zirconium: photo of squeezy Buddha on cell phone, next to a coffee mug (buddha and cocoa)
[Source of subject line: http://www.elviscostello.info/wiki/index.php/Everyday_I_Write_The_Book]

Seen in St. Louis:

St. Louis

(No, I don't actually covet this particular sofa. Especially since it got rained on during Easter weekend. But my own long sofa, with a sleepy doggie sprawled next to it? Awww, yeah...)
zirconium: photo of Greek style coffee, Larnaca, October 2011 (coffee in Cyprus)

This is, I think, a book for those readers and cooks who prefer to know what the original dishes are supposed to be like, and to be given the option of making their own adaptations and alterations according to their taste and their circumstances. There is, I know, a school of writers who seem to believe that English housewives are weak in the head and must not be exposed to the truth about the cooking of other countries; must not be shocked by the idea of making a yeast dough, cleaning an ink-fish, adding nutritive value to a soup with olive oil, cutting the breast of a raw chicken in order to fry it in butter rather than buying a packet of something called "chicken parts" from the deep-freeze and cooking them in a cheap fat or tasteless oil substitute.

If I believed that English women really needed this kind of protection -- censorship it almost amounts to -- I would have packed in cookery writing long ago.

zirconium: photo of bell tower seen on a walk to the Acropolis (athens bell tower)
I turn 44 in a few weeks. On the one hand, I am enjoying my mid-forties. On the other hand, one does become ever more conscious of how little time is left. Neither of my parents made it to 65. I visit cancer journals now and then, including that of a fellow writer in his forties.

Last night, I revisited my Penguin edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry and prose, and registered anew that he had died at the age of 44, and that his last words were reportedly "I am so happy. I am so happy." (According to Eleanor Ruggles, as quoted in Wikipedia, the words were "I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life." Now I am even more curious about these words, and why some accounts leave out "I loved my life.") So I hopped online to seek additional context, and stumbled on this passage in David E. Anderson's review of a Paul Mariani biography:


Hopkins died on June 8, 1889, just six weeks short of his 45th birthday. He was diagnosed with typhus, but Mariani suspects it was complicated by Crohn's disease, a sickness unnamed until 1932. Hopkins's last words, repeated over and over, were an affirmation--or a plea to himself: "I am so happy. I am so happy." He died unheralded and unpublished, and it was not until 1918 that Oxford University Press published an edition of 750 copies of the poems edited and introduced by his old friend, England's then poet laureate, Robert Bridges.

A decade before his death, however, Hopkins ruminated on the question of fame in an exchange of correspondence with his friend, fellow poet, and Anglican cleric Richard Watson Dixon. "Fame," Hopkins wrote, "is a thing which lies in the award of a random, reckless, incompetent, and unjust judge, the public, the multitude. The only just judge, the only just literary critic is Christ, who prizes, is proud of, and admires, more than any man, more than the receiver himself can, the gifts of his own making."

Nearly a century later, John Berryman, a poet as singular as Hopkins, would appropriate Hopkins in one [of] his last poems, a poem of his own religious conversion:


Father Hopkins said the only true literary critic is Christ.
Let me lie down exhausted, content with that.


I'm fascinated by this stance. As a non-Christian, it's not exactly of comfort to me, but as both a theist and a book industry professional -- having seen so many well-wrought works sell so very little and receive the barest flicker of attention -- I confess that my sanity has long been rooted in the conviction that one's job is to create the right poem/song/story/image for one's right audience regardless of its size, be that a single human being, a swarm of millions, or a silent yet merciful deity. So while the phrase "only true/just literary critic" makes my teeth itch, there's a part of me that nods in recognition at Hopkins's and Berryman's declarations.

Assessing articulations of faith (when are they authentic? when are they obnoxious? when are they engaging? when are they derailing?) is a recurring activity in my various circles. I'm told that accusations of anti-Christianity were flung at critics of this year's Hugo nominations. Sports fandom has long been divided over expressions of evangelical Christianity on the court and in interviews; for my vacation this past weekend, to get into the spirit of Fed Cup, I brought along a pile of tennis-related reading I'd been meaning to get to. This bit showed up in a July 26, 1993, New Yorker essay by Martin Amis:


To see Courier and Sampras on Centre Court was to see a dramatic opposition of will and talent: to see what Courier had given to get as good as he is, and to see, more simply, what Sampras had been given by God. (Refreshingly, neither player is especially religious, unlike Chang, Wheaton, Agassi, and, of all people, Nick Bolletieri.)


Because I don't have cable here at home, one of the things that makes a vacation vacation-y for me is catching an episode of Chelsea Handler or The Best Thing I Ever Made/Ate. The TBTIEM show on cakes included a segment with Alton Brown; his feature on Apple Spice Bundt Cake led me to look up grains of paradise, and keeping company with it in the surfing-after-a-show rabbit hole was this interview about (among other things) his family's sense of stewardship, about saying grace in public, and about the discomfort being a churchgoer raises in other people.

It hadn't been in the plan, but on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, part of my reading was Kathleen Jowitt's entries (so far) on her 2007 pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago. A sample of why I kept reading (and why I think some of you might find it likewise inviting/compelling):


A Quaker challenged me, the summer before, about the idea of pilgrimage. God is everywhere: no place can be called holier than any other. What was the point? Actually, I agreed. Santiago de Compostela itself, the Holy City of the Iberian peninsula, held no greater attraction for me than any other place; I had my reservations as to whether it was genuinely the resting place of the mortal remains of Saint James the Apostle, and there were other European cities that would have taken precedence my 'must see' list. The traditional way of getting there, however, made it another matter entirely: one's own two feet; one's own pace -- quite literally; the chance to prove that five hundred years of civilisation hadn't turned one soft.


Circling back to birthdays, it is April 23. A few weeks ago, I was reading another old magazine (this one purchased from a church rummage sale years ago) -- an April 4, 1964, issue of Saturday Review with Ivor Brown's "How Shakespeare Spent the Day" as its cover story. Here is how it opens:


It is remarked by Hamlet that "everyman hath business and desire." That Shakespeare had desire we know from his sonnets. That he had his business in the workaday, money-earning world is sometimes forgotten in the appraisals of his genius. But that he chose to mind, and could successfully mind, the business side of his career is proved by what we know of his life.

People today are apt to think of poets and businessmen as living in far separated worlds. But it was certainly not so in the case of Shakespeare, who was born on the premises of a small-town business. His home was a shop and his neighbors were shopkeepers. There was nothing strange to him in the process of buying, selling, and striving to make a profit.
zirconium: snapshot of my dog on my deck (Abby)
This is Charma, the young Kerry Blue Terrier who was the "guest dog" at the Museum of the Dog in St. Louis this past Saturday.

Charma

As Herb and Kathy (her handlers) put it, she was "pushy-friendly." I told them that was exactly what my own dog is like. Charma greeted me by sniffing at the band-aid on my knee. Herb and Kathy told me about the local breeding and dog show scene and showed me how Charma's fur was turning blue lower down, closer to her belly.

Upstairs, the artifacts included a handsome armchair with daschund-shaped armrests:

armchair with dachshund-head armrests

armrest

Downstairs, the painting I kept returning to was Kathy Jakobsen's Dog Walking in Central Park. It is fabulously detailed (dog in a fountain! dog in a bike basket! doggies lined up like ducklings! dog distracted by something while two mohawked lovers embrace!) and I've requested her book on New York from the library because I want to see more. There were also exhibits on military dogs, police dogs, sled dogs, show dogs...

I wasn't expecting to pet any dogs today (although they are allowed at my hotel), but at Shu Feng's, there was a five-month-old Afghan Hound puppy, owned by two young women hanging out en route to a very dressy party. Like them, Sunshine was sleek and friendly. ;-)
zirconium: me @Niki de St Phalle's Firebird (firebird)
In the New York Times, Jodi Kantor asked Katty Kay about a list that Christine Lagarde carries with her:


KK: She got so fed up of men coming up to her and saying, you know we'd love to have more women at the top of companies, or we'd love to have more women running things, but we just can't find the good candidates. This annoyed her so much that she wrote down a list of 10 really good women, qualified women, and put it in her purse. Every time a man came up to her and said, "It's such a shame we can't find a qualified woman," out would come the list.
zirconium: tulip in my front yard, April 2014 (tulip)
Here in Nashville, we've been under frost advisories this week, which in my case has meant re-covering the hydrangea, bringing in the plants I over-optimistically set outside last week, and snapping photos of the rest:

tulips, season 3

There was a sandwich board outside one of the bars down the street advertising a drink called the "Angry Gardener." I was tempted. But there was a magazine release party already on my calendar, and I was glad about prudence prevailing over temptation when, at the gathering, Emmely Duncan handed me a glass of strawberry vodka punch laced with black pepper syrup.

front of the house

Earlier in the day, I had been thinking it was time to bin the University of Michigan sweatshirt I was wearing. It was probably ready for the ragbag a couple of years ago, but today was the day I registered all the stains it had accumulated -- as in, I should've changed outfits before leaving the house. (Considering how laid back and grunge-tolerant my neighborhood is, this is saying something.)

Of course, when I realized this, I was already too far along just to turn around, so I went into the drugstore anyway. As I looked at a display of brooms (so many things in my house getting ratty...), an older African American man walked by me. Then he turned back, exclaiming, "Michigan?" He was wearing a Detroit Tigers cap. Oh, I wish you could have seen how his face lit up.

Speaking of clothing and identity, the New York Times published a piece this past Sunday sparked Harvey Fierstein's new play. The article is titled Clothes Make the Man, and -- potential trigger warning -- it raises all sorts of unsorted-out-ness about authenticity and beauty and comfort and gender, and, and, and ...

This paragraph had me nodding in recognition -- I may not share the specific need to wear boy vs. girl clothes, but do I relate to how certain clothes are me and others are not, and how what I wear can affect how me I am at a given moment? Oh yes.



"One person I spoke to said: 'When I have my boy clothes on, I feel like I'm at a party full of strangers, and there's great effort that goes into putting my best self forward. And when I put on my women's clothing, it's like walking into another room, and my best friend is sitting there, and I can breathe,'" Mr. Mantello said. "There's a certain poignancy in a transformation that feels cellular."


And immediately following that is the passage that spooked me the most:


If the guests at Casa Valentina love looking in the mirror at their femme selves, some of the actors have struggled with it. Mr. Birney recalled having a hard time making peace with how he looked as a woman.

"I was heartbroken," he said. "I asked the makeup artist, 'Can you make me prettier?'"

Mr. McGowan and the seventh man in the play, Larry Pine, said they had to reckon with their sagging middle-aged bodies, and the girdles and corsets used in the play.

"I look in the mirror, and I see a hideous woman, absolutely hideous," Mr. Pine said. Asked if that hurt, he replied, "Yeah."
zirconium: photo of flask with feathers in and around it (flask with feathers)
My local library branch has a book cart stationed by its main entrance, with culls from the collection priced between fifty cents and two dollars. A few months ago, I scored a copy of Skim, a 2008 graphic novel about a gothy Asian Canadian teenager. (I gather it won several awards, but its appearance on the cart was its first blip on my radar [that I noticed, anyway. 2008 was a rough year].)

The library's kept three copies, which makes me glad, because it's a story I'd like to see remain available, particularly to other women who are experiencing or have experienced what it's like (1) to be an outsider, or (2) to be the target of misguided or self-serving concern. The story's topics include suicide, pagan practice, girls being judgey/cliquey, same-sex love, and whether Romeo and Juliet is a good play or not.

(I'm also glad I read it before checking out the Wiki article or Kailyn Kent's appreciation. Keen as I am on spoilers most of the time -- un-recovered control freak that I am -- I really enjoyed following this story without anticipating its digs and twists.)

(And, when I have a little more time, I want to spend some of it browsing through the illos on Jillian Tamaki's blog. The glimpses of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea look phenomenal.)
zirconium: sculpture of owl at Cheekwood, Nashville (Cheekwood owl)
Rachel Lee Harris: What's one of your favorite cities on the schedule?

Lynda Carter: What's so interesting about Nashville is that it's progressive. It really feels like it's alive. In any part of the airport, while you're waiting for your plane, you can go listen to a live country band. There is so much talent.

- http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/06/travel/lynda-carters-travel-tips-from-water-to-walking.html

zirconium: me @Niki de St Phalle's Firebird (firebird)
When I was in grade school, I read Richard Shelton's "Certain Choices," and I have never forgotten the closing stanza:


I have few friends, and none of them
are replaceable. That's the way it is
with friends. We make certain choices.


I'd misplaced Shelton's name for years, and the rest of the poem too (it's one of those that unfortunately seems to get attributed to "Author Unknown" more often than the writer himself), but thanks to Google Books, I finally read the whole thing again within his memoir of being a prison volunteer. And some other people have reposted it on Tumblr and other spaces.

In Camille T. Dungy's Smith Blue, there's a poem titled "Association Copy," which is about a book that used to be owned by Lynda Hull. The opening lines:


Maybe you sold it to buy junk. Though I like to think not.
And I don't want to think you used the money for food
or rent or anything obligatory, practical...


And then the fourth and fifth lines are very Linda, to my eyes:


A pair of boots, perhaps. Thigh high burgundy boots
with gold laces. Something crucial as lilies.
zirconium: photo of ranunculus bloom on my laptop (ranunculus on keyboard)
Par la bouche de ce canon il neige. C'était l'enfer dans notre tête. Au même moment c'est le printemps au bout de nos doigts. C'est la foulée de nouveau permise, la terre en amour, les herbes exubérantes.

Snow is falling from the mouth of this cannon. There was hell in our heads. At the same time, spring's at our fingertips. Permission's granted to step forth again, the earth's in love, the grasses exuberant.

-- René Char; translated by Ralph Freedman, Donald Justice, and Paulène Aspel
zirconium: photo of flask with feathers in and around it (flask with feathers)
In the most recent batch of picture books from the library, the one I like best is Hena Khan's Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story (Chronicle, 2008), beautifully iluustrated by Julie Paschkis with lots of blue, green, and gold. I especially like how Yasmeen's Eid present at the end ties in with the overall storyline of her gazing at the moon.

In other goings-on:

  • fourteen takes on Hopkins's "The Windhover", including mine


  • a reading of Traci Brimhall's The Labyrinth


  • a reading of Uma Gowrishankar's At the Moment of Death: Bardo 1
  • zirconium: corner of dormant tulip bed (corner)
    When I got home from my overnight shift this morning, the flowers were still closed-up for the night:

    coming home late/early

    I look forward to seeing them later in the day...




    From the clippings pile: David M. Shribman's NYT piece on journalist Wendell Smith, "Hall of Famer Whose Pen Charted Path for Jackie Robinson." Shribman quotes Brian Carroll: "Acknowledged as the most skilled writer of his time, 'Smitty' has been overlooked simply because he was black."
    zirconium: Photo of Joyful V (racehorse) in stall (Joyful Victory)
    Last fall, my friend Knight handed me a handful of bulbs. I dug a wide, nine-inch-deep hole next to the Kentucky Colonel mint and plunked them in.

    Look what showed up today!

    Right on cue!

    in my front yard today

    crocuses from Knight
    zirconium: Photo of Joyful V (racehorse) in stall (Joyful Victory)
    1. My poem Spelling "For Worse" is up at Goblin Fruit, in both text and audio formats.

    1a. I am keeping right fine company on that TOC. :-)

    2. Merrie Haskell wrote a novel called Castle behind Thorns. It's about to emerge, it has earned a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, and it will be a Junior Literary Guild selection. (Her second published novel has been collecting recommendations and awards, too, including "the 2014 Schneider Family Book Award winner for middle school for its depiction of a person with a disability.")

    3. The Velveteen Rabbi will be reading her poetry in Jerusalem. I am so excited for her!

    4. Making manuscripts reader-friendlier. Go me!

    4a. Having the chops and experience to recognize typos (especially in Spanish) I wouldn't have caught five years ago.

    5. Ripe cantaloupe and canned quail eggs. For when one works flat through dinner and then needs something that doesn't require cooking (i.e., stink up the kitchen) right before bedtime.

    6. The sumo tangerine I picked up at a store last week. It was an indulgence, but it was also a great conversation piece, and I am about to candy the peel.

    7. Having a dog that gleefully hoovers up vegetable scraps. (I am less enamored of her fondness for snacking on potting soil, but that's because it makes her wheeze.)

    8. It is sunny and 55 F here right now. I'll be spending most of the day with spreadsheets, but I think I'll first sneak out for a walk.

    9. Particle Fever! (And yes, I wore my CERN jacket to the showing.)
    zirconium: corner of dormant tulip bed (corner)
    I've joked all winter about the yo-yo weather confusing my tulips. There's confused, though, and then there's outright wandering afield.

    For context, here's a glimpse of my front yard from the front porch:

    view from my front porch

    See that blue circle?
    location of rogue tulips

    Close-up:
    rogue tulips

    Meanwhile, back near the porch, the rest of the tulips are smirking and shouting tulip-smack across the yard ("Jajaja, look what came out of the squirrel's butt!"):

    the rest of the tulips
    zirconium: Unitarian Universalist chalice with pink triangle as base (rainbow chalice)
    Virtual: Hena Khan's Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini. While I prefer picture books on paper, I do like checking them out (so to speak) via my library's online lending program, especially when said program recommends books to me that might not otherwise show up on my radar, like this one. It's a beautiful book, and I now want to look up the other books the author and artist have produced.

    Physical: Elisabeth Kushner's The Purim Superhero, illustrated by Mike Byrne. This one was brought to my attention by someone on my Twitter feed, who pointed to an essay expressing disappointment with PJ Library's decision to make it an opt-in selection (rather than an automatic delivery, as all its other selections have been) because the dads in the story are gay. I didn't save the link to that column, but these comments are in a like vein, and Keshet reports that subscribers opted in in droves.

    This Tablet article covers a lot about what I like about the book, including the line that made me stop and sniffle: the hero of the story is feeling pressured to choose a superhero costume for Purim, even though, left to his own devices, he would rather be an alien.


    "Max said I need to pick a superhero."

    "Is Max your boss?" Abba said.

    "All the boys are going to be superheroes," said Nate.

    "You know," Abby said, "not all boys have to be the same thing."

    Max thought about how most kids had a mom and dad, not a Daddy and an Abba.

    "Abba?" Nate asked. "Do you ever just want to be like everybody else?"


    Do you ever just want to be like everybody else? Oh. Oh, my heart.

    Also? The cast includes a dad who sews and a woman rabbi. Yes!
    zirconium: photo of bell tower seen on a walk to the Acropolis (athens bell tower)
    I was trying to string together something to do with garnets and gannets, thanks to this thread over at M'ris's LJ. But there was also this...




    ... so I'll have to give the gannets their due some other night. No, I don't understand my brain either. But stuff like this does have a history of happening after I eavesdrop on M'ris and Elise. (I will also add that some years ago Elise sent me some garnets as part of a gift from Dichroic, the other part being this poem. The world, it teems with treasure...)


    The month has started under water --
    a sense of too much to shove at or swallow:
    sprawling projects, tax returns ...
    To wield a spear like an Amazon,
    to hammer antique fears into a gleaming bow ---
    these aren't skills I can list on my present

    résumé, but what's needed at present
    is something like. To get out of the water --
    to haul my soggy rear back into the bow,
    spluttering out what I couldn't help but swallow --
    it isn't pretty, training to be an Amazon.
    I'm told such pangs will yield happy returns

    but some days I think of all the sad returns
    I boxed up back in the warehouse -- this unwanted present,
    that unhelped self. My wishlist at Amazon
    changes by the week, like flavors of water
    from a sportsdrink sales rep's cooler. Swallow
    this magic pill. Now take your bow

    on the Wonderland stage. in the Wonderland court.
    Tied up with a bow,
    neatly wrapped -- low risk, low returns.
    I know that, but the truth's still tough to swallow
    when the press of my weariness outweighs the present.
    I have to remember how petrels pierce the water,
    scaring off sharks with the skill of an Amazon.

    I've never longed to sail down the Amazon
    but then I never expected each night to bow
    my head with such thanks for running water,
    schooled by floods and droughts. The returns
    of every field, I now regard as a present.
    I've watched dying people, how they can't even swallow

    the thinnest dribble of water. Oh, when the swallow
    nests again by the bell, will we see the Amazon
    gliding into harbor as well? Will it present
    a dazzlement of gems -- the gold-bright bow,
    a garnet-studded scabbard? What returns
    isn't always what was cast upon the water --

    in some of my dreams, men in swallow-tails bow
    to Amazons as their equals. But waking returns
    me back to the present. I plunge back into the water.

    - pld


    ETA 8:40 pm: It never fails -- an edit making itself obvious after I press "post"...
    zirconium: photo of squeezy Buddha on cell phone, next to a coffee mug (buddha and cocoa)
    We have a bit of snow right now. Last week, there was a lot of wind. It flung penny-sized pinecones from a neighbor's tree into my driveway and front yard. They are adorable (but I have in turn been flinging them into the compost pile).

    penny-sized pine cone

    I wanted some short comfort reads last week, so I brought home a stack of picture books. I ended up discussing a couple of passages from Tomie dePaola's Christmas Remembered with an Italian American friend ("have you ever eaten scungilli?"). Of the rest of the books, the two I enjoyed most were Karen Hesse's Come On, Rain! (1999) and Kathryn Lasky's Georgia Rises: A Day in the Life of Georgia O'Keeffe (2009), respectively illustrated by Jon J. Muth and Ora Eitan.

    Come On, Rain! -- Muth's watercolors are terrific, and what's more, the book features a diverse cast without making a big deal of it: Tessie, the narrator, is African American; Jackie-Joyce is maybe black or Latina; Rosemary is white, and Liz is Asian. Also, city!

    Georgia Rises -- Eitan's style is interesting. Her choices of when to be precise (as in her spot illlustration of Georgia tugging on a stocking) and when to leave things rough-edged or blurry (as in many of the main paintings) could occupy me for days. (That's not an adequate description, actually -- it's clear that when Eitan decided to let the paper or lower layers of paint show through the upper layers, that was every bit as deliberate as the placement of a crescent moon or the half-circles delineating a dog bowl.) I liked that the illustrator was not attempting to ape O'Keeffe, and -- this is unusual for me -- that the paintings had a folky, somewhat primitive feel to them. Kind of 2.5-D - not quite flat, but not full-bore perspective.

    Speaking of artistic choices, Jessi Graustein (whose press, Folded Word, has published some of my micropieces from time to time, has been posting some photos of her calligraphy practice/work on her Flickr photostream now and then. The glimpses of her playing with an Icelandic greeting are nifty.

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