Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Vest

When Susan came to visit, she wanted to meet Mim who is often at the Bagel Bards on Saturday mornings. (That's where I was fortunate enough to meet her, find out about her blog and become blog buddies with the occasional foray into the real world, so to speak...though sometimes I think the blog is a very realish world.)

So, after they chatted and found out how much each likes/buys at thrift stores, Mim took us down the street to the one she visits after the Bards. Another poet, Bert Stern, came along (he does the same thing every Saturday), but he ducked into the basement where the mens clothes are kept. (He had told me about the wonderful pair of expensive pants, probably unworn, he bought there, and the marvelous jacket. Susan buys almost all her quite remarkable clothes in thrift or second hand stores.)

I was horrified by this large room full of things people had worn and given away, coded by color and use. Blue sweaters, yellow, orange, red, green, brown, black. Jackets and blouses and pants. My eye was immediately caught by a boiled jacket, maybe a sea green, that looked just like my aunt Marion would have worn it. I walked around, holding it for a little while, knowing I'd never, ever put it on. I wear the same thing in winter, turtle necks with a vest, blue jeans or black pants. I've gone into supremo decorative mode because I now add a long scarf that hangs down in some inelegant way, but looks colorful. (TJMax has wonderful scarves...and Susan and I went there late in the afternoon and bought scarves.)

Before I left, went back to Au Bon Pain for a sandwich to wait for Susan, she found a vest that she just had to show Mim....I didn't get close enough to fully admire this relic, but I saw enough to realize that it was very old, a long-loved creature that had been mended many times, the toggle fastenings replaced by bits of nylon stocking that had served that function. I took any number of photos of Susan holding it out for Mim to examine, but none were particularly good. Only this one survives.

I thought I was going to write a poem about this experience, but it wasn't close enough to me, really, to do that. I wasn't surprised when Mim told me that she was working on one. She owned it. "I wouldn't buy it," she said, "It has too much of the person still in it."  (Or something like that.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

For the Radish, maybe

Radish, I promised I'd send you a plate or if you want any of these just contact me through my website and I'll send ya one...

They're made with molds, very sketchy (since after years and years of working so hard to perfect prints, I like to make a mess)...some heavy, none perfect...

blah and blah...

Don't feel obliged to want one...

I'll also have others that will appear when I start putting things away from the show....

I think there's one larger bowl in here with the painted dogs...
another dog plate, painted dogs...

anyway, it's for free...
if you want one...
blah and blah....

The guy with the beret is a plate...the artist guys are a small plate and a small bowl...

blah and blah...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday mornings, again

My brother called when I started writing this blog, "I don't know what happened. It was like there was an invisible shield in front of the phone on Friday. I just couldn't pick it up." And then he said, "I felt really terrible on Saturday. I'm just recovering today. Friday, all those little kids, eating in shifts."

I said, "I felt like I'd been hit by a truck on Saturday." He said, "Emotionally?" I said, "And physically." "Is it in the DNA?" he said. He's sixteen years older and I've taken myself to a lot of therapy and a good deal of Alanon and I know perfectly well that it's not in the DNA. We say the same thing every holiday, starting with Thanksgiving when I called him this year.

"Must have been something in our childhoods," I say. Of course I don't remember mine before our mother died when I was twelve. Though my father told me that we had meals with Aunt Marion, my mother's sister, and her husband, Roi. (Can you imagine naming a French Canadian child, LeRoi Louis?) and that there was always some squabble between the sisters.

My brother tells me that he got home from the service in 1944. "How old would you have been?" he asks. 

"I was in Paris when Bob called to tell me to tell me that Sophie...." He can't use the word 'died,' but has some euphemism. He was traveling, using an inheritance his grandfather had given him. That was in 1951. He's my half-brother. My mother's son. And he really isn't able to tell me a thing about our mother except that they took the train together to meet my father in New York where he was looking for work. It's almost as if she's been erased from his mind, also, but he'd never admit that.

I tell him that Bob, my father, told me that Auntie Marion used to squeal, "Dickie, no. My chair," when he planted his big feet and leaned back in it, the frail wood shrieking, after those holiday dinners at her house. He doesn't remember that.

He says, "I don't know what happened on Friday," three or four times and laughs about how troubled he was by the dinner down at Lenore's daughter's house with all those great-grandchildren running around. "We ate in shifts." Then he says, "I think I'll write about Friday." He never writes, as far as I know, but it would be interesting to read his thoughts.

Lenore says she had a good time, watching all the little kids run around. 

None of us mention the word Christmas.

I woke up today thinking, "Museum" which really meant, 'I have to get out of here or I'll go nuts."  I used to go to the museum many Sunday mornings, but I've pretty much gotten out of that routine. The exhibit I wanted to see is of the MFA holdings from the dig at Deir el-Bershera, a discovery of what the tomb robbers hadn't taken in Djehutynakht's tomb on March 17, 1915. The wall label said that his name is pronounced je-hooty-knocked. The audio recording sounded more like the German nacht for the last syllable. 

It also remarked on how unrealistic the female votive carriers are compared to the other group in the main room of coffins. The curator even hinted that the craftsman of those four figures had made the choices of an artist, as if the figures are similar to musical notes. 

I particularly liked the fragmented wood from one of the coffins.

Sunday morning, again

My brother called while I was putting up this post. He said, "I don't know what came over me on Friday. It was like a wall between me and the phone. And Saturday, I just couldn't move. I'm a little better today." He says something more or less like this every year. We both do. I told him that I felt like I'd been run over by a truck on Saturday. He said, "Emotionally?" I said, "Emotionally and physically."

He said, "It was all those little kids running around. Eating in shifts. Luckily Mathew (that's Lenore's grandson) poured gave me two glasses of Scotch. That helped."

It wasn't all the little great-grandchildren running around. Or the dinner in shifts. "Is it in the DNA?" Well, I've had a lot of therapy, so no, I don't think it's in the DNA.

I don't remember my mother who died when I was twelve. Or the dinners at Aunt Marion's house before then. He does. He came back from the Army in 1944, so probably, we sat at the same table until 1951. Or maybe not. He was off in Europe when our mother was dying. My father called him in Paris where he was spending some of the inheritance from his grandfather. During this phone call, I got a hint of how much of a shock that phone call had been. "I didn't know." No one knew. Not even my mother's sister. That was then, when cancer was a word not spoken. I reassure him that no one knew,  no one. "Not even Marion?"

Sunday mornings at the MFA, again

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After

When Susan was in Paris, she sent me this post card. She loves to travel and had seen the Louise Bourgeois exhibition. I put the card up on the ice box, not because I believed in the statement, but because Susan sent it. I've never considered myself an artist. But I do a lot of work. And I have to say that recently work saved my sanity.

I haven't totally collapsed over a holiday season that still, still, even though I'm seventy, has nasty tentacles in me. I worked like the devil. I'd finished a long, long, long, long poemish thing about the track and am stuck waiting for my mentor to look at it (dog help him). So I wasn't doing a thing until I remember all this writing I'd worked on with all seriousness, started in 1994, and started going over that. That gave me a pleasant 200 something pages distraction, to work on, at Starbucks, sitting at a table until my laptop went black with no power. That taught me to take along the power cord so I could sit and work. 

Even on Christmas day. When I was interrupted by a couple of folks I know. One is a big talker, a pleasant fellow almost my age who works at the library here in town. When I said I had to go to the bathroom, I had a slight stomach ache, he told me how gallbladder attacks start, a pretty severe stomach ache followed a few days later by a backache. "I don't want to scare you or anything." He was going to have dinner with friends. 

Then the man who finally has finished retaking all of his boards in English, something he'd already finished in China, came in. I used to talk briefly to him when he took a break from reading and making notes. Now he's at the point of waiting for his residency, maybe in Boston, maybe not. He was going with his wife and four-year-old-daughter (after he had a cup of coffee, went to the lab for just ten minutes, maybe,) to a large gathering of colleagues. In China, he said, Christmas is just for children. He was, as usual, gracious and cheerful.

I was making chicken soup, having changed the menu after Chris ate spoiled sausage and temporarily ruined his stomach. But I'd left my soup pot at a 4th of July party, and was making it in a crockpot so it took two days. I hate to leave it on overnight and the chicken was frozen. I also was making bread which I hoped would be lighter than the brick-like loaves I made last week. It was. I didn't forget putting the oil in and didn't let it rise for hours and hours.

I had actually taken the dogs out in the morning, something I haven't done since it snowed because I'm hideously afraid of falling on the ice. And I took my camera along so I'd have something to do in this season of work compulsion.

My favorite image is of the wiring on the archway that temporarily leads into the apartment building down the street. Of course, I rather like the cow and the little Jesus in the snow (no longer on the sidewalks.)

Krissy also enjoys Christmas. I got her a coat (she wore it to work in New York the week before) and bought her Committed on Amazon. So it's not the presents. It's just her general good holiday spirits. When she was little, it took her all day to open presents. She'd sit on the floor, looking at the packages, picking one, opening it carefully, exclaiming over a box of crayons as long as she'd fuss over something larger. Even socks got a lot of attention, so this took a long time while I lay on the couch (by the time this memory occurs, we had a couch, not a mattress on the floor), eating chocolates and reading a mystery. She was the same at Halloween, carrying around a little bag of candy that I'd given her. We'd stop at stores on St. Marks Place and the clerk would lean over and drop candy in her bag and she'd take something out of it and hand it to him. It wasn't until she had Halloween with other kids at the artist co-op, Westbeth, that she learned that you're supposed to keep it all. The good thing, though, is that she never much liked candy. I ate most of it.

We'd planned to go to a movie. The man who had the gallbladder operation told me he'd seen the George Clooney movie and recommended it. We were leaning toward Avatar, but he sniffed his nose at science fiction and then mentioned that he thought Sherlock was opening yesterday. 

We decided on Sherlock even though Krissy didn't much care to see it. She loves Basil Rathbone, the original Sherlock. But Chris and I prevailed. It was fabulous, if you can get over how transgressive this Sherlock is, Robert Downey, Jr. Every pore quivers. And there's a fabulous boxing scene. 

Once we got to the credits, which are gorgeous, Krissy said, "Richie directed this? Why didn't you tell me?" She'd liked it anyway. But this made it even better. Chris has never read Sherlock Holmes or seen any of the movies, so he had no idea of all the references to stories that were stuck cleverly into this fast paced movie. 

When I took the picture of us in the lobby, waiting for the movie to start, Chris said that it looks like the house manager was very kind and let us out for the day. 

Today I woke up feeling as if a truck had run over me.

And I have to get to the real problem that I've been avoiding. Twenty pages of galleys for my first chapbook which, oddly enough, I haven't been eager to look at and send back. I'm really good at the work stuff, enjoy it, can do endless revisions, fussings around, but something in me balks at the next part... getting it out there. But, unless I fall on black ice (I'd originally written idea instead of ice, a nice message from that monster dog in my ideas) and break my arm before I can make the corrections, it will get out there, in it's very limited form. But out, nevertheless.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

I realize that my recent blogs have been a bit heavy duty, as if I'm berating myself for who I was. But it's been leading somewhere. Part is the curiosity of what might have happened if I had become an art major, an offer to become one surely suggested by Harvey Fite since his were the only studio classes I took at Bard. 

I loved being in that studio, windows on two sides, one of which was just at leg level so I could watch people walking by on their way to the other studios in the Quonset huts below. I can't recall what Harvey Fite looked like, only his assurance that a master Italian craftsman could throw plaster so carefully that not a splot would escape and all the shims would be carefully, perfectly covered. I liked working there, alone, the way the light came in, the way the clay felt and smelled.

And what would have happened had I been able to listen to Donald Finkel and think about plot and motive? What if I'd learned about the arc of a story?  We did talk, most interestingly, about how the costume of non-conformity, maybe a cloak, an outlandish outfit, long hair and a beard, functioned as a disguise, making most people turn away and not look under the surface, not even notice the face. This was before the Hippies, after the Beats, and we each understood what we were talking about -- invisibility.

But thinking about the choices I might have made, had I been capable, is  not what I was working toward in these last blogs. They lead to my picking up a project that I started in 1994, something I worked like the devil on, scrabbling over those words, thinking as hard as I could about the amorphousness I was trying to describe. I'd worked hard, given up, and forgotten about all that work. But somehow, this blogging allowed -- what? Some vague searching around, some collecting of thoughts, that moved me forward.

I don't really understand why this blogging business has become so interesting. How I can float words out into space, not really caring if anyone reads them, but also caring? Not worrying if I've said the wrong thing, but then worrying a bit? It's useful, meditative to write. And I write more easily than I talk, so it's a pleasure. Fun. 

 And it's extremely interesting to read other blogs. Taking that twenty minutes in the morning to check around and see who is doing what on the blogs that I follow. Trying to think of something to say that isn't stupid, but more just seeing what's up, what's been posted, what photo or drawing or thought. Curious. A vague community. An illusion. Something to give importance to in the pattern of the day, but not too much.

What my last couple of posts have done is push me back into writing I'd forgotten about. I was waiting until my poetry mentor, a good, overworked friend, possibly has time to read what I wrote about the track this summer. Something he won't get to until after Christmas. So, I stopped working on anything. Read mysteries (something I do when I'm depressed,) Laurie Colwin on cooking, a book on New York by E.B. White which takes about half an hour to devour and is beautifully thought-out. I found out about the books from Maureen Corrigan on NPR, some Christmas list she'd compiled of bests. 

My new crime has been ordering poetry books from Amazon, but my saving grace has been ordering non-fiction books from the library. 

Somehow I've been able to almost ignore Christmas. I have no sense of impending doom, the way I usually do. Krissy bought a tree, set it in a bucket because we threw away the stand when I last moved, covered it with white lights. The snow is dreadful since I'm so afraid of falling that I let her and Smith do all the dog walking.

Today I drove Joe to a restaurant he likes across from the water at Revere Beach. He told me to tell his son that this is where he wants his ashes scattered since he spent so much time here, just looking, relaxing. Years ago he used to live upstairs when a woman had a rooming house and rented out three or four units. He stayed in all of them at one point or another. But she's died and now Santorini's restaurant is there, in what was once a house. He and his friend often go there in the summer. His friend's in a wheelchair, diabetes. "Once they cut a little piece off you, they keep cutting. Bad." The dog comes along and sits in a chair while they eat.

Joe ate an egg sandwich. I had two eggs over and whole wheat toast that had a phenomenal amount of butter on them. But they tasted like ambrosia. Until afterwards. We talked about horses, and a little about Philippe, how Joe would never walk behind a horse, how he kept his left hand on the haunch if he was near the back, how a horse can rear unexpectedly, how Philippe was going to take that one out to exercise, he'd just been given a leg up onto it, the horse reared, fell over backward, on Philippe, crushed him. They'd known each other for years. 

Joe wanted something at Walmart, so we went there and he picked out a small battery operated car for a four-year-old who will be at his friends' Christmas dinner. He never had many toys himself and it really mattered to him to get this gift for the boy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bard College, 1959?

Having been thoroughly brainwashed (I think co-opted is a better phrase because that's the more polite word for what happens in families) by my father's disdain for social norms, the only school I would consider was Bard. It had, I'd heard, great freedom and no grades. That was the proper approach. I made fun of Cornell where a course in gracious living was mandatory. (Could this be true? Was there really such a course? And were women students required to wear skirts?)

Actually, I wasn't able to leave for school that fall, just after my father had sold and packed up the house, vowing never to mow another lawn. I was too sick with ulcerative colitis. Another story, blah and blah and blah, more blah, which, interesting as it might be, I'm going to ignore in order to get to Bard --

and the worst possible choice I could have made. There was great freedom and no grades and many young New Yorkers from disrupted families who were more obviously crazy than I was. (Mine was carefully hidden under a demure appearance, though I was rampantly hopeless.) I'm sure that many of them were thoughtful and studious, as was my friend Jane who I'm quite sure took these photos of Kemper and me. But, there was a swilling atmosphere of sex, before the sexual revolution, lots of chaos and I had no ability to focus on anything of substance. My unconscious goal was sliding downward toward the mess I was going to create for myself during the next ten years, though I didn't know that.

At that point, Bard (formerly St. Stephens) was called the little red whore house on the hill. Fine people taught there like Ralph Ellison. Of course I didn't have the sense to take a course with him (he taught quite formal traditional courses, Shakespeare, I think, ((which I took with someone else,)) and nothing about what was then called the negro experience), though a few years later, he greeted me kindly on the street when we met walking on the Upper West Side of New York. I was astonished that he'd remember me, a no one who he didn't know, and considered it an example of his generalized kindness. 

Perhaps Jean Erdman was teaching at Bard, then, but I'd given up my fascination for dance under the pretext that at Bard, rules, steps, concepts would be taught and I would no longer have the freedom of the Isadora Duncan type dance classes that my mother had enrolled me in. 

Elizabeth Stambler, my advisor, thought she could trick me into concentrating by requesting that I read poems out loud to her, perhaps by Herbert? Herburt?, during our meeting. The flow of my speech would indicate whether I'd studied them. I never did. It would have been pointless because I knew virtually nothing of the heavy Christian symbolism. It wouldn't have dawned on her that I might have been raised as an agnostic, kept from much connection with any religious symbolism. I was evidentially able to fool her. For some reason, not connected to my performance of the poems, she got very annoyed, said that I reminded her of her daughter, a passive exterior, a volcano inside. She was right, of course, but I had no access to those boiling feelings.

I was an English major who fancied that she would write stories. I do remember a plaintive note from Donald Finkle, a poet, asking why on earth that  woman was living in a cabin on the dunes. What had brought her there? There was no way I could answer that question because I was not wrestling with what on earth was taking me where I was heading. 

Actually I was majoring in screwing around and in being screwed, which I could manage in the vaguest way, though I imagine that whatever diaries I wrote, if I wrote any, would make it seem as if I was present. I could stack words together, nothing under them.

Because I liked sculpture and spent hours in the damp studio Harvey Fite had set up, creating forms that looked very much like me (ah ha, here is the forerunner of the endless nude self-portrait photographs!), I was invited to become an Art major. But I cleverly dodged having to make a big choice like that by getting pregnant, having a legal abortion, planning to marry Kemper when he graduated which meant I quit after my sophomore year to wander off and do nothing much.

In general, I have not ever wanted much, not made plans, but have tried to work with whatever befell me through this awkward way of approaching life. Going to Bard was a conscious decision. A dreadful one. I have to say that for Kemper it was the best choice he could have made, a school that really allowed him to function without narrow restrictions.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Trying to Think

I have been trying to think about a response to The Cuban in London's response to my reading blog. He mentioned an article by Rachel Cusk in the Guardian that was talking about women writers, an article he didn't entirely agree with. But this will only in the vaguest way relate to his thoughts...........

I'll start by talking about my new therapist (I decided to go back this age, seventy, in spite of having definitively given up therapy as my religion when I was sixty. Enough was enough.) But I want to try to make a better thing of my next, hopefully, ten years and need some help. At any rate, the therapist assumed that I'm an intellectual. I was so surprised that I blurted out, "But I don't read the New York Review of Books." And, of course, he said, "Is that what an intellectual is?" Yes, I think it is. And I'm guessing that the Cuban is a very good example of an intellectual, not just the narrow sort. (I am particularly fond of the glance that he and his wife exchanged the last time they took their son to a MacDonalds and the boy told them that he liked going there so much because there is always a present. Poor child. He should not have spoken his mind if he'd ever wanted to see those golden arches again. That reminded me of how much my daughter wanted the Sugar Pops, Lucky Charms, that her friends ate for breakfast and how she begged to be allowed one or two boxes a year, a most special present. And that I made her tofu spinach pie, carefully hiding the tofu container so she wouldn't know.)

But the thought I'm trying to connect to is the difference in being a woman of seventy and being one of sixty. When Sally was here,  I casually mentioned that I think there is a profound difference between those two ages and she said, "Yes." Just a simple yes. Of course I wanted to jump all over her, to suggest that we do 'something' about that...   Since she is a scholar, thoughtful and knowledgeable, elegantly educated, who writes about photography and photographers with historical perspective and my knowledge could fit on the head of a pin, I didn't propose a project.

But I think someone should write about that ten year difference. (Perhaps there are many books on this subject and I haven't read them.) Of course I have a woman friend in her late seventies who is 'the' Rodin scholar, and well as having been a stellar professor. And I have other friends, close to may age, who are well published, successful, were fine teachers and friends who were fine mid-wives, social workers, etc. In other words, these women of seventy, or a couple of years younger, set out to have careers, made clear decisions and followed a path. My ending up teaching didn't happen that way, a consequence of the chaos of my teenage years and the aftermath. Perhaps if my mother had lived, I would have followed my cousin Patsy's example. Thirteen years older, she was the fashion editor of the New York Time's Magazine section. Though I never read the Times, I checked, whenever I could, to see what she was doing with that two page spread. And applauded when she used models of color, when she hired Diane Arbus to take the photographs, when she broke out of the box that the fashion world dictates.

But most women who graduated from Paul D. Schrieber High School in 1957 got married, created homes, raised children. That was a normal expectation. Just when did it change?

When I went to visit my ex (and only) husband two years ago, we talked about our collective past, that I had gotten pregnant in my second year of college, had an abortion and that we'd married afterwards. A short marriage. Abortion was illegal then and mine had to be certified by two psychiatrists who wrote letters saying that my difficult childhood left me unfit to be a mother at that time. What was interesting is how dispassionately we could talk about this experience that had effected us both profoundly. And how we could disagree about the outcome, that I could say it would have been better for me to have had that child because he or she would have had a decent father, whether or not we'd divorced. That I knew that my having the abortion was best for him, though it hadn't been for me. We must have gone around and about this subject for quite a while, mulling over the past, the consequences of my having gotten pregnant just when some  young woman had died of an illegal abortion, and all the practitioners had closed their shutters, even the most beloved doctor in Pennsylvania to whose house many women were driven in the middle of the night.

When he took me back to the train station, I sat there, trying to read, but instead considering our discussion which I, of course, decided would make an excellent video -- these two seventy years olds talking about this formative experience of fifty years ago after which he headed toward making a great deal of money in television (a job he later gave up so he could take care of his two children, after his wife left) and I could head downward, one job paying less than another until I finally got pregnant again, had my baby beautiful girl, had more therapy and started my slow trip upward.

To my surprise, he agreed. And I spent another weekend there in the late fall, both of us talking to the video camera. And it's being edited because I don't have the skill to handle such complex material. And maybe it will fall the way most of my work falls, into some cavern of finished, but not show. But at least I acted upon the idea. 

(There is also a lot about class in that little video. I hope it will be visible. His gorgeous house in Westport and my scrabbly place in a mainly hispanic little city. I have gone down and he has gone up to the enjoyment of fine dining, fine wine, cars and classical music. I've headed to the racetrack. That could be a comedy in itself.)

There's no segue out of this -- Monday was an eleven hour day, the early part spent in grading, writing notes to students who may or may not read them, a meeting, then going when it was almost dark to the bead store where a tall, very sweet young Dutch woman with delicate fingers finally found a solution to putting the dolls together. My daughter had suggested I sell them, $25 a piece, okay, $35, two for $50, but I refused and now she's using them in a video that they will work on over Christmas. (No one would have bought them anyway and they are too time consuming to make and not as cumbersome as all my other stuff -- thousands and thousands of negatives, contact sheets, boxes of prints, now boxes of clay pieces -- all of which my friend Marion (a photographer, a teacher, a mother, energetic and active) reminded me I have to start clearing out for some sort of move that I plan in the future. She has been working steadily for three or four years on the same task in her house, looking at places now and then, preparing.)

I have spent almost $400 at the vet Wednesday and yesterday, a day which included falling off the chair when I was climbing up to put plastic over the windows. When I move, it will be to someplace with good storm windows!

Nemaste, as the dishwasher says.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sunday afternoon

Being part of the holiday show at Feet of Clay involves paying for the privilege and then fulfilling tasks. Yesterday I was the wrapper from 12-5. It was a rather slow day which was fortunate for the cashier who had a headache that was worse than splitting and shouldn't have been there. 

A friend came in and I gave her the dish that she wanted to buy and she didn't fuss, for which I was grateful. I won't sell enough to repay myself for the fee and am absolutely finished with this. But this 'I told you I am not depressed' plate did sell...and so that person has to have a sense of humor. 

The good thing about being there is that a friend of mine, who is moving to New Mexico, has been selling like a bandit -- casseroles, cups, plates, platters, a teapot and little soap dishes. She is always so delighted to whisper how much she's made and I'm glad for her, happy to wrap her attractive, practical ware that makes good gifts.

While I was standing around, waiting, I made notes for a poem from an article in the Times that I'd found in the stack of papers laid out to wrap purchases in. The headline is Stray Bullet From Street Fight Kills Longtime Bronx Volunteer Settling In to Watch Television. She was 92 and had lived on that block for forty-five years, through the better times, staying for the worst. Mrs. Sadie Mitchell. Her daughter provided the photograph, this intelligent looking woman with her little black hat, a relaxed jacket of pale plaid, leaving church, posing for some family member to take a snapshot. On a Tuesday evening, she'd come back from her new activity, exercise class, talked with her friend, Mrs. Fields, and was going to watch Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Cycle of the Year

The cycle of the year is almost done. There is one problem to solve and that is Tulip and her hair. Not the type of dog with fur, she needs a grooming and that means I have to take her to a vet and get a sedative. The last problem for this year. I've already done the car inspection -- December.

The others have been accomplished including one that's not on the cycle -- getting new glasses.

Now I can wait until when? March? April? for the yearly check-up. And then comes the urologist for the tiny bit of blood that appeared in my urine three years ago. And then there is the mammogram. And then the gynecologist. My appointment with her has gotten later and later, well into the summer. 

I can't wait so long for a grooming for Bogie as I did this time. He lost most of his moustache and whiskers. And he now looks like he did as a puppy, except he isn't.

The good news is that when I was walking them one dark night this week, a fellow, much older than the young guys who usually did it, was putting up the creche in the apartment house two doors down. I told him how happy I was to see it going up and he said something, something, my country and I knew that someone had died and he'd gone home last winter. And I asked what his country is and he said, Hondouras. What I had missed was the excitement of installing this site that extends to both side of the building and used to involved a number of young men, lots of women watching from the porch, some holding babies, and kids jumping around. And music! I missed all the lights hung on the fence, the two deer with moving heads and the two trees. Krissy said that one of the big families moved out a month or so ago, so that must be why he had only two teenagers out with him. I'll miss all those children playing in front in the summer, the women sitting on the steps. Most of the young men disappeared a couple of years ago. 

In the summer, I look at the asphalt front yard (many front yards around here are asphalt. One that's a couple of blocks away is a green plastic rug cut to size. A few doors down from that is the total paving with nice looking blocks. Occasionally a weed escapes through the cracks.) But anyway, the asphalt in the apartment house (as opposed to the two and three-story houses) is marked with white paint, x's where the tree will stand, where the deer will be placed. There is a small rectangular area on the right of the steps that is earth with bricks around it. That's where two small azaleas grow, with spring flowers that are the color of dried blood.

On the backside of the racetrack, guys would say "my country" and it would mean Guatemala or Santa Domingo, etc.  There were a lot of Puerto Ricans which didn't involve any "my country" and Joe who's arrived here from Cuba, a fifteen year old,  on a plane to Tampa in 1951 to work with his father on the track. There was no "my country" there.

I am in my winter mode which means eating orange, cooked in the crockpot. But because of Susan and Mim and maybe because of the Radish King who baked a cake when I annoyed her with my repeated complaint about finding her site, I am making bread. I haven't done that in years. 

Susan and Mim both love food and that doesn't just mean eating out. They talked about it at the Bagel Bards one morning and I could hear the love in their voices.

I love food when someone else cooks it, but have not learned to treat myself well in that department. But I am reading essays by Laurie Colwin, writings from the kitchen, and they are quite pleasant and she laughs about failure...

My problem is still night. It's always my problem in winter when it's dark, it's cold, it's dark, it's dark, it's cold and I'd rather get into bed with my clothes on and pretend that I'm going to read. I know I'm wasting time, losing all those hours and that, because I'm dodging the night walk, I'll have to get up at midnight or worse to take Bogie downstairs when he's awakened and barked once. I'm a person who thinks so often about death, and what I want/need to do before it, and how soon it might come and how little of this life I should waste. But dark undoes me. And cold. But mainly dark.

Friday, December 11, 2009


I thought a lot about a blog post called Sunday morning something, something, by A Cuban in London yesterday, but I was filled with errands to the point of hardly being able to get out of the car and walk, that's how much my body hated driving in spite of the breadboard I sit on (given to me by my daughter when she was very young and trying so hard to improve the look of our place...a breadboard with a design on it, a whole set of gray dishes she bought at a yard sale when she was thirteen or so, hoping we'd have matching dishes, a Mexican sangria pitcher with little cups, hoping life would turn into parties) and all my attempts to pull in my stomach, to work on the core essential to the back.

Anyway, it's very interesting. I have skimmed it three times. It would be interesting to hold it and mark it, but I can't. I know he's very fond of the Zadie Smith essay, but I actually liked his better than the last one of her that he posted and I read....

His post has many interesting points for those of us who have had friends assume we've read something, something, we, meaning I, have no interest in reading. Of course, he makes the very important point that these canons are based on Western culture, since those who are asking him are steeped in that way of thinking. He goes to mention many important books written in Spanish, avoiding being Cuban-centric, that would/should be part of a canon and, of course, acknowledges that the same would be true for books written in Japanese, etc.

And he uses the word economy, both in the what's-happening-now-sense, the crash and crumble, but also in the economy of one's life -- how much time does a person have. I'm not sure whether he directly tackles class, though class is always an underlying assumption.

Anyway, it's very interesting and thought-provoking and seemingly written effortlessly, but the best thing about it is the neat hand-off at the end to The Soaring Impulse blogspot, that of a doctor who works in Swaziland. The Cuban notes that 50% percent of people in Swaziland who are twenty are HIV positive, making a strong case for the fact that there are far more important things to think about than whether you have read Roth. (I haven't either.)

At any rate, what I was thinking about is how much I've always distrusted books, most especially novels. When my mother died, (I was twelve, a fact I've written 5 million times, it's that important) and I was left in quite a silent (when it wasn't chaotic and distressing) household with a shelf of her books. No, many shelves in the living room, filled with clothbound books with gold lettering. Forester, Virginia Woolfe, Tolstoy, Willa Cather (am I spelling that right?) and Hesse. I'm sure I've forgotten the rest. (In my early twenties, I read Steppenwolf, (sp?) and that was the book I liked, an outsider on the landing, listening.)

I did read many, such as To The Light House. And I got into trouble for doing a high school book report on one, I'll think of the name, maybe a very short piece by Tolstoy about a man who had had an affair and was on a train. I was punished for reading something so scandalous by having to write an essay on  Pilgrim's Progress, a book so easy that I only had to skim it to get the gist.

Anyway, none of those books said anything useful to me who had been left with a silent, cerebral father (with a PhD in math) who had married the nurse who brought my mother home from the hospital for that week it took her to die and took me back with her to Chicago while my mother's funeral occurred, having convinced my father this would be better for the little girl, only because she just wanted to get back into that house and to him. You can write the rest of this story that went on for six years, after she married my father a year later and kept flying back to her second husband who never knew she had married again. Yes, I was the pawn.

So, that was when I tried to read the novels and knew they had nothing to tell me, nothing useful, and developed my idea that words are lying cheating bastards. A theory that I still hold close.

What's interesting is how much children's literature had changed between the time I was young and my mother carefully chose beautifully written books with gorgeous illustrations (and didn't want me to go to Saturday afternoon movies or read comics) and when my daughter was young.

Naturally her life was diametrically opposed to mine -- no suburbs, but a NY slum, no stick-around father but a ner' do well, extremely talented, light black painter, no money except what I earned here and there and she was dyslexic to boot. By the time I got my first full-time job (insert a miracle here), and she and I moved to Boston, and she went to a public school that offered tutoring and suffered through the agony and embarrassment of accepting help, Judy Blume had begun to write about things that mattered to young kids.

I remember when Krissy told me about her favorite book, "Daddy was a Number's Runner." I could have kissed that writer. She is older than the Cuban. And likes reading. Though her choices are very eclectic. And she is out of a grouping that would question her about the canon and express shock that she hasn't read blah and blah.

But I spent many years in an environment, a university, where it was expected that I'd read this or that or had seen this or that or visited here and there. And it always used to piss me off. Not only because I hadn't, but because most of those people asking me weren't engaged working part time (that was illegal, of course, if you were tenured, but no one found out) with women who had become homeless.

I guess the Cuban's elegantly written posting hit a sore spot with  me. Thank you, Cuban.

He has a very interesting post today about Son and Daughter, when they speak Spanish and when they don't.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Exchanging Websites Addresses

My glasses have been a wreck and a tangle for a long time. They fall off if I bend my head down, are scratched and don't work terribly well. I tried to get a new pair this summer when there was a half-price offer, but they hadn't kept my prescription and I kept dragging my feet about making an eye exam appointment, just like I'm stalling about checking out a gym to join that will, in part, make up for the exercise of walking back and forth from the parking lot on the backside of the racetrack, bending over to wash buckets and sometimes lugging one.

So, today was it. After my next-to-last Photo I classes. 

Through friends who recommended this doctor about a hundred years ago, I ended up with a serious person who doesn't just do eye exams and write prescriptions, but operates and diagnoses serious problems. Who also takes photographs. Relatively recently, we have talked about his new prints, the quality of the framed digital color prints that line the hallway back to the exam rooms. And about the photographer he has taken a workshop with so that he can now digitize an image, work on it with Photoshop and produce a perfect transparency that he can then print as black-and-white in a regular darkroom. He spoke so well of this process that I bought the book, which I promptly gave to student who was graduating and moving to California. I never replaced it, having realized that I'd never go to all that trouble.

Today we talked about the website that he and his wife are working on for her paintings. She gained a renewed sense of energy after studying with a painter in Provincetown not that long ago, a man who does large canvases and works with vigor. My eye doctor was very enthusiastic about her work, in general, and especially about her new work, about the beauty of her website which will be up and running in a week or so. It's being designed by a company in New York that specializes in the work of artists. (I wish I'd given him the name of the web designer I found, who I think does remarkable and inventive work....) 

When we were talking about whether he only uses a digital camera now, he got up from his stool to illustrate how much more active he is when he works in the darkroom, taking prints form the dry side to the wet side, and how little he has to move when he's just correcting a digital image to print from the computer, just his hand with the mouse, sitting, sitting.

I remembered that I should take a photograph there. "What are you doing?" he asked and I explained about my blog, and how I take photos at the dentist office. He didn't seem to mind my photographing the equipment. I wish I'd taken a photo of his fine profile as he wrote notes in my chart, the serious, aging. face, his glasses, the shoulder of his broadcloth shirt. 

Because I kept asking him about his work, the color prints he has made at Walgreens by a new process (what is the name?) when he isn't using his good archival Epson printer, about his wife's painting and the interesting group she works with, one question after another, we didn't talk much about my eyes other than that there are no problems. He gave me a new prescription for reading glasses and mentioned, when I asked about whether most aging people get cataracts, that I do have a bit of yellowing inside the eye, common for anyone born in 1939. 

Then we exchanged website addresses.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Yesterday a student came up with a packet of color photographs. His first project was a rather formal study of vegetables and fruit, sliced, against a plain background. Recently he took photographs when he and his wife went to visit her parent's large home in Connecticut. I urged him to print more than he'd chosen and he seems pleased with that, or as pleased as he'll allow. He has only a week to do a last project, almost everyone has dragged feet on this. And he wondered if he could do anything with these photos .... that he has on a disk, snapshot from Iraq, 2006, when he was there are a Marine in the reserves. Some were of gorgeous children, posing, others were of wrecked armored cars, bullet holes. One was of a captive with his automatic rifle. I didn't look at more than twenty or thirty in what must have been at least 150 images.

Another student did a long project on his time there, photographs of the equipment he still has stored, reproductions of the bracelets from his dead friends and photographs of him ready for combat, along with images of the person he is now, going to school, studying criminal justice. Each photograph was labeled with a fine-point magic marker which further clarified just when friends had died or that he was leaving for class. During critique other students argued whether he should pair the photographs about Iraq with those of his daily life now. They seemed to ignore the transitional group of images that tied the two sides of his experience together, but all were impressed with his work. He says that some days he can print for 4 hours, sometimes only 45 minutes. I've asked if I can show him to the Vet who runs the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences, a poet, Kevin Bowen, but he had a hard enough time showing the work to a group he knows.

When he was starting the project, and I'd seen a bit of the work, I showed him the Dishwasher's blog since it seemed relevant to who he wants to be, the work he wants to do. And he sat there, scrolling down, reading the entries. Then I showed him Ontheverge, or On the Verge, to prove that the Dishwasher has a fine wife and life can be hard, but good. He wrote down the names of both blogs.....

A student in the 9 o'clock class, who is from Tibet, thinks that homeless men just say they are vets to get more sympathy. He said this to his friend, the one from Napal, who believed that the guy he photographed and talked to for so long was really a vet. I said that many vets end up homeless, but he wasn't very convinced.

Sometimes I get to talk with other faculty, like Taylor Stoehr who I just met. They tell me stories of interesting as's been far more interesting, I think, to teach at a urban university, work with students whose parents probably haven't gone to college, or who are immigrants. Though teaching at MIT was far more prestigious, it was much too easy. Everyone was already programmed for success.

But I'm in despair about these classes. If I'd stayed around, not retired, I would have tried to keep the new kids on the block from cutting each class by 40 minutes, time I need so I'm not just working with the better students, so I could do more to help the ones struggling. I was programmed to two hours and twenty-minutes, had adjusted my skills to that amount of time. Now I feel like a failure and am, compared to what I used to be able to do.

But, as the Dishwasher would say, Nemaste.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I have tried today

--to talk to the student whose last project consisted of photographs of toys that she'd arranged to symbolize a wedding after not reading the handout about my horror of grading which I have partly solved by putting weight on how much effort a person has made toward conveying a difficult or complex idea, weight given even if it's a failure because risk is so important. Her friend, who knew nothing about using filters to improve the contrast of a print,  something I've mentioned a good deal and which is clearly explained in the data guide, at least went to visit two friends to take photographs that mostly failed because the light was too poor.

-- to tell the guy from Nepal who is going to be an accountant that he'd done a remarkable job having spent eight hours with a man who was homeless, but now has a room that he hates to stay in because he'd rather be on the street, having taken pictures of him, tape recorded his story, photographed two other people. He's hard to convince because nothing is good enough for him

nor is it good enough for Wong who is a biology major who took narrative photographs of his cousin who was posing as someone who just lost his  job, change of setting, of clothing, interesting angles, even the use of another cousin to simulate a person Wong calls a hobo, though I informed him that we use the term homeless person, and he'd probably read the word hobo which was generally used during the depression. Wong took a dry run set of perfectly fine images for someone doing a second project in Photo I, but it wasn't good enough.

And I've tried to stay ahead of the sciatic nerve problems which are obviously recurring as I've noticed in the last few weeks
and on top of the knots in Bogie's hair since he's going to the groomer on Friday and I hate it when Sarah has to cut his hair radically and I feel like a rat
and ignore the fact that it's finally cold and I'm terrified of falling on ice and I just got a $400 oil bill.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I was thinking about how my fingers brushed the bowls of the plastic spoons in the bin when I was taking one for my yogurt parfait and that no one would know that I'd touched them and probably, in the back of my mind, were the images from the commercial showing all the wiggly, colorful germs developing on anything that actor-child touched.

And then, walking back through the library on the 8th floor, I looked at the bookshelves which I've never done even though I've walked through it almost countless times (I suppose I could count them...23 years x's 3, two semesters, 14 weeks, plus 5 years x's 2...mostly two semesters, 14 weeks,) and never, once, noticed the names of any books.

A friend of mine is thinking of writing a book about being eighty. (He looks like he's sixty.) I suggested a blog since they're so interesting, but they don't have the permanence of a book. That's a good thing, probably. But the guy at Panera, who I haven't seen in too long, lent me his book on WordPress for dummies because that program allows you to feed pre-written material into the blog. But then I'd think about what I'm saying. And thinking isn't necessarily good.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Revere and Chuck Swartz

Today I went to the Bagel Bin on Shirley Avenue in Revere with Chuck. He picked me up when my car had a flat tire. That made it impossible to take my dogs to walk with his dogs, but it lead to another really interesting walk, looking at a neighborhood he'd known so well.

There wasn't anyone he knew when we ate breakfast, though I thought there might be. And he thought the food was good, though he really loves to go to a diner in Lynn that has all the old diner fittings and a staff that goes with the place and is under a railroad track. I imagine it's listed in Chow Hound where he finds many interesting places to try.

Because my dogs weren't waiting in the car, we got to walk Stoney and Onyx up the street while he told me about the old neighborhood. He remembers so many details that I have already forgotten, and I took so many photographs in my trying to remember, that it's impossible to show much of anything here, but I loved the attempt of listening on this almost sleeting day.

This wasn't the Temple that he went to. There was another down the block. They are both abandoned now. 

And almost all of the stores have changed radically. You'd never know that one of the first Stop and Shops was on Shirley Avenue. Or that the street was tree lined, that the houses were well-kept and that this was a desirable area.

Or that the path beyond the wire gate leads to stairs that he loved to walk down when he was quite little. Or that the alleyway he's walking down leads to a backyard where he and his friends used to play. It's right behind what was once a pool hall where some people played pool for money, but he didn't. And that there were card games in back and a pinball machine. The fellow in the backyard was angry that we were trespassing, wanted to know why I was taking photographs. His father has owned that dreadfully maintained building for thirty years. Chuck's friends lived there sixty years ago, (Actually I don't think it was quite that long ago) he told this fellow who had no sense of humor or perspective and a lot of derelict cars in the back.

There is the empty building where Kosher food was made, the soups purchased in supermarkets. And what is now a beauty salon  was a kosher meat market. The yellow slide is where the best deli was. And the gates over the window of a woman's store is where a hotel once operated. There was a chicken market, chickens picked and killed, up toward the beginning of Shirley Avenue.

I think what was most interesting is how vibrant those days sounded.... kids living close to each other, a tight community, predominantly Jewish, who all knew each other, a source of a sounding board and sense of identity outside of the Temple or the family. Chuck doesn't have the same kind of bad feelings about that neighborhood that I have about mine -- a sense of isolation, maybe three other kids my age living with three or four long blocks, Cinnie Baldwin, David Newton and Howie Grace. Chuck still knows people from Shirley Avenue. Someone from Revere lives on his block in Brookline, having made it out, just as Chuck did, invested in family and in giving children better schooling than they might have had if each still lived in Revere, more opportunities.

I asked him if he had bad memories from those days and he laughed and said something like, "A couple, like when I got beat up."

Chuck's grandfather, a Russian immigrant, helped build three three-deckers just off Shirley Avenue, buildings that went up in spectacular flames twenty or so years ago. When he told his mother about the fire, that's when she told him about his grandfather who died when she was twelve.

When they moved to a better neighborhood, he still kept going back to Shirley Avenue because his friends were there.

Most buildings, he thought, were built in the 1910's, 20's, though the building where he and Linda got a mortgage for their first house was built in the fifties.

I don't know anything about architecture and remember walking around Cambridge with Linda while she identified of houses for me, told me when they were built.

Chuck and I did this walk years ago, when their daughter Anna was little, and I took pictures then. I wish I remembered all the details from that walk fifteen or so years ago and had hope that I'd remember them from today. But I won't, even with photographs. I can just think about the quality of childhoods, the changes inevitable in neighborhoods and the passage of time.