Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hair by Hair

This morning my hair is still as sproingy as it was yesterday afternoon after I'd cut it in front of the bathroom mirror.

It's weird: in the three years I've had long hair, its texture has changed. It became grayer, and while I'd heard that gray hair is coarser, I'd never much noticed. 
A little, I had:
My hair feels crunchy is not something I'd thought in my first fifty years.

Now I'm like a chicken with a horsehair crest. 
It's OK--it's even kind of cute. It's just a small shock.

These small(ish) physical changes that come with age feel like gentle preparation for the Big Change, like pop quizzes forewarn of the final exam:
when I'm dying, I can't say, "Wait! I had no inkling this was coming!"
My body is shutting down in all sorts of little ways. (Some of them are even welcome: I never minded much, but I sure don't miss bleeding every month.)

I woke up thinking that Verlyn Klinkenborg and Anne Lamott, authors of otherwise different books on writing, both agree that writing is the act of putting down one sentence, and then another. 
And so on.
That's even the idea behind the name of Lamott's book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, as you may know: 
her little brother was freaking out about writing a report on birds due the next day, and her father said, "take it bird by bird." 

I haven't read Bird in years, but I thank it and Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within for encouraging me to write.

                                 Goldberg, via [Her hair… it's supple.]

Bones was important to me in my twenties. 
Now I wonder if I'd find it annoying in the opposite way from VK's Several Short Sentences about Writing:
she assuming you are wounded and writing is healing; 
he assuming you can tough out his Princeton condescension.

He's crunchy gray hair, she's crunchy granola. 
Neither is funny, much--it's serious business.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Homemade Hair

I had some complications with my haircut. 
It was fine if I tucked my hair behind my ears, but if it came loose, I looked like a spaniel.

I went in for a re-do and came out looking like a chicken with a crazy feather crest,
for instance, this Laced Polish. >>

Not wanting to go in a third time, 
I trimmed it myself today, 
and now I look like a chicken that has taken a scissor to its crest.

I read Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing the other night, on the recommendation of Orange Crate Art.
VK suggests marking up some favorite sentences with colors, to teach yourself the parts of speech. (Also he suggests rewriting some sentences of authors you like.)
"Don't just imagine doing this someday," he writes.
"Do it. It's interesting."
I know how the parts of speech work, but not their names.
("Verb clumpage" is not a technical term.) It was interesting to look them up as I colored in David Copperfield.
                                       (See what I mean about my hair? v)

I liked reading Short Sentences a lot, and if you're the sort of person who thinks this exercise looks like fun, you'd probably like it.

VK has some great points and I appreciated how he blows up a lot of old prescriptions: Go ahead, start sentences with "and"! 
He writes:
Here's an experiment.
Pay attention to all the noise in your head as you go about writing. 

The voices of former teachers, usually uttering rules.
The things that make you wonder, "Am I allowed to …?"
                      (Yes, you're allowed to. Not forever and always, but until you decide for yourself what works and what doesn't.)
But he writes in prescriptive language himself, and he's the sort of guy who assumes other brains work like his does. 
Sentences such as, "You need to know the difference between transitive and intransitive verbs" annoyed me. 
"You need…" How off-putting. (As an editor, I've never encountered a problem with people getting these verbs wrong.)

And, "It's never hard to work when you're interested in what you're working on."
Oh, really? That's not true for me. (Though I might say, "It's easier to work when you're interested…".)

I recommend his book, with a heads-up about his tendency to make such pronouncements.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Being Afraid of the Whale

Moby-Dick: "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale."

I was e-mailing with the friend who'd recommended the TV show Transparent (which I've yet to watch because it's on Amazon and I've got Netflix---oh, the complexities). 

She told me about a trans pal who leads trainings in which, my friend wrote, 
"he allows people to feel safe enough to ask questions, trusting that he will be respectful in his answers. I think safety is such a key piece in human interactions, don't you?"

Do I think safety is a key piece in human interactions?

No, I don't.

"I know what you mean," I wrote back, 
"and I agree with the idea of creating places where people can ask questions freely,
but I like respect so much more than safety.

Mutual respect. 
Also, sympathy (kindness/compassion)."
safety, from Latin salvus = "uninjured, in good health"
respect, from Latin specere = "to look at" 
sympathy, from Latin sympathia = "community of feeling"
I thinking "looking with fellow feeling" is a better key to human interactions than safety
I'm not a big fan of the phrase "safe spaces".
Safety tends to be an illusion, or stagnant.

How does a person stay uninjured? 
By not playing, not leaving their comfort zone, by staying silent––or by requiring other people to stay silent. I.e., stagnant.

Creating is not safe. Risk is the opposite of safe.

risk, from riscare = "to run into danger" (of uncertain origin)

I do see the value of someone doing the political work of educating people about difference, and to do that, yeah, it's probably smart to create a "safe space".

But who is it safe for?
Not for the teacher. 

The teacher is taking the risk for the team--for their future safety:
"If I can make the students understand, they will be less dangerous to us."

It's the teacher in the boat with Starbuck. 

                              Starbuck Leaning Against the Mainmast, ca. 1930 --by Rockwell Kent, via

Taking a risk to build mutual respect. That's what I think is key in human interactions. 
It's not safe. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Tell me more."

This morning I read an NPR interview with Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent, the TV series she based on one of her own parents coming out as trans late in life. (I haven't seen it yet.)

She said when her parent came out to her, she was relieved because it filled in so many missing pieces: "Ohh, this is what I have not known." 

Right away she let her parent know these four things:
"I love you unconditionally," and, "I'm so proud of you," and, "This is so brave of you," and "Tell me more."
Isn't that a good list of things parents could tell their kids too?  
And in dealing with other people, while the first three might not fit, Tell me more almost always fits.

It's huge in scope, and yet it's short to say.  :)
What's not to like?
And yet, we don't always feel free to say it. Or maybe that's just the case here in the Midwest USA? where asking any questions can seem terribly rude...

When I was twenty-five years old, living in Chicago, and asking people far more ––and far more probing–– questions than I do now,* a friend said, "You are the Bill Moyers of Chicago", which pleased me a lot.

But Moyers's secret isn't that he asks probing questions. I listened closely and realized mostly he says, "tell me more", over and over. And then he listens. (Or looks like he's listening. These aren't extemporaneous interviews, they're researched and crafted ahead of time. Still.)

I must have shown real interest, but I wasn't a good interviewer. When I saw a video of me doing an interview, I was shocked at how much I interrupted.  *cringes*
(Oprah does that, and it drives me nuts--her interviews are more about her than her subject.)

Interruptions are fine for free-wheeling conversations with friends, but bad for interviews where you want to give the person space (or, to put it in the negative, you want to give them rope...), 
and interruptions are terrible for conversing with people whose thoughts are easily derailed. 
Like people who live with dementia. 

Making art weekly with Tim, I try very hard not to interrupt him. He's a very funny and verbal guy, but Mr. Alzheimer has sunk holes in his conversational abilities, and he doesn't need more holes from my interruptions.
I find myself saying, "tell me more" a lot.

Our art-partnership went well again yesterday. 
I love putting words on/in pictures (like those of Maira Kalman --links to And the Pursuit of Happiness), and Tim is quoteable. 
We were drawing a breadboard with a piece of toast on it when he got a phone call. 
My toast here looks like a meat chop, but I love what he said to the caller, 
which I wrote on my watercolor:

* I ask less probing questions now, not because I've learned not to interrupt but because at midlife I'm not as confused by (or even curious about) random individuals. 
I start to feel at midlife that "I have met the type before."

That's a line I always loved in Room with a View, or anyway, I love how Maggie Smith as Cousin Charlotte delivers her judgement, 
"Unfortunately, I have met the type before." 

Of course the problem is not only can that be icky and dismissive, but you can be quite wrong about people! 
Charlotte's talking about George, whom she fears will brag about having kissed her ward, Lucy, and damage Lucy's reputation. But he doesn't; it's Charlotte herself who can't resist spreading the news...

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


I went to Target yesterday specifically to buy a BB8 toy, and they  were terrible! Too fake-real. 
I don't want a remote-control droid for $79.99, I want a squishy ping-pong ball on a key chain kind of thing.
I'll have to make my own toy.
Disappointed, I bought a $1 sheet of stickers that included three acceptable BB8s, one of which I'm wearing below. 
And then I went and got my hair cut. BB8 says, thumbs up!

My head is lighter.

Seems I've been pruning some dead weight from my life lately. (The Thrift Store management, my hair, even some tchotchke.)
Could this be the effects of reading about the "life-changing magic of tidying up"? Or possibly the upside of being around dementia and death? Or the uplift from the slow but now noticeable return of light to the northern hemisphere?
The exit from the heavy sign of Capricorn into airy Aquarius?
Or even the buoyancy of realizing Bernie Sanders continues to do well (and even better)? (I'm not counting on anything, but I'm enjoying the moment.) 

Whatever, it's welcome after a leaden winter.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Three Movies

Michael at Orange Crate Art posted mini-reviews of twelve movies today.
Blogger envy strikes! I must write some too. (Also see more movies, I'm way behind.)

1. STAR WARS: The Force Awakens   

NO SPOILERS . . . though if I told you the entire story, there'd still be no spoilers because you already know it, unless you've paid no attention to pop culture since the '70s (BCE).

Last night, feeling emotionally worn out, I went to the new Star Wars, to sit in the dark and be filled with something that wasn't me. 
I hadn't particularly wanted to see this movie, but it was the only one at the nearby theater I hadn't already seen or could stand to see. (The Room? No, thanks. The comic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is as close as I can come to the topic of plucky women trapped and raped by men in small spaces.)

Anyway... I totally enjoyed the Force Awakens––even though I'd walked in 30 minutes after it started. You could walk in halfway through and still pick it up because... 

a) There's no plot!  Hooray! Who needs plot in mythic sagas? 
Naturally there's a little mcguffin of a plot: some folks are looking for someone.
But you can time when to get up to go get candy (I did) or leave to go to the bathroom (I did), because you know how the movie's paced and, pretty much, exactly what's going to happen. 

b) You already know the characters too! Double hooray! As full of emotion as John Williams's famous score, I teared up when some of the old ones appeared. 
But you know the new ones too, cause they're just like the old ones. And you can tell by their costumes who plays which role.

Yes, this is fan fiction, done right. 

(Director J. J. Abrams is a Star Wars fan, and, mercifully, the original creator George Lucas is not involved. As with Star Trek, the franchises improve when the ham-handed creators [Gene Roddenbery in ST] aren't involved.)

Everything is something old, borrowed, or blue... plus something a wee bit new (but not very)--people of color, and more females, and females of color, sort of, and one character who is Conflicted with a capital C! In true fanfic fashion, this character swans about in a way perfectly suited for fanvidding to the emo classic "My Immortal" (by Evanescence) like-- *random search*---this Harry Potter one.
Probably someone's already done it? (I'm not going to even search.)

I liked the new Skywalker-colored (tan, that is) hero Rey (links to article in the Atlantic about what a real hero she is). She could be (probably is) set to another done-to-death-but-still-perfect-song, "Looking for a Hero".

A quick google reveals more than ten Harry Potter vids to that song.
And why not?
Fan productions are like fairy tales or Greek classics---there are endless variations. 

And the comic sidekick (there's always a comic sidekick) is adorable. BB8! The child of Baymax + a soccer ball!
I want a toy of it. [Gee, I wonder if such a toy exists...]

Below: BB8 and Rey looking all samurai. Lucas always said he borrowed a lot from Kurosawa (expecially his movie with a great girl hero with comic sidekicks, The Hidden Fortress---watch it!) 

Verdict: Totally predictable, totally enjoyable, if you like that sort of thing.

2. The Big Short
 Same theater, same motivation (to get out of my brain), different day.
NO SPOILERS, though you know the story--you were there [2007- 2008 housing market...].

If you can give economics personality, you have my vote, and the guy who wrote Big Short (Michael Lewis, also wrote Moneyball), does that.

[John Maynard Keynes, anyone? 
Portrait, right, by JMK's sometime-lover Duncan Grant, who had a child with fellow painter Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf's sister), etc....]

The topic of Big Short is depressing (the persistence and destructiveness of human stupidity + cupidity), but the presentation is energizing:
the characters are full of smarts and drive--the movie reminded me a little of the similarly zippy Social Network.
If you could harness that intelligence and drive to something good, imagine that...

And the movie is funny. Among other things, it takes mini-breaks to have pop culture stars explain economic terms, including Selena Gomez (Justin Bieber's ex: synthetic CDOs are "like if a guy bets that I'm going to win this hand at cards, and then people bet on his bet on my hand, and...") and Anthony Bourdain (celebrity chef: bundling bad mortgages is like presenting three-day-old halibut recooked as seafood stew).

Verdict: Great story, great storytelling. (Well, maybe not great, but good value.)  Also, invest in water.

3. I enjoyed reading about movies Michael hated as much as those he loved, so...
Trainwreck. I hated it.

Utter dreck.

What can I say? It's like three-day-old halibut presented as seafood stew . . .  with no salt.

Have we heard this before: 
Women are sluts because they fear intimacy. We really want to settle down with nice, monogamous guys. And by the way, don't dis cheerleaders--they are incredibly hardworking athletes!

OK, yeah, I'd eat that if it was amusing and I was starving. 
But this warmed-over slop wasn't smart and it wasn't funny and it made me queasy. 

Verdict: And don't eat old fish, even if it's free.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

"That raving slut who keeps the till..."

Well, that went badly. My resignation as a volunteer cashier and thrift herder at the Thrift Store led to a series of e-mails that ended in the manager dismissing my social and environmental concerns by saying the store's 
"one and only mission is to make money to give to social service organizations."
I don't believe he even believes that, based on our past conversations. 

What I heard was, 
"You are making me bloody uncomfortable, and I'm not going to talk to you anymore." 

I have heard this before.

The two managers (both men) treated me as if they see me as Yeat's 
"raving slut who keeps the till... at the foul rag and bone shop."

[Snake charmer, right>
 from Sideshow World]
  On the other hand, 
I could say my resignation went very well because I didn't slink away, as I have plenty of times in the past in order to avoid just such uncomfortable conversations or accusations of hysteria.

I spoke up, and I maintained my cool.

If what I said wasn't well received, that's not something I can control.

I don't like conflict, but I didn't want to disappear from the store without saying something on behalf of the ideals in the store's mission statement [to create community, to keep material out of the waste stream], which has been overlooked by some. 

Overlooked because it's hard to do.
ART SPARKER's comment on yesterday's post, which I read this morning, sums it up. She wrote,
"It takes some kind of organizational equivalent of self-awareness for the powers that be to appreciate volunteers sometimes, it's easier to go along with the enshrinement of capital as a measure of of, well, value."
Yes, thank you!

I don't like conflict . . . and neither did Thomas Jefferson. 
I felt better when I learned that recently. Not like he's a model of ideal behavior, but I could relate to this guy, Mr. Founder of His Country, slinking around trying to avoid conflict (and to avoid public speaking too). 

I think his efforts to avoid conflict factored into some his less-than-noble actions.
He trumpeted the common man's right to and innate capacity for  self-determination, but when it came down to it, it was a lot easier to rule with a heavy hand (or, in the case of his slaves, to leave it to his heavy-handed overseer).

It is incredibly hard to determine what's right and good for yourself and to respect other people's determinations (or lack thereof) for themselves.

Conflict shares its Latin root "fligere" ('to strike') with flail, flagellate, and flog.

I certainly felt like I was flailing around, flogging a dead horse trying to discuss respecting volunteers and exploring ways to recycle dangerous materials with the Thrift Store manager
I've run into this "pass the moral buck" attitude at the store before:
it's OK to treat people in front of you poorly because we're raising money for organizations that treat people well.

And the dangerous materials issue has come up because costs of recycling electronics have gone way up--and the store has to recycle the many unsaleable electronics that get dumped on them

The management's solution?
Stop accepting electronics.

Brilliant. Now more people will now throw their clock-radios and coffee pots and––worst of all––cell phones in the trash.
I suggested that instead of blocking electronics, we use some of our profits, which the store donates to community organizations to pay for recycling. This would be in keeping with the mission statement.
I was told this was unimportant.

So, I'm done. 
You never know what seeds you might have planted. Maybe the manager is so pissed off, he will reject everything I said. Or, maybe down the road some funny little plant will have sprouted.
I've done what I could, and I'm glad of that.
I can walk, not slink, away with a clear conscience. 

As of now, the Thrift Store? As the Polish saying goes, 
Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Note: The circus image is from Pinterest, where I could not find its origins. (I hate that.) I'll google-image search it later, but now I'm going out for coffee. 
UPDATE: Found it along with other cool images at Sideshow World: Snake Charmers.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Another Spark of Joy

Julia made this blanket I've thrown over my chair from felted sweaters---yesterday she lent it to me for the rest of the winter because I love it sooooo much and it inspires me to make one too. [note bears to the left]

This morning I came to clarity, finally, and officially resigned from volunteering at the Thrift Store. 
I'd reached a level of distress over the politics there that all of a sudden made me notice I was working for free [not how I had felt previously], and also, I seriously need to look for paying work, and I serious want to spend my free time making things that don't deplete me.  
I want to write more personal stuff, for instance, as well as sew more! 
So I feel relieved. The time is right.

Friday, January 22, 2016

People Happy with Things

Someone lent me The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which suggests each pair of socks you own should bring you a Spark of Joy or find somewhere else to live.
At first I scoffed, but as I read on, I realized the book is asking,
Why are you putting up with crap, huh?
Which could be a life-changing question alright, especially if you extend it beyond your socks.

Last night at Snack-n-Chat, I asked people if the things they were working on gave them joy, and in each case, they did. 

Here, below, is Kyle with his smartphone and Maura with her calligraphy pen--its outrigger nib allows you to see what you're writing as you're writing it:

Me with Red Bear (I finally sewed all three buttons on her coat), and Esther with the mohair lap rug she is re-knitting for the third? eighth? time:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sometimes Failing Is the Best We Can Do

I felt a little dread going this morning to make art with Tim [not his real name] who has Alzheimer's because after a few meetings I felt we weren't jelling. I wasn't offering what he needed, and unlike with some people, after a few misses I wasn't even sure what that might be.

Sure enough, he met me at the door saying he didn't want to make art today. Alzheimer's depresses him, he told me, and he feels like even more of a failure than he felt before he got this disease, like he's a fraud to think he could make art . . . or anything. 
He was sorry I'd come all this way, he said, but he was going back to bed.

OK, I said. But could we just sit and have a cup of coffee together, first? He agreed to sit with me, "for a few minutes".

Now, I don't like to jolly people out of feeling sad and bad; there's too much denial of sadness in US culture. 
You have a disease that eats your brain? Forgodsake, why wouldn't you feel awful?

I also don't like to instruct people to do anything. There are plenty of "shoulds" in play when your brain's healthy enough to pick and choose––with Alzheimer's, there are more, and you have less ability to discern among them.

So, I wanted to give Tim's sadness its due, and I wanted to say that of course he gets to choose how we spend our time together; 
but I also didn't want to accede to the dictates of the lying bastard inside his brain telling him, "You're not good enough––don't even bother to try", which, I'm pretty sure, has nothing to do with Alzheimer's.

(I'm pretty sure because so many people who try to create anything, including me, meet that same bastard inside our brains.)

I didn't know what to say that would cover all this ground, but, you know, sometimes you just have to wing it.
What I said was something like this:

"Look, Tim, you don't have to do anything. I'm not going to push you to do anything you don't want to do. 
But here's what I can offer you, here's what I suggest:
I can come over here every week, and together we can make bad art. I can keep you company as your Alzheimer's gets worse, and we can keep making bad art together. And after a while, you'll have a hundred pieces of bad art, and you'll be able to point to them and say, 'Hey! I failed at that!'"

And he laughed! and said, "OK, I don't mind a little history of my mistakes."

"Ohmygod," I said, shoving a piece of paper and a drawing pencil at him, "Write that down!"

He wrote it down on his piece of paper, and I wrote it down on mine, and then we made pictures of wooden game pieces he'd made from a tree branch years ago. 

This is mine (watercolored): 

When I left, we were both laughing, and I felt we had finally reached each other. 
I said, I'll see you next week, and we'll fail together again.
This isn't just what he needs, it's what I need.

Economist-Style Obituary for bink's Dad

The obituaries on the last page the Economist are the reason I spent 3,500 frequent flier miles on a subscription: 
they're condensed, insightful, and tend toward amused indulgence, like a fond parent. (Though not always. I remember when the paper summed up Slobodan Milošević as "a bad man.")

 The obituary editor, Ann Wroe, says she constructs them more like novels than nonfiction: the secret is to throw out chronology and focus on what mattered in a person's life.
 As bink's father was taking a long (but peaceful) time to die (lasting one week without water--the nurses kept asking bink if he was a stubborn man (he was))
it dawned on me that I could try writing an obituary like that for him. While I'd tried never to be in the same room with him, I'd admired his pluck for thirty years.
So, with bink's permission(she posted it on FB too) and her editorial help, here's my Economist-style obit of her dad,
 Garrell  "Jerry" Dean, who died on January 17, 2016, one month before his eighty-second birthday.

In his final years, when it was too cold or he was too ill to go out, Jerry liked to watch the History Channel in his subsidized senior high-rise. One evening he learned about Bloody Bill Anderson, the pro-Confederate brute who had terrorized Missouri, Jerry's home state, during the American Civil War. Some of Jerry’s people had been Andersons. He pestered his daughter to find out if they were descendants. 
He hoped they were.

As was often the case with Jerry, his ill-founded optimism brought a result, if not exactly the one he wanted. His daughter bowed to her father’s faith that she could find out anything on the Internet, though his online use was …less educational. 
The family was not related to Bloody Bill, she found, but there had been a brush with greatness. In 1832 a great-great-great-great uncle, William Berry, had bought a store on credit with the young Abraham Lincoln. While Lincoln had regaled customers with stories, Berry had dispensed––and drunk––the store’s whiskey.

The partners, Lincoln wrote, "did nothing but get deeper and deeper in debt… [and] the store winked out.” Berry bailed, and it took Lincoln fifteen years to pay off their debts, a fact Honest Abe later made political hay out of.

Soldiers in the American Revolution, slave owners, frontier preachers, “Indian killers,” as well as, possibly, an ancestor from the Peoria Indian tribe further filled out Jerry’s family tree. 

Jerry launched plenty of enterprises of his own that winked out. 
Smart but no scholar, he joined the navy as a teenager and upon his return, tall, slim, and handsome, he taught at an Arthur Murray Dance Studio, where he met the only woman he ever married. With her he had five children, one of whom died as a baby. 

Landscaping businesses came (and went), as well as Christmas tree lots he staffed with his children before his wife divorced him. He clerked in a hardware store, offered DJ services for weddings, and held numerous short-lived jobs due to his intolerance for being told what to do.

 Natively creative, at midlife Jerry learned to paint from TV instructor Bill Alexander and, always with an eye on the main chance, schemed to sell prints of the results. His animal paintings retained a naïve charm––a wolf peering between trees stays with this viewer––but the landscapes were little better than paint-by-number. 

Casinos were Jerry’s delight. Like his early American ancestors who crossed the Appalachians (governments be damned), geography posed no impediment. When he could no longer drive a car, he rode his electric scooter down the highway to a bus stop that would start him on a half-day’s journey, via two buses and a train, to his favorite gambling establishment. The Coon Rapids city council showed a video of this risky behavior to demonstrate successfully the need to install a sidewalk. 

As Jerry lay dying, those of his children who would still visit went through his photographs. He looked happiest posing for Polaroids with showgirls. The showgirls were paid, of course. While he fancied himself a Casanova, most women tried to keep a solid object between themselves and him. 

His daughter spoke regretfully of the loss of a baby photo of her that had won a Beautiful Baby contest. It had been among the contents of a storage locker Jerry couldn’t pay for during a time he was living in his car. Jerry had regretted the loss of a riding lawnmower more. 

Alcohol plagued the bloodline. Long before Twelve Step programs, one matriarch in the hills of Missouri, frustrated with her son coming home blind drunk again, sewed the unconscious young man in a sheet and beat him with a stick.
But the family was also long-lived and tough as mules. After a lifetime of drinking and smoking, Jerry developed throat cancer, the treatment of which damaged his ability to swallow. He survived for years largely on bourbon and popsicles.

After his death, his daughter called her father’s sister. Jerry had scorned his only sibling's life as boring, not like the “adventurous” life he’d bragged of leading. The likes of her—spending her retirement years attending Bible study groups and her grandchildrens’ activities––would never make the History Channel. 

“Well,” Jerry’s sister said to her niece, “he may not have been the brother and father we wish he’d been. But,” she summed up, “ he was the only brother and father we had.”

The daughter saved a few things to remember her father by:
A weather thermometer shaped like a horse’s head, from St. Joseph, Missouri, home of the Pony Express and the city where Jerry’s father had spent his working life in a slaughterhouse, stunning cattle with a mallet.  
A copy of a novel, Hannibal’s Elephants, withdrawn from a library in 1956, with a garishly illustrated cover. 
The traveling box of plastic, magnetic chessmen, one split metal edge covered with Scotch tape, that Jerry carried everywhere in hopes of a game. It was the one game he didn’t even need to bet on to enjoy.
Jerry and his dog Jip

Friday, January 15, 2016


A couple days ago, I'd stopped with bink at her dad's apartment, which she's cleaning out, and there I spotted on a chair a shirt  whose color matched that of a ripped jacket I'd volunteered to mend for M., a fellow regular at the coffee shop. 
bink said I was welcome to the shirt.

Even though half the jacket front was shredded, 
M. told me he likes to wear it to do maintenance work and he didn't care at all if the patch matched. 

You can see the plaids are way different sizes >
but the colors are close.

bink's back at hospice with her dying dad again today, and this morning I gave the mended jacket back to M., who declared it "perfect!" (I believe him by his smile.)

Sad to say, one of the things that's so hard about being with bink's dad as he dies is that he was, frankly, one of the most selfish people I've ever encountered.  
His dying, while mercifully peaceful, physically, is rather bleak, emotionally. 

I find it a bit of grace that his shirt, at least, serves to mend a rip.

REPOST Truly, Madly, Deeply/ now feat. Barchester Chronicles & Galaxy Quest

REPOSTED [from Nov. 2010] today in honor of Alan Rickman (died January 14, 2016). What a loss--I'd have imagined he'd age into one of the Grand Old Actors, like John Gielgud.
Rest in peace.

I am also adding, today, a clip of one of my favorite pieces of Alan Rickman's acting:
the final showdown between Obadiah Slope (Rickman) and the formidable Mrs. Proudie (the power behing the bishop, played by the wire-taut Geraldine McEwan: oh, what a match made in heaven of two fitting actors/characters!)-- in the BBC's 1982 version of Anthony Trollopes' Barchester Chronicles:

Oh, and while I'm at it, here's Alan Rickman––illustrating the truth of him saying, "I'm a quite serious actor who doesn't mind being ridiculously comic"––in a clip of one of my top-ten favorite movies, Galaxy Quest (1999), a spoof (and a tribute!) to Star Trek-style fandom.
Alexander Dane (Alan Rickman) feels like a sell-out as he and the rest of the cast of the [made-up] TV show Galaxy Quest wait for star Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) at a fan convention.

ORIGINAL POST from 11/2010:

"If you were to put a big banner over the door of the theatre, it would read Come to Recognise and be Recognised."
--Juliet Stevenson: "The power of storytelling", the Guardian, 2009.

Speaking of Alan Rickman, Clowncar mentioned Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990, written and directed Anthony Minghella), which is one of my favorite movies, and one of the best I know at showing how grief feels--even catching the bits of humor that can attend wrenching loss.

The wonderful Juliet Stevenson--she should be in my favorite actresses posts--Minghella said he wrote the movie for her--plays Nina, a woman who can't let go of her partner, Jamie (Rickman), after his recent death. In response to her longing, his spirit turns up, and brings along his annoying dead friends (they're always cold and keep turning up the heat).

(The movie's in color, but I like this ^ b&w pic.)

In this scene (below), Nina throws the friends out, and the two lovers talk about their past (I love that "talking was the main component" of their first night together)... and her future. 

Jamie recites Pablo Neruda's poem "The Dead Woman" as a way of releasing her to choose life. 
(Poem starts at 3:35--I've posted the poem at the end of this post.)

One of the things that makes this movie feel real is the actors aren't prettified and perfected--Rickman's Spanish accent is awful, and neither actor can sing well--and so we may recognize ourselves.
Here they are, singing (rather poorly :) 
"Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore":

Stevenson on how poetry made her want to be an actress (from article linked at top):
"When I was about nine years old I picked up a difficult poem by W.H.Auden, and read it inside my head. And I found that I was full of a desire to read it aloud to people. It was a complicated love poem from – I know now – one man to another.
However much or little of it I was able to understand, whatever meaning I sensed within the words, I just felt very strongly, very powerfully, that I wanted to be the person who communicated that meaning to others. I could understand some of it just through the rhythm of the lines, through the sounds and shapes of its language, and I wanted to feel that language pass through me. I wanted to be the conduit for somebody else's experiences, filtered through me, and passed on to other people."
Stevenson and Neruda, looking surprisingly alike:



And here's Neruda's poem (in English and Spanish)

The Dead Woman

If suddenly you do not exist,
if suddenly you no longer live,
I shall live on.

I do not dare,
I do not dare to write it,
if you die.

I shall live on.

For where a man has no voice,
there, my voice.

Where blacks are beaten,
I cannot be dead.
When my brothers go to prison
I shall go with them.

When victory,
not my victory,
but the great victory comes,
even though I am mute I must speak;
I shall see it come even
though I am blind.

No, forgive me.
If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love,
if you have died,
all the leaves will fall in my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but
I shall stay alive,
because above all things
you wanted me indomitable,
and, my love, because you know that I am not only a man
but all mankind.
La Muerta

Si de pronto no existes,
si de pronto no vives,
yo seguiré viviendo.

No me atrevo,
no me atrevo a escribirlo,
si te mueres.

Yo seguiré viviendo.

Porque donde no tiene voz un hombre
allí, mi voz.

Donde los negros sean apaleados,
yo no puedo estar muerto.
Cuando entren en la cárcel mis hermanos
entraré yo con ellos.

Cuando la victoria,
no mi victoria,
sino la gran Victoria llegue,
aunque esté mudo debo hablar:
yo la veré llegar aunque esté ciego.

No, perdóname.
Si tú no vives,
si tú, querida, amor mío, si tú
te has muerto,
todas las hojas caerán en mi pecho,
lloverá sobre mi alma noche y día,
la nieve quemará mi corazón,
andaré con frío y fuego
y muerte y nieve,
mis pies querrán marchar hacia donde tú duermes, pero seguiré vivo,
porque tú me quisiste sobre
todas las cosas indomable,
y, amor, porque tú sabes que soy no sólo un hombre
sino todos los hombres.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


I bought a juice-bar Cleanser [apple & pear juice with ginger, parsley, and lime] on the way to Day Four at Hospice with bink and her dying dad.

bink's dad's pain and anxiety have been kept by meds to a bare minumum, so it's been mostly peaceful, and the long days give lots of transition time for everything to happen (so different from sudden death, like suicide or a car crash). 
bink and I had sat and laughed with her brother and sister-in-law the other day; I wasn't here yesterday, but bink's priest friend came and annointed her dad, saying something about "being brave and safe and loved"; and her dad's old girlfriend came, who wept about how she'd "never see him again", and then went to play Bingo. 

 This is the third time I've attended someone's drawn-out, natural death. It seems to me this kind of long, slow dying allows people the chance, anyway, to get good and bored and done. And ready to let go. 
The slowness of it can, at its best, work as a cleanser.

bink's dad is no longer rising to consciousness today, so we may not be coming back here again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


bink's dad is still hanging on... The hospice nurse said sometimes people with lung disease are so used to struggling for breath, they hang on, fighting to breathe, longer than others.
I don't know if that's just anecdotal, but it feels fitting in this case.

It's possible I may have the opportunity to go to hospice with bink again tomorrow, but I am taking today off, for various reasons, including...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Another Day

I'm back at the residential hospice with bink and her dying father this morning.
bink, Maura, and I went home last night. bink was unsure if she should stay, but her father had actually taken a tiny turn for the better, seemingly rising from the dead and asking for pop.

It's not like he's going to get better though.
The nurse said some people's decline is like a roller coaster, and that's what we're seeing here.
It's tiring.
Have you seen David Bowie's song "Lazarus", made while he was ill with the liver cancer he died of two days ago? 
It's here on youtube.

From article, "Bowie's ...Collaborators Discuss His Final Works":
In the 18 months following his cancer diagnosis, David Bowie, who passed away on Sunday [January 10, 2016], embarked on several projects that he pursued until the end of his life.
Despite his illness, Bowie would spent five hours a day in the studio before crossing town to oversee Lazarus rehearsals. Tim Lefebvre, the quartet's bassist, said, "I don’t know where he found the strength. It’s amazing. ... It never looked to us like he was sick. He was just coming in and singing his ass off."
Sometimes things do get better, and the way of dying in America, after a long period when we handled it poorly, is an example of actual improvement, at least in some places.

This hospice is amazingly great---I wouldn't mind spending my last days here. (In fact, it's nicer than where I live.)

It's only four years old, and it was well designed with the needs of visitors in mind:
there's a guest shower room, for instance,--complete with shampoo and body lotion; 

there are lots of small, semi-private spaces, like the table I'm sitting at right now; 
outside are little pockets of garden and a walking path (though sadly, after a warm December, this January morning it's –4°F but with windchill "feels like –24º").

And this place is free for those like bink's dad who have nothing. It doesn't charge a thing for the expenses insurance doesn't cover (room and board, I guess), but relies on donations.
The only downside is, you have to die within three weeks, and if you don't, you have to move.
bink's dad is taking his time, but the staff isn't bothering to look for a place he can move to in 17 days time. 
A Poem I Choose for This Morning
 "Once More, the Round"
––by Theodore Roethke

What's greater, Pebble or Pond?
What can be known? The Unknown.
My true self runs toward a Hill
More! O More! visible.
Now I adore my life
With the Bird, the abiding Leaf,
With the Fish, the questing Snail,
And the Eye altering All;
And I dance with William Blake
For love, for Love's sake;
And everything comes to One,
As we dance on, dance on, dance on.


From 57 woodcuts illustrating the Dance of Death, (Death, here, coming for "The Noble Lady", c. 1525), woodcut by Han Holbein the Younger [via]

Monday, January 11, 2016


I'm at Hospice with bink, whose father is dying here... maybe, the nurse says, tonight, though of course nobody knows.

bink's father hasn't been a good father, and yet, he is a human being who now has to do this thing humans have to do––die.  
bink is doing a thing humans sometimes do, though they don't have to:
wait and watch. And I am waiting with her.

I'm sitting in a little open room, near bink's father's room. I can see snow falling outside the window, and beyond that, the lights of rush hour traffic.
On my laptop, I looked up a prayer I remember from Vespers.

Yes, it fits. 
Evening Prayer,  by Augustine of Hippo 

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight,
and give your angels and saints charge over those who sleep.
Tend your sick ones,
Rest your weary ones,
Bless your dying ones,
Soothe your suffering ones,
pity your afflicted ones,
Shield your joyous ones,
And all for your love's sake.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Post Your Baby Picture (with updates)

The Latest: Julia at three, with her papa:

Oh, how fun! Two more bloggers have posted photos of their younger selves, here:
Michael at Orange Crate Art,

and Zhoen at One Word.

Also my friend Maura e-mailed me a photo of her infant self, with an expression of delight that I totally recognize from knowing her grown-up self:


Crow posted a photo of her daughter at almost-three, and when I suggested we all post photos of ourselves as babies/toddlers, she added one of herself at the same age.

I invite you to please post a picture of little-you too!  

(Let me know and I'll link to it here, if you like. Or you can e-mail me yours and I'll add it to this post.)

I lost a lot of photos when a computer died, so the only baby photos of me that I have on hand are two I've already posted, but I'll post them again.
My favorite––somewhere around two-three years old––I am still like this:

Below: Picnic in Missouri with my grandmother Meribel (my mother's mother--she was a "lady" and would not like being seen with her mouth open), my sister, and --foreground--me (two and a half?)

I also happen to have baby Marz in my Photos. This, below, is very much like the Marz I know, except now she'd be grinning for a Scully & Mulder cake: