Monday, April 30, 2012

beyond the hum and glow

are you really my friend?

in portland, maine, at the portland museum of art, photographer tanja alexia hollander is attempting to address that question through a photographic view of her cyberspace friends. ed and i went over on saturday afternoon and took a look .

hollander asks: who are my friends? are cyber friends real friends, even those people i've never spoken to face to face? her focus is on the cyberspace world of facebook, specifically her own hundreds and hundreds of facebook friends—old friends, new friends, professional friends, deep connections and the more superficial ones, and finally the friends she has never laid eyes on before, friends she has never met in person.

when i first see the words friends she has never met in person i immediately want to slap some quotes around the word friends in that context. how can someone you don't know, someone whose eyes you've never looked at except, perhaps, in a photograph, possibly be a friend? but i stop myself and don't end up adding the quotation marks after all because i am beginning to see there is value in some of those friendships in the internet realm. hollander, too, is basically optimistic about the power of social networks.

hollander traveled all over the united states—eventually she'll travel the world—on "a modern day odyssey" to visit and photograph a fraction (200 photos) of her facebook friends and "collapse the intangibility of cyberspace"for this, her first, exhibition called are you really my friend? during her trip she met many of those friends for the very first time. her project idea was to reach across time and space to physically connect with friends she knows well and friends she doesn't know at all except for on a computer screen.

this exhibition is nothing like the usual "please do not touch"deal in art museums—this exhibition is hands-on, and that's always a treat. some of the old school portraiture (she used a hasselblad)—high focus, wide depth of field, long exposure, deadpan expressions—of hollander's fb friends are magnetized to walls so you can touch them and move them and group them and rearrange them any way you want (which i did) in your exploration of what it means to be a friend. for example, you might put images of people who were photographed with their dogs in one group, couples in another, people in their living rooms in another, or make a cluster out of folks in their kitchens. or you could sort them by age groups or sex.

in her exploration of the meaning of friendship hollander invites visitors to answer her questions—which change regularly and are posted on a wall like a fb wall—including how important is face time? how has social media made you more social? which are collected by using sticky notes and attaching them on the wall.

the day we were there the question was can you be friends with someone you have never met? many of the answers were yes and of course. there were a lot of it depends 

an exhibition like this is certainly thought-provoking. plenty of ponderable questions are raised: are the friends we meet on the internet real friends? can cyber friend connections become real and personal? (i am only talking about adults here, not teenagers talking to strangers—that's a whole other (scary) topic altogether.) and, taking it even further, are the people on fb and blogs even real? how can we tell if they, and the subjects they write about are real (unless, of course, it's labeled fiction) or merely inventions, their worlds complete fabrications?*

the answer is we can't. without doing what hollander did—visiting every friend (i would love to do that)—there is no way to be absolutely sure, is there? it's freaky and bizarre that there are people who live in a make-believe land they pass off as real, and they would have to be freaky and bizarre people, or just unimaginably pitiful and lonely and craving attention.

final thought: you know, i believe if you read a person's words long enough, and their voice breaks through loud and clear, you won't have to suffer being repulsed by the smell a fake, but you will instead be able to sniff out and recognize the scent of someone genuine. there is a body living beyond the computer's hum and glow: flesh and blood make words on a screen and, conversely, words on a screen make flesh and blood—blood that flows warm and red but also circulates its own hum and glow back through a distinctly true heart.

*note ~ have you now been totally spooked into wondering if i am even real? i can tell you yes, i am really real. really. (and i am sure you are too.) you have my word on that. what, my word's not good enough? then pack up the wife or husband and come down east to maine for a visit and see for yourself.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

is that a poem in your pocket or....?

i scrounge around in notebooks, folders, tote bags and handbags (why on earth do i have so many tote bags and handbags, way more than i do shoes or hats? time to donate to goodwill), and check what's inside the covers of books—bits and scraps of paper with poetry written on them tucked inside books with pages and pages of poetry. what is all this? i should learn how to file like a normal person)—as i look for a printed poem that i might have stashed—hoarding poems like a squirrel hoards nuts—in there.

i need one poem to mark the day. but the problem is finding just one—and only one—the right one, out of dozens.

today is the day to ask is that a poem in your pocket or.....?

the whole month of april is national poetry month and today, the 26th day of april 2012, is poem in your pocket day—any poem, write your own or print out someone else's, be it a famous poet or one written by a friend. you put the poem in your pocket and during the day you share it with co-workers, wives, husbands, kids, friends. think of all the poems being carried around today like fun little packages that, once unfolded, contain meaningful gifts. it's like christmas in april.

the problem is, which poem do i put in my pocket?

do i need to photocopy one of evie's or billy's or arthur's?

home again or victoria's secret by billy collins? the shapes of leaves or at the equinox by arthur sze? canvas and mirror by evie shockley? what was told, that by jalal al-din rumi? before air-conditioning by frederick seidel? horsetail by richard wilbur? green farmhouse chairs by donald hall? no ideas but in things by jessica greenbaum? try to praise the mutilated world by adam zagajewski? getting it right by matthew dickman? my lie by jen mcclanaghan?

okay. i picked one; no, make that two (if there is a third that'll be my secret since i'm way over the limit and i'm not playing by the rules as it is): taking off emily dickinson's clothes by billy collins and poem by douglas goetsch.

so just do it—pick a poem and put it in your pocket today, and even tomorrow. and even the day after that. poems are very good for you. full of nutritious stuff.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

poetry is the news

as we near the end of april and the end of national poetry month—it's been a great month of reading poetry, in addition to 30 days' worth of other good reading, too—here is a thought about poetry from billy collins:

~ Poetry doesn't need to keep up with the news; poetry is the news. And the news is very simple: life is beautiful and you are going to die. Read all about it.

the rain stops.

the sun entices.

today we passed drought—earth choking,
cracked, mean—
and arrived at a nicer stop
called wave-a-wand green.

what i am seeing
this morning through the windowpane
seems, to me at least, like magic
as if while i traveled the hours
my eyes closed, i dozed
and when i opened them again
i suddenly discovered
a treasure trove of emeralds—
bright, weighty, priceless, yet
every last one of them


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

the dancers

                                              When i have talked for an hour i feel lousy—
                                              Not so when i have danced for an hour:
                                              The dancers inherit the party
                                              While the talkers wear themselves out and
                                                              sit in corners alone, and glower.

the dancers inherit the party by ian hamilton findlay

there are times when i feel talk is exhausting. in a way, that's a ridiculous thing for me to say because, basically, i like to talk. i am, i think, a good conversationalist—i like animated discussions, i like dialogue that flows back and forth. but, sometimes, isn't silence refreshing? not complete silence, but silence with a little music playing in the background; a silence where words cease to be important because they are unnecessary. my only desire is a gesture, a nod or a wink, and the chair legs scrape along the wood and i am standing, ready to be led to a wide dance floor, gliding past color and light and shadow in a quiet world of my own making; and i move and sway and turn with a small thing called bliss sitting on my shoulder.

Monday, April 23, 2012


2 am and i can't sleep. i can't summon one little dream to take my mind and set it down in a faraway land and let it go exploring. i tiptoe out of the bedroom, careful not to disturb my soundly-sleeping husband, turn on a light in the family-room-minus-a-family—sometimes it doesn't seem worthy of the name family room unless all six, almost seven, and maybe someday soon, eight of us, plus dogs, are gathered here—and sit down. lille gets out of her warm bed and joins me.

so it's just me and lille and my aching neck. oh, yeah, i forgot to mention that's one of the reasons i can't sleep. i did something to strain my neck—starting with a muscle spasm, maybe from a lot of lifting and leaning with shovels and rakes and watering cans and pots of dirt?—and the muscles ache to the point that i can't move my head from side to side or up and down, opening my mouth hurts, sneezing shoots burning streaks out from the damaged spot, and my head feels like a bowling ball perched on a twig that's about ready to snap.

but never mind that. my biggest frustration tonight is that i can't peck away on my laptop to pass the time and get my mind off things because typing hurts my neck, too. so i gather a few sheets of lined notebook paper, get three big pillows and a book to put under the paper, and scratch out these words trying—trying so hard—to get comfortable while keeping my neck motionless with all of the above stuff piled on my lap.

it doesn't take long. i think i am doing better when, suddenly, here it comes again. that spasm.

spasm: definition: a sudden, involuntary contraction of a muscle or a sudden burst of energy or activity or emotion.

i'm having one.

out of the corner of my eye i see her on her favorite wicker lounge chair on the porch. she stretches and luxuriates in the rays of warm bright light that soothe her arthritic legs. and there, by the sink, reflected in her silver metal bowl that i rinsed after her last breakfast of chicken and rice. and again, in the golden tumbleweed balls of her soft fur that remain huddled and unmoving in the four corners of this family room. and, finally, in her red collar which lies unsnapped, solitary, uninhabited, on the coffee table.

waves of grief reach me, sending quiet teardrops sliding over the curve of my cheeks. since i still can't sleep i take my lille hund—danish for little dog—outside, and together we hear the barred owls call who cooks for you? trying to find each other in the night. we also seem to be searching, lille and i, seeking a missing part of ourselves in the dark. i imagine we find her—her thick, yellowed-ivory colored fur, those big, brown eyes and blonde lashes, and the sensitive silky ears always alert for any movement, be it the rustle of leaves or the opening of the treat bag.

as she stood on the grass during her last days with us, i watched her carefully. time was running out. lizzi seemed to linger a little longer before she hobbled back into the house, taking a longer look around, her nose twitching, pulling in the air, extracting one more deep scent. was she thinking it's been a good life, this short time i've spent here on earth, or am i just anthropomorphizing?

it was a good life.

in the end, i have no doubt in my mind—i can tell you this: she knew.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


i look for them as if they are lost, or as if they have simply vanished, or have been misplaced like a set of keys or a pair of gloves or eyeglasses. i know i just saw them. they were right here and suddenly i have forgotten where i put them. weren't they on the table a minute ago?

(i tell myself relax. i raise my arms above my head and imagine them being pulled skyward. deep breaths.)

i continue my search, try to figure it out. i need to find them, suss them out. i close my eyes and struggle to visualize their form; i encourage them to take shape in the dark space under my eyelids. here they come. finally. i observe them round and ready as they float like shiny bubbles blown from the red plastic circle of a child's toy wand and rise up toward a heavenly blue where there's a woman's face hiding in a puff of cotton candy cloud.

i reach out my hand and grab them before they get away from me.

if i'm lucky, and the day is going well, they may fall into place easily, as if i'm following a drawing of simple assembly instructions—bolts and washers A, B, C, D fit here, tighten with allen wrench E—where they'll end up constructed like measured and cut wooden boards perfectly bolted together to create a solid structure—secure, sturdy, sound, whole.

they often have a distinctive flavor like fine food, small pieces i can nibble and turn over and over in my mouth, saturating them with my saliva to find out if they're satisfying. i slowly lick their residue on my lips and allow myself to marvel at the sweet confection they leave behind.

or they can be frighteningly bland with an awful aftertaste of disconcerting insouciance or—new sheet of paper, please—i may be engulfed with a sense of helplessness when i taste the bitter dregs of their sadness or injustice, when they force me to feel the lonely sting of tears. but i know they are good for me, they need me to spell them out, to shine a light on this existence. so i resist the urge to throw down my pen and crumple up the paper because i know, in the end, they always leave me feeling so alive.

others may come along that annoy me. i become vexed by the obnoxious bits that distract me and try to get my attention like nagging poppy seeds that get stuck between my teeth—trivial, time-wasting, resisting my efforts to remove them.

flip the page.

eventually i glance at the clock and realize i need to finish. i will make another quick revision and be done for today. the good ones i've searched for long and hard will stay, the others will be tossed. after all, they are only words, and words are so easily discarded by pressing DELETE.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

crossing the road

i slow down and pull over when i see them. they are sauntering—an everything's cool, no worries, just grazin' and gobblin' and enjoying the day saunter—across the field toward me. i roll down my window, grab my camera, take a couple pictures. this time there are six hens, zero toms. but it's spring and love is in the air so you know the toms are somewhere nearby ready to pick a good fight.

i allow the group of ladies—sleek copper-bronze-black-with-dabs-of-bluish-reddish dames with alluringly wattled heads and necks held high—who, out of necessity, have picked up their pace, to cross the road in front of my car.

but i don't drive away after they have made it safely to the other side.

the hens hold my attention. i watch them and wonder about them. once they're across i wish i could follow them and see where they go and what they do when they enter the woods. what are their turkey lives like? they seem "happy." do they know it? what is happy to them? a full belly and a warm bed? (not too unlike us) they shine. they strut. they glow with confidence because they know they look good (ah, such magnificent wattling)—just like some women.

and the wild turkey toms are exactly like some men. they, too, strut their stuff and think the women will simply fall all over themselves trying to get noticed. and they're right. some will fall all over themselves, some won't. some women will get noticed, some won't. it's a macho attitude, and also a somewhat understandable survival attitude at work, one that says i've got to pass on my fab genes in a hurry. all hens—and women, too—have known those kinds of toms at some time or another.

i don't think it's too much of a stretch of the imagination to realize that a few similarities exist in a wild turkey's life and and our own lives. we both start out wild—we begin life as wild animals—all squishy bodily fluids and functions, noisy grunts and emissions. but we become tame and the turkeys don't, and then it mostly comes down to this matter of survival, this urge to reproduce, for some of us, and for all of them. the male thinks to himself i want her to notice me—he has his reasons—and she has her own reasons for wanting to be noticed by him.

aren't we all part of this grand game, this grand show, that's been performed, over and over again, for thousands of years? sometimes i wonder, is it partially the game that keeps us feeling alive?

for thousands of years males and females have danced around each other, surveyed each other, looked into each others' eyes. what do men see? what do women see? what do we think we see? do we only see what we want to see?

questions nag at us. is he thinking what i'm thinking? what will he do? what should i do? what do we really want? whose move is it anyway? all this in an effort to feel life deeply and get a lot out of it and in the end be able to say we lived it to its fullest. (sorry that last bit sounds sort of like a lame greeting card or a corny song but i hope you get what i'm trying to say.)

and so it goes.

i drive a half mile down the road and as the car reaches the top of a rise near an old farm—a small farm, but a real one, and even better than that, an organic one, one where they raise a few cows and chickens that actually roam the fields and see the light of day, breathe the fresh outdoor air, and where they grow a few local crops without throwing chemicals in the pastureland—i spot quite a gathering along a knoll. at least a dozen hens, and this time there's a tom, too, grazing. the hens seem rather relaxed but the tom is not taking any rests; he couldn't be less relaxed.

that's because he's hard at work, teasing and showing off, trying to get the hens to please come out and play and—here he has my sympathy—any second he knows he may have to deal with the blood-thirsty competition moving in. he moves back and forth. i hear grunts and gobbles as he repeatedly opens and closes and shakes his glorious tail feathers trying to get a response to his brilliant display.

but, you know, there isn't any. the females keep picking at the ground and ignore him. (in the end the tom will win, though. the hens will change their minds and become receptive to him very soon, as nesting time is almost here.)

the game they play amuses me. (i am easily amused—in fact, i love to be amused.)

as i continue to observe life i have come to the realization that the more i think i have things figured out in this here cosmos, the more i have to acknowledge that i don't. for human beings the reality remains that there isn't such a thing as stirring the pot and making a nice reduction out of traits or problems or whatever—peoples' traits and issues and experiences and motivations cannot simply be boiled down and made easily understandable.

our true identities will always present a somewhat complicated puzzle—like the puzzles with 1000 tiny, similarly cut pieces that all look like they might fit but have to be rearranged a lot, and then the dog comes along and eats a piece and messes up the nice arrangement—even to ourselves.

Monday, April 16, 2012

slumming it

and here i was, getting good and comfortable in my cramped, humble, but always well-lit abode down a remote and unheard of lane called sweet whisper dreams, when i happened to read something that i already knew to be true deep down in my heart of hearts, in my soul of souls, but was avoiding like a plate of okra and haggis.

i had slipped off my shoes and curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a cup of steamy tea intending to relax and lose myself in a novel (something by joyce carol oates or ian mcewan) or the new book about the civil war, midnight rising by tony horwitz, but first i decided to open my laptop and check out what was happening in cyberspace. i read a new post by a charming brit—a darling of mine—who, in his post, reminded his readers of the harshness of the world in which we creative writing types of bloggers live—creative writing being that warehouse of stuff including the almost infinite forms of fiction, non-fiction, personal essay, poetry, screenwriting, playwriting, etc.

the truth can be cruel, but i am i firm believer in facing the truth, in facing reality head on when it makes itself obvious. therefore, i carefully studied his honest and well-crafted sentences and tried to be brave and tough—which for some, possibly genetic, reason i pretty much am—and not get too many knots in my neck and stomach. turns out there are many people who think you and i, fellow bloggers, are slumming it in our crummy little blog homes because we do not reside in an expensive landscape-company-tended, exotic-tree-filled, rolling-perfection-of-a-golf-course-lawn mcmansion called the novel.

hot dog, typing that last sentence felt good.

to those who think a blog filled with creative writing is not, in fact, "real writing"and who say when's your book gonna be finished? and you must be spending your time here in blogville just "killing time" until your [nonexistent] novel is done (we've all heard those comments) i say, loud and clear, excuse me people, i am hardly killing time but reviving it, resuscitating it, breathing life into it with my diligently sought-after words. frankly i don't give a damn what other people think because i enjoy what i do in my blog. i want to write, need to write, as much as i can; i want to write what i want to write, and i want to write what i enjoy writing while i still have breath left in me. above all, my motto is a girl just wants to have fun and that's exactly what i'm having right here, and i must say i am tickled to be surrounded by like-minded folks who are also really into slumming it.

that, too, felt awfully, awfully good.

Friday, April 13, 2012

the edge of low tide

something—maybe something bad—happened. i'm not sure what. or when. but the inescapable fact is that it did occur.

i know the washing machine didn't break in the middle of the rinse cycle because i didn't have to haul out the heavy, soaked, sudsy clothes and dump them into the tub and then call sears to send their fix-it man. the kenmore is more than twenty years old and it wouldn't be worth fixing anyway.

i didn't back out of the garage and run over my bicycle. my bicycle is already broken.

i was vacuuming what i thought was just sand and dog fur and food debris on the floor of the car when the vacuum cleaner sucked in a disgusting gob of god-knows-what and it got stuck and the hose clogged and no matter what i did i couldn't remove it. but that's not what i'm talking about.

the endoscopic procedure i had last week was no fun and the nasty stuff they force you to drink made me violently ill, but the doctor's office called and said everything looked fine, the polyps were benign, no need to worry, see you in five years.

maybe my old dog died of cancer? and i wept and wept? and when i finally wiped my eyes and blew my nose i sprinkled her ashes near the places in the yard she loved best: the shade under the canopy of white pines in summer, the sun-filled flagged patio in spring, the edge of the driveway in winter (where she loved to wiggle on her back on a hill of snow left by the plow), the oak leaf covered front lawn in fall where she would happily sniff and sniff and sniff.

the vet syringed the large lump on her side and the tube filled with goop that looked like the cold mucus-like "20% fat" that oozes out of hamburger after you brown it for lasagne. the test came back negative, though. so no, that's not it either.

on the highway the cops were out in full force and i had to slow down. i swear i was not reading, putting on make-up, or texting while driving. there was no five car pile-up, no mangled metal, no mutilated flesh.

nobody drowned in the cove this winter, no one needed rescuing.

as i walked along the edge of low tide i concentrated hard and strained my eyes looking for signs.

i'm still searching, wondering what might have happened and if i should let anyone know.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

i would rather be in bed

~ today, maybe because i'm lazy or maybe because i'm busy or maybe because it's national poetry month, i'm re-posting this scribble of mine from last summer.

i would rather be in bed, in my hand we, the drowned,
flipping the pages of this mighty fine yarn about muscular danish
sailors and their lust for the murderous sea
but then i change my mind as i often do and find

i would rather be eating lunch with pear snapdragon
that silly girl who i love but who is too busy
to eat a crumb of this nice buttery tart,
warm and filled with lane's prince albert apples,
apples so fresh they practically sing about their past life
as round, juicy ornaments decorating a queen's garden.

i reckon i would rather be on a maine beach
hot sand sifting through my naked toes,
or washing my hands with finn's fruity soaps,
pink lather dripping down my arms and onto the floor.

i would rather be walking in the shade on tremont street
sharing a joke with buddha in boston or touching the fallen rose petals
in a graveyard along the thames where dusty springfield sleeps.
maybe i would rather snip lavender blossoms in chawton
and press them, dry and flat, onto a bookmark for you, my friend.

i would rather win than lose a midnight battle with scaly prehistoric reptiles
and small cats hidden in a wardrobe, a dream that leaves me sweaty enough
to turn on the air conditioner until they turn off the electricity due to high demand.
we plunge into darkness and heat, a three-year black-out.
when at last we're reconnected—for now anyway, until we really run out of juice—
nbc reports the heat wave is stuck in missouri.

wouldn't i rather plug the long, black skinny cord of the cd player into the wall
to hook up to my friendly neighborhood power grid for entertainment?

my act intensified, juggling cd's in a three-ring circus, my life, vexed,
trying to choose between chopin and lady gaga, or the fleet foxes
and joni mitchell, spinning, spinning, and making money under a well-lit bigtop.

~ i found the pink roses and fallen rose petals (june, 2011) in the graveyard where dusty springfield sleeps in henley-on-thames in the uk, a neighborhood oh-so-close to some of my favorite bloggers. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

interrupted by green

on saturday alex, andrew, christina, amelia and i went on a short hike up and around freeport's hedgehog mountain—a mountain which is is hardly a mountain at all; in reality it is only a wee forested hill capped with a gigantic rock. from the rock's raised vantage point you can see the real mountains miles to the west, and also that other false mountain up the road named bradbury. the first half of hedgehog mountain's name makes a justifiable claim, however—a hedgehog population does, in fact, exist (although we didn't see any) in the freeport woods.

(it must be nice to be the person to name a place on a map. the people who originally came up with the names of hedgehog and bradbury mountains obviously had some fun with the naming process—a healthy sense of humor was at work here. otherwise why not simply call it the hedgehog woods? who can say.)

the day looked more like a sketch of fall than spring—the predominant color being a used, dried-out tea bag brown—and the bone dry conditions that have prevailed 'round these parts (the fire danger has been extremely high) turned the little streams and brooks in the hedgehog woods into mud holes which the three dogs immediately stumbled upon with the single-minded objective of testing the pure muddiness of them all—an exhaustive examination of the murky muck utilizing the dogs' highly specialized equipment of paws and tongues and noses. we humans stayed on the path and clomped over the little wooden trip-trap-billy-goats-gruff-style bridges.

tree buds were barely visible. as far as i could see in every direction along the trail there were no signs of color, no signs of a green spring anywhere in the wide open expanse below the mountain's summit (it feels silly typing mountain and summit), just a monochromatic dunnish brown crosshatched every so often by segments of broken stonewalls.

that is, until christina, the only seemingly aware-of-their-surroundings person in the group, made a discovery and said look, what's all that green over there?

green? really? here? where?

sure enough, there was a good sized splotch of green challenging the predominantly sepia canvas. we left the trail and walked over the drab, leaf-strewn landscape to discover a huge carpet of six-inch-ish daylily shoots. that was it—nothing but day lilies. hundreds and hundreds of day lilies.

in a couple months—if not sooner—when the day lilies in our zone start to bloom, i'll head back over to hedgehog and see what colors have been added to the artwork-in-progress along the forest floor.

~ the top photo is of two terra cotta pots filled with tall grass which were on my sunny, south-facing kitchen windowsill. i have an absolutely crazy craving for an indoor presence of bright green living shoots in winter.

Monday, April 9, 2012

go find elephants and kiss them

i saw this somewhere on the internet and unfortunately no credit was given for the image or the colorful sentences. it looks like a frequently utilized classroom activity, this time with maybe first or second graders, where the teacher goes around a circle of students and asks each child the same question—in this case how can people show their love for a child?—and then writes down exactly what the child says.

the wonderful and creative insights that come out of the mouths of very young kids is astonishing.

i would now like to take this exercise one step further.

i think where it says how to really love a child the addition of and also an adult could get us all thinking and behaving in many new new and unique ways.

what if adults—in particular, one's own family and friends—were to always keep the gleam in their eye and be there for each other, invent pleasures together, express their love a lot, search out the positive and try to say yes instead of no whenever possible, go find elephants and kiss them ( i just love that), stop yelling, and—love these, too—giggle a lot and encourage silly? wouldn't that be great?

adults need these instructions on how to love (and live) for themselves as much as for children. i think everyone would be healthier and happier if they incorporated even just a few of these words of wisdom into their lives.

well, i ask you, wouldn't you love to see people in their pajamas at the movie theater? well, okay, maybe not.

nevertheless, when i first came across these sentences i wrote them down with colored markers and stuck them on the refrigerator with a magnet. they are a daily reminder of some little things that i believe are actually much bigger things.

at this point in my life i think my task has become very clear. i need to (1) go find elephants and (2) talk the person in charge into allowing me to kiss them.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


it's early, very early—too early for most people to get out of bed if they don't need to—but i like early. from where i stand in the yard, waiting for the dogs to do their business, the black silence of morning is like a satisfyingly protracted yawn, or a long pause between sentences.

but why the pause? is it because the writer can't think of what should come next? has no new ideas? can't find the right words? or is it because the writer is focused on something other than what's on the page, focused on listening, perhaps?

what's the writer listening to? what's out there?

in our little woods in maine wildness prevails—that is, as well as it can prevail with neighbors visible through the trees on both sides of us. we have done very little in terms of clearing trees (after the initial clearing of enough land for a modest house and yard), and we take care of only necessary clean ups after storms. over the (many) years we have trimmed out some undergrowth, cut up dead trees on the edge of the yard, and those which have fallen—or are about to fall—too close to the house. other than that, we have left the forest pretty much as it presents itself to us—after being thrashed by winter—each spring, with the exception of some as-needed foraging for, and tidying up of, fallen twigs and branches and small trees that are in a ready-to-use state for the fireplace, or the fire pit out back.

our neighbors to the west keep the forest adjacent to their yard in a state of fussy perfection—an immaculate, unnatural perfection—with no dead or fallen anything to provide food or shelter for animals or to aid in the germination of seeds. hardly a stick remains (an exaggeration, but you get the idea). every twig is raked away, every branch removed, no rotting stumps or logs or limbs or trees are allowed to stay on their forest floor—they are all chain-sawed into oblivion.

i, on the other hand, believe a good bit of well-placed rot should be left alone in the woods: stumps covered in a growth of verdant moss and rich with fungi which are even now providing a home for small animals and insects while simultaneously turning into nutrient-laced soil; a few tall trees still anchored to the ground but broken in half, their crowns—toppled by storms or lightning strikes or disease—resting peacefully on the forest floor beside them and quickly surrounded by new growth;  trees leaning drunkenly on other trees, dying from within.

it's a mess when mother nature's doing her thing, but i like a natural mess—a mess that fosters an undisturbed small-scale wildness that lives here in our suburban woods.

long, lean and branchless, the broken trees are beacons, symbols, totems of the living kinship group of the forest. these dying trees are vital, they are providers—they provide for the life of the forest. many of them exist—are encouraged to exist—on my patch of land; they are allowed to remain in their broken state, untouched by humans. this is what i see: the stark outline of forest poles. and from where the fractured trees stand to the north of me, i hear, as the sky gets lighter, a sound—a deep, hollow drumming—that fills the silence, fills the gap between sentences.

i can't see him—the light is too dim and he is too shy—but a pileated woodpecker is out there among the totems—a large black bird with a flash of white and red—hammering his meticulous rectangular designs in the dead and dying trees. for a while the trees will live on and provide for spring's flourish of new birth with their insect-filled cores and carved out nesting hollows.

hear it. susurrando. the emptiness is slowly being replaced by exhaled breath and joyous flight, the first notes of morning song and a wild, unhindered delight.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

lawn games with epicurus

as we were sitting in his garden (called the garden)—for once it was just epicurus and me enjoying the pleasures of the place—the athenian grass receptive and vellum soft, the flowers untamed and straining, everything pleasing and delightful, we found ourselves having an argument—good natured, of course—about whether to drag out the croquet or bocce ball set or, perhaps, badminton? horseshoes? that morning we failed to agree so we decided to skip playing games. instead, we continued sitting, munched fruit out of a bowl, and engaged in a chat about this and that when he happened to mention how an endless, spirited colloquy became the spirit of the garden.

it was a friend, he explained, who planted the seed of an idea with him, and he liked the idea and the idea took hold—maybe you've heard the philosophy? it's all about bringing pleasure to the inner life, to the mind and spirit, by softening conflict and worry (he called it fear, i call it stress), and enriching life by living it prudently, honorably, and justly and by being magnanimous and moderate in all things—and he told some other friends and they told their friends who told their friends—you know how it goes—and before long it had spread like mad.

(he admitted he really didn't get how this could have happened—talk like his does not offer a quick fix.)

now he had so many people hanging around the garden, seeking peace and happiness, wanting to engage in deep discussions, that he often felt like he just wanted to shoo them all away in order to simply be alone to read and think, you know, the way he used to on samos.

but, he continued, i really don't mean it about my friends. i'm just blowing off a bit of steam, that's all. he had this little habit, when he was deep in thought, of slowly rubbing above his eyebrow with his garden-rough fingertips and then bringing his thumb and index finger down to his earlobe and gently, repeatedly, pulling on it, as if massaging away a nagging intrusion into the flow of ideas.

while i lingered with him he told me friends are important and, tugging on that dear earlobe of his, he whispered many of them have discovered my philosophy can be a therapy for life, a therapy to heal the soul. 

he handed me a cherry as bright as a shining garnet and said i have learned this: i am content having little—on such a diet even a small delicacy is as good as a feast.

i think i get it—or at least i'm trying to, anyway. pare off the excess. be happy with less. tone down worry to achieve the inner tranquility of a life well lived. and don't forget to take a look around and enjoy the garden once in a while.

or something like that.

~ the garden image featured above is certainly not in greece, but rather it is the garden at jane austen's chawton cottage (june, 2011) in hampshire in the uk. my husband patiently put up with my need to stop at quite a few gardens and historical sites. after all, isn't that what husbands are for?