Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Curiosities of Aging

I thank you for still reading my blog...I'm very appreciative and quite surprised. Tonight I decided that instead of sitting here, cold, at my dog sleeping on my lap to warm us both, I would read blogs and that's been good.

Night isn't something I like and the fact that it starts at 4:30 is seriously worse. And it's cold. And I'm surprised to be a person who puts plastic on the windows and tries to conserve heat. In the morning it's 55. My bedroom has no radiator. I open the door at night so the heat from the rest of the apartment comes in after having lowered it to the night range.

(The daughter my mother had planned to raise before she died too early would not have to put plastic on the windows. Why does this still matter to the person I've become? Class, economics, one's station in the world, having a PhD against not even having a Master's or knowing whether an apostrophe should be put in there. So interesting, issues of class and social/economic standing in a country which seems to pretend there are no serious class differences....)

And if I come back here in late in the day and have had the heat down to 55, it's cold. And it takes too long to warm up. And I waste the evening. I am quite sure that I can afford to have the heat on more and higher. But there was a strange transition when I bought a little two family house and moved from apartments so hot that I had to have the windows open in winter to a place where I was paying for my own heat and managing all the upkeep. And I notice that everyone I talk to who lives in this little, poor (as in economics) city tries not to start using heat early...and keeps it low... I've bought into this pattern. And damn, oil is expensive!

Recently the fellow who acted as the grounds keeper at our community garden told me that he'd decided I was a bit senile ... because I went to a garden meeting on the wrong day. But then he saw my website and  realized that I'm not. I found that extremely funny....

(But it's time to make a laminated card stating the fact that I've never remembered more than five phone numbers at a time, even when I was seventeen, and that I've never, never been able to remember a list of unassociated words. Just tell me a story and see if I can repeat the gist of it in ten minutes.)

And then I had lunch with a friend who I haven't seen in, maybe, thirty years, as in seen to sit and talk and have lunch and get reacquainted with and she said I look terrible! I'd thought I'd finally come into my own with a pleasantly worn, forlorn face (no longer puffed with prednisone so the scars and lines show again) and with interestingly straggly hair. My  hair makes me look like a witch,, she said...    (LET ME BE CLEAR THAT I  DID NOT MIND THIS COMMENT ONE BIT.  IT WAS INTERESTING TO HEAR WHAT SOMEONE REALLY THINKS. I LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING HER AGAIN, TO CREATING A REAL FRIENDSHIP...A RENEWAL...)

A quilter I interviewed last Friday was one of the two who started the group around 1989. She has a fast smile, a gravely voice and is perfectly gorgeous, tiny and wrinkled, with beautiful fingers that are delicate and graceful. She's legally blind now, macular degeneration that's progressed until she can only see contrasts and large shapes. When she met me, she leaned down, inches away from my face, but then navigated easily through the room where I interviewed her. She's full of life and, but for this little detail of the eye sight problem, ready to go, happy to have lived in a high rise here in Chelsea for thirty years where her neighbor, a newcomer of twenty years, drops in to ask whether she needs this or that. After starting out making shoes, she worked as a stitcher (for a while she sewed motor cycle jackets, but also purses, shirts, slacks, dresses, you name it), a job she really enjoyed because of the other women working there. (It would be terrible to work all your life at a job you didn't like, she told me.) Briefly she worked in salons, but that involved wearing fancier clothes and taking on airs, so she went back to stitching. Unfortunately, she's given up the quilt group and was only there for the holiday lunch.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How many lasts are there?

Usually I end the blog by apologizing that I haven't been reading blogs for the last many, many months, much less writing on mine. This time I'm starting this that way for anyone who is still reading what I say...thank you...

I do think about lasts. Was this the last class I will ever teach? When will I buy my last car? Is there another dog in the future or is it too late? When I'm really in bad shape, I think of last hours or last minutes and which is followed quickly by regretting all the time I haven't valued...

But I'm not really in bad shape now...even if it's the season for me to be in bad shape.

The photo was taken by John who was using my camera on the last Tuesday class. I honestly can't imagine how fast this fourteen weeks has gone and was caught entirely by surprise this week. It's as if time is speeding up, but then everyone said that. It was quite a group, such interesting work. I've been trying to write a bit about teaching -- like the student at MIT who was fretting over whether his print should be mounted a sixteenth of an inch this way or that way and asked me so many times that I finally said, "What does it matter in terms of eternity?" and he said, "That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said." (meaning I think, anyone who was teaching him, but it also could have been about all the people who were pushing him.

John, who took the photo, happened to say just what I think during class -- don't think about all that stuff, the perfect division of thirds...(I can't remember the other rules he mentioned because I've never read them...) He was emphasizing the intensity of interesting images, odd, oblique, not carefully fashioned. He also likes to make zines and give them to friends.    

He mentioned a book project I taught as a way of starting a number of classes with because no one does any work during those first two weeks -- a one page fold-book that involves one cut and five folds. I actually found the book he'd made during that class and meant to show it to this group, but I never did.

I used to make Xerox books and send them to friends...just pages folded horizontally or vertically and bound with a pamphlet stitch. That was in the olden days when cutting and pasting were necessary.

Now it's  easy to combine words and images and then print digitally with double sided heavy matte Epson paper and have the whole thing spiral bound...we used to dry mount the photographs together to create the back-to-back pages.

I wonder when I will make my last book. I made two this semester, small accordions, one with drawings of scrabbly nude ladies and the other with a photo, both with writing. But I haven't put the covers on.      

Once I submitted poems to a fellow in San Francisco who made them into the tiniest books possible which he left around, here and there. I was so delighted when he used one of mine and send me a tiny packet of other books he'd published.

But back to the class...the student from China who had taken classes in critical thinking and is putting what he learned to good use. He's leaving for Philadelphia where he'll get a scholarship and a better education. Imagine being here, all on his own, absorbing such a different way of viewing the world.      And the musician who is a scrub nurse who worked diligently on a project, self-motivated, entirely internally directed, all semester. Just what I approve of. And the woman who came into class thinking she couldn't take photographs. And the guy who had been in the army in Kosovo. The two young women who went well beyond their comfort zones on the second projects -- always important in my way of thinking, far more important than accomplishing something that a student already knew how to do. Someone said she felt privileged seeing all the work that had come together. So did I.

The class was meaningful. A punctuation of my week. One I hadn't expected to teach. But I was preoccupied with proving that I've fully recovered and can do my own work...the show of garden photographs, then a video about a garden party in early September. Recently it's been a video about group called Youth Build  -- giving seventeen to twenty-four-olds a chance to graduate from high school with a week in classes alternated with a week doing construction work for low income projects. My video isn't finished, but I have a rough cut.  While I'm waiting, I started another about a small  group of women who have been making quilts at the Senior Citizen Center since 1989. They are quite precious and are carriers of a great deal of Chelsea history, including one story of making sections of armaments in WWII.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

This is thanksgiving...

Yesterday I phoned a friend. I'd forgotten her birthday even though I bought the present in the summer, thinking that I'd finally do what she does -- pick something up when I see it, not wait until it's needed. But even with the paper bag sitting on a shelf, I forgot to wrap and mail it. (Why is wrapping a package so time consuming? So easy to forget about?) 

What, as we joked, is time? It's hard to accept that I can't walk back into that tenement on 5th Street, next to the bodega, upstairs and into that large, roach infested, rent-controlled apartment where Krissy would still be a kid and I'd be scrabbling to raise her. Why is that gone when it's so clear in my mind? 

How, as my friend said, could the 20th century be over? Why is it 2010? November? It moves fast and we are, as we both said, lucky to be here -- alive.  

Though I have a couple of older women friends who have great prestige and financial assets, that wasn't expected of my generation. I keep forgetting that fact when I compare myself and come up wanting. Suggestions for career choices weren't easily available, the skills needed for advancement weren't easily discovered, the role models were men and there was a considerable stigma against women in various fields. In 1974, I was the first woman to teach in the photo department at MIT, a dubious distinction that I hardly was equipped to handle.

She and I have done well considering where we started in New York, the late sixties and early seventies. I relentlessly imagine that the childhood experiences that have haunted me is a reason for what I consider to be my short comings Her early life was more stable, but then again, she's always been more practical, detail oriented, an enormously hard worker. Whatever way you slice it, we've both taken similar paths and ended up in similar circumstances -- retired! Her university demanded far more committee work than mine did for studio faculty, so I always thought she worked far harder, longer hours, more reports. I imagine she enjoys retirement more than I do. My job wasn't nearly as stressful so I'm actually sorry that I retired. Maybe I worry more about money than she does. Or maybe we worry about different things. 

We laughed a lot, answering the same questions we always ask each other. Have you made a big pot of soup yet? (I left my soup pot at a 4th of July gathering two years ago and still haven't retrieved it or bought one. Her's is pretty well worn down and she needs to buy a new one. It's been warm, so she hasn't started her winter food plan. I have, though mine is a crock pot full of sweet potatoes and butternut squash. She's never used a crock pot.) Are you doing your exercises? (She is. I'm not. ) How are the kids? (Blah and blah and blah.) 

I was dry-running a pumpkin pie and she was cooking cranberries, the only time we'd both be caught in the kitchen, Thanksgiving. It was enormously comforting to have this long talk while my pie baked -- almost half an hour longer than the recipe called for. Is there something wrong with my stove? Was it because the pie crust was store bought and frozen? Should I have baked it first? I almost called her back to ask advice, since she's a better cook than I am. But I didn't.

 happy thanksgiving...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

That was last week

and hopefully it's over! 
This image is my attempt to capture the soul of a cat whose only desire is to be loved. I was visiting a friend in Maine who had just had her third operation in the last year, a hip replacement,  and needs one more on her knee. Even with that level of pain and using a walker, she still walked faster than I do, though I could have covered more ground.
It was a great pleasure to give her husband a day off so he could do work in the woods and to hang around with her and this cat.
Since I came back, I'm trying to walk more, having again learned that lesson about how important daily exercise is. I joined a local ten dollar gym last month and haven't walked on the treadmill once. I think about going there almost every day, but...

So, I managed that visit nicely, even though I'm not a good traveler. (I got driven up, picked up, what's the fuss, body?)
But for some reason, my body decided to hate me last week starting Tuesday morning and not letting up until Thursday morning (after much Tylenol which usually doesn't work all that well.)
I taught on Tuesday....not too easy since I felt squished. And then on Wednesday, walked with Margaret (who has lived just two blocks away for all these years -- what an asset she would have been since she's marvelously connected with interesting things going on in Chelsea. And, after my first attempt to connect myself, I gave up and just used my tiny two-family as a place to drive away from and back to. At any rate, I've finally met her and am, therefore, more connected to the garden community) to Chelsea Cable TV where we were supposed to talk for five minutes on an English/Spanish program -- about the garden show at the Gallery at the Chelsea City Cafe.
For some reason I don't understand, I couldn't think of a thing to say when the first question was addressed to me. All I could do was turn my head to Margaret, look pathetic and wait until she answered.
I imagined that I can carry anything off, even being on a local TV, something I've not done before, but what the hell happened? How hard could that be?
Why did words allude me?
I sat there and held up photographs.

 After that we walked to Dunkin' Donuts....where I begged (asked, but it felt like begging since I couldn't imagine getting to our next appointment at the Senior Citizen Center a block away) her to carry my bag (hardly that heavy, though I felt it weighed sixty pounds) and she told me about a group that has met at the Center for twenty years, making quilts. These women are getting pretty old, but still meeting faithfully once a week.

Of course I had recovered momentarily, had enough energy to ask the Center Director if I might do a video about that quilt making group. We were there to talk about a garden project starting in May which would involved a small group of seniors if the grant that Margaret spent so much time writing a few weeks ago. It would be a good project, building more high beds in the garden and providing transportation for a group of seniors to shared those spaces. I would do videos (small shows for the Chelsea Cable TV) and photograph them over the season....
 But I didn't get much better until Thursday morning, in time for my appointment with my marvelous dental hygienist to talk about what's to be done with one seriously problematic tooth (there are two others that need new crowns, only a few thousand dollars) that will cost between 5 and 7 thousand. We're laughing (though I was hardly in a mood to laugh) because I mentioned taking photographs through whatever ghastly process has to be done...and as soon as I said that, I reminded myself that I wasn't taking photographs of that easy water-pic procedure.

So, this is an instance of photography making me laugh....

I like Lyn a lot, but I HATE TEETH. I hate how much mine have cost over the years, how much trouble they've been, how uneven and homely they are. Oh, I wish florid (spelling?) had been invented earlier...much as I hate the thought of adding even more chemicals to the environment.
 Friday I visited my friends Warren and L. (I use L because she's far more private than I am and would probably hate to be paraded around in my blog, much as I have adored her as my ONLY friend here in Chelsea. We met in a taxi fifteen or sixteen years ago -- riding to the airport where I was, with great trepidation, anxiety and Valium, going to visit my daughter in L.A. and she was pulling one of her great pranks by having a ticket in her bag, even though she was ostensibly only seeing her daughter off.

Warren was my book supplier while I was on the island of bed for so long. I almost never read anything except the New Yorker, but for whatever reasons, I was capable of reading, having been slowed down enough to accept that as an interesting option to doing nothing.

Warren sheepishly handed me a tiny piece of paper which I have unfortunately lost so I can't quote neat pencil script, he'd written the difference between muscular and mussels... not having wanted to correct me on my blog...

I hereby give him permission to write corrections~~

Oh, man, am I aware of my spelling problems. I've often had to think of a different way of expressing an idea when I ran into a serious spelling mystery.  I am minimally dyslexic, but hardly enough to cause problems and I know my spelling is atrocious. (Is it allude or illude?)
I've been photographing's the view from Warren's office on the third floor of their house.

So, that week's over!
And yesterday, Monday, I actually felt good, like a real person.
With fibromyalgia, that's unusual.
I usually feel good enough, not so rotten that I have to ask someone to carry my purse, but good enough. Not as if my body has declared major hatred on me.
I'm glad that week's over.
And that I'm back to blogging.
I assume that I will soon get back to reading blogs.
In the meantime, my apologies.

The only problem I anticipate now is the gloom that overtakes me starting on Thanksgiving. It attacks my half-brother, also, even though he essentially had an entirely different childhood since he's sixteen years older. I have to call him today or tomorrow so we can briefly commiserate before Thursday.
So, my sympathies are with those of you who get the holiday horrors.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


On Tuesday a student brought in some remarkable/beautiful/surprising new images....double exposures, black and white, printed well on good digital paper, square photos with a narrow black matte. I certainly expected that his work would be good, but these were gorgeous, haunting, mysterious. He'd had a hard time getting going and here it is, past the mid-semester point, and here are all these photographs.
It as only after I asked other students to come over and look at them, and they began asking questions that I put the technique together or rather it was handed to me on a plate. He'd said they were taken with his I-phone, only I hadn't noted the I part. And I knew that they were double exposures. But I had absolutely no idea what was giving them such a mysterious quality until someone asked whether there was an app for the technique -- there is. Two photographs are melded together, so after taking the first, he carefully considers the second, takes it, clicks something and the images overlap. Obviously there's a lot of thought put into the taking of them.

What was a complete surprise, though, is that there is another app for the mysterious quality.....and it's called a pinhole app. This doesn't negate the beauty and significance and sureness of his images, but it really puts a point on what used to be done with an oatmeal box, a pinhole and a piece of photographic paper that acted as a negative.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Garden

This is the photograph that Madelaine and Muna thought most expresses the idea of a community garden. I hadn't thought about that, because I don't tend to recognize metaphor (what a dope I am), but they are right. The brick and fencing are symbolic of the garden, and also all the tiny, chain-link fenced yards around so many of the small houses. I narrowly escaped having one by choosing wood -- not a good choice since the slats get broken and once graffiti was sprayed on it. 

I do like this bottle gourd, one of many that Evelyn grew. I was surprised about the richness provided by these few vines and the one with gourds shaped like bottles that grew on the fence.
 I think Madelaine understood that I think these photographs are serviceable, that I'm glad I printed them all and that they've been shown at the Chelsea City Cafe, that the opening and fuss around them brought more applications from prospective gardeners, but that I don't particularly care much about them. They aren't my work, not anything I take with the deadly, unapproving seriousness with which I regard 'my' work. We stood talking at the non-opening (the real one was a month ago) last Saturday.

The images do record a season at the garden and were a fine vehicle for connecting me to an interesting group of people. And I'll do it again next year, because I can do it more easily than most people could. Part of my skill set. And I'll add work at the Senior Center. And make more videos. This has gotten me back into the community work that I wanted to do when I moved to Chelsea in 1985. The long project that I did then, interviews and photographs of a representative, I thought, group of residents in this very small, very poor city (7 and 1/2 people per dwelling, highest rate of occupancy in the Commonwealth), wasn't really shown because there was no place to show it and I regretted that. Just as I'm glad that this one had some real use. It seems odd, difficult, that I'm now 71, just starting to do the community work that I had wanted to do thirty years ago...and there is so  much potential for recording things I'm curious about now -- why folks landed in Chelsea.

It doesn't mean that I didn't work hard to print and frame (however cheaply) this work. That's natural. But I have no desire to add them to my endless store of stuff...........

When I moved here, there was no where to show photographs. Not at the library, not in City Hall. Most of the set I took, sometime in the mid-eighties, ended up at an outreach of Bunker Hill Community College and I forgot about them. Years later when I phoned, hoping to retrieve them (they were decent silver prints, nicely framed), I was told they were no where to be found.

Now there are two galleries in Chelsea, though the hours that they are open are limited. And there is a gallery at the Chelsea City Cafe, just a few blocks away from where I live. Josh puts up shows every month or so. Chuck runs the eatery. And we had a remarkable opening there. Lots of gardeners, friends of gardeners and children. It was the best opening that I could have imagined and I hardly had to talk to anyone. Margaret, a woman who lives just blocks away, who I should have met twenty years ago so I could ride on her coat tails and get connected, who did a lot of the detail work for the show and publicity, was a grand hostess, making introductions and spreading graciousness.
 My favorite photograph, I have to admit, one of the four or five that I actually like, is of Nesa who will be the garden overseer next season. She's from Bosnia. And she came from a farm, growing all the family food. No one works harder than she does, even though the doctors don't want her to be on her feet for more than four hours a day. "Next year," she'd say. She says that for everything. And she laughs. She's had a lot of tragedy in her life. And suffers from it. And she tries to joke and laugh as much as possible. Sometimes she yells back at Joe, who has been the overseer this year. They both shout at each other, laugh, and smoke like demons.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Today involved fighting with the computer -- to upload files in the order I would like them, to pay for submitting a non-fiction piece. This glorious dog, who I met after I had coffee with Morris, was supposed to be the last entry, but perhaps his bravery has earned him first place. He's tottering onward, as best he can, still capable of bringing happiness to those who have been fortunate to have had his company for many years.

 Three of us met for drinks, supposedly, in the decadent and extremely expensive hotel which was made from the Charles Street jail. Mim had read her poetry there a few weeks ago and we'd decided to go back and see what it was like -- on the night before Halloween. The waitresses had to pay for their costumes, something our waitress said didn't bother her since it wasn't expensive, but certainly bothered me. It turns out that the thought of a cocktail, something I haven't had in five or six years, deserted me at the last moment and I had a glass of water as we ate muscles and talked.
There is something ultimately repellant about the place, even though there is a good deal of information on the walls about the award winning conversion of the space. The rooms, Mim said, are $400 a night. Many features of the jail remain, including various doors with bars in the Clink, the cafe that was expecting a big business of young costumed people. The bathroom, where I took my self-portrait, has exposed brick and cement which might or might not be from the original building. The 'yard' has illuminated seating nicely situated on paving stone. When I was there a month ago, the place reminded me of the last days of the Weimar Republic, a strange disconnect from contemporary life and certainly from the past function of the building.

Mim and I took different subways, but I could look across the track and watch her walk along. After her train came, Charlie Chaplin sat on a bench opposite me until mine arrived.

Yesterday I got the chance to video tape someone who had been in that jail, but that experience was just a drop in the bucket to all that happened to him during those rough years. He talked for three hours without drawing breath and would have continued if I hadn't gotten hungry. I can't wait to work with this material and am so grateful for his generosity in talking with me.

I'm feeling vulnerable. For the first time I understood what it means when knees buckle. Mine did last week when I was in Target and I had to hold on to a counter. A nice young woman brought me water. And I recovered, though a residual anxiety remains. I'd asked the doctor when I saw him a month or two ago about why I felt so speedy, but he didn't know. Perhaps I'm just gearing up again, surprised at myself and moving a bit too fast. Hopefully that's the reason, though I don't see how it can explain the feeling of being close to fainting which comes with the thought, "Oh, you're going to faint. That would be awkward."

It's cold and I have to put plastic on the windows. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Yesterday I sat around with Morris at Au Bon Pain and found at least some words because of his comforting presence. It's always wonderful to talk to a friend, a talk that dissolves into watching. By leaning against the wall, he faced a man who appeared ancient, as pared down as possible, pale face, white beard, worn clothes, who had a tray of food when we sat down and was reading the New York Post by the time we left. It was impossible not to think of him as a character in an Isaac Bachevis (spellling?) Singer story, a wraith of a fellow who might have spent his youth praying. He wore two gold rings on his left hand, and rarely looked up. "He's turned into himself," Morris said. We both longed to know his story.

But the point of this blog is that Morris and Elaine's son is a movement artist, if that's the correct title, and involved in performance and well as in studies and his fiance has her degree in movement therapy. And Morris and I started talking about related topics which brought me to telling him of a blog that the Cuban in London had written about going to a ballet when he was quite a young man, hardly dressed in the manner of the rest of the audience, and hardly possessing the same color skin. The point of it was how he felt as an outsider (an idea that could take me in another interesting direction entirely) and the importance of being at this performance and the way it connects to his view of dance and the body. Now, the Cuban was far more eloquent about this than I'm conveying, but what I gained from reading were a rush of thoughts about my own relationship to dance and the failure it had to thrive, perhaps a cultural failure, but never-the-less a failure.

My mother was the force behind my interpretive dancing lessons taken with Miss Ingalls in a second floor studio she rented on Main Street, perhaps near Jimmy Gureci's Meat Market, where we fluttered around like butterflies holding parachute silk scarves she'd tie died, clambering like bears, hopping like frogs and dancing freely to Satie. My mother would never have permitted me to take ballet lessons, though I must have wanted the strict form, a teacher who told us what to do and scolded us if we didn't do it right, the desirable black leotards (instead of blue) and, holy of holies, toe shoes. We danced barefooted or wore soft brown dance shoes with elastic. I wanted, at the very least, soft black ballet slippers.

But my mother had her ideas, one of which was not using coloring books because they confined you in the lines. Perhaps she didn't think that, but it's what I imagine. No comic books, no Sunday funnies, no Saturday afternoon movies with the other kids and Miss Ingalls Interpretive Dance based, loosely, on Isadora Duncan. (Years later I worked at Abromovitz, Brienes and Cutter (are those names spelled correctly?) in the Corning Glass building, in a windowless room, with a group of architect planners, Bernie and Arthur, and a young Frenchman, Jean Pierre, who designed the models, tiny trees, wee pedestrians, cardboard buildings. He was the nephew of Isadora and Menalcus Duncan and he, Jean Pierre, had been so poor that he always kept a twenty-pound bag of rice around in case his fortunes decreased again. He alsos grew vines from the tops of sweat potatoes. They festooned the columns and supportive strings.)

After she did, subdued hell broke lose in what was left of my family, but eventually I did, sometime in high school, go back to classes (Thursday) with Miss Ingalls. She was horrified when she came to watch a modern dance performance in which I was a sinner (red, sleek leotard like costume) in a saints and sinners something or other that I can hardly imagine. All I remember is a glimpse of that red satin. (I'm still a person who wishes she had a gold tooth and wore spangles instead of turtle necks.)

The upshot of all this is that when I was too sick with ulcerative colitis to start college, and had to move to that one-room studio on Charles Street in the Village with my father who thought he was finally free (both of his second wife and me), I taught dance with her, Ruth Ingalls, on 57th St. By taught, I mean that she paid me a bit and I performed sometimes or demonstrated. The most interesting, important feeling was that the arms rise from lifting the back, pulling up the rib cage and stretching. It was quite a wonderful feeling and I never imagined that I'd entirely lose that lift. "Breathe," she would say because I was already holding my breath, waiting for the next catastrophe to fall. That particular version was the 12-year-older Italian man who I'd run to in order to avoid living with my father who was still often sleeping in the bathtub, the only door that closed in his place. And the Italian had to go the dance classes with me, to watch me. He was small and wirery and had the hardest time stretching even the tiniest bit.

Let's gloss over the rest and finally get me to the first year of college and all the following mishaps. I could have studied with Jean Erdman at Bard, but for some reason I wanted to major in literature and to write. I passed over the possibility of taking her classes entirely (modern dance, pshaw) and took sculpture with Harvey Fite, instead. And other stuff like creative writing which I was no good at. And then blah, and blah, pregnancy, abortion, quitting school, getting married, leaving him, and no concern at all for dancing.

Except when my daughter was born so was the love of watching her run and leap, listening to her stories,  dance classes at Henry Street Settlement, etc. Some time in here I took a few Tai Chi classes with Ed Young who also illustrated (present tense probably included) childrens' books. And more importantly,  for a while there, I somehow found myself in a company of odd dancers who were free form performers....but I was extremely sick, the result of a long ulcerative colitis attack, and missed the performance I wanted to be so much a part of.

In all that time, except for that brief excursion with this tiny mad company, I did nothing physical except walk. I did like to walk. My back hurt so I stopped wearing clogs which I'd liked to wear. But I still walked.

And time passed, and the gods moved me to Brookline when Krissy was nine, and to another set of problems that moved Krissy along, year by year, until I did take some yoga classes....and then, relatively recently, Chi Gong, and Tai Chi (except that the man I was living with made fun of me every time I started to practice, so I never, ever settled in to knowing the form that I spent so much time and money learning.)

I never understood that my fatigue and aching muscles were from fibromyalgia. They seemed like the product of ordinary neurosis and a life not well lived. And I had long been concerned only with the head, a lesson mis-learned from my father who actually did keep swimming and walking well into his dotage, never gained weight and always seemed comfortable in his body.

I have never been comfortable in mine. I thought I was a head, eyes, detached from the rest of me which is why, I'm sure, I'm seventy-one and truly bending forward, uncomfortable with various aches. And I'm not sure that many white middle-class women of my age were or are. We weren't programmed to achieve or become professionals, nor were we programmed to be relaxed, fit and pliable.

But it's more than that. I was not part of a group, a culture if you will, where the body, as a tool, element of movement, music, was integrated. I can hardly imagine Auntie Marion dancing in the kitchen, much as she loved Balanchine. Dance was to watch in high priced seats, performers at the top of their skills, Maria Tall Chief among them.

These thoughts have been rattling around since I read the Cuban's blog. They were more articulate when I was driving back from visiting with Morris, but I didn't catch them last night, so this is the best I can do before they submerge again.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wind and Recovery

Maybe I learned to like weather, wind, heavy rain, storms, from my father. I'm not overly fond of sun, but I do like weather.

When I lived in New York, and even up here in Brookline, I rarely noticed clouds. But now I'm fascinated by them. An they've been quite remarkable lately.

I'm not quite sure why I'm in the midst of this garden show project. Perhaps because I'm able to do it and I wasn't able to do anything for so long. Perhaps I'm exercising, proving that I can function. Building up muscle tone by a quite easy project, a bit expensive, but no details that I have to worry about overly.

I don't consider it 'my' work, a concept that no one will understand who isn't a photographer or a writer. It's a bit like writing a prologue for someone's play, but it's illustrating the seasons of the local community garden and the folks who worked there. And I'm quite fond of a few of the images and I'm half way through putting them in cheap frames from Michaels. The prints are decent, archival, and I'm decorating some of them by writing that no one can read because it's sideways and my handwriting is so risky.

Here's the text that David Rudolph provided...
Ahh the bounty!!! In the shared space of the Community Garden I've learned how to grow from the attention defiity disordered, the control freaks, and thte cool, calm, and disfunctional. Watching worms mate was inspirational, and getting obsessive about collecting every arugala seed pod possible was revealing Christians, jews, hindi, muslims, scientologiests, atheists and agnostics have all shared work in the budding of the community garden this devine summer.

Pretty, damn good text. I wish that I didn't have such a mundane nature. But that is what happened, all curious energy...remarkable...

(In trying to put the blogs I follow on to my first page, I didn't succeed and Ilost my much for an attempt at progress.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


This is the second time I've written a long, long, irreplaceable entry on Tuesday Poem instead of in my blog. Here is the attempt at replacement....

Perhaps he had phoned or just turned up at the door, a black artist, a musician, who wanted to talk except that I hardly knew any of the jazz groups he was talking about and couldn't remember the names of those I knew (except Archie Shepp, lithe and summery, darker than the dream fellow, New York, all those years ago, but I didn't mention him) and so he got bored of talking to an audience who didn't understand his references and besides he really wanted to go to bed with me, but I had no interest in that so I followed him, a long walk in the city, that led to his place, a house where he must have been squatting, no electricity, but an upholstered chair in the living room, windows all around, and his friend who seemed crazy, a young, large white man, and then lots of other guys, who were drugged or crazy and all white, like everyone was using the place as a crash pad so I asked to leave and as we went up the driveway, a man, white, was walking two black dogs, rather large, like English setters, but the wrong color and we knew something was wrong with him, a dangerous look in his perhaps blue eyes, so I went ahead and took shelter up stairs and on a front porch with three older men, perhaps even old, who had to be homeless, all that flesh and baggy clothes, not any interest in protecting me, but I hid between them until a small, brown dog that had been unleashed rushed at me and I grabbed the scruff of his neck and he dangled and snarled and at one point got his teeth into my wrist, but he unlatched and I held him away from me and then, somehow, I was in a room and a woman was walking in the door, looking for the dog her friend, an old lady, had lost, a dog that looked just like the dog I was holding, almost in her face, so I had to quickly make up a name for it, pretending I'd had him/it a long time, my dog, and then I was outside and holding another dog, too, also small and snarling and lighter brown, also by the nap of the neck, wondering if and where I could throw them so that I could get away and then throwing the newer menace onto very lush green grass in a park, sure that he'd come back to attack me, but instead he ran after a small, fluffy, beige dog dragging the leash, and now I had only the first dog to toss away, in a strange area that seemed almost like gray lava, hillocky and dippy with what I hoped was a muddy pond that would mire him down so I could run away as fast as I could which I did as soon as I hurled him, but I am slow, I told the musician who was much faster at escaping, I am too slow and worried that I'm not fast enough since the stone is pitted and difficult to climb, but I do and find stairs leading up to what might be a church with a side door that opens from the top down so that it lies flat at my feet, revealing two other doors that are open so I enter this huge room, high ceilings that I'm sure belongs to a monk who writes at the somber, wide table with a quill pen on it and a set of folded papers that have, I think, drawings on them which I look at briefly as I try to find paper so that I can leave a note, briefly considering whether I should write a prayer, but I don't believe so that's impossible, besides there's no scrap paper only a bed which appears like a gray wool low rectangular tent that I peer into and find a matte, double bed size, half of which is a dog bed, but now lights go on in the other room and I walk to the door and peer in while the artist, musician, crouches by the door behind me, and see three women who must have come back from shopping because they are putting bags on the wood counter in this crowded kitchen. Two are older with gray and yellow and white hair and the other is taller and a bit younger, also with white and yellow hair, short and wispy as was theirs, and I ask for help and they explain that they are artists, but I'm not sure what type because only the younger, taller one says that she is a sculptor because she is so pathetic. I follow them back into the large, dark wood paneled room and watch as one spills miniature replicas of food on a round table and suggests that they have a pretend tea party but I tell them that I've just seen an exhibit or a store front display of curious replicas of everyday homey objects and am trying to tell them about how they might make them -- clay -- when the younger, tall woman repeats that she is a sculptor and is pathetic and the others tsk, tsk, her for a self deprecating remark, as they had done when she said this before, and the alarm clock rings because it is 5:30 and I'm supposed to take Tulip to the groomer by 7.

I am relieved to be away, but exhausted.
It's only after I've written this dream in the Tuesday Poem that I am curious about what would have happened and certain that it explains how I've been feeling for the last three weeks -- speeded up, worried, whirling.

Except that all that work was wasted
and Tulip's groomer had called in sick so she has an appointment tomorrow, but it's for 10 o'clock.


This is the second time I've written a long, long, irreplaceable entry on Tuesday Poem instead of in my blog. Here is the attempt at replacement....

Perhaps he had phoned or just turned up at the door, a black artist, a musician, who wanted to talk except that I hardly knew any of the jazz bands he was talking about and couldn't remember the names of who I knew (I remembered Archie Shepp, lithe,

Friday, September 17, 2010

Being Well Means

Being well means working all day at the computer until the ink in the archival printer runs out and then driving out to buy more (they had yellow, cyan, red, but no blue) and then on to M's opening at 5:30 in what I assumed was Arsenal Mall in Watertown without remembering that I could have borrowed the GPS or looking the address up in Google (I hate maps), thinking I remembered how to get there, getting lost and then stopping at IHOP to ask the directions, rain, rain on and off, and then finding Home Depot, etc., driving around the Mall, never finding the gallery, heading back, rain, rain on and off, and stopping at McDonalds (Oh, weakness) for a chicken snack and a dollar sundae (poisonous additives).

Bad for me, but good for Monica, she's already left Suffolk and must be in Kentucky by now, starting yet another chapter in her life. I only saw her ten or fifteen times and I'm sorry about that.

Now I'm able to take Bogie for a walk with Karl and Rosie.

Many thanks for the comments on the poem about Lee Miller. I was visiting my friend Sally who was then a scholar at the Getty and saw the Lee Miller show. Needless-to-say, I was transfixed by the inappropriateness of this image, positioned near photographs that she'd taken during the war and off the camps.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday Poem, Lee Miller, Hitler's Personal Residence, 1945, by Melissa Shook

Lee Miller, Hitler's Personal Residence, 1945,
Photograph by David Scherman

Taking into account a childhood in Poughkeepsie,
high fashion modeling,
the throat Man Ray savored, his jealousy,
her Egyptian husband, sun-warmed breasts
and luncheons with the surrealists,

Picture this vivacious artist, collaborator, inspiration,
portrait photographer, war correspondent

Slipping off her shirt in the bedroom where Hitler once
stood naked,

Folding it onto the woven rush seat of the stocky chair
where he sat or draped his robe,

Lowering her flesh toward the porcelain surface he had
lain against,

Lifting and bending her arm to touch a washcloth
to her chin, echoing the gesture,

On the sculpted nude female on his dresser, perhaps
having turned it toward the camera,

For this portrait taken on the day, the very day,
she's photographed the liberation of Dachau.

A poem from "Magritte's Rider," a chapbook published by

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Because I didn't go out to see Monica on the backside this morning, I printed the May images about the Chelsea Community Garden. Visiting Monica would have meant walking from the car, maybe raking the shedrow, walking back to the car, stopping at Starbucks in Target for an Arnold Palmer. Staying here meant thinking about how few images I could use for May -- it not being a too exciting month for growing -- and sizing and printing them.

It's difficult to make choices. Last year I could have done it all. I love seeing Monica and haven't been there for about two weeks and soon she'll be the traveling circus. The backside changes location from Suffolk Downs to another backside of a different racetrack.

I know that a lot of people are motivated/galvanated (galvanized, really, but why not galvanated) by doing things at the last moment. I'm not even sure when this little, local show will be, but on Monday I'm going to the Chelsea Community Access something-or-other to talk about doing a slide show for community cable with the photographs I've taken in the garden since May. I'm not in love with the images, but they're useful...and it's quite wonderful being able to be part of such a happening. All those tomatoes! And the squash that grew from the seeds that Parker sent from L.A.

This morning I tried to pick out just a few photographs that would show the most about the bare state of the garden allotments and the work that was going on. And I hoped that they'd be fairly decent images. The good thing is that when I took Bogie to the groomer (not the face, please, not the face, just the body. Tulip now has a spider money head on top of a large caterpillar body. I can't have two dogs looking like that) I bought a package of frames at Michaels and got a discount coupon, 50% off, usable this week. So I can buy the fames and this whole extra project will cost less than $100. That's good.

I think that doing useful images is about the same as teaching. Which is not the same as doing ones own work, but all part of the package.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Must Be Well

I must be well because yesterday I found myself in the car, my mind speeding, on the way to deliver tomatoes from the garden to a friend in Paneras and then on to the Computer Loft in Allston, hoping that my problem of why the Epson archival printer wasn't working would be solved. What had happened in all this endless attempt to end up close to the same point I'd been when the G-4 crapped out after 10 years of valient service. I was manic, too speedy by half, with a feeling I haven't had in ages -- being wired for sound. I almost turned around because the speed of thought and worry seemed dangerous.

But I got to the Computer Loft, saw Alex (who was putting on his backpack to leave the shop, oh, and alas) who had been on vacation in the Bahamas for the Labor Day week...I had to sit and wait, hoping that he'd find time for me, and, not to waste time and to finish something I hadn't had time to do, I took out the two sheets of e-mails that M. had sent me earlier in the week.

The best, very best, most perfect, were two quotes from Beckett --

1. Now we must chose, said Mercier
Between what? said Camier
Ruin and collapse, said Mercier
Could we not somehow combine them? said Camier


2. Moran has been told that his boss, one Youdi, has
remarked that life is a thing of beauty and joy
forever. Moran puzzled, tentatively asks his infor-
mant, "Do you think he meant human life?"

I can't tell you how much reading these helped. I'm not an out-loud smiler, but I smiled. Comforted.

Alex did find time for me, checked to see whether the driver had been loaded. It had. Probably the problem was something I'd done. I could, he said, if I had trouble, contact them by web and they would take over my computer and see what was happening. "You can even watch while they move around inside it." How is this possible?

It was. My printer didn't work. I contacted Service via the web, some pleasant fellow moved around inside my computer and put the name of the Epson someplace (it had already appeared to be there, but it wasn't) and the damn thing works now and I can get ahead with printing a show for the Chelsea City Cafe about the Chelsea Community Garden. An I-took-it-on-crazily-and-expensively-and-voluntarily-fool-that-I-always-am-project.

When I lived with L. I taped drawing paper to a wall of his grand front stairway and traced the shadows of the leaves as they moved across it. I made countless drawings like that and truly learned that the earth does revolve around the sun. I'd intended them as a wall for an installation of one of the clay pieces that's now stored in the attic in the endless boxes.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Version of Every Day and Dogs

I had to stop myself from calling L .last night to ask if I could take her class on drawing or printmaking. I just longed to do something else, something new..................

But I am doing something new -- a video of JS telling very complex, often painful stories, that are eventually redemptive. And I've taken endless digital photographs of him at AuBonPain...maybe 500 photographs, none of which he will like. On Monday I tried to take some that I think he will suit his needs (the subject usually has completely a completely different idea of what he should/does look like than the photographer...some photographers never try to please the subject...others do commercial work and spent their own time trying to make the client this case, I am beholden to him for his stories and must make the effort to give him a few images that would be important to him).

This photograph was taken when he was talking and he certainly won't like it...I love the setting, though I was using the point-and-shoot, rather than the new Canon, G11, and so most of these images were soft, out of focus. That was a disappointment, but again these images are all a crapshoot. He talks and I snap, not looking at the image I'm taking because then I'd break eye contact. I want them as an overlay, too use as images over the video so that it's not just a talking-head, or so that it's a talking head with other photo taking heads over it. In class yesterday someone mentioned that he uses the digital camera set on black and white. What a good idea. I can just change the images in Photoshop, though that's not quite the same thing, not the same intent. I'll play a bit with whether they look better in color old and preferred friend, black and white. I can't imagine ever liking color much.

Though I'm aware that he won't like the many, quick shots I've taken, I do like them...he has beautiful skin, very blue eyes and I love the expressiveness of his face as he talks. I think a few wrinkles by his eyes add an important quality. And in some of the photographs he looks like a young kid, that burst of energy.

I'm very rarely impressed by photographs, though I really do like the ideas behind them. What I like about teaching is
watching students as they try to work out a concept, a thought, an emotion through a series of photographs. Some times sequences really can convey a cohesive mood or thought, as images a young man from Nepal took last semester. They were about a journey - death - to an afterlife. Some of them were painfully expressive by themselves. Others served a purpose and since the intention was clear, they were useful.

I do like words, stories with photographs. I would find it hard to write in the blog without images, but that doesn't mean I care that much about them individually. But I've always loved the taking of photographs and I just love photographing Greta who is a most delicious puppy, now 4 months that a pleassant young couple adopted. I'm not often drawn to dogs, except to photograph (though I found another great dog in this park near Starbucks, FattieMattie), but I find Greta remarkable to look at and to touch. It's as if her coloring is melting.

We'd gone for a walk in the park near Targets where Cindy appeared. She's owned by a fourteen-year-old whose father drives every morning from where he lives in Sommerville, I think, to Everett so that he can walk the dog. His daughter is at that age where she just doesn't taake her out enough and besides he really loves the dog who is fortunately a smaller version of an Eskimo dog. At one point he put her up in the crotch of a tree so that she'd pose for me. Perhaps I should have used one of those photographs, but I prefer not knowing what I'm doing with the point-and-shoot, holding it at dog level and being surprised by the shots I might get. That seems like a pleasant game that I enjoy playing.

Happy is well designed for co-dependency on my daughter, her eyes plead, she nuzzles closely, she waits patiently. As she did this morning when Krissy went into Target for a few items, came out having been charged too much for one and went in again to get her money back. This is not the sort of narrative that I was talking about in class yesterday. I meant something far more imaginative and curious, something interesting, ideally done in black and white. But it amused me to take the photographs and the one thing about digital is that it's remarkably easy to deal with.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "Story-teller Vine, Rega," Melissa Shook

Story-teller Vine, Rega

Woven twine stretches back-and-forth inside a small case
in the Museum's African section.
From it hang thin rawhide strings on which are tied:
worn, frayed bits of cloth; dried

grass bound by grass; a miniature bow laced with string;
three dried berrries on a tiny branch;
a few twigs; a paper wrapper; a tiny branch
coverd with thorns;

a piece of crumpled paper (writing bled dry); the bone
of a small animal; a block of wood
and notched stick;
and an advertisement printd on red.

Underneath, the label says "only the instructor can read"
the meaning of these objects to teach
the children of the tribe.

From my twine string hang
the puckered pink scar into my uterus; red plaid baby
shoes; a cluster of keys worthy of
a prison guard; the toy camera carved from wood;

a sunflower with an impossibly large brown center
populated by tiny black bugs;
red swimming goggles; a family album, images
fluttered to the ground; and a sack of co-mingled ashes.

Stories only I remember.

This was published in a chapbook that's available at

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Finally Back

When Sally was here and we walked the dogs near Starbucks, she took this picture of me at one of my favorite places -- under the Orange Line tracks where there's always different graffiti. I look like a happy five-year-old, but a good looking, healthy one, for which I thank her very much!

So, here I am, back, almost turned back into a normally functioning person. Not quite, but almost. Recently in the Times, there was an article on "Keeping Old Bodies Strong," in which Andew Pollack said,

"In addition, geriatric specialists, in particular, are now trying to establish the age-related loss of muscles as a medical condition under the name of sarcopenia, from the Greek for loss of flesh. Simply put, sarcopeenia is to muscle what osteoporosis is to bone."

It's a very interesting article, more scientific and medically driven than what Jane Brody might have written about the need to exercise often, with stress on the aerobic along with weight bearing exercises that build muscle. It was a timely piece to read because, though I don't imagine my colon is entirely calm yet, I'm most aware that I'm physically much weaker than I was last summer when I could water buckets on the track. When I go out there now, and help Monica spread shavings in a stall and then rake the shedrow, I definitely feel it....and usually lie down afterwards. It's a matter of building up, not with the ferocity with which I tackled walking once I'd been warned about the drop off of energy after finishing the last bit of prednisone. But, never-the-less building up.

It's hard for me to accep the slow process of it all. I'm so type A, alas. But maybe I learned that lesson by the punishment my body inflicted after I walked too much, too soon, too up hill, after lying down for two months. The point of all this is to absorb an idea that's very hard for me -- exercise has to be part of daily life as does stretching. I just didn't get this early on, having decided that daily life was about thinking and perhaps doing a bit of something creative, taking pictures maybe. I ignored physical exercise as easily as I did doing the dishes, making the bed and vacuuming.

To my suprise, and to do a favor for a friend, I will be teaching one class this fall....I said yes instantly because I've been dreaming about how to get my job back. Now I don't have to dream that anymore and can go on trying to figure out where to buy the child Krissy clothes in my dreams...At night I worry terribly about that and when I wake up, I can't remember where I bought them when she was a real child.... I know my mother shopped in Macy's and Lord & Taylors, classy department stores that I could never afford. Where on earth did I shop? My dream self would certainly like to solve that problem.

The job offer came in nicely just after a downpour of expenses. One was the loss of my G-4, ten years old, just in its prime, I thought, but evidentally equivalent to an unhealthy geriatric state. Because my programs -- Finalcut Pro and Photoshop -- are old, and I have many, many files that depend on them, I am now using my laptop as the main computer and have bought a refurbished MacPro which I will eventually get up the courage to use. My goal was to finish printing eight months of daily 2008-2009 self-portraits before having to upgrade to a new Photoshop program. I doubted how much flexibility my learning curve has at this moment and preferred to put off finding out for a while.

And then there are the teeth, four of them, the most expensive of which will be $5,000 for a post implant, blah and blah. How is that possible?

It rained and the roof leaked. It's much harder to put that off than it is the teeth ... so on the three hottest days last week, three men worked on replacing it and finished before the hurricane. (Now I know how to pronounce that in Spanish.) A bit more has to be done, but it's slightly cooler.

A few weeks ago, Smith and Krissy drove me to Portland to visit Jeannie and another high school friend, Helen. Jeannie and her husband, Kilt, have a Schnauzer named Zeus. I was obsessed with getting a photograph of him because his face has such interesting coloring and texture. It looks like a mask. I didn't suceed, though I almost drove him nuts. Obviously seeing Jeannie and Hellen was far more important than the dog, but I was, never-the-less, fascinated by him.

To my astonishment, K. & C. also picked me up. On the way back, we stopped at Salisbury Beach, a tatty old place on the ocean which I've always liked. We shared a butterscotch soft ice cream sundae which was like heaven I thought. (My stomach thought not.) And I dragged them into one of the amusement/game spots where I could take lots of oddment photos.

Though I'm back at blogging, nothing is the same. My spot doesn't looke the same, my familiar blogs don't appear neatly on the side so that I can read them first. There's no listing for bold or italics and no yellow warning when I've mispelled a word. Oh, that's a big loss!

I'm hoping, after this initial plunge, that I'll find everyone who I lost and feel confident about blogging. My best wishes!