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Saturday, 6 November 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

''In politics one should always look forward,'' he said, as he held up to the light the glass of old port which he was about to sip; ''in real life it is better to look back, if one has anything to look back at.''


The idea of milk or snow
if it could be warm and brought inside
to rest on the hinges of children's books.
His face,clean like pantomime,
painted extraordinary, but delicate:
white, shadow, and red
lips, but eyes, those eyes,
different as they approached, 
worn slightly, and too beautiful.
It's painful, this resting image--too beautiful--
only seen in myself by other eyes, I imagine.
Glorious rest, a sleeping memory and reflection, 
folded lines, soft, thick, and cool,
like touching the thought of milk or snow if it could be warm.
Beauty recognized in youth, I couldn't have drawn it better
though it has drawn me.  Left me to look upon what stirs admiration, 
what conquers hearts in sleeping states, as only I have done.
There is no doing in this, more painful still;
it exists like the hinges of a children's book
written on me, me, and you, you too.  Staring
into the face of my sleeping story, stolen and owned,
I closed my eyes.  How do you follow what is followed,
acquire what is had? How to parry, how to catch that
which I myself with escape with. 

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

There are both men and women to whom even the delays and disappointments of love are charming, even when they exist to the detriment of hope.


     It's no secret, and possibly a source of pride, that I like food--a lot.  In New York, at home, I cook and bake, enjoying especially the preparation of my meals. Taking the time to choose a recipe, shopping for the ingredients, spending an afternoon cutting and chopping, measuring; the ritual and the food make up a large part of my life in Brooklyn.  I certainly spend more time with food in my apartment than I do sleeping or watching Bravo (the sleeping part bad, Bravo, a little less bad), or talking on the phone.
Arriving in Denver just before Rosh Hashanah, I found myself grieving for my grandfather with a longing for the food of that holiday--the brisket, tzimmes, kugel, honey cake.  There's nothing new about the idea that food plays a great role in our concept of family and history, but I never felt it like I did this September.  I made those foods all for the first time, and ate and cried, each bite a reminder of Herbert and the family gathering we both were absent from.  Aunt Judy would pack up leftovers that would go straight into his overflowing refrigerator and freezer, staying, possibly, too long. I froze my leftovers too, like a memory.
     I missed a lot while in the West--grandparents, holidays, cats, friends, home, my kitchen.  I often will cook quite frequently for the people I work with, contributing to a sense of home by making things to share with thoughtfulness.  An offering of a part of my self that's important to me, a welcoming. But I only made one more meal worth sharing in Denver ( curried butternut squash soup with creme fraiche and pumpkin seeds) but my heart just wasn't in it. So I started to eat out. All the time. There's a truly excellent dining scene here and I was hungry-- but for something more than food. Comfort, passion, adventure.  It may be that the drama of human feeding in Dracula made me ravenous; its characters hunger for food but also for life, sex, pain, faith, bodies, souls. And, well, I'm a suggestible person.  I sought it out on the streets of Denver when I couldn't create it in my own (transitory) home.  Feasts aren't always celebratory-- they can be mournful too. Endless courses of everything we want, everything we have, all we despise, all we lack, everything that is, and all we imagine could be.  And I had a brief taste too for that fulfillment that food replaces, something I think I like the taste of better than anything in the world, only it's not always as readily available as that other sustenance pouring out of sidewalks and shopping complexes.  Or from Fresh Direct, where food is delivered like a gift to your home, cheese and fruit all bearing a sticker with your name on it.  There will be such a gift awaiting my arrival in New York, the food of home at home, nourishment removed slightly from drama, my appetite changing and ever adapting.  

Friday, 13 August 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

The world is harder to women than to men; a woman loses much by the chance of adverse circumstances, a man only loses by his own misconduct.

"Then Have Much Breakfast," (or: Bram Stoker's Hungry)

I've been feeding on Vampire literature these days, sucking up as much information as I can before heading off to a city one mile closer to the sun than the rest of the country--rough terrain for the undead.  I was made particularly happy as I began to read Stoker's novel, to discover that his characters like to eat just as much as I do; they eat constantly, with relish, and with great detail.  When Jonathan Harker's diary entries begin, he remarks several times that he must get the recipes for the strange and delicious meals he encounters on his way to Transylvania, in order that Mina may recreate them for him when they are married.  Diaries and recipes--records used to clarify history, formulas for memory--begin a novel wherein the marking of time is essential for the survival of its characters, as is the food humans and vampires alike seek--different in type but no different in necessity.  I, too, consume both time and food, steadily tracking the days in meals, and learning about a not so distant past, where The New Woman and the Victorian ideal would meet in the character of Mina.  I'm a little like a Vampire, drinking in the life of another woman, creating her as my own, undead in her own way, an embodiment of life.
There is such passion in consumption--eating, drinking, methodically recording life's daily events, collecting memories and recipes.  And all these passions result in creation--of a meal, a new being, a novel, a character.
I'm cooking now, in more ways than one, and I cannot wait to set the table . . .

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

Her face was her fortune, and her fortune she knew was deteriorating from day to day

love letters

The CD I was listening to as I drove away from the lovely little cottage that was my home for the past two weeks on Cape Cod was comprised entirely of love songs, and the note inside the CD said that the songs were chosen to represent the power that love holds over us and the way in which we experience the passing of time when we're in love.  My heart's been swimming a bit the past few days, a whirlpool of adored fragments; the wood in the Cape Playhouse, the yellowing posters on its walls, documented by a man who cares that it be remembered who worked there, and that he stood on the same stage as they; Julie Harris, 85 years old, standing in the green room to shake our hands after being in our audience; the ocean, and a shell handed to me by a new friend; the joy of making people laugh, and of agreeing to fall in love night after night after night.  On the beach, a place where I spent a lot of time with my Grandfather, and back in my home, where the books he gave me sit on shelves, I think about him who died just three weeks ago, who never said the words "I love you" to me, but who was certainly a man who loved--women, books, paper, saving a dime, his grandkids.  I loved him like I love stories, memories, theatres--things, places where you can, as the great Paul Simon says, "make every lover the love of your life."  Where a scrap of paper is romantic, and the hidden story behind a tube of lipstick, or a pen stain inside the pocket of a shirt, sends your imagination spinning.  There's a lot I don't know about my Grandfather, so I write my ideas of him in my mind, a love letter to family, to ancestry, history and future.  In The 39 Steps, Richard Hannay is consistently told he has no heart, that he has no one to love, that he has no one to come home to.  And yet, he finds little whispers of love all around him; he wants and is wanted but he just can't stop running long enough to claim it.  Until he does.  And I do all the time.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

I doubt whether any girl would be satisfied with her lover's mind if she knew the whole of it.

Present Outlines, Effect Proposed

      So said a series of turn of the century "before and afters," photos of the land that was to be Central Park, and drawings of what that would look like, currently on display at The Morgan Library.  They were part of an exhibit called Romantic Gardens, about the effect of romanticism on landscape design.  The romantic ethos moved away from the monarchical symmetry of gardens forced into submission by man and toward a natural liberalism that highlighted nature's inherent beauty.   I had visited the library this time as a guest of my Grandfather to see Magna Carta, the little document temporarily and unexpectedly estranged from home.  I saw the paper, was surprised by how tiny such an important thing could be, and then quickly ran away from Herbert, who was, as usual, attracting lots of attention.  I wandered past Mr. Morgan's study and walked by the cafe.  To my left was a little room housing an exhibit called Defining Beauty.  Naturally, I opened the door and walked in.  Albrecht Durer's drawings lined the walls, and a book lay open displaying human figures, their bodies marked and measured in minute detail.  This book, On Human Proportion, is Durer's study of the human form--more importantly, human forms.  The exhibit quotes him as saying that in his quest for beauty in art, he took an arm from one body, a breast from another, toes from yet another--that beauty could not be found singularly, it required variation, and I suppose, collaboration.  It's a lovely idea this artist had--no muse, just musing on everything he saw, finding beauty in everyone and everything and, using art, bringing them together to reflect humanity.  I kept these thoughts in my mind as I walked by the drawings, studying the forms, and noticing the prejudices in myself toward the bodies I observed, my instinct to adapt to what is culturally popular in terms of body aesthetics.  Durer's vision is so wholesome, so inclusive.  His vision encompasses the reasons why we find a child's scribblings wonderful, choose a home cooked meal over haute cuisine, desire the person we love over an image in a magazine--not perfectly formed, but perfectly intended.  Durer wrote this as an accompaniment to a work of art:
  "Please let it be as it is. No one could improve it because it was done artistically and with care. Those who see it and who understand such matters will tell you so." 
     He accepts the ambiguity of individuality, strives for precision and care within that acceptance, and finds harmony.  He should have written a book for teenage girls.  I thought about the time I've been spending with a personal trainer, time initially set aside to propose an effect on the present outlines, but time that has instead, become about lifting fifteen more pounds than I could three weeks earlier, impressing myself with my own strength--things of my body but not really about it: defining beauty in individuality, power, flaw, artistry; cultivating gardens not to diminish what's already growing, but to nurture their fullest potential.  

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. Trollope!

An author can hardly hope to be popular unless he can use popular language ... But all this must be learned and acquired, not while he is writing ... but long before. His language must come from him as music comes from the rapid touch of the great performer's fingers.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

There are some women who have a special gift of hiding their dislikings from the objects of them, when occasion requires. And as they do so, their faces will overcome their hearts, and their emnity will give way to smiles. They become almost friendly because they look friendly.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Stars Fell

on me in Alabama. I lived my little drama, and stars fell on Alabama that night. I saw those stars tumbling down over vast areas of open space, littering the sky above the lights from the theatre.  I watched them on my way back from the ocean, full from ice cream, and peanuts, and adventure.  I kept track of them as I drove to Birmingham late one night listening to the same country music over and over again.  They led me to Seale, AL after a luminous article in the NYT instructed me to go to there.  They were scattered about the porch where Zelda and Scott might have held hands years ago.  I wanted to be the Camellia in the heart of Dixie, I really did.  And in some parallel universe I might be or might have been.  There is no way to better respond to flattery from a gentleman than with a southern lilt.  I have never been complemented so many times in a grocery store as I was in Publix--without fail, every time I went.  I have never eaten so many delicious things, or even wanted to eat so many delicious things (impossible!, you may think, but no, no).  I have never been so homesick.
     I have thought about the women in my life who are from the South, thought about what attracts me to them, and how their Southerness is a part of that attraction--and thought that really, to be from the South is not something I can fully try on.  I can wear my predilection for it as a scarf, a handbag, a pair of high heels: just not the entire ensemble.  I'm sorry that's the case--it's not like me to be a wanna-be (or when I want to be, I become).  I will always have Catherine Simms, and my Southern sub-genre of chick lit (Waltzing at the Piggly Wiggly anyone?) but I give in--I'm not a Southern belle.  A Camellia I am not.  A New York Rose, that's me, thorns and all.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Pause and Cheese Straws

     An anticipated pause in the blog while I journey south is marked tonight with a small gathering of friends on a snow covered night; it's good to mark time this way, in a journey, a meal, a momentary farewell.  To put some little order where there's hardly any but a departure date.  Packing gets a little harder each time--stands to reason that with me what ought to become science unravels lyrically into an artful lore of what may come.  Mightn't I need those ramekins?  And what if I need this bottle of Raz el Hanout?  How about fifty pairs of underwear?  Sure, bring it all, just toss it in a box.  Or four.
     I developed an affinity for things southern when I got to know Catherine Simms this past Spring and my vain dreams of d├ębutante balls, cheese straws, and gentlemen (that's what they're supposed to be down there, right?) are all about to come true.  Well, the cheese straws, at least.  I first heard about them when reading Catherine's southern chick lit:
     "Cheese straws are, quite simply, a classic Southern snack. Equally at home with a glass of sweet tea on the porch as they are being served at a cocktail party, cheese straws are an unpretentious but delicious choice. And while cheese straws are fairly simple in concept, the ingredient list is basically just cheese, flour, butter, salt and cayenne pepper, it is in the execution that things become tricky.  A proper cheese straw is light and dense and should have a good snap to it. It should not be too gummy or crumbly, nor should it be crispy like a potato chip. The two keys here are proper density of the dough, the proper texture/shape." 
     Somehow, I imagine any blogging from my temporary home may just be an I want to go to there.  And so, if you'd like to go to there with me, virtually, please check out  and keep your fingers crossed that I don't return with a drawl or fifteen pounds.  

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


A shell, snowglobed in a Florida plastic box and a pocket knife: JP.
Ledgers in your cursive distant familiar,
a ring, a missing stone, lapis lazuli from your well worked fingertips.
This purple silk dress, I wore it as a child and imagined it was your perfume.  

Prologue to this love affair in a legacy of loss,
a history of disappointed treasures
that trace a line through the cracked palm of an old woman's hand.
Are those my eyes?  Is that your hair?

Everything about it is a kiss, 
offspring's breathless consummations.
She taught me how to write, she was hardly there at all.
He raged and he judged, ancient knowing all along the coast.

Glass and mirror and your dear voice giving everything
to hold these objects, warm and fluid.
Accept a whisper of aggression to 
do it all over again. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

In the Post Office it was my principle always to obey authority in everything instantly, but never to allow my mouth to be closed as to the expression of my opinion.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Mapping the Mind

Maps have always appealed to my aesthetic: thin, curving lines, muted colors, keys--a mystery within an explanation--paper, certainly, labyrinthine passages and waterways.  I use maps in my print work, hang maps of Brooklyn on the wall of my bathroom, inhabiting what's represented,  try desperately to read maps in an unfamiliar town.  Whether the places I have liked best in this world I like because I can navigate them, or whether I can navigate them because I like them best, I'm not sure.  I've got the kind of face people look for when they want to ask directions (poor fools), and sometimes, very rarely, can I reply with confidence.  But the first week I lived in Brooklyn I was asked to point the way toward Iron Chef House, and though I'd never been there, I knew immediately the way to go.  I was a tour guide at Sarah Lawrence, my mouth was my map.  In London, I could get lost by choice and never fear that I'd find my way back.  I know my way around Lancaster better than I do my hometown.  In Minneapolis, I learned certain routes naturally, confidently, with ease.  It was there, in Minnesota, that I began to think about my own map, the landscape of life--my mother was my age when she and my father lived here, she had two surgeries here that directly led to the allowance of my birth, and I stood in front of the home my parents shared in Dinkytown near the U of M at 8 in the morning, snow on the ground, and was so happy to be a traveller, to learn, as Paul Simon says, "how the heart approaches what it yearns."  

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

"In ordinary life events are so unfrequent, and when they do arrive they give such a flavour of salt to hours which are generally tedious, that sudden misfortunes come as godsends - almost even when they happen to ourselves. "

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

It is the view which the mind takes of a thing which creates the sorrow that arises from it.

Now is not the Time

I have touched the thought of distant life
at the edge of that park on a cold Spring night.
Your hand entwined in mine but just not far enough.

An idea, a concept, students talk about over tea;
you mean something to me.
I would keep you frozen, if I could,
and try to forget that I remember you.

Not now, not now, it is not the time
to melt to see rolling ground underneath.
It was Spring, it was Summer, it was, it was,
but now is not the time.

Sleep never came, soft breathing and quiet padding
pawprints of cats at night on the cool wood floor.
I have picked away at dams, left water pooling on the dinner table
and made it warp.

There is no space for my inconstancy, your
careless attention to the damp forest my mind.
Study, I try, these moulded texts,
feel them slip away and crumble from lack of touch.

There is a human who has studied me
and found all there is to know to hide.
Safer still to have tea, and not to sleep
and not be learned.

Fear, like objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,
can break the cup, spill and chip,
shards of ice longing to break free.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Weekly Wisdom from Mr. Trollope

My young friend! thou art ignorant in this - as in most other things ... that old man's heart is as soft as thine, if thou couldst but read it. The body dries up and withers away, and the bones grow old; the brain, too, becomes decrepit ... But the heart that is tender once remains tender to the last.

Ms. Robinson on Mr. Simon

     My friend GG balked when I said the words "Paul Simon" and "Indie Rock" in the same sentence, and as GG is a friend whose musical tastes and knowledge I often defer to, I backed off--but I don't think I'm completely ready to surrender. I grew up feeling instinctively that my appreciation for Paul Simon definitely classified me as un-cool amongst the people my age; his "world-music" tendencies, folk background, and appeal within the latter-day hippie crowd sealed his fate for the crowd I ran with. His honesty and lyricism, an embarrassment for kids my age--then, and now. I've never studied music theory and I'm not a musician, so I don't have a great vocabulary for speaking about things like tonality, texture, or structure and while I have got some (slight) aural skills, my perception in this instance is one that intuits Simon's aim as a songwriter. The classifications of Indie Rock--what mainstream means, record labels, and such--are not part of my articulation; Simon's musical intentions are. From what he was writing when he was working with Art Garfunkel to the the very early solo recordings, there is often an ironic detachment combined with sincere sentiment that seems to compose the precepts of what we generally think of as indie music. An emotional sincerity, intellectual irony, sensitive melancholy, and an unpredictable freedom to explore sounds. Elliot Smith came fairly early onto the indie rock scene and he and Simon share a similar sound/beat and vocal quality. "Waltz #2" is a decent example. Simon's "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or how I was Robert McNamara'd into Submission)" is too firmly rooted in the 60's to be used alone to demonstrate Simon's ironic simplicity, and "Slip Sliding Away's" heart strings are much more narrative (like a lot of his later music) than any music we usually identify as indie.  His tendency toward narrative songwriting is part of his genius--but is also a large part of what separates him from the indie scene that sings in a more alienated manner about their subject matter.   But have a listen to "Fakin' It", whose voice has a straightforward, presentational, layin' it on the line sensibility, and whose use of noise seems to anticipate indie music as we know it, or "The Sun is Burning" (Iron and Wine sing something that sounds like this tune over and over), and "Wednesday Morning 3a.m.", whose youthful longing lives in the dreamy realm that I find often characterizes the indie genre. "Think too Much A" and "Think too Much B" are also excellent examples of songs that I hear as progeny; if I were to imagine someone today attempting to write a pastiche of indie tunes, these might do.  Songs from his first solo album, like "Allergies", "Cars are Cars", and "When Numbers get Serious" are just weird enough for me to imagine them forerunners to songs by groups like The Mountain Goats and Vampire Weekend. And I bet there isn't an indie group around who doesn't wish they had written "The Only Living Boy in New York".

     Paul Simon has an enormous talent for reinventing his style; 60's troubadour, folk singer, pop soloist, poet, influenced by the music of Africa, electronic musician, musical lyricist, and on, and on. And it's within this infinite reach of his that I think one can find roots of the indie rock that so defines the hipsters of this generation; an approach to the musical form that often feels timeless by way of its inclusiveness.