Thursday, September 4, 2014

Essay into poem or poem into essay? Or try it as flash fiction...

This weekend I wrote an essay about a lavender labyrinth; I feel the writing was good but I still wonder if it would make a better poem. This kind of cross-genre hopping helps me figure out what is the most essential way to tell something. If I try it as a flash fiction, a poem, or short story and it doesn't feel more deeply itself, then the first form is probably the right one. But the exercise of writing from another angle reveals more of what can be said.

Here it is as an essay, poem to come soon:

The Lavender Labyrinth Named Laverinth, on My Ex Husbands Farm

The 180 small plants are finishing their first year after a hard winter. The lavender, or more exactly the Lavandin Phenomenal hybrid (Lavandula x intermedia 'Phenomenal') are now the size of cabbages, but soft and prickly as fir needles. In a couple of years they should reach above my knees. They flowered earlier in the summer. The silvery green leaves and stems release a gentle floral and bitter camphor scent when I rub them with my finger. I remember the same aroma rising from my grandmothers dresser drawers where velvet gloves, buttressed girdles, yellowing handkerchiefs, and partial dentures rested in honorable rows. My husband Jim and I follow the path of clover through four quadrants in eight rings; our feet the beating rhythm that speeds the crickets and briefly flattens the white and purple clover blossoms. This is no maze where all but one path dead ends, too grim for contemplation, this is one path to the center of all things, under a shifting sky of cloud and early September light. 

The labyrinth is next to a quiet country road. As we turn the bends, our elemental spirit, the dog Sadie, at first follows on the tarp covered curves, where small bushes of lavender poke out of diamond cuts. She takes off and wants to cross the street to investigate the neighbors horses, and we call her back. She bounds, the size of a barn cat, long body leaping on short legs. She finds a musky spot between lavender and clover, and rolls in it, her black and tan limbs upside down dancing the joy of being. 

We talk and pace, taking photos, watching the sunlight and clouds alternately illuminate and cloak fields and barns, while our hosts bend and weed the 2,908 lavender plants (Lavendin Grosso, with less floral scent and a higher oil yield) in the fields on the hill behind their stone farmhouse. Once the plants mature, this will be the largest or second largest lavender farm in New York State. Dave, Diane, and our daughter Natalie tend the straight lines with mowers, scissors, and gloved hands. 

What should I contemplate in this curving artery of plants? My life plan no longer numbers in decades...I may have several years, or months, but the hope of a cure, or stasis, keeps me living less elegiacally. I embrace Dianne's wish I take a contemplative walk. I can accept there is this day, this turn on the path, this scent of evaporating dew released from leaf and earth. The air tastes fresh and the view is clear. My loving companion is just behind me. Our shoes and pant cuffs grow damp. The dog sniffs her journey. The crickets declare, "here now, here now," to lure a mate before the frost. They don't know this is their one season, they're hardwired to fiddle their desire. The sun heats my neck and shade cools it. Around and around, I begin to hear folk songs I once listened to on vinyl records. The Celtic music we play when we're feeling romantic. And around. I think of The Secret Garden, a novel that made a garden one of the main characters and made me want both children and roses to thrive. I hope to see this labyrinth grow to its full strength, just as I hope the Allen's make a success of their livelihoods here in the Adirondacks. I want my grandchildren to run or crawl through this clover, even if I don't get to greet them at the end or lead them in at the beginning. It may seem impossible I am friends with my ex and his wife, we defy convention. They are so better suited to each other than we were. Me a farmer? Never. My husband, my Jim, is in synch with me. We claim membership in the artist class, bohemians, or as my grandmother said, lives of genteel poverty. I have no regrets, Dave and I raised daughters who have become admirable women. We have good partnerships. Natalie and Caitlin will walk these pathways alone or with their loves. The same sun will warm their arms and ears. 

Whatever makes the clover spring back from footsteps is strong in me. My fingernails are tree rings showing bands for each round of chemo. Each time I must recover strength, appetite, sleep, laughter, and a desire to walk, write, draw, and take photos. Each time I must travel this path and recenter myself. Leave regret at the entry, not worry about what waits in the future, feel my weight shift from foot to foot, breathe in and out, until end of the path appears. 

This labyrinth is a shifting vista from the plants and insects at my feet to the 360 degree view.  Staying aware of the present moment, with my senses, takes practice. I am so used to tuning out conversations and sense distractions around me. I sink into the thin attachments of friendship in social media, exist in the chaotic replay of music fragments and to do lists, automatic analysis of type kerning, composition, and color (the side effect of being a graphic designer), rerun old hurts or difficult conversations, and replay scenes from miniseries and novels; that is my conscious mind. I am calmer and become a better writer when I live in the heartbeat of time. All the senses flow through the labyrinth. It can travel with me, if I need to relax. I can recall the cricket song, sun heating my skin, sharp sweet scent, an echo of clambering into the private spaces within hedges as a girl, small wind cooling my scalp, the crunch and rustle of my man and dog pacing behind or ahead of me, seeing the barn, horse, road, old schoolhouse filled with hay wheels, van, farmhouse, gigantic maple tree, lavender rows, hill, mountains, cloud, sun, and feeling my own body still carrying me, step by step, breath by breath through this chambered green heart on a hillside in Washington county.
Laverinth: a lavender labyrinth for meditative walking.

My dog Sadie bounding through the labyrnth.

A cricket sings from the safety of the lavender leaves.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Croissant and Viennoiserie Diary

August 2014
As I left a meeting with my oncology nutritionist, on Manhattans Upper East Side, I noticed Gotham Café advertising Balthazar goodies inside. I've been craving a gluten treat ever since my daughter Caitlin sent an email from Paris describing the perfect crunch, chew, and buttery savor of a superb croissant. Granted, sweet carbohydrates weren't on the doctors recommended foods list; but I have been eating gluten free for years and wanted a bit of carpe diem during chemo. I'll soon be eliminating carbo sweets, except for rare occasions, and embracing cruciferous veggies within a Mediterranean diet to better improve my chances against the cancer. But this week...I'm on a farewell spree...

Balthazar Almond Croissant
It smelled buttery and almondy as I bit the end to ascertain the quality of the dough. It was texture perfection, lofty and well layered, flaky crunch outside, softer but maintaining tender layers inside, and a perfect golden brown. The flavor was good, butter and flour were fresh, but the taste didn't leap to heavenly. My next bite, with base and topping, sent me into bliss. The majority of the croissant had toasted almonds slices set into a thin frangipani coating on the top. The almonds amplified the crunch and shatter of the outer crust. The marzipan flavor was perfectly calibrated to the ratio of dough in a mouthful. Sweet but not too sweet. As I waited for my bus and took bites I must have looked like an addict scoring a hit. It was the best almond croissant I've ever had. Balthazar has a commercial bakery in New Jersey supplying many cafés in the city and a walk in bakery at 80 Spring Street, in SoHo, NYC.

The delicious Balthazar almond croissant is sold in many locations.
Yes, the inside of the Balthazar almond croissant is as good as it looks, crisp and tender buttery  layers, lofty and light.

Balthazar Chocolate Croissant
Having read online that Oren's Daily Roast, in my Columbia University neighborhood, sold Balthazar baked goods, I waited on the long line as my husband and dog regarded me mournfully through the window. The rack held a line of chocolate croissants that were uniform and squarish with a shiny top layer that proved to be a thin brush of egg glaze. Unfortunately the croissants were dark and appeared to be over baked. They looked factory produced, while the Balthazar almond croissants have more variety in shape, giving them a hand crafted appearance. The over baked proved to be true, when sniffing them there was an smoky scent. The multilayered dough had a dry slightly bitter burnt flavor. The real surprise was in the chocolate filling, deliciously bitter sweet and respectfully subdued in quantity so as not to overwhelm the other flavors. I wished I could have experienced one baked correctly and I need to do so to make this a fair review. But even so, I suspect this chocolate croissant will only prove to be good but not memorable. My husband said good layers, burnt flavor.

Balthazar chocolate croissant, over baked.

Balthazar chocolate croissant, lovely texture, chocolate restraint.

La Toulousaine Raspberry Croissant
I discovered there was a French bakery nearby on 942 Amsterdam Avenue (between West 106th and 107th Streets). I got there with Jim and our hound by 8:30 am to have a large choice of fresh offerings. The raspberry croissants were large long irregular rectangles, lavishly dusted with confectioners sugar, and smelled delicious. Despite being somewhat flat, there were many layers inside. The crust didn't have quite as much crunch as I like but was tasty, well layered, and baked to a golden color. The inner layers were soft, due no doubt to the wet influence of jam during baking. The filling was thick and very sweet but not over powering. It was utterly delicious and earns the reviews it gets online. Bring a wipe or napkin for the powdered sugar and sticky jam that will trace a smile around your mouth.
La Toulousaine pain aux raisins on left and the amazing raspberry croissant on the right.
La Toulousaine raspberry filling, just the right amount of goodness.

La Toulousaine Pain aux Raisins
The circular raisin ring had been treated with a thick pour of clear sugar glaze and a central sprinkling of chunky sugar crystals. Both choices worried me, these are treatments I'm used to from vending machines and Dunkin' Donuts. The dough wasn't sufficiently flaky. In taste it was superior to commercial products but fell far short of what I'd expect from a real French bakery. I took only two bites. My daughter Caitlin, just returned from a month Europe, where she became an expert consumer of pain aux raisins, said it wasn't bad, she's had worse, and only took one bite. If you prefer your pain aux raisins extra sweet and soft, you may like this, but for me it was only passable due to the fresh ingredients.
La Toulousaine pain aux raisins interior. Too sweet?

La Toulousaine Almond Croissant
It is clear the pastry chef at La Toulousaine prefers the Viennese approach which adds creamy fillings to the interior. This almond croissant appeared limp on the rack and looked insufficiently baked inside. I found the overall flavor to be decent but had no desire to eat more than a third of it. The interior was unappealing, it tasted like wet under baked dough. The outer crust didn't shatter or crunch although it had a good flavor. The next day I stopped by and said the croissant had been under baked, "oh no,'" said the woman server, "it is the filling." I had not experienced it as a filling, only clumpy gooey dough. Another rack of damp defeated almond croissants waited on the shelf. I wouldn't recommended this when such better alternatives exist; do order the raspberry croissant.
La Toulousaine almond croissant
La Toulousaine almond croissant interior.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I am interviewed in my role as book designer!

Mary Mackey, author herself, interviewed me about designing book covers. Here it is:

Saturday, April 26, 2014

More inking fun on 1 train commute

I love drawing with my Japanese ink brush pen. I do a quick pencil sketch and expand it with wet ink line. I realized, it was a flash really, that I don't have to anxiously keep bobbing my head around to keep one person in view to do a portrait. Or gently nudge someone so I can see past them! As people move on and off the subway, or get obscured, I simply look for someone a bit like them at nearly the same angle and keep drawing. I had people on the left and right of me watching eagerly as I discovered this and they too were swiveling around to see who would model an ear or mouth or jacket. So now I've invented the composite portrait. Ta da!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Quest for Jello

Today I was on a clear liquid diet in preparation for tomorrows colonoscopy. I went out at lunch hour and bought a chicken broth from a sushi place and began searching lower midtown Manhattan for another approved item on the list, Jello. It has the illusion of being a solid. 

At the corner convenience store the manager said "Yellow? Yellow?" as I said "Jello, Jello?" We did this a few times. He clearly didn't have any.

I next tried the upscale healthy mini-lunch, artisan coffee, artful minimal decor place. There the terribly buff and shellacked looking guy said "Noooo, we don't sell...Jello." You know, as if I'd asked for beef jerky or a jar of pickled pig trotters. "I'm on a liquid diet today, I really need to find Jello!" He sniffed. I left.

I tried and tried, diners, bagel shops, delis, a pizza Jello.

Finally, realizing there were several bar/eateries on the street, I waddled into the first one wearing my Nepalese knitted cap, two coats, pink scarf, and neon red plastic knee high boots. Brisk walking just is not possible in an ice storm wearing this gear while carrying my take out bag with the soup. I asked the wait staff "do you have Jello, like in Jello shots?" They sort of backed away from me. "Actually all I want is the Jello part?" They glanced at each other and with barely smothered smirks said "no."

In the second bar I asked the hostess if they had Jello shots. She stared at me for a moment and said "we don't serve Jello" and when I pleaded "but I'm on a liquid diet today," she looked at me with something like pity and said "no Jello, we don't serve that here." She glanced meaningfully at the exit.

I gave up. Midtown is officially a Jello-free zone. And I don't even like the stuff.

Monday, October 7, 2013

more "Inktober" efforts

I'm doing daily ink sketches and I generally can't resist adding color. I may try black line and gray wash as a compromise--so I will get more line aware. I'm still startled by drawing with a bold thick line...but I'm having fun.
Will soon go back to a daily poetry prompt too. Having Pocket Park published is great, but it also leaves me empty of a current poetry project. And until I get obsessed with new themes, time to just do it, keep writing and drawing. It is so good to do throwaway creative exercises. Occasionally something worth keeping, developing, comes out of it.
October is for familiars and witches.

Houndlet performs the Danish play.
This time, just ink and ONE color.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Launch for Pocket Park

Friday, November 15, 2013, 7 p.m.
Poet's House
10 River Terrace, New York, NY
(212) 431-7920

Pocket Park is published!

Yes, October 1st came and the status of my book is no longer "forthcoming" but "adopt me!"

Going on press to check color was a huge good thing to do. I was sick with a cold, but with tissues on hand, I took the LIRR out to East Rockaway, NY. where Sandy McIntosh, publisher at Marsh Hawk Press, picked me up and drove us to the printers, Sterling Pierce. After four tries we approved a better cover than Michael Arguelles, the color tech guru, had at first shown us. He was patient and ultimately shifted the cover to another machine that was able to deliver more contrast and saturation than the one printing the interior.

The interior looks really good, it helps to be on glossy brochure style paper. After getting a first set of proofs at home last month I'd adjusted color slightly on nine of the interior photos (too dark or too light) and now they printed just fine. I've created a color setting in Photoshop for each printer I use so the screen emulates their color. It's working, I'd guess about 90% on target, since a piece of printed paper will never be as bright as the stained glass effect of a glowing monitor. Or in design-speak, two different color spaces, CMYK vs RGB (like comparing Olive Oil to Popeye in a battle of color strength).

Digital color printing still isn't the equal of a traditional full 4-color's gotten a lot better in the last several iterations of the machines that churn these pages out. The digital printers are basically a seven foot long photocopier. Traditional presses can be the length of an Olympic sized pool and wide as a semi! My photos don't depend on subtle shifts in skin tone, that would be hard to do digitally. Pocket Park, visually, is about mid-tone gray and tan geometric urban planes contrasting with saturated hues of water and foliage. An urban park in color. With poems in black ink Garamond.

Sandy asked me to pick some photos from the book to put on the Marsh Hawk Press gallery section of their website. And to talk about how the book came into being, including my experience working with digital color. So here is my day wearing three hats: poet, photographer, and book designer. All three happy.

The skilled Michael Arguelles with me at Sterling Pierce, printers.
Due to head cold, I'm having a massive bad hair week.

Sandy McIntosh, publisher at Marsh Hawk Press.

4 pages to a sheet.

Look! My title page! Sandy tends to blink into the flash,
honestly he looked lots happier than this.

Good color all the way through.

Approved to print & bind.

Inktober, or how to get practice for a month drawing in ink

October is Inktober. Who knew? Now you do too. One a day.
Here is Mr. Acorn, based on nuts stolen from squirrels on a walk with my daughter Caitlin 2 weeks ago in Central Park. She also draws in ink, in her case, the blue and black of everyday ball point pens. This was drawn with a Pentel marker/brush and colored pencils.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mom, Julie Harris, and me, a cautionary tale

My Julie Harris story.
When I was 9-3/4, my mother took me on her yearly weekend trip to Vermont to visit her old high school. We stayed at the Woodstock Inn for a night and visited the town, woods, and ski slopes where she'd perfected her "Christys," and drove by the turn-off to the Woodstock Country School as she extolled the delights of hiking and fresh air in her Brooklyn accent. Larry Hagman had also gone to that boarding school, a year or so ahead, but they weren't friends, especially since Mom wasn't a bit interested in dating boys.
On our way back from the pilgrimage to my mother's youth, we pulled into a restaurant in Connecticut to get a late lunch and help me recover from the car-sickness I felt from my mothers smoke filled-car and its rough rocking suspension.
"I'm sorry, we just closed."
"My girl really needs something to eat, could you please see if someone in the kitchen could help us with a bite?"
I was pale and swaying.
"All right," said the waitress returning from the chef, "but you can't sit in the dining room, we have a private party there, we can seat you in this side room."
As we followed her, Mom glanced through the dining room door as it swung shut and grabbed my arm and hoarsely whispered "Oh My God! Julie Harris. JULIE HARRIS!!! is sitting in there!"
Mom kept muttering Julie Harris to herself.
We sat down. I gulped my water and ate a breadstick. Mom stared at me. She tentatively tried to straighten my bangs (impossible), push the topiary of curls out of my face (hopeless), and reposition the cat-shaped tortoise shell eyeglasses that habitually slipped off-tilt down my nose.
"You're cute, all kids are cute," she began. I could see she was doing her best to believe this. The drool stains from when I'd managed to fall asleep sucking on a stick of licorice hardly showed on my shirt.
"Look, you're out of water, you walk in there with that empty glass and nicely ask the waitress for more water and then when Julie Harris looks at you tell her how much you loved her in The Member of the Wedding. She played a kid in that. Perfect. Go on." She wiped my mouth with a corner of her napkin. Squinted. Removed my glasses. Then wet her palms with water and squashed down my hair. "Go now. Better without the glasses, go on."
I was deeply myopic. I only bumped into a few chairs heading into the dining room peering about for the waitress… Julie and the man were absorbed in one of those tense weird adult conversations full of silences and conversational stabs. I tip-toed over. My heart hammered. Julie was skinny and not that much bigger than me.
"Could I please have some waaaa…." I began.
Julie and her companion startled and stared at me with the same expression one gives a newly produced hairball.
"I told you we wanted privacy, privacy, get out, get out!!" She shouted over my head.
The waitress ran in, a white aproned blur.
"Get out!"
I ran.
"We're never coming back here! Get me the check." was the last I heard.

I rejoined my mother, breathless and red-faced.
"How did it go, did you get her autograph?"
I shook my head.
"No…I don't think she likes kids."
"Mmmm, actresses, probably don't know what they're missing not having a girl like you."
I put my glasses back on and decided I'd earned French Toast with whipped cream for lunch.
"How could she not like you, you're so cute?"
"I dunno."
"Why didn't you get water?"
"Waitress wasn't there."
"That's where you went wrong! You should have waited to ask the waitress for water, you don't ask Julie Harris for water."
"I'll never do it again, Mom, promise."

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Let the book get printed, embrace promotion!

I am almost ready to send Pocket Park to the printer! Print proofs look good, I did final adjustments to a half dozen photos... It is getting one last proofreading before it goes because, you know, I don't want any new typos creeping in and having you, dear public, gently point them out.

My friend Flash suggested I could lead a workshop on how to take a regular lunch hour hangout and turn it into a project of seeing, of being there, using more of your senses, in the course of a year. That would be fun!

As I let this project stop, no more changes, revisions, additions, or deletions, I am still aware of the more perfect book I wanted it to be. This ghostly betterness has once again slipped my ability and I'm left with doingness.  I created this book to the fullest, the most that I could and that feels right. I wish I had better mental and physical equipment (a small DSLR would be able to capture motion, which my pocket camera cannot) but hey, I can only be the me I am and as much as I'd like to borrow some O'Hara, Sylvia Plath or Donald Justice, Diane Arbus or Vivian Maier... I was stuck with me. No, revise that, I was me but I paid attention.

I will give readings and see if the Eventi Hotel wants to work with me on a way to celebrate the book. I can create a site. I'm agog.

My mind is turning to new books, in the perfect blur of possibility. Like falling in love. The work-in-progress is saying, Claudia, this time, this time you will get closer, and in the process surprise yourself. So here I come, goodbye done, hello beguiling.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My first article on making fantasy maps is published!!!

I just received my copies of The Portolan, journal of the Washington map society. In 2011 I gave a talk in the map room of the library of congress to the society. The editor of the journal, Tom Sander, asked me to turn it into an article, with some of the images that had been in my PowerPoint slideshow. Since I'd sort of gone off script in the talk, my nervousness just miraculously evaporated as I spoke, I recreated the jist and added more to explain what I've learned over the years of making literary invented worlds become visible. I also looked at how changes in technology shaped how I worked. Not to mention fitting a universe in a tiny poorly printed paperback page. I got a bit more personal than the journal was expecting, but hopefully, their readers will enjoy hearing, again, about the joys, and sometime failures, of this particular craft.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Final moments on cover and then I WILL MOVE ON

Creating the ad for Fall 2013 Marsh Hawk Press books...there are two launching. Pocket Park has met its final count down. So will it be PATH, REFLECTION, or TREES?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cover me round 2, more abstract mostly

I thank everyone who voted on the covers I put together yesterday, your comments and reactions got me thinking about getting more mysterious, abstract, and focused. So here are today's contestants (click to see larger):

A, front runner from yesterday







Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cover me!

I'm finishing my book Pocket Park and getting files ready to go to the printer. The inside is done, the library of congress data arrived and I put it in its slot on the copyright page, I've made final corrections, and it will soon fly out of here on it's electrons.

But now—the cover. Do I have the best photo for it?

The one I picked is rather dark, suggesting the poems are likewise, and mostly, they aren't. But I'm afraid of using something too bland, too meh. So tell me, which ones look best?
Note, A is the current cover.











Summer Haiku

Trees discuss the heat,
lack of soil, they sigh and creak
in their rough girdles.

The US Open in the Pocket

The ball pocks
from serve to racket
heads swivel
following the play
on the outdoor
mega-wall display

the pixelated ball
is the irregular beat
of a collective heart

sparrows hop
close and closer
to unguarded bounty
as Forest Hills
thrills New York county.