Tag Archives: books

I’m Hungry — A favorite Tom Robbins quote

“Lunch,” he said. His tone was even, rational, devoid of any knuckle of bellicosity. “That’s what we call it in my country. L-U-N-C-H. Lunch. I’m fond of lunch. I am, in fact, a lunch aficionado. Give me liberty or give me lunch. Breakfast comes around too early in the day, and dinner can interfere with one’s plans for the evening, but lunch is right on the money, the only thing it interrupts is work.”

His voice rose slightly. “I require lunch on a daily basis. I’m insured against non-lunch by Blue Cross, Blue Shield and Blue Cheese. Finicky? Not this luncher. I eat the fat, I eat the lean and I lick the platter clean. … In the dietary arena, pals, I have nothing to hide, and would at this juncture gladly masticate and ingest Spam-on-a-stick if you served some up. All I’m asking is that you serve something up, and speedily. I become grumpy when denied my noontide repast…”

—Tom Robbins

 

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Filed under February 2014

A Hallelujah Chorus in Leaf Mulch

I love windows.

I love windows.

It did my evil little heart good to get outside in the garden today.

I hadn’t attended to any of the leaves until today because of the cataract surgery. When one lives in a forest, this is, perhaps, not a good idea. I am not exaggerating – I had fallen, unraked leaves that accumulated on their own into 1’ and 2’ piles in the fenced area of the garden.

I did a lot in the garden this past spring. Doug was recently discharged from the hospital and not well enough to be left alone for several weeks. That time period coincided with a streak of beyond-gorgeous weather that makes a body’s heart hurt.

I’m reading a book by Julia Keller titled A Killing in the Hills that is set in West Virginia. I’m not very far into the book, but she astounded me on pages 27-28 with her description of an Appalachia spring. I’ve spent years trying to develop a concise, accurate description that could be conveyed in writing without accompanying photographs.

Keller wrote:

It was a beautiful place, especially in the late spring and throughout the long summer, when the hawks wrote slow, wordless stories across the pale blue parchment of the sky, when the tree-lined valleys exploded in a green so vivid and yet so predictable that it was like a hallelujah shout at a tent revival. You always knew it was coming, but it could still knock you clean off your feet.

leavesImagine if you will that the acres surrounding my barn exploded into a lengthy mountain music version of the Hallelujah chorus. That was this past spring. Imagine now, piles of leaves waist high being mulched with a lawn mower. Can you hear the closing strains of those Hallelujahs as they shelter the plants for the winter under a blanket of leaf mulch. Yes, the wheel turns.

Gardening and writing keep me sane. Last spring, my sanity was hanging by a thread. Some would argue the thread broke. That stretch of spring, with its soaring melody, kept me grounded. Since Doug slept a lot, I spent a lot of time outside – often working by lantern light.

My long-time readers know that my garden is a work in progress – one that began with acres of packed gravel inches deep in unblastable clay. In the beginning, to plant a daffodil required a pick axe and sometimes an auger. After 22 years or so of waging battle against bad dirt, I was sure this year was going to be The Year My Garden Landed on the Cover of Southern Living.

a lot of work

During the 2013 Garden Palooza

By my standards, I poured a ton of money into the ground out back. I painted lawn furniture, bought new cushions, planted a dozen or so shrubs and bushes, and planted flats and flats of petunias and impatiens. I babied a patch of Irish moss, let lavender roam free, and lost all sense of prudence when I bought the fountain and the super-duper-big planter to hold a tropical, vining plant. This was going to be the year.

And then the rains came. The news described them as “scattered storms.” Every one of those scattered storms stalled over the top of my piece of heaven and monsooned. I joked and quipped and carried on about building a lotus pond combo moat to try and keep my barn from sliding off its foundation in a mudslide.

I measured daily rains in inches. Really. If memory serves, we had one of the wettest Mays and Junes of all time and I got more of those scattered storms than most.

Marine Corps Veterans - Daddy and his Good Officer's Wife

Marine Corps Veterans – Daddy and his Good Officer’s Wife

And then Doug went into the hospital for the last time. As I moved into my role as psychopomp, the garden boiled in the wet heat. And then it was overrun with weeds. And then the lawnmower broke. And then I was grieving.

The garden is a mess. A passerby (if I had passerbys) would swear it’s been neglected for decades.

I’m hoping the weather holds for the rest of this Veteran’s Day weekend. I could do some serious cleanup, weeding, this-and-that’s and have a garden ready for frolicking come March. Last year was the first spring I was able to just leap into planting mode without having to spend on weeks on winter clean up. I’m hoping for a repeat.

petunias in november

Petunias in November!

It’s been abnormally warm.  I found blooming petunias today as well as a climbing hydrangea with buds. It’s too much to hope that this weather will hold for long, but I’m enjoying it.  My serotonin levels are enjoying it and I’m pretty sure my Vitamin D got topped off today.

Four months.  I can hang on until then.  Happy Veteran’s Day Weekend, y’all.

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Filed under November 2013

Busier than a one-armed paper-hanger on a unicycle in a hurricane. (And no FEMA in sight.)

I don’t think I’ve ever been as busy as I am now.  And Lord knows, I’ve led a busy life.  But if something doesn’t give soon, I’m going to collapse in a quivering heap of twitchy woman.

I’d list it all, but it’s too depressing.  But no matter what it is I’m doing at any given time, somebody wants me doing something else.  If everything is urgent, then nothing is.  Ya know?

Word!

I’m too tired to lean over and drink the glass of wine I poured 3 hours ago.  Ain’t that sad?

It was recently suggested that I needed a hobby to help reduce stress in my life.  So, I’ve taken up “artisan bread” baking.  (Doesn’t that just sound pretentious?)  I was having fun (and gaining weight) with the breadmaking, but I’ve been too busy to do any baking for more than a week.  There’s something very satisfying about kneading bread when you start out preferring primal scream therapy.

But a friend sent me a 14-year-old South African sourdough starter (and a bodacious copper tea kettle!) and I’ve been busy (ahem) cultivating starter for my first attempt at sourdough bread.

This bread thing is addictive.  First of all, I’ve always had a thing for for kitchen toys and I’ve now acquired a baking stone, a lame` thingie, dough scraper/cutter thingie, thermometer, bowls, breadboard,bowl scraper etc. etc.  (This “artisan” thing requires accoutrements.)

I’ve also always had a thing for cookbooks.  Boy howdy, y’all probably don’t know how many bread books there are out there.  It’s probably a good thing Borders closed.

So.  There you have it.  Me.  Whining again.

(I think I’ll be drinking that wine now.)

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Filed under September 2011

Heaps of Words

I’m a fan of words. I used to spend time browsing the dictionary. Indeed, I don’t know what happened to that habit, though I suppose the convenience of an online version had something to do with it. Well, that and the fact the Ex took the humongous dictionary and I’ve yet to procure for myself a big, honking dictionary that weighs 50 lbs.

Someday I hope to own a complete version of the Oxford English Dictionary, but it’s looking less likely – the publishers are suggesting they’re going to quit offering a print version. I suppose it’s possible to browse an electronic copy, but the aesthetics are going to be compromised. Of course, I have no idea where I’d find room to put the twenty volumes of the complete set, but I’m quite sure I’d have fun figuring it out. Less fun would be the process of trying to justify spending $995 (plus shipping).

Truly, yea verily, I do love words.

I can’t remember the first time I encountered magnetic poetry; nor can I remember if I actually squealed with delight or just remember it that way. I do remember delight turning to dismay when I looked at the price tag. A pittance in comparison to the OED, they hit the market about the time buying a cup of coffee at the McDonald’s was a major budget decision. The sets were expensive. If comparison shopping and looking at the price per word, magnetic poetry is far more expensive ($12 for 200 words) than the OED ($995 for 59,000,000 words). The magnets are sold in sets with themes – Shakespeare, haiku, erotica, food, etc. Choosing just one set was beyond my ability. After all, and is my favorite word. I wouldn’t consider owning just one or two volumes of the OED – when I want something, I want it all. It’s not likely there are enough themes to come close to 59 million words. It would be quite a feat to spend nearly a grand on magnets. While I do want it all, all does not include the Guiness Book of Records for most magnetic poetry sets.

Magnetic poetry stayed in vogue long enough for the budget to ease up. I was able to partake. In fact, the sets are still available although I’m not likely to find them in convenience stores like I could at the height of their popularity.

While I wasn’t an early adopter, I embraced the trend with fervor making up for lost time. As usual, I didn’t just wade in – I swan dived. I have hundreds of tiny magnetic pieces in stark black and white to jump start my creative engine. While I didn’t procure each and every word printed on a flexible magnet, I’m no dilettante either.

As did most folks, I placed my single-word magnets on the refrigerator. I’d wander by and move words into phrases, phrases into lines, lines skewing to Scrabble-like configurations. Eventually, I decided it would be more fun and far more comfortable to recline while wallowing in words. Ever mindful of my needs, the magnetic poetry folks manufactured a spiffy board to allow me to do just that. The refrigerator was denuded, words were arranged on a black metallic sheet and an old, pseudo-Chinese tin was used to store the excess pieces. All these accoutrements of my Inner Poet now reside on the étagère in the guestroom.

[I’m thinking of moving them back to the refrigerator. I spend more time near the refrigerator (as my hips will attest) than I do the guestroom. I miss sliding words around while waiting for water to boil or, too often these days, cherry pie to cool.]

Like every moody teenage girl (is that redundant?), I wrote poetry. With one exception it was all the purest of pure dreck. The one exception wasn’t all that good, but I labored for days to successfully fit my thoughts into the singsong, rhyming cadence I thought defined poetry. And I did so without it sounding like Dr. Seuss. It was a success of sorts and the subject meant a lot to me.

With enough reading, most former teenage poets figure out their poems were awful. The realization sometimes provokes cringing embarrassment and secretive literary bonfires. In my case, I don’t know where they are. If I did, I would carefully press them into a scrapbook to prove I was once young. I would also pull them out when I needed a good laugh. We’re talking bad – very bad. My poetry was maudlin, giddy, wistful, angry, lovesick, sentimental and jaded – sometimes all of that in just one line. Bad. Very bad.

The overriding charm of magnetic poetry is the end result isn’t supposed to be good as much as it’s supposed to be quirky. Moreover, unlike writing “real poetry”, composition is fun precisely because one doesn’t have 59 million words to sift through in search of the exact perfect word to capture the thought. Even for me, 59 million magnetic pieces is way too much to embrace. (The OED Magnetic Poetry Kit? Can you imagine? Do you think the publishers considered such a beast? Should they? Personally, I’m having a ball imagining the size of that refrigerator. Scaffolding to retrieve the ice cream?)

There’s also the Mmmmm Factor of selecting a few pieces at random and finding a word combination that doesn’t exist in nature, but should. Is that not one of the features of great poetry?

At times, times like today, I find myself wanting to sit down and write. During some of those times, including today, I find that desire be damned, I can’t render a single thought to put down on paper or in pixels. When such occurs, I dip into the Chinese tin and pull out 13 words. I don’t know why I select 13, but I do.

Today’s 13 are:

  • Universe
  • Change
  • Know
  • They
  • Those
  • Trust
  • When
  • Champagne
  • Rhythm
  • Pick
  • Question
  • Yesterday
  • Laugh

[Mmmmmm…champagne rhythm]

Champagne Rhythm

Would you laugh at the question?

When tomorrow knows
yesterday’s tango love
must trust the universe
not to change the tempo
to the sharp, sticky staccato
of jack and coke.

Spurred two-step missteps
impaling tender cherries
on a midnight plastic pick.
Sweet strawberries wafting
at the bottom of a hollow flute.

Waiting for violins.
Not knowing there’s
a shot glass for every state,
a rhythm for every beat,
a crystal ice bucket littered with
souvenir corks of The Widow.

Dance with me?

And now you know why I gave up poetry.  Leonard Cohen, however, is very good at what he does.

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Filed under October 2010

Eat, Pray, Love – Book and Movie Review

For a couple of years, I had to push Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, out of my way. At the bookstore, a copy was invariably obscuring the book I wanted. I pushed it aside and carried on. The Amazon site, using their crazy little matrix, determined sometime ago that based on my purchases I had to be interested in the book. I didn’t click. At a friend’s house, normally freakishly neat, I had to move it off the chair seat to sit down. At the grocery store, a copy was sitting on top of the bag of spinach I was trying to buy. These instances played out against the merciless promotion of the book for the past year or so as the movie version starring Julia Roberts was filmed, edited, and just as unmercifully promoted.

I think it was the Spinach Event that provoked surrender. Soon thereafter, I was at the bookstore, the memoir was on sale and I bought it. If one wants to get all New Age-y (and at times I do), it can be said the Universe wanted me to read this book.

I settled into the coffee shop with a large mocha and began reading.

I had resisted the book after reading its description. My take was that some 30-something narcissistic chickie with a life most of us envy was wallowing in the pain of an existential hangnail. I didn’t want to read Liz Gilbert, I wanted to smack her. And, generally speaking, I’m opposed to violence.

I also do not read nonfiction for the most part. No matter how much a novel mirrors real life, my emotions are sufficiently kept in check by that fiction label.

I’m real emotional these days.

While pregnant, I was a bundle of hormonal, hair-trigger emotions. In the space of 30 seconds or so, I could go from despair and rage to sprawling on the floor, howling with laughter while banging my fists. I cried because I was happy, because I was sad, because I was mad, because my hormones were rocketing throughout my body. There was the very memorable Spilled Coke event in which I happened upon a spilled fountain drink in a parking lot. There was a puddle of Coke. A popped lid. A mangled straw. I sobbed. Some child, I’m sure, used an entire week’s allowance to buy that Coke, stumbled and lost it all. I sobbed for nearly an hour.

The menopause hormonal imbalance is a lot like that of pregnancy. Funny is hysterical, sad is total despair, and heart-warming just annihilates me.

Nobody told me Eat, Pray Love was laugh-out-loud-in-public-until-you-snort-whipped-cream funny. People with perfectly intact hormone systems tell me it’s not just me. The book is funny. And it’s sad. And it’s heart-warming.

I read it twice. I never read anything twice.

And, yes, it’s about a near-40-something chickie with a life most of us would envy plunged into despair over an existential hangnail. Gilbert’s hangnail was a painful divorce and a painful mid-divorce love affair – a divorce she initiated for reasons she chooses not to detail.

I wanted to roll my eyes at her and tell her to get some perspective. But (1) I was too busy laughing because (2) she realizes how out-of-proportion her misery is and makes so much fun of herself I didn’t need to. It’s the depth of her misery that spurs her plan to travel Italy, India and Bali for a year – not the life events. And I had to hand it to her. After my life events of the past few years, if I could pull off running away from home for a year to get a grip, I’d be at the post office renewing my passport this second.

I loved the book. I want to hang out with Liz Gilbert and eat a fine meal somewhere.

I stated emphatically that I wouldn’t see the movie.

The movie arrived here on Thursday and at 6 p.m. on Friday my mother, who hadn’t read the book, and I were sitting mid-theater watching previews. Upon walking into the theater, I asked two women exiting if the movie was any good. One said it was and the other said, “It was okay.”

I neither like nor dislike Julia Roberts. I’ve enjoyed some of her movies, but don’t regard any of them as works of art. Since Hollywood doesn’t produce art that often, I don’t expect art from a movie. I go to be entertained. In the case of this movie, the reviewers were all over the place – it’s good, it’s bad, it’s okay – but all agreed the scenery was gorgeous. I’m a sucker for gorgeous scenery.

I loved the movie. I laughed through much of it. I cried through much of it. (I’m just a spectacle these days.)

The movie departs from the book in some key areas, but does so in the spirit of the book. I hadn’t been interested in the movie because I thought there’s no way to tell Liz’s story visually without losing the spirit of the book. Well. I was wrong.

Mom, who hadn’t read the book, thought the movie was wonderful.

For the past month or so, I’ve been compulsively reading reviews of the book and the movie trying to get a handle on why I liked the book so much. My best guess is because it’s funny – I’m a sucker for humor. Now, I’m going to have to puzzle the movie out. The movie provokes some laughter, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about love, but it’s not a love story.

I’ll probably see the movie a second time. I never watch a movie twice.

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Filed under August 2010

MmmMumbai

There are cities people talk about as if they have a soul – New York, New Orleans, Paris, Budapest – collections of stone and steel that set the heart to yearning when distanced for too long.

Dirty, crowded, crime-ridden, expensive – those who have bonded with the stone and the steel love the metrapole morning breath and all. They love it not just because it is home and all the folks of home live there, but because the city itself is a member of the family.

Mumbai, I think, is one of those cities.

A few years ago I read Gregory David Roberts’s novel Shantaram and my interest in Mumbai was piqued. Now I’m reading Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games and I have a full-blown crush on Mumbai. In both novels, the city is as much a character as any of the people in the thousand pages of narrative.

Shantaram idealized the city and people, yet showed both warts and all. Sacred Games has a much less heavy hand. Roberts’s is trying to seduce us with Mumbai; Chandra is coy.  Still, both portray Mumbai as the raandi with the heart of gold.

Over the years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with places because of a book; places I’d never seen. Early on it was Cornwall and London; later St. Petersburg and Geneva. With those great cities, I fell in love with them as they were a century or two ago. This Mumbai  affair is for the Mumbai of now.

Of the cities I’ve mentioned, I did get to see London, but my time there was too short and the opportunities to explore too limited. I left astounded that I liked the modern city and not just the ancient one that lived in my head. I didn’t fall in love with New York until after I’d visited, but now I can read novels set in the city and they’re richer, fuller. 

I have a yearning to visit Mumbai – a city that will make my heart simultaneously soar and break.  I can’t foresee the when or the how of Mumbai and I meeting, but I can daydream in the vivid colors, scents and textures that are India in general, and Mumbai in particular.

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Filed under June 2010

The Computer, the Witch and the Closet

Oh to have a closet so grand.

When I was young I used to sit in closets.

My parents only noticed that I did so when angry or upset, but in truth I did it often. They only checked on me when I was angry or upset.

The first-time I can remember, I was about 8. The memory seems a foreshadowing of now. I was home from school with a cold, but was feeling better. Though still sick, I was restless and at loose ends. I had read all the books I had to read. I discovered that daytime television was inane. I was feeling creative.

My brother and I had a child-sized table and chair set that was beginning to be too small for us. I remember pushing aide my clothes and dragging that table into the closet. I turned on the closet light, stepped in and closed the sliding doors. I wrote my own book sitting on the floor in front of that small table. If memory serves, it was about the wonders of newborn spring animals.

The closeness of the closet was not oppressive, but comforting – a womb of sorts.

Later in junior high, when I was always upset and seldom creative, I would sit in my closet and brood. A closed bedroom door provoked too much attention, but slipping into the closet and closing the door brought me the alone time I needed. The time to think through my brooding.

My parents didn’t discover my closet hide-out until I couldn’t be found for dinner one night. I remember being very angry about something; and I remember exploding when they teased me about “hiding in the closet.” I couldn’t make them understand – indeed, I probably didn’t even try. I remember childhood as being a time when I didn’t yet have the right words to explain my thoughts and actions. Even now, anger renders me inarticulate.

I puzzled out life in my closet hideout, sitting on the shag carpeting sometimes in the dark and sometimes with a flashlight.

Some time between 8 and teenager, I read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe — a story about a large wardrobe closet that is the entryway to a magical land where good struggles against evil. I loved the book and I loved the author’s description of hiding in the closet and the surprise of finding it went on and on into a forest.

It didn’t occur to me until just a few moments ago, that at the ripe-old age of 50, I’ve built a closet hideout. Without any guile, I told myself the closet office was to house the computer equipment I couldn’t bear to see sitting on my old oak library table.

Just now I finished writing a thousand words or so on that computer in that closet. As I puzzled out the right words, I would stop and admire the atmosphere of the closet – cozy and hidden. A secret place -even with the door taken off and thus open to the sounds of the forest behind me.

I have this house to myself and I don’t need to hide in a closet to be alone with my thoughts, so I’m surprised the closet office resurrected secret thoughts and feelings- the ones I wouldn’t put words to. What I intended to write is not what I wrote. The piece is raw, but honest, contemplative and strong. It is the stuff I’ve never given myself permission to set out in words; stuff I can only bear to look at if glimpsed through the safety of hands held loosely over my eyes. Tonight there was no frightened peering through fingers.

I’ve surprised myself. I’m anxious and a bit scared of what I might write in that closet. Good battling evil is far too strong a metaphor, but it will have to do for now. 

I’m puzzled that in all the weeks of painting the closet, building shelves, sorting through stuff to effect the closet, the memory of my childhood need for a closet sanctuary never burbled to the surface.

Virginia Woolf wrote of needing a room of her own.  It seems I need a closet.

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Filed under June 2010