Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sitting here waiting for it to be February

Embroidered, beaded "love token" from World War I.  Thank you, DIY Fashion Sense for this and other heart projects generously shared at this blog.
A traditional Sailors' Valentine.
As I briefly ponder the notion of romantic love, hearts and cacti seem like dance partners.  Thus it makes sense that heart-shaped pincushions were popular souvenir items and intricate - spiny - shell assemblages were called Sailors' Valentines.  The course of true love and all that.

It is almost February.  Together with my often-mentioned fondness for red is an equally powerful preference for things shaped like hearts, both of which may be celebrated with abandon, at least until Feb. 14.  Even longer if we are procrastinators with good excuses.

If nostalgia were visible like fog or could make the eyes smart like a too-strong cologne, you would know when I was in the neighborhood.  I drift backward with almost no prompting.  Unlike some months, which for me could be March, May, and possibly August when I don't remember Big Things happening, February is filled with memories.  For the fortunate among us, birthday months are associated with celebration, with receiving welcome attention, with gifts.  Rain, school holidays and a world swathed in pink and red for a paper crafters' dream event conspire to make it the perfect little month.  This is just a shout-out to February, an old and dear friend.  Our adventures have been many.
Color version of Albertine Randall Wheelan's illustration, reproduced by Green Tiger Press.
Native American beadwork souvenir pincushion.  (no source)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Radio days

Available as MP3s from Amazon - CHANDU, THE MAGICIAN.
I belong to a Facebook group called, "You know you're from old school Pasadena when..."  So much of what I would still find entertaining, tasty and generally pleasing exists only in the past.

Among the uncountable blessings of technology is preservation.  I knew of Chandu, most likely through films based on the radio serials.  Though they, too, were produced during the 1930s it is not a stretch to imagine them turning up as television sought programming to fill its channels and airtime.  In the early 1970s, the radio show reappeared on Sunday afternoons on KPPC in Pasadena.  Exotic, foreign, mysterious, it returned me to childhood as it may or may not have been.  It all felt familiar.  What I know is the episodes were compelling enough to make me want to be home next to my radio at a time I would likely have been elsewhere.  My downstairs neighbors were also fans.  It was not the same, listening in a moving car.  One wished to pay attention.

When I was ill as a child, home from school, I got to have a radio in the room my younger sister and I shared and listened to programs that began with Don McNeill's Breakfast Club and ran through the early afternoon soaps, maybe One Man's Family and Ma Perkins.  I'm no longer sure.  I was not caught up in the daily drama of those shows as I was later in Chandu.  Had that been one of the daily programs, I might have become an elementary school drop-out.  But I couldn't find excitement in those midday shows and gladly returned to school.  Regardless of what was playing, the radio was company during a pox or flu or some unwelcome thing.

We are so very much the products of our histories, of our longings for what we knew, what we loved.  I am not surprised that my fiction writing takes the form of episodes or chapters.   I like that many of the tv shows I watch now have story lines, often mysteries, that run through an entire season rather than being quickly resolved in single, free-standing episodes.  I think it is smart programming to have the audience feel invested in the outcome.  Oscar Wilde told us, "The suspense is terrible.  I hope it will last."  In my case, it seems to be lasting a lifetime.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Olga Zharkova and the thoughtful bears

Nothing ordinary about these handmade bears by Russian artist Olga Zharkova.
The fear of being ordinary,  of speaking, writing, in cliches.  It can be paralyzing.

On a post this morning by a Welsh illustrator-writer, I read a brief discussion about not writing like a fridge magnet,  based on a quote from the book, "Grief Is A Thing With Feathers."  I gather from the one page shared, from the context I found by reading a few reviews, that the character Crow may have been (I am only guessing) exaggerating, perhaps to make someone laugh.  In me it added to occasional wonderings about the nearness of fridgemagnetisms.

When I saw Olga Zharkova's wise old bears, above,  I heard how they spoke to each other, heard their observations about life as it flowed around them.  Aging if not elderly gentlemen who find comfort when their pants are loosened, shirts a bit rumpled, fur matted in spots, bristly in others, their language is sometimes wry, always direct, reflective, honest.  They've seen a lot, they may have seen it all, and are not done yet.  They speak like my midwestern grandfathers, one saying a familiar grace over every meal, one explaining over his shoulder some aspect of crop raising as he hoes open an irrigation channel.

I would cast these bears in any story I might imagine.  One could be an English bear with Alan Rickman's voice.  His friend could be a poet, exiled from the land of his birth, melancholy clinging to him no matter how roaring his laughter.  He would sweeten his black tea with berry jam.  In common with my grandfathers, neither chatters nor speaks idly.  Their words emerge from thought, everything is considered.  I hope the same may be true for me

Monday, January 25, 2016

Word of the Week - 99

Both illustrations by Wolf Erlbruch.
Word of the Week:  TEND

To apply one's self to the care of.  To watch over.

How do we see to one another, not allow any of us to disappear beneath the waves of ordinary misfortune?   That, I believe, is our Work.

My list of Those Most Dear leans toward the simultaneously blessed and cursed whose minds and works reveal them to be angels, possibly gods in human form to whom sorrow is no stranger.

Poets, musicians, writers, painters, performers, shamans, samaritans, cooks, teachers, healers, fliers at all altitudes, entrepreneurs, intuitives, we are all richer for what you bring to our days.  That your own days have been, and frequently continue to be filled with illness, loss, trauma, lack, terror, pain and bewilderment has not stopped you, has rarely slowed you down.

My tending, if such were possible, would be a continual disbursement of care packages filled with everything you need most:  health, peace, strength, optimism, guarantee of a desired outcome, the meeting of every possible physical, material and spiritual need, humor and music and beauty and light and love.   My tending would bring, to the outer edge of anyone's ability, safety.  The unknown will always be part of this existence but it would not be the lurking, crouching thing-behind-the-door that it has become.  A margin of security is not too much to ask.

I would walk you in your fishbowl, groom and stroke your dear warty head, smooth your collar and see that your necktie was properly knotted.   I would send what is warm (or cool) and bright, lend my own solid arm to lean upon, install elevators where needed and employ reliable, skilled craftspeople to fix whatever required mending.  Going without would no longer be the only option.

My life is continually blessed and illuminated by those who tend to me.  One profound reminder of such tending hangs on my bedroom wall, an assemblage that proclaims, "I get by with a little help from my friends."  So do we all.  xo

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I have discovered my kryptonite.

Eating disorders, addictions, are no laughing matter.  Sometimes dark (no pun intended) humor helps us through.  Today I cannot be in the vicinity of Lindt Dark Chili chocolate.  I ought not be within grabbing distance of any sugar-and-chocolate based food but this is trouble on a whole new level.

If life is not to chafe or pinch or make our heads explode, it needs to be balanced.  I see it as a circumstance through which I must tread with mindfulness, caution and at a very slow pace.  As children, my siblings and I had to leave the house early on rainy days to avoid stepping on worms on the sidewalk on our way to school.  I'm still trying to sidestep crawly things.

At what I consider a somewhat advanced age, I am still trying to learn the art of living in peace with my body and mind, not punishing, shaming or bullying myself with unmeetable expectations, nor running amok with a tendency to gobble what is sweet on the tongue.

It may be that some of you do not see human existence as a mine field.  Were my mind unshakably quiet, I might not either.  That it IS quieter than it once was is a gift beyond price.  I suppose in this as in many other things, my motto is I Aspire.

One reaches a point when focusing upon failure can be seen clearly as the chump's game it has always been.  We are never going to get it all exactly right, unless we can embrace a highly personal yardstick by which to measure.  And even then, we will likely arrive at the tea with gum in our hair and a hem held in place with staples or tape.  It is to be hoped that we will enjoy ourselves in spite of that.

My wish is to have lab work numbers that cause my health care practitioner to note on the report that they are "acceptable."  My wish is to require less medication.  Additionally, my wish is for thoughts of beauty, of humor, of love, not fear.  Moderation, I can be peaceful with moderation.  Everything comes down to choices, what can we live with and what sends us screaming into the night.

I believe there are reasons why I am here, now, as myself, and that the same is true for you.  It is possible that what and how and where we are at this moment is exactly what the world is waiting for.  I work to hold onto that notion.  Stranger things have happened.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Word of the Week - 98

Video tutorial for origami heart envelopes.
Word of the Week:  ORIGAMI

Reasons why I began poking around origami envelope how-tos this week:

Something for my brain and hands to do together.
Valentine potential.
Paper obsession.
Envelope ditto.
And look at them - what a great, not difficult pattern.

The idea took hold when I saw Rachel Hazell's step-by-step from a series of guest blogs she did for FLOW magazine on a love letters workshop she taught last fall in Paris.  Here is the heart envelope project:
Rachel Hazell's (Paperphilia)  heart envelopes.
Paper folding, especially in the beginning stages, is a focused and peaceful activity.  It requires full presence.  I've realized over the years that I remember a craft lesson better when I have experienced it hands-on.  And when I've repeated and repeated and repeated it.  We all have our styles of learning and mine is most efficient when I let my hands talk to my brain.  Here are two of my samples, not the first ones.

Crafting with paper has been a joy since girlhood.  My hands, at times, are a bit less steady, less predictable than they once were.  Origami seems a task at which they still function consistently and as expected.  I leave the worktable feeling reasonably masterful.  Anything that matters takes time, it also takes practice.  Origami offers the opportunity to develop skills.  I defer to Napoleon Dynamite on "skills,"

Pedro: Do you think people will vote for me?
Napoleon Dynamite: Heck yes! I'd vote for you.
Pedro: Like what are my skills?
Napoleon Dynamite: Well, you have a sweet bike. And you're really good at hooking up with chicks. Plus you're like the only guy at school who has a mustache.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Selectric I

My mind wanders, it always has.  Allowed a bit of breathing room away from tasks that demand focus, it skips off in any, in every direction.  It returns with its apron full of found objects, its pockets stuffed with memories that resemble life forms.   Every particle has a story to tell.

A reconditioned IBM Selectric I was the Christmas gift from my former and late husband just two months after our son was born.  Because of it I was able to do "office quality" typing at home and hold a part-time job that allowed me to take my infant son to work with me for nearly a year.  Some of the job involved random errands around Hollywood, some of it let me sit in our tiny dining area and type.  Where my mind wandered earlier this week was to admiration for whatever inspired him to choose that present at that time and gratitude for all the hours of my boy's young months that I didn't miss by being at work.  I don't recall ever being given a more perfect gift.

We just never know.  About much of anything.  We follow what wisdom we can access or allow ourselves to be guided by low-voiced nudgings, at times assuming we know what the outcome will be or trusting that intuition is better at keeping the car on the road than we are.

Things come together, they do, in spite of us, against seemingly great odds.  One of the kindnesses we can offer ourselves is looking back with gratitude, with wonder at the way the stars aligned.  I choose to believe that thankfulness felt and expressed, even if just into the unknowable vastness of it all, is not wasted or lost.  Either it reaches, impossibly, its target or it is distributed among the needy, manifesting suddenly in some hurting heart as a sense of connection.  The universe of my understanding will never allow scatter-sown gratitude to go unused.

On the day I received the Selectric, I was pleased to be known so well, to be seen.  I was joyful and filled with appreciation.  All these years later, the insight behind that present stills me.  I have thought these same thoughts before, yet they seem to have ripened and deepened.  Now they bring me to tears.  Time, what an unexpected ally,  thank you.  And thank you again, GK, for the typewriter.    

Monday, January 11, 2016

Word of the Week - 97

All ceramic art by Elizabeth Price.
Word of the Week:  CLAY

My mother was a ceramic artist.  She began with clay and the last works she created were made of clay.  In between she was known for her paintings and collages.  When, in later life, she produced a line of ceramic "kids" as she called them, they helped her travel to dreamed-of destinations like the Greek islands and to Spain to see Gaudi's architecture first-hand.

More and more, whatever wisdom guides me tells me that I have all I really need to make life, myself and my art into what I want.  The absence of some material object is not what stands between me and the far shores of my mind.  There are ways, there are always ways.  That we cannot see or name them today is no indication that they don't exist.  I have never believed that we are here on earth to be tried, tested.  This is not trial by ordeal in spite of the moments it feels precisely like that.

I find that simple works better for me than complicated, plain seems a better match than fancy.  What spoke to me through Elizabeth Price's ceramic women was an unmistakable sense of the extraordinary to be found in the ordinary.  In form, I see her gently glazed figures as straightforward, involved in the task at which we find them.  Yet my sense is of the years of living which brought them to these moments.  Cumulative.  We are cumulative creatures, products of time and experience, thoughts and actions, being and doing and puzzling over the meaning of it all.

Perhaps it all just is.  We just are, nothing more impenetrable than that.  A day of one foot in front of the other, in fair weather and foul.  Strength and courage for what comes, patience, infinite patience with ourselves and others.  The woman who holds the chicken, do we need to be told the story or can we draw a conclusion from the fact of them?  The woman in the yellow hat, any one of us in a pointed yellow hat.  I'm guessing her feet are bare as the feet of Price sculptures usually are.  All their gazes are focused on what we cannot see. 

What I forget some mornings, as I think myself into the day, is that being, most likely, is my greatest challenge and clearest calling.  To be, as clay, still and present, container of trouble and joy, of hope and doubt, alternately certain and mystified.  To navigate without fuss and drama the unblazed path of today.  To leave the big Ta-Dos in the hands of those for whom it is better suited.  As we are told of Stuart Little,

“He wiped his face with his handkerchief, for he was quite warm from the exertion of being Chairman of the World. It had taken more running and leaping and sliding than he had imagined.”
E.B. White, Stuart Little

Ceramic art by Elizabeth Price.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Making something out of a rainy Tuesday

Children's handmade Valentines.
Before California became drought-stricken we had winter rains.  We are having some today and perhaps because it's been so long,  I think of February and not the beginning of January.   February is celebratory, filled with trappings, and it is easier to recall its rainy days than those that may have occurred during some random and unremarkable January.

No matter how well I think I plan, Christmas always catches me by surprise, gifts not made, cards, if made, not addressed, notes unwritten.  I am still in time to be early for Valentine's Day, should I choose.  The illustration above made me happy, my love for little handmade paper objets d'art being possibly excessive, decidedly enthusiastic.

I can build a time machine out of almost nothing.  Today all I required was unrelenting overcast with periods of heavy rain, some quiet and the memory of heart-shaped things on days just like this.  I could travel to my elementary school days, to times of rubber stamp exchanges or simply amusing my mostly-grown self with the purchase of various red ribbons, vellum paper in red and pink and every Mrs. Grossman Valentine sticker.  We love what we love.

How will I acknowledge what may be the return of winter rain?  I may doodle hearts in a notebook using every red pen I can find.  I may make a heart template and cut shapes out of scrapbook papers.  I may use some of the hoarded text-weight rose-patterned paper and make envelopes.  I may take a nap, lulled by the weather's unfamiliar sound.  I may continue to stare out the window.  I may go and read more about Twelfth Night (today) and think of Martha Washington's festive cake recipe that called for 40 eggs.  Or pour wassail on the ground over the trees' roots and sing.

It is raining at last.  Let us rejoice.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Word of the Week - 96

Word of the Week:  SOFTER

This will, no doubt, be the year of many things, not the least of which for me is The Year of Growing Softer.  We are not meant to be our carapaces, spiny ridges, jagged corners.  We are not intended to live defended lives, though it may feel otherwise.  Without growing softer, how do we begin to flow into each other, how do we empathize?

Growing softer is, like much of life, a process.  It is not achieved in one herculean leap.  If it is realized at all, it will be through tiny, elfin steps, wearing Barbie's pumps on our fingertips and walking with all the style we can muster through minefields, real and imagined.  "They" are an illusion.  There is really only "Us."