Monday, November 06, 2006


The change of seasons, moving back the clock—create a backdrop for contemplating time. Time as daily, monthly, yearly and extending beyond to eras and eons. And such contemplation triggers thoughts of change, sometimes imperceptible, but other times a giant with big league boots traversing the landscape. And that catapults me into both world history and personal history.

Could my grandmother envision an IPod as she watched Grandpa Amos on the ‘The Real McCoys ? Did Hegel envision the Soviet regime of Stalin? My mother once left the peas and carrots in the pressure cooker too long. Our kitchen ceiling, spattered with orange and green, foretold the advent of chance as the spur for creative pursuits. Once upon a time, in Greenwich Village, I heard Lenny Bruce. He stood on the proverbial street corner and spouted a tirade against the restrictions imposed on profane language. Right there he began a litany of words—each word descended upon the small crowd. He said, “These are only words.” Now, can you imagine even looking up when Lenny’s words are sprayed about like confetti?

When I visited the Music House in Maine I took this photo and that set me off remembering my first record player. It was a modern triumph over these early 1920s Victor Phonographs. My parents gave me a record player for my thirteenth birthday and money to purchase three records. I bought 'Pictures at an Exhibition' by Modest Mussorgsky because I had read some tales of Baba-Yaga, the hideous witch who lived on the edge of a forest, but mainly because my grandparents came from Russia and heard these stories as children. Mussorgsky's musical interpretations fascinated me. I also purchased a recording of Union Songs sung, I think, by Pete Seeger. For weeks I sang There once was a union maid Who never was afraid of goons and ginks and company finks And deputy sheriffs who made the raids ...My third record, a 45rpm, was 'Heartbreak Hotel' by Elvis Presley. My collection grew slowly. At some point I purchased 'Linda'. —my name. Tonight I found the lyrics to the entire song on the internet.

When I go to sleep
I never count sheep
I count all the char-ar-ar-arms
About L-L-L-L, L-L-L-Linda

And since that time record players gave way to turntables, stereos, hi-fi, tweeters, woofers, cd, dvd. IPOD and on and on. But some things remain the same. People dream. The seasons change. History repeats itself as if it is stuck on a turntable.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

" Mental Topography"

An art critic asked how an artist can show mental topography visually.

First, as a writer, I need a clean-cut definition of each word. A definition unhampered by prior preconceived notions. A clean slate. Start with mental. Is this the opposite of physical?.

Mental. Physical. Does the act of solving a crossword puzzle harbor an inherent superiority to cleaning the bathroom? The former may be an excuse to avoid the later. And isn't it possible, or probable that the two join, converge, bisect one another? Today when I cleaned the bathroom I thought of a puzzle clue and empty puzzle boxes. Perhaps my pondering the empty boxes invigorated my scrubbing or caused me to stare blankly at a water/ chemical stain— a line. Did I really want to remain on my knees contemplating the mineral deposit—genuflecting before the ring? I stood up and returned to the puzzle.

As for topography—the features of a place—or as the dictionary so aptly states—" the physical or natural features of an object or entity and their structural relationships."

Let's change the definition of mental to another dictionary defintion: "relating to the spirit or idea as opposed to matter." Now I'm closing in on an ethereal understanding. So if I'm to describe my metal typography or within the context of the quote—an artist depicting her mental typography visually—that's the rub. For the writer it's done with words. A cadre of words—at attention, waiting—Inert until manipulated. The act of manipulation engages a personal topography. And that topography, the stratal of living, permeates a writer's words.

Flannnery O'Connor's mental typography included her belief in the inexorable quality of redemption and grace. Her stories holler —grace and redemption, but they never utter those words. I'm reading James Baldwin and the topography of his spirit, his streets, his experience as a black man spreads itself out on the page.

So the bigger question —how do you as a writer recognize and allow your topography to flex itself without calling attention, without sounding didactic, without losing your story?