Score and a Heart

After weeks and weeks of missing, I flung the poop bag right into the pot! Blam!

Not that you really want to know, but it’s a tough shot — not so much because of the distance (from where picture was taken) or the smallish target, but because the missile has a tail (we use long, plastic newspaper bags) and the ballast is weighted unevenly. You can’t throw overhand or at least, I don’t, and hence you have very little control. How satisfying to nail it!
Could my aim have been improved by an hour long walk through sunny, summery, quiet neighborhoods? I noticed about three-quarters of the way along that a sour knot in my gut disappeared. Just by walking. In the sun. With my dog.

We saw lavender blooming on Ripley Street, two Chinese brothers heading to the T in matching pj’s and yellow caps on Braeland with their dad, joggers and cyclists, and a couple of other dogs. Closer to home, the lavender has yet to blossom, but on Walter Street we were treated to sun-illumined rust-vermillion Japanese maple leaves and a morning dove perched up on a cable beautifully backed by blue sky.

Finn had a Training Victory on our walk, too — a trifecta. Some other time.

Given the TV’s current state, I’m plowing through a memoir called, “They Left Us Everything” — a book a blog reader recommended a week or so ago. I just learned that this was Plum Johnson’s debut effort and it came at age 68. Sixty-eight!

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The book won an RBC Taylor prize, which is an award for literary non-fiction that “best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception.”

The memoir is interesting, well-written. Doesn’t hold a candle to “H is for Hawk”, but then, very few memoirs do. That’d be like comparing every debut of historic fiction to “Wolf Hall” by Hillary Mantel — it just isn’t fair. But that’s the last memoir I read, I think?

Johnson crafts nuanced portraits of complicated parents, not just their late, declining years, but their more vibrant youth as well. Both of her parents led interesting lives — with tragedy and travel and unusual circumstances. Johnson gets at the essential unknowability of parents by their children, something made especially plain as she sorts through all of their belongings after her mother’s death. To recognize this inscrutability is part of Johnson’s grief, but not all of it.

Her mother was a piece of work and her father over-reliant on military experience as a benchmark for parenting. And yet, whatever wounds linger they don’t show up on the page all that much. Whether this is a testament to Johnson’s person or her writing style is hard to judge. Maybe by building her narrative around the objects of her parents’ lives helped the author keep a certain kind of self-reflection at bay.

Don’t get me wrong, I like memoirs that get down and dirty too, but the absence of grudges or whining or blame is notable here.

I don’t know nearly as much about my parents’ courtship or their early work lives as Plum Johnson does about hers. Food for thought.

On our second walk, Finn and I rounded the corner towards home to find a huge heart-shaped cloud, like a blousy kiss from the sky.

Perhaps the cheery cloud was to compensate for today’s crossword puzzles — both sucked — really sucked.

And now it’s gonna rain again? No wonder I’m ecstatic about puffy white clouds and doves backed by blue sky. Man! Meanwhile, the catalpa blossoms that seemed celebratory two days ago now clump in wilting piles of rot, three and four inches deep in places. Sweep. Sweep. Sweep. And grab. Good thing I’m totally into sweeping these days (seriously into sweeping right now). And good thing this old bod can still squat with ease.

Still life, figures, and Matisse

The Matisse show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts takes a novel approach by displaying objects the artist collected along with some of the paintings they appear in. It’s fascinating.


Naturally, I especially enjoyed the textiles but even to see chairs, vases, and pewter coffee pots alongside the paintings they inspired was interesting.

I was shocked to discover, standing in front of the well-known ‘Purple Robe’ portrait below, that early on Matisse was ‘afraid he would never do figures’.

Lucky for us, at some point the artist figured out how to transfer the confidence he felt giving life to inanimate objects to the human figure.

With that and my unpopulated quilts in mind, take a look at the right margin of this slightly wonky tower I’ve been working on. Doesn’t that dark grain suggest a female form — staring up at a butterfly, perhaps? She reminds me of one of Grace’s drawings in its early phases. Mightn’t the nascent figure be saying something — Come on — stitch me into an empty structure! Let me enliven the yard or a room or even the attic!

Somehow this quiet and solitary day felt full. Almost too full.

Our morning walk was replete with scenes like these, peaceful and lush, but riddled with thoughts about aggression, primarily about the differences between aggression expressed from and for power and reactive aggression. They might appear alike from the outside but are worlds apart. Working with Finn has been a real lesson in this, inspiring me to quip from time to time, “Dog training’s taught me that I may be a mouthy bitch, but I’m no alpha.”

Sad, but true. Finn had a set-to right before this yard. Bark, bark, bark. My sister and I are having set-tos all the time, but this week they’re about re-configuring the distance between us. Bark, bark, bark. I can’t take it anymore. It’s amazing I’ve put up with it for this long. If she can’t accept my moving away some, I will vanish from her life. I’ve done it before. I was hoping not to do it again, but I am exhausted, tattered, and unwilling to continue at current decibel levels. Bark. Bark. Bark.

After what seems an impossibly long time without sun, out it came for our afternoon walk, so the day contained cheer, too!

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img_4552-2Lastly, the TV is all fucked up and you know what that means (wink, wink)! I may be forced to read for a spell here (and miss The Great British Baking Show?) or watch LIVE TV on the tiny shit box in the kitchen. Boo-hoo. Then again, the house is filled with good books waiting to be read.

Five hours

This is an erasure post. The original version was both too long and too revealing. The skeleton version makes less sense but holds more mystery, I think.


In hours, pushed, eye-rolling, huffing.
Five hours. I found her angle.
Risk a fool, like picking a scab. A person,
a villain, at least refusal. If hope
would speed silence!

Little judgment next. I gathered my things.
Later! Bother! In five hours,
the scope, nothing.

What I meant was, I’m wracked. I’m shutting
the door, halfway. An about face. HEAVEN!
It took unreason to drive the welcome —
Oh file, reference — mantra even. Five hours.

Back. Just BE! Oops.
Like morning needing witness,
she would chance fact, impossible
keep. I am
undone.

Ask, “do I want to be tagged home?”

Christ can track down the days, night,
a person.

 

 

 

 

 

The Solstice


Catalpa blossoms rain down, festooning the dirt with casual but royal elegance. Could it be the wind and flowers mistake me for a queen or even, a lesser goddess?

Evening primrose open their four-petaled flowers in such humble, yellow cheer that even a householder in dull forbearance can’t help but smile.

And look at the comfrey — always impressively stalwart — shooting its stalk straight up through the lower leaves of the rhododendron! Its huge leaves belie its oh-so-delicate flowers, making me think that Nature needs to make a joke now and then.

When the stalk inevitably flops to the ground, will the comfrey berate itself — demand a taller performance next year — start haggling with the rhodie now for more lasting support a year from now? We all know the abiding message, there.

At the cellar door, ferns volunteer in improbable narrow cracks, suggesting good will, a knack for survival.  Yet another lesson — ‘grow wherever you can! grow outside the plan! take up residence and thrive in the unlikeliest of places!’

Such extravagance, year after year, in the garden. How lush, how beautiful, how generous, and never with a demand for anything in return.

The first day of summer refutes my pessimism. It suggests possibility and reorders instinct and sensation in favor of the body — ah! dirt tumbling off the trowel! a wooden rake handle against the palm! the smell of blossoms and the sound of children playing. 

All I have to do is step outside.

[Is this the same person who dropped the ‘f-bomb’ on a neighbor’s landscape guy yesterday after storming out of the house to request that he stop using a now-banned gas-powered-leaf-blower? Indeed. You mean to tell me you are writing odes to catalpa blossoms today but were telling a hired landscaper yesterday to ‘use a fucking broom’? Well, yeah. After watching him aggressively yank the cord to wind up the blower practically in my face, it was not in fact my fault that I had to practically shout it at him, ‘USE A FUCKING BROOM!’

And, BTW, don’t you love this guy taking the high ground? As if my calling him a dick head (yes, I did that too) was more egregious than his aggressive, knowing violation of a new city ordinance put in place precisely for people like me?

I would call him a dick head again, but I’ll admit to some ‘spill-over’ wrath. There had been a series of disastrous phone calls to the hospital earlier (we’re talking mental impairments now, not physical), plus numerous calls to caregivers and c-pap manufacturers that were not full of fury and condemnation but nevertheless sucked time and soul from my day. By the time that now-illegal awful, awful high-pitched whine started up, I wasn’t having it.]

Happy Summer Solstice, all!
Peace. Peace. Peace (or in my case — at least the absence of cursing)

Pinning a plot


This morning I pinned half of my manuscript’s 156 chapter titles to design boards. I’m really hoping my cut and paste exercise exemplifies what success-guru Tim Ferriss calls, ‘taking weaknesses and turning them into competitive advantages’ — but I’m not sure, for you know, the Time Waster has a lot of guile at her disposal.

I am a visual/kinetic thinker with ADD — making me long on intuition and creativity and short on finishing and organizing skills. The one is as glorious as the other is treacherous. Some days all I can ask myself is — what good are these creative gifts if I don’t finish a fucking thing?

In college when I had a paper due, I got busy rearranging the furniture. Although the tactic took up a fair amount of time, it wasn’t pure procrastination — some important visual and kinetic organizing was taking place. I couldn’t explain it then and can’t explain it now, but it still makes total sense. Maybe pinning a plot to a design board operates with the same inexplicable logic?

With 156 chapters committed to word files, plus another 50+ scenes typed up and housed in word files I call, Silos One through Five, plus stacks and stacks of notebooks holding scenes that have not yet been typed up, plus stray pieces of paper notating important revisions arising from ongoing research — I am way past the point where my pea brain can easily remember, study, or evaluate what I’ve got here.


After a week away, it can be hard to get back in and for this reason, I turned to colored pencils. Anything involving colored pencils can’t be that bad, right? I added quick stripes of color to the chapter titles: Melody — green; Saffron — orange (naturally); Eliza — purple; omniscient narrator — blue; Mo — yellow paper. I love tricking the Time Waster with a wily maneuver of my own.

I’m pretty sure the plot-pinning on design boards does not constitute procrastination, but writing this post does, so let me share two very brief and immediate confirmations — and then, back to it! Each column tracks a character — Saffron on the left, Melody in the middle, and Eliza on the right. If you’re invested in Melody’s character, you will be disappointed and if you take umbrage at the amount of content devoted to the only white main character (Eliza), then you will be annoyed. I want to carry my readers along, not disappoint or annoy them! I have ideas about how to fix this.

The exercise also confirmed that I have too many many opening scenes, one of them coming at about chapter 25. This cannot stand. Some movie reviewer lambasted the most recent Batman movie for having seven opening scenes and I really took note of the critique at the time because I had a hunch it applied here. How to fix this problem is less obvious, but I suspect it will involved ruthless editing.

May you also turn your weaknesses into strengths this week — and, if you have a notion of how to do so, or how you’ve done so, I’d love to hear about it. 

Accidental beauty

Accidental Beauty

Look at the clipped grasses! The curb with its
divets. Tell me, could the ribbons of tar
shining in the midday sun be
any more gorgeous?

I’m waiting
for the light to turn, for the grey
hulk of hospital to leave the rearview —
waiting for the return of things
or the start of them, or even the
end.

Impatience is a surly thief!

And, shopping, a deficient religion.
I should have known better.
By the time I arrive,
the capris of summer are picked over.

Meanwhile, my sister’s heart flutters
in uncertain alarm and children
dead from cholera in Yemen pile up,
200, 300.
Somehow, I’m alive and shopping for pants.

In the swanky interior, the clack of my sandals
on the polished geometry stirs
sorrow. How it is these days.
“This is it,” my shoes percuss. “This is it.”

Going one place to another, you are never
anywhere but here.

Impatience acts the rude interloper
while uncertainty takes you to your knees.

Later, but not much, I slap my notebook
on the shiny ebon surface of a grand piano
and pull a pen out of my hair. One of
two. There, in the sunlit atrium, a prop of luxury
holds my weight. To one side, the familiar
bronze statue of girl and dog and to the other,
an absence I can’t get used to even though
the beloved fountain’s been gone for years.

(All those pennies tossed and wishes made
two little tow-heads at my side —
where are they now — pennies, wishes, and
boys turned brown-haired men?)

Regret followed far enough
takes you to love.

The Tiffany’s clerk paces
behind jewel-filled cases, not sure
what to make of a woman writing in fury
in the middle of the morning, in the middle of
the atrium and where did
that notebook come from anyway?

the ribbons of tar, the cement divets
polished geometry, regret,
bronze.

Oh tissue first, silver medallion next and finally,
the tasteful grey bag. The clerk chirps
“Have a good day of shopping,” even as
my ribs smolder about to combust, one hour
being thirty minutes too long.

How much time do we have? Ever?

Tick. Tick. Swipe. Delete.

How much time do we have
to be kind, to be kind,
to preserve the republic?

Fairness gone amok in every quarter
makes a girl want to cry —
even a girl who never cries.
No wonder the ordinary sound
of sandals clacking on
polished tile calls out, “Wake up!
This is it!” rattling up a
ferocious grief twinned
with gratitude.

“These are no ordinary times.” Say.
Repeat. Do nothing. The acts
held in reserve depend on gross
miscalculations of risk — as if we
have time and time and more time?

Tick. Tick. Delete. Swipe.

Regret followed far enough
leads to damnation.

Would the clerk in Tiffany’s understand
why a woman wails in the bathroom
corridor given our collective failure
or would she choose not to hear?

You lean your frantic frame against the
silent instrument, hoping to leave
behind more than the echoes of impatience
or a sweaty hand print that the cleaners
will have to buff off later.

Let me be kind. Let me speak up. Let
me pause long enough
to give thanks.

Regret expressed deeply enough always
turns into prayer.

The ribbons of tar, the polished geometry,
vanished pools and children, wishes
gathered and held in regions unknown.




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Misbehaving silk and designing cloth 

For weeks, the top half of this little piece has been pinned to the design board. I eyed it now and then. Was it done? If not, do I have more fabric in that spooky palette? Yesterday, while listening to Weasel Sessions, I started attaching the lower section.

Two challenges arose: 1) that goddamned silk on the lower right. It will not behave! The buckling, sliding resistance to my organizing stitch may be more than I can stand this week. Then, 2) there’s that disruptive brown strip in the mid-section. It’s so distracting, it cannot stand — so integrate or undo?

Sometimes these challenges ask to be met. And maybe I did myself and the little quilt a disservice working on it with the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on. That’s its own kind of problem.

But really, I think the spooky, little horizontal beginning might be trying to tell me something, like ‘leave me alone’. Maybe it is already a piece unto itself?

Back to the board for consideration! As Jude recently said, “cloth needs to rest, too”. Actually, maybe this isn’t the cloth resting so much as the design-process resting.

In the meantime, behold my first spoonflower experiments.

When ordering both swaths, I significantly tweaked the repeat into a smaller scale, but that somehow didn’t get transmitted. So disappointing, but definitely worth another go.

The heat has broken. Windows are flung open and the fan whirs fresh air into the house. Thank god! 

My sister is doing much, much better but her heart is beating too fast. I just talked to her and she reported pain from last night. The 15 people rushing in. All the machines she’s plugged into. They may do an ablation today. Must google and pray.