Halfway

Halfway there. When I was below the age of double digits, car rides gave me a queasy stomach. My usual question after five minutes was, “Are we there yet?” And one of the usual responses, irrespective of the distance, was “Halfway.” 

If halfway is somewhere between two points—a centrist, some one who is half-and-half—perhaps on the fence, or a moderate, or a middle-of-the-roader, then I occupy that place sometimes. But usually I lean toward one of the poles.
Halfway—was it a good audience? A tolerable audience.They didn’t boo but they often sat on their hands.

Full house or empty house? Neither, somewhere in-between. A moderate turnout.

I like the phrase in medias res. In fiction it means to drop down in the middle of things. The story begins in the middle.You don’t keep going back, back, back.You pick a point and begin your narrative. Sometimes you’ll dip back into a time before you entered the time line, but it’s just a momentary return.
 
I had offered to give a poetry workshop as part of the town’s offerings around the One Book reading project our town took on this spring. There was a memoir writing workshop a week ago, a day devoted to myriad activities surrounding the chosen book, and now a poetry workshop. I didn’t know how many people would show up. After all poetry isn’t a big draw and writing poetry can be downright frightening.

I made fifty copies of a poem, not that I anticipated that many people— but when we had a reading several years ago we attracted a large crowd. This was different. Here you carried a pencil and were expected to write.

Eight people showed up and four of those were friends. Two came from the committee that organized the entire town reading extravaganza and one woman came because she read the announcement in the library.

Five of the eight wrote really good poems—especially the woman who came because she wanted to get back to writing, At the end she shook my hand and thanked me for encouraging her to write.  

I took my forty-two copies of the poem home. In terms of numbers I didn’t reach the halfway mark—
“Fiction, ” said one of the committee members, “is easy, but poetry is too difficult. I don’t understand it.”

Halfway. If I look at the fifty copies and the forty-two left I didn’t meet the halfway criteria. If I think of the four really good poems I guess I inch toward the halfway mark—after all there were eight people in the workshop.

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Green

I’m busy checking the brown spots and watching for the green growth. Each morning when I go out for the newspaper I take note of new growth and the ground cover expanding its reach.

Soon I’ll need to assert my prerogative and trim its expansion, insist on boundaries or it will continue to squeeze out other growth.

It’s easy to scoff at boundaries and often they need to be pushed and altered, shaped differently, made more inclusive. Yet there are other times that having boundaries lends security. Hannah Arendt described totalitarian governments as having no set boundaries– what is acceptable one day will incur harm on another day. One is never certain about the location of the fence.

I look up at the trees, most of them still bare, and think of all the possible shades of green. I’ll take out my Watercolors and try and replicate a single leaf’s color–delighted in not being able to get it quite right.  

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Familiarity

To some returning to the same place year after year is dull, pedestrian, lacking in imagination. To others the return allows for a deeper conversation with a particular setting.

Religious Jews quote these words: Turn the Torah, turn it again and again, for everything you want to know is found within it.

The familiar affords me the chance to explore and look at something from a different angle– the colors of mushrooms along the trail, the patterns of burls, the way a particular tree resembles a gargoyle, the way seaweeds hang over rocks and sway in the water, the gurgling of water, the sibilant water, the sound of water churned up by a storm, waves building up until they spend themselves with ferocious determination and spew foam and spindrift.

The familiar is never stagnant in the places I visit in Maine. Nature doesn’t stand still.

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Eggplant

What’s so unusual about an eggplant.? There’s the American eggplant with its pear shape and deep purple color–the one frequently seen in supermarket bins. I personally like the looks of the apple green eggplant or the elongated shape of the Japanese eggplant. If I seek it out I may find a green goddess eggplant with its mild flavor and unusual contour. If you get to Thailand beware of the pea eggplant, makhua phuang, with its bitter taste. Each eggplant is the size of a pea and they appear in clusters when sold in a Thai market. Think of a cluster of grapes.

Years ago I didn’t know that eggplants were really fruits– sometimes they are classified as berries and have a close affinity with potatoes and tomatoes.

” According to a fifth century scroll , fashionable Chinese women used to make a dye out of the skin of purple eggplants and polish their teeth with it until they were a shiny gray.”

I read that before the 1900’s people were rather skeptical about the safety of eating eggplants. People thought they might cause insanity. But in 16th century Spain people thought of the eggplant as an aphrodisiac.

Eggplant lineage, names, shapes, and idiosyncratic facts …..

********

All my experience with eggplants comes from cooking ratatouille. Once before the rift, before the chasm, before the drift, I stood in the kitchen with my daughter peeling and slicing zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. We piled vegetables in a earthenware bowl.

This wasn’t a recipe from one of the three cookbooks I owned, nor did my mother pass on a family recipe. We had shopped for the vegetables we liked : long yellow and green zucchinis and one shaped like a patty, one Chinese eggplant and one white eggplant, a large sweet onion, zebra tomatoes and orange tomatoes, and two handfuls of mushrooms.

We used the largest frying pan, one with deep sides. When the olive oil sizzled we added the garlic and onion and cooked until browned. You stirred and I watched. We talked about this and that. An easy conversation. We laughed when our vegetables sat in a mound in the pan. You added spices and we took turns stirring and turning the mound over like someone wanting an even tan.

We didn’t speak about anything outside of the kitchen. Those walls became cloistered space for an hour.

Last week I cooked ratatouille for two and as I stirred the vegetables I recalled how you had a flair and how we laughed over nothing at all.

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Dance

Somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on a Greek liner that was called seaworthy, but was taken out of service two months after our trip to Europe, I danced the polka. A wild raucous polka on a ship that took five days to arrive at its European port.Most of the days the ship lurched with every wave.So we sang of sea wrecks and stormy weather. The night they played the polka we ate rusks on the deck and waited for the sun to show up.

“Who ever thought I’d dance the polka.”
“Only the man with the accordion wasn’t seasick.The ship’s usual three musicians couldn’t stand straight,” said my friend Mona.

*****

A Greek Dance

I watch her dance,
feet straying from the beat,
laughing— head thrown back,
a dare to anyone who sees
a lack of harmony.

She moves slowly,
her feet gain certainty,
reminding me that love
is ungainly—until
its rhythm is tested.

*****

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Crisis

Lately the word is bandied around—our financial markets are in a state of crisis, our credit rating is plummeting, our natural resources gutted—
the Clash: once sang:

London’s burning with boredom now…
London’s burning dial 99999

Now London is burning.

By the 18th century the word crisis morphed into its present meaning of a “time of danger or insecurity.” But the old meanings adhered—decisions are always a part of crisis—a point, a juncture or a crossroad when you must pick a path or wallow in the quicksand.

It’s easier to navigate the Op Ed pieces, the endless discussions about a huge crisis and avoid seeing the smaller ones —

• The collection of 60 hygiene bags for homeless female
veterans attending Stand Down where Homeless and At Risk female veterans are brought together in a single location for one to three days and are provided access to the community resources needed to begin addressing their individual problems and rebuilding their lives— including counseling, doctors, dentist, career coaching…

Hygiene Bag Contents

Toothbrushes
toothpaste
tampons/maxi pads
deodorant
washcloths and towels
white T-shirts
socks
combs
Chapstick

“There are an estimated 6,500 homeless female veterans on America’s streets, double the number of a decade ago, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Women
veterans are four times more likely than their male counterparts to wind up homeless.”
ABC News March 14, 2010

*****************

I know Eunice because she works in the local CVS. During her breaks she stands outside in the parking lot and smokes an
unfiltered cigarette— inhaling that smoke into her soul and letting it out slowly. She probably blows smoke rings. Her long gray hair is tied up in a ponytail. Until the hot fevered weather our conversations rarely went further than two sentences ending with “have a good day” . In July the temperature and humidity soared. The third day of a high discomfort index I asked Eunice how she fared with the hot weather.

“I’ll tell you how,” she said. “My landlord told me that she
had a window air conditioner but it needed repairing. Last night I got so angry that I filled a bucket with ice and cold water and sat on my bed and poured the water over my head. It cooled me down. Today I dragged the mattress to a sunny spot in the room hoping it will dry. If not I’ll sleep on it damp.”

I note the three or four teeth missing. Dental work is expensive.

•••••••••••••••

Some students of word use have graphed the use of the word crisis using Google Books Data which is based on 5.2 million books —
They graphed the usage from 1776- 2000.
They noted ” …a steady climb” after 1960. “We seem to be perpetually in crisis from 1960 on…”

The author of the article suggests that as the media has gotten “louder and polarization has increased, it takes dramatic claims to get anyone to pay attention to a problem.”
Past/Forward/Politics

************
OK— some people are mired in quicksand and they need a hand.

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Books and Birds

For the first day in weeks the weather was neither oppressively hot nor shirt-wrenching humid. The perfect day to head down to Cambridge and visit a favorite bookstore. Not only is their collection of books stellar, but they run a coffee concession. It’s the only place around where I can find a rice milk decaf latte. Today we found seats outside — sheltered from the sun. I settled down to reading and sipping an ice decaf.

Because tables were at a premium our seats were between two tables—each occupied by a single person. After asking for permission, I placed my coffee on a young woman’s table. She nodded and continued to write in a Moleskin notebook as if in the grips of a must tell story.

The city noises in the background blended in with my book, Harlem is Nowhere by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts.

Sharifa began one chapter with the “Theme for English B” by
Langston Hughes.

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let the page come out of you—
Then it will be true.

Several people came to the other table. A man carrying a parcel sat down for a moment.
“I like the feel of a book,” he said, “but they’re getting expensive.”
When he left a woman sat down and made a phone call and then left.

A woman with her hair tied with bright ribbons started to sit and then looked down at a wet area and said, “I’m not sitting here, someone urinated in that corner.”

Ten minutes later she returned with a box of fried chicken and sat down. At first she ate without saying anything and then I heard her talking to the birds. The ubiquitous birds hang around waiting for crumbs.

While she ate she stamped her feet and began a monologue about the bugs that were bothering her legs. She then bent down to talk to the wrens.

These bugs keep pecking away at me.
I can’t give you anything to eat because you need to eat the bugs.
That’s your job today.

I continued reading and she continued talking to the birds and stomping her feet.

I read Amiri Baraka’s words: This is not a city of realities but of dreams.

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Amanuensis

“servant of the hand”

If I wrote everything on yellow lined pads, slowing down and letting words take time to form thoughts, I’d then need someone to transcribe the words onto a computer. I can imagine an earlier time when words required a pen rather than a keyboard.

Are we drowning in the plethora of words appearing on the internet? I’ve read several blogs suggesting how many words you need to write a day. Why? Suppose you could say everything in 50 words or even fewer words. Hemingway wrote a story in six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Would I want to be an amanuensis and transcribe manuscripts? Did they read what they recorded or simply copy each word without a thought as to what was being copied?

I’m not advocating short tweet like writing. I am suggesting that we think about the words we put together and their impact on readers.

“I would send words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if the echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.”
—Richard Wright

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