Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I never said that I was brave

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
The wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
Be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free
We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
The widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see
Can't run no more
With the lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned up
A thundercloud
And they're going to hear from me
You can add up the parts
But you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Today, a homage to Leonard Cohen. I recently watched a film on Sundance called 'Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man' based on a January, 2005 tribute show in Australia called "Came So Far For Beauty"about the life and career of Leonard Cohen. This concert included Nick Cave, fellow Montreal-ers Wainwrights--Rufus, Martha and mother Kate McMcGarrigle--Beth Orton, the beautiful voice of Antony and many others, including and a solo by Leonard with U-2. So many Leonard Cohen lyrics in only 143 minutes.

Listening and watching, all the great music and dialogue interspersed by present day 72-year old Leonard actually helped shed some of that light in the cracks of uncertainty and pessimism I keep hidden regarding my own writing. He has reminded himself that he doesn't have all the time in the world, but he continues to labor over each word he writes. I wrote this down to remember in those dark times of uncertainty about the ink in my own pen:

"If it is your destiny to be this laborer called a writer, you know that you've got to work every day. But you also know that you are not going to get it every day. You have to be prepared, but you realize you don't command the enterprise. Sometimes when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama, expecting victory after victory. . .I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win." Good advice.

So now when I read flawless prose by someone like Amy Hempel or one of Lorrie Moore's stories in Birds of America and want to give up because I could never write that well I guess I need to tell myself to keep working, yes? I know for sure that even my weaker voice needs to be heard too. Something meaningful is my goal. You too?

[I'm happy to share a copy of one of my watercolors with you, though the quality is compromised as the original is in storage.]

Friday, July 27, 2007

Happy Day, Bea

Tomorrow, July 28th, will be Beatrix Potter's 141st birthday. She was born on this date in 1866 in London. If there ever was an author's birthday to celebrate this is the one! Who hasn't been somehow touched by her writing and lovely illustrations? Her love of animals and lively imagination, combined with a lonely childhood produced animals characters like no other.
I highly recommend the film Miss Potter released this spring with Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. Not schmaltzy but straightforward, visually stunning, with a message for young women one hundred years later about being loyal and deliberate with one's dreams and living a life of one's own in spite of disapproval by others and inevitable pain that life can dish out. Beatrix was an adamant believer is preserving land and habitats in her beloved Lake Country too. So tomorrow I'll eat a scone and raise a cuppa Earl Grey in her honor. I hope you will too.

'Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were -- Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.'

Thursday, July 26, 2007

a World phenomenon

“Your mother has been hurt at the World.” Apparently he didn’t know the name had been changed to the Tweeter Center nor did he know why Mom had decided to go there.
This morning while she poured half and half into her coffee, Mom cornered me between the refrigerator door and the kitchen sink. I think she absentmindedly held the door open and me hostage because something else was on her mind and she usually can’t do two things at one time. She says its because she’s 50 and menopausal. That scares me more than having the word Frigidaire branded on my forehead.
At the table she rubbed her forehead and propped it up on one hand, looking at me from the side of her head like a horse or rabbit. That scares me too when she morphs into something that lives outside.
“So, who is this Britney Spears person?” she mouthed from behind her cup.
“Some singer. I can’t stand her.”
The lines on her forehead deepened when she heard that. She began to tell me that her honors club at the community college was doing service work, she had volunteered to help at the concession stand for three nights. One of the performers was Britney. The thought of my mother selling soda and hot dogs to kids my age didn’t scare me. It humiliated me. And Britney Spears, what was she thinking? Mom felt duty-bound to keep her word and show up to help even though I tried my best to change her mind with stories about the rude punk guys and skanky girls she’d be serving
“And don’t think this will be one of those mind blowing psychedelic dances you used to go to.”

Dad swore and slammed his fist on the steering wheel after he’d circled the back 40 acres of parking lots. Finally he abandoned the car in a handicapped spot and hung his work badge from the rearview mirror. I did not want to be seen here but I didn’t want to wait in the car while the cops wrote out a ticket for illegal parking, thinking I was the driver. At the moment we entered the World I could see sweat rolling down the rows of stressed skin on my dad’s face. If he’d ever been here before he’d know there are four concession stands to search, not one. We were escorted past the hot dogs turning on the pronged rotisserie and narrowly escaped falling on beer splatters behind the counter. Downstairs in front of the refrigerators sat my old hippie mother using her bandana she’d tied around her ponytail as a mop for the blood coming from her hairline. Next to her sat Kashi. We call him Cereal-Head in my trig class.

After Britney’s lavender buses arrived and were safely parked under the World, the word spread that she was in fact, here. That’s when the middle aged man and his teenage son paid my mom for their hot dogs, one beer and a large Coke. As she put the change in the man’s palm, she noticed his two front teeth were missing. Feeling sorry for him and mad at herself for wanting to laugh, she asked if his son was a big Britney fan.

“Do you know he told me that he himself was an even bigger fan, that he takes his son to see her whenever she’s in the Midwest? Hell, they’d drive from Indiana to Michigan, maybe even to Minnesota if need be.”
She admitted to me and Dad, “I got queasy and angry to think of what those two were up to, going to concerts like they were Dead Heads! When I turned back to the bun warmer I slipped on a trail of beer. Then I remember sitting in front of the refrigerators with your friend from school.”

Kashi is not my friend, my mom didn’t need stitches after all, and the policeman marked the box for a $100 fine for parking in a handicapped spot without a sticker on the ticket he left under the wiper.

See other phenoms at Sunday Scribblings.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A mediocre day thrifting is better than a good day of work anytime. Today's excursion turned up this beauty:
I really don't need another Pyrex casserole dish but this is one of my favorite colors and it came with a lid. Besides I now reside in Hot Dish Country and even though the thought of the turning on the oven is reprehensible I'm on the trail of recipes that will fill up this dish. Here's one from The Great Minnesota Hot Dish cookbook:

Chicken Noodle Hot Dish
3 3/4 cups wide egg noodles, uncooked
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 3/4 cups whole milk (I'm sure low fat milk will be fine)
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
10 ounces frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
1 tablespoon minced yellow onions
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cook noodles according to package directions but less 3 minutes cooking time; drain.
In a saucepan, mix together soup and milk; stir and cook until hot.
Add remaining ingredients, including noodles; mix.
Spoon mixture into a 2-quart baking dish.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Sprinkle top with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Better still for you Garrison Keillor fans--and you know who you are!--would be any one of the 42 recipes submitted to the Prairie Home Companion which includes Garrison Keillor's mom's "Meatloaf [sort of a hot dish]' as well as other tempting dishes such as "Ship-Wreck," "French's Chili-O With a Kick," "Thursday Night Special ('My Dad would put this together on my Mother's bowling night.' )" "Mom's Bacon, Sauerkraut, and Noodle Hot Dish," "Funeral Hot Dish," "Spam-aroni and Cheese," and

6 slices white (we use Wonder) bread
Velveeta cheese (cubed)
1 large can crushed tomatoes
Potato chips

In a saucepan, heat the tomatoes and Velveeta cheese cubes until the cheese begins to melt. In a greased casserole (hot dish) dish, put a layer of bread on the bottom, add tomato and cheese mixture, put another layer of bread, then another layer of tomato and cheese. Top the whole thing with crushed potato chips. Bake at 350 degrees until the mixture is bubbly. Bubbly and good.


Monday, July 23, 2007

read the label

In the cult film classic (o.k., just kidding) Trapped in Paradise, Dana Carvey plays Alvin Firpo, one of the Firpo brothers recently out of prison and enjoying his first home cooked meal. His mother is dishing up canned creamed corn on his dish. He’s asking for more and more, ‘this corn is wicked good, Mom!’ The film is not quite socially redeeming except for the endorphin stores from laughter.
Wicked takes on many forms, from regional slang to actual heinous crimes the tales of which can cause childhood nightmares and adult psychotic disturbances. Daily frightening statistics and headlines wave in front of my face. Could we possibly live in a more fear provoking time? My daughters aren’t especially excited to bring children into the world as it stands. . .but I remember thinking that myself when I was young and idealistic, idealistic because I thought that sending ZPG (Zero Population Growth!) Christmas cards would make things better.
I realized while trying to write something lofty and wonderful for this week’s prompt that having lived these many years has added one more benefit, that of less fear and an occasional return to childish slapstick humor as therapy. Now I think good people with good ideas can make a change but know that wickedness and evil still exist. This might be just me taking up residence in a cave and for the time being, it is what I can live with: resignation, hope, humor, and possibly some creamed corn.

More wickedness this way comes at Sunday Scribblings.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Indian Summer

On my last pilgrimage to my hometown in Idaho, my sister and I spent an afternoon at the Eastern Idaho State Fair in Blackfoot. I anxiously waited for the Fair to begin at each August of my young life when the first zinnia was in bloom. These flowers announced the beginning of school, Indian summer and the Fair because they bloomed in the yards along the route to the main gate.

That particular day it rained off and on. Madeline and I found bleachers to hide under and rest on. When the sun was in the very middle of the sky, the Indian Relay Race began, something it had done at noon every September since 1902. We climbed to the top of a center bleacher in the main grandstand that day mostly filled with Shoshone-Bannock tribe members from the nearby Fort Hall Reservation. They had come to see their best young riders compete in the dangerous and doubtless the most exciting event at the Fair.

Because I wear my black hair long and have high cheekbones, brown eyes and olive skin I am often asked about my native heritage. Ironically I grew up near the Rez and attended school with kids from there. Being Italian hasn’t lessened my connection to these people.

This is how Native Peoples’ Magazine describes the race from the photo above:

A race team consists of four men and three horses. After a running leap to mount the horse, racers tear around a half-mile track, exchange horses on the fly, complete another lap, switch horses yet again and speed off on the final lap. It sounds simple enough, but with up to seven teams on the track there is much jockeying for position. Fairly often, a rider will leap onto a horse’s back and knock heads with the horse, resulting in a bump on the rider’s forehead or even being knocked unconscious. Team members must carry the unconscious rider off the track so he doesn’t get run over by the horses. Broken ribs are common as well.Team members who are charged with holding the horses must have great strength and courage. During a race, the horses are highly excited, straining and rearing, wanting to run, and the holder must keep the 1,000-pound animal under control and properly positioned with only a bridle and rein.

I've read that for Native Americans traditionally hair is believed to represent the wearer’s personal power, strength, stamina and its length has held great symbolic importance for men in many tribes, especially in the West. Cutting their hair was usually done in shame or grief.
So. . .
my sister and I were awestruck by the spectacle in front of our eyes; beautiful ponies and agile horsemen riding bareback in a relay. Some wore headbands, braids or ponytails. At the final lap of the relay I saw a small man leap on a black horse. His hair hung free, nearly to his waist. His arms wrapped around the horse's neck as he leaned into the track with his black hair flying straight behind him. What the article doesn’t say is how much cheering and yelling we heard. As he won the race for his team, he and his horse were a blur across the finish line. The team roared, horses neighed and scattered, dust rose. I will never forget the beautiful sight of the noonday sun bouncing off the rider’s hair as it swirled around his horse’s head.

This remembrance is from Sunday Scribbling prompted by the word 'hair.'

Monday, July 9, 2007

Slippery Slide

S l i p--pery

Happiness is a slippery fellow
Empty pockets, collar pulled up
Shouldering around the corner
Shade moves when it sees him coming.

Guilt sticks its foot out when I pass
Up go my dukes, down go I
Hit in the head with a beanbag
Shoved down the stairs,
Fighting a full catastrophe
Body contorted, pretzeled, Gumbied
Fall anyway, down go I
Dragging my taffeta skirt in the mop water,

I know I’m right
I have the black eye to prove it
You can’t keep a secret from me
It’s not my fault because
Happiness is too slippery for me.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Variation on a theme from Pete Townsend’s song Teenage Wasteland:
I don't need to fight

To prove I'm right
I don't need to be forgiven

This is my Sunday Scribblings. . .see more here.

Monday, July 2, 2007

You can take the boy out of the country. . .

In the thirty-seven years since Dave served as a sentry dog handler in Thailand during the Vietnam war, he has taken an active and tenacious interest in veterans' rights. He's always been a gregarious guy who continues to maintain correspondence with former friends and especially fellow Air Force handlers, and can be counted on to stop for a visit if he's in their neck of the woods, be it Idaho or Maine. He has attended and spoken at rallies at VA hospitals, as well as travelling with the Tour of Honor for the Veterans for Kerry/Edwards throughout Wisconsin in 2004. What I am most touched by has been his earnest search for the current whereabouts of his
K-9 partners from Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base. Recently he mentioned that he thought he'd found another one of his Thailand friends. He knew Greg Wyatt came from Minnesota and when he searched further there was someone with the same name who had a strawberry farm near Redwing. With visions of strawberries in my head I encouraged him to drive down to see him last week. Even though he started to get cold feet at the last turn down a dusty county road, everything seemed right that this was indeed the friend he'd last shared a dog post with in Thailand. There is always the possiblity that he didn't want to be 'found.'

When we did find the Wyatt Strawberries sign we saw a man on an older blue tractor pulling a cultivator between rows of strawberries. Dave got out of the van and slowly walked across the road. I stayed inconspicuously out of the way but was able to see the reunion unfold without sound. Talking, talking, then Greg sitting on his tractor began to slowly nod his head in agreement. Then they shook hands. I had goosebumps.

Dave had brought along photos of Greg and his dog Tuck when he had more dark hair and like most of these Vietnam vets, a little less girth. Sadly Greg's wife had died two years earlier but he remembers that 'she was the best farm wife.'
While they visited in the clear early evening, I walked a bit on some of the 40 acres he owns. The loamy soil is excellent for growing strawberries and asparagus. Corn grows on half of his farm and the rest is planted in roses and other plants for Bailey Nurseries, one of the largest plant wholesalers in the world.
After the short reunion the two city folk shook the farmer's rough hand, promising to meet up again. Two quarts of decadently delicious strawberries were tucked safely away in our cooler. As we drove down the road I could see Greg back on his tractor heading up another row.