Saturday, November 3, 2018

How We Lived: Thursday, November 1, 2018, a Collective List About a Day

I swatted a little bug, killed it, and felt no remorse; visited a plant that used to be mine but now it lives on the windowsill down the hall from me and I greeted it by name (Serena) as I walked by; I lost my black vest and didn’t even realize it until someone found it for me and today I wore it again — there is a pin on it in the shape of a typewriter, with these words by Sylvia Plath: I am I am I am.

I went for a walk, counted my steps, and when I reached 1,000 I turned around and walked back home; received a book as a gift from a friend and it was exactly the book that I most wanted to read today (“Almost Everything: Notes on Hope,” by Anne Lamott); found a poem about rain on this rainy day and copied it out to send to my sister.

I was up in the night but was able to rearrange my day so things would be okay, but I kept thinking about my friend who is still in pain which is why I was up in the night.

I woke up and tried to reframe my anxiety into excitement before getting out of bed; wearing my nightgown (black cotton with a map of Canada across the front) I fed Marmaduke the Cat, sat on the porch with strong Vietnamese coffee and a cigarette, admired the bougainvillea, sprinkled fish food in the little lotus pond, and e-mailed two neglected friends.

I spent 3 hours lesson planning for a 2-hour class because I know that if I'm not excited, the students won't be either — this lesson plan includes watching Mr. Bean go shopping; I made lunch of scrambled eggs with green onions, bread, kimchee, sliced tomatoes, and cucumbers; washed dishes and soaked all the window plants in recycled pond water in the kitchen sink; boiled water to run through a filter because there are too many toxins in Vietnam's tap water.

I walked for an hour under a hot sun to the grocery store across a bridge in another district, past the lush plant stores with cacti, exotic fruit trees, and huge clay jars; took a cab home; made three trips up six flights of stairs — exhausted — soon I will make vegetable, fish ball, and rice soup; will sleep soundly and gratefully tonight, I’m sure.

I woke in darkness and leaned in towards light and warmth; reflected on the way time slows to an elegant crawl when considering the needs and feelings of others; had the realization that the Muse of Poetry assures me of great wonder and delight, if I choose to follow her; remembered that today is All Saints’ Day, the ushering in of a season of replenishment, renewal, and revival.

I found an old mouse nest while cleaning a forgotten closet, filled with tiny seeds that must have been his store for the winter, so I suspect he must not have survived; I am in the process of writing a new murder mystery but I haven’t written anything in a few weeks and even though I know where I want it to go nothing opened up for me today.

I tried to figure out how a night creature was able to eat the “arms” of the reading glasses that I carved into this year's Halloween pumpkin; tried not to eat all the tootsie rolls and cherry starbursts left from Halloween candy but I was not successful. I walked through our backyard in knee-high boots to see how soggy the ground had become and found a single red yarrow blossom and three tiny pink rosebuds on the rose bush.

I tried to count the trees with yellow, orange, and red leaves falling while walking the dog around the block, but kept forgetting the count as squirrels appeared as if waiting to be chased; found old black and white family photos from the 1950s, with scalloped edges; began reading a new espionage novel; made an inventory of possibilities for preparing a delicious dinner and a cake for dessert; imagined alternative worlds with more than four seasons.

I stood in the closet for five full minutes trying to decide what I could wear that would be warm enough but not too warm, appropriate for me to teach in, something I had not worn in the last week, and that did not need to be ironed; I kissed my sweetheart three times in a row because once is just never enough.

I taught myself (after I Googled it) how to insert several text boxes into a document, put text in each text box, and draw connector lines connecting the boxes with the text; I met with three graduate students with the intention of discussing their individual research projects, and wound up talking about all the different ways stress manifests itself and the creative approaches we use to manage it; spent 30 minutes on the Expresso bike, chasing dragons.

I spent the afternoon sitting at the piano, trying to replicate Fats Waller playing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” but those big, juicy bass chords were just a tad too large for my aging hands, though there was a time not so long ago when I could reach them.

I dug my fingers into butter and sugar, blended the mixture, and worked in the flour, because it’s shortbread season; stared out the window — leaves fading to yellow and gold — and pondered my next birthday; read World War I poetry and the house listened; replaced two ink cartridges, printed bookmarks, and began work on another book. I walked through mist, glimpsed juncos and a distant crow, and sang “It’s a Lovely Day Today.”

I tried to be a patient patient and it helped; I found out that my heart is still mostly fine; I noticed that every new person now reminds me of at least one person I've known before.

I woke up and realized, before I opened my eyes, that the cold I’d been fighting for three days had finally won; listened to Mozart’s Requiem on the car radio and when I remembered it was The Day of the Dead I thought about my dead friends and family members and even the pets that I’d been missing recently, and I hummed their names to the music. I got up from my chair and my bad knee screamed and I cursed a blue streak, at least that’s what I said an hour later, but then I wondered what exactly is a blue streak? I received a text message inviting me to a school assembly to hear my granddaughter, who is in kindergarten, recite all the helping verbs in front of the whole school because, as her mother is happy to remind me, it is my fault that they both know them.

I went to Walmart to find the smallest turkey for Thanksgiving; ran into my husband's ex at the library; clipped and bathed the dog; tried to stay positive while feeling surrounded by constant negativity, but unfortunately I failed.

I walked among shimmering tall buildings on a street in China, it was not a dream; found Georgia O'Keeffe at the Shanghai Museum; was surprised Edward Hopper had his own room in the museum, in a show of American art; ate okonomiyaki (cabbage pancake) a favorite Japanese dish at a restaurant in Shanghai. I did tai chi in our hotel room, the breath and smoothness cleared my head for inspiration; collected poems and talked about kindness with poets from all over the world.

I wished my old friend a happy 75th birthday; I cried in my writing group when I read what I wrote; I yelled at a friend for something she said, then apologized profusely; spilled butternut squash soup on my pants at lunch. I got home from work and discovered there was a chipmunk in the house.

I turned the calendar page and welcomed November; swept the front porch and re-arranged flower pots; trimmed the butterfly bush in the hush of almost-rain and for the first time in several months there were no butterflies at all; painted with a new watercolor brush. I read about the Buddhist Goddess Marishiten who is one of the 20 Celestials; thought about how time passes, one loaf of bread after another.

I woke while it was still dark and before moving a muscle I was hopeful that the migraine was gone, but then I felt it there, everywhere, as my body shifted just a few millimeters with my first, deeper, awake breath. I heard my bicycle brakes screech as I rode down the hill, with a light refreshing rain on my face. I took my daughter to a labyrinth of parking lots to practice driving, she parked and un-parked the car, negotiated a stop sign, and figured out how to use the blinker. I went home and cooked dinner and after we ate we walked down to the store in the rain to buy bread for tomorrow.

I noticed that the commuter rush had begun: our feeder swarmed with the usual crowd, chickadees, titmice, nuthatches (both kinds), the cardinal pair, and the surprise of a bouncy, pushy Carolina wren. I folded laundry; sorted through accumulated newspapers and junk mail; ate a good lunch from leftovers, with no Halloween candy for dessert because we got rid of the extras to avoid temptation. I settled in with a book after lunch and woke an hour later from an unplanned nap; dinner was leftover soup from last night, even better tonight, along with the season's first batch of cornbread — hot, with butter melting on it. 

I woke up and remembered it was All Saints Day, and thought of the line by Elizabeth Barrett Browning — “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints” — which made me think of my mother. I knelt by my bed to fetch a sock that had fallen underneath and glanced out the window at the falling leaves — when the wind was still, they spiraled quietly down and when the wind was strong, they danced. I had tea in my spotted-hen mug and cinnamon toast, remembering Aunt Honey who let me put as much sugar and cinnamon on the bread as I wanted. I drove to Trumansburg for a haircut. I liked my haircut and I like my haircutter, who always gives me a hug. I went to dinner with my dear one, at the Glenwood Pines, where I saw my former boss, and received another great hug.

I woke up to the sweet sounds of a Haydn keyboard concerto accompanying a jackhammer quartet as it consumed the sidewalk across the street; made friends with a tortoiseshell cat who has a reputation for attacking people’s feet, but she was very calm and curled up on my lap and let me scratch gently behind her ears and under her sensitive chin. I sent a “welcome home” message to my dear cousin in California who just returned from Paris, a trip she took to honor her beloved mother who recently died.

I watched a pro football game with the TV on mute, while listening to the soundtrack from the movie “Brassed Off,” followed by Cecilia Bartoli singing from “An Italian Songbook,” so it was a very good game, but I don’t remember who won. I thought about my complicated sense of time and saw a happy little metronome slowly marching along an endless road, accompanied by leaping gazelles projecting themselves as visiting visions from my past and future lives.

I found yoga asanas to do in the morning that did not hurt my knee; went to lunch and ate the biggest piece of coconut cake I've ever had; covered my basil planters, now empty of basil, which the squirrels have been using as a place to store their winter walnut snacks; contemplated vacuuming the house, but read a mystery book instead. I made a mistake in my calendar book and missed a doctor's appointment; made myself put down the mystery book and vacuum; helped clear out the refrigerator by eating left-overs. I looked out at the wet, leaf-covered walkway, and thought: yes, fall is here; as I lay in my bed, waiting to fall asleep, I listened to the rain dripping off the leaves and falling from the downspout into the rain barrel.

I read a comment in a book of essays about short story writing, about how the focus is often on the beginning and ending sentences, and I remembered what a terrible time I had in 9th grade English, trying to come up with an opening sentence for each Monday morning's in-class essay.

I relished my favorite breakfast: hash-browned yuca with scrambled eggs, even though I forgot to put the cheese in; tried to fit the new harness onto the dog, who managed to bite the harness into uselessness within ten minutes; discovered tiny red tomatoes when I was weeding the trail to the guest house; split some kindling and hard and softer wood for our cookstove; pulled two ticks from behind the dog’s right floppy ear.

I asked a class of college students if one month of hearing poetry recited out loud every class day had helped them follow the reading they went to afterward, and they lied and said yes. I took a picture of a stunning group of fall trees — red, green, yellow, orange — and wished they had been somewhere other than at the Wendy’s parking lot. I visited with my mother, reminded her who I was, and helped to put her to bed.

I found a haiku on a scrap of paper that started with “a ladybird” and finished with “sun” and then I wrote a new haiku, this time about my tabby cat; put a few drops of frankincense in the oil burner and just breathed deeply for a moment or two. I listened to the rain, walked in the rain, ran in the rain, tasted the rain, and wrote about the rain.
I couldn't be bothered folding my legs into a full lotus; decided the bump on my head is probably just a bump (from practicing the headstand) rather than a brain tumor; tried to ignore all my anxieties; decided I did not want to go to the party I was not invited to; decided I want to sing more and so I did, while my cat watched with suspicion and perhaps a hint of pity.

Thank you to all the contributors:

Barbara Tate
C. Robin Janning
Caroline Skanne
Chris McNamara
Ian Mickey Shapiro
Jennifer VanAlstine
Jim Mazza
Joanna M. Weston
Kath Abela Wilson
Kathy Kramer
Laurie Petersen
Marty Blue Waters
Mimi Foyle
Nancy A. Dafoe
Nancy Osborn
Rob Sullivan
Saskya van Nouhuys
Sue Norvell
Susan Annah Currie
Timothy Weber
Victoria Jordan
Yvonne Fisher
Zee Zahava

Thursday, June 21, 2018

This Place — Where We Live Now: short-shorts on a theme

Tim's Ford Lake, Winchester, Tennessee
by Barbara Tate

At sundown white herons glide along the shoreline and join in the quiet that settles for the evening over Tim's Ford Lake in Tennessee.

In my apartment I'm surrounded by the things that make me happy. One room is filled with books which are first editions, collected over the years. Portraits of ancestors hang over a fireplace mantel and an ancient L. C. Smith typewriter occupies a corner of the room, collecting dust. In the living room there is a large antique cherry coffee table with a massive marble top that rests in front of the couch where I work on my writing and Bible study. Directly across the room there's a large floor-to-ceiling bookcase that holds publications, anthologies, and magazines that contain my work, created over the past 50 years. I like to look at these things and know that I have tried my best.

My muse often sits by side, my little fuzzy buddy named CH Primrose Hillwood Gala. Retired from the show ring, this little poodle watches contentedly as big birds skim the edge of the lake.


Front Porch, NE Georgia, USA
by C. Robin Janning

Season after season, the front porch is the watching heart of our home.

Spirit-lifting freedom can be found on the front porch along with solitude, welcome, and security — as contradictory and complimentary as flowers in spring and summer, followed by dormant brown grass in fall and winter.

On the front porch, glance left for clematis and a mountain view; glance right for the garden chair and pots (too many, maybe) of flowers and small shrubs. Look straight ahead to watch the sunrise, and later look up to glimpse the moon and Venus — surely they must be waiting for our notice! In winter, shut your eyes and breathe in a scent that is reminiscent of sandalwood (although surely it isn’t) floating uphill from a neighbor’s fireplace.

I wish the front porch ran along the entire length of the house. As it is, it is rather small — too small for even a small chair. But then again, it is the perfect perch at the end of a curving sidewalk, to watch and wonder and wave to a passing neighbor.


25 Picton Road, Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire UK
by Christina Martin

At the back of the house the nasturtiums are trying hard to invade the pathway. There are quite a few of these lighting up the patio and competing with the squash plants for flowers. My bench by the old brick wall has a nice thick rag rug on it with old Indian cushions depicting the gods — this is where I sit and listen to the blackbird and watch the many sparrows pecking up my offerings . . . the seagulls bully everyone. Every half hour I hear the rumble of the bus sounds in the background.

So I will just put my feet up, thank you, and enjoy the sunshine as we don't usually get that many days of it here by the coast where we are beaten by the westerly winds from the Atlantic and Irish Sea. Everything has to be tied down and I just hope that the elephant-ear leaves on the squashes don't rip!

The light sky is inviting and I will make a nice cup of tea and take it out in a minute. I see that my climbing roses have multiplied; soon the back wall will be smothered in a white cloud.

The sea is amazonite today.


Waukesha, Wisconsin, USA 
by Jo Balistreri

As I look out my study window, the rain continues. The trees and shrubbery in the court struggle against the wind. The homes are neat, one level, and they’re all painted in the same neutral shade with burgundy shutters and doors. We live at the top of the cul-de-sac. Most of us have planted our own flowers, and in the sun everything looks well-kept and cheerful. We live in Turnberry Preserve, a condo community. This is home now.

We moved here two years ago from a big home. Time to downsize. You’re getting older, your husband is not well. For us, it was the wrong advice. We went from an inside/outside house where nature was always with us, to the deadness of contained living. There is a modicum of energy. Once inside, the condo is a fortress. Most of the windows are placed too high. To sit by a window with a full view, there is only the deck sliding door. The kitchen, in the middle of the space that contains living room, dining room, two bedrooms, full bath, entrance and laundry exit, boasts a granite countertop on three sides. That’s right — only one way to enter/exit. We get our steps in and eventually, step by step, we adjust. We change things, make it ours as much as possible. This is our home.


The Book Room, Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia
by Joanna M. Weston

Squirrels chase through the trees outside my window, in contrast to my elderly black cat asleep on her mat to my left, beside the computer. Her back rests against dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopaedias, ring-binders.
She snores. This is the norm at eight o’clock in the morning, with the printer clunking away on my right. I have two large windows with maples, walnut, alder, Douglas fir, and cedar ranged outside. An occasional chickadee, junco, or pileated woodpecker, will peer in at me briefly. Deer have sometimes stopped and
caught my eye, then, incurious, return to grazing. There’s a daybed in one corner of the room, useful for visitors. And shelves of books, anthologies of poetry, art books, craft books, grammar and reference books, a row of detective stories, travel books, and computer self-help books. It’s called “The Book Room” because I write books here.


Sheffield Road, Enfield, New York
by Julie Lind

One of the three cherry trees in our yard might fall. You can’t see its base from the house. It emerges subtly, branches weaving into the white and blue pines that surround it.

Last night, after our two children were asleep, my husband, in-laws, and I watched it from the circle of chairs we had set up for dinner.

“What is that big tree?” asked Seth, my brother-in-law.

“It’s a cherry,” my husband replied. “It may come down soon, it’s old.”

I looked closer, studied the branches, saw how they melted towards the neighbor's yard. I could imagine the cherries, purple-red, exhaling their sweet breath into the sky.
The cherry has been on this land we call ours much longer than our house, which was originally built in the 1950s. My husband tore down the second floor when I was pregnant with our daughter, two years ago. We needed more space, he said. We were going up higher. The second floor is now framed, the top cathedraling into the silver maple to the east, the sugar maple to the south.
Someday, when our children sleep in their bedrooms, they will smell maple water from their windows.

All of the trees, maples and cherries, larches and pines, are audible from our current bedroom window, beneath which all four of us now sleep. Every morning, when I wake up, I hear the branches outside, rustling into birdsong, and I open my eyes into the home that they share with us.


Renovation, third floor Catalina condo, Pasadena, California 
by Kath Abela Wilson

When I moved into his condo in 2000 he’d lived here since 1980. We found ourselves, after being friends for years, a real couple, after my former husband's illness and death. Rick had helped me through it. Now we had to decide where to live. Rick was a Caltech math professor. The condo is practically on campus. High ceilings, top floor, arched windows. Walking distance to everything. We decided to stay. He knew what needed changing. More light, skylights, bookshelves, color. It wasn’t a dream house, but a "bubble" as my daughter called it, away from the ordinary world. We moved out for a year. It wasn't done. I washed dishes in the bathtub for weeks. I mixed cement with my tears and stone collection, building a fireplace. It will never be done but it’s everything we ever wanted. Multipurpose wonder. Museum, meeting place, guest home for international friends. I remember I asking my friend Rick, years before life changed, the important question: “Is the Huntington (one of the great gardens of the world) walking distance from here?” He said, “Well, for you it is.” Now he walks too. We travel the world together, laughing. We live happily ever after.


237 Stonehaven Circle, near Newfield, New York
by Kathy Kramer

Our house sits on a hillside, its back protected from north winds by a thick stand of trees. Its face, glass from floor to ceiling, looks south over an open valley with a line of maples marching diagonally, left to right, down the hill.

In our living area on the 2nd floor, I claim my space where I can sit in a worn recliner and gaze out, as from the prow of a ship. This morning’s breakfast there was my daughter-in-law’s homemade chocolate granola in the small yellow bowl given to me by a high school friend 50 years ago.

On the deck outside, painted driftwood gray, various potted plants substitute for the vast gardens of years past — one tomato plant, one cuke, some basil, chives, and several pots of the ubiquitous wave petunias, dark blue and fragrant as spice cake.

At night, when the house is quiet, I turn out all the lights and sit again in the old recliner. The glass face of the house is filled entirely with sky — sometimes moody with clouds, sometimes studded with stars.

If I open the sliding doors to the deck, it seems I can hear the gentle breathing of the plants, growing, as my children did, in their sleep.


Called to Jefferson County, New York State
by Laurie Petersen

In the house where my mother asked me to move back with husband and kids since it was too big for my parents alone — the same house my parents later moved from because they didn’t want to live with us anymore — in that house I took care of my parents when they returned because they could no longer stay by themselves.

This big, solid-built former high school has stood here on bedrock for one hundred sixty years in a small town that is much less important now that in an hour, cars can take you a former day’s horseback journey away. I never really chose this place, but maybe this place chose me so I would look deeply at it, give it a voice, write it. As every square foot of the earth has a voice, but sometimes no one will listen.

I have lived almost half my life in a house that is barely mine, and by now I love it the way you love a great-aunt for whom you can do nothing right, who cries and stays up nights when something bad happens to you.

I think this house and I are like that for each other.


Rio Guaycuyacu, NW Pichincha Province, Ecuador 
by Mimi Foyle

Awaking inside our mosquito net, I listen to the living sounds layered one upon another all around me. Sharp insect whine, sporadic peeping of frogs, the soft chortling of owls’ conversation from nearby trees;
the varied voices of water. Water defines these lowlands forests of northwestern Ecuador where I live, a symphony of flora and fauna, diversity of color, shape and texture. In contrast to my childhood home in Los Angeles, the interface between self and nature here is my skin, and perceptions come principally through the senses. I love our wooden house with no doors, few walls, and glassless windows. We track
approaching storms by the sound of rain pattering on the leaves, thundering on the tin roof, and then slowing to evaporate into mists — the hallelujah chorus of life coming out into the sun afterwards. We can watch hummingbirds in the hibiscus hedge from the dining room table, or as they try to feed on the gold fringe of our red lampshade. The scents of soil, flowers, leaves, fungi, blood, fruit, death and rain carry much of what we need to know, and our family-by-affinity supplies the rest. If home is where the heart is,
I’m home.


Skedholm, Åland, Finland
by Saskya van Nouhuys

Before we lived here, before anyone did, when there wasn’t a house, there was flat granite that sloped down toward the sea. At the edge it became a cliff. At the bottom was a cluster of stones, perfect for a viper to sun itself after a swim.

It is still perfect down there for the viper to sun, and it does. Above the stones is a small deck. When we moved in I wondered if kids had built it. It had an unplanned look, like a nautical tree house. In spite of that we still have it. We built stairs down to the water from it, and a floating dock, connected to the stairs by a gangplank. At first we removed the stairs each autumn because the locals told us they would be crushed by the sea ice. But we got lazy and left them and they are fine. We still pull up the gangplank and let the dock drift, attached by a heavy anchor to the seafloor. The water freezes around the dock. In the spring we retrieve it, covered in bird shit that I wash off with buckets of sea water while the terns circle, scolding me.


Main Street, Dryden, New York
by Susanna Drbal

There is a red door. I always wanted a red door.

The living room is large and long; it once was a garage, I suspect. The tiled floor is uneven, and rarely clean, however hard I try.

In my first-floor home, I was able to move my grandfather’s piano in, finally. It still needs to be tuned.

Cat evidence is everywhere: frayed upholstery, squeaky toys. There are clumps of hair in all the corners, at all times.

Out the back door, over the deck, sprawls an enormous pine tree, shedding needles and dripping tar. The glass-topped wrought iron table suffers.

My plants, after months of neglect and gloom indoors, now endure months of sun and more neglect. They continue to live.

In the kitchen, the refrigerator hums and the cats mew, begging to be fed. There are magnets on the refrigerator shaped like the state of Ohio, a plate of sushi, an owl. There are photos of children, now years older.

There are books in the tiny hallway, across from the painting of the sad clown. There are books in the bedroom. There are books beside my bed. There’s my teddy.


Waking Again, Slaterville Road
by Tom Clausen

Yet again, the gift, waking up from one dream to another! As I emerge from sleep I recognize the landscape of the bedroom. Yes, it all looks happily familiar and reassures me that the reality of this constant in my life is resuming right where and how I expected it should. Squirrel, my dear cat, is in his place at the foot of the bed keeping an eye on me, ready in case it is time for a treat. I keep a container with catnip crunchy treats on the headboard of our bed. He is always ready. I look around and am pleased with how I have “decorated” my side of the bedroom even though some might think it overly cluttered. On the wall above the bed is a lovely Maine coastal watercolor painting by my haiku friend, Ruth Yarrow. In the headboard just beyond my pillows is a line-up of my favorite poetry books by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. Three calendars allow me to confirm it is a new day and remind myself what day, date, and month it is. After Squirrel has had a few of his treats, I get out of bed and enter this dream-come-true; another day, always now!


My Home in Ithaca, New York
by Yvonne Fisher

My green house with white shutters is in the Fall Creek neighborhood. There is a red door and right next to it is a Mezuzah that I hung up for protection. My house is right near Gimme Coffee where everybody goes to sit and drink lattes. My front porch has a ficus tree, and pink peonies in a green vase, and a table and chairs. I sit and watch people pass by. Some are walking their dogs. Some say hi.

Inside my house is a feeling of calm and sweet charm. The house was built in 1860 and is just big enough. The living room is where I draw pictures, write stories, use my computer at the old desk from A's father. The dining room has a big yellow couch from A's mother. I have beautiful rugs from Afghanistan. One of them has the image of two camels woven into it. I have a sculpture of a baby Buddha sleeping on an elephant. On the mantel is a photo of a sea turtle from Hawaii. There is a framed photo of my mother and my Auntie Grete that my brother, Michael, took. My dining table was lent to me by two friends. It has extra leaves to make it bigger for when I have many people over, which is only on Passover or Hanukah, or when friends are visiting from out of town, or for informal memorial services for friends who have died: Larry or Sunny or Tony or Sal.

Upstairs are two bedrooms and a bathroom with two steps going down into it.

My house has everything I need. It makes me feel safe and happy and grateful. This is my home and I love it.


Friday, June 8, 2018

Categories: a Collective List of Things

things that are never where they should be

things that always go wrong

things that usually go right

things that make me uncomfortable

things I carry

things I no longer buy

things I look forward to

things sisters say

things I’m proud of

things I regret

things I’ve forgiven myself for

things birds can see

things cows say to each other in the pasture

things I fail to notice everyday

things that go askew over time, like old barns and houses

things that disappear

things that calm me

things that make me nervous

things I’ve broken and things that have broken me

things that inspire me

things that enrage me

things that have happened to me in dreams

things I’d like to throw at people

things to look for in the night sky

things I want to hide

things I’d like to change

things I remember about my father

things my mother told me, like “watch out for soldiers hanging out near the movie theater,” and “polio.”

things I never thought would happen to me

things I gave away and wish I had kept, like my poodle skirt with a doggie wearing a rhinestone collar

things I don’t like about myself

things I will miss

things I thought were funny but nobody else saw the humor

things I wish I never said

things that have shaped me into the person I am today

things my grandmother used to say

things I used to know

things I am still learning

things that are a waste of time, energy, money

things that start with the letter U, like ululation, uvea, ubiquitous, unctuous, and underwear

things that mean the most to me

things I do for love

things I crave that are not good for me

things that chatter

things that need oiling

things that are wrong with my aging body/ with my mind

things I love about today

things I don’t need to worry about

things I want to do before it’s too late

things that remind me of other things

things that run amuck

things that refuse to decompose

things that elude me in casual conversation

things I thought I had to have

things I won’t do until I properly know how to do them

things that scream “I hurt” (that I ignore)

things that move me and subtly shift my day

things I know and wish I didn’t

things that get under my skin, like Spectrum

things I wore when I was hoping to disappear

things I’ve lied about

things I will never ever get around to doing

things that baffle me

things that don’t deserve the good reputation they have

things that make me want to jump up and down and scream “Are you out of your mind?”

things that make me want to stop and look around

things I’ve forgotten about in the back of the refrigerator

things I do that embarrass my children

things I wore in high school

things in boxes that I packed and have never opened

things I took to help me sleep

things in my backyard

things I wrote about in my diary

things I learned from watching “Happy Days” on TV

things my sister borrowed and never returned

things I learned not to do from watching my parents

things I wish I had told my father

things I have never, ever said out loud

things that used to seem important to me but no longer do

things about myself I've never told anyone

things I should have thought of sooner

things that are black and white

things that can't be explained

things my handwriting reveals

things that cats imagine

things that make sense later

things I wish I understood

things that are easier when you're old

things I wish my mother had told me

things that weigh heavily on my heart

things I should have packed

things I packed that I didn't need

things I’ll never forget

things that are soft and flabby

things I put away in a safe location and now I can’t remember where that is

things people have told me in secret

things I’ve revealed that I promised to keep secret

things that don’t feel worthy of being included in a haiku

things I have to learn over and over again

things that feel like epiphanies but then I’m reminded that I’ve had the same insight at least half a dozen times before

Thank you to all these contributors:

Annie Wexler
Barbara Anger
Barbara Cartwright
Heather Boob
Linda Keeler
Marty Blue Waters
Mary Louise Church
Nancy Osborn
Rob Sullivan
Sara Robbins
Sue Crowley
Susan Lesser 
Susanna Drbal
Yvonne Fisher
Zee Zahava

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Happiness Is …. (another) collective list

This Happiness List was created on the evening of April 19, at the very end of a workshop held at Buffalo Street Books. We spent most of our time writing poems and prose, using the Paint Chip Poetry Game as our inspiration. But then, in the last five minutes, we shared our happiness with one another.

Happiness is the scent of garlic as it sautées . . . mingling with rosemary, cherry tomatoes, and salt

Happiness is finding that sock that got lost in the wash last week

Happiness is having just enough coffee beans to make a pot of coffee on Sunday morning

Happiness is remembering how violets used to smell and then discovering them growing in my garden

Happiness is when my mosquito bites stop itching

Happiness is when the buds lengthen and I know the tree I planted for her lived through its first winter

Happiness is a day with a doable but challenging project

Happiness is taking pleasure in my family – my daughter, son, grandson — and feeling grateful for all that I have

Happiness is a life full of cats

Happiness is having good friends, who get me

Happiness is the set of wild dreams that dance along my peripheral vision in the waking light

Happiness is looking at a friend and knowing that they already see what I feel

Happiness is a smile passed from one soul to another

Happiness is the feeling in the air on a warm summer’s day

Happiness is the glow in your eyes when you think no one is watching

Happiness is wandering, exploring, being upside down, having my worldview changed

Happiness is panna cotta

Happiness is all those Amish Romance Novels, read and forgotten

Happiness is brown paper packages tied up in string

Happiness is bourbon

Happiness is all the little ladybug “tents” in my apartment: learning how incredibly delicate and intricate they are, and how to pick them up and how to move them

Happiness is fresh coffee, a soft blanket, and a close friend

Happiness is driving in the rain thinking of baptism

Happiness is waking up with something new to try

Happiness is seeing the eyes of the person you love soften, as they heal

Happiness is my child, breathing, being

Happiness is reading on the porch

Happiness is the sound of green leaves rustling in a warm breeze

Happiness is finding both of my gloves in the pocket when I need them

Happiness is going to the mall to see a live broadcast of a Met opera

Happiness is having a bird study me with great concentration and curiosity

Happiness is blundering into a writing group and finding my place among the others

Happiness is seeing the very book I most want to read now, right there on a bookstore shelf, and hooray, it’s already available in paperback

Happiness is cuddling with a cat guru

Happiness is smiling because it’s good to be alive

Happiness is using a pen until all the ink is gone


Thank you to all these wonderful contributors:

Susan I
Susan K

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Happiness Is . . . . (a collective list)

This Happiness List was created during the week of April 9, in 4 different writing groups led by Zee Zahava (in the Tompkins County Public Library, The CAP ArtSpace, and in the Painted Parrot Writing Studio). Perhaps YOU will be inspired to write your own list of statements declaring what makes YOU happy!

Happiness is a big muscular hug and sloppy kiss on the cheek, unexpected, as I take out the compost

Happiness is the vibration in my body generated by a heavy purring of a cat on my chest

Happiness is the first swim in the sea in the early summer

Happiness is a room full of people dancing to my daughter’s fiddle playing

Happiness is using my last bit of energy to crest the hill on my bicycle in anticipation of coasting for miles

Happiness is watching my husband “trade hats” with the hat vendor on the street

Happiness is when the last guest leaves with marvelous memories

Happiness is a fully blossoming forsythia, the fragrance of lilacs, the delicacy of wild violets, and the blowsy, lazy beauty of peonies

Happiness is chocolate slowly melting down to the crunch of a surprise almond

Happiness is the front door opening at 5 p.m. as my beloved comes home

Happiness is the color and sweet taste of Cara Cara oranges

Happiness is when I don’t need to set my alarm clock before I go to sleep

Happiness is seeing a perfectly camouflaged squirrel only because it moved before it froze and disappeared again

Happiness is listening to a Schubert Symphony while I drive around the lake

Happiness is the smell of a clean dog

Happiness is the sight of daffodils over my dog, Minnie’s, grave — like she is still with me, saying hello

Happiness is baking a cake, without using a recipe, and it works

Happiness is finding an excellent movie to borrow from the public library

Happiness is taking off my muddy boots after a long walk

Happiness is saying “I love you”

Happiness is opening the mailbox and seeing a fat envelope from my sister

Happiness is seeing my tarragon plants sprouting through the snow that covered their pot

Happiness is having time in the morning to sit in my rocker, drink my coffee, and read a book

Happiness is feeling as though all the words I am looking for are flowing out of my pen

Happiness is getting the email notifying me that the books I requested are waiting for me at the library

Happiness is my closet full of black clothing that I imagine I’ll look stunning in (and yes, I am consumed by my appearance lately)

Happiness is being alone in my apartment, sitting on the love-seat, and talking to a trusted friend

Happiness is helping that friend through a difficult time in her life and knowing that I have done well

Happiness is when I get a surprise hug from someone I have admired and didn’t know they even knew I existed

Happiness is when I create a really delicious meal out of what I find in the fridge and the cupboards

Happiness is when I’m alone in the car and a beautiful orchestral piece comes on the radio and I can sing the parts I love best — at the top of my lungs

Happiness is an early morning email from my mother and all she sends is a string of purple heart emojis

Happiness is when I open the fridge and see so many excellent choices for dinner — all prepared by other people who cook much better than I do

Happiness is reading a murder mystery with just one really good murder in it

Happiness is the smell of fresh bread, and then the bite into a crusty loaf

Happiness is a library that used to be a Woolworths

Happiness is a modest ideal

Happiness is discovering that even burnt morning coffee can taste good

Happiness is wandering around with my camera and taking risks

Happiness is receiving a postcard, or a real letter, in the mailbox (that is otherwise full of bills)

Happiness is finally discovering what my cat was trying to tell me

Happiness is when a person asks me how I’ve been and I say, with a smile, “I’ve been great”

Happiness is having my dog rest his head in my lap

Happiness is having an argument with my lover that is so ridiculous that it ends in laughter

Happiness is a library card

Happiness is wood-stove heat in a snow storm

Happiness is waking up in a tent somewhere wild

Happiness is fresh figs

Happiness is having my love beside me when the day is done

Happiness is listening to other people tell (or read) their stories

Happiness is when you realize you’re almost finished with a job that seems to be endless

Happiness is the first spoonful of Irish Cream ice cream eaten out of the tub

Happiness is watching Cedar Waxwings get tipsy eating fermenting fruit still clinging to winter-bare branches

Happiness is feeling the smoothness of a round stone that I keep in my pocket

Happiness is waking up in a warm bed in a warm house with a roof over my head

Happiness is a group of kind and generous writers, sharing

Happiness is the first aconite blooming yellow on a dull winter hill

Happiness is people on a beach, assisting the release of rescued young seals

Happiness is kids and patience; love and compassion

Happiness is helping another human being on their journey

Happiness is kindness

Happiness is that feeling of relief when a knot in my stomach unties itself

Happiness is hugging a tree

Happiness is a heart-against-heart hug

Happiness is a shared laugh

Happiness is growing a beard

Happiness is the satisfaction of a job well done — self approval and self satisfaction

Happiness is falling into my bed and hearing my goodbye breathing

Happiness is singing with kids when they’re really into it (and grown-ups, too)

Happiness is waking up to breath

Happiness is texting old photographs to my kids, from their 7th grade album, and they both text back “cute”

Happiness is climbing into bed with something to read, after a day of much activity

Happiness is the hot wall of a sauna against my back when it is dank and chilly outside

Happiness is the endless possibilities of a week at the beach and four months to plan, and dream, and smile

Happiness is the sound of laughter from people I love, even if I don’t get the joke

Happiness is reading books to my grandchildren, one child tucked under each arm

Happiness is watching the trapped bird, now released, take flight into the evening sun

Happiness is finding a way to put it out of my mind

Happiness is stretching my legs after a long day of sitting

Happiness is the first whiff of lilacs in the spring

Happiness is being underwater and looking up at the sky

Happiness is sitting in a circle of rhythm and sound, words and harmonies, resonating souls

Happiness is the early bird songs of spring, offering promise of color and warmth to come

Happiness is walking, walking, walking, looking around, never stopping

Happiness is going away somewhere so different and exotic and then coming home

Happiness is looking forward to the next meal

Happiness is reading “Eloise” to a two-year-old and watching her concentrate so hard on the pictures

Happiness is when my favorite character survives

Happiness is when a chickadee visits the bird feeder while I’m filling it

Happiness is realizing that the great book I’m reading is part of a trilogy

Happiness is startling the woodchuck, so I can laugh at her wobbly run

Happiness is a quiet conversation with an old friend — comfortable as an old chair

Happiness is hearing a series of words put together in a fresh way, a phrase that has never before been written or spoken out loud

Happiness is taking a few minutes to be self-indulgent and self-pitying — some moments to wallow in the murky depths of bad memories and victimhood, and a sense of being put-upon — and then I snap out of it

Happiness is hearing a particularly delightful and sparkly laugh that I haven’t heard in a very long time


Thanks to all these wonderful contributors:

Barb Harrison
Barbara Anger
Barbara Kane Lewis
Christine Stockwell
Ellie Rogers
Edna Brown
Gabrielle Vehar
Heather Boob
Jean Wittman
Jerelynn Smith
Keyturah Moore
Larry Roberts
Leigh Stock
Linda Keeler
Martha Frommelt
Marty Blue Waters
Mary Louise Church
Matthew McDonald
Nancy Osborn
Richie Holtz
Rob Sullivan
Ross Haarstad
Sara Robbins
Saskya van Nouhuys
Stacey Murphy
Sue Crowley
Susan Currie
Susan Ikenze
Susan Lesser 
Susanna Drbal
Yvonne Fisher

Monday, April 9, 2018

“I” — a collective poem

This group list-poem was written on Monday, April 9, as part of the “Poetry for the People” workshop that was held at the Tompkins County Public Library. We spent our first five minutes writing individual “I poems,” and then shared 3 statements from each of our lists. Here is a collective list-poem representing the group-consciousness of that particular time and place.

I am nervous
I am holding my pen, what do I do with it?
I am curious
I have a new friend that I share my writing with
I see a new confidence in myself recently
I feel capable of creating friendships more than ever before
I love photography — exploring, experiencing, seeing anew
I want to use my skills to make change happen
I love to “philosophically joust”
I am a mother
I am a writer
I am, I have, I live, I learn
I was not supposed to live
I was supposed to be someone else
I was a false Picasso
I sing with the birds in spring
I remember my mother in April
I am an in-progress type of person
I come from people with little, who valued education
I come from Southern Baptists — showing up every time the doors were open, memorizing the alto line to every single hymn
I come from no back-talking; no disrespect; no breaking curfew; no sex, drugs, alcohol, and very little rock ’n roll
I am embracing this time of transition and not resisting anything
I bought a new sun-hat but I think it might be too big and then it will fly away in the first strong wind
I find that I have to take a nap almost every afternoon, which I never had to do before, but . . .  okay
I sing to hidden folks
I listen to coyote beneath my window
I remember my childhood
I disappear into tangles of the self
I write poetry, poetry writes me
I feel, and push against feeling
I never stop myself from dancing when I want to
I never got a strike when bowling
I never pass up a chance to read about plane crashes on Wikipedia
I like to cook
I don’t always have time to cook
I sometimes put cooking on the back burner

Thank you to all these contributors:

Barbara Harrison, Barbara Kane Lewis, Edna Brown, Keyturah Moore, Larry Roberts, Lucy, Martha Frommelt, Matthew McDonald, Richie Holtz, Ross Haarstad, Susan Ikenze, Zee Zahava

Thursday, April 5, 2018

“Odes,” by some members of the Tuesday and Thursday writing circles

On April 3 and 5, during the last few minutes of the Tuesday & Thursday Morning Writing Circles, I gave the suggestion to create an “ode” (of sorts) — simply words of praise to anything that came to mind.

Perhaps you will also be inspired to take 5 minutes and think of something, or someone, to praise. Go right ahead . . . . write it down! Share your “ode” with others if you are moved to do so.

Ode to Many Things, by Barbara Anger

Ode to the space between us.
Ode to the bottle of pills that when I shake it it says “take me, you have a headache.”
Ode to wool socks holding warm toes.
Ode to the holes in my underwear that no one sees.
Ode to the pain I keep trying to ignore.
Ode to the colors sprouting in my backyard.
Ode to the blueberries I picked last summer, the ones I stored in my freezer, the ones I eat each morning, still some left way in the back behind the frozen bread.
Ode to the cracks in the earth that hide secrets.

Ode to the Color Black, by Gabrielle Vehar

Are you wondering if this is possible? Well, of course it is. Black is chic for the house and yard, as my best friend in Cleveland says. Black is slimming. Black is elegant. Black is simple, classic, sexy. Black is what's in my closet. All black. All the time. Black hair bands, barrettes, bracelets, watches, necklaces, rings, earrings, and shoes a go-go. Black is where it's at. Black is mysterious. Black is easy to match. Black, black, black. I cannot get enough. I buy at least one black thing a week. Really. I just want to live and die in black. After all, it's appropriate for both.

Ode to Coffee, by Heather Boob

Rise up — morning —
freshly ground
deep dark brown.
Some like it black
or blond
or in between.
Drip — press — or
The song of morning
is the gurgle of
a silver pot on
the stovetop.
My heavy eyelids daydreaming of
a second cup.

Ode To Candy Necklaces, by Heidi deCoo

You live baked onto a string of such gray-white stretchiness that I fear to put you in my mouth. Your pastel rings of . . . what . . . old sugar and newsprint dust? In you go for a long suck. Then spring back out to dry on my sticky fingers.

Ode to My Bicycles, by Linda Keeler

The clunky Royce Union
That carried me slowly around Skaneateles Lake
So many years ago —
You gave me hope and inspiration.
And you, sleek black Fuji
Who wandered with me over hill and dale
Over Rocky Mountains and Swiss Alps.
The Trek, so strong and stable
Whizzed along desert paths, dirt roads, and through the bayous.
We say goodbye, with happy memories that ride with us
As we begin the new season with new bikes.
Lightweight and strong
These Giants will keep us young!

Ode to Joy, by Mary Louise Church

Joy springs forth when the day is sunny and bright
Joy bubbles up when I’m surprised by a hug from a special person I haven't see for months
Joy gushes in and covers everything else when I find I have three unclaimed days this week
Joy simmers while I prepare the delightful dish I thought of and purchased all the ingredients on my way home
Joy breaks into a grin when my youngest great-grandson, Caleb, says, "See me Ganma!"
Joy peacefully rocks me to sleep when I prayerfully count my blessings
Joy seems to be a major part of my life . . .
    And I smile frequently

Ode/Oda, by Nancy Osborn

Wow. I just realized that a piece of music I heard in Barcelona was called "Ode." "Oda" in Spanish. The piece, written and performed on an accordion by a young musician, was one of the most amazing pieces of music I've ever heard in my life. This musician could make sounds emerge from his accordion that I didn't even know an accordion could make, as the fingers of both his right and left hands flew over the buttons. At times the music sounded like a human voice, expressing some deep grief or longing. At other times the music perhaps hinted at Spanish folk music. We were the only non-Spanish people in the audience so we had no idea what the musician was explaining or saying before he started playing. If he was explaining what this ode was about we were ignorant of the meaning. But really, there was no need for words. The music had its own voice and that's all we needed to listen to. 

Ode to a Can Opener, by Rob Sullivan

As a child I knew I had arrived, when our neighbor asked me to look in on her two cats while she was away. Thoughts of ineptitude quickly evaporated as the sharp metal edge of the blue-handled can opener pierced the top of the Mixed Seafood Tasty Treat container.

Ode to Self-Pity, by Stacey Murphy

O self pity,
No one likes to claim to know you,
And certainly too much of you
Becomes cloying like a dessert that contains
Chocolate and peanut butter and caramel and marshmallow.
But just enough of you
In small doses
Numbs a heart for some moments,
Soothes like cool air on a foot reaching out from under hot bedclothes.
Says, “there, there” —
Perhaps turns us inward
Allowing some tears to finally soften
A lump in the throat
A clot of hard dry clay
Back into a heart
That can bend
And open and feel again.

Ode to Silence, by Susan Currie

This is an ode to silence which is really much rarer than it appears.
One can sit quietly and be silent in oneself, but there is always the inevitable creak of the old house settling,
or a car horn far away,
or birds singing their hearts out each spring.
Even in the middle of the darkest night, there is always some distant sound.
The deepest silence I have ever known was during a heavy snowstorm one night in winter.
The whisper of my snowshoes was momentary and when I stopped, there was, for a brief moment
Complete silence.


Ode to an Onion, Susan Lesser

The onion, a globular orb, rests without fear on the cutting board
Knowing its destiny, accepting its own sacrifice for my well-being.
As I strip off its papery brown habit the pure white flesh reveals itself.
The knife bears down, splitting the worthy onion into a pair of hemispheres.
Resting on the flat face of the half,
my knife pierces, revealing concentric semi-circles.
I needed this, my worthy vegetable.
Nothing focuses the mind better than
wielding a sharp knife, pushing it into your heart.
O onion!
(Hoping to protect my fingers along the way.)
And knowing dinner is happening.

Ode to Melancholy, by Susanna Drbal

I like the word melancholy,
Perhaps because I like the word
Bittersweet even more.
I am, these days,
dropped into a well of melancholy
whenever activity
I think I like the word
better than feeling it.
Right now it is more
Bitter than sweet.
The days past are now
crystalizing into
“the past”
instead of appearing
as a path of
footsteps in the snow
leading to now.
It’s like the footsteps
ended, a few feet back
and I am standing,
peering backwards.
There are no spaces
between here and there
to fit my feet into
and return. I am surrounded by
an expanse
of undisturbed white.
I am disconnected,
and I am yearning.
I am yearning for a
past that’s gone
and a future
never to be.
And that is bittersweet.

Ode to Hazel, by Yvonne Fisher

She is two. She just visited. She stayed at my house. How we all danced together. How she was waving her arms. How she explained to me that she was going to the Sciencenter. How she pretended that she knew what that was. How she told me after that the Sciencenter had a lot of toys that she played with. How she sat through the short, progressive version of the Haggadah at Passover. How she ate a little bit of everything. How she said after that she wished she was still eating the seder. How we danced to Jesus Christ Superstar on TV. How she sang the songs from Mr. Rogers. How she took my hand coming down the stairs. How she allowed me to catch her at the bottom of the slide in the playground. How she loved the Toddler Room in the library. How she asked “why?” all the time. How she looked up at us and listened deeply when we talked. How she hugged Goldie the dog. Oh how I miss her so much.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Playing the "Paint Chip Poetry Game," by some members of the Tuesday Morning Writing Circle

I was recently introduced to the Paint Chip Poetry Game, created by Lea Redmond — a collection of writing prompts (general phrases) as well as “color chips” that combine words and color. We’ve been experimenting with this game in the writing circles, often during the final few minutes of a session. We don’t follow any rules. Writers simply choose random cards/chips to use as a spark, then integrate those words into a short-short piece. Below you’ll see what came up on Tuesday morning, March 27, when we played the Paint Chip Poetry game for a few minutes. Some writers were inspired by many words, some by just one; each writer took off in her own creative direction.

Note: you might enjoy doing this yourself (or with friends). The game is available to buy locally, at Buffalo Street Books. It is beautifully packaged and very colorful!


It was good while it lasted, I thought, as I looked out my window for my favorite dragon. He was usually just out my nursery window in the open meadow. How many times I had to tell him to be careful of each inchworm now that spring was finally here. I was green with envy at the thought that he got to roam free under the clear skies, while I was stuck in my brushed aluminum room. Oh, it was good while it lasted, my friend.
    - Gabrielle Vehar, using these words and phrases: good while it lasted, dragon, nursery, meadow, inchworm, green with envy, clear skies, brushed aluminum 

I wish my hometown had been Ithaca.
Now we are here and this is how it will all end.
Except that my new hometown is changing, growing so quickly that it took us half an hour to drive a bit more than a mile.
And when we got past the congestion, every one of us sped up angrily.
Very un-Ithacanian.
    - Heidi DeCoo, using: I wish, my hometown, this is how it will end

I hear “I love . . .” often.
I see the heart on Facebook
   a response that seems to connote love.
The word “love” seems to be tossed around
      in a variety of places
And seems to have
      a variety of meanings.
But True Love —
      bringing peace into a hot, dry situation
      bringing life into desolation —
An olive branch in the Sahara.
    - Mary Louise Church, using true love, olive branch, Sahara

The key to happiness.
I'm sorry I heard this phrase when I was younger.
It set me on a path of looking for this key.
I kept expecting someone might pass it along to me in a confidential manner.
But alas, that never happened.
And it made me wonder.
If there is a key to happiness, what would it unlock?
The secret of how to overcome grief?
The door to the road I was meant to follow in life?
A box of treasures beyond all imagining that would provide financial security forever?
    - Nancy Osborn, using the phrase “the key to happiness”

I’ve always been a daydreamer. I can get lost in my own head remembering the past. Sunflowers send me back to British Columbia when I was 20 years old, living on a hippie homestead for American draft dodgers. One small cabin was surrounded by tall blooming sunflowers and that sight went right into my soul. Whenever I see sunflowers, I remember that adventure and smile.
    - Sara Robbins, using sunflower, daydream

High summer.
The combine moves across the field, knocking over the scarecrow,
cutting the hay, bailing it, and dropping the bails,
like turds,
behind it.
    - Saskya van Nouhuys, using scarecrow

When I was little, night was a comforting time, with the full moon illuminating my room.
When I was little, night was a scary time, with the slow waving bare branches of the sycamore making finger-like shadows on my wall.
    - Sue Norvell, using when I was little, night

Listen carefully on nights when there is a full moon.
Are there more sounds than usual or is it my imagination?
There is the long, slow growling howl of a cat fight, the muffled barking of a dog left home alone.
The bus sounds louder late at night with screeching brakes and the wind in the tall trees whooshing mysteriously.
Sometimes I think I hear voices but perhaps it is only birds waking sleepily for a moment, questioning the night.
    - Susan Currie, using listen carefully, full moon

Thursday, February 22, 2018

I Remember: The Early Years (Under 20)

This collective list was created on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, by people who dropped by Sunny Days of Ithaca, between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, to participate in an event in the Shore Yourself Up Workshop Series. Thanks to Deirdre Kurzweil for making this all happen!

Below you will find excerpts from written Memory Lists, as well as some extended memories that were shared orally.

I remember . . . .

standing in front of the mirror wearing rubber eyeballs; locking my bike outside my daycare, using my new pink lock; watching snow fall in April; sliding a note under the door for the new cats, rather than coming out myself; making peanut butter cookies (because why not?)

    The cats were named Antonio and Panther. They fought with each other. I hated that. So I locked myself in my bedroom. Mom asked “Want to come out?” I slid a note under the door: “NO!”

I remember . . . .

collecting leaves to place in my father’s casket; singing for my whole tribe; timidly attending my first political rally; eating tabouleh with no context whatsoever; an orange-lit concrete stairway on a cold night

    It was my first job, the summer after my father died. I was helping one of my teachers build a house. He offered me tabouleh for lunch and I ate it, though it seemed like such a strange thing to call “food.”

I remember . . . .

a stillness in the air, unlike anything I felt before or since

    The sky turned green, the air was still, and then it came: a tornado. It whipped up the fence and carried it away.

I remember . . . .

my first pair of eyeglasses, with red and white striped candy-cane frames — mother said I looked adorable — which was the last thing I wanted to be; having trouble telling the difference between pink and yellow; walking along the beach collecting seashells, thinking someone must have come along earlier to paint them

    It might be a cliche but when I put my new glasses on I could see the leaves on the trees, and it was a bit disorienting for a minute.

I remember . . . .

stepping on snails in the summer when we spent time at Unity House (a “labor resort” operated by the Ladies Garment Workers’ Union); thinking my mother was the nicest mother (to other people, not always to me); the snow fort created by city snow plows, at the corner of Rodney and Barringer Streets in Philadelphia; the time our dog, Cookie, tried to bite a neighbor, and tore his pants; the tension in the neighborhood, because so many of the men were angry with each other and they expressed their rage openly; playing Hide-and-Go-Seek late into the summer nights, until it got dark — 50 kids or more; the constant stream of kittens scampering down from the cemetery

    We weren’t allowed to play with the kittens, our parents thought they were diseased because they didn’t have shots. But one of the mothers took some kittens to get shots and then my mother let me keep one. Later she said no, I couldn’t keep it. I threw the kitten at Risa G. This could be a dream, but it has stuck in my memory.

I remember . . . .

jumping up and down on the bed, with my sister, the night The Beatles were on the Ed Sullivan show; feeling safe every time I walked into the school library, which was always empty except for me and the librarian; that time my father took my sister and me to a Chinese restaurant for lunch, and he fell asleep at the table, and we had to walk back to school by ourselves

    My dad ordered shrimp in lobster sauce, spare ribs, pork fried rice, chicken chow mein. My sister and I ordered egg rolls. We didn’t eat the vegetables that were stuffed inside the rolls, we only ate the outside of the rolls. We loved anything that was fried.

I remember . . . .

blanket saddles, clothesline stirrups, jump rope reins — we rode off on our porch-rail horses, for many exciting adventures; the divine scent of Grandma’s homemade bread; my momma’s tears when I cut off both of my front ringlets; taking long walks across the three knolls to find wild flowers in the woods — then the wild dash home to get them into water before they wilted

    I had to stand still for such a long time while my mother fussed over me and pinned my hair into corkscrew curls. I was mortified by those sissy corkscrews. I wanted two thick braids like my sister had. So I cut off the front two curls. But then I was mortified that I made my mother cry because of what I had done.

I remember . . . .

living all my years, under the age of 20, in the same house I was born in; having a horse named Horse, and a dog named Pup, and all the cats who didn’t get stepped on by Horse were named Kitty

I remember . . . .

the old British couple who lived next door to us when we vacationed in Maine, and the ocean was our backyard

    Every day at 3 o’clock they served gin & tonic. Then they had clams and lobster for dinner.

I remember . . . .

collecting bottle-caps, coins, baseball cards; dancing to “Boy Bands” alone in my room; knowing my own Little League baseball statistics; going to see NSYNC in concert, in Hershey, Pennsylvania; figuring things out for myself

I remember . . . .

raindrops hitting my face through the open window as my mother drove us to Bolton’s Donut Shop; a mecca full of books, chosen for color and myth, hand-picked by D. G. at the Corner Bookstore; listening to stories while sitting inside the colorful castle, in our public library at Titus Flats

I remember . . . .

waking up very early and going outside to watch the sun rise; the pleasure of having alone time with my mother (I was one of 5 kids); the peaceful times spent in the cool basement when it was hot hot hot above ground; coming home from school one day and seeing my mother watching TV while she ironed — it was the Army-McCarthy Hearings; my kindergarten teacher also taught all my siblings . . . and my father!

    I was given a special gift after I had my tonsils taken out: a Ginny doll. My mother made doll clothes for Ginny, out of ribbons.

    My godmother did laundry for a living. It was an honor when she asked me to help her iron handkerchiefs: precision was very important.

I remember . . . .

my mother passed away when I was 16 years old; there were little kids and big kids on our block — I was a little kid until one day I was a big kid; we had a willow tree in our front yard, my mother climbed up once, and another time my brother fell out of the tree and broke his arm; we played kickball in the street, with my ball, and I would take it home if people fought; visiting my grandparents for Monday night dinners and always bringing home a big box of leftovers for the week

I remember . . . .

my mother always said there were no calories in a broken cookie, so she’d throw bags of cookies on the floor and stomp on them

THANK YOU to all these contributors:

Barbara Kane Lewis
Barbara Regenspan
Carolyn Clark
Clara Weber
Deirdre Kurzweil
Jules Hojnowski
Mary Louise Church
Matthew McDonald
Patti Meyers
Susan Koon
Timothy Weber
Zee Zahava