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April 30, 2005

The After Dinner Rush

Do blog readers keep restaurant hours? Have you noticed that weekdays can be slow and that blog traffic tends to pick up over the weekend? On a good day in the blogsphere, it seems that you get your early-riser breakfast crowd, hopefully followed by a few readers who trickle in around lunch time. Then there’s the after-dinner rush when your chance to tempt readers is at its highest. There’s always the possibility of the occasional late night blog hopper dropping by. If the atmosphere at your site is good and the reading is appealing, your visitors might leave you a comment. Getting a comment is like getting a good tip.

April 29, 2005

The Belated Earth Day Post

I completely forgot about Earth Day this year. Last Friday, I was sitting in a Sushi restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina, with my son and group of his friends when someone pointed out the Planet Earth printed on my T-shirt and asked if I wore it for the occasion. No, I was completely oblivious. My son Josh was too and he had a world map on his T-shirt, making me wonder if we know more unconsciously than the conscious mind will let on.

This is my belated anti-Hallmark Earth Day message from my poetry book, “Muses Like Moonlight:”

“Save the Planet”
is a good slogan
Or is it a slow gun
we hold to our heads
a sound-bite to bypass our sins?
Is it a glossy sticker
on a gas guzzling bumper?
What does it mean to you?

Highway encroachment
is a concrete build-up
like plaque-laden arteries
that cut off the heart

The more we pave it
the harder we become
The more roads we make
the more we are driven

April 28, 2005

Where I’m From: The Sentimental Journey

colleen paragon 2.png

I am from a granite boulder seawall
and cotton candy at Paragon Park
I’m from blackberry stains and beach rose petals
catalpa beans and bamboo

I grew up on a peninsula in an amusement park town. A lighthouse and a roller coaster are the unforgettable hometown landmarks that are forever etched in my memory. But sadly, the park, known as “Paragon Park,” was torn down in the 80s to make way for condominiums. The above carrousel is all that is left of Paragon. The picture was taken last year, but I was 5 years old the first time I rode it. There was an urban legend in our town, passed down to the younger kids by the older ones, that there were snakes in the carrousel horse’s mouths. I was terrified at the thought of it and stayed away from the carrousel after my older brother, Jimmy, told me about it. Last year while riding down memory lane on the very same carrousel, I was brave enough to check. I stuck my hand into the horse’s mouth and didn’t get bit by a snake.

Sentimental Journey Continued...

fort revere.png

I’m from my grandmother’s picnic basket
sleeping on curlers in baby doll pajamas
kerchiefs and bobby socks..hoola hoops and the twist
Dear Diary today is Friday…

I’m standing on the wall of Fort Revere in my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts. It used to be covered in graffiti. The ocean is to my left, the bay to my right. The building to my left is where our family home used to be, 10 ½ Spring Street. The town took it through eminent domain, burned it to the ground, and built a sewage plant in its place. I guess I’m sentimental because it disturbs me that Bob Dylan’s song “The Times They Are A’Changin” is being used to sell cell phones on TV and that a sewage plant stands on the land where the house that I grew up in used to be.

My friend, Fragments Fred, has a column in our local newspaper. He recently introduced the poem “Where I’m From,” George Ella Lyon’s poem from the book “Where I’m From, Where Poems Come From,” to readers and invited them to write their own version of it. Today my version of it appeared in his follow-up column, which prompted me to think more about “Where I’m From” and to dig out these photos to share.

April 27, 2005

The After School Special

My son, Josh, was published by the time he was 3 years old. An article and a poem I had written appeared in “Mothering Magazine” around that time, and I was a regular contributor to "Nurturing,” a Mothering-like magazine out of Canada. I sent his poems, drawings, stories, and recipes, along with my own submissions to “Nurturing” and, much to my delight, they frequently used them.

Today, Josh is fully grown. Although he is primarily a potter, he is an artist in every sense. He has a way with lingo, lives larger than life and has stories to prove it, the kind that you couldn’t make up if you tried. I knew when I started this blog that if I ever was at a loss for what to post, I could dig into his wealth of stories and find a gem. He’s agreed to guest post a story from time to time, but because he’s nearing the end of a school semester and preparing for a 3 week trip to England after that, I don’t expect one any time soon. So I’ll relate a story he told a group of us over a sushi supper last Friday night. He calls it “The After School Special” and I’m guessing he was about 19 or 20 at the time. It still makes me shudder:

She was pretty and blonde. They were in bed, making out. They had been drinking. Things were heating up when he rolled over and his head hit something hard…metal. “What’s this?” he asked her. He was shocked to see that it was a gun. “Let me show you,” she said, grabbing it. It was loaded! And went off! “Hey, can you keep it down in there,” a friend from the other room shouted to them.

As Josh tells the story, “It blew up a shoe, and after that, I lost my license.”

I was confused. “Did you get pulled over, driving home?”

He whispered in my ear a hint of what he meant, and then I understood that HE WASN’T IN THE MOOD anymore.

He got the message loud and clear, and he was never in the mood with her again. When they ran into each other months later, she gave him the bullet as a souvenir.


In Other News: Loose Leaf is being featured in a Showcase Carnival this week hosted at BlogCruiser. Go take a look. There are a variety of new blogs to check out with topics including everything from sex to politics.

Also: Mainstream Media and Bloggers by Juan Cole is an article worth reading. It's about the state of blogging today. Cole is an author and Professor of History at the University of Michigan.

April 26, 2005

Brunch at Tupelo Honey

Asheville, NC, Sunday 4/24/05 – We’re in downtown Asheville on a street lined with specialty shops and cafés, having just returned from the computer lab at my son Josh’s college where I posted my daily blog entry and he read his email.

Inside the restaurant, my son and I sit down. I brush pink azalea petals off my jacket while studying the menu. They had fallen into thick piles onto the cement walkways at the college, and my husband, Joe, and I proceeded to pick them up in handfuls and throw them into the air, as Josh snapped photos of us.

After ordering – omelets, home fries, coffee, and tea – Josh and I exchange our journals, which we are both in the habit of carrying around, to write guest commentaries for each other. Joe comes in from parking the car. I look up from my writing, having just had a revelation, and announce to him incredulously, “I have no desire to shop! I haven't bought a thing all weekend. I’m cured. The blog has cured me of shopping.” He doesn’t answer, but I can tell from his expression that he gets it and is amazed.

There’s a stairway in the back of the restaurant at the end of a long counter. We can’t see it because we’re sitting up front, but Josh knows it’s there and tells us to watch. “What? Two waiters are talking?” I question him. “Keep watching,” he insists. Just then, a waitress seems to pop up from out of nowhere. Then, the two waiters deflate and descend, disappear as if through a trap door.

“Ha! It was worth coming in here just to see that,” I said, and we all agreed.

By now our food has arrived. In between bites, Josh continues to write, Joe reads the newspaper, and I look around…people watching. I notice that all the waitresses have on tank tops, even though there are snow flurries outside. They all have tattoos too, lots of them. So I turn to Josh, who’s eaten here many times before, and ask, “Do you have to have a tattoo to work here?

“Maybe to live in this city, you have to have one,” he suggests.

“Oh, sort of like an Asheville county sticker. In Floyd we all have to have a sticker,” I answer.

Josh passes his journal on to Joe now. It’s Joe’s turn to write…

April 25, 2005

It's Museletter Monday

It's like making a community pie from scratch every month - putting together the local newsletter that I've co-edited for the past 20 years. Some people email submissions; some leave them at the designated community drop off - a green plastic tub under the stairs of the Harvest Moon Food Store in town. We get hand written submissions, some from children, and some from folks who are off-the-grid. We cut and paste all that we receive using low-tech tools like scissors and glue stick, making sure not to use too much glue because invariably someone calls at the last minute to dictate a submission over the phone.

I use the word "co-edit" loosely. Usually I have help with the layout. We ask people to type their own submissions (and most do) and we don't edit their work. We have wonderful volunteer collators who staple by hand. We don't have a web page, just a PO Box. It costs $15 a year.

It's an all-volunteer, homemade subscription-supported publication with a dedicated readership of nearly 150. The finished product, which includes letters, poetry, artwork, columns, and a community bulletin board, is printed up locally and averages 10 pages a month. No paid ads. No paid writers or staff. How does it happen? I'm always amazed that it does.

Occasionally someone will comment on our un-polished look and try to convince us to get serious. (Have you heard of a computer? Yes, we have a woman who updates subscriptions on one of those.) But I don't think the Museletter will be new and improved any time soon. Why make more work for ourselves? Further inquires? Send them to: PO BOX 81, Floyd, VA, 24091.

Note: It should be Museletter Sunday (the last Sunday of the month), but I was in Asheville NC this weekend and so we postponed layout for today.

April 24, 2005

Potter Son Who Loves The Red Sox

potter son 3.png

My eldest son, Josh, loves the Red Sox, which is unusual for a Virginian living in North Carolina and has something to do with the fact that his parents come from Boston. My son has a lot of heart, which makes him a good candidate for being a Red Sox fan. It takes someone with heart to have unconditionally loved the Red Sox throughout their long and cursed losing streak.

When Josh was a little boy, I told how I had once met Carl Yastrzemski, the all-time great Red Sox player (1961 - 1983). The Yaz, as he was sometimes called back then, had come into the boutique on Tremont Street in Boston where I was working. It didn't mean that much to me, not being a sports fan myself. I was only nineteen and probably wasn't even that sure of who he was. But my son could hardly believe it was true, that I met Carl Yastrzemski. "Mum! Why didn't you get his autograph for me?!" he shouted excitedly.

"But Josh," I answered, trying to explain, "I didn't know I was going to grow up to have a boy like you!"

To view my son's pottery, google his name "Josh Copus." Website coming soon...

April 23, 2005

Who’s Minding the Blog?

Every spring my husband and I go to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit my son – the potter who is also a closet super hero and has recently referred to himself as a “fire keeping alchemist” (a pottery reference, I suppose).

We live in the country, where many of our friends have animals, chickens, and gardens, and so when they go away they get someone to house-sit or make some other arrangements for the care of their plants and critters.

We don’t have any cows or goats to milk, but we do have a dog, so I made arrangements for someone to come and feed her while we’re away. Then I covered my cold frames because the weathermen have predicted a frost, maybe. But what about my bog? Who will feed and care for it? I feel like a parent leaving a teenager home alone for the first time.

I can check in from time to time, but I’m at the mercy of library computers and library hours. If you don’t hear from me with any regularity, you’ll know why. Hold my place.

April 22, 2005

Unusual Landmarks the Tourists Might Miss

In our small town of Floyd, we actually have a street named “Batman Thumper.” The Blue Ridge Parkway goes through the county and tourism is on the rise. Here are a few quirky sites that aren’t on the map:

In Oddfellas Cantina, a local restaurant, there’s a Barbie doll wearing a red dress, trapped in a birdcage that hangs from the ceiling.

In downtown Blacksburg, near the old Mish Mish, there’s a word carved in the cement sidewalk that I like. It says “WORD.”

Traveling on 221 towards Roanoke, there’s a house on the left that has 3 identical sheds in the yard lined up in a row. I always wonder why the owner didn’t just build one big shed.

Got any unusual landmarks from your town to share?

For more Floydian dolls in red, check out my friend Amy’s photo-journal adventure, set right here in Floyd.

April 21, 2005

This is What Scares Me

Not long ago, I read that Albert Einstein was so distracted by his mathematical passion that he went out one winter day and left the hanger to his overcoat inside his coat…while he was wearing it! It scared me because it sounded like something I would do. I found myself patting my back after that, just to check. It’s not like I’m doing rocket science, but I frequently feel like the nutty professor type. You know, I hear voices (muses) in my head while I’m out in public, and it’s distracting.

Here’s something else that scares me: Not only do I worry about leaving hangers on my clothes while I’m wearing them, but, according to test results, I’m going to live to the age of 94 as…Kramer! Let me explain.

Recently, while bloghopping, I came across a fun site recommended by blogcruiser. It’s called blogthings.com and was listed as a place for bloggers to get ideas for things to post. Some of their offerings were quizzes to determine things like: What age will you die, What gender is your brain, What kind of American English do you speak, and What Personality Disorder Are You.

The first quiz I took was to determine when I would die; age 94 I was told. Then I did the personality disorder test. I answered a series of questions, hit the “submit” link…and presto…a picture of Seinfeld’s Kramer popped up on my screen with this explanation: You’re a bit odd and socially isolated. You couldn't care less of what others think. And some of your beliefs are a little weird. Like that time you thought you were Jesus. Hmmm.

I belong to an email group, mostly family members, and we love this sort of thing. Soon we were sharing results, some of which included Miss Piggy, Marilyn Monroe, and wise guy, Tony Soprano. We all agreed that there was a shred of truth to each person’s result, with a little exaggeration thrown in just for fun. If you take the quiz - What Personality Disorder Are You? - tell me who you are. I hope the results don’t scare you.

April 20, 2005

Where I’m From: The Teenager

colleen graduation2.png

I am from my father’s eyes
after he saw the holocaust
at Buchenwald
and the nape of my mother’s neck
where white pearls hung
before her thyroid surgery...

It's Never Too Late

I regret that when I was in high school, I never wore my hair in a ponytail. I wanted to. I wanted to look bouncy and fun like the teenagers on American Bandstand. Cheerleaders wore ponytails. So did Gidget.

I knew wearing a ponytail would make life so much easier. I wouldn’t have to tease my hair, sleep on hard curlers, or wear kerchiefs at the bus stop to protect my hairdo from the damp morning weather. But I didn’t have the confidence to make such a drastic change. I knew if I just showed up to school one morning in a ponytail, it would draw a lot of attention. No one in my family wore a ponytail. Besides my older sister Kathy’s friends had told me that if you wore one too often your hair would fall out. I imagined it falling out in a perfect ring right where the elastic pulled the hair together. That was all the excuse I needed to not to risk it.

I was in my late 40s before I wore a ponytail. It was one like Pebbles on the Flintstones wore. I was in a hot tub in California with a group of friends at the time. I put my hair up to keep it from getting wet. One of the other women in the tub, who does not tend to give frivolous compliments, said, “You look really good with your hair up like that.” Now I wear a ponytail whenever I want to and it’s as much fun as I imagined it would be.

April 19, 2005

The Latest Dirt

This is the time of year that the screens go back up on our windows and the porch picnic table gets covered with a red and white checkered table cloth. It’s also the time of year when I can’t keep my hands clean. The red clay of Virginia outlines my cuticles, and my nails are jagged and lopped off in all different shapes and sizes, a sure sign that the work of gardening is well under way.

During the week, I sometimes go in and out of town a couple of times a day, taking my foster care resident to and from activities. I get cleaned up and put on my “town clothes” before going out. But on this particular day driving to town with my hands on the steering wheel, I noticed they were really dirty, and I was shocked. The lighting in my bathroom can’t compare with broad daylight, I figured. Not only were my cuticles lined with dirt, but the patterns in my skin were as well, and whole sections of my hands were streaked with what looked like dried mud. I used soap, but obviously, I missed some spots. It reminded me of the way I put on sunscreen, too little and erratically, which invariably leads to an uneven splotchy sunburn.

I was headed for the local print shop to get "The Boston Globe" feature about “The Jim and Dan Stories” laminated, because the new independent book store in Blacksburg is carrying my books, and I like to include a copy of the Globe story as part of the display.

Waiting for the machine to laminate, it wasn’t convenient to sit on my hands or even keep them in my pockets. Pulling out my wallet to pay, I noticed a friend at the copy machine who I knew as an avid gardener, and so, I began to establish my alibi.

“Are your hands as dirty as mine?” I smiled and asked, holding one of them up.

He came over closer to inspect and answered, sympathetically, “Yeah, I wish they made garden gloves that were comfortable.”

“I never liked barrier methods (I was thinking of birth control),” but I didn’t say that out loud because there were people in the store I didn’t know. Holding back a laugh, I answered only, “I don’t wear gloves. I need to feel the soil in my hands.”

Later, at the plant nursery, I felt comfortable among peers, but I knew that my hands were probably the dirtiest, even there. I made it home without any serious embarrassments. Finally, I can give my hands a good scrubbing; you would think. But no…I headed straight for the garden to reclaim my asparagus patch and to cut the raspberry brambles back.

You can now add a few new bloody scratches to the dirty hand description above.

My husband has tools
for digging potatoes
but I like to use my hands

Reaching down deep
into the musty dark soil
mounded up like swollen bellies

I feel around for the curve of their bodies
wiggle them loose like teeth

Born into my hand
without the sharp edge of a shovel
more than twins
more than quintuplets…

Excerpt of “A Sweet Labor” from Muses Like Moonlight.

April 18, 2005

Winter Tax Refunded in Spring

This (preparing my tax return) is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher. ~Albert Einstein
porch view.jpg

The Audit

In April I calculate poetry
the way others do their taxes
as though the world were overdue
for a good accounting

Bursting to put into words
what the birds already know
with each emerging daffodil
I mark spring’s growing windfall

Its affluent bloom
and excess of green
are annual assets
we all get to claim

April 17, 2005

Where I’m From: The Photo

I’m from ice skates and alphabet streets
jump ropes and black and white TV...

This is the photo that was meant to be posted with the "Where I’m From” entry last week, but my computer was ill and wouldn’t upload. It’s still not fixed but the symptoms have gone dormant. Can a computer fix itself? Does it have an immune system like people do?

In the spirit of “Where I’m From,” I’m posting an excerpt from my book, The Jim and Dan Stories – part an account of my brothers last weeks and their deaths a month apart, part memoir of growing up together in a large Irish Catholic family of 11, and part a chronicle of the first 6 months of grief and coping with it. Note: Assume names are that of my siblings. There were 9 of us.

Walking on Furniture

The roots of my interest in writing go back further than reading my first poems to Sherry and has something to do with the songs of the 40’s and the nursery rhymes that our father taught us. It has something to do with my childhood play in the tall grass by the blackberry bushes. Talking to myself then, out in nature, was when my writing mind was born through the monologues, lectures, and soap box speeches I gave when no one was there. I was especially eloquent when the swampy land surrounding the bushes filled in with water and froze in the winter, and I had my ice skates on. Talking while gliding felt especially important. I don’t know what I could have known then. I don’t remember what I said. But I recognize the way writing happens for me now is similar to what happened back then.

Before Game Boys and Play Stations, kids had to be inventive. When color TV came into our living rooms, some mothers in the neighborhood said, “Don’t sit so close to the TV set…” and then something about radiation. Today, children use computers at younger and younger ages even though to sit in front of one is like sitting in front of TV. We weren’t allowed to watch TV during the day whenever we wanted to, any more than we could have a shower every day. Back then we had no running hot water in our house and bath night was once a week.

It seems that I remember whole days when we would walk on furniture because we had decided that the floor was water, and if we fell in we would surely drown or maybe be eaten by sharks. Jim had cars made of clay with wax paper on their bottoms, which would make them zoom across the kitchen table when he gave them a push. Dan, who only ate cucumber sandwiches back then, played outside with his best friend, Robert. We had elaborate ways to tease each other, like when Kathy typed a formal-looking document and tried to convince me with it that I was adopted, or when I scared Sherry with an invented devil that I named “Beggorah” and left notes from him under her pillow. We made paste from flour and water, and beauty potions at the bathroom sink. We wore sweaters on our heads for long hair and bath towels for skirts, playing “teenagers,” or we looked at the Sears catalog for hours making imaginary orders.

When I first learned in catechism class that people had souls, I knew mine had to be in my mind. It was a special place of originality that no one could control or take away from me. I don’t really know where the soul resides, but I feel that mine speaks to me through my mind. It might say, “Don’t put that there, it will cause an accident.” It might say, “I love this…but not that…Go outside now and get some sun.” Or, it might say, “Go get some paper and write this all down.” And so, that’s what I do. I’m learning to do what my soul tells me to. Is that the purpose of life?

April 16, 2005

Everything You Wanted to Know and Weren’t Afraid to Ask

I agreed to a 5 question interview with J&J’s Mom at Millersville. I just got finished telling her, after viewing her wall mural art (posted at her site) that she could have a new career as an artist…or maybe as an interviewer, which is another art form, according to a book I recently read, titled “The Art of the Interview.” It’s not as easy as you think to tailor questions to the person you’re interviewing, but J&J’s mom is an all around artist at it, and today I’m her subject:

1. You've had your share of difficult times. Two such events being the loss of your brothers, one right after the other. This prompted you to write what turned out to be a book called The Jim and Dan Stories about them, your loss and growth afterward. How did writing this book help you move through the rough times? What are one or two things you learned about yourself after living through something most people never experience?

Writing the “Jim and Dan Stories” helped me to avoid overwhelming grief (by keeping me busy), while at the same time processing it. Is that what art does? I learned through losing my brothers that I’m surely and truly going to die and that I will never KNOW for SURE whether I will see them again in a recognizable form. That’s hard to accept. I also learned (can I name 3 things?) how deep my roots go and that my love for my family is the most important thing in life.

2. If you had the opportunity to do anything in your life over again, what would it be and why?

I would get therapy sooner!

3. You have one hour to spend with any one of your Irish ancestors. Who would it be and what would you ask them?

I would like to know more about the Dineen part of our family (my grandfather’s mother's family). I have information about my Bergin and Murray ancestors, but I don’t even know what part of Ireland the Dineens were from. The oral history goes…that my father’s aunt (from South Boston) was in touch with the Dineens via letters. But she exaggerated how well she was doing in America, so when the Dineens actually came to this country, rather than face the truth, she didn’t go to meet them…and we lost all contact after that.

4. Write a short poem about "Buttons".

I actually have a poem about a button, but I can’t find it. Off the top of my head:

No Comment

I should know by now
how to button my lip
just go zip…
and close it

5. You have a choice, $1,000,000, or a conversation with the President wherein he will do any one thing you ask him to. Which would you choose and why?

I had to think about this…it’s like one of those 3 wishes trick questions. I would forfeit the $1,000,000 for President Bush to be inflicted with what Jim Carey had in the movie “Liar Liar” and have to tell the truth. Then I would ask him questions about how and why we got into Iraq and about the 2000 and 2004 election and more. I’d take donations or charge admission for people to watch him answer, thus recouping some of my financial loss. But it would be worth the money to change history and hold those in power acccountable.

April 15, 2005

Job Doesn't Work

My idea of a great job would be writing the sayings on valentine heart candy, or coming up with the names for lipstick or paint colors, but I know even that would get boring. I can’t think of anything that I like enough to want to do it over and over, day in and out. ~ From “Muses Like Moonlight

I have a friend who lives in a hermitage, a hand built structure not that much bigger than my living room. My friend is a musician, artist, writer, and a mystic of sorts, and so it’s understandable that, although he rarely goes out, people like to visit him.

And sometimes one gets “called,” as I was this past winter when he asked me to give him some feedback on a book that he’s writing. Stepping over the threshold into his home is like stepping into another world where time is slowed and everything has more than one meaning. “How are you?” he asked.

“I did the Winter Fest this past weekend and sold some books, but it wore me out,” I answered.

“I know how you feel! I had about 15 people here, in and out, over the weekend,” he responded. I smiled at the thought of it and wondered, is there nowhere to escape chaos?

After catching up, and somewhere in the next 2 hours, the subject of jobs (getting paid to do other people’s work) came up. He told me that when he was young and an adult relative once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He felt indignant, as if they were saying he had to “be” something other than himself.

“I know what you mean!” I answered. In an essay in Muses Like Moonlight,” a collection of my poetry, I wrote about my aversion to 9 to 5 jobs: The concept of a job is about as odd as learning as a child that my family had to pay for the land we lived on, pay for the water that the earth gave freely.

And then…I once had a job as a night watchman. I live in a small town and I suppose the company that hired me didn’t think there would be anything too dangerous for a 5’ 1” 115 pound woman to watch out for. I spent a lot of time watching the night sky, the moon and stars. A perfect job for a poet, I thought.

I left him a copy of “Muses Like Moonlight.” He gave me an angel-like ornament for my Christmas tree that he had made out of copper wire and cotton embroidery thread. “It’s a fly boy,” he told me.

I smiled.

April 14, 2005

Leaf on the Loose

Loose Leaf – ADJECTIVE: Related to, having, or being leaves that can be easily removed, rearranged, or replaced: a loose-leaf notebook; loose-leaf paper. The American Heritage Dictionary.

If you type “loose leaf” into a search engine, you’ll get a multitude of pages having to do with tea or paper. As a writer who fills notebooks full of words and who loves good tea, that suits me just fine. But tea and notebooks aren’t the only images I had in mind when I named my blog “Loose Leaf.”

I like the word “loose.” To me it implies cutting loose from what binds you. By “bind,” I mean that which is imposed on you, rather than “bond” (only one vowel away from “bind”), that which you chose to bind yourself to.

Sometimes the word “loose” has a negative connotation, as with “a loose woman” or “loose cannon.” That’s okay; I prefer to be associated with looseness rather than with restriction and uptightness.

I’m not very happy that within the word “loose” I see “lose,” but the fact that phonosematics and esoteric studies into the meaning of letters suggests that the letter L connotes “love of learning,” I can handle it (or prefer to read it as “losing what binds me”). The letter L practically sings (or springs) itself into being…la la la la, as opposed to other letters, such as a D, which is thought to represent “descent.”

Leaves that can be easily removed from the tree…or the crowd?
I love trees and leaves…and people, but I work and think best alone and so, require large amounts of time alone. It took me most of my life to realize that I wasn’t a leader…or a follower. Our culture seems to imply that you must be one or the other. I’m a party of one; a leaf on the loose who’s taking notes and language seriously.

More on how our names are our assignments in future posts.

April 13, 2005

The Cursed Luck of the Irish

The thing the critics don’t get about me is the fact that I’m Irish ~ Eugene O’Neill

When I went to Ireland in 1997 to visit my grandmother’s hometown, I learned more about myself there than I could have in 10 years of psycho-therapy. The majority of the Irish people I met reminded me of my own family. I saw the faces of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings in their faces. And that’s not all. The Irish tend to be unpretentious, playful, tender-hearted, nostalgic, self-directed, and not overtly ambitious. They are often self-deflecting, something that can be endearing but it can also border on an inferiority complex. And I thought these traits were unique to my own family.

Although most Americans are aware of the devastation of Irish famine, our history books don’t tell the story of the Penal Laws that were imposed on the Irish by the English from the late 1600s to the nineteenth century. Under these laws, the Irish were denied their right to own land in their own country, to go school, to practice their religion, or speak in their own language. Poverty and oppression under foreign domination for centuries are likely to be contributing factors in the Irish trait of self-depreciation.

But before you get the idea that the Irish are sweet and meek; think again. They also have a history of being warriors, and they are hardly repressed (as much as the English and the Catholic Church tried) when it comes to self-expression, including that of a volatile or rebellious nature.

The Irish legacy is one of paradox. The luck of the Irish is super-imposed over Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong it will), just as my passion to write and share my writing is super-imposed over my self-conscious public shyness.

It’s comforting to know that one’s faults are not solely our own doing, but can be traced to genetics, as well as to learned behavior passed down through generations. And if I can claim the wounds of my ancestors, I should also be able to claim their strengths, such as with their love of language. In an excerpt from a press release introducing my first collection of poetry, Muses Like Moonlight, I describe how my Irish heritage comes into play in my writing:

The Irish side of my family is rich with storytellers; some poems and a song have been published, and there are a few unpublished novels still floating around. I think the Irish influence in my poetry manifests as humor, my love of wordplay, and my inclinations towards short poems, about limerick in size.

I wasn’t completely aware of why I chose a picture of me in Ireland, wearing a shamrock pinned to my sweater with a waterfall behind me, as my blog photo. I knew it had something to do with wanting to take a break from writing political commentary and following the news compulsively (although being involved in politics is yet another Irish trait). I wanted to let my hair down, tell a good story, and hoped that the fairies and the gift of the blarney would come over me.

When I read “How the Irish Saved Civilization” years ago, I learned that the Irish were hired by monks to hand copy the classics and that they wrote little humorous ditties inside the margins of their work (usually about how boring their task was). I understood myself better after reading that, and I think the photo I chose for this blog is an acknowledgment of my ancestors and the tradition from which I write.

April 12, 2005

We Now Interrupt Our Regular Blog Program

…to bring you a just for fun springtime poem:

Spring Vacancy

The birds are back
checking out the real estate
a high-rise nest
on my porch rafter

A one room shelter
inaccessible to cats
with southern exposure
and a landing deck

Left empty last year
by its previous owners
who followed the flock
down the Atlantic flyway

To check out condos
or live in trees
to mingle with flamingos
and parakeets

April 11, 2005

Life is not for Wimps

I get nervous when I draw attention to myself. My hands shake when I open a Roanoke Times newspaper and know that a political commentary I wrote is inside. When the local newspaper did a story about my first book, I felt like a girl in my first training bra that the whole town knew I was wearing. And whenever I read poetry onstage at our local café, I blush and feel outside my body with fear.

Then why do I do it? I ask myself. Why do I put myself through something that takes such a toll? I could also ask why doesn’t Kim Bassinger, who has such state fright that she throws up before public performances, give up acting. I learned years ago at my nephew’s track meet that many athletes also throw up before competing – and it doesn’t stop them.

Michael Meade, the storyteller, mythologist, and author says that when you hit a block in your path (and in his case this would be a giant or dragon) you know you’re on the right path. If you don’t hit a block, it’s someone else’s path and not yours, he says.

When I was writing "The Jim and Dan Stories", I wasn’t happy with my day’s writing until I was bawling. I knew when I hit a nerve that I had reached the place of truest power. It’s those places of power that when gone unrecognized can rule our lives, usually unconsciously. Meade would say that you have to go into the woods, find and face your own giant, otherwise the giant will find you, and your chances of survival will be greatly diminished.

There is no question for me that I’m going to do the poetry reading and that I’m going to share my writing with others. The question is: will I ever solve the paradox of wanting to be heard and left alone at the same time? When I feel shaky, sped-up, or overly self-conscious I can be sure I’m getting close to some real soul work. And what else are we here for, but to be who we are, to learn and do what we signed up for?

My sister, Sherry, said to me recently, after realizing she needed reading glasses, “Getting older is not for wimps.” “Life is not for wimps!” I answered.

Note: The above theory does not apply to jumping out of airplanes and other things that I’m never going to do. I didn’t sign up for those.

April 10, 2005

When the Muse Says 'Just Do It'

Death is real. It comes without warning. No one escapes it. Soon my body will be a corpse!” ~ A Buddhist passage

When my brother Jimmy died unexpectedly 3 years ago, I wrote his eulogy. My brother Danny died a month later and I wrote a poem describing how removing his breathing tube, IV, and other interventions was like taking Jesus down from the cross so that he could be released from his suffering and be allowed to die.

My brother’s deaths rocked my world to the core. Jimmy’s eulogy and the poem I wrote for Danny became the foundation that my first book was written on. It was as if all the writing I had done before their deaths led to that one point… with a fire set beneath me and the Muse announcing…On your mark, get set, go! There was no time for research or to calculate the story, I just let it dictate itself to me. Each day’s writing was like a journal entry, field notes from the trenches of grief’s frontline, I wrote.

I questioned why I was writing the book; who did I think I was, writing a book, and who would want to read it? This is what I wrote in the introduction called “Down in the Hole:” Since my brother’s deaths, life has had a sharper focus. There are things I can see that I couldn’t see before. If I can describe what I see from inside this hole, will it help others when they are down in one? What place is this? How deep does it go? I want to know. I’ve never been here before. Can I make something constructive out of the powerless feeling of loss? Am I digging my way out, word by word? I’m writing Jim and Dan’s story because after living this story, no other seems worth telling, because what else can I do down here, because there’s nowhere else to go. I’m writing Jim and Dan’s story because I’m proud of their story. I want to shout from the rooftop how irreplaceable they are.

You see, I had no choice but to write the book, and I must have done something right because it’s being used in a death, grief and loss class at Radford University, and many people have contacted me to tell me how much the book has meant to them.

The irony of The Jim and Dan Stories is that I’m a better writer (not to mention a better person) for having written it, but it took writing it to be able to say that.

April 9, 2005

Who is a Writer?

"It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.” ~ Robert Benchley

It only takes having one child to make parent. Following that logic, one might assume that one paid-for-published piece of writing would make one a writer. But it’s not that simple, and if that was the case, I would have been a writer 25 years ago.

To call oneself a writer can be considered presumptuous, if you are not financially successful at it or well known. But there are all degrees of being a writer, and just like actors can act in local theatres and still consider themselves actors, writers write locally too.

My definition of a writer is a person who is compelled to write, and if there is no payment involved, it only further confirms that they are one. A person who will work for days to find the just right word and the right order of every written line without the incentive of compensation is either a writer or not completely sane. When I say “I’m a writer,” I’m not necessarily claiming to be a “good writer.” I am saying that writing is what I’m interested in and what I do, more than anything else.

I started to refer to myself as a “poet” before I would say I was a “writer,” more to explain that I’m “a little different” than to describe a profession and, ironically, because I was asked to provide a bio-note for something I had written. By different, I mean that I am highly sensitive to my environment, slightly socially awkward and distracted (thinking about other things, like writing), and I can not thrive in a corporate work setting, or even hold a 9 to 5 job. You know, a poet.

People do cut some slack for writers, but they also want to know what novel you’ve had published. And being published, while it does happen from time to time, is like going to Hollywood and trying to get “discovered,’ and you don’t, so you come back to act in local theatres. Why is it if I say ‘I’m a mother…a foster care provider…a jeweler…or a shopkeeper’ no one asks to see my credentials?

I suspect that most people’s hobbies are their real jobs and that their job should be the hobby, and if that was the case, think how many more writers and artists there would be. Confucius believed that all wisdom came from learning to call things by the right name. I’m all for naming who you are and what it is you do. That’s part of making it come true.

April 8, 2005

Blog Blog Blog…Blah Blah Blah…

Some of my friends are getting tired of hearing about my blog, or they miss me because I’ve been online more than usual, writing blog entries. I remind them about the long political articles I used to email out. Since I can’t change our current government, even though it’s getting worse everyday, I might as well get on with my own life, something I can control. Considering that, blogging is a refreshing and constructive change of pace, and one that helps me remember my sense of humor. Note: This post is dedicated to Sherlock.

New bumper sticker idea: Let the Bush Administration Unravel itself. I’d Rather Be Blogging.

Recipe for Reading Blank Emails:
And some of my friends are getting blank email messages from me. Plans are being made to fix the problem, but it's going to take awhile. In the meantime, here's how you can read the messages: Right click on the message (in the list of messages) go to properties, details, and message source, scroll down and see it.

April 7, 2005

Where I'm From

“We are born in a certain time and a certain place and like vintage wines we retain the flavor of our origins.” ~ Carl Jung

"Where I'm From” is inspired by George Ella Lyon's poem of the same name, from the book "Where I'm From, Where Poetry Comes From." I first learned of it from my fellow Floydian friend Fred First on his Fragments From Floyd (can you say that 5 times fast) blog. If you would like to try your own version, see the template for the poem here. “Where I'm From” (which Fred affectionately refers to as WIF) has been making its way around the blogsphere and provides a fun way to express your unique sense of place while getting to know others. See my attempt below and see a collection of them at Pratie Place.

Where I’m From

I am from a granite boulder seawall
and cotton candy at Paragon Park
I’m from blackberry stains and beach rose petals
catalpa beans and bamboo

I am from my father’s eyes
after he saw the holocaust at Buchenwald
and the nape of my mother’s neck
where white pearls hung
before her thyroid surgery

I am from Hail Mary full of grapes
midnight mass and pennies in the poor box
I’m from the unlucky luck of the Irish
the old sod and Southie
before there were gangsters

I am from A your Adorable
B you’re so Beautiful
God Bless Mommy and Daddy
Jimmy and Kathy
Colleen and Danny
Sherry and Johnny
Joey and Bobby and Trish

I am from the salt of the earth
One if by land, two if by sea
John F. Kennedy and Fenway Park
even when the Red Sox are losing

I’m from ice skates and alphabet streets
jump ropes and black and white TV
I’m not from the farm or the city
I’m from plastic flowers in the village cemetery
and horseshoe crabs with blue blood

I’m from my grandmother’s picnic basket
sleeping on curlers in baby doll pajamas
kerchiefs and bobby socks
hoola hoops and the twist
Dear Diary today is Friday

I’m from a one pot New England boiled dinner
from steamed clams dipped in real butter
and playing monopoly during a hurricane
by a kerosene lamp in our kitchen

April 6, 2005

Blogging Saves Author's Life

I was doing a search for “writer’s blogs” (as if I don’t have enough to do) and came across a story that caught my attention about how blogging saved novelist Ayelet Waldman’s life.

Waldman, in her own words, said in her March 14th column “Living Out Loud Outline,” for Salon: The first inkling my husband had that I was thinking about suicide was when he checked my blog.

This is what she had to say about her blog: I had begun my blog two months before, imagining that it would act as a journal, a way of taking notes on my life, and at the same time be a sort of marketing tool to remind readers that I still existed in between novels. Almost immediately I discovered in myself a confessional impulse, a compulsive need to haul open the tattered edges of my emotional raincoat and expose the nasty parts lurking beneath. I blogged daily, chronicling everything from what my youngest son ate for dinner (one spaghetti noodle, one pat of butter, and all the green, blue and pink frosting off a very large cupcake), to the Supreme Court's dramatic shift on sentencing guidelines, to the various side effects of the medications I take for my bipolar disorder. As soon as I read something interesting, as soon as I heard something moving, as soon as one of my children said something funny, I posted to my blog.

Her blog, called “bad mother,” chronicles a two month period and concludes with a post titled “The End,” which follows the one she calls the “suicide essay.” It can still be read online at bad-mother.blogspot.com.

Blog Spurs Book and TV Drama

This one illustrates the potential of doing your own blog-thing, found at blogcruiser from The Daily Yomiur:

It’s a blog called “True Stories: A Diary on My Demonlike Wife” and is written by a Japanese man who started it as a way to deal with the stress of his domineering wife. Written under a pseudonym, the author “comically details a miserable daily life under the thumb of his wife.” Described as “farcical,” it’s apparently very popular, with photos to elaborate and a reported 40,000 hits and day. It won the nation’s best in the “Kono Burogu ga Sugoi 2005” (Amazing Blogs 2005) awards and has been turned into a book, which has the same name as the blog. According to the Tokyo-based company that published it, it has sold about 80,000 copies since publication in January. A TV drama based on the blog is next.

Unfortunately, there was no link to the blog included in the story. With a Google search, I was able to verify the truth of the story, but still no link. That’s okay because I don’t read Japanese. I wonder; will there be an American spin-off?

April 5, 2005

Life in the Rural Fast Lane

I live in a one stoplight town. I get my honey from the woman who works the front desk at the Community Action Center and my fresh eggs from the Gralla-Shwartz family. Some of the egg shells are actually light green and the cartons have feathers and pieces of hay in them. I also grow a lot of my own food and my husband stocks the freezer with wild venison. Last year my potato crop was so prolific that I’m still eating them in now, in April. All the stores here take my checks without asking for identification and some will cash personal checks made out to me. It cost $5 to fix a flat tire (up from $3 just a few years back) and a haircut at the local barbershop is $7. Because I have no visible neighbors, I can weed my garden topless or sunbathe naked on a lounge chair (one of my top criteria for Paradise). My water is from a well. It’s pure and tastes good. I can’t hear any traffic.

If you’re thinking I’m out in the sticks, here’s the flip side of that:

I’m 6 miles from downtown, but because there’s no traffic (or speed limits on back roads) it only takes me 8 minutes to get there. I can sometimes ride to town without seeing another car but if I do see one, it’s customary to wave, even if you don’t know who it is. Once I’m in town, my anonymity is over. Everyone says hello or stops to talk. After a few hugs and conversations, I can get a meal with capers in it, or start a pick-up game of scrabble at the local café. I can visit any number of art studios, shop for clothes that I actually like, buy organic produce, or antiques. I love to dance so I’m thrilled that we have a monthly Contra Dance, an active Dance Free, and of course there’s always Friday night flat footing at the Country Store Jamboree, competing with Irish night at the local Cantina. I attend a weekly meditation satsang and a bi-monthly writers’ workshop. My husband goes to yoga and martial arts classes. This summer will mark the 4th anniversary the World Music Festival (Floyd Fest), held just a few miles up the road from my house. A few months ago the Leon Russell Band played here. Before that it was Maria Muldaur.

When I first moved to Floyd in 1985, friends and family worried that I might be isolated in the country. My answer to them is where the term “life in the rural fast lane” first came from. In truth, sometimes Floyd living is so overwhelming that I stay home for days on end, schlepping around in my sweatpants, not wearing shoes or brushing my hair, talking to the dog on the walk to the mailbox. More criteria for Paradise, as far as I’m concerned.

This is where I live. Later in the week I’ll talk about “Where I’m From.”

April 4, 2005

The Post Ghost

My voice has been silenced, but I can still tap my fingers – one for YES and two for NO…

For 3 days now, my Outlook Express Email program has been acting hauntingly peculiar. Some of the emails I receive have been blank – empty – nothing in them. And most all the messages I type out arrive at their destination erased of text. After hours of sending test messages that no one could see, I finally figured a way to communicate. You’d be amazed at how much you can fit into the subject box of a message. Some of my recent empty messages have been titled:

Subject: My messages are coming back blank!
Subject: I see the text in my Sent Box but not when it comes back.
Subject: If YOU think this is frustrating- think about me!
Subject: Hi everyone! This is my new email box!
Subject: You’ll just have to go to looseleafnotes.com to hear from me (which fits perfectly in the subject line of an email post with not a letter to spare.)

After more hours of tech support that didn’t fix the problem, I got creative with what I wrote in the email boxes (you know the part that others saw as blank):

Testing…one…two…buckle your own shoe.
You probably won’t be able to read this…I’m writing with invisible ink.
And…Dear John, We need to talk.

After days of sending out “SOS” and speaking in vanity license plate language, here’s the message I got from my sister Trish:

“Coll, I was beginning to think this was some sort of prolonged April Fools type joke!! Everything is blank! What’s happening with your computer?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ll keep you posted…or not.”

April 3, 2005

A Blind Date

Last fall I got a message on my answering machine from a woman named Ellen Smith. She was thanking me for something I had written. I can’t remember if it was The Jim and Dan Stories, a political commentary, or something else. She said she was from North Carolina and left no return phone number.

A month or so later, I got another intriguing phone call. This one was from a woman who owns a bookstore in town. She wanted to order more Jim and Dan Stories because a customer had ordered 4 of them. The customer? Ellen Smith. Did I know her? No. But I did find out after the first phone call that she subscribed to The Museletter, a local monthly forum I co-edit.

Last week I got a 3rd related phone call. I was home and took the call. It was Ellen Smith, hoping that her Museletter subscription hadn’t expired. I learned from our conversation that she had moved to the county, that she had given The Jim and Dan Stories as Christmas gifts, and that she was going to have dinner at Oddfella’s Cantina that night with her husband.

So was I.

We made arrangements to meet. I was looking forward to talking to her some more. I told her I had a white streak in my hair (later I remembered that my photo was in The Jim and Dan Stories, and so she had the advantage of picking me out in a crowd). She told me that she was petite. We discovered we were the same age.

As the hostess escorted my husband and me to our table that night, I noticed a petite woman at the table next to ours. She was eating with a man and looked to be about my age. Now, I’m not the most socially confident person…and besides they were eating, so I didn’t say a word to her. Later, it was my husband and I that were eating, and there was good music to listen to and beer to drink.

Finally, I caught up with her at the cash register paying their bill. “Don’t leave without saying hello!” I blurted out. Noticing she looked rather shocked, I added, “You are Ellen Smith, aren’t you?” “No, my name is Linda,” she answered.

Linda was a good sport, and I slunk back to my table, as my husband looked around for another Ellen Smith possibility. “No, don’t even try!” I pleaded like a jilted blind date. “After what just happened, I don’t even want to know who she is right now. If she wants to find me, she will.”

Mystery: Still unsolved.

April 2, 2005

The Blog: A Thriller

Sometimes I wish the word “blog” didn’t sound so much like “blob” and remind me of the 1958 movie (The Blob) staring Steve McQueen where something falls from outer space and gets stuck on his arm and then grows and grows until it covers his body. It’s good for blogs to grow – more readers and posts everyday – right? It’s not going to take over my life – right?

April 1, 2005

The Blog Files

As a foster care provider for the past 8 years, and a person who has done some basic family genealogy research, I understand the importance of good documentation, and I consider my blog to be another form of it.

Some of my friends have concerns about the nature of blogging, such as: Don’t you feel vulnerable, putting yourself out there so personally? And aren’t you just giving your writing away? I have asked myself those same questions. But I also have an answer.

Part of the answer is that it’s not as personal as one might think. I have a spiral bound paper journal for that. Whereas my physical journal is off the record, I understand that my blog writing is not. The nature of documentation is that you try to get it right before you officially enter it into the record, of which you are accountable.

The other part of the answer has to do with “readership.” I’m a writer (so, I’ve finally convinced myself), and writers need readers. What difference does it make to a reader whether they pick up The Roanoke Times, a We’moon Journal, or a Mothering Magazine and read something I’ve written there, or if they read it here? And why would I feel more vulnerable about having my writing online than I would about having it in printed publications?

I like the informal atmosphere of blog writing and keeping my own hours. I don’t plan to stop submitting to the above mentioned venues and others. In fact, I suspect I’ll be submitting more than I have in the past because writing leads to more writing, and blogging keeps me at my desk doing just that.

For me, it’s like playing scrabble. I don’t hold on to my Q for the whole game waiting for the play of my life. I play with what I have…for the highest score…every time. Here’s how Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, puts it…

"One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now ... Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes."

Back in the days before the internet, I was a prolific letter writer, which turned out to be an important aspect of my writing self-education, just as blogging is today. One of my favorite authors, home schooling pioneer John Holt, revealed that the bulk of material in his books was taken from his personal correspondences. Sometimes blog entries are simply daily posts, other times they have other applications and could end up in a printed publication, a future book, or read as a radio essay.

And who’s to say that blogging isn’t a modern version of going to Paris, the way Hemingway and others did in the 1920s to mingle with other writers (mostly unpublished at the time) and immerse themselves in their craft? The Beat Poets of the 50s started a new “movement” by hanging out together and writing outside the traditional system.

Because of blogging, I believe that the small press just got smaller. My own blog is a one-man-band, writer’s reality show. Not only do I get to write what I want, but I have some diverse and witty readers (many of whom are also writers) that inspire me…and sometimes leave comments!

Blogging isn’t for everyone, but for many of us it’s an invitation to start from where we are and do what we’re compelled to do. Just write.

By the way: We have 3 bloggers in our small town (that I know of) and one en route who plans to move here. Did I mention that we were holding a Blogging Convention here in Floyd?

...No, not really, that’s an April Fools joke. But we could do that someday…couldn’t we?