Category Archives: Art and Music

The Artist Date, Sort Of (Bowers Museum)

Last week I posted about the first Artist Date (Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way) I went on when my uncle was visiting. We visited the Teotihuacan exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum.

A few days later we went to California for a brief trip, and while we were there, we visited the Bowers Museum in Orange County. All those years I lived in southern California, and I had never been there. I call these posts “The Artist Date, Sort of” because they are not solo excursions.

Lots of shadows on these pix. I hope you don’t mind because the objects are memorable.

The headhunters exhibit was quite unusual! I have to admit it did creep me out a bit.

These three “masks” below? Yup, real human skulls.

The weapons and body adornments were also creepy.

 

Why, YES, that necklace IS made of human teeth.

This headband is dog teeth.

The gallery of sculptures made of gemstones carved by Harold Van Pelt was stunning. So much of it looked like glass, but more gorgeous.

The museum has a beautiful Chinese exhibit.

We also visited the early California exhibit, as well as the beautiful realistic portraits and still lifes by William and Alberta McCloskey. After the museum, we stumbled upon a fabulous Japanese supermarket Mitsuwa, where we stocked up on gluten free Miso soup varieties and kimchees (OK, those are Korean, but we love kimchee). For dinner we visited The LAB antimall and a delicious Cuban restaurant called Habana. Both the supermarket and the restaurant need return visits from me :).

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May I ask you if you will consider doing something? Will you sign a petition to the governor of Arizona about the need to close down Dolphinaris, the horror chamber for dolphins in the desert? As expected, the dolphins are dying at an unbelievable rate. Four of the eight dolphins have already died in only 16 months! Over the weekend, there was yet another demonstration, this one drawing hundreds, and because of the outcry Dolphin Quest that supplies the dolphins has terminated their contract with Dolphinaris. But this is just a battle won, not the war. Here is the link to the petition.

Take the Dolphins Out of the Desert

IF THE PETITION IS CLOSED, PLEASE WRITE TO GOVERNOR DUCEY AT THIS ADDRESS

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I didn’t get too much writing done this week, but I stumbled across a binder of rejections and acceptances from when I was just starting out. I couldn’t believe how kind the rejecters were. They wrote handwritten notes, telling me what they liked and encouraging me. Quite a far cry from Submittable (the site most lit mags use for submissions) today where I am lucky to get a note with a rejection.  Most of the acceptances cracked me up. I can’t believe they took those crummy poems. It’s so embarrassing to read some of them. Actually, my stories were more well-written, but they had other problems.  Still, there were a couple of poems (maybe three) I still like.

But I did have a poem acceptance this week, so YAY!

Make it a good week!

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerslife, Art and Music, California, Publishing, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

The Artist Date, Sort Of (Teotihuacan exhibit)

Are you familiar with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way? I really like the idea of Artist Dates, where the writer or artist goes on a weekly expedition to explore something inspiring or enchanting. I like to try to do that as often as I can. (It’s been pointed out to me that Artist Dates should be SOLO, but when I have an opportunity like this, I take it as-is).

While my uncle was visiting, the gardener and I took him to the Teotihuacan exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum. Between 100 BCE and 650 CE, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the Americas. In some ways it was like many pre-Columbian exhibits and in other ways it seemed brand new to me. I can’t quite explain it. I also thought it was fascinating that there were so many “feline” shapes in the art. (Love my cats!) Let me mention that my uncle won two scholarships to the Art Institute in Chicago when he was a kid. He was able to attend the first time, but the second time he had a serious illness and had to stay home for a full year. He had to go to work very young and was never able to pursue a career as an artist, although he certainly had the talent.

It was really fascinating to see how much art was designed to replicate teeth!

The earrings or “ear plugs” the statues wear are the same as those worn by the Aztecs, so that style was around for many centuries (it still is, I guess).

The plaques on the walls described the city in some detail. I found the pyramids to once again remind me so much of Egyptian pyramids. Maybe I’ve heard too many episodes of the ancient alien shows that the gardener likes to watch . . . .

On the way in and out of the gallery, we were met with two beauties. One was the Carlos Amorales piece “Black Cloud,” a swarm of black moths and butterflies.

The other was this dandelion sculpture created by (I think) Josiah McElheny:

I’m a huge fan of big contemporary installations like these as they really set the tone and show me that humankind is still creating amazing art.

A few days after we visited the museum, we took Uncle Frank to California for a few days. I’ll write about that part of the trip later. Mebbe next week, I hope.

BUT a few days after my uncle left for Arkansas, I had the real pleasure of meeting Theresa Barker. She blogs at Theresa Barker Lab Notes. We had a fun time comparing notes on our families and exchanging a few of our favorite poems and discussing them. What a blast! She is as nice and smart in person as in blogland.

I’ve been feeling very depleted and tired lately, so much so that creating new work seems impossible. However, I pulled out a lot of unfinished poems. By unfinished, I mean that they were too complete, too mediocre, and had been filed away. I am going through and revising these poems. Maybe I will find something good in some of them!

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Filed under #AmWriting, #writerslife, Arizona, Art and Music, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Arkansas, America, and Art

Last week I told you about the great restaurant we found in the Ozarks, along the White River bank. But we did more than go to that restaurant. We kept my uncle going every day! It had been decades since we had been to northern Arkansas. When we last visited, there were so many ancient Ozark-style log cabins tucked into the woods on the side of the road that the flavor of the land was everywhere you looked. If you don’t know what those are, they are small slightly rectangular box cabins with a peaked roof and a front porch with roof (imagine a wooden rocking chair and Pa with a corncob pipe just about now). Typically, the cover to the porch is a different pitch than the main roof–and best yet, the roof is generally tin. There aren’t very many left, but the remains of the ones being slowly claimed by the forest can be seen. Also, some have been refurbished with aluminum siding. Some new houses are built in the same style, to reflect the traditional architecture.

The reason I don’t have photos for you is that most of my Arkansas photos are crap, having been taken through a car window. It was too hot and humid to keep rolling the window down–and the so-called highways (NO freeways at all) are winding and long. It’s way out in the country, y’all. Anyway, the gardener drove, and it exhausted him so I didn’t want to distract him by rolling the window up and down–or asking to stop where we could have been run over IF someone else had driven there just then (that’s a big IF).

This part of Arkansas must be well within the Bible Belt. In Mountain Home (population 12,448), the Wednesday newspaper had a listing of churches in the immediate area.

I counted FORTY-ONE Baptist churches. There are also a lot of other denominations, including LDS, Jehovah’s Witness, and even Bahai! There is no synagogue, and I don’t think there is a mosque. Also, there are only two Catholic churches–one in town and one in a nearby town. The one in town is my uncle’s church. You might wonder then how my uncle ended up in Arkansas. He was born and lived in Chicago. After a horrible crime touched his life (story coming tomorrow in thefamilykalamazoo.com) he moved his family to rural Illinois–and eventually to Arkansas. He wasn’t alone–there is a whole “expat” group of Chicagoans who live there. They like being away from the hubbub–and a lot of them like to fish. That–and some Californians who have escaped the west coast–probably makes up the majority of people who attend the Catholic churches.

Let me mention that my favorite church names are the cowboy churches. Notice that this listing shows Bar None Cowboy Church. We flew into Tulsa, OK, and drove to Mountain Home. On the way, we saw other cowboy churches, like the Cowboy Gatherin’ Church in Inola, OK, and Crooked Creek Cowboy Church in Harrison. Apparently “cowboy churches” are a thing and are scattered across the country. Who knew? Well, I sure didn’t.

Speaking of Harrison. It’s only 48.4 miles from Mountain Home, but there’s a big difference. Mountain Home, as I said, has attracted people from Chicago and California and is close to reknowned trout fishing near the Bull Shoals dam which links Bull Shoals Lake with the White River. People think of pretty Ozark country when Mountain Home is mentioned. Harrison’s reputation comes from being known as the most racist city in the country. I got that from Wikipedia. So who knows the accuracy. Apparently, between 1905 and 1909 white citizens threw out all the African-Americans who lived there and established their city as a “sundown town.” That means just what it sounds like: no non-white people in town after dark. You think things have changed?

The city has been dubbed “the most racist city in America” because of its high presence of white supremacist organizations. Kingdom Identity Ministries, a white supremacist organization, was founded in 1982 in Harrison. Thomas Robb, national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, maintains his office near Harrison in the outlying town of Zinc and uses a Harrison mailing address for the organization. Combined with the history of the 1905 and 1909 banishment of unemployed railroad workers and all other African-American residents, this incidental connection to the KKK has given the town a negative image.

The article goes on to say that there are people who are trying to combat that image by speaking up against racism. Of course, all this just made me want to visit. The writer in me, you know. But that’s an easy call as a white woman. As the white mother of Asians, I would not have suggested we visit if they were with us.

When we got to town, I saw the pretty historic theatre where events are still held.

Love the neon sign!

Harrison is quite a pretty small town, and there wasn’t much to hint at a dangerous undercurrent of racism. Then we stopped at an antique shop for the gardener.

My eye was drawn to certain things. I started to feel uncomfortable.

I realize people collect Mammy this and that. Raised in Kalamazoo by my northern relatives, I will never feel comfortable with this stuff. In fact, in Arkansas, I had to keep reminding myself it used to be a slave state. I’ve never lived in a state where slave-holding was legal.

And then there was this little section.

Don’t you love the juxtaposition of items? The Rise and Fall swastika, desperation, a book called Rifles and Shotguns, Rhett Butler, and the fragility of that ruffled porcelain atop the stack. I figured we’d been in town long enough. Time to go!

Next day we visited my cousin’s home in the mountains. He is an orchid farmer by trade, and they live way out in the middle of nowhere (yup, it’s probably even called that). He always loved cacti and orchids, and it’s kind of cool that he’s made a living all these years doing what he loves.

He’s got such cute grandchildren, too. So much fun playing with them!

One day we visited Mystic Caverns. I guess northern Arkansas has a lot of underground caves. Many have probably not even been discovered yet.

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Close to Mountain Home is a tiny town called Norfork. There you can find the Jacob Wolf House Historic Site.

The site includes the main house, which was the territorial courthouse, built 1825, as well as some outbuildings. Seeing how the men “roughed” it even inside the courthouse really made me think of what the settlers went through. During the day, court was in session, and at night, the men spread out their bedrolls where they had been sitting in court earlier.

As we left Arkansas, the gardener and I stopped at the Osage Clayworks because the area has been known for pottery for quite some time. They had some good buys on “seconds,” and I bought my daughter a garlic thingie to use for her rings on her dresser.

 

The Photography of Justin Hamm

If you like seeing small towns and the fading past of America, you need to check out the photography of poet and photographer Justin Hamm. He’s also the editor of the museum of americana. I love Justin’s photos. Rustic images of old cars, barns, that kind of thing. Gorgeous. Click here for his Instagram. Here are the photos on his website. Look at this photograph of an old Ozark barn, care of Justin. He’s been in the Ozarks recently so I am watching for all those shots I imagined but couldn’t pull off.

 

The Art of Len Cowgill

On the subject of beautiful American art, I want to tell you a little update on the work of Len Cowgill.

Many, many years ago, when Len, the gardener, and I were all very young, Len gave us a series of three pieces as a gift. This was before he knew about archival materials, and over the years in the hot sun of California, the drawings faded. Here is one of them–see HOW faded.

Upon hearing about the fading, Len kindly offered to repair all these drawings. Look out great they turned out! In the first one, he changed the static brick wall to Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” and then followed the theme for the rest of them.

I’m so blessed to have such thought-provoking and breathtaking art in my life. Thanks to Len and thanks to Justin both for sticking with your passions and making the world more beautiful.

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Filed under #AmWriting, #amwriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Art and Music, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, History, Nonfiction, Photographs, Sightseeing & Travel, travel, Writing

Medical Art + Writing + Cats

On Friday I had some medical tests. I’ve been having some shortness of breath problems. I went to the doctor months after I should have, but I doubt it matters. I now suspect it is more of that acid reflux problem! Probably getting into my lungs. But my doctor thought he heard a new heart murmur so I had to take some tests. I’m sure it’s because my mother had a TAVR last summer. She was so lucky to do so well because she had more wrong with her heart than people usually do who get TAVR procedures. This is less invasive than open-heart surgery as they “go up through the groin.” My mother is now the darling of Spectrum Hospital in Grand Rapids and is featured on billboards throughout the city. She’s so darn cute. Tell me if she’s not adorable.

I’m not worried about my tests because I have seen how bad this acid reflux situation is. I have a splint thingie that I am supposed to wear at night for my TMJ problem, but the acid has eaten through the acrylic!!!

I kid you not.

I go to Mayo Clinic in Arizona because, why not? One-stop shopping for medical. They take my insurance for which I worked my TUSH off by teaching for a pittance for all those years. (If you think I am exaggerating, you would be wrong. Lecturers or adjuncts or freeway flyers, which is what I was, do over half the teaching work in most universities and get paid a tiny share of what professors make. People who clean houses–and do not need high school diplomas–get paid more per hour than I did with my P. H. and D. No kidding again. But I will say I did it with love).

What I noticed at Mayo this time was a preponderance of beautiful art. I hope that somebody loans or donates it to them because I would hate to think that my insurance and my deductible and all is paying for that art. Beautiful Chinese jade pieces, well-made Native American pottery, you name it. They are in glass cases, so I couldn’t really photograph them because of the reflections.

But I will admit that I feel better getting poked and prodded in an artistic and serene environment. Art calms my soul. Kind of like cats do.

A quintessential Phoenix Soleri bell

Another quintessential Phoenician art form

Flowers floating on the wall

The best part of the day, though, were the therapy dogs. I saw three! And they were all beautiful dogs. One a big blondie, another a golden of sorts, and the third? Here he/she is!

What is that noise I’m hearing? Is Kana in a kitchen cupboard again? [Leaves to go check.] OK, I let her out.

Here is my writing update. If I don’t write one day, I try to make up for it the next. This weekend I worked on a piece for a book that someone else is writing. The book is about the beautiful old lakeside park and dance pavilion that my great-great-grandmother’s niece owned and that my father bought from her on a land contract . . . for a time.  Since those years of my childhood stimulated my imagination, it’s a story I’ve been writing and rewriting as poetry and prose for years.

I had a nonfiction story taken by a magazine I was hoping would take it (woot!).

The ole memoir is completely restructured now. (Aren’t you sick of hearing about that dang thing?) And I organized my send-out pieces. Three months ago I thought I had nothing left, but I’ve rewritten poems and prose pieces and feel I have some offerings to the world.

I hope you enjoyed Carol Bachofner’s pieces. Years ago, Carol was my student, not for creative writing, but for literature. She was a fabulous student, the kind of student all teachers wish for: passionate and smart and logical and creative. And hard-working.

Are you wondering how Perry is doing? hahaha He’s driving everyone crazy, but he’s so darn sweet. Kana and Felix figured out if they lie on the cat trees by the glass doors, I can put the drapes around them, and Perry can’t get to them. He knows they are there, but it makes it too difficult for him to climb on them.

That is Felix on our left, looking out. You can see his little face in the door. Kana is the black shape on the right side. From the inside of the house, Perry and I can only see the drapes.

If we don’t do this with the drapes, this is what happens. Perry climbs right up with Felix and within a few seconds he starts to annoy!

Perry got to stay up after 10PM for several nights last week because he is so good! The only trouble is that he has to have his bedroom door shut at night because no matter how I wrap the sheet over the gate, he can figure out how to get out. The little smartypants.

What’s up with you this week?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida in Fours

The trip to Florida was another test of our gluten free sleuthing. It’s so exhausting that sometimes I wonder why we bother traveling. But our hotel room was more like a time-share, so we had a kitchen. That helped a lot as we ate breakfast and occasionally lunch (when we ate lunch) in our room. There was one big surprise in Sarasota.

 

Look at the sign on that restaurant: GREAT GLUTEN FREE MENU. What was nice is that Beckham’s on the Trail has a dedicated fryer and makes fish and chips gluten free. Please tell me why a huge city like Phoenix (far bigger than Tampa/St. Petersburg) doesn’t have more dedicated fryers!!! If you’re not familiar with that type of fryer it simply means one which only fries gluten free food. It’s not contaminated by gluten.

Although I didn’t see a lot of art while we were in Florida, we were greeted in the Tampa airport by this beauty. I love this gigantic multi-colored net that hangs on the wall over the escalator. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time or free hands to stop and take a good shot.

When I went through my photos from the trip, I discovered a fascination with four items. Four is challenging. Anybody who “decorates” knows that it’s easier to work with groups of three than with four. But four has its own special meanings. It’s the four seasons and four functions in math (add, subtract, multiply, divide). Once you start to think about it, I bet you can think of more fours than I can.

 

These chairs were so pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off them.

Someone had left these shells lying here for others to enjoy. The gardener kept bringing me little shells he found, but the ones left on the wall were larger and nobody had taken them, which was amazing in itself.

These guys fascinated me. One of them had been trying to pull a plastic bag of (presumably) abandoned food out of a trash can, and I shooed him away because I couldn’t bear the thought of him eating the plastic and styrofoam. But he didn’t fly far–just to the ledge of the walkway at our hotel to join his friends. These guys are trying to pull a poem out of me.

I keep wondering why I saw fours in Florida.

Try writing about fours. I’d love to see what you come up with. Fours in a poem, a blog post, a story. What comes in four? How does four make us feel? Is there anything intrinsic or essential about four?

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Rainbows Everywhere

The gardener and I have been married for ever so many years (vagueness is mandatory here), and this month we had our anniversary. We ate at a wonderful Lithuanian restaurant (I thought it was Ukrainian, but I was wrong). We also decided to choose our own anniversary gift. This is what I chose for myself.

A gorgeous light catcher custom-designed and crafted by Pauline at The Contented Crafter. I wanted something for my office, which is coral and black on ivory. When it arrived last week, I was ecstatic. Such a classy presentation, too. Pauline had the light catcher in a gauzy bag with the top of the piece tied to the bag so that it can just slip out and not be tangled.

I laid it out in a tray because the gardener wanted to hang it himself. (He doesn’t trust me with picture hangers, but the truth is that unless it involves a molly I think I am better at them).

My mother has arrived for a few weeks, and we had to put her in Perry’s room (my daughter’s room). Perry had to be moved into my office. He sleeps in there and also has his time-outs in that room now. So we decided to hang the light catcher in our living room instead.

As I inspected it on the tray I was thrilled to see how much of my personality Pauline imbued the piece with. As she describes it: “pinks and oranges and coppery hues; sea jasper beads, tiny coral beads, seashell pieces and masses of crystals.” The charms are a Russian nesting doll, a cat, an “I love cats,” a tiny book called “A True Story.” There are hearts and stars. Imagine!

And here is a close up of the top of it.

And here:

See the doll (for Doll God) and “I love cats” above?

Since my photos suck, Pauline sent me some better shots of the lovely! Click through the slideshow to see up close!

 

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Why did I want a light catcher?

Well, for one thing I had seen some of the photos of Pauline’s work and thought it beautiful.

Also, one of my favorite movies as a kid was Pollyanna, and the most memorable scene was the one about the prisms at Mr. Pendergast’s house. If you want to cut to the chase, start the video at exactly 2:40.

 

I’ve written about Pollyanna twice before haha! The Glad Game, or Happy Birthday, Pollyanna and Path to Gratitude

The light catcher is certainly living up to its name. It throws brilliant rainbows all around the room.

Mini rainbows on the floor

I love having my home filled with rainbows!

Also, I got the new issue of Tab in the mail. It’s quite an innovative literary magazine. It’s a series of beautifully designed postcards with poems and art. My photo is sort of upside down, but I don’t think it matters because the idea is that you pick up a card and read them one at a time. I have been carrying them around with me.

Here’s what I have to say about #amwriting. Before Mom got here I had completely restructured the memoir. It still needs a lot of revision, but the structure is radically different. Marie Bailey really helped me with her comments. Thank you, Marie! Check out her story, “Rapunzel, A Different Kind of Fairy Tale.” Extremely enjoyable and found at the new lit mag, The Disappointed Housewife. When I restructured, it was easy to see what scenes to get rid of. I jettisoned about 23,000 words and wrote another 3,000 so far. This means that I have now written about 310,000 words for this project. But it’s only 66,000 words right now. Good grief, get on with it and finish it, woman!

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More information on Pauline at The Contented Crafter

A little about me: For a start, I’m a baby-boomer – you do the math – the number keeps changing and so do I!

I’ve had many incarnations as wife, mother, student, teacher, teacher trainer and mentor, curriculum writer and advisor, community hub developer, new worker trainer, and [whew!] life coach.  In between I painted, crafted, hand worked, gardened and generally tried to create beauty around me where ever I went.  Oh, I forgot to mention ‘world traveller’!

These days I’m [mostly] a very contented crafter and pursuer of serenity.  And of course, I live with Orlando, a now elderly Maine Coon cat of great distinction and forbearance and a most delightfully joyful pup who goes by the name of Sid-Arthur [yes, a play on Siddhartha for those of you who picked it up].  They feature prominently throughout this blog.

I’m retired now and happily spend my days doing whatever it pleases me to do.  Sometimes, in between my crafting projects, I still coach now and again, gratis, as a thank you for this blessed life I’ve been given.

I have had a most interesting life, from traumatic beginnings through the highs and lows of self discovery – learning to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions, learning to forgive and let go, learning to trust, learning to ‘be’.

I adopted this as my motto many years ago, it still fits:  Life is a school room and everything is a lesson to be learned.  Lessons will be presented in many ways and many forms until they are learned.  When a lesson has been successfully mastered, another lesson will be presented.  You will be tested.

What I have come to see is that some lessons will be tough, some will be fun. The secret is to maintain a sense of equilibrium with them all, no matter how they make you feel.

And in the end, it’s all been about learning how to be a ‘successful’ human being – and by ‘successful’ I don’t mean in a material way.  I mean in terms of understanding who and what I am and why I am here and what is the meaning of it all………. you know, all that existential stuff.

I consider myself to be counted amongst the most fortunate of people despite the fact that I live without much of the material wealth and supports that so much of the western world considers necessary. I enjoy to keep it simple these days!

CLICK THROUGH FOR PAULINE’S GIFT SHOP

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The Inimitable Style of Len Cowgill

When the gardener and I lived in Michigan we were good friends with artist Len Cowgill. He specialized in a type of pointillism which was well-suited to the detailed nature of his subjects. We have a series of three pieces that showcase different stages of a man’s life. They are just stunning. Unfortunately, they are under glass, so I can’t really take photos of them.

Recently, I found his work online–in galleries and on Flickr. While his art has grown and changed, it is still recognizably his inimitable style. Using acid-free paper, he works mainly in  ink, graphite, white charcoal, and sometimes colored pencil. Len’s work isn’t merely decorative. He doesn’t turn away from difficult subjects, but focuses his eye on the human condition.

We haven’t seen Len in years, but hope to see him before too long now that we’ve reconnected.

When I really love a work of art, I get all revved up (jumping up and down in my chair, if you must know) and want to share with everyone. This is how I feel about Len’s art. He let me use these images from his Flickr account, but please do not copy them for public or internet use.

 

103 Secret Saints

 

 

Strangers Battling Through Eternity

 

 

Mermaids

 

 

Beatrice

 

 

We Are All In This Together

 

 

The Burden of Personal History

 

You can find Len’s work for purchase at the following galleries:

To contact Len, he can be reached through the contact page at Tamarack Art Gallery.
Just writing this blog post is giving me an idea for poetry: to write an ekphrastic poem based on one of Len’s pieces. An ekphrastic poem about a piece of visual art. Traditionally, the poet expands upon the meaning of the art within the poem, but it really can be any response to specific art. Use the artwork as muse or inspiration. Hmm, gotta get to writing. If you write a poem in response to one of the images in this post, please post a link or the poem itself in the comments!

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Country Lyrics as Poetry

While I know very little about country music in general, in the specific I love the music of Tom. T. Hall. Tom T. Who? OK, mebbe before your time. He was born in Kentucky in 1936. You would know he was from Kentucky just from the bluegrass you can hear in many of his songs.

Tom T. Hall is a songwriter, as well as a performer, and it is really through his songwriting that he’s known as “The Storyteller.” I love music that tells stories (probably why I love Broadway musicals), and all his songs sound like flash memoir set to guitar (banjo, etc.).  I tend to think of him as “The Poet” because his lyrics are poems.

Factoid: His most well-known song Hall didn’t record himself: “Harper Valley PTA,” which was recorded by Jeannie C. Riley in 1968. The song was a #1 hit and won a Grammy and a CMA award.

The other day I was driving the Gardener’s car. He had an old Tom T. Hall CD of mine in the CD player. (Yes, he uses a CD player and a flip phone). As I listened to the song “Country Is,” I thought some of the sentiments seemed familiar to those I discovered while writing Kin Types.

Watch for the oppositional images, the paradoxes, but the whole thing isn’t framed that way.

Country is sitting on the back porch
Listen to the whippoorwills late in the day
Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way

Country is living in the city
Knowing your people, knowing your kind
Country is what you make it
Country is all in your mind

Country is working for a living
Thinking your own thoughts, loving your town
Country is teaching your children
Find out what’s right and stand your ground

Country is a having the good times
Listen to the music, singing your part
Country is walking in the moonlight
Country is all in your heart

First, he sets us on the back porch in a peaceful scene that feels inviting. You don’t have to be “country” to enjoy hearing the “whippoorwills late in the day.”

Then he sings:

Country is minding your business
Helping a stranger if he comes your way

That is a paradox. You mind your beeswax, which sounds isolationist. But you also help someone in need who crosses your path. Wow, does that ever sound like these lines from the first poem of Kin Types, “Advice from My Forebears.”

If they come to your door, feed them. Then send

them on their way.

That comes from the philosophy of my mother’s Dutch family. You don’t get embroiled in other people’s business, but you do help them when they come to you–then send them back to their own business.

That second stanza tells us what the song is about. Because country is a mental state, it’s what we make of it. It’s up to us. We can be country and live in the city where we meet and interact with diverse people everywhere we go. But we also need to “know” our own kind. That really came home to me as I worked on the poems of Kin Types. As a kid, I really didn’t appreciate my family. I saw what I thought was lacking or limited in them, even listened to stereotypes, but didn’t try to imagine what it was like to be my parents or their parents or grandparents. To know myself I had to learn to understand my family. Now I feel I know my kin and kind. I don’t always like them, but I understand and love them. I think it’s important to look at the line this way because otherwise we might jump to the conclusion that knowing our own kind means associating only with your kind. But it doesn’t.

The first half of the third stanza is more paradox, although it doesn’t appear so on the surface. People who are country work for a living. They aren’t independently wealthy (and if they were they would still live off what they make by working). And someone who is country might be employed by a big company or a boss who tries to impose a will on the workers. But if you’re country you keep your opinions! From there on the stanza respects loving one’s own town (which reminded me of my blog The Family Kalamazoo and how Kin Types arose from that setting) and the honor in “finding out what’s right,” which I love. It’s FINDING OUT, not KNOWING what’s right (sorry for shouting–I couldn’t help it). It’s keeping a questioning open mind and having the courage to stick up for what you have learned is right. These are traits I discovered in my own relatives by researching their stories.

The last stanza is sentimentalized and brings the listener to the song of the moment. We better be singing our part. Finally, that last line takes the earlier line, “Country is all in your mind,” and now adds that it is also in your heart. We have become “country” through our minds and our hearts.

 

I couldn’t help but think of the Vegas victims and survivors while listening to this song and others by Tom T. Hall. My heart is with them.

My son and “new daughter” love country music and attended the concert in Huntington Beach the weekend before the terror in Vegas. I thought to myself, “They so easily could have been there.”  Although I don’t go to concerts and couldn’t name most of the current country performers, I feel as if I could have so easily been there. After all, we’re all a little bit country.

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And now for the weekly Perry update:

Perry and Kana

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Filed under #AmWriting, Art and Music, Essay, Inspiration, Kin Types, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

Is She Really Writing About Cats Again? (Hint: She Is)

Most days I’ve been visiting Perry at the shelter. He’s not a happy boy at all. Look at how he’s keeping his ears flattened now!

Yes, that’s a litter box he’s sitting in. One with little poos in it.

Rather than acclimating to the shelter environment, Perry is getting more upset and unhappy. When he hears a dog bark (and they do sound like out-of-control maniacs) he shrinks down further.  Yesterday I stayed a little longer than usual and added whispering to him on top of the reading and singing. He liked being whispered to, especially because he recognized the conspiratorial aspect when I let him in on a plan that I am hatching.

There are two choices. Either we can assume the vet that neutered him was wrong and he is a feral cat OR we can figure out a way to give him another chance to prove he can live with humans. We have zero foster families that will take a possibly feral cat. The only option is if WE do it. And I can’t bring him in with my other cats with their age and health issues. The stress would drive them into sickness.

So we can isolate him, but with my lymphedema (and the danger of cat scratches and bites) I can’t let him loose in a room where I could potentially never catch him again.

I ordered a 3 tier cage. I know, I know, it’s a cage. But if he’s going to prove he can be civilized (poor little Huck, I mean Perry), it’s our only option. So we will set up the cage when it comes, trap him in a cat den (that I also ordered) for minimal stress and bring him here to the new cage. We will put it by a window that looks out on the bunnies and birds and lizards (and if he sees a coyote or bobcat he will know that they can’t get to him). I will read, sing, and talk to him at least every two hours that I am home and awake. I will try to play with him with a string-type toy. I will keep setting little toys near him and try to get closer and closer to him without setting him off.

And we will see.

If he truly is feral and unwilling to be civilized we will have to find a place he can go and live an outdoor life.

At the shelter, we’ve got other cats in need, too. Two big litters of kittens are going like hotcakes, but the older cats wait. And new ones come in. Yesterday I witnessed a young couple surrender a gorgeous cat to us. The man didn’t speak and kept his sunglasses on, and the woman didn’t shed a tear and said they were moving and couldn’t keep the cat. Guess who probably insisted on GETTING RID OF THE CAT? What do they think will happen to their cat? She, at least, is probably telling herself that it’s a no-kill shelter, so the cat will be fine. What they don’t realize is that surrendered cats sometimes have to go through more than one more owner before they find a forever home. And will it be a good home? No way to know.

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To think about something besides cats, the gardener and I went to see Bullets Over Broadway at Phoenix Theatre. Funny show–and very well done! The acting and costumes were fabulous, as was the dancing. This show was written by Woody Allen and played on Broadway for 100 performances a few years ago.  I love the LIMINAL passage to the theatre–that threshold as one passes from the real world to the world of the stage.

No hummingbird nests yet this year, but in a big flower pot somebody created a “scrape nest,” which is a nest where the bird scrapes the dirt and forms a little hollow to receive her eggs. There is one speckled egg, but she has not come back to lay more. Birds like Gambel Quail do lay their eggs one at a time like that, but I think the time for her to come back has passed. The egg seems a little large for a quail, but I can’t think of another bird that could have made this nest. A mourning dove laid her eggs in a hanging pot, but I didn’t take a pic because it would have disturbed her. It’s bad enough that the gardener has to water the plant or it will die, and the bird will lose the green drapery she likes.

Today is my paternal grandmother’s birthday. She was born in 1893, and she is featured in at least one poem in Kin Types. She was the head fitter at the 28 Shop at Marshall Field’s department store in downtown Chicago for many years and raised three children by herself.

What must it have been like to work in such elegant surroundings and go home to children you could barely afford to feed?

Only 3 weeks left to pre-order Kin Types and have it count toward publication. You can order it here. The book contains poetry, prose, and a women’s history.

 

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Filed under Arizona, Art and Music, Cats and Other Animals, Family history, Flora, Garden, and Landscape, History, Kin Types, Liminality, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

A Trip to the Fair

Last weekend the gardener and I visited the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. We love looking at the work of Native artists and craftspeople. I had a gift to buy and thought I’d check out the jewelry.

On the way there, I started wondering about different viewpoints–differing perspectives–on this subject.

If I buy a Native necklace, can it be worn without cultural appropriation?  If you use cultural elements in a colonizing manner, it is cultural appropriation. How does one determine what “in a colonizing manner” mean? Outrageous examples are easy to identify; but what about more subtle ones?

I have to assume if an artist makes a silver necklace and sells it at an event called “Indian Fair & Market,” that she wants it purchased at said event and then worn and loved. Doesn’t that make sense?

Life is a lot of thinking work. It’s good that I have to think about this subject so that I don’t walk all over somebody else, but it’s a little exhausting that I have to wonder if an artist wants me to buy her art. All us artist types want our stuff purchased and enjoyed.

This man was one of the few people practicing his skill at the event.

These lovely young ladies enjoyed showing off their crowns.

What do you think about the subject of cultural appropriation? Obviously, a lot of it has gone on in the past, which is how we have ended up with blended cultures and blended cultural arts–like American jazz, for instance.  Do you have a “rule of thumb” for knowing if you are overstepping and colonizing someone else’s culture?

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 On another note completely, I finished Jill Weatherholt‘s delightful novel Second Chance Romance. If you want to read my review, head on over to Goodreads or Amazon before you buy your own copy!

Enjoy your read–and then head on over to Jill’s blog and let her know!

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Filed under Arizona, Art and Music, Book Review, Books, Fiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing