Friday, January 29, 2010

Frequency of Thought

A table after Nicholson Baker's character in The Mezzanine
Subject of Thought Number of Times Thought Occurred per Year (descending order)
Family (living) 1825
Family (deceased) 730
Body fat 520
Coffee 420
Dreams 360
Writing a poem 300
People who write more poems, jealousy of 280
The movements of birds, curiosity of 220
"Make Your Life" 200
Moving to the city 180
Moving to the country 180
Backyard chickens, or the possibility of a pet duck 180
Pens 150
Losing my mind, fear of 125
Friends, smarter than me 120
Footnotes and marginalia = happiness 90
Insensitive people 81
Flowers and weeds that grow out of cracks in the sidewalk 70
Sandburg's drunken uncles = houses around here 50
Trees against a dusk sky, beauty of 45
Piggyback rides 32
Peeling a chestnut, joy of 21
Candle flickers, fire flames 20
Mitral Valve Prolapse, anxiety of 18
Cognition, or the brain as machine 15
Kindness, my being referred to as kind and a mild resentment for it* 12
Hotel lobbies 8
The Doppler Effect 6
Friends - does it matter if I have few? 5
Minty taste on envelope seal 3
HTML tags 1
Whether or not that note I left in the floor is still there 1
Driveway sealer, scent of .5

There is no way for this list to be accurate, because thought is so fleeting and changing, but it was an interesting exercise to see how even as I wrote the list, my mind was wandering. "Pens? Yes, pens. I forgot them, and they fit more in the middle of the list not at the bottom."

* This has been bothering me for some time, which makes little sense because I consider kindness to be one of the most important things in life, so why would I not want to be considered kind? I think the root of it may have to do with how we view success in our culture. Successful people tend to be unkind and ruthless. Kindness has a flaccidity. This is ridiculous and I should get over it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


On Sunday I found myself in the comfortable red chair of church, listening to one of our parishioners talk to the children about earthworms and mealy bugs. He stood with his back to the congregation, with the children all lined up on the low step in front of him. One twiddled with a shirt hem, another pulled up a slouching sock while listening to the man's questions about light. He reminded me of my own father in stature and dress -- tweed jacket, tan pants, a white beard, glasses. He asked the children what the song This Little Light of Mine meant, and what was good about light, and then when responses slimmed he moved on to mealy bugs and earthworms, and why they love the dark. He got the kids to think about the meaning of the lyrics to a song they hear every Sunday as they are ushered out of church and into their religious education classes.

His talk to the adults in the congregation was about meaning, and he framed it in the idea of metaphor and how metaphor enhances our understanding of the world through the use of the sensory. A few weeks before I had a short conversation with him in the hallway between the sanctuary and the church office, and he said that he was not going to include any poetry in his sermon, and was a little apologetic about it, which reminded me further of my father, who was not a man for poetry. When I was in my twenties, I had a short talk with my dad about the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. My mother found a copy of A Few Figs From Thistles, and my dad, being the avid reader that he was, picked it up off the kitchen counter and read it. He liked some of the poems he said. What bothered him about poetry was having to read it over and over to get the meaning. Edna's* were accessible to him.

When the speaker made a visual representation of a timeline from the beginning of time ("this window and wall on the left") to the present ("the paint on the wall on the right"), and marked the beginning of humans on earth (right by the piano which is about six feet from the wall on the right), and then the start of language (still closer to the wall on the right from the piano), I was transported to the Smithsonian Museums and their visual timelines for science and history exhibits, and dwarfed again by the thought of just how new we are to the world. Without language, there is no meaning, because without language there is no word meaning, no word idea, not word thought, no word tweed, no word father. We make meaning out of everything we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell**.

My mind kept wandering in spite of his wonderful talk, or perhaps because of his talk and the ideas in it. His family sat in the first two rows of chairs -- sons and wife, daughter-in-law, all rapt in his words. I kept looking over at them, and thinking of my dad and how when I had my first real poetry reading he and my mother sat in the audience, and he stared at his hands and rarely looked up. I didn't know whether I wanted him to look up, or keep looking at the map of his hands, but I knew I wanted him to understand my poems and to understand me.

When Sunday's sermon was over, the speaker's family led the congregation in a bouquet of applause, which was followed by a few minutes of silent meditation where I listened to the heat ping and creak from the radiators and wished my own father were there so I could hold his hand and squeeze it.

Then I remembered the moment just before children's time started that morning. When the children were called up by the speaker to have a seat in front of him, a boy about 12 years old leapt up and ran from his half-seated position at the invisible prompting from some adult in the back and questioned, "Wait a minute ... I'm not a child anymore?!?"

* I have a cat named Edna, named for the poet. She's 16, very dotty in her old age, and walks a little sideways to go forward. She is very much like a poem.

** My daughter mocked me post-service while I was talking with a friend about the scent of the local casino. "It smells like a combination of bus exhaust and cheap perfume. Probably something they clean with, but certainly it's the scent of desperation," I said, and she chimed in with, "She's always coming up with stuff like that. 'It's tastes like attic!' or 'You know the smell of toast and the inside of an old book? Like that.'"

Friday, January 22, 2010


Connections of thoughts and ideas paired with phone calls and emails have been buzzing like a well-tuned guitar this week. I'm not sure how this happens, but I love it when it does.

Earlier in the week I was going over the books on the shelf above my "must-be-right-next-to-my-desk" shelf. These are books that I love, but that aren't as important for me to have right at hand. One of them is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way. It was a gift given to me by my parents in 1998, and I went through the 12-weeks of exercises in creativity in 1999. I remember feeling energized by the Artist Dates, and well-disciplined with the Morning Pages, so I gave some thought to starting it up again. But that was it. I thought about it.

A day or so later my sister wrote me an email about some nail polish I sent to her for Christmas, and she shared that she had joined with a group of women who were doing The Artist's Way exercises. She was already enjoying it, and having the other people working at it too seemed helpful.

This email was a call to action for me. I wrote a long email of my own inviting a group of people to participate in a free 12-week "Creative Cluster" workshop at the studio using The Artist's Way. So far there are six signed up to start, two tentative, and one is inviting a friend. I received some really lovely emails back too -- some people were familiar with the book, others were not, some had just started the book's exercises up again after having tried it years ago they said and my email arrived at the right time. Shared synchronicity. Spreading the positive. Lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

I am looking forward to reading the book again, and sharing it with others. This morning I began my Morning Pages and I already feel more creative energy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Mezzanine

I am completely in love with Nicholson Baker's style of writing in his first novel, "The Mezzanine." Detailed, sensory, heavily footnoted stream-of-consciousness. Minutiae on a pedestal. Delicious descriptions of straws, magazines, paper bags, and the way working a stapler feels. This reader is not sad there is no plot. She revels in it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Checking Yourself out on The FacePlace

A friend and I had a marathon phone conversation today. Three hours. We used speakerphone. With your hands free you can type, search for a book on Bessie Pease Guttman on the shelf, or wash a couple of dishes. Brilliant. Some technologies are delightful. Others are not.

Our conversation ranged from writing and the procrastination of writing (how we can build up projects so much in our heads they become perfect and so impossible to put on paper), how writing for an audience isn't really what it's all about, how lighting a candle is better than cursing the darkness, the peril of being too needy, our children, our husbands, and then finally, Facebook. I've come to the conclusion it's a technology no one really needs.

We agreed that everyone else's lives look so much more interesting than ours on Facebook. Losing 45 minutes of time browsing the FacePlace pages of others means opening ourselves up to looking at other lives as if they were more interesting than our own. They aren't. Clicking our way into and out of the doors of Facebook's pages leave us feeling empty, sad, and worthless. There is nothing fulfilling or rewarding about it at all. Late at night you may find yourself knee deep in a friend-of-a-friend's photo album thinking "If only I had a bunch of friends like that. They all look so happy!" or "Maybe I should lose some weight?" or "Why wasn't I invited to that party?" It's a downward spiral of bad feelings and general malaise. You log off feeling like you just ate a pizza, some Cheetos, and drank several Cokes all on your own.

One of the rules to Marketing with Social Media is this: If your website doesn't push a vice (think 7 deadly sins here and see which one or ones apply to FacePlace), no one will visit it.

So here I am editing this rant of a post in a space where I feel safer because no one but my mother and the occasional true friend reads it, and I'm pretty sure they love me, warts and all. I'd rather be read less than trapped in a whirlpool of fun mirrors.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mood Swing

The patio chandelier holds up empty votive cups as the last afternoon sun fills the hollows and glints off their rounded edges. Last weeks snow leisures on the grass and stones of the garden path. Spring is a long way off, and we're in this for the long haul. A teacher friend of ours said the other day after we asked about the return to school, "Well, now there's a long wait until another break." This made me wonder what part or parts of my life am I just waiting for until my next holiday.

I enjoy the sparceness of January -- a month where eyesight becomes suddenly attuned to fingerprints on the mirror, flecks of dirt in the carpet, stacks of useless bills, and extraneous words hanging in the air. The world balances its checkbook now and stretches a rubberband around everything that felt out of control.

For all the enjoyment of the blue light, the extra lamps I purchased the other day to banish the darkness, the scent of cookies baking, the snuggly cats ... I am crinkly. I had to get myself out of the house today to swing on a park swing, feel the frozen ground under my inappropriately slippered feet, and let the wind push itself through my bad mood. On the swing all I thought about was how much I think about how I will write about this or that. The snow on the grass, that blue van in among all the tan cars, the wind. I think and think and sometimes feel like I'm missing out on the living experience because I am too busy holding the thought in my head. I think about the feel of the river pebble in terms of words, and forget about the feel of the river pebble in terms of its pleasant texture in my hand. How much does this matter or not?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Entrances and Exits

I can't think of a better way to start of a new year than the multi-sensory learning experience of working in the theatre. The past two months have been spent in a state of semi-realism; a shadowy backdrop of dances, memorized dialogues that suddenly snapped together into meaningful conversations, and objects that waited for the energy of hands. Last night was the final performance of Gaslight Theatre's "Dancing at Lughnasa" by Brian Friel. I played the eldest of the Mundy sisters, Kate. What thrills me about theatre is the transience of it all -- the little realities that we create and then strike. I developed a routine for six evenings that fit around the set and the timing of each performance that included time in front of a lit mirror to put on makeup and pin my hair into a style of the late-1930's, the drinking of copious amounts of water, laughter with the rest of my sisters in the cast and the practicing of dialect with them, a trip around the set to check props, and sweaty-handed prayer and notes in the hallway. Between acts, I had a path to get from the set to the dressing room (for more water and face powder) and back again -- a very real, but very temporary routine. Backstage, I rolled my shoulders back, tilted my head like an accipiter, and firmed up my jaw to get into character. I lifted two noisy shopping bags at the exact same time every night when the stage creaked under another actor's footsteps. Kate's character will remain the same on the page, but will be played differently by every actor who has the opportunity. Now the parts of me that were taken over by Kate drift off like the last few notes of a waltz. It's time now to say goodnight.

I quietly dedicated every one of my performances to my father and grandmothers. When it was time for Kate to cry at the end of the second act during Michael's monologue, it wasn't difficult.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


A stuffed snowman still peeks out from underneath our flame-retardant Christmas tree. Epiphany passed yesterday and I am behind on January's sweep up of December's indulgences, but I feel no blast of shame. The melted LP candy dish overflows with chocolates (please come over and have one!). On the piano two silver reindeer stand in a frozen prance next to a pipe cleaner candy cane house my daughter made in the 4th grade.

It's not laziness that keeps the wreath on the door, it's activity. I have an older friend who once said, "We never wanted to be home too much. Home was home base to our kids, a safe place to return to after being out exploring the world of their interests." I think I paraphrased there, but the spirit of his comment is true. I liked his idea about home a lot. Austere, cold, overly-tidy homes have never appealed to me, and neither have ones that are heaped with dirty dishes and magazines. There's a level of comfort you get from, well, not getting too crazy about where the toaster is placed.
The toaster will be fine on the counter for the afternoon while you go out to explore. It performed its duties for you this morning, and you were grateful for the mechanical kindness. Now you are nourished, it said. Go make something worthwhile out of the day.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I have writing to do, which means I have less social media in my future. The amount of time spent checking updates, responding to messages, commenting, and posting photos of my cats has just gotten out of control. If you know me, you can come and visit and pet the cats, have a cup of coffee, talk to me face to face, and enjoy the cheer of our house. If you don't, maybe we will meet sometime at an event and become friends. Until then, I will be only checking into Facebook to update the Paper Kite Press Fan Page and to leave a the occasional comment.

You can find me here (I will be writing more blog posts), or through email, or a phone call. I'm not disappearing, just backing off from something that is way too distracting.

"Actually all our electronic communication devices—e-mail, Facebook feeds, texts, Twitter—are feeding the same drive as our searches. Since we're restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away. No wonder we call it a CrackBerry."

from the Slate article Seeking: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that's dangerous