mine, Peggy, mentioned she has read several of his books and is now re-reading one. She also informed me that he lives in Taos ! God has a way of dovetailing some nice elements in our life, don't you think?

He talks about conformity, the ways in which we are trained by our family, our culture, our "tribe," to conform. He says, "The idea developed that if you didn't believe what the tribe believed, somehow you would make the tribe vulnerable, and God would be displeased because of your lack of faith or action. Maybe you didn't follow through on the great hippopotamus ceremony or maybe every year in June when they threw two virgins off the cliff you said, 'I don't fancy this virgin-off-the-cliff-routine.'

He goes on to talk about neckties, as an example of conformity, "I don't know if you've noticed, but your neck is where air passes through to your body. You'd think that tying something around your windpipe wouldn't be conducive to your well-being or productivity. Yet millions of men go through the symbolic act of strangling themselves every morning, tying a colored cloth around their windpipe."

He once gave a seminar in which he encouraged people to "throw away the little piece of cloth around your neck and wear a chicken outfit instead....When your co-workers ask, 'Why are you wearing that chicken outfit?' answer 'What chicken outfit?' ...Do things to break up the binding rigidity that the mind imposes on you, and the fear it has of breaking away from the mold." His point is, "The routine you are familiar with day-to-day is part of your ego's authority over you. By doing things differently, you begin to challenge its authority."

So, think of some things you can do differently and I will too. We can start with simple things like what we eat normally, or what music we listen to. I do not like jazz, so I should probably start with that. If I can learn to like jazz, I swear, I will be the enlightened, awakened being I have long struggled to become. And please don't tell me I don't understand it. Cacophony has never appealed to me. See? That's where I need to start.

He asks us to trust our feelings more. He says, "The journey from the intellect to the Infinite Self involves wrestling the intellect into stillness...Too much thinking is a terrible disease. It brings on awfully chronic symptoms such as seriousness. I flee from serious people as fast as my chubby little legs will carry me. This life isn't serious. It's a comedy. With seriousness comes a lot of judgment and a lack of light and laughter and God Force. It's a very stony path to take."

Creativity, in all its permutations, is another thing he talks about with joy and freshness, "Mozart is still alive...his energy...and you can use that as an inspiration to improve your music and to make it more original. All of Mozart's energy is still in the collective unconscious - in the perpetual global memory of our people. You can call upon it and tap into it....just ask to be locked into his inspiration, say, 'Amadeus, bro, show me a few cool riffs on this guitar that no one has ever heard before.' Play what you hear in your mind."

Well, now I'm blathering on, as I'm wont to do. Anyhoo, you get the idea.

No, I am not a shill for Stuart Wilde. I'm likin' this book and thinking, oops, feeling, you might, too. I love his humor and I like that he walked away from his very abundant material life to find his own path, as they say, and has shared what he's learned so far with us. He literally lives with two suitcases and his laptop computer. He says, "In the end, my whole life is in two suitcases. I can look at the suitcases and think, 'Wow, cool - two suitcases, one for each arm. Three suitcases would be a problem.' He sounds like my kinda guy.

We are all Michelangelo, chiseling away at the marble, slowly revealing the Beautiful Idea, the God Force within. And that's what I'm doing up here on the mesa. Quietly chiseling away...

And as far as that virgin-off-the-cliff thing? Wheeeww! I'm glad I don't have to worry about that!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dog is My Co-pilot

Emma and Holly are two of the coolest dogs I've ever met. Yes, that's them in the snow. But, that's not what makes them so cool (Emma prefers blue, Holly's into red). To call them empathic is probably an understatement. These girls bring a whole new meaning to that word. I experienced it first hand when I visited them earlier this fall.

It was the middle of the night when I started having some gastric problems, stomach, that sort of thing. I went downstairs to get a glass of water and as I passed through the living room, Emma looked up from her couch. Yes, that's right, HER couch (to her credit, she was willing to share it with me sometimes). I got my water, visited the bathroom, and went back upstairs. In a little while I was back down, feeling the need to be closer to the bathroom for a bit. This time, when I got back up to my room, there was dear Emma, lying on the floor right next to my bed. She just looked up at me with those sweet eyes. I laid down, put one hand on her back and quickly fell asleep. Around sun-up we both stirred and she quietly climbed up beside me on the bed and we both fell back asleep again. When I woke up, I realized the pain was completely gone. Dog as healer? Absolutely.

After breakfast, we did our usual morning walk at Cornwall Nature Preserve, just up the road from where they live with their equally cool and loving housemates, Murad and Abby. Emma never left my side during the entire walk. She stayed right next to me. She pretty much kept an eye on me throughout the day. Holly made her own contribution, running though the woods, chasing squirrels, showing me the joy of simply being alive. Her energy raised my own. And what a fine contribution it was.

Holly loves her "babies." These consist of Stinky Monkey, Flying Pig and Bear, to name just a few. She has several tennis balls in her toy box, as well. Once Titan, a pal of theirs, came to visit and he noticed Holly had posted herself next to me near the couch. It must have looked like a plum spot to Titan. Next thing we know, we're watching as he goes over to Holly's toy box, noses around for a tennis ball and gets one in his mouth. Making sure Holly is watching, he flips the ball around in his mouth a bit and then drops it in front of the television. Knowing Holly cannot resist a tennis ball, Titan quickly moves into position, assuming the vacancy left by Holly near me on the couch. It was a thing of beauty. Please know, I hold no illusions about their deep fondness for me. We do have a good relationship, but this is pretty much about who's doing the petting. Believe me, they know how to work a room.

If I ever find that Perfect Place for a Fort, it's gotta include a dog or two. I hear Holly is having a bit of trouble with her leg today, so this is for you, Golden Girls, sent with much Love.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

For All the Wilfred Owens of the World

About twenty years ago, I became friends with a man who had more interests than I could possibly keep up with. It provided me with some new interests and made gift-giving a snap. He had mentioned someone named Siegfried Sassoon, who was a poet from The War. Now, of course, more accurately known as World War I. It was getting close to his birthday when I found myself wandering the aisles of a local used bookstore. There it was. A copy of Siegfried's memoirs.

I followed that up with The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen. And that's where my love of war poetry began. It might seem odd saying you love war poetry, but it was a natural for me. I love poetry, and I love men, and men go to war. Yes, women, too. Plus, I was learning to have a deeper appreciation for the masculine mind, the male perspective on life, and nothing like war poetry to get to the heart of the matter. I was also falling for Wilfred. I have this tendency to fall in love with dead men. I'm not sure what that says and I don't intend to look into it. It started with Jack Kerouac, back in 1970. But, I'll write about him ... up the road.

Wilfred was, in his own words, "not concerned with Poetry." He said, "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity ... all a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful." There was nothing sugar-coated with Wilfred Owen. They stand even today, maybe especially today, as the ultimate anti-war statement.

He was born on March 18th, 1893 and died on November 4th, 1918, in the last days of the war. I'm not going to go into the facts of his short life here. I encourage you to do so, though. The Collected Poems ... is a good place to start. It's edited with an introduction and notes by C. Day Lewis, a poet laureate and Daniel's father. It contains interesting and insightful fragments of letters Wilfred wrote to family and friends during this time. I was particularly taken with this description, in a letter to a friend, while training troops in England and preparing himself to return to the front: "For fourteen hours yesterday I was at work - teaching Christ to lift his cross by numbers, and how to adjust his crown; and not to imagine he thirst till after the last halt. I attended his Supper to see that there were not complaints; and inspected his feet that they should be worthy of the nails. I see to it that he is dumb, and stands at attention before his accusers. With a piece of silver I buy him every day, and with maps I make him familiar with the topography of Golgotha." They say there are "no atheists in the trenches," but it's easy to see why a person's faith might be tested under such conditions.

I would love to quote some of my favorite lines, but in reading them now it seems inappropriate to take them out of context. Some of my favorite poems are probably everyone's favorites: "Anthem For Doomed Youth," "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young," and "Dulce Et Decorum Est." It ends with these lines which, although taken out of context, stand in the strength of their conciseness.

"The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."

The old lie? How sweet it is to die for one's country.

A few years ago I felt led to stop at a used bookstore in St. Paul. I was passing through to see a friend, just having flown in from Santa Fe. There I found another copy of The Collected Poems. I snagged it for myself. By this time, he had become a part of my consciousness.

He and his fellow war poets keep popping up in my life in unexpected ways. When I first moved to Santa Fe, I met a man who liked poetry as much as I and he had a book of World War I poetry that I quietly coveted. It honored several poets from The War, among them Rupert Brooke and Robert Graves, and of course, Sassoon and Owen. Their poems were punctuated by images of art in every medium and genre. In some odd way they were a beautiful counterpoint to the horror of the words. It's titled, The War Poets, compiled by Robert Giddings.

Just this last summer, I drove over to a small town in Wisconsin to visit an acquaintance and his dad, a veteran of WWII who had survived Normandy. When I first arrived, he showed me his music room with an extensive and eclectic collection of vinyl. He brought out several of his personal favorites, albums with beautiful eye-candy cover art. He suddenly pulled one from among the many and said, "I think you might like this one." He really didn't know me from Adam, as they say, but he was right. It was a recording by Country Joe McDonald (yes, of The Fish), reading poems by Robert Service, who served as an ambulance driver in WWI. These were backed only by the sound of his acoustic guitar. We sat in silence and listened.

Later, I had a conversation with his dad who talked about his life as a soldier. He shared some interesting and painful to relate stories. He said to me, "I've seen things that no one should ever have to see." By this time we were both trying to fight back tears. And not very successfully.

Wilfred Owens represents to me the countless men and women who have "died for their country." And I do mean countless. I want you to know him, too. And never forget him. There's too much at stake. Maybe everything.

"The Parable of the Old Man and the Young"

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

-Wilfred Owen

Mary Black and "My Youngest Son Came Home Today."