Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seven Days, Six Sentences

Can you believe it has been only a week? Obama has done more righteous stuff in seven days than another, whom I can no longer mention by name, did in seven years. Finally, I can read the paper again and not be either outraged or nauseous; I can listen to an entire news broadcast without clicking it off when that noxious, self-serving, smirking voice came on. I am cheering Obama on with every step he takes, every program he initiates. The road ahead won't be smooth, but at least it will be heading in the right direction. The times might be rough, but it's easier to work together with a leader we respect.

Science is Coming, People.

On Tuesday at noon the
sun suddenly came out I
swear I said to my
daughter something was happening but
what and the stars don't
care about us who we
elect or when we listen to
the radio and hear it
say President Obama is going
to shut down the prison
the stars don't care they
are forever exploding hydrogen atoms
slowly depleting dying like us
to them if they thought
at all they'd think everything
we do is in prison
the president said we could
write poems again saying "president"
that people would have to
think about not just understand
like he said "science is
coming, people" to which my
son said "did he say
science?" I said "I know
it's hard to believe but
the new president said science"

Poem by Matt Rohrer
Day #2:

Courtesy of Paul Lisicky and Mark Doty, I discovered this fabulous project 100 Days Poems , a poem a day for Obama's First 100 Days. Matt Rohrer's poem (above) I found particularly apt, living and working with scientists as I do, but others are equally as stunning. And if you want to see Elizabeth Alexander's magnificent poem "Praise Song" as she wrote it, not as it was mangled/transcribed by the press, Mark Doty posted it on his blog here

Monday, January 26, 2009

Reports of Absence/Abcess/ Absinthe

When you work for any large institution, you gotta fill out forms. Lots of forms, and more of them every semester. Some forms, like Attendance and Absence Reports, can be filled out each time with pretty much the exact same wording. Easy to tell how code numbers and check boxes caught on.

This month, I endured some dental experiences that the designation "Dental Appointments" didn't quite describe. So on the Absence Report (that's a metaphor I have to follow some day), I wrote: Bent and broken canines. Bleeding gums, sutures, surgery, pain, soft foods.

I could have included: long afternoon lolling on the bed in a Vicodin stupor, listening to Books on Tape and drooling pinkishly on my pillow. But I didn't. Sometimes I can tell when I'm going too far.

Now, if the report comes back to me with red slashes and REDO stamped all over it, I know at least they do read the damn things. Which has to be even worse than filling them out. Next month, I'll include a plot. About absence. With absinthe. Excuse my lisp.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


okay, so yes, I sniffled and teared up. Actually, I cried ... and I stomped my feet and cheered and hollered amen! That was my Praise Song for the Day.

Elizabeth Alexander was, of course, far more articulate. The last lines of her poem, Praise Song for the Day, were particularly so and particularly true.

"In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light."

Elizabeth Alexander, Jan 20, 2009

Daylight arrived, ready or not.

The rank and file of market umbrellas, somber green below,
a damp patina above, hunker around the patio in the fog-still morning.

Some are folded up on themselves, comatose, giant bats waiting
for nightfall; others are half-opened and slanted sideways,
coming in for a landing, caught in mid-flight.

Monday, January 19, 2009

On Mutts ... and Zebras

My family (of origin) moved a lot, like every two years or so. In each new town, I’d be asked where I came from, meaning what parentage we claimed. I used to think it was a way of asking what breed we were. My parents are from New England, I’d end up saying, we’re Yankees, because trying to describe my mother’s immigrant Finnish heritage and my father’s upright/uptight New England Unitarian genealogy going back generations was too difficult. To my father's parents, we must have been mutts: old blood & immigrant upstart. My son is a mutt and a half, born of myself (one mutt) and his Pakistani father (Pushto heritage, raised in Karachi, more of a displacement); my daughter, a sort of polyglot mutt: her father having German and English in various mixes on both sides, combining with my Yankee style Welsh-Finnish stew. Even my Finnish grandmother could have described my mom and her sisters as mutts, because their father, while Finnish, came from Swedish stock. Tsk, tsk, was the connotation.

I’d bet my bottom dollar that your family is part mutt, too.

and by the way: less than 12 hours! just can't wait!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Inauguration for The People

For the first time ever, I not only know people who are going to this Presidential Inauguration but some who have been invited to it (Mark Doty, Paul Lisicky, among others) and someone who's going to speak, the poet Elizabeth Alexander. (no, don't know her well, but well enough--she was at the Napa Valley Writers Conference in 2007 and will be again this summer. Excellent choice, Obama!) Highly unusual on all accounts for moi. Generally speaking, my people go to Washington, DC either for protesting or touristing, although a couple of them have gone there for work, and one of them went to testify before a Congressional Committee of sort; I don't remember which one or about what, it was along time ago, and we've since forgiven him.

This is different. I even considered going myself except for the money, time, huge crowds, below-freezing temps. I am a temperature wimp these days. But people from my town, my work, my vocation, my community, from every strata that I deal with, are going. My people are going. And my people are welcome. I would not say that was true of many other Inaugurations; Bill Clinton's excepted, perhaps. Certainly not a G.W.Bush Inauguration. Not to say that many of my people would have wanted to go, but really, the little people, the worker-bees, the fabric of America? We didn't count for much in that regime, his protests to the contrary.

This outpouring of support, emotion, even gratitude, is the result of Obama's own sense of grace, his intelligent compassion, his attention to what matters to the vast majority of Americans, rather than the elite minority who attempt to wheel and deal their hold on power. The millions flooding into Washington this weekend are not just representatives of his constituency; they are his constituency: everyone, the full gamut, the entire enchilada. We worked for him; we believed in him. We couldn't offer him influence or even much money, but we volunteered what time and effort we could. We talked to strangers, to our friends and family, we blogged; we drove to other states, made phone calls, contributed $25 or $30 when we could. And he remembers that.

It just makes my little heart go pitta-patt.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Books 2008

well, nothing like no explanation, eh? I wanted to shorten my posted book list but didn't want to lose the titles....so I plopped them onto a post, and then was called away. This isn't conclusive, just what I managed to note. It would be difficult to pick a favorite of these, but Junot Diaz's novel might be it. I still recall the vibrancy of both tale and language. I see I didn't include any of the Toni Nelson books I know I read, nor the Ann Patchett books, either. Such an inadequate list. Oh well.

Home Remedies; Angela Pnueman
Rope Bridge; Nan Cohen
Bearing the Body; Ehud Havazalet
Mendocino Stories; Ann Packer
Dive from Clausen's Pier; Ann Packer
Poetics of Space; Gaston Bachelard
Mind of the Raven; Bernd Heneich
Self Storage; Gayle Brandeis
Eat, Pray, Love; Elizabeth Gilbert
Ron Carlson Writes a Story; Ron Carlson
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Junot Diaz
The Road; Cormac McCarthy

Monday, January 12, 2009

Balmy/ Barmy in January

It's weirdly warm today; a Santa Ana without winds in mid-winter. 81 degrees; the very definition of balmy. In January. In Sonoma County. Granted it rarely snows much here, but still, we don't walk around in shorts and flip-flops all year. Or most of us don't, anyway.

I heard mutterings of "earthquake weather," but some people say that about any odd thing. It's spooky though. I considered swimming in the campus's outdoor pool at noon; people were swimming at noon, normal people not just the ballsy (or knuckleheaded) Polar Bear Club folks who brave the SF Bay on New Year's Day. It's especially un-nerving after the past several weeks of quite severe cold (for us Bay Areans), when we had to cover up the citrus and scrape ice (not just frost) off the windshields. Warm up the cars and wear mittens,too! jimminy cricket, what the hell is going on? Everyone is confused, pixie-headed, twitterpated. The usual words won't suffice. "So warm," describes the temperature, but doesn't convey how bizarre it is to be 80 degrees in the middle of our winter. Like we were in Australia, like the climates were switching sides. Soon whirlpools and drains will twirl out widdershins and we'll be throwing Barbies at the shrimp, who'll scuttle off in absolute disgust that we can't even get that right.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Blog Hopping

My latest muse-avoidance technique is blog-hopping. You know, skipping from one blog to another on those seductive little links, each one a small step over the edge into the unknown, a present begging to be unwrapped. I've become fascinated by a blog's blogroll, that side-ladder of possibilities, each rung a leap into a separate distinct entire universe, all coexisting, many of them linked to each other in necklaces of connection. String Theory in action.

So I've been bagging a few writerly blogs of my own. (Well-written ones, of course). Rather than merely run the list, I'll try to introduce some of them as I go along, kinda like the notes scientists use to describe their captured quarry.

One of the best spots to start, kind of a 6-degrees-from-anyone spot, is Paul Lisicky's blog. First of all, he posts about his own travels and writing life, puts up poems, photos, fabulous quotes from what he's reading (he reads a lot), etc. The usual what-have-you of blogs, perhaps, but done well. He's also the author of two books, "Lawn Boy" and "Famous Builders" and teaches and reads, like, all over. I first met him when he taught at Antioch LA a few years ago (5?) and then again at Napa Valley Writers Conference last summer. I've always enjoyed his poetic prose and hands-on workshops. Anyway, you can get his full Monty (figuratively speaking) from his blog and also visit his eclectic blogroll, rife with fascinating blogs, which are, in turn, linked to other fascinating blogs, linked to...etc. It's a serially opening flower, a lotus blossom, a quagmire. The web-thing. And as great a way to meet other writers as I know.

And from there, I went to Avoiding the Muse, written by C.Dale Young, a poet, teacher, editor and doctor in San Francisco (I think this means you can do it all), a treasure-trove of riches, which led me to Luna which isn't a blog so much as a Journal of Poetry and Translation, with widely spaced postings, but! it hosts a tidy collection of links to other journals. For those who are submitting, it's a compact resource of journals. As opposed to those monstrous, every-journal-known-to-humankind sorts of lists that are just too overwhelming to comprehend or wade through. And so you don't.

I lost track of how I got to bookeywookey, but does it matter what steps I take? I put the shortcut up. Perhaps from Mark Doty's excellent blog. And there I will leave you, friends, in the hands of a poet. Where else would one want to be?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Peace on Earth?

The gift wrap is all gone, the photos have been shared, the kids have gone back to their respective homes, taking cookies with them, thank the Goddess of Sweet Snacks, and the place has returned to its winter somnolence.

Sort of.

Our neighbor, who would probably like to remain nameless, decided that he needed to re-orient his above-ground pool. In order to do that, he needed to police the margins of the new spot it now, already, occupies. In order to do that, he needed to climb the two trees on our shared property line and trim all the large and small branches that stretched over his side, so leaves and doot-skreet wouldn't fall in his pool. In order to do that, he had to use a chain saw. Right above my head, while I was trying to work on a recalcitrant essay about the joys of nature. Joys which evaporated as branches swished past my little window and thunked to the concrete on my neighbor's property, right next to my little garden-shed studio. Which is I how I discovered his nefarious plan. I say nefarious because now my studio, which was once more or less quiet, somewhat secluded and tucked discreetly under the spreading branches of the two locust tree, their trunks acting as protective barrier between his yard and ours, now stands brightly revealed. Exposed. Not secret.

I don't like it.

Writing, for some reason, is a very private act for me. I don't like being observed while writing; for a long time I wouldn't even tell anyone I was writing, just "working on something." Even now I'll say: "I'm going out to the studio for a while," or "I've got a project going on." I can edit or write at a coffeehouse or in libraries, but that is privacy gained from anonymity. I prefer, when possible, to wait for everyone to go to bed before I start writing, as if it needs to be done surreptitiously. Un-noticed. Why this is, eludes me. It's a comfort thing, I guess, a way of ensuring no distractions or interruptions, or a way for the imagination to be paramount, run rampant, with no fear of witnesses.

The trees, after a day and half of his efforts, were quite lopsided, unbalanced and potentially unsafe, ready to topple in a windstorm, with the heavy side of the tree right over MY STUDIO. So Heroic Spouse has spent the past two days sawing opposing limbs off our side and making cord-wood out of it. (No one wants me handling a chain saw.) Then there was all the clean-up: twigs, leaves, sawdust, branchlets. etc. It was not the activity we'd scheduled for our weekend.

Today, after stacking, raking, sweeping and stuffing our Garden Waste can to overflowing, after finally putting the saws and clippers away, this neighbor suggested taking the trees out completely, because as he points out, now they are pretty much butt-ugly. No, duh. In which case there will be nothing between my studio and HIS POOL. Just a chain link fence, some headphones and my seething attitude.

I'm googling thick, fast-growing, climbing vines. Honeysuckle. Jasmine. Trumpet flower. I hear they are good bee habitat. Now there's some nature I can enjoy.