Thursday, May 31, 2012

Other Ways to Write

I love notebooks. Whenever I spot a shelf of notebooks I stop and look—but I'm not intrigued with glitzy covers or journals that attempt to lure the writer with pithy sayings or colorful paper. Instead I feel the paper—will it ennoble my fountain pen ink? Will my writing show through to the other side? What's the feel of the paper? Does this sound picky—perhaps?

Years ago I loved the notebooks I bought at a stationery store in Harvard Square. Two aisles of notebooks catered to every whim— every size notebook—myriad types from lab books to music books to blue books to thin lined to wide lined to numbered notebooks.

My favorites always had hard sturdy blue covers— with thin lines and numbered off-white paper. An inch margin almost stated this is the starting place. Occasionally I purchased the wide lined without a margin, but it never captured my imagination the same way. Later on I bought some black Blueline notebooks—with a double margin line and the request for a date on every page. That felt as if someone was checking up on my writing habits or sloth.

Now I tend to purchase notebooks made in France. That's not to say that I don't also have a cache of cheap memo pads that are perfect for the ubiquitous Pilot pens.

The other day I noted a woman writing in her unlined hard covered artist book. That's another wonderful place to both keep a journal and add descriptive drawings or doodles. I must say I stared as she turned the pages—noting some sketches, some doodles and some snippets of color.

It made me long to add some sketches and visual notes. It also made me long for the half finished 5" x7" black sketch book I started two years ago. Perhaps it's time to return to that sketchbook.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Slow Motion Ballet

The month is quickly coming to an end and I forgot all about the word for the month. Actually I didn't forget, I simply moved beyond the word to my own concerns. Now with a new prompt word two days away I feel I need to return to the word for May --play.

Anything can become a competing sport. I once attended a day long kite workshop offered by a student from MIT. We constructed large sled kites out of clear plastic and then painted a design on the front. My design--a face. For its maiden voyage I selected a small hill, a knoll, a place where I knew that a soft landing was possible.

But staying within a comfort level can become boring so I bought four fifty pound weight spools of 400 feet twine and a proper kite winder. On a beautiful summer day I headed to the beach and waited for the perfect breeze to begin flying my kite. Once it caught the breeze it began to climb quickly. Because the kite was transparent plastic all that was visible was a small face. After all the string left the winder I played with the kite letting it dive down and then taking it up again--precipitous dives.

As the breeze picked up, the kite strained against a taut string. For an hour the kite toyed with the birds and then as if wanting to fly free it broke away. I watched a slack string collapse.

The kite floated into the ocean.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If You Look at Something Long Enough

I've noticed that if you stare at something long enough you begin to see pictures, motifs, a hidden message. At first this was an abstract mixed media composition, but then after some serious staring it morphed into a map. I was able to pick out countries, mountains, and a meandering river.

And once I determined that I was looking at a map I found myself absorbed with stories. Who lived there. Was it a peaceful area?

According to Daily News on the Wars in the World; fifty-nine countries are involved in wars, and there are 334 Militias-guerrillas and separatist groups involved.

So I'll keep staring until it morphs back into an abstract painting and if I still see a river it will be a lazy, slow moving river-- a place for wading and fishing.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Two photos—one of an eight year old boy on his knees with his head touching a stone memorial — and the other photo of a young mother holding an eighteen month old baby with his head buried between her shoulder and neck.

The boy leans against his father's stone, the young mother kneels in front of her husband's grave. His expression is one of loss and longing, her tears tell the entire story.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Seek Peace

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Only one library was open today. Most local towns closed for the entire three day weekend. The weather, hot and humid--sticky and more like a sweltering day in late July then a day still hanging in there in May favored the air conditioned library.

I stopped to pick up a book. Fear of running out of reading material means that I stockpile library books. There's a spiritual meditation book on the kitchen table, book three of a sappy series on the coffee table in the living room, a bookmark in David Grossman's evocative novel To the End of the Land and two mysteries in an old maple sugar bucket. Yet, I took out another book.

I read several books at the same time and suppose I didn't care for those I had previously selected? Having another option is important when you know that for two days all the libraries will be closed.

Next week there's a huge book sale on the lawn of a nearby library. It's one that draws the large bag set. These are serious folk who travel in twos and never lose sight of their ultimate goal. I tend to meander and even read several paragraphs before moving on. This slow pace means the possible loss of finding the exact book I wanted. The serious folks methodically work their way down the book aisles, make arrangement to keep moving, and don't drink liquids prior to the sale.

There's always a method.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Path

Ever cry at a movie, or when reading a book, or even when reading something in the newspaper? Often the telling is so engrossing, so real, that it's easy to be part of the tale. Other times the story triggers a familiar story.

But I think there's another reason. Inside there's a reservoir of stored up tears waiting to be spilled. Perhaps they accumulated because there wasn't time for tears, or the event required stoicism, or the sorrow or loss only happened upon reflection-- too late for tears.

Gunther Grass created The Onion Cellar in The Tin Drum where people could go and buy an onion and a cutting board. They then could methodically skin the onion and chop it into pieces.

"It did what the world and the sorrows of the world could not do: it brought forth a round, human tear. It made them cry. At last they were able to cry again. To cry properly, without restraint, to cry like mad."

The movie, book, newspaper story may be an access to the reservoir of tears.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Moving On

I never thought I'd be at on an acupuncturist's table with needles in my legs, arms, and earlobes. Then again I never expected to grow weary of political talk or find myself contemplating a wheat free diet.

I anticipated hunkering down with a plate of chips, a bowl of chocolate chip frozen yogurt, and a thick book. Instead I'm envisioning a platter of veggies, a tall glass of iced tea, and that heavy book on my Kindle.

I've relegated heavy non-fiction to the kindle.

Remember when you bought a book you didn't want to be seen reading? Now, hide it on an electronic e-reader.

So there I was on the table with needles in my knees, arms, earlobes-- meditating to new age music.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Who can understand the complexities of modern technology. I have difficulty with yesterday's high tech.Years ago when computers began to make an inroad into schools the nascent computer department decreed that all teachers needed training.

A good idea, but the training consisted of learning some basic computer language.

I returned to my classroom able to teach my class of "difficult" students how to write a sentence and watch it continue to scroll on and on until a human hand put a stop to the incessant roll. They were not intrigued until one student wrote a short sentence: F---ing boring!

That sentence scrolled over and over until I spotted it and said, " Great, you really understood the lesson."

I kept pace, forgetting about understanding and just moving along--floppys, zip drives, external hard drives, memory memory memory. Speed, speed, speed. Clouds. I visualize my own cloud--puffy, sitting on a tufted cushion and spreading its arms welcoming my latest dispatch.

It's easier that way. Each new gadget takes on a personality. Gestures, for me, in lieu of a mouse looks like a green serpent with tentacles. When the Wall Street Journal ran a story about the demise of the mouse I cringed.

Those people who make decisions affecting how I interact with my computer, want to consign the mouse to the scrapheap of the past.

I say, for those who want to use gestures do so and for those of us who love our mouse let us be. Enough.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Down With the Wrinkle

I'm staring at a new iron, one that doesn't splatter, gurgle, or leak. Ironing is not my favorite activity. I never could figure out how to iron around button holes or how to avoid ironing long creases in pants legs. Most things I own do not require ironing.

My mother could look at a crease and it withered away to flat under her expert handling of the iron. I almost expected her to twirl the iron like a gunslinger.

Wrinkles bothered people for years. Archeologists even found "Smoothers" made of glass and used by Viking women to get out those pesky wrinkles. Glass and smooth rocks were used to press pleats into garments.

The art of ironing--another casualty to modernity. Ironing isn't dead, but it can be avoided by eschewing any fabric that requires the iron.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Look Inside

  Il faut cultiver notre jardin
We must cultivate our own garden.

I recently read an essay and these lines were quoted.

Sometimes I think that the mind finds what it needs everywhere—an essay, a book, the morning paper, a sign, —or even on the back of a cereal box. "What matters most is what's" The later line refers to your digestive health on a box of Whole Grain Cereal.

We must cultivate our own garden and what matters most is what's inside you..

Too many times I find myself looking over at someone else's garden—their drawings obey the laws of perspective, their abstractions are powerful and not so well controlled, and look at how they move gracefully between different media.

Or the other garden may be one where the writer always finds the right word, phrase, and emotional honesty.

Our sideway glances to those well watered, seemingly flourishing gardens takes us away from our own plot which needs attention.

Recently I read an essay about how-to-books, or specifically how-to writing books. Some of them are instructional, some dole out step by step instructions on how to get your first murder mystery, romance novel, or memoir written. Several disperse pats on the back as well as cheers for moving ahead. If you get mired in them you never have to move beyond the bookshelf.

Years ago I found a book that offered a prompt a day for 365 days. After about forty-five days of following each prompt I stumbled when the prompt for the day encouraged me to write about the death of a pet. At the time the only pet that had not survived was a painted turtle. This was not the Painted Turtle with straight alignment of the scutes across the back, but a painted turtle bought at the circus. My turtle had red flowers on its back. I suppose people didn't realize that painting the shell shortened the life of the turtle. The turtle, "Speedy" only lasted for one week. Between the paint job and being overfed "Speedy" passed from this physical life.

Instead of taking the prompts literally I began to use them as jumping off points that led me into some rather odd and strange places.. I persisted through a year and at the end realized that I had actually learned something about writing—not from the prompts—but from the daily writing.

And I can't forget to prune, cut back, repot, add fertilizer, and water.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Remembering Treats

The New York City version of Charlotte russe "consisted of a paper cup filled with yellow cake and whipped cream topped with half a maraschino cherry. The bottom of the cup was pushed up to eat."

I bit off the top of wax soda bottles to get at the sweet sugary mixture inside. Drank it all and then chewed the wax bottle until it was a wad.

No one smoked in my house, but I still loved to buy a pack of candy cigarettes and pretend to be smoking. There was the cowgirl look and the vamp look and the gangster look. When that grew tiring I ate the cigarette—including the painted red hot tip.

Down on the Lower East Side a vendor sold piping steaming sweet potatoes from a cart. He split the potato open and I watched the steam escape into the cold air.

A pushcart vendor sold hot chestnuts in front of the Museum of Modern Art. He put your purchase in a brown paper bag. On cold days the heat warmed my hands.

The Jelly man sold dipped apples, dipped figs, and marshmallows from a heated pot of melted jelly. I always waited for his pushcart and a chance to dip into the jelly.

And who can forget the egg creams and pretzels or the BLTs on Wonder Bread or the sour pickles.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Quiet please.

Some sports are fussy. Golf and tennis tend to be sticklers for quiet. In basketball, football, baseball, the crowd munches on food, slurps drinks, shouts, waves towels and makes noise--raucous noise.

A basketball player is fouled and when he stands in front of the basket attempting to make the two shots awarded to him by the ref there's noise. If the player is not a member of the home team then fans will attempt to do everything possible to destroy concentration.

Perhaps it's a different fan base. What's the crowd like at a polo match?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Overheard Conversation

"You never forget the high of caffeine. I miss it every day."

" Years ago I switched to decaf, but every once in awhile I' ll take a splash of the real stuff."

" I miss those lattes."

" I can't take all that milk."

" Lactose intolerant?"

" What about you?"


"So tea's fine?"

" It stains my cup and unless I take precautions it stains my teeth. In the morning I drink it through a straw and then gargle."

" Years ago I drank half decaf and half coffee, but my blood pressure went up so I went all decaf."

"Years ago I never thought I'd own tea cozies."



Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Can't Fathom..

When my next door neighbor told me how much money it cost to have his youngsters take part in school sports I was appalled. 

"$300 per kid, " he said, "and I'm not rich."

It doesn't compute. Towns don't have enough money to adequately fund school programs and parents pick up the tab.

I guess if you have money you simply buy whatever you want or think you need. 

Today's Wall Street Journal carried a story about several daughters of immensely wealthy families and their penchant for buying homes. Imagine being in your early twenties and buying a $70 million dollar estate?

It's hard to fathom how a home can cost that much. Why does anyone object to taxing the rich a bit more?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who's Listening?

I'm guilty of making assumptions that in reality have no basis. Why? Perhaps the person doesn't look the part, perhaps it's age, perhaps it's one of the many stereotypes our society churns out in our tabloids, over the radio, or in social media.

We're all smitten with the media's line and often that line is less than kind and eliminates what doesn't fit in with their storyline.

Turning away from the clatter and din often requires walking away from the voluminous output of verbiage heard on talk radio, being willing to ignore what has gone viral if it steps over the line you've drawn.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Spring unsure of which way to go
slides between two seasons.

One day with the torrid breath
of summer, the next day with
a cold shiver.

I, too, waver
between places,
unwilling to commit.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Lose and Loss

I lost my skate key when I turned ten and couldn't tighten my skates until my friend Annie decided that she'd opt for skating instead of playing jump rope.

My half angora sweater ended up in the washing machine and was a complete loss.I wondered how many angora rabbits it took to make a skein of yarn.

Once I lost my house keys. We changed the locks because I had grown up in New York City and couldn't sleep thinking that someone might be trying locks until the lost key opened our door. A week later I found the keys between the lining of my coat and the interior wool. They slipped through a pocket hole.

I lost my desire to become an artist when I discovered that my talent was marginal at best — and that I'd have to practice, practice and practice.

Who hasn't lost their innocence or lost their belief that everything can be fixed—just find the right adhesive.

My mother kept an empty Concord Grape glass filled with buttons. Lose a button and rummage through the collection trying to find, if not a match, then a close enough button.

Lose a bet.
Lose a game.
Lose a tooth—but the tooth fairy makes everything worthwhile.
Mourn the loss of someone you love, of someone you knew well enough to care about.

Then there's the loss of the five minute mile you never could attain or the mountain that eluded your ability or the chance to go spelunking deep into the earth or the loss of waiting too long before donning a bikini.

Some losses you don't touch because they're hot and fragile.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Facts

* Hallmark, according to their own counting, offers nearly 1000 cards for Mother's Day

* "Consumers each purchase an average of 2.8 Mother's Day cards". Don't you wonder.

* Over 9,000,000 Mother's Day cards will be sent, or given in person, this year. That's just in the U.S.

* The average person will spend about $ 152.00 on Mother's Day.

What does a card mean? Do I care about a card? Who knew so many years ago that at some point in time I'd wonder what happened to my card. Not everyone buys into the commercialism of some of our created holidays. After all we plunk down our money and it's pocketed by huge companies who churn out cards. Larger, more colorful, even singing cards are the rage. But some folks don't bite.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mad Money

I returned a passel of books to the library and took out another mickle of books. Suppose I picked up one book and after ten pages decided that it didn't fit my need at the moment? What if I didn't have another one to peruse?

What is there about library books that trumps the not-yet read books on my own bookshelf? And I like those books.

Having something to fall back on, something that means you won't be caught shorthanded--

My mother always suggested that I should always have mad money on me--not to spend, but to have if necessary.

"Tuck it in your wallet."

Books on my shelf are like mad money.

Friday, May 11, 2012


In the city, buildings nestle against one another and the sun slides down—a slot canyon made of bricks instead of a hairline crack widened by flash floods.

Light trickles to the ground passing open windows, blinds half drawn, curtains, an occasional plant balanced on a window ledge.

Slot canyons twist and turn past striated sandstone, trapped water, swirls formed by water and wind.

Graffiti marks the bottom of some tenements, a skirt encircling the building.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Times they Are Changing—

When the President of the United States says that he personally believes that gay and lesbian individuals should be able to marry it's a newsworthy statement. It's a civil right.

Maybe there will be a time that the Supreme Court agrees and civil rights are expanded for everyone. Then those states with constitutional bans will find themselves adjusting to a different paradigm.

I recall when lesbian poets wrote impassioned poetry that rarely saw publication outside of lesbian journals. Some of it was good and a lot was weak, but all the poems spoke to all the women who yearned to read about themselves. There was a Women's bookstore in Cambridge where you could roam the aisles looking for a book, pick up a newspaper and scan the headlines, check out journals, buy a car sticker or pin or a poster.

Once or twice a week programs featured writers. Women gathered to listen, to be with other women, to feel that acceptance they might not feel elsewhere—not to hide. No one imagined that in their lifetime marriage as a possibility and a reality in a handful of states.

Some of the women who arrived in Cambridge couldn't go home because they were no longer accepted as part of the family. That still happens today. We still see kids tormented by their peers. We still read of too many suicides. Times they are changing—but not for everyone or everywhere.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Blind Contour Drawing

Pick up a pencil or pen
or if you feel abandonment
coursing through your hands
select a brush. Now without
staring at your sketchbook,
without checking for place marks,
without wanting to seek a similarity,
look hard at the other and begin to draw
the person across the room. Think
of your drawing tool as a hand
caressing each in and out. Don't
worry about where each eye is placed,
or whether the mouth is caught open
or whether it's in a grimace
or the lips don't meet.
Simply allow your hand to learn
another's face, the way your eyes meet.
When you're done, lift your pencil
and look. Be captivated.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Waiting for the Sun

Despite the continual rain and the dank smell of dampness, 
the dirt turned to mud, the sound of water rushing through 
a down-sprout, I know that this will end. A deluge of catastrophic 
proportions won't happen this year. How can I remain in this 
state of safety when darkness descends without a blink of sunlight, 
when waters take silt and creep beyond boundaries, when flash 
floods approach within a roar and gnaw and devour sand, 
when the prediction is for more rain. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

Reading Mysteries

Did you ever start a book
and read halfway through
to where you guess who
the writer selected as the culprit?

You know about extenuating circumstances.
Perhaps the writer took an easy path.
Perhaps stereotypes swayed her judgement.
Perhaps she ran out of words.
Perhaps she didn't want to open windows.

Maybe she'll change her mind.
Perhaps this is a red herring,
a ploy to keep me reading.

Sunday, May 06, 2012


How many people play at being liberal or conservative, religious or aetheist? Too often our elected officials, or those hoping to be elected, take on the characteristics of whatever group pushes the hardest. Recently Romney appointed a well qualified gay man to be on his team. This man , an expert in foreign relations, became the target of conservatives.

How, they asked, could Romney and his legions appoint a gay man? They pulled out all the stereotypes and pinned them to the man. Romney kept quiet. I assume he had initially felt the man was suited to the task. But his silence resulted in the man resigning.

What was Romney playing?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Playing a Game of Intermittent Reinforcement

Playing golf means being engaged in a sport that gives intermittent reinforcement. Drive far and you believe that you can achieve long drives every time you tee up your ball—but of course that's not reality. Just when you experience a smidgen of discouragement that reinforcement pops in and your drive flies as if it's sitting on a magic carpet.

Then you go back to seesawing back and forth—always looking for the magic carpet.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Being a Fan

Tonight I'm watching grown men playing baseball on one channel and then switch channels to watch grown men playing basketball. I'm rooting for the hometown teams—of course.

Years ago I joined a women's softball team, borrowed a glove and headed to my first game. The other team was sponsored by a pub and they looked as if they could really hit the leather off the ball.My team was unsponsored. Most of us belonged to a book club and decided that joining a team might be fun.

My son, who was in the eighth grade at the time, agreed to coach the first game —until we could find a proper coach. By the second inning we all knew that it was easier discussing Euripides than playing softball. Reading The Natural wasn't enough preparation. I spent several innings in the outfield before trying first base—after Myrna, who played that position, twisted her ankle when she tripped over a bat.

By the fourth inning all we wanted to do was leave.The score was 0—18.

I resigned before the second game.

The Celtics and the Hawks are tied with 14.9 seconds left. The Red Sox and the Orioles are tied 4—4.
Overtime for both teams.

The Celtcs win 90-84.
The Red Sox are in the 11th inning.

I never resign as a fan—win or lose.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Small Boy

He emptied his pockets, one pebble,
two worms, a baseball card, two rubber-bands,
gum wrapped in its wrapper, and one soda cap.

She looked over his treasures, the way his
baseball cap covered his new haircut,
and wondered what his pockets might hold someday.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Major Role in the School Play

In the fifth grade Miss Kissel cast me in the role of Cinderella. Andrew played Prince Charming and Joyce was cast as Ashes-- the cat. I'm not sure if anyone else was smitten with the acting bug, but I envisioned myself moving on to larger parts.

I convinced my mother to go down with me to the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater where I hoped to take acting lessons on Saturdays. I recall riding the D train to Manhattan.

The events at the acting school put somewhat of a damper on my immediate plans.

" You need elocution lessons."

Evidently my Bronx accent precluded starting immediately in an acting class. On the way home I decided that I didn't want to work my way up from elocution lessons.

Despite leaving the Bronx years ago I still carry my Bronx accent from place to place. Perhaps turning my back on elocution lessons wasn't the best choice.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Word for May is Play

To play, to see a play, a play on words, play nicely, play unfair, play with fire, child's play, play possum, play a trick, play it by ear, play a sport. Add a suffix and expand the possibilities.

It's still in play.

Do I look backwards to playing Take a Giant Step or Ringolevio in the Bronx?

Do I recall seeing off Broadway plays and then stopping at a cafe to play at being a critic?

Do I play with palindromes? James Joyce in 1922 coined "Tattarrattat" to describe someone knocking on a door?
"I was just beginning to yawn with nerves thinking he was trying to make a fool of me when I knew his tattarrattat at the door."

There's so much play in these possibilities? I'll just play around this month.