Saturday, November 29, 2008

On Her Toes

The wind, strong enough to keep the gulls suspended in air— unable to make any headway until a lull stretches itself across the sand. Beach grass bends to one side; tips touch the sand and leave fragile calligraphic imprints. The ocean moves rapidly and undulating movements of green-blue tear into the shore. White caps deposit froth at the shore's edge before retreating. It is too cold and windy, too demanding to expect shells to survive. They arrive on the shore as shards.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Did anyone know that I took the Minnow swimming test while keeping my feet on the bottom? Maybe the waterfront counselors only watched my arms. I did dip my face into the water and pretended to fill my lungs with air. Perhaps they awarded me the minnow badge because my father was the camp director and my mother sewed the badges on the camper's swimsuits. In the fall, when I entered the first grade, I brought the badge to show and tell.


My mother and two aunts went shopping—an event that often took several hours.

Ten, tanned, able to swim and bored on a day we were told to stay close to the bungalow— instead we three cousins, known as the Three Musketeers, set out for a local lake where we found a rowboat beached like a whale out of its element. We appropriated the boat.

"No one cares about this boat," I said, "Look at the peeling sides and splintered seat."
“It’s abandoned,” said Cynthia.

We took the rowboat out for a small voyage. Cousin Bobby once took a canoe out and I knew how to row. Cynthia never lost her way; she became our navigator.

We headed for a patch of water lilies because they were beautiful and lured us the way the mermaids beckoned the mariners. Once in the patch we pulled the oars in and played at being on a voyage around the world. The rowboat drifted deeper into the patch. When we dipped our oars into the water they were ensnared by underwater stalks— adventitious roots No matter how we fended off the tentacles they trapped the oars and the boat. We also noticed a small puddle of water in the rowboat.

We dipped an oar in, took a stroke, then removed the weeds, and took another stroke. Then we cupped the water on the bottom and threw it overboard. Drowning at sea wasn't an option.


A flash flood waits for no one. They say the sound is like an oncoming train. It carries whatever is in its path along to create a new path.

We traveled from Second Mesa to Gallup, New Mexico even though the sky was gray and thunderclouds were up ahead— the gray deepened and there was an ominous silence. Hours passed and we entered a stretch of road that ran between rivers, or lakes, or small ponds. The pick-up truck in front picked up speed and we stayed with the larger vehicle thinking that the car represented safety. The water began to encroach upon the edges of the road. We drove closer to the middle of the road. Somewhere behind us or in front of us there was a possibility of a flash flood. We drove ninety miles an hour losing more and more of the road edge. The rains hadn't yet begun but when they did we anticipated the water covering the road and meeting in the middle as if claiming their territory.

We drove the last few miles with a light rain beginning. Just as we realized the end was close the sky opened up and the road began to close.


There's small knoll at Queens College. Perhaps it’s even too small to call a knoll, just a low hill. One spring day when the temperature hovered in the low eighties my friend Minnie suggested studying for a biology test outside. We gravitated to the hill and talked of life as if we could blueprint the years. It started to rain and we put the books in our rucksacks. Once wet it was foolish to move. The rain began in earnest. I placed my rucksack on the ground to use as a pillow. Lying side by side we caught raindrops. I never felt cold or even wet. The world never intruded.


Growing up in the Bronx meant that snow turned black by the time the busses and cars finished the evening commute. Once it snowed day after day and the plows piled the darkened snow in a pile that began to resemble a mountain to my eight year old imagination. Then a new snow turned the mountain pristine white. We climbed to the top and dislodged the new snow revealing the blackened pile underneath. I couldn't know at that time that that was a metaphor.


I once did a painting for a friend and then she decided that the painting represented something she didn't like. It was philosophically incorrect. I tried to cover the oil paint with strips of colored tissue paper--a collage of moving water emerged, but beneath the surface the old painting. The more strips of tissue I glued to the canvas the more the water raged. The sea churned. The colors darkened. The water recognized the storm before I knew my own feelings.


The water that came from your faucet could contain molecules that Neanderthals drank…

In a 100-year period, a water molecule spends 98 years in the ocean, 20 months as ice, about 2 weeks in lakes and rivers, and less than a week in the atmosphere


… in places where it has been introduced, the Water Lily can become a weed blocking out sunlight and oxygen from the water —displacing local aquatic plants


Filthy water cannot be washed.

-West African proverb

Monday, November 10, 2008

Background Music

Before going to my class, the one I'm teaching every Monday morning, I stop for a cup of coffee. This morning I move quickly and leave enough time for a short walk and a sit down coffee break.

The music in the background is bluegrass and blues. There's a communal feel to this music-- sets me thinking about love and loss and yesterdays and tomorrows.

When I lived in the south my next-door neighbor who came from the Deep South—Benoit, Mississippi— loved to sing. In the afternoon she might take out her guitar, sit at her honey toned kitchen table and sing folk songs. There was always that blues quality even if it the lyrics were upbeat.

She also played hymns on a small piano or on the guitar. It was in her house that I first heard an English group singing a very upbeat contemporary rock hymn. I can see the album cover, but the name of the group eludes me.

But the music she liked best were old ballads--the kind that have numerous verses and tell long tales that often end poorly. Then sometimes she'd sing a fast paced “She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain" or "When the Saints Come Marching In”.

I've always been drawn to folk music. It speaks to me--encourages me--acts as a gadfly. Makes we wonder why I do what I do. Goads me into political stances and places—places Peace signs in front of me and asks me to act.

Maybe it's the plaintive sound that resonates. There's a soul searching inherent in that music.

It is almost time to leave and yet the music holds me fast. I hear the strum of the guitar--the clarity of the notes, the lament—

"Never Go Away..

There's also the call to engage with the world...

Time to leave.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


A caterpillar doesn't morph into a butterfly overnight.

Even those declarations one makes in heartfelt moments when failure refuses to peek out over the horizon --even those can sputter.

It's too early to think about New Year's resolutions, but not too early to set some reachable goals. But what is a goal? Is it arbitrary, a desire of the moment or a reachable possibility?

If I decided to walk ten miles a day-- that's reachable, but to do that something else has to go. That's the rub. Setting priorities. And what's a priority? Is it a have to accomplish, I want to accomplish or a whim triggered by something else.

Several weeks ago I went to see an art exhibit of "small and detailed" art. Fussy paintings or details that bespoke severe eyestrain and a tethering to obsessive repetitive patterns filled the gallery. Most of the work didn't resonate, but several pieces captured (I like that word for its sense of action) my imagination.

One artist using the techniques of the genre of graphic novels created a book that encompassed both fantasy designs and her words. Another artist, a lawyer who traveled the New York City subways, wrote down the snippets of conversation he overheard, or attentively listened to, as he rode the subway.

Then, I assume later on, drew or spun these conversations into dialog bubbles similar to the Sunday comics--no necessary order, but disorder finds its own order and meaning within the reader's mind. On each small page--he was given to an extra extra fine pen --he added an ink drawing.

On one page he drew a woman's leg crossed over her other leg. The ink drawing exaggerated the shoe, but never became comic book style. This leg was surrounded by small-disconnected bits of dialogue.

The leg floated out of the page, connected only to the words by proximity.

Then the same day, or perhaps a day or two later, but connected in my mind to the exhibit, I found a book in the library written for an adolescent audience. Simple premise--writing exercises created in a graphic comic genre--but with collage overtones . No dialogue boxes, no graphic and narrative paragraph. Everything was entwined--language as vine clamoring up the graphics, but distinct.

Now, I thought, here's an idea to run with. At the time I didn't really identify the idea. I was in love with the concept. I immediately purchased the proper sketch pad--one that had paper with enough tooth to accept watercolor, but not enough to cause my ink pen to bleed . I don't like the look of ink that leaves its boundary and catches on the edges leaving a soft line. The paper needed to maintain its flat shape and not show the wave pattern of lightweight paper.

I purchased a set of water color pencils, a case to hold my expanding pencil collection, and two new broader point permanent archival ink pens. All set.

Now to decide on a topic...the anticipation of the finish may dwarf the actual day-to-day work. And am I up to this task?

I've half decided on a topic...peregrinations of an eclectic reader, the roaming reader.

This isn't intended to be a suggested list of must read books. Who am I to create such a list? it isn't another Goodreads. So what is it? It's eclectic. A romp, isn't that a Victorian word and can't you envision someone with a hoop and a flounced skirt, curls, and lacy socks skipping down a path lined with pink blossoms. Or it may be that the word conjures up a less Victorian romp.

Perhaps it's memoir, a graphic journal through my landscape stopping to pick some morels, gaze at an Indian miniature through the lens of a magnifier.

But then my title needs to change--to encompass the polypore. I think I left enough space on the first page to elongate the title or create two title pages. I'm expanding myself as I write..

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Wins

Such a historic evening. The country voted for the first African-American president.

We stayed up until 1:00am to hear President Elect Barack Obama's acceptance speech.

And what a speech—in the grand tradition.

I'm so hopeful that we will as a nation move away from some of the shameful doings of the Bush years.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What Will They Write Tomorrow Night?

Please—let the stories be about an Obama victory.

At this point the pundits say that Obama is ahead, but anything can happen when people walk into the voting booth.

Will race be a factor?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Photograph

It's been more than sixteen years since my mother died and the photo had hung in her bedroom. I always thought the size was overwhelming. It isn't that I ever measured it, but it took up so much wall space.

When my father retired after twenty-five years of teaching, and then as a principal of a neighborhood elementary school for fifteen years, he and my mother moved to Miami. They bought a two-bedroom condo in a building that was on one of the many canals that connect up to a larger waterway. When you wait that long for ownership, your home acquires a status that is unknown to people who have always lived in a home they owned.

My father swept the small outdoor deck every day and once a week washed the concrete floor. My mother bought wall-to-wall shag carpet and a rake to keep the rug strands standing up straight. They bought an overhead kitchen fixture that would have lit up an entire house. The glow from the lights set off the kelly green and yellow wallpaper in a psychedelic frenzy.

Several of my paintings hung in the living room. They weren't any good and I wondered if my mother thought they were good or if she hung them because I had painted them during my phase of palette knife creations and she liked to show off my creations.

The bedroom was fairly spacious and that's where my mother displayed photos of her two grandchildren. The photo of eight-year-old Elyse and our dog Snoopy, so named by David and Elyse, hung on the wall to the right of their bed. With a frame the photo measured twenty- three inches by twenty- nine inches. An equally large photo of David wearing a sweatshirt and looking as if he was ready to play a game of basketball - hung on the same wall.

Even when they were both in high school those photos remained--frozen in time— a time when we lived in Maryland and the neighborhood was designed for kids. We lived on a dead end street where learning how to ride a bike was safe, where kids gathered for informal games, and July 4th parties included all the people in the neighborhood. Everyone brought a dish to share. We lived in a multi-cultural neighborhood and the dishes were from Morocco, Greece, and Iran—even England and of course a healthy sprinkling of southern cooking. Our next-door neighbor might bring a pecan pie made with the pecans picked on her in-laws property in the Mississippi delta.

Even though there were other photos none were enlarged and none ended up on the wall. The small snapshots were kept in a box that once held a sweater from Macys Department Store. A red rubber band held the box together when it bulged with photos that included some taken of me when I was younger than the pictures on the wall. Once I bought my parents a photo album thinking that they might want to replace the box with an organized system for viewing photos. My mother often reminded me that one day she'd put everything in order, but it never happened.

When my father died my mother kept the small photo taken of both of them in a silver toned frame on her nightstand. Elyse and David remained on the wall--ever caught in a certain age. David was graduating high school and Elyse was in her second year of high school.

My mother was playing maj jong when her head throbbed and she couldn't stand. By the evening she was prepared for surgery to stem bleeding in her brain. When I flew down to Miami she was in intensive care. The nurse said, "Talk to her. The last sense that goes is hearing." When I walked into the room I found my mother attached to tubes and monitors--a small presence within that space. I talked and held the hand least encumbered by plastic lines. "I love you," I said. And I believe she so faintly squeezed my hand. "Is that possible?" I asked the nurse. "You felt it, didn't you? Then she responded."

My aunt had lived with my father and mother after she no longer could afford her own apartment. After my father died she and my mother continued the arrangement. When my mother died my aunt moved into the larger bedroom. She had never had children and kept the portraits on the wall. By this time David had graduated college and traveled around the world taking his own photos. For a while he thought of becoming a photographer. Elyse studied fashion design.

My aunt, who loved Japanese art, left her pictures in the smaller bedroom and lived with the portraits and the landscape I bought my parents when I traveled to Italy between my junior and senior year in college.

In a year her memory deceived her and she roamed the apartment, a visitor in a foreign country where all the signposts were written in a different script. We had to move her to a place where the perimeters were locked and the geography changed. In the few months she lived in the other space we kept the condo. After she died we cleaned out the apartment, gave away the furniture, sent the clothes to the Salvation Army, looked for the box of photos and couldn't find the box. I took two maj jong tiles, a china cup and saucer, and an old prayer book. I looked for the tallit my father received when he turned thirteen, but that was gone. And we went back to our home.

The attorney took care of selling the unit, but first he had a cleaning service in to straighten up, clean and paint the unit. Several days later Fed Ex delivered a box with the remnants. Most of the items I threw out, but there was the portrait of Elyse. The portrait of David had darkened with age and probably insufficient time in the fixer.

I didn't know what to do with this large portrait. I put it in the basement ten years ago. Whenever I cleaned and reordered the basement I moved it to a different place.

It remained in the basement—Elyse now has three children, David has five children.

Three weeks ago I looked at the photo and noticed brown spots in the background. Soon they would move to cover the entire surface and the portrait would become faint and finally disappear. I took the portrait into a photography store and arranged to have it copied and an eight by ten print made. "I'd also like the jpg," I said.

Last week I picked up two prints-- one a black and white and one a softer toned print. I rather like the soft tones. They belie the years after the photo. I printed out two four by six prints at a local drugstore.

I placed the eight by ten prints in an archival photo album where I store some of the photos I've taken--none are portraits. I added one of the smaller photos to a small plastic sleeved album of family portraits.

The remaining small print I’ll send to Elyse. I don't expect that she'll respond, but perhaps she'll look at the portrait and remember another time when she dressed Snoopy in clothes, or let Snoopy watch her draw Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy. I wonder if she still has any of those drawings—

“Lucy: Have you ever thought about writing sort of a memoir? You know, putting down things you remember about the past.”
“Snoopy: (typing) This is what I remember about last week”