Sunday, December 28, 2008

Shopping for very large metal things

Yesterday my husband and I strolled up Broadway on a rather warm foggy evening and window shopped for big machines. We discovered that a really good gas range costs upwards of a thousand dollars for a 24 inch wide model. Those fancy ones have easy clean burner tops, sturdy knobs and oven doors that open with a satisfying well balanced thunk. The cheap one we had installed after the fire in our building, is working but the handles are smashed, the top is chipped--it now looks like it is 40 rather than 7 years old--and the oven itself is temperature iffy. Ugh. But a thousand bucks to cook lasagna? When the hotbox we have works? Gonna wait.

The under the sink dishwasher is very expensive to replace. We went through heck trying to get GE to fix the one we have. They sent a guy, whose visit cost half the price of a new dishwasher, he said we needed a new part for the pump because a piece of glass had torn the seal. It worked in a leaky but not pouring sort of way. He would come back once the part was sent. Then three times running GE sent us a new fridge light. We could not get the part we needed to fix the pump. Phone calls were useless, they just sent the light bulb again saying this was the part the service guy had asked for. They offered to send another service guy to look at things for half the cost of a new dishwasher... so we could not ever get it resolved. We have been without a dishwasher for two years. The only under the sink dishwasher available in the city is, you got it, the same GE model. The cost of a new one, delivery and hook up is about a thousand dollars. Or we hand wash. But wouldn't fixing the one we have be the most economical approach? Apparently GE won't service us ever again if we don't use their crack team... And we know how that worked out. A plumber is our only hope. For non DUI types like myself, ignoring the broken space hog under the sink has been the easiest thing. But no more, my new years resolution, fixed dishwasher or new storage space!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Craft time

This afternoon my daughter Caitlin and one of her high school friends (who now goes to RISD) sat at our table beading necklaces and earrings, my other daughter Natalie sat next to me on the couch cross stitching a leaf, I enjoyed their life, college, and craft chatter and felt the urge to make something, so Natalie requested a hot water bottle (crocheted) cover in her favorite colors.
"What about granny square variations?" I asked, pulling orange and red skeins out of one of my many craft project boxes.
"That sounds great ma."
I am remembering that I used to know tricksy moves like the "Front Post Double Crochet"and now have to look at photographs with detailed instructions in order to make these stitches.

It feels so good to make something that only has to be functional and pretty. I don't have to worry if I've inadvertently picked up some great poet's imagery, I don't have to worry that I've swiped a Chip Kidd or Honi Werner cover flavor, I don't ever have to ask if my sock monkey or oven mitt is ready for a professional hall of fame. Nope, pretty and functional, which is about all I could ask for the holiday season playing out here at home.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

wish list for 2008

For all of you muses looking to give me a last minute gift, here it is, my wish list!

In no particular order I would like:

1. more time in the day, especially for seeing friends.
2. a heaping sack of self discipline.
3. a laurel wreath, like the singing bass, that I can place on my brow and it will belt out "you were a finalist, even if you didn't win, in the Pushcart Prize."
4. a green and orange parrot, but not before my cat departs for the afterlife.
5. a stay at Yaddo or any of the other writer's retreats.
6. an osmotic transformation whereby I wake up knowing how to write in form and rhyme and this doesn't come at the expense of my immortal soul or require me to avoid sunlight because I no longer cast a shadow.
7. a vacation in Nice.
8. a chance to chew and taste all the great meals I see on the cooking channel.
9. the benefits of exercise without having to actually do it.
10. renewed faith in the U.S. government. Oh yeah, peace on earth and a balanced budget.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Speaking in verse

So just how hard is it to make people talk in meter and rhyme? If you are Shakespeare, apparently not that hard. If you are me, daunting.

And I want to create an entire book of poetry with people talking this way. I'm insane. I need to be infused with a little Alexander Pope, a dash of Dante, some... wait! I want people to be talking like it is 2009ish.

Bad extemporaneous example:

Ding-dong. "Hello?" I look through the peep hole,
do I know this woman in the blue stole?
"Hi there, come to our holiday party
we're starting tomorrow at six thirty."
I open my door a little wider
my dog charges out and tries to bite her...

Maybe aa bb rhyme a little too Seuss? My meter sucks. Heroic couplets a fools quest? All end stopped boredom. Just hand me that glass of wine and I'll drown my ambitions. Or does this call for some bracing up with the Norton Anthology? It's fat enough to whack my brain with. Jim would tell me near rhyme is a desecration, but my muse allows it. Free verse isn't called free for nothing, it is easier! I'll go crawl under that excuse known as work deadlines as I mull, brew, and whine this one over.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

When museums are the messenger and art and niceness heals

I went with my old friend Brooke Richardson, visiting from Seattle, to the Climate Change exhibition at the Museum of Natural History. Humanity's impending doom was presented in well designed videos, maps, exhibits, and interactive kiosks. We were exhorted to change our ways. I grew increasingly depressed and by the time we got to the ruin of the oceans I was muttering it was high time a new plague, asteroid hit, World War, or erupting caldera came along and reduced population. No, no, I said to myself, no this isn't the answer. No mass deaths, no genocide. What about voluntary sterilization programs, education, green technology, and planned parenthood--China style? It'll help. Mostly I think humanity is like the Norway rat, we leap ship and find an island, eat everything in sight, turn it into a wasteland of our waste, and once it is barren we swim to another site to populate, pillage, and all too often perish in as our colony collapses. On and on and on. How do you change the essential selfishness of the human animal? Me me me. The Bush years were all about denial and selfishness. Then bridges collapse, reputations, and economies; lies and pretense make for weak infrastructure.

Even if we make energy efficient machines and dwellings, cut our consumption of energy in half, what happens when the world's population doubles again in 30 or less years? Half as much energy with twice as many people, equals same problem. How do we get the Christians and Muslims and others to agree to small families? Their religions generally say beget and beget. Supposedly we are rational cooperative beings, building temples, universities, bridges, ships, airplanes and space stations. Not to mention nations. And smart, we build medicines, machines, and ideas and ideals--like justice systems and operating systems. But we are also very very short sighted. Look at the rat. Humans developed an instinctive aversion to them for good reason--they do carry plague and generally chew things to bits. Maybe the environment will likewise develop an anti-human response, at some point the colony poisons itself and nature adjusts...

So to recover from the gloom, Brooke and I spent a giddy half hour holiday shopping in the museum's delightful gift shop. He is looking for a cool snow globe. And it was snowing outside. Seattle isn't known for snow...

I went to Barnes & Noble and bought myself a book on how to write and draw a graphic novel. This is how I made the selection. In the graphic novel how-to section, on the floor, sat a collection of awkward young black clad people with sketch books. They all had that social introvert hunch of shoulder. Ah-hah, I thought to myself, experts. "Excuse me. What book would you recommend for someone like me, starting out with this?" To her credit, the young woman with a ring in her lip didn't give me a scoffing what is granny doing in my world look. She told me one of her teachers had recommended one, and it was very good, she searched the shelves but didn't find it. I thanked her and wandered to the new books section. And there was a 15 week course in book form on comics/graphic novel/manga: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures by Abel and Madden (it is to graphic novels what Uri Shulevitz's great how-to Writing with Pictures is to writing and illustrating picture books). I flipped it, looked just right, went back to my expert, held it up, said "is this it?" and she nodded vigorously. "And, by the way," she told me, "get a sketch book that flips open at the top, not the side." I wished her well and went to the cash registers.

Once I had my turn to pay the cashier, who looked delicate and strong like a ballerina, she picked up the book and said, "Oh! this book is good. My sister does this, I am so proud of her." And we had a nice chat about it. She even gave me a link to her sister's work.

I staggered through the slush and sleet to a bus stop. A woman soon joined me. We waited. We waited some more. "Do you know if the subway is running?" I asked. "No, there's a fire at 96th that's why I'm here." We waited some more. "I'm going to hail a cab I'll give you a ride if you are no further than 109th." She looked at me dubiously, sized me up. I didn't look like a serial killer I guess. Then by great good luck someone exited a cab a block away and I was able to flag it down. On our trip up we discovered we had the same landlord and managing agent. It was wonderful to discuss in depth our feelings about their taste and ethics. At her stop I told her she didn't owe me any money because I would have hailed the cab anyway. It just felt good to be nice to someone after wishing mass death and destruction on the human race.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Picture book hunger & holiday book gift round up

I regularly scout the shelves at our local children's book store, the most enticing if blandly named Bank Street Bookstore. The Bank Street school used to be downtown, Bank Street, but has been many years up here off Broadway and 112th. The interior is a small well lit two flights of den, books to the ceiling, with just enough puppets, puzzles, and kaleidoscopes to satisfy anyone looking for gifts.

I love kids books, picture, chapter, novel and novelty. I read more YA books than any serious poet should admit to. But they are some of the best written novels that just happen to be about coming of age. No room for excess blather. No chance they can forget about plot. No minimalist posing. Refreshing dynamic writing in so many of them compared to the adult fiction section. And picture books, here is where so many talented illustrators and writers turn for lush visuals and concise verbals. Yum. And chapter books, who said brevity can't increase levity? It does, and since potty humor makes me laugh if I can read it aloud to kids, so many good ones to choose from. Or heartwarming. Or detective stories...

For instance some geniuses turned Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola, into an ingenious pop-up. My kids loved this story when they were small. Here: Brava, Strega Nona!: A Heartwarming Pop-Up Book by Tomie dePaola, Robert Sabuda, and Matthew Reinhart.

I loved Neil Gaiman's latest novel The Graveyard Book, an homage to Kipling's two Jungle Books, told with his delightful mix of creepy-crawly and heart-warming. He writes so well too, from a true love of words to mastery of plot. He pulls the reader in with his distinctive imagination, humor, horror, hope, and with a restraint I tend to think of as English. Orphaned boy protected from killer and raised in local graveyard by ghosts and others. My daughter Natalie started reading my signed copy and I didn't want her to take it away to college where it might get dinged up. I am thinking of getting her her own copy. Perfect gift.

I keep my eye out for anything new by Diana Wynne Jones a YA fantasy writer who deserves to be as famous as J.K. Rowling but mysteriously isn't. She romps through time and space with a cast of kids and young adults that are both real in their feelings and surreal in their abilities. She is rather like the Blake Edwards of fantasy plots as many of her novels end in a big scene of satisfying mass chaos where everything somehow ends up all right. One of her novels was made into an animated Japanese movie,
Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl's Moving Castle. I love her writing, the Crestomanci series, and one stand alone, Dogsbody.

But as I prowled Bank Street I was also looking for favorite illustrator/authors in picture books. There was no new book by the fantastic David Weisner who creates wordless adventures using meticulous and breath taking water color illustrations. His last one, Flotsam, is my all time favorite gift. A boy finds a camera on the beach, it contains photos of fantastic places each irrefutably taken with this same camera as each is a picture within a picture. There would be a thousand and one ways to read through this book. It could put finding Waldo to shame. So David, where is your next book? I have many nieces and nephews. Ahem.

I did find a new book illustrated by Ed Young, Wabi Sabi, who always does lovely books with a zennish quality. And a new retelling of The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry has been nicely illustrated by P.J. Lynch but it is in that somewhat amber hue that I get a bit tired of, my memories of the past don't come in sepia tone, why should time periods be done this way? Even so, it is lovely, lovely.

Ah, I could go on and on. And when I have time I'll add more.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I met a parrot

I don't know horse.
I don't know bird.
I know a lot of cat and some dog.

Today some of that changed. Birdwise. Well one in particular, a green and orange conure parrot that sat on my lap as Sandy McIntosh and I discussed the design of the next Marsh Hawk Press book catalog. Pixie kindly groomed my hands and asked most politely for me to pet the back of his head and under his wings. We danced together, we clicked at each other. Really, it was like we were old friends by the end of the meeting.

Damn but parrots are smart. Sandy showed me the parrot's toy bag filled with chew toys. The pillows he likes to hide under, the ladder he proudly struts to his home, where the door is always open. On the roof of his home he nibbles delicately from a dish of fresh fruit and eyes me one side of his head at a time.

Sandy said he once accidentally put a cup of coffee on the top of the cage. Pixie knocked it to the floor. Here is someone who knows what is his and demands respect. I can understand that. Violators will be hurled at their own expense.

I have learned that parrot tongues are far softer than their beaks. That the feathers are not as soft as a cat's belly fur but far softer than the coat of a wire haired dog. That they can bite through chicken bones and this one will live to 40 or more. That a world of personality can fit into 4 ounces of bird.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Guys and Dolls and New York at Night

So. Watched half of Guys and Dolls tonight and there was Marlon Brando, on a set that was perfectly suspended between reality and fantasy, making his observation that you can actually hear footsteps at night in Manhattan, the only time it is quiet enough to hear them. Now, for instance, with only a few cars passing by, it would be possible to hear the tread of the hungry acorn-deprived squirrel if it came back to haunt my window. I could hear a fir tree brushing the bricks if it was defenstrated by a cat trying to sharpen its claws. I could hear leathery wings flapping if vampires landed on my fire escape.

My dog is noisily licking the inside of her mouth for lingering flavors. With her vastly superior nose, even the littlest shred of dinner must deliver a bouquet of scent memories.

No ghouls, no fanged or bushy tailed creatures of the night, no Fosse inspired break dancers tapping and spinning on the pavement. The lights on Broadway go green, go red. An occasional person heads home from the bar or the all night shops. I can hear individual cars gear for the final incline over this hill which has enough colleges at the top to form a brick crown. Footsteps? Tires on damp tar. With a whoosh, heading north past me and my muzzy brain.

Monday, December 15, 2008

New depression era poetry

Should I write poems that are scant in length to save nouns?
Can we legislate for verbs that are direct and transformative?
What about taxing euphemisms and cliches? They're at least as bad for your verse as diet cola.
Isn't it time to legislate against selfish reasoning and specious conclusions?

Maybe the new old depression will bring a revival of new old timey forms. A surge of limericks, drinking songs, and heroic couplets could be just around the corner. Anything is possible. It's up to us to boldly claim this new era. Maybe, even, odes of celebration and thanks at some point. Here's hoping.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

When antibiotics are a freelancer's best friend

After a week of low fever, sinus infection, coughing, snoring, aches, gravel voice, zombie brain, etc. I finally called the doctor and got a prescription. Various well-meaning friends advised against taking the antibiotics, they said it is probably a virus and if I take the meds I'll be directly increasing humanity's risk of developing drug-resistant super-bugs. Beware. Bewise.

My friend Deborah scoffed, "this is bacterial, take the drugs, it worked for me." Since I think I may have caught this from her at our last writer's workshop, she should know. And she did.

24 hours ago I took the first pill. My nose is clear, I'm no longer coughing, and I don't need to sleep 18 hours a day. Wow. It works. Yes, the meds make me a bit pale and aren't friendly to the bacteria farm known as my guts, but for the first time in a week, the main thing between my ears isn't a sneeze. What will I fill my head with now?

The winter issue of Alimentum arrived, looking very nice and holidayish. I plan to read it. Setting & designing the journal only gives me an introductory whiff of narrative. Now I get the full meal.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hand me down dress on dress me up daughter

Here's a photo of my daughter Natalie in the dress I loaned her for the Miss New York Pageant. All I can say is it used to fit me once too but ankle length...

Weddings and other madeleines

I've had two and as of tomorrow, my ex will have caught up with me. It is odd to think the man I was once married to is getting married to someone else, but I also think it is odd that I used to speak with a Louisiana drawl. Time and place... My former accent and marriage are long behind me but I remember much that was good, I wish him and his bride all the best.

I was playing one of the records my mother used to love. One piece in particular brought me right back to our living room in West Hartford, Connecticut. There she was, writing poems or grading papers at her roll top desk--cigarette carbonizing in the corner of her mouth, I'm sprawled on the mid-century modern olive green couch rereading Joan Aiken and noisily sucking on Necco wafers, it's just a guess that Franz Liszt didn't have this scene in mind when he wrote the Hungarian Rhapsody #6 in D flat. Last night I dreamed about a magical skinny dipping college night, innocent and freeing. I remembered I'd had to take my glasses off before I felt brave enough to take off my clothes, reasoning if I couldn't see anyone I would be less embarassed. And it was so. In the dream the green perfume of late spring hovered over the water. I'd forgotten that detail... But who is to say what strain of music, what scent of soup, what remembered colors gently shake our hearts and make us smile a little, cry a little.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Labyrinthian Plotting Disease

Speaking of mazes, people assume I must be a rabid Heroes fan, it looks like a graphic novel come to life on TV with fantasy and science-fiction style struggles, historical romping, humor, and pop culture wars, all good stuff. But I can't stand the overly complex increasingly fractal plotting. This is what ruined Lost for me. In the end, the true villains become the show's writers, since they seem to flip a coin weekly to decide who looks good and who looks bad. Good, Bad, Goo, Bah. Seriously, most of the people doing evil in the real world think they are the good guys, and this show is able to mostly get that right, but the narrative itself is the victim. So those of you keeping score cards, maps, and other mnemonics to keep the plot from escaping you, have fun. I'll be rereading Dickens and tuning into Dr. Who.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Pithy & Company

I grabbed The Monster Loves His Labyrinth: Notebooks by our poet laureate Charles Simic from the new shelf at the public library. I love having bite sized smarticisms. I pop them in my brain as I take the subway or wait on line to buy Dayquil. Some make me laugh. Many make me think. He takes on poetry, history, nationalism, insomnia, jazz, and love, to name a few. I feel inspired to gather together my own pronouncements and aphorisms, dress them up in some nice nouns and sit them in their appropriate classrooms...but could I fill an entire book and keep it this refreshing, sage, and funny? No way! Simic's collection makes a good companion.

A short sampling of Simic:

Imagism is realism minus the moral. If Imagist poems were didactic, people would find them more acceptable.

Religion: Turning the mystery of Being into a figure who resembles our grandfather sitting on the potty.

Orphan factories and scapegoat farms are the Balkans' chief economy.

Poetry like the movies worries about sequencing, framing, montage, and cutting.

When even evil squirrels want to watch me work

Do you envy the life of a freelancer? If I told you I often work on the couch, in my jammies, with the cat on my left, dog on my right, and laptop claiming the lap, would you sigh and say, hey that's the life for me? Apparently you wouldn't be the only one to feel this way. Today I looked up and found I had an audience of a squirrel who was pawing the window and looking in with longing. It tapped the glass and gave it's best Disneyesque head tilt and tail curl. Tap tap. Scrape. Paw sliding slowly down to sill. But I am no fool. First of all, it is unbelievably boring to watch me work. I sit and sniff and scowl at the laptop for hours, only my fingers moving. It puts the pets to sleep. It puts husband to sleep. Secondly, what sane prey animal wants to attract the attention of a CAT and a DOG? Both pets gathered at the window and made their species appropriate noises. It didn't back away. Clearly this winsome thing was rabid or worse, possessed. I will assume the latter. Given the things I've been hearing on the news it wouldn't surprise me to find demon rodents are marching across the nation and infecting people with the urge to offer fat-cat bail-outs and for-sale-senate seats. I wasn't fooled by the winks. All the crazy hell spawn rodents can cha-cha on my fire escape all they want. I kept the window shut. None of that for me. I'm safe, for now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Alimentum wins again

The magazine has won again! The design talents of Peter Selgin and myself are to get laurels, certificates, and a plate of canapes!

The 2009 New York Book Show Committee:

Congratulations! It is our pleasure to inform you that your entry: ALIMENTUM: THE LITERATURE OF FOOD, in the category of General Trade/Quality Paperback Series, has won an award in the 2009 New York Book Show.

And speaking of design, I am struggling to learn Dreamweaver CS4. In my new freelance life I am designing websites, something I last did with any regularity in the late 90s at MTV Networks. With one of my big clients I only have to do the design in photoshop and a team of web builders takes my design file and cuts it up into a live functioning website, building all the programs that run the thing invisibly from a server somewhere. But for smaller clients who aren't looking to do large scale business with their site, I am the one creating the HTML and all the "back end" stuff. I need to avoid jargon, "yeah, I'm a back end specialist" it sounds mmmm..... not work-like.
Here is a first go at a homepage for a very talented and skilled poet who also happens to love hot color.
And just in case you were wondering where my new found love of graphic novels is taking me, right now I am delighting in Craig Thompson's Blankets. It is a terrific autobiography, over 600 pages. He was raised by Christian fundamentalists in a small farming town in the cold north wastes of the US. It is amazing that his struggles with faith, girls, his family, bullies, snow, and first love are told with vivid black and white drawings. His line is vigorous, at times spirals into beautiful spiritual doodling, can capture humor and brutality, can lampoon other art styles, and keeps the story moving to its satisfying conclusion. Bravo. I have no trouble believing him when he says he has a fascination with calligraphy. The faint toothiness of his paper and the gestures of his strokes helps make his work breathe on the printed page.

I hope he takes some calligraphy classes, I loved all the ones I had with the great artist Jeanne Wong. The ability to move your whole body, not just your hand; to put your whole spirit, not just your words onto the blank possibility of a page, to capture the fluid moment in dried ink. I took italic, roman, uncial, and more italic, but it all was really about the same thing, no matter what the style, beauty happened when practice leaped into a joy of doing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stuffing the Not-Miss New York State

Natalie calls me on the road returning from Albany. I'm getting ready for bed.

"I didn't make it to the semi-finals, I didn't win Ma."
"Well that's OK," and I mean it. I really really mean it.
"I don't mind. I had a terrific time. I think I'll do it next year. I need a real evening gown. The one you loaned me, just doesn't make me look like a Barbie doll."
"Nah, I guess my hand-me-down dress I got from an opera star who last fit into it in the 1980s just isn't the right stuff."
"Nah, but it is a nice dress, just not beauty pageant league. The semi-finalists had amazing gowns."
"Yeah, when Jada painted my portrait in it I looked pretty good in red velvet too, but I don't fit in it anymore, too many meals between then and now."
"Look Ma, I haven't eaten since 9 am and I'll be passing by on my way back to college, I have a rehearsal I have to make tonight. Do you think you could run me down a bite to eat?"
"You'll never believe it, when your sister left this morning to go back to her college she forgot the bag of left over thanksgiving food your father and stepmother prepared. She was so sad she forgot the food. Perfect though, how about Jim makes you a turkey sandwich and we'll fill a plate with the stuffing, pumpkin pie, and cranberry sauce?"
"Oh wow, that would be great, I'm just making the turn off the George Washington Bridge."

So she double parks outside our door, I bring her the platter of food, a bottle of water, and sit in the car as she devours the meal. I am wearing my blue cloud pajamas disguised under my long winter coat. She still has on the make up and her hair is swept back in a do. She looks brilliantly lovely if you just don't watch her chew too closely. Sort of a feeding frenzy really.

"So what did you like about being at the pageant?"
"I loved being able to wear high heels and not feel self-conscious. It was OK to be that tall. I had a great roommate. She was fun to talk to. I loved having people do my hair and make up. People took photos of me on my camera. They're selling an expensive package of photos from the event, but I think my shots will be fine."
"How did the interviews go?"
"I think most of the judges enjoyed talking to me. They all asked about my time in India. I described the terrible poverty I saw there, how it made me realize how much we have here. One of them asked me why I was at the pageant after an experience like that. I said this was just the complete opposite. I didn't have time to expand on it, the interview was only a minute, but there is something about the contrast, I'll have to write about it..."

Delicately belching, she wipes her face and asks me to tell Jim the sandwich was delicious and we are awesome to provide a drive-through dinner spot for her.

After many hugs and an "I love you guys" she drives East leaving me enveloped in a whiff of her perfume. What shall I call it, eau du no regrets?