First of Magnolia

Yesterday was the First of Magnolia, but as it turns out the magnolias couldn’t wait another minute.  They began their celebration on the Endth of April, giving the coldly snowy spring a big, pink “F*ck Off” so loud you could almost hear the buds breaking open, all over town.

You think magnolias don’t use salty language?  Magnolias invented salty language.  They’ve survived dinosaurs and human beings and even, so far, 45.  But 6 inches of heavy snow on April 12th (or whenever)…that’s more of a challenge.  Holding back, when everything in you wants to go.  Saying no.  Saying, “Wait.”

But they’re here now, seizing the time that belongs to them.  Telling the world, in fact, what time it is.

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Un-Belatedly Yours

The sidewalk outside the supper club was icing over when we left – a slick layer of damp left by snow that slid off the roof and awning, worn down by sunshine that didn’t do much to raise the temperatures all day.  I’m careful now about walking on ice, but it wasn’t quite there yet – still crackly and slushy and easy to see in the parking lot lights.

Tonight, it was two glasses of wine, a hunk of medium rare beef –  and I even ate some onion rings and some of the fancy sundae that Delaney’s serves the birthday guest, no matter if it is a little belated.  And it wasn’t just us three at the table – there were emails from friends out of state, read as part of the conversation – and the lives of passed away parents, and the riddles of children now irrevocably grown.

“Don’t let me forget, I’ve got some bacon in the car for you.  You think it’s cold enough out there?” “It’s 35 degrees.”  “Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.”  You know – this isn’t even the first time we’ve had this conversation.

So I hug the friend who tolerates my hugging, and I don’t hug the one who doesn’t, and we walk to the van and she gives me the bacon and some leftovers from the flea market space we shared – old linens as soft and thick as cream, coming back to me unwanted, just like they were when I rescued them from who the hell remembers where.

“Thank you for making it a festive birthday!” I holler back over my shoulder as I cross to my car, parked on the darker side street. I settle inside, my purse and good-as-new camera taking their place as passengers, perched next to me on an accumulation of library music and my embroidery project bag, which I always keep in the car in case of stitching.

It’s truly dark in here now, a welcoming darkness inside this car that I bought from a boy I like, and yeah, that is Thunder Road on the cd player, So What?  I’m going home to books I needed with no place to put them, and thoughts that do not include any professional ambitions, and a tangle of unmade covers on the bed.  And I have nearly everything I need, and maybe that’s how I come to be thinking “…I am no more grown up now than I ever have been…”  Just salty and warm, sharp and sour, sweet only on you, and happy in my little white car.

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Ok, Fifty Four

Here we are – still believing in old books and crabapple blossoms and Peace, Love and Understanding, so help me Zimmerman.  No other birthday wishes are needed as long as this one comes true.

Ok, 54.  Let’s see what you got.


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Happy Rebirthday


Corporeal resurrection begs a lot of problematic questions  – I suppose, by definition, that’s what a miracle is.  On the other hand, the idea that we can be born again seems a natural truth on its very face, requiring no special grace whatsoever, aside from courage, patience and submission – lots of submission.  As Americans, we don’t like that part.  We avoid admitting there are forces acting on our lives completely beyond our control.  But inevitably the unsolvable happens.  We face what seems like deterioration, and find green shoots peeking out from the ruins.  We move hopefully toward change and shelter, only to find the same storm in a less friendly climate.  At some point, we all linger in our disappointment like an answered prayer.

The ever-so-casual Buddhist in me has no problem with rebirth on even a moment-by-moment scale, and there’s no denying you bring all your riddles with you. Our expectation that rebirth will clear the slate – that we will no longer are the person we are afraid we were – is a little bit of wishful thinking.  But that is not the grace we are offered.

Instead, rebirth says, “You are that person and more. Nothing better has been lost or forfeited by your mistakes.”  And we are all entitled to renewal on those terms – you can’t sacrifice your way to it.  Rebirth’s not interested in your sacrifices.  She wants to know what you are going to do about love, right now.  Today.


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8 years 2 Day


She loved.  She felt her way along, listening for something sweet, something to bring the world alive in her.  She saw things through a broken glass, but she never, never stopped looking for something beautiful.  And to her, you were beautiful.

At this point, we know I am not just talking about her anymore, right?  The more I miss her, the more I understand we wanted the same things.  And I can’t help still wishing that I could give them to her, again, today.

Remember today.  Drink something, sing.  Throw yourself on the rhythm of your day and find its simple internal rhyme.  Close your eyes and see for once how close we still are to our beginning.  It’s what she would have wanted.

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Happiness Remembered Me

It would take a while to write the entire story – since mid-November, so that’s over 2 months.  And anyway, like all my stories, there’s not much plot to hang the words on.  I can just as easily tell you:  happiness remembered me, and came to find me for reasons known only to her.  It’s true some small things happened – some I can tell, some I can’t – to complete the circuitry of frayed wires and blown fuses that normally conduct the flow between my heart and its defenses.  But those events seem more like excuses than causes, more like accidental blessings than chosen prayers.

I’ll steal from C.S. Lewis and say I was surprised by this tender seedling of joy, fed by an effortless light that glowed steadily through the little actions in my day.  Indeed, unlooked for delight was its quintessence – nothing quite as expected, nothing planned, nothing working out like I thought.

And I was surprised to find the name of this feeling, a clear refrain singing along disused pathways, intact and unambiguous.   Not something else.  Close to love, certainly – but not merely a flash of kindness or even deep regard.

Happy, yes.  Happy then, happy now, happy still.  Happy, remember.


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Ah, the apple trees…

Floral objet d’art from the estate of Carol Bonnett

If you were raised by grown ups who embarked on life after the war in their early 20s – and most of you were – then you can’t help hearing Peggy Lee’s voice wrap around this indelible image of loss and renewal, like the warm breath of a parting kiss that wakes you to find you were dreaming alone. Ah, the apple trees.

Lingering on a memory of sweetness shared, maybe you even hear her lilting “…and the hive of bees – where we once got stung…,” as she lures you to trust her, then gently tears out the core of hope you had forgotten you had.

When I woke up wanting to write – a flash of desire glimpsed through a torrent of adult concerns that have recently drowned out my interest in anything but coffee and getting to the next day somehow – I didn’t imagine I would hang my hat on this song.  After all, it’s November.  Isn’t it more of a Jaques Prevert month?

But no – of course it is apple trees that I miss, now that the long branches are empty and spring is still uncertain.  And it’s not even my apple trees I miss – it’s their apple trees.  The world they saw shining, not because it was unpolluted, but because they had not yet been forced to choose between sorrow and joy, wholeness and survival, today and yesterday.

Of course, their apple trees are my apple trees now.  Our paths have joined so completely this year, I see their side of the mirror more clearly than ever before.  Infected by unintended failures and untreated wounds, maybe they even suspected the harm they were causing – but what choice did they have but to keep going? To keep remembering the orchard, and try to make it back there before the snow flies.

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Sometimes, Wikipedia nails it:

In Zen, ensō (? , “circle”) is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.

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Practicing in the Open


Recently, I was volunteered to do some photography that I really did not want to do – in a setting where I have little practice and typically produce poor images.  I don’t mind admitting my inadequacy in this area, and if anyone had asked me, I’d have said no.   I couldn’t bow out and – well, it was every bit as bad as I thought it would be.  I tried to take it as lightly as I could, but the promise someone else had made on my behalf added a solid 5 pound brick of awkwardness to my camera kit.

No skill improves without practice — a fact more painful in some domains than others.  Musicians (followed by dancers in an intentional pun) take the most pragmatic attitude – at least in my observation – to the necessity of formally facing the gap between what they know and what they can do.  They meet in private places to caterwaul and mis-measure time and no one is allowed to complain about the distasteful noise — unless those complaints result in improvement.  Indeed, in some sense, practice is really the only thing that distinguishes musicians from non-musicians who tried.  If you are not willing to endure the pain of repetition, instruments will not reward you for very long.  I’m not saying that sour notes aren’t often taken personally, and musicians have plenty of other screws loose – a topic we can compare notes on another time.

At some point, practice may become play — but you can’t count on it.  Red Smith — or Gene Fowler, depending on where you cite your attributions — asserted that “Writing a column is easy.  You just sit at your typewriter until little drops of blood appear on your forehead.” It doesn’t matter which of them said it, because both men published well crafted words by the millions — and for money — enough to authenticate this observation for the likes of me.

Most of us must practice in the open — and almost all of us with an internal audience of the undead scolding and scowling over every letter or pixel or gesture.   We bring this audience with us wherever our hearts and eyes and pens and ears may take us.  This makes the wounds we experience due to these mean onlookers seem self-inflicted — but that is true only if we can’t some how manage…and it is very hard…to learn to practice while they watch.  We are complicit only if they succeed in stopping us.

For almost 7 years, if I’ve done nothing else with my camera, I’ve practiced in the open — and for the most part, I’ve played hurt, to paraphrase Steven Pressfield.  If I’d had to cheer up first, I’d have nothing to show for this time.  But I do.  I do have something.  I have here to show for it, where if you want to know what is true in me, you have only to look and read.


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I took a screen printing class this spring (or silk screening, if you like to be understood by people born in the 60s).  The print lab at Madison College is no joke.  The hardware-store smell of oil and metal saturates the air as you walk past vintage presses and dozens of wood trays crammed with metal type – all in good working order, all churning out crisp, thoughtful design in the service of print tech and graphic art students alike.  The screen printing area seems ad hoc by comparison, but all you really need to turn a screen stencil into a print are clamps, a sturdy table, and a desire to get ink all over yourself.

Our teacher seemed to be everywhere she was needed, and each student got individual help with their mistakes as they made them.  It was a very wise approach.  From design to stencil to printing to clean up, creating a print is a long process with apparently infinite points of potential failure along the way.  It makes sense to respond when things go wrong, and let what is working take care of itself.

I learned something at every turn.  Which does seem an obvious thing to say, especially since I really didn’t know anything about silk screening (or screen printing, if you like to be understood by people born in the 90s).  But I’ve gotten into the habit of learning things again, and its good to remember that there’s a give and take on the edge of what you think you want to do and the unknown places to be discovered by simply following a new discipline.

On the very last day, in fact, I learned something.  My prints were coming out unexpectedly muddy, the details coarsened and soggy with too much ink.  My teacher took one look and said, “You need more ink on the screen.  Quit flooding it, just print.”

It sounds backwards, I know.  Too much ink going through the screen?  Add more, that will clear up the problem.  But I didn’t argue.  I stroked the flooded stencil onto scrap paper to clear out the excess. Then – to my dismay – Teacher poured my entire supply of brown ink across the end of my screen.  “Now, flood it once, and from there on, just print.”

Of course, she was right.  The slender lines and tiny half-tone dots re-emerged as the paper gobbled up the pigment I squeegeed through the screen – and my precious ration of ink barely lasted to the end of the print run.

For someone whose childhood was tensely monitored for over-consuming everything from art supplies to soda crackers, here was a big lesson.  You need to use enough ink to print.

But – what if there isn’t enough?  What if I use too much?  What if I run out?  Every member of my family knows the origin of this scarcity prayer – a curse and blessing founded in the deprivation our parents endured, and not to be lightly ignored in some affirmation fantasy of abundance.

It’s tricky to hold the pain of wanting – without holding on to it.  To let anxiety move you and yet, move on. It takes need, desire and sufficiency – all three – to both construct the little boat that carries us and simultaneously drive the storm that rages in us.  We can’t excise one without disabling the other.

You have to make room to need what you need – even if there isn’t enough.  Especially when there isn’t enough, and may never be.  Even if it means you run out of ink.


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