Friday, December 9, 2011

A Vacation

 Going to Foxwoods on the bus with folks from the Senior Center isn't nearly as good as taking a vacation with Nance and Wendell in Tucson, but it will have to do and it did...   Earlier on in my life, when I was a steady rebel, I could not have imagined myself doing this, but something in me said, why not, and I did....Eileen and I went together and were taught the ropes by Mary. We are all Empty Spools Quilters...and sometimes Eileen and I do things like when she came with me to video tape Jean who has macular degeneration, is 90 and does just fine, thank you.

Eileen and I have the same sense of humor and amuse each other. I doubt that anyone else finds us funny or understands what we are laughing about.

$18, a bus that leaves at 7 and gets back at 7, free buffet, all you can eat, and table service by a woman who has four children, all boys, the two oldest are in college (one is at Texas A&M and studying something like space engineering) and the youngest is three.

I paid $10 for bingo which I will never, never play again. It takes a type of brain organization that I don't have -- quickly reading the numbers under B, for instance, from the upper left, down, up, down again, up, across the six cards (many people have many more...) I'm absolutely not that organized, since my mind jumps around, here and there...   So I played a bit, then walked around, and then went back and played again and then gave up entirely.
This is the only sign I saw that wasn't in English. That means none of them were written in Spanish at Foxwoods. Our bus was slightly more full of people who speak English. Eileen and I sat at the divide between the groups and I tried to eavesdrop with my bits of newly acquired knowledge. Sharifa, who is from Afghanistan, sat in front of us.

 I walked over to the Grand Hotel, thinking I might see the Diana exhibit. There was a long, long line of quite properly dressed ladies, a long, long line. I might have paid the $20 if the line had been shorter.

One of the things I found out in the hotel is that they provide no comfortable chairs, none. All straight back or benches. I wanted to sit down in an arm chair, the kind they always have in hotel lobbies and in Starbucks, and write.

Late in the day, I discovered that you can put a five dollar bill in the penny slot machines and it takes a long time to loose money. I didn't have time to play, so I only lost a dollar and some cents, but I could happily have played for a couple of hours, slowly loosing my money.
 Mary's sense is that there were so few people because it's near the holidays and people don't have the extra money to spend. Usually the huge bingo hall is filled for the Early Morning Special which costs $10 to get the basic package, but most people buy more inside. Mary had all the equipment, the daubers, etc. We were delighted that she won a couple of hundred dollars...

At one point Eieen and I walked around, past endless shops, into a fantastic Chinese bakery and then into the poker hall where all the action was. We decided that I really couldn't take photographs there and that my presence had been noted by ceiling cameras in the slot machine parlors, but that I was considered harmless in those almost empty rooms.

Anyway, the poker rooms were where I would have wanted to be if only I could play poker. But my aptitude with numbers, games, logic is minimal and that fact makes me furious because it means I'm so much less intelligent than my father who got his PhD in math from the University of Chicago, undoubtedly as if it was just the next thing for a poor guy from the mid-west to do. He was extremely intelligent and very logical and I, at least, got to observe manner in which that sort of person goes about managing practical tasks when he's not pickled in Scotch.

Later we learned that Sharifa had spent her day playing poker.
 One of the changes in my face is that the fat that's under the surface when a woman in producing hormones vanishes when she isn't. It's very strange to see the scarring, now, so obvious. When I had that bout with ulcerative colitis and was taking prednisone, it puffed up pleasantly and I'd lost so much weight that it didn't look fat, only filled out.

Who can imagine the changes ahead?
This self-portrait was quite purposeful, next to one of the two lion statues that were near a large plastic horse drawing a sleigh that was next to a huge Christmas tree. There were many decorated trees here and there, but the space was so massive that their presence was diminished and it was possible, almost possible, to ignore the Christmas carols.

I also took many photographs of myself in the bathroom with oval mirrors framed in gold.

Eileen said that I'm like a jumping bean, always getting up to do something else and constantly eating. Even if I'd liked bingo, I couldn't have sat there for two and a half hours. When we were walking in, a woman told me that going to bingo was so restful for her, took her mind off of everything.

If I went again, I would take the free shuttle from the hotel to the Pequot Museum. That would be interesting and I'd be happier to pay $20 to get in there than I would have been to pay $20 to see Diana memorabilia, though I would have gone in as a lark had the line not been so long.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I can't stop making the stick folks, such a relief from hunting for jpgs and making yet another 11x17 all has to be done by I'm close. But in the meantime, I distract myself with the figures, though this morning I was actually cleaning, foolish as that was, and broke the leg off a figure stored in a corner, waiting for an upper body.
 Had I not been so broke when I started my obsessional photographing, born out of not knowing what my mother looked like except through some snapshots, I would have done video. I like the talking. I've never been all that interested in photographs, though they serve as markers, as ways to discuss issues, preserve memories...they are, of course, lies, fictions, as much as stories and poems are, but serve as a jumping off point....

Though I took an etching class and sculpture at the Art Student's League, and for a few months imagined I'd be a sculptor (my mother's father was a sculptor of religious statuary). At least I imagined that before I started the class and unfortunately positioned my stand in back of a young woman who must have been working for months, if not years, and, of course, eager to fail, I measured myself by her work and left the class....I did that with drawing also, leaving my easel when the instructor, George Grosz came around. His was the only name I recognized, which is why I took his class, and it was shortly before he returned to Germany. And in college I took art classes also...... but I wasn't intent on becoming anything, much less an artist, until my daughter was born and I began taking photographs of her. And reluctantly and slowly became a photographer.

It's a luxury now to be working on a project for the Bread and Roses Centennial. I have gotten myself into making videos for it, and am in way over my head with that. However, thanks to Cathy McLaurin's day long workshop, I've also found myself making meditations on "Bread & Roses" by Bruce Watson. They are very relaxing, a pleasure to make.
One group of photos are up at the senior center and seem to enliven people. That's too the good.
And the next goes up later this week.
and tomorrow I'll look for more sticks with my dear-heart-stick friend.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


The other night I went to a dinner party for a friend's was like being in a movie set without having dressed for the occasion. But I wasn't an extra nor was I kitchen help, much as I would have liked that role.

There were many speeches given, glasses clinked. And I found myself standing up to comment about the birthday woman and also about another guest. This brave event brought up, naturally, many nighttime rehearsals of what I might/should have added. So now I'll elaborate.

The general conversation had come around to UMass, a very interesting place to teach with students who I considered quite remarkable. Those who had been involved there certainly praised it lavishly. They were all more prestigious than I am, which doesn't mean I wasn't an effective teacher, but perhaps I wanted to speak about a different type of experience.

At any rate, there I was, standing up at this long, elegant table, speaking about having moved up here from a tenement in New York for my first teaching job at MIT. I have learned enough over the years to realize that it was important to mention my one coup to this particular audience -- teaching at MIT. And to say that after my three years were over, I was like a barking seal, waiting for sardines to be thrown my way, little jobs (I don't think anyone there could understand what that's like, single parent, having to earn a living catch-as-catch-can) when I was offered a night Photo I class at UMass.

Obviously one class wouldn't have done much and I was so dumb that I didn't know I had any chips that I could have played, hadn't heard of CAA (College Art Association where one hunts for jobs)....didn't know how to look for another one so it was as if I'd been cast adrift in Brookline, spending more than half my income for that apartment so my daughter could go to that particular school for that particular tutoring).

But the point of this was that by the next fall, I had been slid from one evening Photo I class into a tenure-track position which is entirely illegal!

And that the fellow who had performed this leger de main (sp?) couldn't undo it. (I don't really understand why, if he'd been so free with the rules, he couldn't just drop me off the cliff as he'd done to the man teaching full-time previously. But he couldn't.)

So, there I was, much to his distress.
And that's where I met the woman whose birthday we were attending.
And the man, who happened to be Dean when I was up for tenure, was sitting two seats away from me.

So I could take the chance/opportunity of telling the story of my tenure case which took a very, very, very long time to go through the College Personnel Committee.

The woman who had come to my aid, who decided I was worth helping, was from the Woman's Studies Department. She combed my long, required statements for any sign of self-deprecation.

(This is what I forgot to say at that dinner much she helped me and how hard a time she had convincing me that self-deprecation is not allowed in making a tenure case. A person must be sure-footed, positive and never weigh possibilities or elude to the fact that one isn't terribly important.

Of course, I think self-deprecation is perspective. A sense that no one is all that important, even people deemed extremely important, and that the game is usually rigged, there are ghosts in closets and there's always the strong possibility that someone who would have done as well just happened not to have had that opportunity...we can move into discussions of economic and class differences, educational and economic opportunities, race and gender quite easily from here...)

But anyway, I stood there talking, and muddled on to the point where I'd gotten really tired of waiting for the process of my dossier passing through that Committee which seemed very hopeless and tedious. Why not go back to working in the Women's Shelter? Didn't pay as much, longer hours, perhaps I wouldn't be as effective as I was in teaching, but why not go back, I thought.

And wrote a note saying that the whole promotion process felt like being pushed out on an iceberg with a rusty tea kettle and a hairpin. (there were means of collecting water and spearing fish, I assume...) And I was finished with it. Or some other phrase that to any sensible person would have read as the fact that I was resigning.

But I'd passed the committee on day before they received the note. (I passed because they leaned far to the left and knew that I did also...)

And the Dean, having received their reccomendation and my note, called me, asking about the iceberg, the tea kettle, etc,. and I explained that it was a letter of resignation (perfectly obvious, I thought) and he said, "Well, let's just consider it a blip on the radar."

That was very nice of him.
And actually very good for me. And perhaps good for students.

Of course, he hadn't remember this.
And probably other people at the dinner were surprised when I managed to reveal that the Chair, who so hated me, would leave faculty meetings in a rage, saying "Fuck you...".  He had, actually, a lot of fun in his role...quite a bit of power and a grant outlet for his temperament.
Folks with PhD's don't seem to have as volatile temperaments or at least I haven't met any that do.

Any rate, the guests did laugh when I ended it thanking the former dean for my pension

and my friend, whose birthday party I was attending called me the next day to talk about the remarkable event (very elegant speeches and much high praise and laughter, a gorgeous setting, sparkling everything,) so I gather that I'd acquitted myself adequately, managing to be amusing enough.

But damn, I wish I'd remembered the phrase self-deprecation and to thank the faculty member from another department whose hard work allowed me to survive.....

at any rate, I had my Spanish lesson at Target today...
and am now aided and abetted by a dear heart who encourages me to find more sticks...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stick Ladies

 So, I went to a day-long workshop at the Essex Art Center in Lawrence with Cathy McLaurin (that could be spelled incorrectly, I never know with spelling.) Actually I took two of her workshops...and would like to take more since they are so far away from anything I ever think about, much less do...  It was quite easy to put aside preoccupations after the first ten minutes when I thought -- what am I doing here? I don't have time for this -- and realized that I'd driven all the way out there (without going on highways), paid for the deal and should just flow with it...

If I weren't so deadly wedded to so-called reality, I might have been an artist -- in the sense of making it up from interior promptings instead of picking bits and pieces from what's in front of me as a photographer does.

I hadn't imagined making anything I liked at the workshop, that wasn't a goal, but the stick woman was certainly acceptable. In fact, I like her.
And have started another couple. And been collecting a lot of sticks. Sometimes, especially after the hurricane, I fill the back seat with branches and withered leaves. Actually, I rather want human forms, if abbreviated, instead of bug-like stick creatures, so most of what I pick up isn't entirely useful. (I must say that my daughter was hardly pleased at this new habit...yet another thing her old mother is collecting, another sign of dotage?)

Now, should one of my rules be that the stick has to be the 'correct' form without breaking off bits? I allow myself to attach sticks, tape holding them in place, before I wind the yarn around that joint. That's okay. But what about the problem of a three-legged stick?

Every project has rules devised by the person doing it..nothing is entirely in free form.

One of my rules for my photographs was not cropping. Never cropping. Using the black edge when I printed because then, in those old days, it really meant having used the full frame.

Occasionally, now, I crop. Yesterday I thought about it and cropped the part of the kitchen from the right side of a stick lady photograph because the video camera I'd taken out to record the kittens Krissy had rescued, temporarily living on the back porch. But the game I played for years was -- no cropping. And I still think about it even when the photograph is hardly important.

And I certainly never saw color in the viewfinder of my Leica...I was seeing in shades and space.

Now, when I transfer my digital color photographs to black and white (as I'm doing for a book with recipes that folks are writing in Spanish in the Senior Center), they don't work at all. I know I could have taken a better photograph, meaning with black and white film.

(But I don't want to develop film or work in a darkroom. Besides, my beloved Leica had developed a habit of scratching the negatives unpredictably, a fact I hid from myself rather than solve it. And I still like taking images to keep myself from being bored, so.............I take a vast number of color digital photographs and my poor computer is exhausted from storing them.)
Anyway, when I get over this endless making-of-prints for the Chelsea City Cafe and the Senior Center, around 70 11x17 prints so far, far easier with color and digital prints, but still time consuming, maybe I'll do stick figures and then start on the Lawrence project. Or do stick figures while I work on that project. 
On to the next.

Monday, October 3, 2011

It's October, already...

 How is this possible? That it's October? And Clemente will be heading to Tampa soon. In the meantime, he gives me a Spanish lesson on Sunday mornings at the Starbucks in Target near the racetrack. Since I don't really know exactly what that sound system is -- what ll and j and the vowels sound like -- my spelling isn't very good. And he talks very fast and takes out his teeth to eat and it's a foreign language...and Italian would be easier. But it's terrific fun.

I'm learning various impractical things like Yo voi a la (or parra) Florida and por que ella estraba apprendiendo Espagnol con migo. (I've forgotten what this means.)

Gordo is fat. and hija is daughter (pronounced e-ha in English.)

I've hardly been at the track this meet, having spent endless time at the Senior Center, photographing, video taping, taking yoga, learning Spanish in the class where they are learning English. The "Harvest Celebration" will be late this month, the last Wednesday, at the Sr. Center, my photographs, food, visit from "Garden Girl," we hope, who has a show on a cable program. I think that there are around 40 framed photographs, so far. I may reprint and combine a couple, but my obsession is showing as many of the seniors in as many activities as possible which is how I got introduced to Mike at bocce.

(The question is whether I'll join bocce next's so tempting, sitting around in the sun watching, until it's your turn. But in grade school, I know I got in the back of the line, hoping I'd never come up to bat. And this would be as terrible... with someone like Mike wanting to win.)
At any rate, he didn't. Win. His team lost the champsionship by two points. "We lost by two. We lost by two," he said in wonderment. He's almost ninety, from Italy, spent four years in the war on an island off of Greece. "That Mussolini, twenty-seven from my village died, twenty-seven. He was drafting men age 50, with families. Terrible." When he was discharged, after the war, it took a month for him to get back to the village in the Abruzzi mountains, outside of, way outside of, Rome. When he got there, groups of neighbors greeted him. When he got to the house, his mother said, "Michael, you got to marry Maria."  "What you mean, I just got back from the war. Let me rest. Who is Maria?" "You know. You just saw her."  When he went away, he said, his sister had a friend in the house across from them, a skinny girl. How could he know she was Maria, that beautiful young woman. He didn't recognize her. How could he?

There were no jobs, no food, nothing. But finally he got something in construction. And after a year, he married Maria. His brother in America asked him to come over. He did, but he didn't know what was going to happen, so he left her and their son and daughter. In two years, they came. (In the meantime, he worked hard and went to dance clubs. He's loved to dance.) Finally they moved to Chelsea and he got out of construction and worked in the pharmacy at Mass. General for twenty-seven years.

He's distraught. Depressed. Maria died four or five months ago. He doesn't know what to do without her. He misses her so much. They had a wonderful marriage.

Mike played bocce as a kid, in the streets, with stones. He's very good.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


 In my limited way, I'm changing up the images for the Community Garden show by combining two...a great leap in my skill level. Now what I'm wanting to do is change some of the black and white images I've made from the color Senior Center garden photographs to extremely high contrast to get them out of the realm of unsuccessful black and white images transferred from digital color.

I never imagined that I'd be taking color photographs, much less doing all this community work only in color...and that if I wanted to use any of them as black and white for purposes of reproduction in booklets they would look like shit, more or less.

At any rate, the above image is of the little guys that I was watering by cups full that have now grown up into adults which no one harvests. There are a few melons growing larger slowly, lots of spinach, a zuchinni, some beans, marigolds...all waiting for someone. And my video of Aweis talking with the sisterhood at Temple Emmanuel is waiting to be shortened. But I've run out of energy. Not time, just energy.

The good thing is that a fellow, a retired, professional, ballet dancer, offered to help me in some way and I realized that perhaps he'd be willing to frame the photographs -- taking the cheap frames out of packaging, Windexing the glass and hoping that spots won't appear on the images...   and he was. So, we've met at the Senior Center where i discovered that he's also totally useful at organizing, setting deadlines and making suggestions that the exhibit needs text because what are these people doing, anyway. Now I've made him my task master so that I can buckle under and fulfill his orders -- another 15 prints to frame by next Thursday.

Actually, I'm way ahead of the game...and the Sr. Center show is almost done, about 37 prints, and the other one at the Chelsea Cafe, about 30 prints is a third done..        I absolutely hate the charettes that the city planners I worked for a hundred years ago seemed to love...the all nighters before an aspect of the plan was due, everyone working feverishly.   I'm not good at staying up all night to work, though many people really enjoy the last minute pressure and do their best work during it.

So, in order to fill the slots left in what I want to show I photographed bocce (what a pleasure, a beautiful morning, all these older folks, a few in their nineties, a lot of teasing and laughing), bingo (you might win a dollar), a small class of women who've been talking about poetry on Thursday mornings for years, and a luncheon of folks who, predominantly, speak English -- not as much fun as the previous fiesta I video taped that celebrated the independence days of various Central American countries in early September.

If I wasn't so busy, I think I'd be depressed, but I'm too busy to know....
Getting older is odd...
thank you all...who visit me...and apologies for my poor visiting skills...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

It's been so long...

 that I not only forgot how to get into my blog, but wrote this whole damn entry in another blog that I started for a friend with my photographs who never used it, but happens to still reside in my folder.

So, all this has been said -- the reasons why I've not been blogging, but instead making local videos and taking local photographs supported by two small grants that pay for my expenses. And for the last two weeks, I was working with a smart, young woman who just graduated from Tufts, who really knows Final Cut Pro and also explains various technical aspects that I need to know. She speaks in a quiet voice, watches as I write her instructions down, tests me and doesn't make a fuss when it's obvious that I haven't remembered whatever she just taught me. Maybe she's thinking about leading an old horse to water, but perhaps she's just a patient person. No one of her generation would take a second to learn the simple computer tasks she's trying to teach me.

Each day she's uploaded our rough cut onto Youtube and friends have generously watched it and given us feedback. I can't thank them enough for all their time and effort.

As a meditative pleasure I walk a couple of blocks to the local Temple in the early  mornings and early evenings, unlock the gate with the key that Aweis gave me, and pour cups of water onto the spinach seedlings that I've gotten him to call the little guys.

If I knew what my last blog was, written so long ago that I have no way of remembering, I'd know if I introduced you to him -- this remarkable Somali Bantu man who learned English while he was in the detention camp in Kenya and came here to become a community organizer for his people, along with having another full time job.

At any rate, he's my hero. Not only because of what he, and so many Somali Bantus, have endured, or because of his remarkable ability to convey something of his story for what will be a local video tape, or because of his gentle, steady way of moving this garden project along, but because he carries two buckets around the block to the spigot on the other side of the Temple, climbs the steps, jumps over a low wall, fills them, hoists them up, climbs up, and carries the water back around so that he can dip cups of water onto the plants. He kept all the purchased and donated vegetables alive during the heat wave. And now I'm adding to his work by having convinced him to transplant many of the seedlings that were tossed as seeds in a bunch rather than planted in a row during that first day of planting when Fatima and her son, and some of us from the Community Garden, got this things started.

The little Spinach guys were calling out to be transplanted and there was a serious need to fill up the third plot, so that's why this folly of transplanting them and of planting more seeds of mustard spinach and chard in two rows that are marked by sticks. To my absolute shock, one of the rows of seeds has already sprouted and most of the little guys have lived.

It turns out that it's necessary that this mother duck that I've become waters them twice a day. I missed yesterday morning and a few died. But I'll go there after I finish this and again this evening. And then I'll try to figure out how to get more water since he left six full buckets which I'll probably use up before he's able to get back on Monday evening after his full time job.

I find this meditative and pleasurable. And am so glad to have a manageable task. I could go to the Community Garden and work on  my bed or I could try to make the tiniest inroads on my own yard which is a wreck and a tangle. But I'd much rather just walk to the Temple with my dog and pour cups of water over the little guys.

Aweis has a large goal -- to make this a viable garden for Somali Bantu families. He needs the experience of this first year and then to engage more families in the process.

My goal is to get the third plot to display some visible success because I am interviewing two of the ladies from the Temple this week for my local video about this project. I want them to see some success with the hope that they will want more garden plots in that large, empty space that's seldom used.
I have been teaching Aweis some Americanisms. One is 'happy as a clam' which I am when I'm pouring those cups of water. Another is 'a hard row to hoe' which is easy for him to adopt since he would have been a farmer had he been able to stay in Somalia. And the other is about staging a house if you are trying to sell it. We are staging that garden. We've both bought some additional plants -- tomatoes, peppers and marigolds. And are making an effort with the little spinach guys.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

As Close to Heaven

 Clemente is a rascal from Puerto Rico who rattles on in a high-pitched voice. I often don't understand him, but K. always gets what he's saying. He was a jockey for many years, riding at tracks all over the country, then an exercise rider when I first met him, and now a hot walker and a groom. He was badly hurt in a fall and didn't stay in the hospital long enough, so he's often in pain, sometimes complaining, endlessly joking. Often I've spent an afternoon at the races, following him from one place to another, as he wanders here and there, taking to this person, to that one, introducing me and laughing, laughing, laughing. For some inexplicable reason, I find his face just fascinating. He's one of the people I'd never tire looking at. And never tire photographing.

I met him through my friend Joe who used him as an exercise rider. Joe told me about one day when Clemente was riding by on a white horse, a very white horse, and he yelled to Joe, "Look at me, a black man on a white horse," and Joe said, "Yeah, just like a fly in a glass of milk." Clemente says he was once white, but he's drunk so much coffee that he's turned dark brown. And he says he has a twin brother, the one locked in the basement, or the one who was in a bad mood yesterday. His family has gold mines, he says, and air planes and he's going to take us on one, to Puerto Rico. And he says Puetro Ricans no lie, no cheat, no do drugs. He's always laughing.

 When we first moved up to this god forsaken place, Boston, I used to take K, who was only nine, out to Suffolk Downs. I found it as comforting as I found the Greyhouse bus station...both places that reminded me of the relentlessness of New York as I knew it. K missed NY as much as I did, but she found the track frightening. Too many drunk men. And I soon realized that I couldn't take her with me. I was never interested in the horses, but in the people, and since she wasn't interested in the horses, it was more torture than pleasure for her.
 At some point, I got used to my new life, more-or-less, and stopped going out there, though I did take a class from MIT once. A very quiet young woman took the most marvelous photographs by just turning around and photographing those old guys checking their programs, yelling at the races. Back then, the grandstands were crowded on race days and she had a Rolei, a camera that you look down into to focus, and they didn't notice what she was doing. I'd hadn't been able to photograph there since as far as I was concerned, the earth would open up to swallow me if I took pictures of strangers.
 K. is quite horrified by the amount of money Clemente bets, but he says he doesn't want to leave anything for anyone to fight over and besides, if he gave his money to someone to save, what would happen if that person died? His money would be gone anyway. For instance, if he gave his money to me, and I died, would I have told K. where I'd hidden it? Well, she says, she'd buy a lot of clothes with it and he laughs, laughs, See? Loose my mon-ee.
We went out to the opening day of the track and to watch the Preakness. Usually Suffolk Downs opens on Derby Day, but the legislature in this state won't allow increased gaming, refuses to let slot machines into the track, or a casino to be built there, watches as all the money goes to the big casinos in neighboring states, pretending that lottery tickets sold by the state aren't gambling, etc., etc., so Suffolk Downs is going to hell in a hand basket with losses and didn't open when it usually does. I don't like chronic gambling any more than I like alcoholism, but obsessive gamblers bet on which rain drop will fall down the window pane faster. And I do like the people who make their livings, such as they are, in horse racing. They work endlessly hard to earn very little, most of them, at least.
This is as close to heaven as I'm going to get. We bet two dollars on four horses to win, not on any of the favorites and not on the one that won the Derby who Clemente said won that race because the jockey is from Puerto Rico and would win this race. Even I knew that would never happen. So, we bet on the long shots and nothing came in even though Astrology, the horse K. chose, came in third. We bet to win. K. said we should have bet on Shackleford, but that's just because the young woman sitting in front of us was telling someone about a horse named after a Russian writer and I looked at the Preakness listing and only found Shackleford, an explorer, and mentioned that to K., but we didn't put two dollars on it.

We had a great time.

I am well behind in blogging and hope to catch up with some photos of the wonderful dinner with Claire Benyon...that was a remarkable treat, meeting a wonderful New Zealander. I learned that good bloggers read faithfully and even read all the comments on the blogs they follow and realized that when I'm capable of keeping up with the blog reading, I never read the comments because, to me, that's like reading other people's mail...   obviously I've carried over my scruples into the wrong place. And I learned that I should answer every comment on my own blog...  oh, dear, apologies all around...and thanks for reading this!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Earth Day in Chelsea and lots of other stuff

 Chelsea declared this Saturday as Earth Day and I went along to the parking lot in back of City Hall to get my green tee-shirt and decided to photograph various sites for the Chelsea Collaborative since I don't have the energy for serious, useful work. The most heroic attempt at cleaning and clearing was at this cove, near the Marina that's private... (This is in the fancy area of this small and extremely beleagured little city which is now predominantly Hispanic, Admiral's Hill, with townhouses and condos. There's a nice park where no one is allowed to lay soccer anymore. I used to scoff at anyone who lived here, but now I'm so tired of maintaining my two-family, all the snow, the garden, the roof, the oil tank, blah and blah, that I would, and maybe will, happily trade it for a condo there if I can possibly afford it which means if I can finally take the plastic off the windows because it's warm enough not to need heat and clear up enough to ask a realtor to look at it.)

These reeds were filled with endless debris, even syringes. The black bags are for garbage, nothing that might be salvaged. The white bags are for recycling. This distinction was quite heroic given the circumstances. Folks were actually stopping to try to unscrew and empty the bottles before putting them in the appropriate bag. One man, who is also part of the Community Garden, had been lobbying to get this as a clean-up site in the hope that wild life might be encouraged to re-inhabit it. It's going to take an enormous amount of work, but two hours of the heavy labor of twenty or thirty people did a bit.

One of the benefits of going around to different cleaning areas to photograph is that I got to see Mill Creek, a site that has taken twenty years and probably a lot of money,  to recover. A white heron, a gorgeous thing, was standing out in the flowing water. Two plastic bags floating on the reeds hardly disturbed the general restoration of this site. Now there's a small park for kids up the path and an area where hot dogs and non-dogs were served to all of us.

One of the things I told Elsa is that I'm tempted to outline sections in my garden and photograph the before and after. I bought clothes line at the Dollar Store and proceeded to weigh it down with bricks and take the before photographs. Then I dug out some weeds, etc., which truly showed me what an insane idea this is because I went to sleep afterwards. I don't seem to be able to do any gardening, even in small doses. My body does not like it.

The photographs of what I accomplished in the small amount of time I worked will look a lot better than these. I'll probably abandon this project.

Elsa said the idea reminded her of work done by various folks in some previous decade, I don't remember which one. But for me, it's attached to my plan to put string grids across my shelves and then write down where every object came from and what it means to me. I thought that would  make a really interesting bit of work -- photographs with extensive text. About twenty years ago.  Of course, I would never have shown it anywhere. And I didn't do it because I couldn't get the strings to look like a grid.

This project, passe as it probably is, and impossible as it will be to manage, given the size of my garden and the general mess, probably won't get done, either. But it was fun to think about.
This is the sushi lunch that Elsa art directed. I also have some nice photographs of the empty plates (we ate everything, everything ) and her paying the bill, but enough is enough.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


I always remember Elsa's birthday at the end of April, probably because mine is a bit sooner in the month. I spent mine in the community garden, taking photographs and planting onions and barely survived it. Actually I thought my daughter would forget it, but I've become so emotionally deadened, that it wouldn't have bothered me, not like the way it bothered me when my father forgot it, but that was because he was getting so old and losing track of details he'd never lost track of. If Krissy had forgotten it, I don't think I would have minded, but she didn't. 
 So, when I got an e-mail from Elsa asking whether my birthday had already happened, I said we should have lunch and she said yes and we had lunch on HER (this really deserves capitalizing) birthday! What could have been better. I got to redo my birthday and we had sushi (she says I take the best food pictures, but they are on another camera so you will not get to see how she art directed the photographs of our respective and gorgeous plates of vegetarian sushi) and she took a Polaroid 20x24 of us in her studio.

She is the goddess of this huge camera, and instrumental in lobbying for the continued production of the film and chemicals. And she loves this monsterously large machine which is so expensive to use. But actually fits her very well. I'd prefer to travel with a camera, but she has made a home for the Polaroid, a studio with lots of photographs on the wall and postcards, strobe lights and background paper, and the essence of Elsa's ability to make anyone comfortable with her questions and conversations as she potters.
After I was back in the studio,  I remembered that some years ago I took a lot of video footage when Elsa took photographs of us and included Krissy and Bogie....that was one of those many things I do which I love doing and then forget about even though they are actually very precious. What could be more interesting than having taped the whole process as Elsa measures where we're standing, disappears behind the camera, stands with us, talking all the time about something or other.
 I love listening to her. She would be an excellent person to accompany someone to a doctor visit, though I don't know if she likes doing this. But she's so pragmatic and matter-of-fact and would say, "Well, that's not good news. But let's look it up and see other ways of handling it (acupuncture and herbs in addition to traditional medicine). And you've had a good life and should get a few more years of it, so make the best of it."

I am very good at going to the doctor with people and always glad to do it. I'm quite non-reactive and useful under those circumstances, but I don't do the afterwards research that she does...and probably am not as comforting because I look so damn forlorn. I was actually extremely happy to be with Elsa, not the least bit worried or fretful, but I look miserable. When she's thinking, her face closes up, but she doesn't look as if it's the end of the world.

Elsa's a grandmother! How can that have happened? I asked her a question could we have gotten so old... and she said, "Well, we weren't hit by a car when we were crossing the street and didn't die of some disease or get in an accident," and I said, "No, I meant how did so much time go by," and she said, "Oh, that's a different question." But how did so much time go by? How is Isaac married and a parent and living in San Francisco? How did Elsa and I get to our ages? The memories are so vivid and seem so recent that it's absolutely peculiar. But that is a different question.
I love Elsa and always feel so much better when I see her. That's a fact. But why haven't I seen her for well over a year? It's that sort of slippage, the not paying attention to those who matter and what's interesting, not making the effort to call, or e-mail, to get together. Every time I see her, I swear that I'll lobby to see her once a month. And then don't. What I liked about those olden days, in New York, when I was scrabbling around, were the long afternoons of just hanging around with a friend, talking. Then I moved up here and met successful people and learned that having a friendship means having lunch every now and then. But now that I'm retired, I could make it mean more than that. Or happen more often. That's one of the benefit, if I'll only take advantage of it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


 All last night, I was lost. Somehow my ex and I were in separate hotel rooms, but when he left, I didn't know where my room was, there was one of those elevators that go round and round, shaking, stopping at half floors, in a castle that's a hotel, where is floor 5 and 1/2, and where is the room, and why are papers torn all over the floor, and my daughter's toys broken, and all that jewelry, and why can't I get to my parents' house in Nova Scotia and, oh, isn't this a fascinating idea, a plastic box with sand and jewelry, just shake it and a new image is revealed, quite beautiful. It was casually put together (held by tape) by a young college girl at the Rosenberg's house, where are Marv and Lilliann? And more, much more of these dreams. It was awful to be asleep.

I wake up exhausted. But I was exhausted yesterday, only revived briefly by the Zumba class.

Last Friday and Saturday, I put together two videos -- one from the community garden and the other of the Fiesta de las Mariposas. Though I know how to edit with Final Cut Express, I don't know how to edit with it and am not entirely sure what I'm doing. So it takes longer. But it takes a long time, anyway. And my body hates sitting. But I couldn't get up. I even lost track of time and was almost late to lunch with a friend, that was followed by tea with another friend.

Graciously, Margaret checks the Mariposa Fiesta video and informs me that the title is incorrect in Spanish and she changes it to Fiesta de las Mariposas. This time I didn't give her editing credit because that was my only mistake. Last time, she got the editor title for Carmen demonstrating how to make butterflies with wire and netting. There was a tiny bit in there about something or other, me and the camera, etc.... Margaret is the important ingredient in these videos with Spanish speakers, but she was also important on Sunday afternoon because the one about the first two days of work in the garden made her happy -- all those folks working, able to see themselves on Chelsea Cable TV, all those kids playing and shoveling.

(One sterling quality about Margaret is that she laughs out loud when she's happy. I almost never laugh out loud. And besides, without Margaret, I wouldn't have gotten in the Senior Citizen Center, video taped the quilting ladies, etc, etc...........)

Now my problem is printing titles on the 7 copies that I made of the Mariposa Fiesta. I'm determined that what I'm now doing about events in Chelsea, (additionally trying to get as much of the oral history as I can) will go into an archive. When I moved here in 1985 and did a photo project with oral histories, there was no place to show the framed photos except at a local branch of a state school. So they've all been dispersed. Fortunately, I found out that the local library does have an archive. Though it's an attractive building, it has no charm for me since you can't walk into the stacks. But at least it has a room where boxes of old photos are store.
The next video that will need Margaret is of the women actually making the butterflies, most of them with recycled paper and glitter that was actually made in America, it's that old. I was very grateful that the women allowed me to tape them. I even taped hanging the butterflies in the large all-purpose room, but my daughter somehow taped over the first half, so all those hard-working ladies have vanished, leaving Carlos on the ladder, hanging butterflies from the ceiling.

What I love about it all is that sometimes the women start singing when they are making butterflies, and some of them dance when they are handing the butterflies to Carlos who dances a little while he's hanging them. Two women even sang unaccompanied solos at the Fiesta. (Spanish and English)

I'm trying to learn bits of Spanish -- oruga = caterpillar. Da Nada. Deficile (that's useful for the exercise classes which really are difficult.

When I was in Tucson, and listening to Nance giving English lessons on the phone or through skipe, I heard lots of laughing. She's another person who laughs a lot. I though about giving similar lessons, but I'm not a good phone person. If a person was actually around me, she or he could at least tell that I'm reasonably friendly in a calm way. But I'm not very conversational and I don't have that wonderful ability to laugh.

Lucky Nance. Lucky Margaret. Lucky Krissy.
Lucky me for different reasons.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


So, here is the scoop, but not the only reason I haven't been caring for my blog. I seem to have been spinning around since I got back form Tucson, always busy, busy working, making busy work. But here's the first quilt I made after I joined, yes joined, the Empty Spools Quilters on Friday mornings at the Chelsea Senior Center. After making a video about them, hanging around all those weeks, drinking coffee and eating cookies, they invited me to join and make quilts for babies in the Intensive Care Unit of Boston Medical Center. I couldn't resist. I'd fallen in love with these ladies, all of them in their eighties, some in their upper 80's... (I am particularly fond of Helen, a tiny woman with the eye of a hawk, telling me what I've done wrong and insisting that I rip the stitches out. "You don't have to go so fast. Slow down," she says.)

Being with them, I realized that in the past I'd find a way of inserting that I have an inter-racial daughter and wasn't married to her father in conversations when I met a new person. That set up my political and social stance so that I never had to say much more. People, more-or-less, knew what was appropriate to talk about around me. And it wasn't negative racial statements. I haven't done that at the Senior Center, so sometimes I hear, "My mother wanted me to marry anyone, just to get married, as long as he wasn't black, of course." And I don't flinch. These are ladies who've grown up in a poor, close knit community, haven't gone to college (I don't think any of them have), worked in factories, are Catholic and think about going to mass and who has just died, some friend they've known all their lives. In other words, I don't wave my usual political banners, but fly under the radar and am, actually, quite happy there. Except that something I'm doing bothers my back horribly.  I leave there at noon on Friday, barely able to walk because my sciatic nerve has kicked in. My daughter says I'm crazy to go somewhere, do something, that makes me feel to rotten afterwards, but I love being there. I just HATE making quilts.

In the olden days, when it made sense to do it because I was too poor to buy many clothes and when cloth and yarn were so cheap, I made wrap-around dresses, long three-tiered skits,  Krissy's jumpers and long skirts, and knit sweaters. It no longer costs less to do that than to buy them. It's a luxury to knit yourself a sweater. A simple one costs, maybe, $90 in yarn...   But I sewed. And was terrible about finishing anything. I hated to hem, but eventually I got everything done....after much stalling around.

At any rate, I just wanted to make a red quilt, red and red and red. And didn't think at all about how the squares would fit together. It took three of us to find a decent pattern so it looks alright from a distance, not that any mother wrapping her baby in this will ever see it from a distance.
I thought that if I finished a quilt, about 40"x40", I was done. But oh, no, you've got to make a back for it. Naturally there isn't enough cloth to easily find a whole piece that will look decent with the colors of the front, since the cloth is all donated...  I was crushed when I had to make my first it is.

Then, damn it all, you've got to cut a batting to put between both of them. And then you have to pin it all nicely so that Mary can sew the quilting...she takes it and whirrs it through the sewing machine. That was once done by hand, women sitting around the frame, finishing a large quilt. Quilting the quilt. Or perhaps they stretched it on a table in the kitchen and sewed alone...but I think that much of quilting had a component of shared work, like raising a barn. So, here are the components of my first quilt which is now waiting for Mary.

All this reminds me of my friend, Marion, who made many quilted photos based on specific, historical patterns when she was getting her Masters. (I was very impressed by her premise.) She has always been interested in women's work and must have read a great deal about the history of quilting, the origin of certain traditional patterns...a long, unrecognized, but important form of creativity, decoration, art. I've always admired her ability to delve into what's behind the surface of what I notice -- oh, a nice quilt on the bed -- and then don't bother to think about. This was long before quilts, like those of the women from Gee's Bend (is this right?) were shown in museums and became high-priced collectors items.

And it reminds me of how often she and I laughed about our projects all those years ago -- those patterns, those damn dresses, that fabulous fabric store on Second Avenue and 5th (?) Street, all that earnest work we did.
This is my second quilt. I knew that I didn't want to sew so many 4" pieces together so I made 5 squares of four inchers...then used for solid 8" pieces and then the larger 16" pieces. When you've sewn together 4 little squares,you have to cut them all down so that they're the same size. I didn't know that...this involves a rotary cutter, a cutting board and a clear, heavy plastic gismo with measurements on it... so for the first quilt, I had to do quite a bit of cutting down.

Yesterday Eileen put together a quilt that I liked, but she didn't. But it doesn't matter to her whether she likes them. She just zips them together. I could't do that, though I haven't been making baby quilts for 31 years like she has. Maybe I'd just work on whatever is available, have the philosophy of using up squares that have been hanging around...  Well, anyway, I liked what she'd put together.
So, then I was done with the front and started the back. No easy thing since all the fabric is donated and there aren't necessarily pieces large enough for a back. Therefore the back for the purple quilt was pieced...five strips of fabric that I found by rummaging in the backstairs closet, taking out the big roll of batting, and various plastic boxes, digging around. 

But, by the time I got it pieced together and held it up so that Eileen could take this picture, they decided it will work well for the front of a quilt. So, next Friday, I will have to find TWO backs, put batting between them, tape it all down, pin it and I'm done with three quilts...

Monday, March 14, 2011

I should

I have to say that I was exhausted after those three hours. My first quilt is close to having the squares all sewn together...but not close enough. My idea was red, red, pink, purple, all together now. But I realize that it does make sense if there's some planning. My general attitude is Why Plan? And that usually stands me in good stead, but it took three of us twenty minutes to  make more sense of my squares than I had thought necessary.
It is work -- quilting. Physical work. Even though they, all of whom are in their eighties, say it's fun, a good way to pass the time, something to do in the evening. But there's a lot of measuring, cutting, bending, pinning and unpinning, sewing, leaning over, cutting, etc. They laughed when I complained since I am a baby.

I did look at houses in Tucson. Though this was on a busy street, there was very little noise to be heard inside. And it was large, interesting. I'm not ready, yet, but part of me could have jumped into this house if only it had air conditioning, rather than evaporative cooling.
Imaging a yard of dirt and cactus. Bare. Sparse. Dull to look at, really, but it would be a great place to live.

First of all, it was eighty degrees for many of the days I was there. And the park near N. and W's house has a lot going on, including drumming that starts at 3 on Sundays. I imagine that most drumming groups are welcoming, as was this group. One lady, banging on some interesting looking metal instrument, was using oxygen and in a wheelchair. Her daughter must have pushed her up for the afternoon. What can be better than a group that's so inclusive?
If I move to Tucson, I'll join this group.

The kitchen manager in Rincon, the local hang-out, restaurant, grocery store, had this tattoo drawn on when she was older, she said. It took her a year to decide exactly what she wanted , but her niece had a book with an illustration of these wolves. And so ...  at that point, she had a job, an important job, so she had to have a whole wardrobe of shirts that covered it up. 
Older women seem to like it, she told me, when I slobbered over it.
It's far more gorgeous than this photo.
For the first few days I sat in the comfortable chairs at Rincon, eavesdropping. The conversations were mostly about stocks and also about the viscosity of oil in pipelines. One nice, old (maybe six years older than me) fellow had lived in a Buddhist community in L.A. and had a large part of developing a still-successful community garden around there. After that he lived off the grid, but now has moved to Tucson, for health reasons.

And then one morning, by good fortune, a fellow sat down who obviously had planned to drink coffee and read the New York Review of Books. Well, I thought, this is interesting, everyone else is reading about stocks, and was glad that we began talking. And even gladder that he was willing to take out a temporary adoption of me, drive me out to meet a couple who have been restoring an old adobe house -- what a gorgeous place they've been saving for the last nine years and to see the racetrack and where the bats roost during the day. 

It turns out that his wife worked with my friend, N., in the line of small world coincidences. And that they live on the other side of the park where folks learn to walk on tight ropes and juggle and drum on weekends and where we went for a walk with his dog, Gillie................  In case anyone is interested in casting this dog in a starring role in a clever dog movie, I have many more photographs........

Saturday, February 26, 2011

L.A. and Tucson

 How can you not be delighted walking down the street, seeing buildings painted with signs like this?

 And how can you not gulp when you walk out of a craftsmen house and see more such houses lining a street lined with these palms?
 So I fell in love with L.A. I said this before...if I had another lifetime or was ten years younger...I would move there, though a friend suggested I have enough time left to make this change. That would mean I'd just stare at signage and those insane palm trees that serve no practical purpose except to amuse me. Glorious.

I have not filled this whole blog with photographs of Jinx, the most glorious dog, who actually slept with me on my last night in L.A. Large, comfortable, his heavy head sometimes resting on my stomach. This is hardly fascinating reading, but it's such a good memory.

We went to an interesting exhibit of work by Fred Lonidier at the CardwellJimmerson gallery...small space, but quite remarkably hung (I hate to use that phrase, but displayed is even worse) exhibit. I found it very interesting in that his work exemplifies the problems of depending on theory/words/text as the basis. And I truly appreciated the tension between esthetic and meaning as I stood reading (sometimes skimming) three of the, what eight or nine?, pieces of "L.A. Public Workers Point to Some Problems..." The problems are commonplace and, to me, very interesting -- low level, probably not well paid workers trying to give decent service-- a librarian, a teacher (young kids), someone who worked in what we called the welfare department. The struggles, cutbacks, lack of material, poor pay, etc., interesting stuff rather densely presented on, let's say, 4x6 panels (I just checked, there were 11 of them and they are 50x33") with small, prosaic black-and-white photos that I didn't even glance at. I just read. Informative and punishing. I liked that impulse though I can't imagine many people standing there, craning their necks, to read it.  

Though my "Streets are for Nobody" was hardly in the same critical vein that Lonidier works in -- since I'm a documentary photographer -- I faced a similar problem with excerpted text interviews that I was told were too long, much too long.  (I would have preferred text panels the size of Lonidier's!) The portraits were quite prosaic, hardly attention grabbing, since I wanted it clear that these were women who happened to be homeless and not examples of the visual curiosities of a shelter.

Back to L.A....the work that I thought was most successful was "The Health and Safety Game," which combined images taken of a number of people (let's say 5) who had been victims of industrial accidents with text about their physical and legal struggles. This was framed, a bit more graphically seductive (that was hardly his intention in the "L.A Public...") and insightful.  Dense. Seriously interesting.

His most recent work, "AZTEC VS A.T.U." was the most graphically interesting with unnecessary bits of design that probably made it more pleasing to someone glancing at that wall from across the gallery...the information was, of course, interesting, political, about a union struggle against a bus company that ended up going bankrupt so no one got anything useful out of the demonstration.    (But I found myself fussing about the extraneous bits, and I mean tiny bits, of decoration....shows how cranky a person can become.)

Anyway, it was certainly interesting. I was glad that we went in what was, for L.A., a torrent of rain. I thought of backing out, my usual avoidance tactic, but pulled myself together to be a decent sport -- much to my benefit.

Arriving in Tucson to a dry, flat (in terms of color) landscape is a shock. It's not yet spring so whatever bits of color will sprout from the cacus are not yet visible. This first photograph is at the University of Arizona...

It's probably more realistic to think of the last of my lifetime here with manageable driving and one or two months spent indoors under an air conditioning unit.

We went to an exhibit yesterday, across from that low flat building (the sky was blue!). It was in an old warehouse, hence the photo of the floor which became, to me, an exhibit, an installation, in itself. I loved the floor. Nance loved the paintings and would happily live with one. (I prefer paintings that are chaotic and noisy. These were very quiet.) We both admired the director with his melodious voice, who with his wife, has actually made a business of selling regional work. That seems remarkable.

Today I get to go to a rodeo.................