I am honored to have a piece up on the Rock & Sling blog this past week. It was the wrap-up of their Summer Reading series and a chance to revisit how life and books intertwined at some key summer moments, past and present.
And now that I'm thinking of summer, here's a small bit from a trip to my hometown in June:
I am so pleased to have my poem, "This is exactly" included in Main Street Rag's upcoming anthology, Of Burgers and Barrooms. I had the opportunity to peek through the proof, and it looks like a fascinating and varied collection. The projected release date for this collection of stories and poems is November 14, 2017, but you can preorder the book in advance for a discounted price of $10 here.
So I've been playing with paper for a long time. And long ago when I went off to college I thought I would have time to study both art and music seriously. When it became clear that I had to focus on one or the other, I told myself I would take art classes again someday, maybe after I got my big orchestra job. And life went differently than that. That's okay, though, because hovering on the side of my writing all this time has been this desire to extend words and thought more and more into a physical realm. This summer I took several classes at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and my head and heart are bursting. (It's a magical place, and I can't wait to go back again.) The pictures above are things I made in class--now I'm trying to find time for skill-building, and practice, and ways to bring some of the ideas in my head to life. I have so much to learn, and I'm so excited.
It was a special treat to see my article in the ASJ featured on the mailing label that came with the journal--I am rather proud of that. The article, "Walk the Hills, Crawl if Necessary" was something I worked on for months this past year. The basic point was that as parents we run into times when we have to loosen our grip on our expectations, that sometimes what looks like stagnation is still a moving-forward, just maybe hidden, or very slow. It ended up being very, very close to home, and depending on the day (week/month) it was sometimes nearly impossible to write about.
The poem in Rock & Sling was also difficult to write. "The Beatitudes" by Vladimir Martynov, Rescored for Kronos Quartet was a piece I nearly gave up on. It began as an assignment at a poetry workshop I attended in 2015, the last assignment at the end of an incredibly full, intense week. I hated what I had written so much I decided not to turn it in. In the end I could not leave it alone, either, but it took many months to shift into its current form.
Today's theme? Never give up. Time is kind of a magical thing, and I keep forgetting to factor it in.
I have been working on several projects while away from this blog. Day-to-day what I see around me is Mess, but over the course of time I can see that I am making progress. In time I hope to share about those here. In the meantime you can find me a little more frequently on Instagram.
It is an honor to be a guest contributor on the Rock & Sling blog today. And it was good to re-read my own words. I know I am not the only one who carries the weight of current events, personal struggles (those of my loved ones as well as my own,) and what amounts to a daily battle with chaos around on her shoulders. It is only natural that we get tired. Playing with a teleidoscope last December felt like escapism at first, a place for my soul to rest during a busy time. But it became something more, reminding me that transformation is a powerful powerful thing. You can read about it here.
The current issue of Rock & Sling is now for sale on their website. It is an honor to have my poem, "Elision," included in it. "Elision" is a spring poem, about a chamber music concert I played in a few years ago. There were birds nesting up in the ceiling above the stage, and those of us waiting backstage could hear them singing their hearts out while our colleagues played onstage. The sound was magical and is something I carry with me still, but what also lingers is the momentary dissolving of walls. It is not often that I have felt like such an active participant in the ushering-in of spring. If you are interested, you may buy a copy here.
I had the briefest moment earlier this week, waiting in the car for Youngest to come out from a lesson (You don't have to come in anymore, Mom, it's okay) when the walls dissolved again, rain and trees and windshield melting into something new and beautiful. I even had enough space in my phone to get a picture. Happy spring to you, friends. May you turn and catch the walls dissolving every once in a while.
Meanwhile life was hard. The winter was as cold as the last one had been, and food was even shorter. Once again all rations were reduced, except those of the pigs and the dogs. A too rigid equality in rations, Squealer explained, would have been contrary to the principles of Animalism. In any case he had no difficulty in proving to the other animals that they were not in reality short of food, whatever the appearances might be. For the time being, certainly, it had been found necessary to make a readjustment of rations (Squealer always spoke of it as a "readjustment," never as a "reduction"), but in comparison with the days of Jones, the improvement was enormous. Reading out the figures in a shrill, rapid voice, he proved to them in detail that they had more oats, more hay, more turnips than they had had in Jones's day, that they worked shorter hours, that their drinking water was of better quality, that they lived longer, that a larger proportion of their young ones survived infancy, and that they had more straw in their stalls and suffered less from fleas. The animals believed every word of it. Truth to tell, Jones and all he stood for had almost faded out of their memories. They knew that life nowadays was harsh and bare, that they were often hungry and often cold, and that they were usually working when they were not asleep. But doubtless it had been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so. Besides, in those days they had been slaves and now they were free, and that made all the difference, as Squealer did not fail to point out.
* * *
I grew up watching the 1954 animated version of this at school. I've lost track of how many times I saw it, but the messages and images are pretty deeply-ingrained: the cruelty of Mr. Jones, the animal uprising, the Seven Commandments of Animalism. Napoleon's takeover. Good and faithful Boxer working himself nearly to death before being carted off to be made into glue. I always understood the movie as a warning about what had happened in the Soviet Union, but underneath that there was always what I now see as the core message: a warning about what we humans are tempted to do with power. What history has shown we do. That is what haunts me now about this book--that and how the truth flickers and shifts in the hands of some. How easily the others lose track, and go along with what is happening. This isn't just the story of a faraway place, locked into one point in time, it is something that happens over and over in our world. How simple it might be to just lose track, go along.
I started, but never finished, reading George Orwell's 1984 in high school. Eventually I will get back to it, but I am glad now that I read this first.
From Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley:
"But why is it prohibited?" asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else.
The Controller shrugged his shoulders. "Because it's old; that's the chief reason. We haven't any use for old things here."
"Even when they're beautiful?"
"Particularly when they're beautiful. Beauty's attractive, and we don't want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones."
A little later in the conversation, the Controller explains why none of the new things written can be like "Othello":
"Because our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel--and you can't make tragedies without social instability. The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!" He laughed. "Expecting Deltas to know what liberty is! And now expecting them to understand Othello! My good boy!"
The Savage was silent for a little. "All the same," he insisted obstinately, "Othello's good, Othello's better than those feelies."
"Of course it is," the Controller agreed. "But that's the price we have to pay for stability. You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We've sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead."
"But they don't mean anything."
"They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience."
"But they're...they're told by an idiot."
"The Controller laughed. "You're not being very polite to your friend, Mr. Watson. One of our most distinguished Emotional Engineers..."
"But he's right," said Helmholtz gloomily. "Because it is idiotic. Writing when there's nothing to say..."
"Precisely. But that requires the most enormous ingenuity. You're making flivvers out of the absolute minimum of steel--works of art out of practically nothing but pure sensation."
The Savage shook his head. "It all seems to me quite horrible."
"Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand."
* * *
More and more I find myself wondering what we are buying, and buying into. How normal it seems in this corner of the world to expect and demand comfort and ease. How natural it seems to be to allow oneself to behave and be treated as first and foremost a consumer. How often I hear people confusing education with job-training. Does it raise a fight in you, the way it does me?
* * *
My other offering today, something old and beautiful. Spent, I suppose. But look:
My friend Carrol shared this prayer from the The Book of Common Prayer on social media last week. I have decided to share it in turn in the form of a postcard to my representatives, along with a personal message to each on the back. Something felt important about doing this by hand, and the repetition of the words and the patterns around them. Lingering on all of it. These are words that need hearing, and attending to.