Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why We're Fat

A former student who is heading to college this fall told me today that she picked up a copy of the "College 08" catalog from Target. Inside were these mouth-watering recipes:

Need: 1 milky way, 2 reeses cups, 1 3 musketeers, 5 sticks of 5 gum

Directions: Place candy bars in a sealable plastic bag. Mash candy bars into a thick, delicious clay. Lay the gum down onto a hardback book, covered with something to protect it.
Using a can of Coca-Cola, roll out gum into one big, flat sheet. Fill the sheet with the chocolate gooeyness. Roll flattened gummy sheet up. Slice the roll in 1/2-inch servings. Serve!

Delicious. Gum as a sticky rind for a solid mass of chocolate goo. Imagine, pink rind, brown goo inside. They should call these "Anus Tidbits."

It gets better:

Hip Chex

Directions: In a large bowl, mix Coke Zero with Chex Mix, let stand for a few minutes. Mix thoroughly until it becomes a buttery blended paste. Top with cheese and a pinch of shredded beef jerky. Microwave for 15 seconds, then again and again until hot and melted. Carefully remove from microwave and serve with crackers to your finest friends.

Your finest friends, or your worst enemies?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Book, Bad Book

The other night over dinner with some friends we were discussing our reading habits. L. mentioned that a family member instilled in him the sense that "life is too short to read a bad book." I laughed at that, and agreed. If I'm not enjoying a book, I tend to put it down and move on to something I do like. M. and Dan are both the type of readers who will finish a book, no matter what.

Then I brought up the gift book. What do you do when a friend gives you a book and they say "I think you'll love this one," and two chapters into it you're wondering why they thought so? I'm in the center of a long book like that. I can tell you why I'm going to finish it though - I want to find the part that made the friend connect with me while they were reading it. It may be one sentence. Maybe a phrase? In the meantime, I am really wondering why they thought this was a good book for me. It's sort of like a mystery, without the compelling plot.

Do you finish books whether you like them or not, or is life too short to read a bad book?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


I love it when I go for a long drive with just my own thoughts and I come home all flush with ideas. There's something about the white noise of tires on pavement that really works at the subconscious, or it warms my creative neurons. Whatever it is, today I spent about four and a half hours in the car and the last two I was ready to be home at the computer, typing. Which I just did.

This is the first time I've been really excited about writing anything in a long time. It's a big project, and one I've been simmering on the back burner for about three years when the character name came to me during a walk in the Lower East Side after my dad's death. And it did just that - appeared in my mind like someone spoke it to me.

This summer it seems like I've got the right stew of images/words/activities going on in order to get the writing underway. Energy comes from knowing what to do, my friend Susan says. She's right. I'm not totally sure I know exactly what I'm doing and that's ok. The energy is there and the page isn't blank.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Notes from the Studio

I think we'll have to start giving our volunteers and interns very specific instructions as to what they might be expected to do around here.

In the course of the past week, I've had to call out a con-artist, (attempting to fill bags with free books from the "take a book/leave a book" box to sell later) recite one of my own poems from memory (guy who stopped in today to talk about his art collection), haul cardboard, explain every single day what it is we're doing here to visitors off the street, listen to a poem that was published on and smile and nod politely, explain to the mailman that we aren't moving we're just changing the art in the gallery, etc.

It's nice to have poems in the head. Handy brainmatter. Wish I had more memorized, actually. I'll have to work on that.


Don't be. Summer fun at the Idea Factory.

Yeats and Playing the Building

I read some Yeats this morning. Heroic, formal, conversational. I like the poems that are character and dialogue driven - where each stanza is part of a dialogue. Crazy Jane on Judgment Day is a good example of this structure. This is not the type of poetry I normally read or am drawn to read, so it's a good education for me this week. One thing I've noticed is that not much has changed - as humans we seek to say the unsayable and find a fresh point of view in a world that is less than fresh.

I've been reading David Byrne's blog, and really enjoying it a lot. He's an excellent writer, and writes often about art experiences around the NYC area. I found Creative Time through one of his entries, and really want to make a trip to NYC soon to see (and play!) his installation at the Battery Maritime Building. It's titled "Playing the Building."

Found this Boing Boing interview of David Byrne by Xeni Jardin that shows how the installation works. Who wants to go with me to play?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sleeping and Waking

I'm reading two books right now. One is Sleeping on the Wing: An Anthology of Modern Poetry with Essays on Reading and Writing by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell. The other book is Until I Find You, by John Irving.

A couple of days ago, Kristy Bowen mentioned on her blog about how she reads poetry to study it, but fiction is something she reads for pleasure, and she gobbles it up on the subway, on buses, during every free moment. There are times when I do this too. Like now. Sleeping on the Wing is really an educational text, and the novel is not, so my reading choices appear pretty clear cut. In the morning, I read a chapter of Sleeping on the Wing, and then I write, but it's a sort of gluttonous pleasure that I don't get from the novel reading. And on the flipside, I learn as I read from the novel too and have thoughts like - aha - that's the third time Irving has hinted at the boy's future - a device -or - that is one of the greatest sentence structures - I wonder if I'll ever write one like that? So far, the first 150 pages of the novel are compelling. I want to know what happens to the boy. There's been a lot of tattooing, prostitutes, church organs and interesting characters throughout the European travels he's taken with his mother. I keep turning the pages. A good sign.

This morning I read several poems by Arthur Rimbaud. He wrote all of his poetry between the ages of 15 and 20, and only lived into his forties. He stopped writing poetry, but wrote letters later in his life. I was amazed at his ability to create dreamlike scenes from the sort of moments that are so simple they seem to defy words - lush and beautiful imagery. Kenneth Koch follows the chapter with a short essay on translation, that ends with his admission to learning French just so he could read Rimbaud and Appollinaire. I'm enjoying this book so much, it made me cry to think I can't thank Kenneth Koch for the Rimbaud translations, and the inspiring essay. Too late to thank him, other than by continuing to read and write.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Deep Well

Don't feel compelled to read or post a comment to the Assessment entry below. I'm just keeping track of what I feel will become something that I should have a record of, if only to reveal it for the slobbermonster that it is.

The poetry here this morning is this:

I've been writing with a pink pen to throw myself off-balance a little, or to chart a straighter course with my writing. The change in color, a color I wouldn't wear or paint my walls, brings a strange joy back to the page that has helped me get back into a regular schedule.

I've been reading some poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins recently. He was a Jesuit priest whose poems showed his reverence for and love of God. He looked at nature as particular, single tributes to God. I don't get into Godly poetry, but what I like so much about Hopkins was his play with language. He invented words, combined words, used sounds in a way that made his poems beg to be read aloud. I really like his poem The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo, for the sound and meaning - how despair leads to spare, how the repetition makes you imagine the deep well.

Your Local Government at Work

Notes on a Property Assessment

Arrival Time for meeting: 3:15 p.m.
Departure from office: 5:30 p.m.
Actual Meeting Time: 15 minutes

The county I live in is in the process of reassessing everyone's property values. I received my notice in the mail a few months ago, showing an increase in property taxes of about 300 percent. The notice gave a number to call for an "informal hearing" where I was encouraged to come in and appeal the new assessment. I called. Three hundred percent is quite a hike in price, and it seemed to me that they got the lot size wrong.

My meeting was yesterday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. No big deal, I thought. I'll go into an airless office with blue, low-grade carpeting, meet with a dry-humored man, and explain the mistakes they've made. A few years ago I had the house appraised, so I took along that packet of photos and information. I figured Helen and I would be out of there in time for us to make it to her hair appointment.

The building and location? Think quonset hut set up on a tract of land behind an industrial park. No cheer for miles. Weeds aplenty. A parking lot filled with cars, the sidewalk outside peppered with people carrying binders thick with proof that their houses aren't worth what the county thinks they are.

When we walked through the doors we were greeted by a security guard who asked us to open our purses. "Just checking for handguns and knives." Once cleared, we entered the waiting area and reception. To the right were three or four rows of chairs, all filled. In the corner to the right, a small television set sat on a chair, blinking an afternoon game show. The receptionist was a boy in his teens, who told me that their system was down today, and that they were backed up and behind schedule by about an hour. I laughed. He said we could go out and come back, or wait, or reschedule. From the looks of all the waiting people, I opted to wait since rescheduling would be more of a pain. I asked the boy if there was a place to get a soda or snack. He replied that he didn't know of anything nearby, and admitted to being an out-of-towner. Good to know the local government is hiring kids from 40 miles away - still in our county, but so far that he must pay $20 in gas to get to work everyday.

Helen called her salon to reschedule her hair. We found our place on the concrete outside, and leaned against the building in the blaring sun. First we ran lines for the play I'm in, and when that became dull, we listened to the other people making fast friends of one another, inextricably connected by the government morass they found themselves in for the afternoon. A man with a bluetooth headset stopped by us and asked "Informal?" "Pardon?" I asked. "Oh, informal or formal hearing for you today?" The clarification helped, but I wondered why he cared. "Informal." "This is the third time I've been here with a friend. Formal's the way to go, believe me. You won't get anywhere today. You'll need a lawyer."

A lawyer? That's when I really started paying attention to what or who people had with them. Large, overstuffed binders with tabs and stuffed pockets. Photos. Rolled up maps of land. Crikey. I had one folder, my old appraisal, and the letter they sent me. Still, I felt like I could explain the mistakes they made. I have a small lot, not a huge one.

When Helen and I stood up to stretch, we realized that our backs were covered with a fine chalky silt from the side of the building. It wouldn't brush off.

Every now and again a woman receptionist would pop out of the office to bleakly call out a name, and sometimes she'd reel a person in, sometimes not. Our name was never called. We were waiting about an hour when we got thirsty and decided to try out the soda machine inside.

The machine was located near the waiting area. Right next to the chairs. Enough room to walk between the last row of people if you scooted sideways. So scoot we did, with our dollar and fifty cents scraped up from the bottoms of our combined purses. Who knows how much a government soda could cost?

$1.3o. The most arbitrary amount for a soda we'd ever seen. I apologized for whacking the poor guy seated next to the machine with my purse when I turned to put my $1.50 into the slots. The soda thunked out, and a thin dime came out as change. Let's to the math, shall we? Oh yes, lets:

1.50 - 1.30 = .20

Even the soda machine gets the math wrong.

We took our soda outside and waited. The security guard came out and picked up a couple of signs for parking as if they were closing up for the evening. When someone sitting on the curb inquired, he said "Just my department is leaving. You'll be here awhile still." Another 45 minutes or so passed before we talked to a man who asked when our appointment was. He said we ought to go in and check - they were calling names for people who had similar appointment times.

Inside, the receptionist claimed she called our name, but not outside. Why not outside? Why call names outside only sometimes? Even chain restaurants keep better tabs on their customers. She led us down a hall to another waiting area - a small makeshift hallway created by two rows of facing chairs with an aisle down the middle. To the back of one row was a series of temporary partitions, and behind them were county desks and computers, each with a cheerless employee. The receptionist slapped a yellow post-it to the wall while we took our seats. Two suited men were talking about their land in the seats near to us, an elderly woman wheeled past us with her oxygen tank in tow, and an elderly man walked by with his blue-suited lawyer. The chairs were filled. The game was on. We had made it past the moat, over the alligators and to level two.

The open partition offices gave the air of freedom to speak, but really they were to keep you from creating a scene in front of everyone, since the waiting are was so near. When one of the appointments was finished up, the employee would approach the post-it, cross off a name and call a new one. There was a short lady who did this, and barely called the name out. She whispered it. She repeated it, in a whisper, and didn't bother to walk down the line of waiting people to repeat it, then she moved on to the next name.

The man with the appointment in the office in front of us had three properties. His government employee had trotted off somewhere to check a number and he turned to us and said "This isn't where I want to spend my Friday afternoon. You know, a hot dog vendor would do well outside today."

Our name was finally mispronounced from the post-it note on the wall by a man who introduced himself as Joe. We went into our office on the opposite side of the partitions - a real office with windows and light, and an L-shaped desk. On the short end of the L, a gavel rested. On the long side, Joe's computer and paperwork.

First, he called up our property file on the computer. It was complete with lot size, room information, and a photo taken in Dec. of 2004. The Christmas decorations were on the porch. He went over the numbers briefly, I corrected the half bath information he didn't have. Then I showed him my appraisal, which he sniffed at, since it was old.

"Let me do these numbers for you," he said as he clapped his keypad. "Ok, now this number might surprise you, or not...but this is your current fair market value of your house."

He turned the face of the calculator to us. It's digital numbers called out absurdity. Ninety seven thousand dollars.

"Can you tell me what this number is based on?" I asked. Joe explained that it was current fair market value set in January of 2008. Not much of an explanation. Where do they come up with this math - considering the housing market right now, my brain was racing.

"So you mean to tell me that if I were to slap up a For Sale sign today, I could ask 97 thousand dollars for my house that's built over an abandoned mineshaft, has had 60 foot deep subsidences in the backyard, and is crooked?"

I signed a paper that said I was not in agreement with the assessment, and Joe gave me a list of items I would need to bring to my formal hearing:

mine maps
photos of subsidences
photos of house and land
copy of the deed (for lot size determination)

At no point during my phone call to set up this 15 minute interview was I told what I might need to bring. Joe added with a condescending tone to his list, "Make sure you bring everything. I'll be here for that hearing, and if you don't have it all, you won't get anywhere."

On my way out, I filled out the request for a formal hearing form, which didn't match up with the intial form I received in the mail at all. Then I was told there was a five dollar filing fee.

Not being told what to bring to the intial meeting meant that they were pretty much sure people would get nowhere with an informal hearing, and would need the formal hearing. Five bucks per person adds up quickly. I thought of the first man who stopped and asked "Informal?" He was right.

I'll be contacted about a date for my formal hearing in Sept. I'll have all my ducks in a row by then. Once I have the hearing, I won't hear from them on a decision until October.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pure Ego

It won't last much longer, that stunned, mouth agape look I get sometimes when I announce that Helen is my daughter. Once the new friend is breathing again, the following comments are usually made:

You could be sisters!
You don't look old enough to have a child.
I'll bet you get this all the time, but you really look young.

I smile, reply with "It's genetic," or "I love what I do, and it keeps me young."

This assumption is irritating and pleasurable, like scratching the sole of an itchy foot. For Helen, it's just irritating. Sure, I'm flattered that people think I look so young, but I've also spent the past 17 years (I count gestation) wrapped up in the careful and delicate needlework of being a mother and raising a decent human being. Give me some credit.

How will I feel when the comments wane? I'll whine then too, because that's what I do best. Maybe that's why I seem so young.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Life imitates life

There is a young robin that has fallen in love with my pet cockatiel, Bananafish. Every morning when I do my yoga I let Bananafish out of his cage. He flies around the room, stretches his wings when I do the Sun Salutation, and lands on my head or shoulders when I'm in quieter poses. He imitates the sounds I make, a few household machinery rings, dings and chugs, and can say a few key phrases for bird networking (Who's a pretty bird? Bananafish. I'm a peepy peeper. Love you!) I've noticed that he also imitates other bird chirps. Apparently he does a really good impression of a robin. This morning he lured one right into the window and it hit with a dull thwack and landed in the lemon balm in the garden below. The poor robin just sat there, regrouping, it's little beak downturned like half of a staple. Scruffy. Perhaps pissed. Plotting a sweet, lemony revenge.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Yesterday, This Morning, and into the Foreverafter

A woman with bright cobalt blue hair. 

As Dave and I stood on the sidewalk outside the studio, a man driving by leaned out his car window to say "Hey you, Fuck you." It was a very intimate and targeted Fuck You.

The proof for a poem of mine that will be on the bus soon (I hope the #12) is up in the window of the studio. Come over and read it. Or take the bus in the coming  months - Poetry In Transit!

Two good emails - one from an editor kindly responding to work I submitted to an anthology, and another from a woman who wants me to teach a workshop in the fall.

A few days ago I got an email from Franz Wright, but it wasn't really for me, it was for another poet. I passed it along. Then I ordered one of his books.

This is a week of creative collaboration with the love of my life. 

Helen started her new job this morning. She's working for a local magazine - writing, making sales calls, doing office work. One of the greatest sounding "first jobs" ever. She's excited. 

Learning lines. My brain likes to twist words and substitute. Bad.

The firemen said hello this morning as I opened the studio. They stand in the truck bays and hold their coffees and stare into the studio all day. They have yet to set foot in here, but they'll eat the cookies I take over to them. Maybe I need to leave a trail of crumbs.