Category Archives: family

What rough beast?

I heard the phrase ‘slouching toward Bethlehem’ in my head yesterday (St. Patrick’s Day!) and pulled a copy of “The Second Coming” off the shelf (a volume titled, “Major British Authors”, of all things — Yeats was Anglo-Irish, but still). I read the poem aloud while pacing a loop, surprised by its relevance (it was written in 1921) and impressed by the language’s potency. You can read it below.

But since we just celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, a detour into the Irish love of language is in order. If you don’t think it’s a thing, I challenge you to walk into any sweet shop in Dublin and exchange a few words with the clerk. It’s not just the ‘gift of the gab’ or poetry, of course, but language in all its forms: lyricism, satire, gallows humor and puns, drama, scatological jokes and wicked curses, elegy, eulogy, rants, and prose. This is in my blood.

As for that blood, two generations on? Well, I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone, for what that’s worth. Certainly, my family’s got the art of imprecation covered — all of us curse like sailors. My mother once famously growled, “I wish you kids would stop that god-damned gutter talk!” I might have been eight.

When my children were still quite young (though probably older than eight), I gave them my ‘F word’ speech. We were in the car, of course, all facing forward, strapped in, and aware that whatever it was I had to say, it’d be over in seven minutes.

In the course of my exegesis, I used the word ‘fuck’ at least 15 times, to say, among other things, ‘See boys? You’re not gonna fucking shock ME with the word!’ This tells me that the car ride occurred at a time when I was still limiting my cursing around them.

‘Fuck is a useful word,’ I said like a vocabulary instructor, ‘it has no corollary, really.’ [see what I did there, inserting the word ‘corollary’ ?] ‘Look at how its sound corresponds to its meaning– fuck, fuck, fuck! — how great is that?’ This went on for blocks.

And then, lest you think me derelict, I delivered two cautions, one arising from my love of language, the other from life as a suburbanite. ‘Here’s the thing, boys. If you use the word ‘fuck’ too much, you diminish its power. Don’t do that. You want ‘fuck’ to really mean ‘fuck’ when you say it.’ Did I glance up in the rear view mirror at that moment or save the look for the second warning? ‘Here’s the other thing, and this is important — some people are terribly, terribly offended by the word, I’m not even sure why, really, so watch out. You don’t want people judging you for saying the word ‘fuck’. For now, puh-leeze don’t use it around grown-ups.’

[Now, C uses the word ‘fuck’ almost randomly, nearly as a place holder — so much for preserving its potency].

My father was a clever and witty man who adored word play. He routinely launched riffs of puns that went on and on, and then on some more. We learned to play along, desperately striving to one day outdo him. Rarely happened. Fortunately, any and all attempts were appreciated, no matter how lame (and let’s face it, most puns ARE lame). Since not all of my father’s puns were delivered with corny fanfare, sometimes it was enough just to catch them. Here, I refer to those puns casually stated with a playful stealth. Picture this: family dinner, a sneaky pun inserted into conversation, a pregnant but brief pause, then one or two teenagers rolling eyes and groaning to patriarch’s visible satisfaction.

My father’s weekly efforts with the NY Times crossword puzzle were another source of teenage admiration. How did he do it? Every now and then, I’d snuggle in and try to make a contribution and fail. Just fail. He chewed his cheek and worked methodically — acrosses first, then the downs, scribing his answers with an engineer’s pencil. In some seasons, a football game was on.

My sister and I carry on the puzzle mania. I get the Sunday Times delivered solely for this reason (should be admitted sheepishly, but hey). The first thing I do is make a copy for her and then plop down with pen and coffee and get to work (yes, I do it in pen). Some part of me must still be 15, because even though I now know that half the trick is to simply have lived long enough, it amazes me how frequently I finish (or nearly finish). Unlike my father (after all, I’m no engineer), I work the acrosses and downs simultaneously. But since I’m not crazy, I do go sequentially. For some reason, I don’t consider answers supplied by my husband cheating (he helps with chemistry, sports, and military history) (maybe I’m not that amazing?) For desperate weeks, there’s Rex Parker’s blog — out and out cheating, of course.

As for the Irish love of scatological humor, let’s just say the Mallons had a reputation. Much to our childhood friends’ astonishment, belches and farts were delivered with glee and drama in our house. We ranked belches for volume and texture. Farts came with odor cautions and sometimes a physical gesture, like a lifted leg. I continue to be so foolishly entertained by farts that I’ve made my husband swear he won’t mention it in my eulogy.”She never met a fart she didn’t think was hilarious!”

In the ninth century Irish epic, “The Tain”, by the way, you’d be amazed at the amount of farting going on. And while not exactly on point, there’s also the scene where a vast army is stopped in its tracks by a bunch of women exposing their breasts.

Lastly on this topic of the Irish love of language (is that the topic?): rants. Ranting is a special talent of mine, one I’m kinda known for in my writing circle. While I’m not necessarily proud of this, there can be some art involved. Ranting universally features complaint and wrathful condemnation, but if crafted specifically and originally enough, the words can be elevated into something entertaining or even educational.

The poem by William Butler Yeats follows. It makes obscure references to his work, “A Vision,” but it’s not necessary to know them to feel the piece’s potency.


The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?

Have a nice weekend, all! Maybe give yourself a day without news? Or at least, a day where you wait til after lunch? My next few posts will be short, I promise!

PS It was politics, not St. Patrick’s Day, that drew Yeats’ poem to mind. But how nice to talk around that utterly unbelievable joke with enormous powers of destruction and not say his name.

(The SoulCollage card is part of a recently surfaced batch made a couple of years ago. It’s one of many addressing blood. There’s your Irish mother and child, there’s the ‘family tree’, there are the pea plants used by Mendel to study heredity, and there, running up the lower center, is an abstract coil representing the twisting shape of genes.)

 

 

Who do you come from and to whom do you pray

ripCary & Nana 7-4-95I don’t come from a faith that much honors the ancestors (that is my mother, above with my first born. The B&W is me, circa 1981). That’s why when I read about African belief systems that make ancestor worship central, it feels foreign.

The ancient Celtic bent toward Nature as guide and source, on the other hand, fits like a glove. No wonder I love the writing of Mary Oliver — her poems read like 9th century monastic poetry from Ireland. I find sustenance in her words. Wisdom.

In writing about human bondage in early America, I have often wished for (and on occasion asked for) some sign from the ancestors of the enslaved. Should I be writing this story? Is it okay? Am I okay?

Thundering silence.

Hard not to wonder. But because I am such a master of doubt, it’s hard to give it much weight either.

IMG_7910(A little aside — This cloth, from my Middle Passage series, is somewhere. I never backed it because of the beautiful stained glass effect when hung in a sun-filled window. The others in the series use my favorite house motif to examine both loss and sustenance of culture from one side of the sea to the other. This one, though, explores the sails. All those sails, riding the currents, powering ships packed with black bodies, flapping signals of wealth to some and horror to others).

IMG_7521Anyway, maybe because the anniversary of my mother’s passing was two weeks ago, maybe because there is so much transition in the lives of my sons, making me reflective and sometimes sad or anxious, and maybe because one of my characters is modeled closely on my mother, I have been thinking a lot about my parents.

And duh! It is the guidance and help and esteem and love of my very own dear parents that I should be calling up. My ancestors know me. They dwell in me. They know where I trip up and why. And they (most importantly in this business of moving forward), understand fully my strengths.

They’re the ones to call upon — even about writing a novel about black and white people with NO GENETIC links to me whatsoever.

And so I did. Call upon them. And they did answer.

Pick any three

How three become a story.

This morning I found a big pile of finished Soul Collage cards in my studio (what can I say? And also, aren’t there more somewhere? And what happened to the two dozen plus color copies ready to be trimmed and mounted? — This is what ADD looks like).

Years of Tarot reading (and now Soul Collage card pulling) have taught me that while within every single card there is a story to be found, with three cards, the story tells itself.

These three narrate a tale of parenting. Happening right now. There’s the young man being launched! Into the mountains, specifically.

After a bit of a fall (Humpty Dumpty) and emergency care (doctors have more skill than all the King’s horsemen).

Now the three of us huddle close, two holding up the third for the moment. Fluid, shared creativity will outsmart that horned and hulking bully. Bye bye big reptile guy!

(Fluid creativity is also what ADD looks like, PS).

The meaning of the dance photo is heightened by the fact that the image came from a glossy Vail resort magazine that I clipped years ago. We were at the resort while both boys were still in high school. It was a really special, once in a life time kind of get away (courtesy of my brother). D. fell in love with the Rockies during that trip.

There are a lot of “launch” cards in my deck. That I picked the one with a snowy mountain range demonstrates how synchronicity informs the process.

‘Nuff said. Much still up in the air. There and here. I have tons of pictures from our wonderful trip to Charleston and need to figure out how to share them. Reconsidering Flickr: yahoo keeps getting hacked.

It’s fifty degrees here. Hotter, I’m told, in Boulder.

I’m not really kidding

moon-and-katy-poster-edge

Back in the years when I sat in a transpersonal meditation circle on a regular basis, Gurdjieff was quoted now and then to address the problem of difficult personality. We were reminded that a disruptive, unlikable person was as “yeast to the bread”.

Walking Finn just now, I wondered with a kind of Irish gallows humor, “What happens to the dough when there is more yeast than flour?”

And more to the point of today, tomorrow, and next week, “Is there anything I can let go of here, in an act of sanity-preserving desperation?” At some point, it is sheer masochism to continue with these patterns.

A sensei I once practiced Aikido with gave his students this idea: “Form your purest intention as you step onto the mat, but don’t for a second think you can practice without your personal history. Everybody brings their shit onto the mat.”

With that in mind, it seems I might work at owning my shit and letting the rest go (right Michelle?) Phew! I hope it isn’t too much to ask that said work produce some relief? Not just more slogging through? I’m going to read Gurdjieff today after writing class. That is my consecration.

Oh, and one more piece of dark humor: dealing with difficult stubborn people (with a pronounced bent on making me wrong) does in fact have a silver lining. It makes my stubborn nasty side look pretty benign.

That image is a picture of a partial picture of a quilt, collaged with paper ephemera to make a card.

Unintended documentation : love!


This cracks me up and I love it. Here I am photographing the preparation of a lamb dinner, capturing my fingers and phone.

Small ironies satisfy on the eve of Super Tuesday. I am listening to Tom Ashbrook asking, “what do you see coming if Trump is the nominee?!”

C is home. Two nights, one of them not here. We celebrated his birthday early last night. He interviews for a job this morning and then heads off to spend the rest of the break with his girlfriend.   New discovery: when I have three consecutive days with “nothing on the calendar” I get a lot of writing done. Hurray!

Gratitude and drinking enough water 

 If I don’t make little check marks on my calendar, I don’t drink enough water. It’s that simple. (Half your body weight in ounces is what they recommend).   With that habit well in hand, can I apply the same method to much more demanding process of writing? I’ve even found a mother lode of stickers from when the boys were little. I’m going to give myself hearts, smiley faces, and stars for effort. Don’t we all need encouragement?

 And because gratitude is a habit too, one which wiser people than I have asserted can pave the road to happiness, I am (at last) keeping a gratitude journal faithfully (well for 11 days, anyway!). It is a five year journal and this is the fifth year. There are a lot of neglected weeks with blank entry after blank entry posing a kind of recrimination.

So, I’ve pulled out a couple of old calendars so I can backfill, which is to say, to be grateful in retrospect. Who says gratitude is bound by linear time, anyway? This will also offer the chance to be grateful for things that happened in the intervals.

For instance, this time last year I was dreading doing my sister’s tax return, a chore that was necessitated by successfully getting the government to discharge her student loans. The IRS treats discharged loans as income. So in effect, we got rid of one debt and created another. It would require a special approach to her return. Dread. But that’s behind me now, and I am so, so grateful.

Today I am grateful for sunshine and cold, brisk air after a rainy and grey Sunday. For a long walk with Finn and a friend this morning. I am grateful for Finn’s company as we revert back to the empty nest. I am grateful that two new books (one on S. Carolina during the proprietorship years and one on Yoruban religion) are supposed to arrive today. I am grateful for those of you out there who will actually take the time to read this entry!

and speaking of collars

from the magnificent book "Dress in Detail" - man's wedding vest

Talk about workmanship!!! Wow is it humbling to peruse the book, “Dress In Detail”!! Many of those bands of color (e.g. the deep orange) are rows of teeny and uniform chain stitch.  The pale orange and salmon fuzzy rows near the bottom are couched chenille – a great idea, right?!! You can definitely see why the French word ‘chenille’ means ‘caterpillar’. And the top and roughly-middle black bands are applied black velvet, embellished with near see-through sequins and waving rows of seed beads – two more wonderful ideas.

I came across another men’s wedding vest here — All the Pretty Dresses – a website devoted to archiving garments from prior to 1929.  I especially love the brown ink signature in the lining.  Boro ragmates will appreciate the photo of the patched placket on the inside.

Perhaps this attention to finery is prompted in part by prom festivities last night.  It was quite a scene – five young couples gathered and at least 12 adults, quite a few stray siblings, with most of the onlookers taking pictures!  I felt like a member of the paparazzi. I won’t insert the more traditional scrapbooking shots here, but you have to admire this collection of shoes:

And, you can’t help but smile at this one: