Monthly Archives: June 2007

Old Poetry Day

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The past few days I have been searching through old journals and notebooks looking for notes on an event I went to years ago. I haven’t found the prize yet, but in the process of not finding what I was looking for I did find some other interesting stuff.

Back in 1990 I was taking a poetry class in the evenings, and I worked on those assignments in the same notebook that I used for recording meeting minutes, jotting down ideas for articles, and writing songs. Somewhere in the middle of all that I found the following, dated July 12. I have no recollection of writing it, but I think I was in the middle of writing a song that wasn’t cooperating, and this came out instead. I rather like it; not bad for a first draft poem. Or is it minutes from a meeting?

Pushing a sound from lungs to throat
Going to the egg below the crusty earth, lay
my flowers at the altars of the muses
Campbell says one should focus on one muse, but I,
not knowing the presence which interrupts
my days, speak to them all
I say
I am 28, I have waited out the slow IV drip
that kept my blood from raining onto the damp earth
I have entered your walls with thought and no-thought,
danced here on your marble floors
and now, a feather
floating amongst the stars in the sky
of this room
has landed on my foot. I will
take it and go.
Just one thing, they say. Were your feet
made of feathers you would have no
reason to stop here, under and beneath
all that supports you. Go lightly,
tread on nothing you can’t see
and write about it all.

An Altar By Any Other Name

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The Pile o’ Books challenge was fun. (Now that I can do WYSIWYG editing in WordPress, putting photos on my blog has gotten much easier.) Today a few folks on a Pagan bloggers list were tossing around ideas for new and exciting challenges, and I came up with the idea of photographing something at our homes that is an altar but doesn’t look like an altar.

I might be at an advantage here, because I’ve lived in this house for less than two years and have had the wonderful opportunity to decorate it from the ground up. There is very little in my home that is where it is by chance. Sometimes I think that the definition of an altar is anything special that is put somewhere on purpose. I have no idea what the actual definition of an altar is, nor do I care to look it up. It’s been too nice a day to start consulting dictionaries.

Anyway, I decided to stay inside my house—there are too many little altar spots outside Ancestor Altarto enumerate—and photograph some of the more subtle altars. This one is actually pretty obvious, it’s an ancestor altar. Situated on top of my poetry bookshelves, it has a bronze naga candleholder from Indonesia with three beeswax candles. Above that are photos of almost all my great-grandmothers (there’s an empty space for the fourth, to be filled soon), and above those is a beautiful painting by Carole Watanabe called “Crossing the Magic Waters.” This is a very flexible altar: I can light the candles and bring my ancestors in, put little objects on the dragon’s back to carry them over, read poetry, and any number of other variations.

EnkiAny work of art I consider a potential altar, in that it is a point of focus and intention with lots of layers of meaning. Here’s a painting on canvas by myLabyrinth Altar friend Inanna McGraw, which I had framed and placed over my CD shelves. It seems innocuous enough, unless you know that it is actually a design from ancient Sumer, where it was found in the temples of Enki, God of the Waters. And here is another painting by another friend, Morgan LeFay, of a Cretan labyrinth. If you passed it in the hallway you might walk on by, unless you had need for a labyrinth meditation at that moment.

Making MusicJust a couple more examples here while I’m at it. This is my all-important songwriting altar. Cleverly disguised as a guitar and a music stand (with tuner, pick, and capo on the table next to it), it is an altar partly because if you’re trying to write songs you need all the help you can get, and partly by virtue of being watched over by the Rainbow Serpent. This painting is by a young Australian artist and was given to me by my friend Georgia, who knows about these sorts of things.

And last but certainly not least, the altar which probably gets the most use of any of them in myMorning Tea house: the morning tea altar. Patron saint of this enterprise is the rooster potholder hanging over the stove. Active ingredients: Peet’s Black Currant tea and a French press I picked up at a thrift store. Oh, can I make a large and delicious cup of tea with this rig. (I’d include my special teacup in the picture, but that would be divulging too much.) Too bad it’s evening already. In fact, it’s the longest damn evening of the year, at least four more hours of daylight to go, and I have a long, long time to wait before my next morning cup of tea.

Happy Summer Solstice, everyone, and may art and beauty flow with abundance through all our lives.

Random Opinion Day

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It’s Sunday, a day when attention-seeking pundits across the nation are paid to appear on opinion shows whether they know what they’re talking about or not. If they can be overpaid to spout off on national TV, surely I can do the same here for free. So in the spirit of free enterprise, here’s what I think about various sorts of things.

The 2008 Presidential Race: Gore/Obama would be my dream ticket. I would happily vote for any of the Democratic front-runners, however. Hillary makes me a little nervous because she’s such a centrist. Obama is too, but you can’t tell yet because he hasn’t said anything substantial. Edwards just might take it, especially if the big names implode for some reason. And they all would be way better than anyone the Republicans have to offer, not to mention the current resident of the White House.

Dennis Kucinich: Should go back to Cleveland. He’s a nice guy, has some admirable goals, but he is not a person I would ever want in the Oval Office. Case in point: his proposed Department of Peace. This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. Why not just establish a Department of Euphemism and call it a day? Really, there is nothing wrong with the Department of Defense that we have now, except it mostly functions as a Department of Offense. Words are words. Labels do not signify change. And I can’t imagine spending yet more millions of dollars shuffling people and offices around the Capitol at a time when that money is needed so desperately other places. So please, Dennis, go home.

Software I Hate Most: Photoshop. God, just writing the name makes me shudder. For any seemingly simple task, Photoshop has not one easy way to do it but 15 ways that each require a manual to show you how, a dictionary to understand what the hell they’re saying, a private tutor to tell you to try it another way, and a good belt of whiskey to even attempt the process. Then it will take you three hours to do it right, or less time if you just bail and pay someone else to do it. Yes, it would be bad enough if it was just arcane, labyrinthine, and virtually impenetrable software. But now the name has become a verb, which is basically unforgivable. There must be a new ring of Hell invented to encompass all the torments heaped onto society by Photoshop.

Favorite Funny Blog Names: There are two winners in this category so far. I’ll list them in the order I found them, which means that Get In the Car! goes first. Jen Magnuson writes this, though how she finds the time to blog daily and be consistently funny about motherhood is beyond me. She has four kids and a big car, hence the clever blog name. Next is Whatever It Is, I’m Against It. Whenever I need a reminder of what an absolute train wreck of a president we have, or need to laugh at some recent political inanity, this site usually does the trick. Lots of pictures, too.

Favorite Birthday Party: That would have to be my 25th, when my friends and I went out for Indian food—which I don’t even like—in order to feel like we’d had our fair share of lentils before coming home and having a chocolate fondue party! That was 30 minutes of absolute chocolate mania, followed by an hour and a half of lying around nearly comatose. But during the manic part it was really fun.

In five years I’ll be 50 and Lyra will be 25. Oh yeah, I guess I had that big chocolate binge party while I was pregnant. Oops. Anyway, I think we will have to do something huge to celebrate the fact of having a combined score of 75%. That’s a passing grade—drinks all around! It will be hard to outdo a chocolate fondue party, though. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m going to go eat some chocolate now. Maybe with a whiskey chaser, just in case I come across something I have to rasterize.

Of Apples and Trees

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My sisters and I were all subjected to a rigorous musical education as we grew up. We all took piano lessons from the age of five, and by the fourth or fifth grade we all had taken up a second instrument as well. Two of the sisters quit taking piano lessons by the ninth grade; the other two—my sister Sarah and I—continued through high school. Sarah and I both began college as music majors, and she went on to graduate with a BA, two MAs, and a PhD in music-related fields.

All this was instigated by my mother, I think, who in her strict upbringing was required to play piano as well as the saxophone, for the singular reason that her grandfather had lots of them lying around. My father also took piano lessons as a child but it was never as religious a practice as it was in my mother’s family, and for good reason. It seems we are the inheritors of a matrilineal dictum to play piano that, dutifully, I have passed down to my own daughters.

My great-great grandmother and her sister were accomplished pianists. My great-grandmother was an uninspired student, but her daughter, my grandmother, became quite proficient on both the piano and the organ. Fresh out of Grinnell College in the years following World War I, she supported herself for a time playing background music for silent movies. Mostly she played from memory, or improvised according to the mood of the film. Sometimes the piano was positioned so she couldn’t watch while she played, so had no way of knowing whether she was playing a march during a love scene, or a sentimental ballad during a duel. And when a movie ended with a tragic death, she would be in tears through every showing.

My mother was forbidden by her father to learn popular music, but at night she would listen to the radio and the next day went to the piano to pick out the tunes by ear. In this way she was able to help support herself playing old standards in cocktail lounges, while she worked days as a physical therapist. She could play any tune, in any key. I still aspire to this. Our childhood years were punctuated by the parties our parents threw, which inevitably would end with all their friends gathered around the piano singing favorite songs while my mother played the piano.

From this background, somehow I wound up studying the liturgy and ballads of Pagan music, and Sarah wound up in Wales studying Welsh popular music and the resurgence of Welsh language and culture. I don’t quite understand how this happened, but it is a useful coincidence because each of us can appreciate in some way the quirky interests of the other, and the route taken to such an end. Not only that, but we actually read what the other has written on the subject with interest rather than purely a sense of duty.

So I was thrilled when Sarah told me today that one of her articles had been published recently in a peer reviewed journal. Viva la niche! We were raised with a deep appreciation of classical music, at a time and in an area that was the very nexus of the music of the counterculture. Seen in that light, it is no surprise that Sarah has such a keen eye for the untold stories behind a broader cultural movement, and an appreciation of both the traditional and radical influences on each of the women she writes about.

Not only that, but she has also inherited one of the traits from our father’s side of the family: a sardonic writing style and flair for the double entendre. Yes, the apple does not fall far from the tree. But if an apple falls and nobody eats it, what fun is that? Enjoy her article, if you do follow the link. I think it is well worth the read.

Beach Blooms

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This morning I took my camera to Doran Beach, in order to capture some of the great profusion of blossoms there. It is a peaceful place to walk and think, especially on overcast mornings before the weekend crowds. I am not much of a photographer; my technical expertise lies somewhere between point-and-click and set-your-own-f-stop. Except I don’t really know what an f-stop is, in spite of having tried to learn several times. But I can crop a halfway decent photo, and after some editing I ended up with a good sample of local flora.

Unknown beach succulentAt Doran, I parked in one of the short-term spaces just before the park entrance and walked over to the median strip where this plant was growing very happily, packed in tight and wild with color. It looks like a succulent to me, but I don’t know its name. Sadly, I couldn’t find it in my Pacific States Wildflower guide either. I think I need to find a good book specifically on coastal plants.

Rattlesnake grass, ice plantDoran Park encompasses both estuary land, where the tidal marsh supports lots of wildlife, and a long sandy strip of beach that stretches from rocky cliffs and tidepools at one end to the mouth of the Bodega Bay harbor at the other. In between are countless niches for plants to dwell. I found some flowering ice plant, but my camera wanted to focus on the rattlesnake grass hanging over it, so here you get a little of both.

Yarrow, California poppyOn the trail over the dunes to the ocean, there was lots of wild mustard, radish, Queen Anne’s lace, lupine, and thistle. Here are yarrow andStar thistle California poppies growing side by side, along with sedge grass and some wild cucumber vine. My favorite snapshot of the day was of this incredible star thistle in full bloom. Yeah, sure it’s an invasive species carried over with my European ancestors, but have you ever seen anything so vibrant?

Yellow sand verbenaMoving on down to the beach, there were two particularly beautiful plants growing in the sand. One I was able to identify as yellow sand unidentified sand flowerverbena. This is the only plant of its kind I found on the stretch of beach I walked. The other plant was blooming all across the sandy dunes, but sadly I could not find a name for it in my book. It has a pale lavender flower Lupine, sand dunes, Doran Beachand sometimes grew in compact little clumps like this, and other times poked out of the sand as singular flower stalks. I did get a photo of the mixed dune plants, with this plant growing alongside brilliant yellow lupine, some wild radish in the background, and dune grasses.

When I got home, I took a picture of this tomato plant that I will be putting in the ground very soon, in one of the warmer, protected spots in my garden. It is a very special tomatoTomato plant plant, because it comes from the garden of a friend of mine who will not be around to see his plants bear fruit this year. He passed away last night, after a long struggle with cancer. A very private person, he requested that there be no service for him, nor even an obituary. So this is not an obituary. But it is a remembrance of a gentle soul, who was a favorite uncle of my kids and a loving companion to my sister. It is a blessing for him to be through with his ordeal, but he will be sorely missed, and remembered fondly by all of us for a very long time.