Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Show a little faith, there's magic in the night..."

When I was a college senior, I took a course titled “Fielding and Byron.” I remember telling my professor something along the lines of, “I just can’t get into Tom Jones.” She looked down at me and replied, “You’re not old enough, not ready. Read it when you’re thirty and we’ll talk.”

I was insulted. How condescending! A sophisticated 21-year-old English major like me – well versed in the ways of the world…I could write my own damn picaresque based on the last two years alone...if she only knew – was “old enough” for anything she could throw at me. I even wrote my major essay on “Tom’s Naiveté.” That'll show her…

…that I was the queen of Unintentional Irony. She was, as usual, right, even though I “got into it” quite well just three years later. That professor has been a colleague and is now a friend, and we had a big laugh about that exchange a few years ago when I reminded her of it. Sometimes you’re not ready for a book; it’s just that simple. And sometimes you’re ready again, and again, and again and it’s new every time.

While we may well be able to do dispassionate analyses of our favorite flavor of art (and – burn me as a heretic – sometimes I doubt that we can ever put ourselves outside our analyses), and while we may be ashamed to admit it, we do see ourselves in books, paintings, songs. As a writer, I struggle with taking myself out of the work so a reader can put himself into it. But this entry is getting away from me.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably old enough to remember records. The kind you played on a turntable. The kind you stacked on a spindle and let drop while you lay on your bed and thought about your life in all its miseries and triumphs. Maybe this is something only girls do, but I doubt it. I know enough audiophile men to suspect otherwise. Perhaps you’re back there in your head right now, thinking of a particular song.

If so, track it down soon and play it. Listen to it the way you did back then. Notice the differences in the places it touches you, in the messages it holds. Let go of the part of your intellect that says, “Well, this line doesn’t exactly capture my existential ennui” or “You think your heart is broken now, singer, wait until you express those feelings to the person in question and see how you feel then.” Close your eyes. Be patient. It’s going to be a very different song, but the experience of listening while open to reverie is liberating.

More, soon, on my playlist….

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I walked down the airplane stairs yesterday afternoon and there it was, even through the smell of jet fuel: the clear, crisp, green Oregon air. It’s hard not to write an adolescent, gushy post about how gorgeous and wonderful it is to be here, so I hope this isn’t too cloying. But I am indeed jubilant.

There’s fresh snow on the mountains, the fruit trees and flowers are burgeoning, and a bald eagle flew, at eye level, past my living room window last night. On my way into town this morning through a partially sunny snow flurry (for coffee and, equally important, wifi access), I saw a huge Canada goose standing on the center roofline of an old red barn. A living weathervane, and friends the wind is fresh and fair.

I have nothing substantive on which to muse this morning. I plan to run a couple of errands, enjoy coffee with my friends, and take a long afternoon nap. On to the coast tomorrow…

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Week Ahead...

On Wednesday, I'll be heading out of town, for about a week, to go to a wedding on the Oregon coast bracketed by too few days in my beloved former town. I doubt I'll have the peace and quiet I had in this photo from a couple of years ago, and Internet access may be dicey. So if I don't post for the next few days, know I'll be back when I'm back.

Westward bound...to "watch the ocean bend the edges of the sun."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bad Explicatin' on Saturday Night....

Come to my world and witness
The way things have changed
'Cause I finally did it, baby
I got out of La Grange

Got in my Mercury and drove out west
Pedal to the metal and my luck to the test
Baby, sweet baby

...Lucinda Williams
“Fruits of My Labors”

This song has been running through my head for several days now, and the first two lines in particular seem relevant to my last substantive post.

That first word, the imperative “come,” the stronger-than-asking call to action…gets me every time. It’s ripe and lush with so much potential. Is the voice hopeful? Angry? Didactic? Think for a minute: to just how many people would you like to issue that strong invitation? Family? Friends? Old lovers?

And the next verb, “witness,” with its don’t-take-my word-for-it tone. How many times have you tried to explain? To justify? To plead? Did it make any difference? Of course not. And even “witnessing” isn’t a sure thing, as the observer may see another scene, through other eyes altogether.

The singer wants to show, to demonstrate, to share –somehow- being new.

And then the she claims it all, with that triumphant first person “I.” Come or don’t come, witness or don’t bother – doesn’t really matter, does it?

Getting "in [your] Mercury" is always a solitary endeavor, no matter how many people you have in your life or your work. Until you let the layers fall away, discard the excess crap, and head “out west” – wherever or whatever west is for you – you’ll be explaining, justifying, and pleading.

And if you’re lucky, when you finally make it from 0 to 60, you won’t be alone in the car.

Special note: I got rid of my Mercury, literally, in 1985; when I finally headed out west, in 1995, I bought a Subaru. And things have changed yet again.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Something Beautiful for the Weekend

At the end of a long week, as I wait for the arrival of rain, hail, and the chance to sleep in, I thought I'd spare you my ramblings and offer, instead, a preview of where I'm heading next week.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Far Flung Nuts....

Just goes to show you. Tigers and stripes and such. Don’t count your chickens. I committed to a topic yesterday while ideas were swirling and before I’d started writing and then, when the time came, WHAM…nothing.

Lesson learned. I can’t give myself the gift of a “no pressure” situation and then start turning the vise. Won’t work. Never has. So I chucked the edifying and interesting morning activity I’d been planning for months, loaded up Large Dog (LD), and headed out to the ranch. It’s one of those good spring mornings, sunny and cool in the shade and the promise of warmth in the sun. I’m on the cabin deck, in the dappled shade of a huge live oak, and I just finished my coffee. LD is snoring. So let’s try again.

My friend over at “Do You Realize…” (we’ll call her DYR) wrote a wonderful entry this week about her childhood in a beautiful part of the rural Deep South and her adult realization that her parents did and still do live in ways that are in direct opposition to her eco-conscious belief system. Writers know that – no matter how much we want to – we can’t control the directions in which our readers take our words. DYR, I spun far afield from your words, but I’ll try to bring it home at the end, ok? I’ll spare everyone all the intermediate steps I went through and all the possible metaphors I tried to muscle into submission, and get you where I am now.

Acorns never fall far from the tree? Yeah, right.

What happens when you end up over with the elms?

DYR is lucky. She at least started out at home with and in her family and leafed out later. Me? Sorry, no big drama, but I was the elm in the oaks from the start. I just thought differently. I loved and respected the oak grove, but I didn’t want to live there forever. These are the kinds of feelings that lead 12-year-old girls to subscribe to The Atlantic Monthly even though they live in Reader’s Digest houses. College, graduate school, heartbreaks, marriage into a very different kind of family…. each of these things took me farther away. It’s not fun to be bi-arboreal (humor me on the term, ok?) but it does get easier when you stop trying to feed the squirrels.

And the folks I call my friends? Lots of them are noticing that their leaves this spring are different. It could be an age-group thing, although that’s an awfully facile explanation. Maybe it’s just the kind of people I like (could the universe have plopped me down into a peer group titled “People Shipped to the Wrong Address at Birth”?). And these shifts, these sproutings from seeds borne aloft, are not always related to birth families. Saplings are seeking the sun away from marriages, jobs, and geographies they were never meant to inhabit.

And I do believe that makes for a healthy eco-system for us all.

This one didn’t turn out quite like I’d planned - a bit short, a lot surface - but this is all about no pressure, right? RIGHT? She mutters to herself, “Be an elm, be an elm, be all the way elm…”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

This one goes out to...

...no, no, no! Settle down! I'm not going to channel Michael Stipe (despite what I wrote on April 9) or confess true love!

This post (when I finish writing it) will be inspired by my eco-blogging friend over at "Do You Realize...It's Hard to Make the Good Things Last" and goes out to all those who find themselves on a different path, in a different patch of woods, than the one where they started. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


A couple of months ago, I escaped from my life for the weekend. Room service, cocktails and people watching in the lobby bar, sleeping in, general solo hedonism...a perfect weekend for the closet introvert. But can you ever really escape?

I ran into an old friend (OF) from college days, and we settled in to chat over some yummy Chilean Merlot. Amid the usual catch up talk, a few BlackBerries to offices and such, some veritas bubbled up in the vino; OF posed a question about an incident that, while never entirely out of my consciousness, had certainly not been in the forefront for a good long while. Though caught off guard, I answered it frankly. We weathered a moment of awkwardness and plowed ahead, parting pleasantly.

Later that evening, after I’d returned to my room, I realized that I wanted to answer OF more fully. After all, OF was apparently curious, even after all these years. But did OF want to know or did I just want to tell? And that, my reader, is always what it comes down to, isn’t it? Those among you who wonder why I stopped writing need look no further than that question and the anxiety lurking behind it. But I’m tossing that anxiety a cyber-Xanax and forging ahead.

Long story short, I spent several February days swimming in a big old pool of introspection, and the water was very murky. It was one of those periods when I found myself wishing I were less self-aware, and maybe even a little less sturdy.

The details of the incident are unimportant to anyone but those involved (and, perhaps, only to me) but the question involved a letter. After the conversation I was, as we say around here, whopped upside the head by the memory of writing the missive to which OF referred. I was weighing graduate study options at the time, and layered into the text – woven around the sentences about the matter in question - were hesitant feelers toward some kind of relationship. I think it is telling that I can't remember much about OF’s reply other than its tenor. In fact, the other day I looked through a box of old letters and found none from OF. Perhaps there wasn't one. Perhaps it is elsewhere. Perhaps I’ve repressed much of the episode. But I did make an important decision in my life based, in part, on the correspondence. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that the whole thing was fairly complicated. I'd forgotten what a pivotal point that interlude was, how clean and rational the decisions seemed at the time, and how emotional repercussions can still be felt when someone decides to ask a simple question.

We live with the decisions we make, live in the decisions we make. Sometimes we make new ones, if we’re brave enough. Sometimes the courage lies in stasis. I alternately marvel at and disdain those who proclaim certainty at the wisdom of their decisions. What I can say I’ve learned since those angst-filled days, long ago, is that we waste so much energy in fear and worry that we forget (cliche’ alert) to live in the moment. We feel intense pressure to decide at a given point in time and, yes, much can rest on such decisions. But unless you’re deciding to kill yourself (and let’s hope that’s not the case), the Big Decision before you is only one of the innumerable ones ahead. Just do the best you can.

And save your letters.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Come on and play along!

Of the four or five people who read this, at least two know I used to sing. Emphasis on used to, and always with great decorum in some sort of organized setting. There’s that control thing again. But lurking deep inside me, as I suspect lurks inside every American child who has every sung into a hairbrush or other mic substitute in front of the bedroom mirror, is a secret performer. I’ve moved through many iterations, from The Supremes/Partridge Family/Archies/Carpenters of my early years, through adolescence’s Linda Ronstadt (circa “Heart Like a Wheel”) and The Eagles and The Stones, to infinity and beyond.

So today, I’m holding off on the entry I’d prepared and trying something fun…and I’m hoping you’ll play. I’ve picked a category – ANGST-RIDDEN GIRL SINGERS – and imagined myself as a couple of my favorites. Please, please, please post your versions as what jargon-heads call a “community building exercise.”

If I could roll out of a well-rumpled bed in a shaded frame house in a Texas August, take all my secret bad girl tendencies, soak them in good aged bourbon, squeeze them into the tiny little Levi’s 501s I wore in 1979, and pass them through all the living I’ve done in the last 48 years, who would I sound like? Lucinda Williams. White t-shirt. Scuffed brown boots. Icy beer bottles with labels peeling off. This makes me think of a tiny bit of writing I saved from the fall of 1981 (Be kind; I know this sucks but I was 22 and had been mainlining Hemingway and Faulkner for four years. Think of it as a period piece.). Someone far away who has been invited to read this blog was along on the evening in question…prize to you if you can identify the dance partner!

So we were dancing close and it was very hot and not much cooler outside when we went for air. The band started up again slow so we danced behind the pavilion very slow and close. And I asked him what he was thinking, how the night made him feel. It was kind of misty. He told me that it was nice to sit in the late autumn afternoons when sun came warm through windows and sip something and not say very much that wasn’t important. I thought of geraniums, and wondered if they would grow here in Texas in a window box in, say, November when it’s sometimes hot and sometimes cold. So I told him that I’d like to do that sometime, and he said, “We’ll see,” and I almost wanted him to be my lover. You know, you feel so pretty when you’re dancing with someone handsome and he’s condescending and mesmerizing at the same time. And you feel that ambivalence, that fluctuation, like wanting or not wanting to sleep.

If I could put pragmatism aside long enough to be the serious poet/intellectual I once tried to ape, look less than hideous with stick straight hair and a permanently earnest expression, synthesize (and have actually read) all the books in my shelves, live in a cool-colored, clean-lined city loft, be a good vegan and become very angular, who would I be? Suzanne Vega. Ballet flats. Hepburn shifts. Floaty poet blouses and the slight aroma of sandalwood and pot smoke. FW Girl and Deutsche-boy: Can you whowherewhen this fictionalized excerpt from a piece on our glory days? I’ll cook sumpin’ good on your next visit.

I don’t remember which of the guys got the idea to replace the star on the tree with a picture of John Lennon, but A* handed me B*’s copy of Let It Be and a pair of scissors.

“I’m too stoned to cut straight, and what if I cut George, man? I never liked John that much but, shit, he’s shot.”

All things considered, I didn’t double check with B* before I cut. I handed the portrait to C*, and he pulled a chair over and propped it among the branches. Everyone was quiet for a minute. Just then, someone on the other side of the room dropped the needle on The Stones “Miss You.” There’s justice, I thought. The King is dead. Long live the King. Let’s dance. I chugged the rest of my wine, put the mutilated album back in the block and board shelf, and headed to the floor.

It was just after ten, and faculty were starting to trickle in. They’d been grading all evening and were ready for a break. I felt hands on my waist, and a voice in my ear shouted, “You look thirsty. I’m headed to the keg. Now do you like it with head or no head?” I knew it was Professor E*. “Head, always!” I smiled and slipped away. I’d seen Professor F* come in, and thought I’d best attempt a rapprochement.

I was pretty sure she’d be here tonight. B* had shown up at one of our Friday night department drinking things, and she’d taken notice. His painfully thin, tofu fed demeanor called up her Berkeley glory days. His radar registered this immediately and, being B*, he began figuring out a way to use it. He knew he’d need an outside reader for his dissertation. He’d audited one of her courses, poured it on pretty thick, and my radar detected her attraction. Even though my dealings with B were a deep secret I was pretty sure that, somehow, F* knew. F* always knew everything.

I knew she liked red wine, so I picked up an extra for her and headed that way. We made eye contact and I lifted her glass. The group of dancers blocked my view, so it was way too late to turn around when I saw that B* was on a similar mission. We arrived at the same time, and when she turned to greet him, her gaze fell on the tree and rose to the top. She spun around and hissed, “My God, what have you arrogant children done now.”

This is great fun (for me, at least), but it’s running waaaaaaaaaay too long. You’ll have to wait for my other personae: Joni Mitchell, Roseanne Cash, Madeline Peyroux…. maybe even Michael Stipe!

I await your favorite angsty-girls or boys.

And – don’t worry - I’ll never, ever, mention you by name.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

So it begins...

Who am I? The world's biggest cowardly writer.

Too timid to use my name, I'm dipping a toe into the blogdom at the urging of a couple of friends. I promise nothing but a view into life on the verge of fifty, whatever blows out my snorkel when I surface from one of the pools in which I swim, and a forum for you to talk back and point out my blind spots...kindly.

And what's with the title? Not a lot. Blue is on my mind today. Blue states (I don't live in one, but I did once and loved it dearly). Blue skies (I'm thinking of the autumn sky in Taos, bright against the golden cottonwoods). Blue feelings (they come and go, just like everyone else's). And blue eyes (I do have two of them).

I ran across a Frank O'Hara quote today when I clicked on an unfamiliar blog. I'm not particularly familiar with O'Hara and the quote doesn't describe me, per se, but it just hasn't left my mind. Here it is:

My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time;
they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and
disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away.
Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me
restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them
still. If only I had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I
would stay at home and do something. It's not that I'm
curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it's my duty to be
attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the
earth. And lately, so great has their anxiety become, I can
spare myself little sleep.
- Frank O'Hara

It seems that many of my friends, men and women alike, particularly those with aging marriages or aging parents or children of any age are feeling a disquiet in their gut.

But I'm taking that blue and I'm making mine like the blue of the sky: impermanent. When it's here, it's here. Then it won't be. Then it will be. That much is certain.

I'm going to let it be the cerulean blue of peace.