Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Behind the Facade

I bought a celery root-- not to eat, but to practice line drawing . It's a rather unappealing looking vegetable, but a beguiling object for drawing. After staring at the threads, knobs, gradations of colors and contour I began to find it attractive in a quirky sort of way.

What at first I deemed unattractive morphed into a real appreciation for the celery roots charms.

There's a parallel here...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Mennonite Quilt

                                                   Quilts and Colors Exhibition

brazen colors
tempting, pushing
beyond plain dress,
aprons and bonnets

Monday, April 28, 2014

An Eclectic Workshop

This is the time of year when educators, writers, artists offer and advertise summer courses in far off places. The Nation offers its annual seminar cruise—seven nights. Participants travel to Puerto Rico, Bahamas, St. Thomas ... while fourteen guest speakers offer lectures on diverse topics. Yes, there's time to sightsee, buy trinkets and sample the local fare.

I always wanted to go to the Southwest—hike canyons and write. There are several trips that include rafting, canyon hikes, and poetry writing. We had been to the Southwest a number of times and while I did write, sketch, take photos—I never did get around to taking a workshop.

While I did go to upstate New York for summer writing workshops I never flew off to some exotic place to

The best summer workshop experience happened by chance. I had frequented a coffee house in Harvard Square fairly often and one summer I went down several times a week —and wrote about what I saw, overheard, and imagined.

I filled several notebooks:
—who was the chess master who set up his board every day and for several dollars you could challenge him—and usually lose?
—who were those people who sat in front of the Coop and held signs asking for money?

I listened to a variety of languages—watched a man on a unicycle, listened in on a conversation about quantum physics—all over one cup of iced decaf a day.

That summer I learned more about writing and paying attention to details. And the entire summer was relatively inexpensive—save for two parking tickets.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Struggle

Doubt. The sermon today spiraled around the word doubt ( among other thoughts).

Doubt. That sense of uncertainty. How we all want certainty. I want a place to land—not a spot where my shoe sinks in, but solid ground.

Yet, often the only answer is one that lacks certitude.

I doubt that is so. Hedging your bets?

Prove it to me. Show me in black and white. A one time baseball player for the Boston Red Sox refused to believe that dinosaurs existed because he had never seen one. He doubted the validity of the found skeletons.

I know someone who grew up in a religious family, a family filled with missionaries. She married someone who held the same beliefs. Despite a Phi Beta Kappa key she leaned toward a rigid belief in the formation of the world outlined in Genesis. She could quote vast portions of scripture and kept up a running conversation with God. She truly believed and acted upon her faith.

One day we attended a talk given by a Pentecostal minister at a local Baptist Church. The only thing missing from the talk was snake handling. When we left the church we both agreed that the minister eschewed all of science. If it wasn't in the Bible—it couldn't be true.

Getting in the car, Anna said, " Sometimes I wonder if it all isn't magical thinking."

Doubt, we agreed, may be the most important ingredient in faith. We rely on trusting God and take a step into a void and find solid footing.

I'm always frightened of people who never grapple with doubt.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Then an herald cried aloud, To you it is commanded, O People, nations, and languages.
KJV Daniel 3:4

Before entering the local indoor farm market, I always stop and read what's written on a large sandwich board. Usually a listing of vegetables takes up the entire space, but for the past few weeks the same message appears in black ten inch high letters— NOW CARRYING OUR OWN QUAIL EGGS.

This message, or proclamation demands a royal herald wearing a tabard. It resonates. It calls forth our attention. Each word carries weight.

NOW, not yesterday—at this moment, It indicates that prior to this moment the quail eggs came from a different source—if, indeed, the market had anything save chicken eggs. Does this mean that chickens are out and quails are in?

CARRYING: Within the confines of this market. We, the consumer, no longer need to go elsewhere—perhaps long distances away from home, or online, to purchase quail eggs.

OUR: This is family. We raise the quails, feed them, nurse them through difficult times. Recognize their benefits. We have read about their superiority and coddle our quails.

QUAIL EGGS: Look them up and compare them to ordinary chicken eggs. Their nutritional value soars when compared to the ordinary egg. Despite their small size they outscore chicken eggs on every measurement —except size.

Photographers take their photos for health magazines. Health gurus search for recipes for these speckled gems. Pickle them. Fry them. Scramble them. I even found recipes for Quail Egg and Prosciutto Pizza and Smoked Haddock and Quail Egg.

My question: what type of quail? According to the Britannica — "Quail, any of 130 species of small, short-tailed game birds..."

Even if I don't succumb to the latest health craze and purchase a dozen for one omelet —they are very small—I might purchase a few because of their fascinating egg shell patterns. Who knows, I may even fry up a couple and make a quail McMuffin.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Limitless Stories

Milan Kundera coined the phrase "cemetery of missed opportunities." How fascinating to walk through that graveyard—reading tombstones inscribed with junctures passed by, neglected, or shunted.

But missing—the why? Why did someone ignore the opportunity? What unusual vicissitudes prevented someone from seizing an opportunity?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

It's All a Matter of Perspective

I read somewhere of sadness brought on by pictures not taken. That sent me on a trip back in time wondering about the photos I missed.

Years ago I went down a small waterfall on a square of plastic. Now I'm not certain of the height of the falls. A photo might validate my memory—of sheer bravery.

Before Smartphones, taking pictures meant lugging a camera everywhere. Now you can document your life in small increments. Today I took photos of a decaying wall that looked like an expressionist painting, three roses my neighbor planted, and my scallop dish.

In this era the sadness may be brought on by all the pictures taken.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Please Hold that Pose

Repetition. Repetition. They say, those who have gravitas, that when you do something over and over you establish a habit. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Repetition. Practice. Patience.It's the last that is often the most difficult.

Since signing up for an online Sketchbook course, I find myself dragging my feet. Today I drank a sparkling water and tried, surreptitiously, to draw people who were seated in the coffee house.

The man in the back—leaning his chair against the wall—read the newspaper. I selected him because he appeared to be so involved with his reading that he'd never notice me staring in his direction. I couldn't really see his face clearly because as he read he burrowed into the paper.

I selected a woman—deep in conversation with another woman— seemingly mesmerized by the the words spoken by her red haired companion. She'd never watch me attempting to use my pencil to determine the correct perspective. In the space of five minutes her expression changed from concern, to laughter, to grimace, to sadness. My sketch lacked an expression.

Then a man walked in and sat at a table five feet away. Within minutes he removed a cluster of items from a briefcase —nothing electronic. A legal tablet, a sheaf of papers, and two pencils covered his table. He did leave a small space for a coffee. At some point he must have sensed a pencil pursuing his contour, measuring where his ear was in reference to his shoulder. He looked up and I looked down.

This pursuit of keeping a Sketchbook Journal will require repetition, practice and lots of patience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Spring Sprouts

shoots strain
beyond dark soil,
marking their province

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Spring Rite of Passage

white golf hat, socks with cuffs
stretched out of shape, a pocketful
of long tees, a clip-on Red Sox
marker, a purple bottle filled
with ice and water, a Red Sox towel
clipped to a golf bag, golf shoes
guaranteed water-proof for one year,
a new golf glove, a lost lobster cover
for my driver, cleaned clubs,
and a belief in miracles

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Simple Answer

Annie Proulx delivered the keynote address at the annual conference of writing programs, AWP. Her topic, Why Do We Write?

She acknowledges that the spectrum of writers has increased since the internet reared its head. There have always been journal keepers, memoirists, and those who wrote rhyming poems for important events. Now a proliferation of bloggers spew out words.

Proulx talks about the ebook—many by folks who want to publish a book. "Today it is a sad fact of life that the number of writers violently explodes with self-published books..."

I stopped reading her speech, not because I didn't like what I read. I wanted to answer the question on my own terms.

It's impossible to answer for anyone else. Certainly there are writers who say they are compelled to write, others who view writing as a sacred journey—ad infinitum.

But why do I write? Years ago I nursed a desire to write a novel, but then decided to stay with short stories. With the introduction of the lyric essay, six-word stories, and the short-short story—I found a tempo and a place of comfort.

I respect the writers of fiction, but I don't want to add to the ever-growing list of people who spew out novels that are dreadful. With self-publishing anyone with a few dollars can declare themselves a writer.

I write, as one author said—to find out what I'm thinking. Plain and simple.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

" And behold, ..."

It was a long night,
dark, cold, silent,
shadows hid,
unable to watch

They missed
The earth quake
and the rocks rent

Friday, April 18, 2014

Have You Prayed

have you prayed
on your knees
have you prayed
prostrate, laid
out for the lord?
no answers?
maybe you need
to bend
those knees
maybe the Lord
just waiting
for you
maybe the Lord
gets tired
of how straight
you stand
maybe the Lord
hears better
when you
bend those knees

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Pull of Water

Traditions. I wonder about the oddities—those venerable and inherited practices. Imagine adding religion to a polar swim?

The Telegraph U.K. headline: Russian Orthodox believers celebrate Epiphany by taking a dip into icy water.

The tradition isn't confined to Russia.

Up and down the Danube River priests throw a cross into the river and swimmers compete to be the first to reach the Holy Cross. This year over seventy "cross"inspired swims took place.

The concrete and pragmatic side of me wants to know if anyone ever suffers from hypothermia.

Water has a draw. A church in California baptizes people in the Pacific Ocean. Early this April the Pastor of the church and several congregants baptized three people in the Pacific near the Rancho Guadalupe Dunes Preserve. Huge waves caught hold of the men and carried them away. Two men swam back to shore—the third perished. ( I wonder if he perished before or after the baptism?)

I read somewhere that in 1923 this area was where The Ten Commandments was filmed.

When I think of religion, water, baptism, I want to reread "The River" by Flannery O'Connor. It's a story that defies a summary, save to say that it requires reading and rereading.Grace is evident within the story.

Yes, it also is typical of O'Connor who insists that she needs to shout, to often use grotesque situations in order for people to hear.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Ice and snow,
unwelcome guests
staying beyond
an appropriate time

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Flying or Grounded

The minister said, "If you wish, write out a prayer request on a sheet of origami paper."

Before Easter the origami squares turn into folded paper birds and the birds carrying their prayers decorate the sanctuary.

According to my understanding the prayers will be read at a service--perhaps the Easter service.

This isn't a new idea. Folded cranes carried messages of peace.

Is it the writing of the prayer or the folding of the paper that generates a feeling of well-being, a sense of meditation, a oneness with the universe? Perhaps it's the belief or hope that the prayer will fly-- will take wing.

Yet, how often the response to a prayer isn't what we expect or hope?

I wonder if when the answer isn't forthcoming we play the Emperor's new clothes game and say that our timetable isn't God's timetable or who are we to expect that we understand God's response--or lack of response. Yet, we learn from the unanswered or unexpected response.

Years ago I worked as a summer camp counselor. The last night of camp everyone made an origami boat. Just before total darkness obliterated the lake, yet with enough darkness to see the floating flotilla , we placed lit candles in each boat. Then small groups waded in a few feet and sent their boats on a first and last voyage.

Just before the first boats set sail the head counselor said,"Send your boat off with a thought, a prayer, a wish."

We stood on the shore and watched them bobble around until the candles went out and darkness covered the lake.

I was careful when I wrote my prayer request. No sense in writing out a request that isn't probable.

Monday, April 14, 2014


a stiff wind whips my hair,
disrupts the layered effect
and reveals gray roots

Sunday, April 13, 2014

To Sleep or Not to Sleep

I began to wonder why it is that we don't simply roll over and off the bed. At some point I learned not to turn over and keep turning until I landed on the floor. I expect most of us have that down pat.

Once raising the question I immediately sought some reliable statistics. Fortunately the Center for Disease Control keeps tabs on these numbers. Imagine—1.8 million people pay visits to the ER because they fell out of bed and 400,000 of those visits result in admissions. More startling—450 people die each year. If you're quite young or quite old there's more of a chance for a visit to the ER.

If you live in Russia icicles present a lethal problem—

You're safer on a roller coaster than in your bed. "In the U.S. people take about 900 million rides ..." According to a CBS report— about four people die a year.

There's a moral here—

Saturday, April 12, 2014


this morning's sun
swaddled me
like a newborn
warming my bones
digging deep
wrapping me up
in light

Friday, April 11, 2014


Tomorrow is our semi-annual trip to L.L.Bean—paying homage to boots made to last for decades, tee shirts that stay the same year after year, and demonstrations showing you how to fly fish. Two hours and ten minutes each way.

We will take lunch and eat in the car after securing a parking spot. This is a routine and we know it—down pat. On the way up we'll stop at Starbucks.

I'll bring several items to return.

We'll walk through the archery and hunting section. I once taught with a speech therapist whose son could hit the bulls eye ten times—I think in a row.

The store will be filled with people wearing L.L.Bean gear. My attire—jeans and a three quarter Saturday tee. I think of it as a uniform.

Everyone will be helpful. And I will carry around my purchases in a large canvas bag.

Before we head home we'll eat some more of our car picnic gourmet food and remark about how everything is as it should be —the same.

Let the French and Italian designers toy around with change.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

"Whose Side Are You On?"

The newspaper usually tells a story with a particular slant. This necessitates reading two or three papers--across the continuum of liberal to conservative.

Or if you prefer digested news there's commercial television offering up sound bites with a slant.

Today I read several accounts of a rescinded honorary degree, initially proffered to a woman who has been a vigorous and outspoken critic of the treatment of women by fundamentalist Muslim countries.

It seems that she has made some rather harsh statements about the entire religion. Those statements brought about the wrath of several groups and they requested that the university rescind the invitation. The university complied.

Now several newspapers take umbrage with the position taken by the university. One editorial expresses chagrin with the refusal to allow for free speech on campus.

Another paper applauds the university's stand. But I don't know what she said and why--
now I may have to wait until she writes an essay about the experience.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


When Oxford American and The Nation arrived on the same day, I turned to the table of contents for both magazines. Of course I'm always drawn to the type of story in Oxford American.

In the spring issue: a story about Florida's Burmese Python hunt. While I'm not a snake enthusiast, I am intrigued with those who hunt snakes. A number of years ago while hiking in the Adirondacks, I walked right past a timber rattlesnake sunning on a rock.

The article, long form journalism, explored everything from conjecture on how a species of snake not indigenous to the area is now —along with the alligator—on the top of the feeding chart. While they are not being blamed, save by a few, for the decline in raccoon, possum, and bobcat population, they are changing the balance of power.

And who hunts the python during the Python Challenge? A cross section.

These pythons refuse to remain in the Everglades—they are heading for the Keys. And these aren't garter snake size. August of 2012 researchers "captured a 17 foot-7 inch, 165 pound female carrying 87 fertilized eggs."

When a hunter was asked if the snake bites, he replied, " It will definitely bite. It will only hurt for a few minutes, but the pride of catching a Florida python will last forever."

Steve Featherstone, the author of the article, never did catch a python—but he was close.

Where else would I find a long essay on Flannery O'Connor's book A Prayer Journal? The journal was written before O'Connor's short stories were published.

Jamie Quatro writes, "The journal's movement is spirit to flesh; the fiction, flesh to revelation."

It's time to reread O'Connor—my favorite writer.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Directions for Spring Cleaning

My mother took down the kitchen curtains every spring.
Removed the plain dark blue slipcovers.
Put on the flowered slipcovers.
Washed the venetian blinds and the living room drapes.
Dismantled the refrigerator.

Used elbow grease and ammonia to clean the stove.
And rested.

I take my golf clubs upstairs.
Wash each club face with a wire brush.
Take a handful of tees.
Choose golf balls.
Select a pair of shoes.
Check my cleats.
Find a hat.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Just Breathe

To forget the self is to be enlightened by all myriad things.
—Zen Master Dōgen

The question is not how do I see this mountain, how do I hear the forest speaking—the question is how do I simply allow myself to experience everything that surrounds me without allowing the intrusion of self.

Years ago I climbed Mt Katahdin. At some point during the ascent I forgot about how tired my legs felt. When we reached the Knives' Edge I realized that I hadn't expected a trail that in some places was only three feet wide with a thousand foot drop on both sides.

This is a mile long stretch. People warned us not to look down.

After ten minutes I stopped thinking and simply walked and listened to my breath—in and out. When I stopped worrying about falling, tripping on a rock or pebble, I noticed the shades of rocks, the way the some rocks seemed to pierce the sky.

My breath and my steps—one in unison.

Sunday, April 06, 2014


The door to the invisible must be visible.
—Rene Daumal

Like a koan

on a paradox

a secret
sleight of hand

yet a pinhole
into a mystery

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Too Early to Worry

It's the season. Time to make certain my Red Sox decal is carefully placed on my car. Time to remember that it's a long season and I shouldn't be worrying--yet. Time to wonder if we made a mistake getting rid of last year's catcher.

It's the season when my desire to see the Yankees flounder comes to the fore. Yet, I grew up several subway stops away from Yankee Stadium. I sat in the bleachers, ate pink cotton candy, Hygrades all-beef hot dogs, and drank cola.

I listened to my father's retelling of Jackie Robinson's exploits and of how the Dodgers won the 1955 World Series.

Even when my father was ill we still talked about baseball. " Did you know," he said, "that the 1955 World Series was the best."

We spoke about the Red Sox. " Someday," he said, " they'll win one."

Friday, April 04, 2014

On This Site a New Luxury Highrise

the apartment
contains detritus,
relics of a family-
fragments, a kitchen
shelf with a cracked cup,
leftovers still in the freezer,
one slipper, newspapers
stuffed around windows

Thursday, April 03, 2014

A Photograph

a portal
yet not reality
an opening
for questions
for chance
a frame
for a story

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Optical Device

Roland Barthes wrestles with the medium of photography in his book Camera Lucida. His perspective-- as the spectator, viewer, even an interpreter.

What other medium captures a moment, stops time in its tracks? Barthes writes that the photographer has found the right moment- the kairos. That moment can't be replicated. Even the next frame freezes a different moment.

When I found a photo of my grandmother as a young woman I, too, entered a different time frame. That photograph stopped the future. I met her in that space as if the future was yet unwritten.

"Time," Barthes writes, "eliminates the emotion of loss..."

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


April presents itself as a month of promises-- warmth, a gateway to summer, and taxes. Some people prefer to barricade themselves in a room and tackle reams of paper, a computer tax program, sharp pencil, yellow pad, and the belief in their ability to wend their way through the tax code-- not me.

I want to collect all my papers and carry them to a guru who, I hope, will tackle the numbers and find that the government owes me money. When I owe the government money I want to squeal, unfair.

Owing money makes me think that I'll throw over my inherited belief in the Democratic party and become one of those Republicans who wants to squirrel away all of his money-- preferably away from the tentacles of the Federal government.

This feeling of becoming the other only lasts for a few minutes. So I stomp, emit a few curse words, and remind myself that thinking that the vacation will be paid for by a nice juicy return is not the best way to approach taxes.

But just for a few minutes I want to complain and whine. I have a right to my disappointment and I don't want to be confronted with logic. I want to suck my thumb and wonder why my guru couldn't perform numerical prestidigitation with my papers.

Just for this evening I don't want to be reasonable, magnanimous, or even a card carrying third generation Democrat.