Election Day. Our polling place is across the street–a lovely Lutheran church. I’m going to get up early; I’m going to shine my shoes; I’m going to do a soft-shoe routine out the front door; I’m going to stand in line while a bemused Election Day volunteer flips through a binder of registered voters the width of a bowling alley lane, and then I’M GOING TO PARTICIPATE IN THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS.
Category Archives: Beginning Brand New Things
In Milwaukee this weekend, for my friend Katie’s wedding [her beautiful, perfect-tastic, dance-rific wedding. Lo, the dancing! There was some toe-tapping, and I don’t mean maybe].
On Friday afternoon, a group of us are seated in the lobby of the Pfister Hotel, eating lunch and drinking drinks, feeling like real ladies and gentlemen.
Long story short, Robert Duvall walks in.
No: I don’t know, either.
Descending back to earth after three days of the perfect wedding, and bright fall trees, and love, and also small, delicious, pesto-based sandwiches is difficult, even under the most benevolent of circumstances; for instance, if I had been traveling to the Carribean directly after the wedding, I might still have heaved a stony sigh at the hardness of my lot in life. “The Carribean,” I might have said, “what’s so great about the Carribean? Wait, how many degrees is it in Aruba? Well.”
Small things, however, can save you. As I walked to work this morning, 7:25ish, I approached a cross-section of sidewalk that was bounded on all sides by tape and signage and et cetera. I slowed my steps as I approached. A grizzled workman, standing nearby, caught my eye.
GRIZZLED WORKMAN: It’s all right, miss.
GRIZZLED WORKMAN: [Moving his hands towards the ground, with the gesture of a man soothing a spirited horse.] Three days dry.
Did you know that Aruba is part of the Netherlands? Isn’t that weird? I think that’s awfully weird. I didn’t know that.
It must be said, however, that what I don’t know on a given day could span the Andromeda Galaxy.
That’s about right!
It was seventy-something degrees in Chicago today. It was pleasant, but ultimately, days like this knock me off my rocker, come autumn. I’d gotten used to the slow fall of the temperature, the birdsong slipping away. I was starting to settle in. I don’t like to be reminded of the long haul waiting before spring comes again. Sometimes, you don’t want to remember what was.
On a lighter note, this peppermint tea is delicious.
PEPPERMINT TEA: Aren’t I just?
I was trammeled, I thought, by tragedy,
oh what, something long ago, some travail
of my soul or my body, or of both.
The “little tragedies of daily life”
tremoring through me–tremor wasn’t a verb,
tra-la-la wasn’t either, or trial,
though they trailed through my life, didn’t they,
a tracery of tears, a track of woes.
Woes, woes, ten little fingers and toes,
decades of them, this deed, that distortion,
a tort against the treasured harmony.
A twist or a twirl, a tic, a tic-tac-toe,
thrumming on the synapses, drumming out
a threnody of threats and tears, a thought-
torture, love, love, a tiny tortured heart.
My heart, my own little tap-tapping heart,
my tapped-out heart, their testament to me,
a test of wills, or a test of my will,
my willingness, my wish to weather on.
Oh waves, waves, all the ripples and rhythms,
the rituals of walking and reaching,
the verbiage, the verb-thoughts, try this, try that;
the rites of therapy and talking trash,
the tapestry of tears, the truth-trapeze.
But did I want the truth? Try me, I said.
This is, this was, this should never have been;
reason, thought-treason and some truisms.
Let’s play a game called “It’s 9:46 p.m. and I got home about 30 minutes ago and the reason for that is I was at FedEx Kinkos grappling with a printer that needed to be taken out onto Ashland Avenue and run over swiftly and repeatedly with any passing Chicagoland-area garbage truck and an 8:45 p.m deadline for FedEx shipments and I was trying to send out a play that had to be postmarked September 27 and if I didn’t send it today I was toast and the Lord alone knows what happened to the plot there at the end of this play because I was writing like a crazy person writes who has not interacted with other human beings in twenty years because they elected to live out their lives in a remote heavily wooded area far away from the nearest town and so their perceptions of the human experience no longer make any sense to anyone let alone strangers who have never met me personally and have absolutely no reason to give me the benefit of the doubt that I’d write much much better if I had more time and much more sleep and much less on my mind generally at the moment because THERE IS A LOT on my mind right now that needs to be sorted through big time but it might be Thanksgiving or let’s face it President’s Day before I get to it.”
LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN
More next week, everybody! Time for bed.
Let’s acknowledge that there’s been a bit of a blogging hiatus of late. You’re acknowledging it; I’m acknowledging it; the unnervingly fast centipede I brutally killed last night on the living room floor with my copy of “A Room with a View” is acknowledging it. [Seriously unnerving, this centipede. An almost human intelligence. It was a dance to the death, let me tell you!]
Having acknowledged it, let’s ease back into things by taking a look at what CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, has up on the ol’ homepage right now in regards to the Large Hadron Collider; just their special way of connecting with the public, updating us on the latest news, and breaking things down simply for Joe Layperson, kicking back to peruse some particle physics of an evening with a bowl of popcorn and a cold beer:
I think the question we’re all asking ourselves right now is this: Why is the link status of beam permits “false”?
I am writing a play right now–the long kind, which I have never writ before–and it is draining the tar out of me, and all of that. This is part of why I have been so long away. I have to think of things people would say to each other, in plays, and then I have to write them down. Once I have done that for a while, the thought of writing ANYTHING ELSE EVER AGAIN looks like this:
PASSERBY: Here. Take this sweet potato, and build it into a Chevy Impala!
You see my dilemma.
That being said: My mother told me a real soul-scooping tale last week, on the telephone, in regards to this very subject; the being tired and the writing and the doing what you have to do and the all of that.
For background: My Ma’s been reading a heap about Mark Twain for a little while now, and oftentimes she’ll share a tale or two with me. This particular evening, when I was bemoaning to her my woeful inability to work all day, come home, and make my brain produce anything which does not resemble the crayon scrawls of a baby bear cub who has been taught to grasp human implements, she mildly related the following.
Ulysses S. Grant, she said–
Ulysses S. Grant
—Who was a pal of Mark Twain’s [“News to me!”, said I] apparently had throat cancer [“News to me also!”, said I.] He was involved in some sort of business proceeding that musn’t have worked out as planned, since he went bankrupt; though I’m no “financial wizard”, and “I can barely add two numbers together”, I believe I can connect the dots on that one. [Further research into this matter unearthed multiple uses of the word “swindle”, which is a word I bet they used a lot, back there in Reconstruction days!]
Anywho, there he was: Bankrupt and dying of throat cancer. And so what did he do? By gum: He wrote his memoirs, so that his family would be provided for in the wake of his passing.
ULYSSES S. GRANT: I led the Union Army, dammit!
There was nothing they could do for the cancer; my mother told me that he could not so much as drink water without it feeling like he was “drinking molten lead”. And they couldn’t alleviate his pain by spraying codeine and morphine and cocaine [landsakes!] in his throat, because he had to be lucid enough to write.
Thus spake my mother, mildly.
ME: Well, NUTS.
The presidency of Ulysses S. Grant was marred by constant acts of political corruption, up to and including a scandal referred to as the “Whiskey Ring.”
Good people do bad things.
About two weeks ago, I dyed all of my hair a white-blonde. It’s been real interesting, and not a little disorienting. Small children stare at my head when I pass, with the wrinkled brow with which you or I might observe a passing clown at a Big Top Circus, or an alien being intent on world domination [either way]. For some days, people I interact with on a daily basis were unable to look me right in the face when speaking with me; if they looked at me, they would forget who they were talking to.
This is from the night it was done–one of 17 pictures I tried to send people, in a feeble attempt to explain. I don’t know what my face is doing here; I seem to be going for a cross between “In my day, a lady always wore nylons” and “I didn’t mean to break your window, Mister! Me and the other kids were just playing stickball, honest.”
There are so many, many things coming in the next few months. Starting this week. Great big things. Things to sit with, live through; things to uproot. Things you grapple with maybe once in your life.
But Sunday night I walked from my home to a delicious dinner at Lula’s, and the air was cool, and I wore my favorite sweater.
Here goes nothin’.
The Angel of Memory
In these panes, each flaw and bubble is a seed.
The porch door latch, rusted, snaps off
in my fingers. I walk down steps
carved into limestone;
scrub-brush and rosemary hang down the terraces
to the Adriatic’s crumbling foam.
And she is sitting in the untended garden,
the angel of memory, her bare back shines;
at her nape, parted hair lifts wings.
An eddying yellow butterfly perches
on her arm and presses open its double page;
I have forgotten what I came to say.
My shadow lengthens towards her, rapt,
pierced with small stones and grasses,
but she will not turn, looking out
to an old sea, a vast plateau of static.
Sharona Ben-Tov Muir
So I’m on a bad, bad, B-A-D run at the moment, baking-wise. I’m about at the point where I’m going to take a look at the Yellow Pages for someone who exorcises oven-ghosts. Let’s be upfront: The sugar cookies I just pulled outta there look like deflated igneous rocks.
One of these things is not like the other!
For some time now, I’ve been mentally mulling over writing something [in the playwriting sense] to do with Antarctica. The day has finally come where it’s time to put pen to paper, and I’ve been researching in bits and pieces. Apparently, I’m required to read a book from 1922 entitled
“The Worst Journey in the World”
By a man named
READER: I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHY YOU ARE NOT AT THE BOOKSTORE RIGHT NOW BUYING THIS BOOK
ME: I DO NOT UNDERSTAND EITHER
READER: IT IS LIKE I DON’T EVEN KNOW YOU
Cherry-Garrard accompanied Robert Scott on an Antarctic expedition called the Terra Nova Expedition from 1910-1913. In 1911, he and two other team members ventured out on a trip to collect Emperor penguin eggs. Long story short: They were trapped by a blizzard, their tent blew away, and CHERRY-GARRARD SHATTERED THE MAJORITY OF HIS TEETH BECAUSE THEY WERE CHATTERING SO HARD IN THE COLD.
The National Library of New Zealand has pictures of the Terra Nova expedition on the “Manuscripts and Pictorial” section of their website [here].
Below: Two pictures. [The captions from the National Library website are included.]
Henry Robertson Bowers, Dr. Wilson, and Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard before leaving for Cape Crozier, Antarctica, 27 June 1911
Dr. Wilson, Henry Robertson Bowers, and Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard eating a meal on their return from winter trip to Cape Crozier, 1 August 1911
Look at them, in that first picture; they didn’t know.
After, they knew.
Look at the set of Cherry-Garrard’s mouth; look at his hands, gripping his bread. You cannot see his teeth. He is thinking: I have to eat. Is he thinking about what happened to him out there? I do not know. Sometimes, in the wake of the big and terrible, we are only thinking: At least I am warm. At least there is tea.
Later, the depths of what happened get mentally plumbed; or they should. We none of us think enough about what there is to learn after we come in from a blizzard.
Well, Happy August!
I go back to work tomorrow. My summer break, it is over. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.
READER: For the love.
Spring Ice Storm
The forecast had not predicted it,
and its beginning, a calming, rumbled dusk
and pleasant lightning, she welcomed as harbinger
of rain. Then as night came she heard the world
relapse, slide backward into winter’s insistent
tick and hiss. In the morning, she woke to a powerless
house, the baseboards cold, the sky blank,
mercury hardfallen as the ice and fixed
even at noon. The woodpile on the porch dwindled
to its last layer, she had not replenished it
for a month and could see beyond it windblown ice
in the shed where the axe angled Excalibur-like,
frozen in the wood. Still, she didn’t worry
beyond the fate of the daffodils, green-sheathed,
the forsythia and quince already bloomed out–
knowing this couldn’t last. But by afternoon
she did begin feeding the fire in the cast-iron
stove ordinary things she thought she could replace,
watching through the small window of isinglass
the fast-burning wooden spoons, picture frames,
then the phone book and stack of old almanacs–
forgotten predictions and phases of the moon–
before resorting to a brittle wicker rocker,
quick as dried grass to catch, bedframes and slats,
ladderback chairs, the labor of breaking them up
against the porch railing its own warming.
Feverlike, the freeze broke after two days,
and she woke to a melting steady as the rain
had been. The fire she had tended more carefully
than the household it had consumed she could now
let go out, and she was surprised at how little
she mourned the rooms heat-scoured, readied for spring.
What a very exciting day you’ve had, federal goverment!
We will see what happens, won’t we?
We will see.
My roommate and I are in the process of attacking our overgrown, but promising, backyard.
Last weekend, we headed out with spray bottles of Round Up, cutting shears, garden gloves, well-trained lizards, et cetera. Lord Almighty! Has anyone been in our backyard– in the yardwork sense of the term–since Egypt’s Third Dynasty? We do not think so.
For instance, what?
What is that? What in the name of God is that?
Jessica, hacking away with might and main at a stand of weeds so robust that they could have been mistaken for sapling trees, suddenly came upon these:
1. Put them in an aquarium?
2. Ask them to tell my fortune.
Each tug at the soil unearthed a fresh wave of insect life, which ranged from mildly off-putting to arm-thrashing shrieky shrieks!
US: That bug looks like A BLOOD SAUSAGE WITH THE LEGS OF A GAZELLE
We discussed the fact that we were single-handedly destroying whole ecosystems, but Jessica pointed out that we were the ones paying rent.
Inside the apartment, progress. On Saturday, I opted to stay inside and put together the extra bookcase for my bedroom, purchased at Target some weeks ago. It had been leaning against a wall in our living room, eyeing me with silent reproach every time I made my way past it. “Feckless layabout,” it would have said, if it could speak to me, and I’m not saying it couldn’t.
I opened up the box, tremulously, and removed the insides.
FACTORS WORKING AGAINST ME IN THE PURSUIT OF ASSEMBLING THIS BOOKCASE
–Wildly inexpensive bookcase=hilariously shoddy materials, which appeared to include spit as one of their properties. By the time the screws were completely screwed in, for example, nothing remained of their original topmost surface but a silvery gouge.
–No upper body strength
–The common sense God gave a mongoose
–Zero concept of spatial relationships
I sat on the floor with it for hours, while the buttery blue sky went by in the window, curving my arms and legs around the corners of the bookcase as though it were a recalcitrant child, and about to wriggle out of my grasp in an international airport.
Finally, it was done. I got to my feet and flipped the bookcase over, and set it upright.
I had put the bookcase together with the unfinished surfaces facing outward.
My life is not that hard.
There are a lot of bunnies in our neighborhood right now. Sincerely–they’re everywhere, cotton-tailed and jumping. Jessica and I have a running dispute over what to call this phenomenon.
JESSICA: Bunny Parade!
ME: Bunny HEAVEN!
The choice is clear.
In Doubt, Recalling Cordelia
I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.
Or one hundred-eighty swallows turning south,
or the hen-and-chickens clustering on the garden wall.
That is not all: I cannot tell you all
the scroll of steam uncurling from the tea
might say about what is, or what might be
the common bloodline of this apparent world.
Its speech is locked away, a furled
flag of an antique country, since just a minute ago
was autumn, you saw it, the gold funeral fires, the smoke, and now
come these white billions, already, each irreplacable flake,
and there is just too much to say for them–to say it would take
a tongue as old, as young, as Alexander, for too much goes
unnamed, unnoticed, more is coming, it snows
and snows all day and night and buries all the words.
But we are still responsible for them all, responsible for the birds,
the burning leaves, the climbing vine, we are the only ones
who can say just what it is we saw. And progress swells, a new scene runs,
and still we drop our lines, forget,
the silence piles up in drifts, we let
the words get lost, the tongue stalls–
How can I say how I love you? The burden of the old tune falls
out of my mouth like a stone. And do we name them cursed or blessed,
who love according to their bond, no more, no less?
I’m a’writin’ this at the dining room table in my very-new apartment, into which we moved one week ago Sunday! Sunday: the Lord’s Day, and also a day for pulling up stakes, and driving boxes full of butter knives and ELLE magazines down the road.
The day of the move was hot as a char-grilled lambchop, and by the end of it, Jessica and I were no longer quite certain how we were functioning–moving our arms and legs in tandem, for example, or speaking in grammatically correct sentences; sentences whose structure did not resemble a flattened Ziplock bag full of applesauce and concrete aggregate. [You know?] She explained to me that our frontal brain cortexes had shut down, and that we were operating solely from the “reptilian” section of our brain, and acting on instinct alone:
We spent four hours in our old apartment at the end of the day, cleaning and scrubbing and leaving things in readiness for the occupants to follow; that is how our mothers raised us. [Not all people’s mothers have raised them similarly, we have found.] When we were through, I went through the apartment and switched off all the lights.
Then I walked back through the empty rooms to the kitchen–our beloved kitchen, to which no other kitchen I will ever kitchen-in for the rest of my days shall ever measure up, if it speak with the tongues of men and angels–and stood in the backdoor frame, and then I cried.
The night before, I’d found an old wallet in a box. Wallets are not generally shrines to memory, but this wallet was like WHOA. Why–I felt like Howard Carter, discovering Tutankhaumn’s tomb!
HOWARD CARTER: Bor-ing!
I cannot begin to detail the trip-to-days-gone-by evoked by the contents of this wallet; suffice it to say that a cursory examination would escort you from a very special balloon delivery in October 2006, to an interview at the Goodman in 2007, to a tattoo parlor in 2008 in three short moves.
ME: I need to lie down.
Our new apartment is a treat, and we’re already terribly fond of it. We’ve even obtained a fish to join us; I inherited the betta fish from the four year-old class at my place of work.
I’ve been wanting a fish since 2005, or thereabouts, but I always lived with individuals who owned cats, and so getting myself a fish never seemed feasible. Now, thank God, there are 0% cats on the premises [no offense, anybody ever]!
The name of the fish–bestowed by the four year-olds– is Dark Fury; this is apparently the name of a character in a movie all the kids are liking these days. And who am I, to alter such a name? Nobody, that’s who.
“Hello, Dark Fury!” we say to our fish, when we happen to be walking by.
A week-long issue here on the new homefront–resolved only this past Friday, thanks to the intercession of an exterminator–was ANTS.
APPARENTLY, Chicago is currently suffering through an ant epidemic of epic proportions. Ground zero: Apparently OUR KITCHEN!
Jessica was home when the exterminator made his visit. She heard him utter the following:
“Oh my GOD!”
“I haven’t seen this in a LONG TIME.”
Comforting, ain’t it? As we said: It would seem that there is no “sensitivity training” at Exterminator School! It sure seems like a no-brainer to me.
PROFESSOR EXTERMINATOR: Next up, we’ll discuss the inadvisability of making your client feel as though their living space is one step away from being reclaimed by a horde of insects with a raging taste for human blood!
Thankfully, they’re gone now. See ya, suckahs!
Something I learned during this process from a colleague who’d had an ant problem in years past: THE QUEEN ANT IS REPUTEDLY THE SIZE OF YOUR FIST.
It has been raining off and on and off and on all weekend. Nothing can make up its mind. Half-an-hour ago the windows were being battered in the downpour; now, when I turn my head to the right, I can see the sun hitting the tops of the trees across the street.
The move was all-consuming for some weeks, and now it is starting to be done. There is still much to do, in the way of unpacking; by and large, though, peace is being established. A peace I would like to last. Summers are deceptive in that way.
There are some very big things coming, I know.
I wanted to see where beauty comes from
without you in the world, hauling my heart
across sixty acres of northeast meadow,
my pockets filling with flowers.
Then I remembered,
it’s you I miss in the brightness
and body of every living name:
rattlebox, yarrow, wild vetch.
You are the green wonder of June,
root and quasar, the thirst for salt.
When I finally understand that people fail
at love, what is left but cinquefoil, thistle,
the paper wings of the dragonfly
aeroplaning the soul with a sudden blue hilarity?
If I get the story right, desire is continuous,
equatorial. There is still so much
I want to know: what you believe
can never be removed from us,
what you dreamed on Walnut Street
in the unanswerable dark of your childhood,
learning pleasure on your own.
Tell me our story: are we impetuous,
are we kind to each other, do we surrender
to what the mind cannot think past?
Where is the evidence I will learn
to be good at loving?
The black dog orbits the horseshoe pond
for treefrogs in their plangent emergencies.
There are violet hills,
there is the convenant of duskbirds.
The moon comes over the mountain
like a big peach, and I want to tell you
what I couldn’t say the night we rushed
North, how I love the seriousness of your fingers
and the way you go into yourself,
calling my half-name like a secret.
I stand between taproot and treespire.
Here is the compass rose
to help me live through this.
Here are twelve ways of knowing
what blooms even in the blindness
of such longing. Yellow oxeye,
viper’s bugloss with its set of pink arms
pleading do not forget me.
We hunger for eloquence.
We measure the isopleths.
I am visiting my life with reckless plenitude.
The air is fragrant with tiny strawberries.
Fireflies turn on their electric wills:
an effulgence. Let me come back
whole, let me remember how to touch you
before it is too late.