Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Big Flea Market

On impulse, I snapped this photo through the windshield of our truck on our way to the Big Flea Market. This is a road that runs beside our house. Sometimes when I'm riding in a vehicle, I look at the Northwest Ohio landscape and it seems surreal. This happens especially when the roads are bathed in a certain kind of yellow light. It happens also after it has snowed and the wind is blowing snow across the road or when the blowing snow makes patterns on the road like writhing snakes. The flatness of the land, the perspective created by electrical lines and poles, and the vastness of the sky speak strongly to me of destiny. But where am I going, and why?

Yesterday, in the boiling heat, Allen, Buddha, and I went to a big flea market in a city very near us. It's a 3-day celebration that people look forward to here every year, but I can't remember it ever being this hot when it was going on.

What I remember most from yesterday:

1) Item: A cast iron mermaid (about 3/4 life sized)
2) Item: A pocket Bible with a delicate picture of Mary on the front, circa 1800's.
3) Place: The low part of the field, soggy from the previous day's rain. My sandaled feet wet from sinking in the cool water covering the grass.

I bought three books, paying for them $2.25 and two pair of pants for Allen, totaling $4.00, grand total: $6.25.

The books:

1) A college edition of Art History, for making my collages.

2) The Works of Oscar Wilde, copyright 1927. This book looks identical to the Checkov volume I purchased in Vermont and is published by the same company, The Walter J. Black Co. The Checkov volume is worn, due to heavy reading and handling from being in the public library. However, the Oscar Wilde volume looks virtually unread.

From "Rosa Mystica" by Oscar Wilde:

To drift with every passion till my
Is a stringed lute on which all winds
can play.
Is it for this that I have give away
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere

3) The Best American Short Stories 1943. I own several volumes of the best American Short Stories, but this is the earliest edition I've found so far. The inscription inside reads: "Belated Birthday Wishes to Frank from Andy." The book's dedication is to:
"Irwin Shaw, Private, U.S. Army" and "To All Writers Enlisted in a Great Task."

Isn't that wonderful? What is my "great task"? What is yours?

Authors of a few of the best stories of 1943 include: William Faulkner ("The Bear"); William Saroyan ("Knife-Like, Flower-Like, Like Nothing At All in the World"); Eudora Welty ("Asphodel") and James Thurber ("The Catbird Seat"). Who doesn't remember "The Catbird Seat" from highschool or college freshman comp.?!

I like to study authors' first lines. Here are a few from The Best American Short Stories 1943:

"The smell around the training farm was compact like a wall, rising from the ground which was muddy with yesterday's rain, and surrounding the chicken coops huddled white in the muffled dark night." --Vicki Baum, "This Healthy Life"

"Ora Larrabie stayed still as long as she could hold the wonder to herself." --Rachel Field, "Beginning of Wisdom"

"Eunice looked at me across the table and said: 'I've a corking idea for a novel.'" --Vardis Fisher, "A Partnership with Death"

"The Isle of Man is a very small fragment of the British Commonwealth of Nations and a place you never hear much about." --Grace Flandrau, "What Do You See, Dear Enid?"

"Last May you were married, and now this morning your widow is wailing." --Peter Gray, "Threnody for Stelios"

And my two (so far) favorites:

"As they all knew, the drive would take them about four hours, all the way to Weed, where she came from." --Paul Horgan, "The Peach Stone"

"One evening when Ellen Goodrich had just returned from the office to her room in Chelsea, she heard a light knock on her door." --John Cheever, "The Pleasures of Solitude"

I think Cheever's is my favorite of all. What is better than starting a story with a knock on the door?

Any story I have ever loved has been like a experiencing a knock on my door. It has been an invitation to mystery and transformation.

After the flea market we came home and cooked hotdogs, bathed, and went to the hospital to visit someone we love.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Treasure! The collection of Anton Checkov's works, bought at a library sale in Stowe, Vermont.

This book was an incredible find, yet there is something sad about seeing such a treasure stamped with the word, DISCARDED. This edition of Checkov's works was published in 1929.

Checkov, a graduate of medical school, wanted to write stories that looked at people and situations somewhat objectively. His lack of personal commentary (and judgment) combined with his keen insights into the human psyche made him a great storyteller.

My favorite of his stories so far is "La Gigale." It is about an artistic, although flighty, young woman named Olga who marries a man of science, Dymov. At first Olga sees beyond Dymov's meek demeanor and recognizes his greatness: his dedication, intelligence, and compassion. Later, she tires of him and has an affair with one of her artist friends. Dymov knows of the affair but wants to keep the marriage together. In this pivotal scene, Olga has the opportunity to make things right, but she fails to recognize the potential for transformation:

One evening when [Olga] was preparing to go to the theater, she was standing before the pier-glass when Dymov, clad in a dress-coat and a white tie, came into her bedroom; he smiled meekly and as formerly he looked his wife joyfully straight in the eyes. His face beamed.

"I have just been defending my thesis," he said, sitting down and stroking his knees.

"Defending?" Olga Ivonovna asked.

"Ogo!" he laughed, and he stretched his neck in order to see his wife's face in the mirror, as she was still standing before it with her back towards him arranging her hair. "Ogo!" he repeated. "Do you know it is very probable I shall be offered the post of professor's substitute on general pathology. It looks very like it."

It was evident by his delight and his beaming face that if Olga Ivanovna had shared his happiness and triumph he would have forgiven her everything, the present and the future, and he would have forgotten everything, but she did not understand what the post of professor's substitute or general pathology meant; besides, she was afraid of being late for the theatre and said nothing.

He sat for two minutes, smiled culpably and then left the room.

He sat for TWO MINUTES! That's a long time to sit silently, waiting for someone to respond favorably to a grace extended. He has been direct, looking her staight in the eyes and expressing his intimate joy. But she keeps her back to him, experiencing his presence obliquely, through the mirror. I love the detail of his stroking his knees, the part of the body that most strongly, I think, suggests humility (as we get on our knees when we pray or give homage to another). Also the detail, "...he left the room," a physical and psychological distancing.

I look forward to reading all of Checkov's works. How strange that I had to go all the way to Vermont to discover him.

The library in Stowe, Vermont where I found my fantastic collection of works by Checkov, as well as Anne Morrow Lindburgh's Diaries and letters. Looking through Lindburgh's writings later that day, I was saddened at how she accepted that being a woman was something less substantial than being a man. This was particularly evident in an entry about a discussion she had with the author of The Little Prince while waiting for her husband to arrive: "I am feeding the dogs when C. finally appears--it is almost 10. I drop back in relief, I am so glad he is there. We (St. -Ex. and I) both leap at him with the relief of thirsty travelers needing water. C. blows in like a sea breeze. But he is tired, driving all day in traffic. However, he takes his supper on a tray and over the tray carries on the torch of conversation, which immediately goes up a level, takes on a higher, less feminine tone." I sometimes wonder if what she thought of as "feminine" was really her more quiet, introspective nature as opposed to her husband's more extroverted personality. I know that often I feel inadequate during conversations because my thoughts are vague, diffused, like looking through a glass darkly. I've often wished I was more lively and able to carry the torch, like Charles Lindburgh.

Sterling Pond, at the top of a steep mountain trail, near Stowe, Vermont. A tough climb, but worth it.

In the lean-to at our campsite, near Stowe, Vermont.


Photo: This is Buddha and me in the town of Stowe, Vermont. I'd just finished rummaging around at the library book sale where I bought a great collection of works by Checkov and also a volume of Anne Morrow Lindburgh's diaries and letters, War Within and Without.

The excuse to go to Vermont was to take our son Brian to the "Long Trail." He is walking this trail for a month. Originally, I was going to let Allen take Brian and I was going to stay home and write. But then I thought about what the Dali Lama said, that you should go somewhere you've never been at least once a year. I'd always wanted to see Vermont.

I'm not a lover of travel. Moving vehicles scare me. I become a complete wreck psychologically while traveling on roads. I have a hermit's temperament. I like a familiar place and I like to dig in and create my own rhythm for the days. I am in my glory when I can get up whenever I want, feed and pet my cats, tend to my little chickens, and work on various artistic projects at will.

I know there have been many writers who have been stay-at-homes who have written perfectly gorgeous and important works without venturing much past their front porches. But lurking in the back of my mind is always the suspicion that I need to get out and DO something, at least once in a while, to know life better, to FEEL life, to move beyond my self-made days. I'm married to a man who loves to GO and to DO, so this helps.

We took Brian to the Long Trail and stayed in our tent near the trail head. It was pouring rain. The wind whipped our old tent around and knocked it loose from its moorings. The floor filled with water and the wet walls slapped against my back. I stared into the darkness, wondering when the night would end. Once, I noticed I could see my own hands and told Allen I thought day might be breaking. He told me daylight was a long way off. Such events teach patience.

We snapped lots of photos of Brian as he set out on the trail and then drove to a camping area near Stowe. We got a site with a "Lean-to," which is a 3-sided structure built off the ground. Ours was a walk-in site, so it was quite private. Surprisingly, we were able to sleep inside the lean-to without the tent: a few mosquitos but not bad. It was great not to have to set up the wet tent, great to be able to look out at the trees and listen to the frogs, smell the sweet mountain air. The rain had stopped and we had nothing but a few sprinkles here and there the rest of the time we were there.

On the first day we went to Stowe and I checked out a library book sale. I couldn't resist! What a great sourvenir of Vermont: A collection of works by Anton Checkov published in 1929 with the Vermont Library stamps on several pages. Think of it: this book is nearly eighty years old. Checkov's works were not translated and therefore not widely known until after WWI, so this must have been one of the first collections of his published in the United States. Reading a few of the stories back at the lean-to I understood for the first time why Checkov is considered a master writer. The psychological depth of his characters is amazing. This understanding of human nature and motivation is something I just now feel I'm getting a handle on, if even just a little bit. Sometimes I wonder if it was easier in Checkov's time to understand humanity. Was there more time for studying fellow human beings and for self-reflection then? Somehow I think there was, but I don't want to take away from Checkov's accomplishments or make excuses for my lack of artistic output. The writer's way requires self-determination and a certain amount of faith in the process, a willingness to free fall through the imagination and create works that may never be read by anyone, no matter when the writer was born.

On the second day we walked a trail up to Sterling Pond. I thought several times I wouldn't make it. It was steep and took a lot of climbing. Someone had told us how beautiful it was up there, and I was determined to make it. Adding to the difficulty was the hot and humid weather. It was too bad we ended up going to Vermont at the beginning of a heat wave. I was happy later to hear younger, fitter people say that is a particularly difficult trail because I found the going excessively tough. I'm hard headed, though, so I made it. The pond is so clean and is a favorite swimming hole for locals and campers. It was late by the time Allen and I (and Buddha!) arrived, and we were the only ones there. Buddha had no trouble going up or down the mountain.

On the third day we walked a few more trails and on the fourth day we rested. Our last night there was the most lovely. We made a campfire and looked for a long time at millions of stars.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

To Vermont

O you who have set out on the pilgrimage
Where are you going? --Rumi

Setting off in a few hours for Northern Vermont. I've never been there. Plan to camp out a few days and hike a few trails. There's something hopeful about such a journey. I always think of Basho, setting out in the damp, cold spring for his foot journey. There are several translations of the title of that collection of prose and poetry, but I like Journey to the Interior best.

I'll take my iPod--it's packed with lots of good songs and good poems. Some books. A journal. A camera.

Here I go!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Independence Day

Our Independence Day Celebrations were safe and happy. Those are the two things I wish most for each and every day. We had our three sons over for a cookout on Saturday the 1st. We had beef and chicken kabobs, mounds of them, and I thought I'd made too many, but at the end of the night, nothing was left. For the middle son I always make mashed potatoes--this time I used half and half, garlic, and lots of butter. We took our big stereo out onto the patio. This stereo has such grand speakers that if you crank them halfway you can hear the music anywhere on our property, and we live on 12 acres. I bought this system fifteen years ago with extra money I'd earned from supplemental teaching jobs. It cost a lot of money, but I've never regretted buying it because the family enjoys it so much. I burned five "party" CDs with favorite songs. For Allen, Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Pride and Joy." For the boys, many of their favorites, like "American Pie" and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Then on the 4th, Allen and I set out for the river to watch the Toledo fireworks. It's one of the events Toledo puts on that always brings out lots of people. Generally I don't care for big celebrations or crowds, but this would be one exception. If you're going to watch fireworks, the only way to do it is on the river in a boat, I think. Hundreds of boats come out for the event, gather at the observation points just before dusk, and wait patiently for the show. This year, there was a boatload of young men just behind us. As the fireworks burst in the sky, they were screaming, "Woohoo!" and "Yeah!" and "Happy Birthday, America!" They were so authentic in their enthusiasm that it made me feel happy.

"The Star Spangled Banner" echoed across the water in a most ghostly fashion. The sound was hollow and other-worldly, or like a dream.

I'm always turned off by hyper-patriotism, but I didn't see any of that. Just a lot of good people out to enjoy the evening and participate in something good. The photos show the water just at dusk and then as dark fell and the boaters turned on their lights. Be sure to click on the photos for a larger view.

After the fireworks, people cranked their motors and moved in an orderly fashion to the boat ramps. Their white departing lights reminded me of those paper lanterns that are sometimes sent out on the waters during ceremonies. And it was a surprisingly quiet moment.

Allen and I stayed in the boat overnight, so we had plenty of time to cruise up and down the river after everyone had gone home. At times, it was like the river belonged to us because it was only us riding on the choppy waves.

It was very chilly, even with our jackets, and once we passed someone on shore who was sitting next to a fire. The fire smelled sweet and made me long for its warmth. This morning when we putted past the area where the fire had been, it looked desolate and worn. Some railway cars were just a little way from where the man had sat, warming next to his fire, and it made me wonder who the man was and why he was on the banks of the Maumee River alone in the wee hours of the morning. Fires are prohibited there.

So are fireworks, but after the show, people continued to set off fireworks for much of the night. The booms ricocheted off the buildings and with most of the people gone the river seemed vast. These after-fireworks shows had an eerie quality not unlike one of those weird scenes in Apocalypse Now

We got up early this morning and walked to Big Boy's for breakfast. It was a good time.

I've been doing a lot of reading about Theodore Roethke the last few days. And today I'm reading Truman Capote again. I want to write about these things in an entry soon.



About Me

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken


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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych



Little Deer

Little Deer



Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back

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