Sunday, June 23, 2013

Babymoons Then and Now (er, then)

This blog entry was written quite some time ago and remained unposted until today.  It's "unfinished" and I don't really have anything to add right now.  I think I had probably intended to get back to it. Now, much much later, I only opened it to fix a typo in the title which bugged me (was surprised to see the typo and hadn't remembered writing anything with the word "babymoon" in it -- wondered if someone had bombed my blog, or whatever euphemism one might use to characterize someone ELSE trying to create and post on someone else's blog. No one else got into my blog -- it was ME. doh!). By the way, the post title originally said "Babymoons Than and Now" -- ooh, it makes me cringe.  P.S.  My daughter is not pregnant now . . .
Our daughter, who currently resides in Switzerland, is pregnant and expecting in the next month or so. She and her husband are friends with another couple that currently live in The States whose first baby is due soon after theirs. Maggie mentioned that they'd be seeing them soon as the couple was embarking on their babymoon.

What's a babymoon? I queried. I was told it was that trip a couple takes just before the baby comes where they pretty much celebrate their last hurrah of being a twosome. Hey, we did that, too!

I didn't go into it while we were Skyping (the only way this miles-apart-while-she's-pregnant is keeping me sane as a grandmama-to-be), but later I thought about the "babymoon" Tom and I had had before the birth of our daughter so many years ago. There's a picture for us to remember it by, sort of.  The picture reminds me of the maternity swimsuit I had when we went on our trip.  Though in the picture I am standing next to the car in the driveway with my dear friend Pam. It's Florida, Pam was visiting, and we were maybe going to the beach. This was not the babymoon but it reminds me of the maternity bathing suit I had and the fact that that suit accompanied us on our babymoon.

Some time before our daughter was to be born on a late October Florida evening, we went on a short trip to Sarasota, a favorite vacation destination of mine as a child.  I don't really remember how pregnant I was -- was it before Pam's visit or after? -- but I do know I had that jewel-tone green bathing suit.

Was that the time we seemed to remain invisible to all the waitstaff?  (Looking back, I wonder if they avoided us because we looked like we wouldn't know how to tip?)  Was that the time we went to the Columbia Restaurant and I asked the waitstaff to see if they could give me the recipe for the wonderful dish I'd had. And I received a jotted note that involved measurements for very large crowds.

Now, thirty-one, thirty-two years later, with no notes or photos to go by, a whole lot of living has elapsed and though that was a vacation we took while I was pregnant, it wasn't the caliber of the vacation Maggie and her friends are taking.  Maggie and Ken went to Prague. Their friends are going on a multi-country tour.

Is that Opportunity I hear pounding on my door?

Ah, life is good. Why? Because it's early in the day and I didn't get enough sleep again? No, that's not it.  Because I had a half- to three-quarters-crappy day at work yesterday? No, that's not it either. I AM off today. Maybe THAT's it.

I'm in the midst of finishing up an editing job that was really fun to do. I say "in the midst" of finishing because I'm taking some time to try to write good final notes on the piece as a whole.  And in doing that, I found a blog that really seemed to have more than a "ring of truth."  You, too, may enjoy it (triangulations dot wordpress dot com).

In the next few weeks I have a lot to think about. Our daughter and family will be coming in mid-July for a nice long stay. So, there are those happy preparations. Someone is walking now and there is "baby-proofing" to be done. I've gone nuts with finding riding toys and board books at thrift stores.  Now for the house-cleaning and other preparations.

There is another part of my life that's looking for some attention, as well.  And I've got to see if I can get some real work done on it in the next three weeks.  That's the writing part.

My paying job, which is non-writing-related, takes a lot out of me on a daily basis. For the most part, I like the work that I do. Being a librarian is about rewarding writers by keeping them alive (well, their works). It's about making connections for readers. And it's also about trying to help good writers get out there to be read.  But being a librarian is also about helping patrons with their lost books, haggling with others over their long-standing fines, and helping folks find the restroom. And, in our library, it's a physically demanding job because we are very busy schlepping books here and there and trying to meet the demands of a reading public. Thank the gods for the reading public.

So, yes, there is also the writing part of my life. It relates to the editing part. Every time I edit someone else's work, I sharpen my abilities with my own work. The problem is, it's very hard for me to make time for my own writing when I am editing and also working my day job but I LOVE editing. So, I hope those jobs keep coming my way.

For the last few years, I have been trying to sharpen my abilities with poetry. I've read a little more and written a little more. Writing is very much about rewriting and I've done plenty of that, too. I've taken classes with a poet in Decatur, participated in workshops with yet another poet in Atlanta, gone to a couple of one-off workshops, and continue to lead a monthly writing group in the town where I work and live. I always enjoy the camaraderie and insights with each of these groups.  I wonder if these offerings and commitments weren't out there if I'd be writing more or writing less.

In three weeks, I'll be attending a one-day one-off non-fiction workshop. I will be expected to produce a 10-12 page piece by July 5th in preparation for the day of the workshop. The game is afoot. I can hear the "William Tell Overture" thrumming in a loop in the back of my brain. Can I do it? Can I pop out a dozen prose pages in the next couple of weeks?  Oh, sure I can!  Never mind that I generally have a hard time sustaining any prose piece for longer than about five pages.

I've been meaning to go dig in my personal archive files to see if I can find an old piece I did in my late-blooming college years about a 40-foot billboard I'd seen that was planted in the yard of a city dweller who lived alongside a major interstate. When I think of doing this, I can't help but be reminded of Mad Magazine's "Rewriting Your Way to a PhD." I take the time to Google it and can now tell you, Dear Reader, that it was published in April 1973, and because some kind soul and major fan of Mad Magazine has scanned a copy, I have details herewith:  it begins with Little Wilfred's 2-week trip to his Granpa's pig farm in "Cansus" and ends with Wilfred's PhD dissertation, "A Qualitative Analysis of Swine Vision as it Pertains to Human Behavioral Response in Osborne County, Kansas". The piece was written by Tom Koch (pronounced "Cook" according to Wikipedia -- hey! he wrote for Bob and Ray -- if you don't know who they were, you're young -- Google them).  Thank the gods for the Internet, eh?  And here I do the writerly librarian thing and give credit where it is due. I was able to find the article in full at Doug Gilford's Mad Cover Site. He has the following statement on his site:

Mad Magazine and EC Publications' legal department have not granted permission to Doug Gilford, but they're tolerating me these days...

So, yes, about the writing . . . today is the day that I dig. I hope I don't get terribly distracted in the hunt.  Because if I can find it quickly and efficiently, I can decide whether it's worth a re-write or not and can then move my brain on to something else if that's not to be the non-fiction piece I submit.

Beyond the threat of non-fiction, I am also considering signing up for another round with poet Alexa Selph at the Emory (at night) classes.  She is doing her first class on narrative poetry, which is the kind of poetry I seem to be doing these days. (That is, when I'm doing anything at all, writing-wise.) Problem: of only six weeks of classes, I may have to miss two or three because they overlap the time when my daughter and family will be here. My husband is lobbying against. I'm resisting resisting and want to be able to say yes to the class. Why does life have to be so complicated? Don't answer that. I'm well aware of the fact that I mostly complicate my own life. Family and others have been telling me so for years.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Why Art Matters in My Life

Tom and I went to the Virginia-Highland Summerfest last Sunday. It was wonderful and yet we wouldn't have made the trip into town or even had it on our radar if it hadn't been that an old friend of Tom's was showing her art there. We arrived early and well before noon. We were told by one artist we stopped to chat with that we were lucky -- it would get VERY crowded after lunch.

The artist market lined Virginia Avenue for several blocks between Highland and nearly to Monroe.  After parking in the YMCA parking lot, we entered the artists area from Highland. Unfortunately, the first stop had to be the short line of Port-a-Potties, as we both had to "go". Oddly, there were male emblems on a couple of these modern outhouses, and female emblems on others. The interiors didn't seem to be any different, the "girls" that I went in was equipped with a urinal just the same as the one Tom went in. Only now do I realize why that would be -- they do this because they are trying to preserve one or two "express" lanes for the guys. If it weren't designated specifically for guys, they're afraid the women would line up for ALL of the spots. Who knew the first example of why art matters to me would be the graphic for male versus female? But I digress....

We knew before we ever set eyes on Linda Bean's booth that we'd be buying a very specific painting. She'd posted a picture of it on FaceBook and Tom and I both fell in love with it. A beautiful Florida landscape. Meeting Linda at the Va-Hi Fest was a great way for me to finally meet her and for both Tom and I to meet her husband Steve. PLUS we were able to save money on shipping.

If I'd had ten thousand dollars to blow yesterday, I could have easily done it and not paid more than $2000 for any one piece.  Of course, we are not in the big leagues and have yet to make the jump to spending four-figures on one piece of art, much less blow ten grand all at once. I'd love to be able to, though.  But there were many things I wish I could have purchased for a few hundred dollars. Glass works, watercolors, photography, sculpture, oils and acrylics, jewelry... so many beautiful and thought-provoking pieces. We had some lovely conversations with a variety of artists, too.

Fortunately, the piece we bought from Linda was a 12" by 12" oil and it fit perfectly in a large pizza box.  It kept threatening rain so I was glad we had it protected. The only thing is, I would have gladly paraded through the streets advertising her wonderful work instead of hiding it away in a pizza box that produced more than a few comments about not letting our lunch get cold. (Plus it was a little odd going into the taco place carrying our "pizza".)

On the way home from the festival we drove by our first apartment on Briarcliff Terrace in a neighborhood bordering Virginia-Highland. We'd lived there back in the mid-70s when rent was $125 a month.  Don't know what the rent is now. But I'm pretty sure we couldn't afford to buy any of the houses in the area. We were feeling adventurous and relaxed, so we managed to drive by two other places we'd lived in our lives together, one in East Atlanta, when we'd lived with friends for the first few months of our marriage, and one in Riverdale, where we'd lived for a number of years in the late 80s.

Back in our early days as a couple, in that first apartment, before anything that smacked of careers, we'd dabbled at producing our own art. And in a nod to "real" artists, over the years, we'd purchased a couple of posters from art museums of works of the Masters and long-dead artists. The "Girl in Blue" by Frederick Carl Frieseke, an 8" square reproduction of the original 31" square oil on canvas, now hangs in our laundry room. (Note: I wouldn't have been able to tell you who'd done this work or what it was called if I hadn't taken it off the wall and been pleasantly surprised by my long ago foresight of having preserved the information from the original print when I'd put it in a square silver frame.)  Rembrandt's "The Night Watchmen", a dark poster-sized piece, for a time hung unframed over our half-table in the eating area of that first tiny apartment on Briarcliff Terrace. In the same apartment, we'd hung Tom's surrealistic drawings and my construction paper weavings.  Our choices were part self-expression, part desire to commune with great artists of the past.

In the intervening decades, Tom and I began to allow ourselves purchases of works from living artists whom we admired. A modest purchase of a glass paperweight at one art fair, a 36" by 36" quilt wall hanging at another.  And then, several prints from our old friend PT Nunn -- prints instead of originals to allow for more choices. But I began to want originals, too. We purchased two original mithila-style black and red pen and ink drawings from a gallery in Orlando. The "Tree of Life" with its six exotic birds filling its branches and every corner of the page filled with leaves and life is one of my very favorite purchases. Another time, at the same gallery, we couldn't afford the beautiful oils of Patrick McGrath Muniz, but we could choose a witty sketch called "Gabriel Hermes Mercury", that catches the same flavor of his contemporary "retablo" paintings.

Recently, as my mother divested herself of two lifetimes worth of stuff and down-sized from her huge house to an apartment, I saved some of  the best pieces of my father's dabblings in the art world. She'd taken the pastel portrait from its protective frame (did the glass break? did she decide she wanted the frame for something else?) and it now needs to "get thee to a framery".  My father had a little bit of mostly unrealized talent.  His worthwhile pieces can probably be counted on one-hand -- okay, perhaps two hands. But I'm glad to have some of the good pieces. In an otherwise problematic relationship, the artwork is a saving grace.

Hey, there's that word -- grace.  Is that the "why" of "Why Art Matters in My Life"?

The Google definition has the noun as "simple elegance or refinement of movement".  Yes.  If art is a representation of grace, even if it is "ugly" art, then I think it matters.  Art as a representation of an idea can be elegant or refined even if the subject is terrifying or uncomfortable.

The art I choose to live with and love is sometimes the art that represents grace in what is off-balance.  Whether it's the asymmetry of a mithila painting or the windswept leanings of the trees on the Pacific bluff in the giclee print of one of my favorite of PT Nunn's work, I often go for something that is gracefully off-balance.  It represents my world.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Saying Grace: Postcards vs. Epistolaries

grace:  A short prayer of blessing or thanksgiving said before or after a meal. 

I am a non-religious person. I do not practice any formal religion of any stripe and haven't done so for many years. I do, however, believe in, and try to practice, religious tolerance. In fact, I usually see it as a matter of courtesy.  

But there's a pet peeve I have. Perhaps one that you yourself share. It's about grace-sayers who use saying grace as their bully pulpit. It usually happens at a family gathering but I’ve also experienced it in a more public arena where a religious leader takes advantage of the ready-made audience and attempts to advance his or her proselytizing agenda. 

Here's why I find this particular thing so annoying. I believe using the time before a meal for anything other than blessing the food is a gross misuse of power. If the grace-sayer could say their blessing in a few short sentences or even after the meal they are delaying, I'd probably be in a more charitable mood. But using precious time (while the food is getting cold and tummies are rumbling) to bless anything other than the food comes off to me as plain rude. If you’re guilty of this and you are keeping good folks from politely “digging in”, then just stop it. Let the cook silently thank God that he or she got the meal done without burning down the house. Let the cook silently implore God to find it in His or Her will to have enough food on the table for all present. Let the cook silently ask God if she has forgotten anything.

I rather like the bit about "or after" in the above definition of grace. I've often thought that after a meal was a more fitting place to say grace. Put that whole tradition of public grace-saying at the end of the meal and there's plenty who will be mighty thankful that their tummies are full and the food was good. All the non-religious will also be more likely to say “Hear, hear!” to a grace said at the end of a meal. They may even be able to burp up a pleasant "Amen!" It's possible they may even be a little more tolerant of any “extras” the grace-sayer may feel compelled to slip in. If they aren't, then at least they might be able to slip out quietly, assuming, of course, they have already given their compliments to the chef.

It's my belief that God, if He's there, does not give you extra points for creating a grand pre-meal epistolary. He (or maybe She) is probably just glad to hear from you. So, the next time you're asked to say grace at a gathering, please do the courteous thing:  Stay on topic – remember, it's about the food  –  and keep it short. Postcards, folks, not epistolaries.

Outsider-ism and Belonging

I've been a facilitator for a writing group for over ten years.  There are a good number of our group who have been coming for much of that ten years. A few have done some great writing and managed to at least self-publish some respectable books. Many have the same occasional but continued commitment to writing that I do.  We are not out to set the world on fire with our writing.  We enjoy the act of writing and we want to make what we write better. It's not that we don't dream about great publishing pursuits and successes but there may be others besides myself who could lay claim to the title of "the Walter Mitty of the Writing World".

And then there are the new people.  Those who arrive on meeting night looking for an answer to the isolation and inferiority we all feel when we confront the blank page.  Or when we continue to fail at finding the time for our pursuits.  Will this group help us get to where we want to be?  Can I bring something useful to this group?  Am I good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, will people like me?  (Also, as extension, is my writing good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, will people like it?)

The tables were turned this week.  I found myself the odd outsider.  The one who had a vision for something that was too big to accomplish on my own.  And then the one who wanted to join in, find a creative voice, add to the bigger picture that someone else had envisioned.  I became a member of the 2012 XPT group simply by applying and showing up.  But becoming a working, contributing member will take a little more effort.  What can I do?

XPT is Experimental Puppetry Theater at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta.  It's a 45 minute ride into town.  It's a commitment.  I've got a stressful full-time job and a grandbaby on the way in another country and a mother downsizing to an apartment.  I've got a writers group to attend to.

I primarily applied to XPT as a project director.  An effort to turn an idea into a full-fledged puppetry production or short film.  But for reasons not yet fully understood, my project was passed up in favor of others.  I'm okay with that.  Really, I am.  But I told myself from the get go that if I couldn't be a project director, I at least wanted to be involved in helping others get their projects underway.  I like the feeling of community and camaraderie and group efforts in making something really interesting and artistic and awesome.  I want to be a part of it.  A helper.  But again, what can I do?  How do I break in?

I'd asked at the interview what the predominant demographic was of the folks who participated in XPT in the past.  I was fishing for whether or not there'd be a lot of seasoned -- ahem, well-seasoned, as in salt and peppered hair -- people in the ranks.  I got the idea that this was basically a younger "man's" game.  But I wasn't particularly discouraged from joining.  But the fit...

So, yes, I showed up at the XPT kickoff night where the project directors explain their concepts and people who were looking to help introduced themselves.  How might I have introduced myself, had I not chosen to sit in the front row and been called on first?  After having heard a number of people later admit to being total newbies, might I have been more comfortable? Might I have been able to "sell" my "mad skills" somehow?  As it was, I may have come off as a bit meek and goofy.  Is it really possible to be both meek and goofy at the same time?  (Goofy takes at least a smidgen of boldness, right?)

And what was this blog, written a couple of weeks ago, trying to say?  Something about feeling out of place.  Something about making others feel welcome. Something about wanting to contribute and not quite knowing how.  And probably something about confidence and lack of it.  I didn't post it then. It wasn't finished.  It isn't finished now but it's preventing me from moving on. Silly, yes. Move on, I say.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

"Like an Alcoholic Working in a Liquor Store" - A Riff on Reading Habits

"I'm like an alcoholic working in a liquor store." That's what I say to the library patrons when I'm explaining why I don't use my Nook all that much. Which, as I gesture to the books on the library’s shelves, everyone can pretty much discern means that there are too many tangible books in my life to worry too much with those that are merely virtual.  I’m definitely a bookaholic. Though possibly, a recovering one. Am I a readaholic?  Not so sure.  I can appreciate other things in life without a book in hand. 

We've had a lot of explaining to do at the library in the two weeks since Christmas. I mean explaining how the library’s access to ebooks works. It seems that one of the hottest gifts really was the Kindle and its ilk.  Indeed, Tom got a Kindle Fire when they came out (prior to Christmas). And he also got some other nifty off-brand eReader iPad-ish thing that was a Groupon deal. My NookColor will be one year old about the time my new granddaughter arrives this spring.  So, our home is eReader rich. 

It's kind of funny.  There are some library patrons who used to read a lot but got tired of paying overdue fines on their library books.  So, they stopped using their library cards. Maybe they stopped reading or maybe they just decided they'd buy the books they wanted. These are the people who eventually got an eReader and now find that the cost of the best books is becoming prohibitive. They're easy to get, easy to store, and maybe easy to pay for.  But they can bankrupt you if you're a heavy reader and simply must have the latest titles on the Bestseller lists.

Now, about those library copies of eBooks... for our library, you must visit your library at least once.  Get your library card in good working order. Be able to access your library card online with your username and password.  And get some brief instruction from the friendly librarian on how to access the downloadable books from home.  And then, if it’s the latest and greatest on the Bestseller lists that you’re after, queue up.  Here’s the other thing I tell people who are learning about library copies of eBooks:  “Shakespeare gotta get paid.”*

Let me tell you, Folks, it's the Wild West out there as far as how these library eBook programs are going to be run in the future.  Yes, I believe library copies are essential for the good of the publishing industry and the health of readers everywhere.  Publishers tend to think they're missing out on revenue for every time a library copy is circulated rather than a copy of the same book purchased.  Yes and no.  If publishers are short-sighted enough to think that every library checkout really would equate with a purchase of that book, they are really dumb and they need to spend a few years working in a library.  For readers, a book worth purchasing is sometimes a book they’ve already read.  Or an author they’ve already read.  What’s the best value for your reading dollar?  It may be a contribution to your local library -- so they can take the risks on the new authors and the older authors who’ve lost their edge.  But let me tell you, as a responsible librarian, I don’t want to devote too much  of the taxpayers’ money or the library’s shelving “real estate” on books that aren’t worthy, either.

Will I make predictions about the fate of libraries and bookstores and reading in general?  Nah, I'm not that kind of prognosticator. I can only tell you my experience so far.  You can make your own predictions. Yes, it's anecdotal for the most part.  Though, we are trying to gather some statistics for our library's experience in the latest digital-age flood.  We’re introducing old patrons, who used to have a library card, to the wonderful world of the new library.  And our even older patrons to their new eReaders. And believe it or not, some patrons – those who’ve always had good library and reading habits -- are quite comfortable with both methods of reading: the old tangible book book and the new eReader “book”. 

Here's what I have to tell you after thirty years of hanging around the book industry: lots of books aren't worth the paper they are printed on. And lots of books that are wonderful never leave the shelf.  Am I just being an elitist?  Am I just talking about the books I like to read and damn everybody else's interests?  No, I'm talking about poorly written, poorly edited "stories" that have been committed to print.  Travesties, some of them.  And I'm in no way an elitist.  I can enjoy a well-written trashy or silly book as well as the next guy.

But I'm not here today to lambaste the publishing industry’s sins of the past or present.  I'm here to talk about my experience in the "liquor store". And riff on reading habits.

I have three problems with my personal reading habits:  1. I'm a slow reader.  2. I'm a writer/editor.  3.  I have many, many interests.

Problem 1 -- Some might say I should take a speed reading class.  Bull.  I don't want to read fast. I only want to have clones who can read everything I want to read and integrate it into the collective of Me.  I like words.  All words.  I like to savor the sentences.  I like to read them as they were written: one word at a time.

Problem 2 -- I'm a writer/editor.  If something was written well, I want to understand how it was done.  If something was written poorly, I want to analyze how it could have been made better if only they'd come to me before committing it to print.

Problem 3 -- This one perhaps I could do something about.  I've gathered books because they looked interesting at the time I was gathering.  But some of the books I've gathered, I've had for a decade or two and still have not found the time to read them.  I'm willing to at least try to reevaluate my interests based on the Me of the Now.

A month or so ago, I decided to go through my shelves and get rid of some of my books that I knew we had at the public library.  Before I totally ditched them, I put them on my library account's virtual list of things I might like to read some day.  This way, I can keep them in my peripheral vision – remembering that the books are accessible – even if they are not on my shelves.

In the chair where I sit composing this, I am facing the wall unit in the living room. I've just counted 91 books.  If I look behind me, there are another nineteen books on the tables, couches and chairs.  That's just one room of my house. And it's not even the room with the books in it.  The dining room has 148 books and journals.  I just counted.  And it's not the room with the books in it, either.  They're upstairs. Actually, in three different rooms upstairs.

I'm a bit ADDish so getting real about my interests is not the problem.  I'll always have a wide array of interests. That's okay.  But getting real about the available time I have to read is a problem.  One I'll always be battling. And that, my friends, is why I’m just like an alcoholic.

*  I first read the phrase “Shakespeare got to get paid, Son” on a t-shirt for sale on the funny and irreverent website Married to the Sea.  I have shamelessly used my version of that phrase (substituting “gotta” for “got to”) a BUNCH of times in trying to explain to people why library eBooks don’t mean “infinite copies for infinite people”. Digital Rights Management. DRM.  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

In Which the Blog Gets Renamed...

Today is the first day of the New Year.  I'm willing to still call this -- when it is 12:08 a.m. and I have not yet gone to bed-- today, as in "Today is the first day of the New Year."

And a great day to attempt a re-launch of my blog.  I've spent the day building the page.  Fitting it out like a cozy nest.  Not bad for a start. 

The first thing I had to get right was the name of the blog.

Rejected Blog names:
Chang Chang Change – too Asian
Chopped Liver, What Am I?  -- too Jewish
Camel Toe Pick – too… Wheel of Fortune

Squirrel Diversions – “not even worthy to be on my rejection list” (rejection attributed to Tom – also attributed to Tom: “Camel Toe Pick” – though I claim the reason for rejection on that one, both the stated and assumed)
Madam Imadam – Tom’s suggestion
Sarah Palindrome – Tom’s suggestion
Squirrel Gnats – made Tom laugh (and he called it suggestive!)  But no, like in squirrels have to whack off gnats… I’m not building my case here.
WHO am I?  What am I about?  That’s what I need to know to name my blog.  I’m about diverting attention.  I’m about changing the subject.  I’m about being a Jane of All Trades, Master of Some.

How about JOATMOS?  Too obscure.
Jane-of-All or Janeofall or Jaynufall
Impeccably Distracted
Rebeccably Distracted

And so it was born.  Or reborn.