Thursday, October 30, 2008

Funny and True

I am almost though David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed in Flames. He's one of the many authors I've been meaning to read, so I was pleased to find his book on our library's new-reads shelf. The cover would not attract many, being a skeleton smoking a cigarette. So much for the old adage, because it's a laugh-out-loud book with ridiculous scenes written in a feisty first-person style that is not for children or the faint of heart. Sedaris talks about death a lot, his own and that of others. Seems he worked for a time in a coronor's office, with all the attendant gore and despair. Then, of course, there's the demise of his long-time neighbor and prime tormentor, Helen. Even the near loss of a pet spider named April. The man on the plane sitting next to him, sobbing over the recent death of his mother. Sedaris's memory of his mother's funeral. It takes real courage, talent, and nerve to make a reader laugh in the presence of such morose material.

The strength of the book lies in the absence of lies. Or so it seems. I cannot vouch for the reality of life as Sedaris describes it, but I believe him. He's willing to admit his own dark side, the drugs of years past, the boil on his butt, his chain smoking, his fear of speaking French, even though he divides his time among the US, Paris, and Normandy. The spider was French. When he describes having that boil lanced, the gore is honest, the attitude wildly funny. How many of us would call the amateur surgeon--Hugh just happens to be David's partner--Sir Lance-a-Lot? Sedaris is a smart writer, one who has made his own life his on-going resource. For him research is getting up in the morning, well, mid-morning in his case. I look around and cannot see what's funny in my own life. Thanks to David Sedaris I might learn.

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Look

You've heard about six degrees of separation? Well, how about changing that to six degrees of connection. That's what we are really talking about, right? I don't want to keep the Dalai Lama away, but to find a way to meet him. Well, the chances are that won't happen, but you just never can predict whom you might meet face to face on any given day. And you won't meet anyone if you stay in your house. I mean, how often do folks just wander up to your door and say hi? No, you have to walk the dog, go out for coffee, shop, and make eye contact. It doesn't always take much, a smile, a little greeting. That happened to me a couple of weeks ago. Two new folks came to church and I said hello in the coffee crunch after the service. Well, turns out Sharon is a very savvy writer and Mary Beth is a bright woman. So we went to lunch and had a fine time. So much so that we did that again yesterday. And Sharon quizzed me on my flaming pink blog site. Huh?

See, on my monitor it looked maroon, a sedate color that I didn't think would offend anyone. Thank you, Sharon, for speaking up. So as not to offend the anti-pink readers, I've just pushed a few buttons and changed the whole thing without losing my mind. And we know that a mind is a terrible thing to lose, right? Who cares what color the blog is? I don't know. Connect, tell me what you think. Is it now easier on the eyes? What color do you see?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Half Act

A few days ago I was moaning about a disappointing grocery adventure. I went to the same store this week. Okay, it's Sprouts, and I spent quite a bit of time shuffling from one end of the meat department to the other. To their credit, I did not see the factory chicken I saw on my first visit, but guess where the organic beef comes from--Uruguay! Having nothing against that country, I still object. I live in the American west, an area built on the back of beef. And I'm expected to buy meat that's been hauled, flown, beamed up, from another country? Not! We already spend more on fuel to transport food than I care to think about. Why don't we have a food policy? We have a government policy or department for every aspect of our lives, but no one dares take on the big food industry in a meaningful way. I know we are all very busy surviving the onslaught of mud that erupts from our media every few minutes, but the election looms and we will have time again to think about what really matters. Not that the election doesn't matter. It certainly does. But the ugly ads don't matter. I've been told by more than one informed commentator to ignore them. Hey, if we took all the money spent on TV ads and used it to support a regional food supply system, we'd be safer, saner, and healthier.

So, what have I done but spout off here? I found the shift manager at Sprouts and politely said that I will not support the supply practices I see in that store. Nor will I buy products from factory suppliers. She smiled and said she would forward my remarks to the meat manager. I plan to repeat my concerns every time I see those vague or ridiculous labels on food. Rules I live by (when I'm not starving, and let's face it, I could stand to starve a couple of days): Don't eat anything that has more than five ingredients or ingredients I cannot pronounce; don't eat anything that has traveled further than the moon and back; pay willingly a fair price for local, organic, humanely produced food; speak up when the food supply gets out of control. Just to be sure I'm doing my part, I wrote a collection of poems about the human-grocery connections. Food is a basic right and an emotional time bomb. Hmm, no not a bomb, something more errosive. It eats us as much as we eat it. Next time you buy bread, look at the ingredients and check out how far it has traveled. Oh, I also have a personal ban on High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Who Am I?

I am a demographic! No, really. Aging is, as we know, a messy business, bringing mixed feelings, mixed messages, mixed everything. What to wear, where to go, with whom, why? Well, I have decided to be my own category. Last evening while Duncan the Dog was getting his hair done, I sat in a nearby coffee shop and read the new issue of Poets & Writers. It may be a subliminal response--Tony Morrison with her gray hair and straight-on confidence sits on the cover--but I looked at an ad for a writing residency and wanted it. I looked at the young people in the ad and hesitated. Would I fit in? Would I even be considered? Who takes a senior citizen seriously? Well, John McCain might, but this situation calls for a different, more personal, political stand. So, here goes.

I am an emerging woman writer at the (almost) age of 65. There, it's out, in print, no backing down. For years I've felt the weight of time: I'm too old for success, I'm out of touch with the newest trends in publishing, I'm not Helen Hoover Santmyer. (She published a huge, best-selling novel in her 80's.) Who do I think I am applying for a prestigious award? Well, Mary Oliver was "discovered" at 63, and she's a force of and for nature in contemporary American poetry. My job now is to help raise consciousness about writers "of a certain age." It's not too late till they nail the cover on my coffin or I'm too dotty to spell my own name. I am going to apply for that residency and state proudly in my application just what niche I fit. This snail is sticking her neck out, and it feels good. Let's hear it for late-blooming roses, asters, winter wheat, and gorgeous fall foliage. Onward!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Foodie Complaints

Last week a notice went around that a new food market was opening in our area, one that promised fresh, local produce. Wow! As a poet-organic eater-locavore I marked my calendar and got there on opening day, along with most of the rest of Colorado. I found things I'd been looking for, whole wheat couscous and whole wheat bread without high fructose corn syrup. I also found beef unmarked as to origin, foods labeled "natural"--a vague category at best and not at all a guarantee of humane, organic origins, and worst of all, chicken from a factory producer known for its awful labor practices and inhumane treatment of the birds. So, I sighed and mentally composed my letter of complaint to the management, fearing all the while that my one voice would make no difference. I've been known to bend the ears of supermarket managers in the past, and no chain has yet to change a thing in my favor.

However, I'm re-reading Gloria Steinam's Moving Beyond Words, an expose of Freud, advertising, and patriarchal power. She's speaking locally this month and I'm very excited to hear her. I last heard her speak to a small group in a church in Maine, sat there amazed that the room was not packed to its historic rafters. She would not flinch in the face of mass-produced food stuffs in a store pretending by its marketing and logo to be an earthy, wise-food supplier. Sigh. Now I have to put myself on trial. Do I roll over and buy what they offer, or do I speak up and make myself heard? It's easy to give in, give up, eat what's offered. "Just go away," I can hear the manager say. But as a writer, I have the skill and the responsibility to say what I believe, to tell the truth as best I can, to separate fact from opinion. And if you think I'm running on opinion in preferring locally grown, organic, humanely produced food, go read Michael Pollan's books and his long, well documented essay to the incoming president that ran recently in the NY Times. Then shop with this information in mind. Meanwhile, I'll cast about for a way to join the fray, and fray it will be to take on the conglomerate agri-businesses of this country.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A la Carte

Since that blog on Thursday morning I have had a rich diet of art: a wonderful poetry reading on Thursday evening featuring Denver Poet Laureate Chris Ransick, with open mic to follow; a small but productive writing group Saturday morning; opera selections at our local auditorium that afternoon; and Saturday evening a boffo poetry reading in Denver by Dorianne Laux. By Sunday I wanted to do nothing but digest and think. That too is part of participating in the arts. No, not rock sitting--too cold and damp--but taking time to think about what we hear and see. Just let it sink in. Like many of us I dash from one project to another, then wonder why I'm frazzled. No roses to stop at now, but making soup, reading, even watching hours of World View on cable was what I wanted. Now it's Monday and I'm back at work, my to-do list at my side, the dog at my feet.

Hurrying around has, you see, affected my work on the novel in progress. When I typed up the last bit of draft, I did not know where the previous chapter had gone. Well, it had gone into the recycle bin on the computer. Not good. I had hard copy, but who wants to retype the whole chapter if she doesn't need to? Not me. My goal for the day then is to sort out the various drafts and get that writing going in a more or less straight line. And reading my cousin Edie's new poem. She and I have made contact through poems, despite being children the last time we were in the same room. All this should make for a pleasant day, these and the bright leaves outside my window. Okay, I'm just chattering here. See ya, KD

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Social Justice Poem

Recently a friend challenged me to write about what I believe. Writing to order is not my usual way of doing things, but, hey, it's worth a try, so here's an effort starting from the big end, the abstract, the general, and getting down to images.

Holiday Gift List

One dime
to the Department of Offense,
a one-way trip to Elba for George,
one tuba and six guitars to every school,
box lunches for the National Guard.

In return
I'd like a nurse and a doctor,
a tax law I can read
about my double-tithe to Caesar.
Oh, I want a bridge, a dam and
a levee without cracks,
good water from the tap,
gardens growing down the street,
my street clear
of broken glass, guns, and dope.

Let's ask neighbors--striped, plaid, and plain--
to sing in many tongues,
give them paychecks,
a three-course sit-down dinner,
roofs, floors, and walls. Let's
give them plumbing!
Hand every kid a ball, a flock of birds,
a book, at least three hugs. Oh, yeah,
an orange, a new toothbrush,
and shoes with really strong laces.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Disjointed and Wonderful

Annie Dillard has long been a favorite author of mine. Yesteday I picked up a copy of her book, For the Time Being, a creative non-fiction work that just shakes every preconception I have of how to structure a book. She demands a great deal of trust. How will the early references to the history of archeology in China, the production line style of care for newborns in the US, the strange detours in human evolution and the Kabbala all fit together? Reading this book is like watching a huge picture gradually come into focus. The ancient bones recovered in China, the unearthing of the buried clay army, the birth of infants, both well and unwell, the meditations on God's involvement in human life--they do connect in a sweeping and provocative way. The style is still her own, with the conversational asides that remind us that a real person, an individual, is producing this work. As always her language entertains while her ideas challenge.

Dillard's audacity has freed me from some of my recent angst over writing. If I learn nothing from the content of the book, I will have yet spent my time wisely and learned writing from a master. I suspect that by tomorrow, though, I will have finished the book and tucked it onto a shelf with my favorites to remind me to read it again and again. I'll use it as a model of what's possible when a writer dares to reach for the clouds, (oh, yes, clouds as individuals also figure in this story) to pierce the veil between us and It. To write what she wants to write, no matter how difficult it is for a publisher or bookseller to categorize. If all you read for is plot, forget this book. The plot is too big to fathom. But the sense that one is in touch with a real person who thinks big thoughts about something other than financial bailouts is, as the credit card ad says, priceless.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No Rock Sitting

Well, I have partly fixed the sludge problem I spoke of in the previous blog; I did not find a rock to sit on, but I did go to a favorite coffee shop and that helped. I also have gathered in a few poems that were in draft form in an old journal, and tried the past couple of days to compose at least a little poem. It does work, once I escape the demon Censor who keeps whispering sweet nothings about how much easier it would be to sweep the porch or do a load of laundry. Yeah, well, not! I came to the conclusion this morning that one thing that gets in my way is that word work. Writing can be play, should be, at least some of the time. So I went ahead and took extra time this morning to play with the images that had surfaced in my morning pages, and voila! A poem on the page. That felt good.

The other thing that has helped is forging through the To-do list with some persistence. I do overwhelm myself with tasks that often do nothing for my own writing. Clearing off some of that extra stuff helps me to breathe more deeply and think more effectively. So, today I may actually use this morning to work on submissions and queries. My fortune from lunch yesterday points out that not trying is a certain road to failure. So I'll persist. Gather up a handful of addresses for agents, explore my folder with fiction and poetry markets, walk the dog, finish the laundry, oops! There I go again. Life has to be more than dirty socks.