Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Winter Glade

This is one of those weird things. An ad has been running for Glade air fresheners in "holiday" scents, presumably cinnamon and sage and things (and booze breath? Quiet, Margaret.) It has the most sprightly, droll, silly, sweet music, and so oddly familiar! But I couldn't have told you where it came from.

Thank God for the internet, for it took me about thirty seconds to find out what it was (a lot of people wanted to know). Delius isn't my first choice, as he can be almost bland in my estimation, but this piece (the Winter Night or Sleigh Ride from Three Small Tone Poems) is twinkly and lovely and oh, so seasonal. Break out the nutmeg candles!

(Like most YouTube videos, this has its technical limitations. Somebody vastly cranked up the volume during the jaunty opening flute bit, probably thinking, "Oh, that's too quiet", just before the whole orchestra comes in, forte).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wanted: dead or alive

It's just that kind of a day.

I don't know if it's the time of year (or maybe it's the time of man). Looking out my window at my layered, cedar-branched view, I see ribbons and streams of grey, a relentless killjoy rain that falls sideways so that an umbrella does no good at all. Killjoy weather that snatches all the light away.

I like-and-hate Christmas, lovehate what it does to me. I do all the shopping and arrangements, and lately I've felt like I get no acknowledgement for this (or anything else) from anyone. Even the grandkids soon get bored with what I buy for them.

It'd be different, maybe, if my work were going well. I'm walking in place, soon to go backwards. I haven't posted much about Harold Lloyd, and maybe I should to "get it out there", but it's like a sore place in my soul. If I talk about it too much, nothing will happen. Meantime, Lloyd synchronicity continues to happen daily, with a peak of five times in one day.

What does it mean?

I at least want to return some of the Build-a-Bear stuff I bought, because I overbought, but that's un-shopping, isn't it? At least some money flows the other way, but it was supposedly mine to begin with. So I stay in the same place.

This isn't related, maybe, except under the category of frustration: but recently I ordered a boxed set of Season 4 of Mad Men. This was incredibly stupid, because Season 4 just ended and the DVD set won't come out until March 2011. And it was ridiculously cheap, I won't even tell you how cheap because it'll make me look very gullible and dumb.

Sooooooo. . . what did I think I'd get? So far all I've got is two emails from this outfit, one saying their web site was "under construction" and that you could use This Link to Their UK Site; then, a couple days later, another "hmmmmmm" one, about how they'd changed their email address.

Just a coincidence? I don't think so. Something was up, and it smelled like fish.

I don't know how or why, but today I clicked on the original link I'd saved, and found the following message, with three intimidating and very official-looking crests at the top (Department of Justice; National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center; Homeland Security Investigations):

"This domain name has been SEIZED by ICE - Homeland Security Investigations, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court under the authority of 18 USC (symbol, symbol - ? Is THIS a hoax, I wonder?) 981 and 2323."

They then laid out the penalties for being such bad girls and boys as to pirate copyrighted material. Up to five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution (not sure what that is, but boy, I wouldn't want to have to do it). "Intentionally and knowingly trafficking in counterfeit goods is a federal crime that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to ten years in federal prison, a $2,000,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution (squiggle, squiggle)".

I can just see these poor guys (from Taiwan or somewhere) in DVD-bootlegging solitary confinement, tied to a chair and forced to watch endless back-to-back pirated episodes of The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men: "God! No, no. . . nooooooooo. . . not Charlie Sheen. . . "

Yes! Charlie Sheen, the guy who had "one bad day", shoved up your nose along with the stale bread and water. They deserve it, don't they? Violating intellectual property rights (and who says ancient repeats of Married With Children aren't intellectual?) is a crime more heinous than sexual assault or child molesting (which often rates no more than a few months' probation).

Fine. This was a surprise, and a way to liven up an otherwise totally wretched, depressing, dull Monday. But I only care about one thing. Will I still get my Mad Men Season 4 boxed set? It may be boxed in old kleenex cardboard - hey, a so called bona fide set I ordered from somewhere else surprised me when I opened the packaging and all four discs popped out onto the floor. It may bear an AMC logo in the corner, or even promos for Breaking Bad and, what's that new one, Revenge of the Really Scary Walking Dead Vampires from Hell?

Did some guy point his old Super 8 movie camera at the TV? Will the picture even be recognizable, and will there be sound? Or did they just get together and act out all the parts themselves?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Outside the Dakota

I wasn't expecting to actually find it. I have sheafs of old poems in a file drawer, probably hundreds of them, many handwritten or typed on an ancient portable typewriter that probably came out of the '50s. That's back when we ripped pages out, crumpled them up in frustration and tried to hit the waste basket on the other side of the room.

Now I just slam mice - not the real kind! Poor mices. I do go through a lot of them, but Martin Scorsese used to throw chairs, and look at him.

What I'm getting to in my usual circuitous way is: while I was writing the John Lennon poem in my last post, I thought of a poem I'd written not long after his death, meaning it must be 30 years old. And by the holy, after only a little rummaging, I found it.
The only common lines are "John, I" and "outside the Dakota". I seem to remember the poem differently. Thirty years will do that.
It was typed on a yellowed piece of three-ring white binder paper. Saved for posterity. Never published. In my life, I've only had about 12 poems published in "little magazines" (boy, are they little: no one reads them!), and the rest, I think, could be called a private collection.
I still feel the same about John. I feel like he's around, and feel foolish for saying so, for even thinking so. I just saw the PBS documentary, LennoNYC, and was both over- and underwhelmed by it, by the grainy home movies, his wicked wit, casually prodigious talent and unbearable sweetness. But he looked old at the end, older than he should, and gaunt. What happened?

If you want it

I don't know what to say about John Lennon. I don't know what to say about Christmas, except that it's coming at me like a freight train through a tunnel. I don't know what to say about any of it.

I'd like to be a joyful person. Sometimes I am a joyful person. But people who are joyful all the time - or at least never unhappy - or never seem unhappy - they seem to me to be -

Our emotional thermostats are set very differently, obviously. Is this something that's present at our birth, or even before that? Some genetic quirk? Can some people overlook the obvious more easily than others?

Or overlook pain, and even disaster, pretend it isn't there or doesn't hurt or doesn't matter?

The great Nobel-winning novelist Doris Lessing once wrote in her memoirs, "I was born minus several layers of skin." Though she seems tough and durable, life has never been easy for her. She is porous. She feels, turns like the weather vane she is.

Some "deal with" all this by drinking, drugging, gambling, overworking, oversexing, overshopping, or whatever other "over-" there is. In other words, they have trained themselves not to feel.

It goes down well. That's the general rule.

One can use pure logic. "Well, there's nothing I can do about these tragic situations. So why let it bother me?"

This is along the lines of saying to a person in agony, "Crying won't bring him back."

We live in a roll-up-your-sleeves, up-and-at-'em sort of culture. We don't stop to feel. We "move on". Sitting around and feeling things isn't acceptable. And it doesn't bring them back, does it?

John, I -

Outside the Dakota
when the bullets fell

a hail of salty hell

and Yoko screaming pain
and the horror-struck grief of the people that stood

in a pool of his blood

John, I -

War is over if you want it,
you said and somebody
went and shot you for your pains
as if that was the ultimate

subversive statement
(and you had to pay)

You had to get it sometime
You started life all over

You're not allowed to
are you

are you
oh John.

I see you

see you everywhere.
Hear your plangent voice forever saying
as if almost praying
So this is Christmas. And what have you done?

Thirty years have passed
in a kind of dream.
On the day you'd be seventy,
Sean turned 35

your beautiful boy
almost middle-aged
(like you when you died)
stamped all over with your face
and your greatness,
but never truly great.

John, I -


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pie are square (whoops, round!)

I'm not much when I first wake up in the morning, but I had to be up today. My daughter-in-law was stopping by this morning to pick up a newspaper flyer so she can buy one-o'-dem-dar hot water machines (the Keurig type, which we were recently given and couldn't figure out, except that now we're addicted to it, to that little sucking sound as coffee instantly, effortlessly fills your cup).

When I started noodling around this morning trying to find news sites, I hit on the New York Times. I follow Dick Cavett's blog, always backward-looking and dropping names with audible clunks, but somehow as compulsive as celebrity-watching itself.

But on the same page, I saw the link to the food section: "Pies to Die For".

I wonder if anyone else gets the irony.

We hear, constantly, about how unhealthy it is to be obese, about how it strains the health care system almost beyond the breaking point, and about how it's still escalating. It has oozed into the lives of innocent children, kids raised on McDonald's and almost complete inactivity until their arteries are plaqued-up as severely as a 75-year-old's.

Cheek-by-jowl (pun intended) with these alarms are blaring ads for family restaurants serving ever more grotesque portions of really-bad-for-you food. Fast food chains keep upping the ante, with KFC serving up these horrible things made of two deep-fried chicken patties instead of bread (and who knows what the filling is. A pound of deep-fried peanut butter?)

Blecccchhhh! But people are buying it. People are eating it.

Fat is the new thin.

I can't remember a time when the culture wasn't obsessed with thinness. Models and actresses have that translucent look, as if they'd disappear if they turned sideways. Their pictures are splashed all over the women's magazines, their bony chests sticking out like a chicken's, often with weird globular bolted-on breasts that clearly display the join. These space-alien versions of womanhood appear cheek-by-quivering-jowl with recipes for mouthwatering, saliva-gushing, quintuple-chocolate indulgence cake (the recipe always containing at least a cup of butter) and other scrumptious heart-attacks-waiting-to-happen.

Maybe that pie really is to die for.

Oh, I'm a great one to lecture. I've been a shape shifter all my life. Recently, after a major weight loss, I've begun to creep upward again. I'm just hungry all the time. There are certain intractible family stresses that take a constant toll. Or so I tell myself.

The thing is, all that scrumptiousness won't particularly appeal to a naturally thin person. They will take one taste and go, "mmmmmmmmmm!" - meaning, "bleccccccchhhhhhh". It's kind of like a non-drinker trying to get through a cocktail, finally leaving 2/3 of it sitting on top of the piano. (Sick, eh?) So how come so many people have seemingly had their "blecccccchhhhh" mechanism disabled?

It's NOT heredity, folks. You don't "inherit" fat in a couple of decades. Heredity doesn't suddenly jump out at you like a jack-in-the-box, no matter how convenient it is as an excuse.

It's not just the ready availability of four-patty cheeseburgers (Faster! Higher! Greasier! There's a recession on, and we need those obese people's bucks!). Who actually does anything any more? Who walks? Men drop their wives off at the door of the mall, thinking they are doing them a favor so they don't have to walk the one minute or so from the car.

I walk all the time, and quite frankly, I'm a freak. People stare at me strangely, constantly offer me rides because they assume I'm too impoverished or too weird to drive (maybe so!), or offer false congratulations. "Good for you! I should be doing the same thing" (but I'm not, because I don't want to be stared at and considered weird).

When my daughter-in-law, a keen observer of social trends, was looking through her Home Outfitters flyer, she saw an ad for an egg cracker. "So we don't even crack our own eggs any more?" What next, I wonder - some sort of device you attach to the toilet paper roll?

I have tried to swear off those super-hyper-morbidly-obese shows on TLC, because it's hard to look at anyone whose body has become that grotesquely misshapen. They hardly look like a human bodies any more. Like the gargantuan Mr. Creosote of Monty Python, these patients (usually in for bariatric surgery) look like they're on the verge of exploding. They usually say they don't eat very much, and have "feeders" (often wives, though husbands will do) bringing food to them all the time. What kind of food, and how much, we can only imagine, but like a stash of porn, it's kept secret.

For a while, there was a ludicrous series about an obesity clinic in the States which allowed its patients to order in pizza which was delivered right to their rooms.

There's a certain strange term that has cropped up on these shows, and it sounds like the evil scientist in some low-budget 1950s horror flick: panniculus. What happens is, when a person exceeds, say, 500 pounds and keeps gaining, the fat gets confused and doesn't know where to go. Everything is maxed out, so to speak. So, instead of exploding, the body provides a sanctuary for the excess fat: a sort of circular blob, often attached to the abdomen or inner thigh. It lives there, expanding 'til it's full-up and another one pops out somewhere. Dr. Panniculus, the evil wizard of fat, has taken over the body completely.

People in this situation sometimes do lose weight, but they end up looking like deflated balloons, the stretched skin flopping around and making life miserable. It's usually removed, but we often hear that over 90% of people with major weight loss gain it back again, and more.

What would happen then? Would you become a sort of living Mr. Creosote? How much can skin stretch, anyway?

More to the point: where did this plague come from? When I was growing up, we had a neighbor who weighed, maybe, 280 pounds. She was socially shunned and had very few friends, so my mother took her on as a project. (She had caseloads, not friends.) Though it reeked of pity, this at least got her out a little. Otherwise she would have stayed in the house, hidden from sight.

Dick Cavett posted a blog about obesity, and wondered if the circus fat lady of his youth might be considered relatively thin now, or at least unremarkable, not even large enough to qualify for something like gastric bypass.

Will this just keep on going? Where does it stop? I think obesity is affecting about a third of the population now. If something becomes that prevalent, it gradually becomes more acceptable. Or maybe we just don't see it any more.

I recently tried on some clothes, just cheap little tops, grabbing for a Size Large because my ass is so big right now (and the store so tacky). They nearly fell off me. But the Medium slid all over me too. Finally I resorted to a Small, and it was still pretty generous. I wasn't in the Women's(i.e., "plus") section either, just the average range.

I'm not huge, but no way am I small either. I just have a big butt. It has always been a fitting problem. Until now.

Is this size manipulation just an adjustment to the burgeoning bodies of consumers, or a way to make women feel better about themselves? Or just buy more? Is all this a sort of weird rebellion against the imperative to be thin, thinner, thinnest? (If so, the boomerang is about to smack us all on the back of the head.)

Years ago, it used to be considered bizarre and daring for women to wear pants. In the early '60s, long hair meant that you were a pansy. When I was a kid, nobody but sailors wore tattoos, and women never did unless they were in the circus.

We get used to things. They become normal, or at least standard and unremarkable.

Type II diabetes is so common now, people almost expect it. You manage it, but don't try to cure it. Just take your meds, and go on eating.

Food as a cheap, ready drug? Escalating stress levels? Environmental chaos, pessimism and doom? Economic recession? Nature's way of tipping the board and sending us the way of the dinosaurs, as yet another experiment that either failed or just ran its disastrous course?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sarah McLachlan and the good saint of Assisi

Make me an instrument

It has come home to me once again that life can be overwhelmingly difficult, even crushing. I see, looking back, that I have a certain tendency to be, uh, er, critical. Or negative. Or not celebratory enough. I need to correct this, but I don't know if I will.

I know several situations in which people have suffered an almost incomprehensible grief, in particular a mother whose small daughter died on Christmas Eve two years ago, her snow-covered sled hit by a truck turning a blind corner. My granddaughter was her best friend, and she still talks about her, misses her terribly.

Jesus, God, are you there? I did used to believe, quite fervently, but since I left the church, I don't know. I don't believe there is a God who gets us out of trouble. No Big Guy in the Sky, no lucky rabbit's foot. Faith is not a lottery, and God doesn't give us the things we ask for just because he's nice like Santa, or loves us, or thinks we deserve special favor. In fact, there may be nothing there that helps us, independent of other people and their goodness, or the strength implanted deep down in our own hearts.

Is that, then, what we call God? I don't know. I look out my window today, and I see cedars tossed angrily, shivering as if traumatized. Then they are still again. I need to go out in it so I can order flowers for my daughter's mother-in-law, who has just had successful heart surgery and is recovering by leaps and bounds. (God - ?) I need to look for Christmas presents for my four dear ones, my little grandkids, without whom I - well, let's not finish that thought. And I haven't even started, can't get started because I haven't the heart.
I can't get going. We have this dim understanding, maybe. Or else we don't need it, I don't know. I can't leave life alone, I pick it apart. It's no use, of course. The good is the good, but there is a dangerous estrangement in my own family that I fear will blow us apart at some point. It has happened before, in that other family I grew up in, and I know it is never repaired.

If I let this particular weight press all the life out of me, it would be difficult to continue at all. I know I am blessed, tremendously blessed, compared to others - but how can we compare, when everyone's life is so complex? No one knows what is going on in the mind of another. This is called existential loneliness, and it is built into the species. But I am convinced some people feel it far more than others.

I was looking for an image a few nights ago when my daughter updated me on the mother who lost her child at Christmas. Since then, she has suffered several wrenching twists. Even though I officially don't believe in prayer because God let me down so badly, I lit a candle in my computer room and turned out the lights. The effect was eerie, a glowing screen and a guttering candle. I wanted something to focus on, googled up the name of the little girl who died, and came up with multiple images of a Catholic saint. Small children wore crowns made of holly and candles and walked in solemn processions down the aisles of huge churches.

Somehow this led to St. Francis and his famous prayer, "Make me an instrument of thy peace. . . "

St. Francis, batty as a loon, may have been on to something. Today he'd be put on antipsychotics and resocialized, though he might still end up under a bridge. Still his prayer persists, that is, if he wrote it at all. Truth is so slippery, so humanly influenced. We make things the way we want, or need, or desperately desire them to be. Truth gets lost, we get lost, and we grab. Still, we grab.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Baby, don't go!

Like a lot of boomers, I remember the Sonny and Cher Show, which got more painful as time went on. Cher was already beginning to look embalmed (a process that has become so extreme, she now looks like a still picture of herself, her eyes and cheeks hollow in that fallen way of the grossly messed-with face). The two feuded, then divorced, but kept on performing together because there was money in it.

When Sonny died many years later in a skiing accident, piling into a tree, Cher got up at his funeral and sobbed and ranted, while his actual widow watched the highly inappropriate spectacle from her chair.
But hey, she's Cher! She's an Academy Award winner (which still serves as a kind of badge of "made it in Hollywood", even if it was 25 years ago). She's a rags-to-riches kind of gal, which still carries some sort of cachet in show biz. Gone are the days when, puffy-faced and large-nosed, her eyes smudgy and her hair hanging in two black curtains, she proclaimed the sappy anthem "I've Got You, Babe" to the much-hated Sonny, the man she couldn't wait to get away from (except at his funeral).

"Some people seem to think that Sonny was a short man! Well, I'm here to tell you that he wasn't short! He wasn't short on talent! He wasn't short on love! He wasn't short on. . . " (Let's not forget that Sonny wasn't short on discernment, either. If he hadn't "discovered" Cher at the bargain-basement counter, we'd be looking at an empty chair.)
But that's not what we are here to discuss.
Cher's in the news again. I've already recorded the recent 20-20 interview on my PVR, but haven't seen it yet. She's in this new movie called Burlesque. It' s being hyped to the max, but so was that other one, that Fellini-esque musical with Penelope Cruz in it: what was it called, anyway? Nine, or Ten, or Eight-and-a-Half? It flopped badly at the box office, maybe because no one in it could sing.

Aiding and abetting all the new-movie hype is the unsettling fact that Cher's daughter Chastity (perhaps traumatized by being given such a Godawful name) is now a man. Yes. No one knows what to call "her" now, least of all "her" mother, who is trying very hard to be cool about it, when we know she's not.
It would be hard to be cool about it, that little blonde tyke who came on at the end of every show, with such a sweet resemblance to her mother, turning into a big beefy linebacker with no clothes sense. "Chas" gradually became more and more androgynous over the years, put on a lot of weight, cut her hair shorter and shorter: in other words, came out by degrees.

Hey, nothing wrong with that! Cynthia Nixon chose a very large, short-haired, tough-looking, be-suited woman for a partner, didn't she? Cynthia Nixon, the red fox! Geez. She could have had anybody, couldn't she? Portia de Rossi is gay, isn't she? It shows it can be done. (Good on you, Ellen.)

So here we have Chaz Bono, or whatever his/her last name is now (Free-to-Be-You-and-Me, Lesbiangaybisexualtransgenderedundecided, Son-of-a-Bono: I'll resist the more obvious one, it's too mean). Obviously, a lot has been done to her, surgically and otherwise, but can't that also be said about her mother?

Cher has been injected with so many preservatives over the decades that she now looks like something from Madame Tussaud's House of Wax. When she retires, just prop her up in some souvenir shop in Niagara Falls. (Or put a wick in her. She'd make a nice Christmas candle.)

I don't really know what to say here. People have the right to be the way they are.

And mothers have the right to be distressed, even if they're "iconic" (and you know what I think of that word). Cher is the Comeback Queen, and will use whatever is current in her life (including a dead ex-husband or a daughter who's a man) to get back into the limelight. And she has been known to do emotional flip-flops, marry heroin addicts and other extreme things.

At 64, she no longer has any of her original parts. They've all been gradually replaced. So who is she? She should know something about manipulating your identity
surgically, and perhaps hormonally.

Maybe if Chaz were a slim, good-looking, metrosexual sort of man? Maybe if he looked like Jon Hamm or George Clooney or some other out-and-out fox?

Hell, maybe I'd take him on.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The ravell'd sleeve of care

I can get addicted to almost anything. Mad Men. Caramel corn. Three Stooges videos. All kinds of good stuff. The knitting addiction started early, and has flowed in and out of my life like the tides.

I probably started around age 8 or 10, when "someone" taught me: either my mother, or Mrs. McAigie (don't know how to spell it), a dour old Scottish lady who sometimes looked after us and checked for sore throats using the ornate, grape-carved handle of a sterling silver fork. I remember her saying, "Always knit into the back of the stitch," which I know now is completely wrong.

In spite of all that, I learned. The first big spate of knitting came when my kids were born. I didn't care much about the quality, and they didn't either, but I did turn out some nice stuff: a Scandinavian cardigan in coral, mint and turquoise for my daughter; a pullover knitted side to side for my son. They weren't embarrassed to wear these in public. Oh, maybe they peeled them off when they got to school.

It's a little different story now. Certain family members, who shall remain nameless, don't like my knitting any more and have pronounced it "gross", so I try to avoid making those little sweaters. I've made "blankies" for each kid, probably eight of them by now because they keep wearing them out. I swear, a kid should not have a blankie at age seven.

But what do I have to say about it?

Every once in a while I try to knit something for myself. I remember early attempts, and even see some of them in old photos, and they're not bad, or at least wearable. In the interim, something happened. I just can't do it any more, and I can't quit either. I either give the thing away because it's too big or too small, unravel it and recycle the yarn, or if it's really hideous, toss it in the trash, wasting expensive materials.

So. Having run out of projects, and by now totally, deeply addicted to the hypnotic rhythms of the activity, I decided to take on a cableknit sweater, probably the hardest thing of all because you have to pay so much attention to what you're doing. So if I have my Mad Men DVDs on, I can't fully take in Jon Hamm's breathtaking gorgeousness when in bed with some skank that could be me.
I was totally seduced by the picture, of course. I'll never look like that, for God's sake. And as usual, the color I chose, a sort of caramelly light tan called Heather, now looks green. Store lighting is totally misleading.

Cableknit has such cabalistic instructons as C4F (slip next 2 stitches onto cable needle and leave at front of work. K2, then K2 from cable needle), T3B, T3F, C6F, etc. etc. Sounds like half a postal code to me.

I have to follow a little chart, pictured above. You probably can't understand it, and neither can I. It's hard to stay in step with this thing. It's like an elaborate dance (and I can't dance). Miss a beat, and the whole thing falls apart.

Kind of like life.

Is this why I'm so hopeless at making things for myself? When (I think) I've done an OK job making stuff for other people, even designing patterns for 8 different blankies? I keep trying, too, which I know I shouldn't. Some fatalistic part of me says, hey, face facts. It'll never happen because you're outside the club, always have been, and always will be.

A horrible thought came into my head not long ago, a real soul-killer. I had this realization that sooner or later, probably sooner, the grandkids will see through me (and thus, inevitably, stop loving me). But that wasn't the horrible thought.
The horrible thought was, "By the time they see through me, I'll be dead anyway."

These are the dark things that stir at the bottom of my brain.

I'm reading Furious Love, all about the tempestuous relationship between La Liz and Le Dick (aptly named). Richard Burton apparently harbored a deep self-loathing that drove him to alcohol (his true love). At the end of his life, after a fragile period of sobriety, he went on a bender, suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and died at 58.
Almost my age.

I'm not going to drink! I'm not. I don't even know where all this is coming from. I'm having a better week, I really am. I'm not so hopeless about the work.

But I'm gaining back the lovely weight I lost, and finding I can't get into all those lovely new clothes that I spent all that money on. I wonder why I have it in for myself like this. (Maybe that explains why I love the Hopkins poem about Margaret, To a Young Child: "And yet you will weep, and know why.")

So I knit. I try to knit up the ravell'd sleeve of care (speaking of Shakespearean actors. Did you know: my maiden name is Burton?). I try to make something out of nothing. Isn't that what writing is all about? What gives us the right? Who do we think we are?

All the stuff I hear about on blogs and message boards now talks about how nearly impossible it is to get anywhere, to get published, even if you've already been published many times. Some wise souls give up. I don't.

Good? Bad? Indifferent?

I may not be cut out for success, no matter how hard I try. And I've been told, repeatedly, that I have the goods, I have the talent. Some folks just aren't cut out.

Or perhaps they are.
POST-SCRIPT. Since the above post, I discovered some things that bugged me in the 9 or 10" I'd already completed on the sweater. I hummed and hawed about it, thought about backtracking and undoing the worst of it, decided I needed a new color and went to take the yarn back, changed my mind, came home and thought about it, then, ruthlessly, ripped the whole thing out and started all over again.
This may well be a metaphor for my life.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Separated at birth?

J'ever notice you never see Jon Hamm and Gregory Peck in the same place at the same time?

Nattering Nabobs

Life is hard enough. Isn't it? But when something you really liked, even loved, suddenly turns bad. . .

This happens with marriages, and jobs, and friendships, and even (incontinent, age-ing, vet-requiring, slobbering, stinky old) dogs.

But when it's something inconsequential, yet still significant, it really gets you. It's a small pleasure withdrawn, perhaps forever.

I've bought the same coffee for at least ten years. A nice, middle-of-the-road roast and grind, nothing fancy, but at its best, oh boy is it good, and dependable. It has that richness and complexity of flavor that any decent coffee should have. It's the same with the decaff. You zip open the can and hear that little rush of air, and the aroma jumps out at you. You shovel the grinds into the basket, pour in the water, and wait.

Just a small thing, of course. Until it turns bad.

It's been several cans now. Hell, maybe six! My coffee has turned bad. Turned watery and bland, with a bitter, even sour undertaste and a nasty whiff of tar.

It's the same brand. Same brand I've used for years, for so many years now it's like a goddamn marriage. Of course I won't name it here, but it starts with an N, and ends with a B, and has an ABO in the middle.

What has happened to my Nabob coffee? I'm buying exactly the same kind, same roast, same grind. Brewing it exactly the same way. Storing it in a cool, dry, dark place.

It's just crap, all of a sudden, and I can't fix it.

The only difference I can see is all the very loud and public ballyhoo about "sustainability", printed on the can and all over the web site. I'm not sure what this means because it goes on for about 500 pages, and we're supposed to read it and go, "Oh, I guess it's worth drinking a sour, lifeless cup of coffee, so long as we have SUSTAINABILITY."

I had to complain. Not because I hate the product, but because I love it! Because I want it back with every fibre of my being. But, of course, there was nowhere to complain, just literally hundreds of FAQs like, "Can I make coffee cake out of my coffee?" and "Can I store turkey giblets in the can?" I had to scrabble around web sites all morning to find a "legal stuff" page with a mailing address that turned out to be wrong, in that the postal code said MJB (ironically, the name of a kind of coffee!) instead of M3B. Had I sent them my (snailmailed) complaint with the wrong postal code on it, it never would've reached them.

The page also assured us we could always "just send them an e-mail". Oh, sure: mjb@badjava.ca?


So what is going on here? Where is quality control? I think we're just supposed to go on drinking it, and pretending there's no difference, or that it's us, somehow, that we're doing it wrong, or that our tastebuds have collapsed with age.

I've sent customer complaint letters before, and I usually get a form letter back (if anything), and coupons for more of the same product I hate. More, more, more bad coffee! It's almost like the hundreds of writing rejections I've received, though they don't send you coupons. (And no, I don't paper walls with them. I throw them away.)

If they had a taste panel, well? If they had any quality control at all, WELL?? I wonder now, since I wrote to the "legal stuff" address, if they will sue me just for wanting a good cup of coffee.

Or for wanting it back. For wanting that dependable jolt, that aromatic reverse sigh, that roasty-toasty, almost wheaten taste, not just in the morning when I really need it, but any time in the day when I want a lift.

Get with it, guys. Sustainability should apply to taste, too.
(And there's nothing living inside my coffee maker. I do clean it, stinky vinegar fumes and all.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Hey, y'all. I don't know quite whas'sup with Oprah these days, but it seems her "farewell season" has to trumpet "a Very Special Oprah" every damn day now.
Having survived the Kitty Kelley debacle (the most unflattering star bio I have ever read), she's all geared up to put on Memorable Shows about Memorable
No issues, however. Not even Favorite Things, that gluttinous orgy of empty materialism. Most of them have to do with movie reunions. Oprah is big on reunions, not having been to her high school one (can you imagine the mob scene? The devastation to the buffet table?).
I recently sat through a Sound of Music reunion with the entire cast (actually it was nine people, and I really think the credits rolled for longer than that). An aged but wicked Christopher Plummer talked about his drinking binges during the shoot, and revealed that his nickname for the saccharine picture was "The Sound of
Oprah asked the eldest von Trapp daughter (I think it was the one who dated the Nazi: can't resist a man in a uniform!) what she had learned on the shoot. "Chris taught me a lot," she said sweetly. "What did he teach you?" (A life lesson that changed the course of her existence?)
"He taught me how to drink."
So much for "doe, a deer, a female deer," and all that rot. (Maybe it should have been "dough"). But hark! What see-est I now-est? She's doing it again, the reunion thing, only this time with the movie she refers to wistfully as the high point of her life, The Color Purple. Even back then, in '84 I think, when she was relatively unknown and had never acted before, she somehow butted everyone else out of the
So now we have a Reunion of the Entire Cast, consisting mainly of a wisecracking Whoopi Goldberg (laying to rest rumors of a monumental feud sparked by Oprah cutting Whoopi out of a prestigious Legends Weekend to honor "accomplished" African American Women. I guess multiple Oscar nominations and 25-year careers aren't enough.)
Anyway, we got to see Whoopi's deluxe toilet, which was a blast and a half. She has a nice house, huge rooms. OK. We know Oprah is big on luxe housing. Then she trotted out Danny Glover, Rae Dawn Chong (what the - ?), and a few others we forgot about, the dame who played Shug Avery and all. Stephen Spielberg sent his video greetings, and Quincy Jones, looking half-stoned and sounding like Harry Belafonte on a bad day, was wheeled out to represent Living
So what exactly was wrong with this show, aside from the kind of terminal gushing we used to see on SCTV's Sammy Maudlin Show? Why were there only a couple of references to Oprah Winfrey Presents The Color Purple, THE MUSICAL? I don't know much about it. No one does, because I don't think it did very well. Too grapey, or something.
But that's not what fried me.
What fried me is, this all started somewhere. The movie, I mean, and all the surrounding gush, and even the vulgar Broadway musical with Oprah's name
above the title (even though she wasn't in it anywhere).
Somebody, like, at some point, kind of, uh, er. WROTE THIS
I'll give them this: there was one, very brief mention of Alice Walker, with a shot of her that was on for maybe two seconds. Then they quickly moved on.
Let me tell you how wrong that
If it weren't for Alice Walker's quirky little gem, NONE OF THESE PEOPLE WOULD BE UP THERE ON THAT STAGE.
None of these people would have had the career break of a lifetime by being cast in a Spielberg film that garnered 11 Oscar nominations (but no wins: another shutout, it seems. Oprah defends it by saying "it was ahead of its time". Does the name
Beloved mean anything to you?), had it not been for the diminutive,
brilliant woman
who penned the original novel in a sort of hypnotic trance.
I don't think Alice Walker got rich.
She went on writing, which is what real writers do, though no doubt The Color Purple is still her best-known work. Given its obscurity when the movie was made, it's doubtful she was paid a fraction of what the actors made (even the lesser-known ones).
Kitty Kelley's book talks about how Oprah quickly "dropped" Alice Walker once the movie contract had been signed. Kind of the way she "dropped" Whoopi, after Whoopi made a little joke in public about Oprah's absolute power in talk-show land.
Never mind that it was
In spite of a lot of posturing, Oprah is uncomfortable with certain true things, and in spite of all her bafflegabbing, she must hate authors too. Remember poor James Frey being fried, live on the air, and wanting to commit suicide as a result? The drug memoir he wrote, A Million Little Pieces, turned out to have some fictionalized elements. Show me a memoir that
Oprah's naivete in this regard reveals that she isn't the sophisticated reader she pretends to be. She should have known that almost all memoirs are partly fictional. If anything, it's a sign that he actually wrote it
The next Oprah gush-a-thon will be a unique, one-of-a-kind, unforgettable Barbra Streisand show (hey, it went over well last time, and moved a lot of albums), in which Barbra floats onstage in a diaphanous floor-length Davinchsky gown and the same banged bob she wore in Funny Girl. (For some reason, really big stars get
frozen in time, especially regarding their hair.
You see it whenever they interview 95-year-old starlets from Hollywood's Golden Age, their lacquered 1940s do's sitting atop ancient faces bizarrely rearraged by primitive plastic surgery.)
Barbra still sings, but her voice is now in the lower register, and she no longer belts because she can't. Why she's doing all this after 30 years of being publicity-shy is anybody's guess. (Another album?) But soft! What comes next, I wonder?
Why. . . speaking of bad face lifts. . . it's. . . it's. . .
It's Robert Redford, in a VERY VERY Special Oprah, a reunion of the Cast of The Way We Were!!!
God, haven't some of these people died by now?

Monday, November 15, 2010


By the waters of Babylon

by the waters of Babylon

we sat down and wept

and wept

for thee Zion

We sat down and wept we sat down and wept we sat down and wept. . .

A shadow of a miracle of a particle of a shone of a show of a shadow of a song

Reflected backwards from the silver backing of a mirrored dream

we sat down and wept and wept and wept for thee Zion

We sat down and wept

(and wept)

for: thee


By the waters of Babylon, we sat down. . .

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept

when we remembered Zion.

There on the poplars

we hung our harps,

for there our captors asked us for songs,

our tormentors demanded songs of joy;

they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

How can we sing the songs of the Lord

while in a foreign land?

If I forget you, Jerusalem,

may my right hand forget its skill.

May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not consider Jerusalem

my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did

on the day Jerusalem fell.

"Tear it down," they cried,

"tear it down to its foundations!"

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy is the one who repays you

according to what you have done to us.

Happy is the one who seizes your infants

and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalm 137

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rah, old dolly!


Marganas Gape, yb Teragram!

Good anagrams almost make sense, and are more than just Scrabble-esque word jumbles. To the purist, they're scramblings of famous people's names which appropriately describe that personage, without any letters left over.

Try it. Quick. Tom Jones!

Uh. . .

Moon Jest! Hm. Does that work? Howbout. . . No jetsom (except it's spelled wrong). Or. . . What's New, Pussycat?

I can't do these very well, so I'm going to cheat and lift some from a web site, never mind which one. I steal all the time.

George Bush: He bugs Gore.
Osama bin Laden: A bad man (no lies).
The terrorist Osama bin Laden: Arab monster is no idle threat.
Elvis Aaron Presley: Seen alive? Sorry, pal!
Clint Eastwood: Old West action.
Madame Curie: Me, radium ace.

The best anagram I ever heard of, apparently thought up on the spot by Dick Cavett when looking at a theatre marquis (sp.? Who knows how to spell such a lame word, anyway?) is for Alec Guiness: Genuine Class.

Well, mine are almost like that. I mean. I have good intentions.

For the past couple of years I've been totally obsessed with Harold Lloyd, the silent screen comedian. You know, the one in the straw boater and hornrims who dangled off the hands of the huge clock above the. . . yeah, him, and by the way, he wasn't gay. (This is the first thing people ask me when I tell them about my book. I have no idea why, maybe all that white makeup, but did people call Chaplin a poof?)

I wrote a novel about Harold called The Glass Character, fell violently in love with him in the process (and I truly believe it's the best thing I've ever done), and now no one in the publishing industry wants to give me the time of day. Jesus, guys! Somebody, read this and cut me a deal before someone else gets it and you'll have to live with the regret for the rest of your life.

So I worked on Harold Lloyd anagrams. With all those backwards-looking Welsh double-ls, it was a problem.

So I came up with:

Rah, old dolly!
Hardy ol' doll
Ah, lord dolly!

Enough dollies. What got me started on this shit? I'm reading a book about the violent decades-long passion between Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, Furious Love (Sam Kashner & NancySchoenberger),which I first heard about on Dick Cavett's NY Times blog. I wondered if I could squeeze out some anagrams here. (Why? Ran out of those little Keurig coffee thingamies and needed something else addictive.)

Richard Burton came out: Brain chord rut. Well, he did waste his genius, didn't he?

But I'm most proud of this one, for Elizabeth:

The royal zeal bit.

I think I'll retire now, while I'm on a llor.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chew, chew!

Quoted from Candyblog, the delectable link I provided yesterday. One of the best blogs I've seen in any category. Liquorice is not to my tastes: it reminds me of the dreadful liquorice "all-sorts" my Dad kept in the buffet drawer until they turned to dinosaur droppings. But this description of filled liquorice pieces is nothing less than lyrical:

"They were just a little sticky in spots but were fresh and moist. The bag smelled nicely of licorice and toffee with a little hint of smoke, beets and molasses. Each is about 3/4 of an inch long and varied in diameter, though most were about 1/3 of an inch.

The middle pieces, the light beige ones were a coffee flavored center. This was fascinating. I like the combination of licorice and coffee and it’s not an easy pair to find together. The center is a little grainy, like frosting. It’s sweet and has a very mellow coffee and toffee note to it. The licorice flavors and the texture of the licorice chew were at the front with the most dominance. I found myself picking through the package to find these.

The darkest looking centers were chocolate, I think. It was a sort of Tootsie Roll version of chocolate. There were some vague cocoa notes but it was rather empty and couldn’t compete with the licorice and sugar flavors.

The white ones appear to be mint. The mint fondant filling is soft with a bit of a crumble though not completely dry. The minty notes are peppermint and menthol. It’s a strange combination with the licorice, the whole thing has a medicated vibe but it’s also fresh and doesn’t feel heavy like some other licorice can. The mint though was very strong and overshadowed the licorice notes."

Hmmmm. I could almost eat these.