Monday, March 23, 2009


To design extraordinary schemes to fool people into false expectations, to create intricate structures that hide real motives, to wear one face while knowing your other face is beneath that exterior, defines a person who delights in debunking another of their innocence.

The people of money whose desires outpace their ability to acquire more and more money may find themselves on the path of reckless greed. I heard today that the best tickets at the new Yankee stadium cost over $2000 per seat for each game. You cannot, even if you want to splurge, order a single ticket for one game. These luxury seats are sold as a season package—doling out over $125,000 for a season ticket may be akin to keeping up with the Joneses. It all depends upon the Joneses you know.

I am aware of the difficulties of living under the strain of an unbridled need to acquire. Perhaps we, the others, suffer under our lack of compassion for the rich. We need the rich to keep business alive. Who else will buy the high-end items in high-end malls? Who will buy the mini-mansions? Who will buy kitchens with appliances meeting the needs of chefs trained at Le Cordon Bleu?

I am not tossing all the rich in one pot of broth. I am only speaking of those who lose their grip on the path in the middle. I am thinking of those people who believe that a bonus that exceeds the lifelong wage of many workers is a fair value for their contribution to a company—even when that company falters and sputters.

Yet, how foolish of me. How can they afford what became necessities without that added remuneration?

Oh share the tax loopholes and the accountant who knows how to hide money.

Did the money managers who defrauded people of their money need the money they made or did they need the rush that accrues to doing something risky?

Want risk? Become a follower of Evel Kneivil. Climb on your motorcycle and jump over Pepsi trucks and Greyhound busses. Risk takers are breaking his records—join them.

Trek across the Gobi desert. Helen Thayer and her husband walked 1600 miles across the Gobi when she was sixty and he was seventy-four.

"We enjoyed the simplicity of a trek in a world drowning in convenience and easier methods of travel."

But greed doesn't only stick to the craws of those financial and corporate people. It is all over.

Sometimes the name is different. .

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Shadows

Friday night my book club discussed Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow in the Wind.

Imagine belonging to the same book club for decades? Did we know at the first meeting of our eventual longevity? Certainly changes happened, either through happenstance, chance or studied willingness to try it a different way.

For years we only read books by women. Fewer publishers took chances on female writers—women still win fewer of the big literary prizes. We supported women writers and believed that the personal is political.

The faces changed. The original members—or members of a decade or more —now number seven. At our zenith twenty-five people showed up the fourth Friday of every month, now thirteen to seventeen show up the third Friday of the month—a more manageable number.

We always adhere to a discussion of the book. No veering off into private stories. The book doesn't act as a trigger to our personal reveries.
Last night Mary Ellen asked about Magic Realism and I thought about Karen; Karen who loved writers from South America, who studied those writers and wrote her thesis on the connecting links of land and religion and magic realism; Karen who died of breast cancer way too young. Karen who wanted to be buried back in the farmland of the mid-west, a land she loved.

Shadows—I perceived the shadows of the past in the room. Another Karen sought a spiritual path, one not found in the books we read. One day she packed her things, sold her house and became a Sufi.

Zafon said that he wrote his book as an ode to reading.

And Alberto Manquel wrote: "Perhaps in order for a book to attract us, it must establish between our experience and that of the fiction--between the two imaginations, ours and that on the page--a link of coincidence."

The Shadow in the Wind connected me to the shadows of those who once belonged to the book club.

We had a member who arrived barefoot in the winter. She walked on ice. "My feet smell in shoes."

A woman came who taught literature at a nearby university and remained a member until she led a discussion on Withering Heights, a book she wrote about in her own book. We disagreed with her interpretation and she left.

I recall the short women who only came a few times and suggested rather pallid books. Because she was new and spoke so energetically about a book she suggested, we voted it for the following month. At that point we chose a book for the next month; now we choose three books at a time.

The following month we tore apart the book—weak character development, sappy ending, and purple prose.

"Did you read this book before suggesting it?" I asked. “ A rule of thumb—read the book first.”

"No." she answered. Two people self-righteously took her to task for not following that rule —the eleventh commandment.

Maybe she came back once again and then didn't appear again. We learned she had died, was dying the evening we ripped into the book with a good ending and weak prose.

I think of her whenever I want to lean with words—anything can be said if the words aren't used to pummel.

Joyce suggested we interview each other for the newsletter. Everyone had a chance to play both roles. Joyce died several years ago—cancer. She wanted to live long enough to finish a children's book—she did.

Once someone brought a woman to the group who regaled us with her tales of time spent in jail.

We listened to one gynecologist member tell us of her decision to become a pastry chief.

One member lived in the shell of a dilapidated building. “It’s better, “ she said, “then living in my car.” She always sat closet to the cheese and crackers. One Friday she didn’t show up.

We need reunions—

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Grocery Bag as Metaphor



A grocery bag, the ubiquitous paper grocery bag, the glued and folded square bottomed bag must be dismantled—reduced to a flat sheet of brown paper. Take care. Monitor your work. Be wary of the errant rip.

Glue the bag on an eighteen by twenty-four piece of newsprint.


Mattie Knight loved tinkering. She worked in a paper bag factory where she watched flat bags slide past her—bags looking like envelopes. Paper sacks.

Mattie Knight, "mother of the grocery bag”, invented a machine part to create a paper bag with a square bottom.

Stand aside and watch the machine automatically fold and glue the flat paper.

Now, you say, dismantle the square bottom and lay it flat.


Every textbook must be covered.
A teacher ceases lecturing on the difference between lay and lie when she spots a bare text—"Where's the cover? "

Before free publicity laden plastic coated covers distributed by insurance companies, before sports covers, gaudy stretch covers, the brown grocery bag earned a reputation as a strong textbook cover.

I instructed entire classes on how to fold, where to fold and how to create sleeves without resorting to masking tape.

That skill, now relegated to extinction, of little consequence, a dinosaur, remains a footnote in the narrative of the paper grocery bag.


A void must be filled. People run in to find new uses for the square bottomed paper bag.
Another dismantling, disassembling—

"... tired of having to scrape ice and snow off your windshield? Keep some paper bags on hand. When there's snow in the forecast, go out to your car and turn on the wipers. Then shut off the engine with the wipers positioned near the middle of the windshield. Now split open a couple of paper bags and use your car's wipers to hold them in place. After the last snow flake falls, pull off the paper to instantly clear your windshield."


A domestic type, a person who turns bottles upside down and waits for the last drops to seek the lowest point, the coupon collector, the person who knows where to find the free samples also knows the uses of a paper bag.

Sleep during the day—cover your windows with grocery bags.

Cut into strips and weave fanciful place mats.



Use your viewfinder to select a composition.

The low platform is transformed into a still life of bags

My viewfinder, an old slide mount, has an inscription on the cardboard —Bryce Canyon, Fairyland Trail.

A large Stop and Shop bag morphs into a trail across the canyon. I descend into the amphitheatre, and pass a hedge of hoodoos atop a ridge— the China Wall.

A labyrinth of limestone spires stretch across the small rectangle of my viewfinder.


You can date a Kodak slide mount by the graphic design. It’s a way, along with creases, to access age.
In the 1965 revisions the "corner curl" trademark began to shrink. In 1972, the "curled corner trade dress” was dropped. I compare my mount to the graphic and identify 1983—1986.

I view the scene through a twenty-three year old mount.

Cardboard mounts may warp with age.
Paper bags may crease with use.

Grace Paley wrote of a woman with “ a nicely mapped face”


Instruction: draw a contour line around the large shapes.

I drew a contour around the bags until I reached the tallest bag. That's when I recalled the hike from one side of the canyon to the opposite side. Orange and red creep through the brown while tan, pink and white obliterate what is left of the brown paper.


My banana ripens in a brown lunch bag.

In the fourth grade I created a paper bag mask and walked around incognito--for a few moments.


The directions blend and I am left creating the bag details. Creases or crevasses?


I won.

I used the same paper lunch bag every day for six months. One other teacher kept pace until her yogurt leaked and weakened the square bottom. Taping was not allowed.


One bag took on the characteristics of a hoodoo. My white pastel and charcoal refused to stay within the rules:

—to dismantle a bag, to reduce a square bottom to a flat sheet, to then look through an empty slide mount at intact paper bags and reproduce those bags on a flat sheet of newsprint.