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June 30, 2005

Let’s Get It Started!

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The Grammy nominated song by the Black Eyed Peas, “Let’s get it started,” has been stuck in my head for the last few days, causing me to occasionally and loudly break out singing the refrain (the only line I know). I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m about to embark on a 14 hour solo road trip from my house in Floyd, Virginia, to my mother’s house in Hull, Massachusetts. I’ll be driving our nearly new charcoal gray Toyota Tundra with the Palomino camper on the back.

Did I mention that I have a phobia of driving on interstates through cities and that over-passes, clover leafs, and multiple exits make me break out in a sweat? Just looking at road maps stirs up my adrenaline. I once had to drive on interstate 95 through New Jersey and New York to attend an unexpected funeral. I lost 5 years of my life that day. But not to worry. You should see how nervous I get before giving a poetry reading, and I usually do fine once I get started.

Here’s the current scene: I’ve been feeling some separation anxiety regarding leaving my blog and my garden. I’m sure that I’ll miss my husband, but I know that he can take care of himself. But on this morning, I’m in my element at my base of operation, blogging in my bathrobe with my chaotic stacks of books and paper right where I want them. All my addresses and files and office equipment are right at my fingertips. It’s a pretty serious scene, trying to get some work done before I go, until I have to stop to laugh out loud at myself. There are 4 cobalt blue mugs that have collected on my desk, and I literally have to pick each one up and lift it to my lips before finding the one that still has some tea in it. Boy, I’m going to miss this place.

My computer access may be erratic for the next few days. I’ll report back once I get settled.

Post Note: Loose Leaf is featured on the front page of the online Roanoke Times this week for yesterday’s post “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?” You can click www.roanoke.com and scroll down near the end of the page to view it.

June 29, 2005

Why Don’t We Do it in the Road?

There are about 5 ways to go to and from town from my house. My favorite route is via Woods Gap Road. It’s a dusty dirt road, but often worth the trip. There’s a family of golden finch that live on Woods Gap, and I frequently spot mountain bluebirds or occasionally an indigo bunting there. I can’t help but feel happy when I have a “blue bird of happiness” sighting.

Because I drive on a country back road my car is usually dirty, particularly if it hasn’t rained in awhile. Whenever I go to Christiansburg for those items that are hard to come by in Floyd, my car stands out as the dirtiest one in any given parking lot. You know, the kind that people write messages on with their fingers…like “Wash Me.”

Occasionally while in Christiansburg, I’ll take their advice and go through the car wash, and for a few days after that, I take an alternative paved route to and from town. The paved road to town is about a mile longer than the Woods Gap way, but it helps to keep my car clean for at least a few days, until I revert back to my old habits.

This was the case a few days ago. I was making my way to town when I spotted a small silver car stopped in the middle of the road in front of me. As I got closer, I saw it was an elderly white haired woman with a tight curled perm. I pulled up around her slowly. I was convinced that she was in distress. Why else would she be stopped dead in the middle of the road?

To my shock, she was casually putting on her make-up. She waved at me pleasantly as she applied her mascara with no hint of an explanation and absolutely no remorse about being in the middle of the road.

Normally, I would be irritated to come upon such a strange stunt. It would have been so easy for her just to pull off to the side of the road. But I wasn’t irritated. I deferred to her seniority and went along with the whole thing as though she had every right to be stopped in the middle of the road putting on make-up because she believed she did.

Not only was I not irritated, but I was able to see the humor in the scene. I smiled and waved back at her, and as I was driving away it struck me that the woman’s behavior was only a few degrees away from something I would do. And then came this profound realization: That could totally be me someday.

June 28, 2005

Does it Grow Corn?

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I used to think scarecrows were ornamental and that hay bales were put there by farmers for Andrew Wyeth to paint. ~ Colleen

The peninsula I grew up on, called Hull, Massachusetts, is 6 miles long and less than ½ mile wide in most places. The tip, called “Hull Village,” is where my family lived from 1955 to 1975 and is only connected to the rest of the peninsula by the width of the road that takes you there. Out of the way and exposed by the elements, the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Boston Harbor on the other, we may as well have lived on an island.

Hull, also known as Nantasket, is not exactly rural, and it’s not suburbia either. We did have one hold-out farmer type, “Pop Hannon,” when I was growing up. Some of my 8 siblings and many of the kids in the neighborhood witnessed him chop the heads off of chickens, but I only ever saw the bloody chopping block he used.

For many years my family had a vegetable garden. I remember the soil as rich and dark, and we didn’t have wildlife vying for our crops to the degree that we do here in Virginia. Except for the corn we ate in August, most of us kids took the garden for granted and didn’t much like being made to work in it. My father tried to convince us to set up a vegetable stand at the end of our driveway, but we wouldn’t have been caught dead doing that.

I began my first garden in earnest during a major depression at the age of 19. Gardening has been a way of life for me ever since.

“There are two ways to be rich. One is to have a lot of money. The other is to have few needs,” said William Coffin Sloan, the peace activist, when I heard him speak years ago in Blacksburg. We have jobs to make money so that we can buy what we need. Mostly what we need is food and shelter. I consider gardening as a way to provide for some of my needs directly. In part, because of my gardening lifestyle, I have enjoyed a certain amount of freedom from the 9 to 5 rat race.

But my garden is not photogenic. I’m a sloppy gardener, I admit. I tend to grow what will be prolific and non-fussy, perennials, and vegetables like kale and Swiss chard that grow back when you cut them. As overgrown as the garden looks by late July, in midst of renewal and death, the chaos of weeds, and battle with bugs and critters, my garden produces a lot of food.

There’s a Native American saying: “Will it grow corn?” It’s used when questioning the validity of something and means ‘Will your actions produce fruitful results?’

In the case of my garden, my answer is “yes.” It really does grow corn (as evidenced by the above photo…one foot high a week ago and still growing strong).

Loving thanks to my husband, Joe, who hauled the manure and straw bales of mulch, tilled, planted potatoes, and built a bird-proof structure around my blueberries (his least favorite fruit).

June 27, 2005

Can You Dig This?

A poem is a family of words that are all related, either directly (rhymes, assonance, alliteration) or remotely. Dominant sounds fade-out and re-emerge like ancestors passing on traits. One word is born from the other. Colleen ~ From Muses Like Moonlight

The following poem – which I wrote 6 years ago and dug up again yesterday – was published in this year’s WeMoon journal (under the title of “Irrigation”). An excerpt also appeared in the WeMoon Wall Calendar.

A Biographical Dig

I love poems infused with history
worked into the present day topic

Like rocks overturned we return to our worms
unearth our wounds for good irrigation

Burrowed in journals are rich story castings
lineage lines that link generations

Like mineral veins of precious inheritance
I’m mining the evidence of my ancestral descent

Leaving my fingerprints on poems written down
like roots taking hold in a plot thickened

I’m turning the pages like turning the soil
to know what is growing in me

June 26, 2005

You Can Quote Me

I’m always on the lookout for a good quote. Not only do I use them here at Loose Leaf, but I cut and paste them throughout "The Museletter," the monthly local publication that I co-edit. I also used them in both my books, "The Jim and Dan Stories" and "Muses Like Moonlight." I love the way a good quote can convey so much in such a condensed way. Today is Museletter Sunday (last Sunday of the month). Submissions are spread out all over my kitchen table waiting for me to make some order of them. Here is the quote I’m using for the July issue, just for the fun of it:

"Why do you have to be a nonconformist like everybody else?" ~ James Thurber

And here is my current favorite, displayed on my refrigerator:

"The lie of the emperor is always believed before the truth of the peasant." ~ unknown.

Do you have a good quote to share that I might add to my collection?
(Post to note: The idea for this entry came from Question of the Day)

June 25, 2005

100 Things

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Here is the second installment of my “100 Things About Me List.” One of the things that isn’t on the list but should be is that I love lists. Number 1 – 25 can be found here.

26. I live in a log cabin.
27. I once said I would have nothing to do with a computer.
28. My husband and I have the same IQ number but for different reasons.
29. My older brother, Jimmy, dubbed me with the nickname “Colly Dog” when we were kids. My younger brother, Joey, couldn’t say my name and called my “Lo Lo.” My dad calls me “Colly Wolly Wolf” (building on the dog-like theme?)
30. Dyslexia and dyscalculia run in my family.
31. I am one of nine siblings. "God bless mommy, daddy, Jimmy, Kathy, Colleen, Danny, Sherry, Johnny, Joey, Bobby and Tricia" was my nightly prayer as a child. My husband is also one of 9 siblings.
32. I didn’t know the word for “spatula” until I was 20. We just called it “the spanking stick” in my house.
33. If I was a bird, my call would be: A Loud Yawn.
34. I was once a delegate for presidential candidate Jerry Brown.
35. Donavan and Bob Dylan inspired me to write more than anything in school did.
35. If I hear Aretha Franklin sing “Respect,” I will get up and dance no matter where I am.
36. I read all the Hobbit books, all of the Narnia series, all of The Borrowers, and most of The Mossflower books out loud to my sons when they were young.
37. My husband and I hiked down the Grand Canyon and camped at the Havasupi Indian Reservation. We left a week later via helicopter.
38. I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and regretted not going into the Louvre.
39. I recently saw a Black bear less than a quarter mile from my house.
40. I’d rather be stuck in traffic than drive on the Autobahn in Germany
41. I speak pig latin and gibberish.
42. Good artwork can make me twitch. Sometimes it makes my eyes water.
43. When I was young I wanted to be like Annie Oakley or Peter Pan.
44. I write because I hate to lose anything and writing something down is a way of keeping it.
45. I have a blue willow platter that my grandmother carried when she was a girl and sailed to this country from Ireland.
46. I’m not a leader, but I’m not a follower either. I’m a party of one.
47. I used to meditate on the subway on the way to work at a boutique on Tremont Street in Boston.
48. Now I live in a one traffic light county in rural Virginia with no street lights or speed limits on the back roads.
49. I recently won first prize, a $100 gift certificate from a bookstore, at a local poetry slam.
50. I’ve been working through a life long phobia of public speaking.

June 24, 2005

Got Pet Peeves?

Will posting your pet peeves discharge the discomfort they cause, in a similar way that doing psycho-therapy about your childhood can help to release its hold on you? Here is my list to test the theory:

~ At the car wash when they put down your radio antennae and then don’t put it back up and you go for weeks with static in your radio until you realize it
~ People who style their hair to make it look like a mess
~ When a cop pulls me over to check if I have a seatbelt on – What else will they decide is for my own good and then charge me if I don’t do it?
~When the “This Page Cannot Be Displayed” is displayed on my computer screen.
~ When ordering a cup of tea and the server puts the unopened teabag on the side of the cup and you have to rush to open it and put it in the cup and by then it won’t brew and you have a lousy cup of tea. Would coffee drinkers put up with cold tasteless coffee, routinely?
~ Speed bumps, reality TV, and TV commercials that use classic songs from the 60s to advertise their products

That felt pretty good. Feel free to get a few pet peeves off your own chest…

Post Note: I’ve been reviewed. Floyd County in View arts writer, Jim Locke, recently posted a review of Billy Collins and local poets who have appeared in the Museletter, the Floyd publication that I co-edit. Check it out.

June 23, 2005

Homegrown Advice

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In my small town, old-time bluegrass is the traditional music, and we have many talented fiddle players and such. We also have talented hip hop reggae musicians and others who produce their own CDs. We’re famous for the Friday Night Jamboree that happens at the Country Store each weekend and, more recently, for our annual world music festival, known as Floyd Fest. Where else but in Floyd can you learn from an old-timer how to forage ginseng one day, and then meet Wavy Gravy, the Floyd Fest MC and clown from Woodstock fame, the next? Native American Medicine Men, Wallace Black Elk and Sun Bear visited Floyd. So did renowned herbalist Susun Weed and authors Barbara Marciniak and Jose Arguelles. Excerpt: “Homegrown” from “Muses Like Moonlight” by Colleen

Ani Defranco, singer, songwriter, and poetess extraordinaire is coming to Floyd Fest this year. The last weekend in July will mark the 5th year of the annual world music festival that happens to take place 6 miles up the road from my house. Since its beginning, my son has had a pottery booth on the Floyd Fest site, which I use for my book selling base of operation. Good food and crafts, a beer garden, a healing arts tent, children’s activities, and a poetry scene compliment the fine music and the dancing each year.

But the advice booth was my Floyd Fest favorite last year. It was set up across the way from my son’s pottery booth. I watched the customers come and go all day, until finally; I took a break from hoola hooping and signing “The Jim and Dan Stories” and went to check it out. I convinced my son’s friend Ted to go with me. What the heck, it was only 25 cents.

This is what Ted asked the two 8 year old entrepreneurs (and the answer was probably what made him smile. See photo): “I’m thinking about going back to school…but I’m not sure I should…what do you think I should do?”

One boy answered. He looked confused for a split second, and then he said in his most incredulous voice, “How old are you?!” Followed by a ‘why would you want to do that’ look and then … “Are you crazy?”

Apparently, the kids at the advice booth had never seen anyone Ted’s age in their school and they all agreed that he was way too old to go to school. Their answer to his question was "no."

I can’t remember my own question, but I recall that it didn’t get the reaction that Ted’s did. “Better than a lemonade stand, huh Ted?" I said on the way back to the pottery booth. We were both laughing.

June 22, 2005

Have You Ever Been…?

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I read somewhere that when Allen Ginsberg was asked who his favorite poets were he answered that they were mostly unknowns. I understand. Some of my favorite poets are local and unknown, and many of my favorite poets have been children.

For over 10 years I was the creative writing teacher at Floyd’s parent-run-cooperative school, The Blue Mountain School. I traded a full day working with all grades for a break in tuition for my own sons who were enrolled for most of that time. For 10 years the students and I put out our own homespun publication, “The Dolphin Messenger,” which included stories, artwork, poetry, interviews, comic strips and more. “Don’t tell me what it is. Tell me what it’s like,” was my trademark line back then, intended to get the kids to think poetically.

And they did. Most kids are natural poets just waiting to be tapped.

Below are 2 poems worthy of reprint, which were dictated to me by my niece while we were swimming and making poetry together, one day last year. They appeared on the LoveLink, a family e-mail group, and everyone had fun making up their own last stanza to "Have You Ever Been...?" Feel free to take a try at it.

The Pool Poem
~ By Samantha

Big and blue
Shimmering pool
I can swim like an angel
Soar across it
I can see myself
I duck down and look
I look pretty
I like what I see

Have You Ever Been?
~ By Samantha

Have you ever been excited?
and then WHOOSH…
It slaps you right back

Have you ever been scared?
And then it turns out to be nothing?

Have you ever been shy?
And then you talk yourself away?

Have you ever been _________?

The Photo: My friend Mara's daughter reading poetry on the "Soap Box" at Floyd Fest last year.

June 21, 2005

Candy Cane

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I sprained my ankle this past Saturday night, and since then my mobility has been severely limited. Luckily, it happened after I had just finished dancing for 2 hours to “The Kind” at Whiskers Roadside in Floyd (because I won’t be doing that again for awhile). My husband and I were picking up his teenage nephew at an outdoor party. It was dark and I stumbled down into a drainage ditch, twisting my foot and landing squarely on my left ankle.

After a fretful night’s sleep and a morning becoming familiar with Epson salts and arnica, my husband dug out a cane from somewhere in our cellar. It had a bike horn like the one that Harpo Marx used and a mirror screwed onto it. My husband’s mother made it and others like it as gag gifts for her friends when they retire…a poor woman’s wheel chair, I think she calls them.

But my sprained ankle was no laughing matter, so I made him take the horn and mirror off, leaving only the red and white tape running up and down the length of it, making it look like a candy cane. Would I go out in public with a “candy cane” cane for my scheduled scrabble game later in the day?

This is not the first time I’ve so badly sprained my ankle. I was 7 years old and visiting my grandparents in Hialeah, Florida, when it first happened. Doing some kind of kid stunt, I fell off the arm rest of my grandmother’s couch when the screen door I was leaning on swung open. At the time, I was convinced that screen doors only opened from in to out in Florida, but I later learned that isn’t true.

It’s no fun being 7 on vacation in Florida when you can’t walk because your ankle is sprained. Going to the ocean with my grandparents and cousins saved the day. In the water, I felt buoyantly limber and normal again. I got completely absorbed in water play.

When I got out of the ocean that day, my grandfather and cousins were gone. They forgot me! I panicked and made my way up the beach to find them, first limping, then crawling in the sand. I imagine I looked like a tortured soul stuck in a dessert without water. Eventually, some adults came to my rescue around the same time that my grandparents noticed I wasn’t with them, and we all hooked up. Of course, I was mad that my family had forgotten me, but even then I recognized what good mileage one could get with a story like that and used it later for a school assignment, titled “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

Unfortunately, my latest sprained ankle was still in bad shape on Sunday afternoon, and I had to cancel the scrabble game with friends. But when I hobbled into my writer’s workshop the next night (by this time on aspirin), I got more than a couple of stares, which made me wish I had left the bike horn on the cane so I could have given the group a real hoot (or should that be toot).

June 20, 2005

Too Much of a Good Trait is a Bad Trait

You can call me nosey. Or you can call me curious. You could say I like gossip. Or you could say I like biographies. It’s all just a matter of degree.

For many years, I was a member of a woman’s circle. It was in this circle that I made my first breakthrough with my phobia of public speaking, done in the safety of supportive women. We were usually a circle of a dozen or more, and we used a “talking stick” format, which comes from a Native American tradition. After a brief meditation, we would go around the circle passing the stick. Whoever was holding it, spoke. No one interrupted. There was no advice given. It was not the time for mindless chatter; the challenge was to speak authentically while being witnessed, and to use your time of sharing wisely as an offering to the group.

It was in this circle that I first learned about the asset/liability phenomena, which from my understanding means that ones greatest asset is usually also their worse liability when overdone. For instance, my curiosity is a positive trait that keeps me interested in learning more about life and other people, but it can also be my downfall if I take it too far.

Another example of the asset liability flip in my life can be seen via our recent truck camper purchase. I was happy with the camper – dubbed “The Star Trek Enterprise” by my husband and me because the inside reminded us of the Enterprise deck – but would I really feel comfortable taking off on my own with it? Our plan all along has been for me to travel freely on my own as often as we will travel together. But it takes a rig bigger than I would normally drive to haul the Enterprise around. Remember my husband’s big loud smelly diesel white truck that I was dissing a few weeks back? Between it and the size of the camper the whole thing is more than I really want to handle.

Because of my tendency to adapt, to make do with what is in front of me, I convinced myself I would get used to driving the truck and camper, conveniently ignoring the fact that I never drove the van we once owned because it was too big. In reality, our camping rig is like a big horse, and I’m more of a pony person.

Enter the Palomino…our new pop-up truck camper. We sold the Star Trek Enterprise and bought a new smaller camper, and I’m thrilled. It’s about as non-intrusive to haul as the cab of a truck, and like the shell on a turtle’s back, it offers me the freedom to be home wherever I go.

Next up…downsizing the big diesel truck…and then off to Massachusetts to visit my family for the better part of July. If everything works out right, the Palomino and I will be spending some quality time living in state parks this summer.

The moral of this story: My husband and I could have saved ourselves a lot of hassle if I wasn’t so willing to be adaptable. Adaptability is a good trait…until it keeps you from realizing what you really want or need.

June 19, 2005

And the Next Slam Winner is…

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Because I won last month’s poetry slam, hosted by The Easy Chair Bookstore and held at The London Underground Pub in Blacksburg, I headed up the slam this month as the featured poet. The crowd was less congested, probably because the majority of Virginia Tech students had left town for the summer. They were slightly more reserved than last month’s audience and especially attentive.

All the readers were well received, and out of a pool of 8 who were competing for the $100 gift certificate prize, Mara Robbins, a fellow Floyd Writers’ Circle member and longtime friend, emerged as the evening’s winner. Her rhythmic and well paced delivery, mixed with the power of her words, kept everyone thoroughly entertained.

Mara, pictured here with me at last year’s Floyd Fest, figured in as a character in my book, “The Jim and Dan Stories.” If we weren’t completely bonded by the creative writing classes we both taught at Floyd’s Blue Mountain School, or by the fact that we both made jewelry and worked at a mutual friend’s bead shop (Seeds of Light), our bond was cemented forever when we both suffered a significant loss in 2001. Mara lost her young husband just weeks before my brother Jim died. She watched me endure losing a second brother a month later and really did know how it felt.

The poems Mara presented were chosen with a wedding tradition in mind, “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. Here are a few (non sequential) clips from her “something blue” selection, titled “Breaking Up.”

I don’t want to love you
the way that I break
a coffee mug, then try to
glue the handle back in place,
try to refill what is empty…

I don’t want to love you
the way I loved fumbling boys
on couches in parent’s basements,
or mediocre kisses
on soccer field’s
wet sharp grass…

Mara and her 7 year old daughter are working on a book about death, as seen through a child’s perspective. She’s currently a creative writing student at Hollins College, is seriously thinking about launching a blog, and continues to be one of my most formidable scrabble partners.

Posts to Note: Another first time blog meet-up! I met blogger Sean from A Tech Monk Speaks at the poetry reading, adding to the enjoyment of the evening. And...Happy Father's Day to fathers one and all.

June 18, 2005

A Milestone: 100 Posts

My baby blog is 3 months old. Today is my 100th post. In honor of that, a little review is in order.

~ Most commented on post:Is it Summer Yet?” with 17 comments. It was inspired by Fragments from Floyd, when Fred asked his readers, “When do you know it’s summer?”
~ Most commented on post with help from Michele, the fairy godmother of blogs, who featured Loose Leaf as a site of the day:The Blog Keeper is in” with 31 comments. The subject was internet addiction, and a Radford University Professor e-mailed me to ask if he could use the post as a springboard for a class he was teaching, covering the same topic.
~ Visit from the most exotic country: (Read: Where the heck is that?) According to my stat counter: Brunei Darussalam. Or how about Noord-brabant, ‘s-hetogen bosch?
~ Strangest keyword search that brought someone to Loose Leaf: Loose Women
~ Why the name Loose Leaf? Here
~ Why the photo with my hat on, which David St. Lawrence, who thinks I look better in person, called a disguise?, Here and Here
~ The people I want to thank: For getting me this far, regardless of the fact that I have no tech-no-logic. Here (moved from my original blogger blog, which lasted a week. Comments got lost in the shuffle)
~ Most converted: My sister Sherry, who didn’t think she’d like blogging but now she does.
~ Most intriguing blog name found while bloghopping: Does This Make My Butt Look Big?
~ Fringe Benefit? I can type looseleafnotes now as fast as I can type my own name.

(I got the idea of a 100th post review from wilkeworld.blogspot.com. The author there recently had his own 100th post.)

June 17, 2005

The Love Link

I recently posted a photo of my childhood home in Hull, Massachusetts, which was taken by eminent domain and burned to the ground to make way for a town sewage plant. Several people who loved that house as much as I did left comments. I also got this comment from a blogger friend, “I didn't realize that so many of your readers are your siblings. I'm a little jealous.”

“Well, there were 9 of us. So the odds of me getting some of my siblings to my blog are pretty good,” I told her. But the real reason more than half of my siblings and niece have been to my blog is probably because of something called “The LoveLink.” Let me explain…

After my brother Jimmy died unexpectedly 4 years ago, my brother Dan’s health, which was compromised by a liver disease, deteriorated rapidly. Because our family was still recovering from the shock of Jimmy’s death, a childhood friend of Dan’s flew with him back to Houston, where Danny had been living for the previous 22 years. He wanted to go home for “closure,” he told us.

He only got to spend part of one night in his own bed, before being transported to the hospital, where he remained for the next 2 weeks, until his death. Since it was looking pretty serious for Dan, one of us had fly to Houston to be with him. I volunteered. It wasn’t long before the doctor gave me Dan’s shocking prognosis and I called my sister, Kathy, to say, “Come now. I need you.”

In the weeks that my sister and I lived at Dan’s apartment, my mother came and left and my sister-in law, a hospice nurse, came just days before Dan passed. It was during this time that the LoveLink, an e-mail group consisting of mostly family members and a few Redman family fans, began. Each night, Kathy or I would type the day’s events and news about Dan to the group, who were hanging on our every word. It was actually called “The Sister Group” back then. I’m not sure why, because the brothers were online too. Maybe it was called “The Sister Group” because the sisters in my family are either more talkative than the brothers or they type faster.

After Dan died, I typed my last wrenching post to the group…For those of you who don’t already know, we lost our precious Dan today…and the e-mail group ended.

Just weeks after Dan died, the twin towers in New York came down. My niece, who also lived in Virginia, revived the e-mail group under the new name of VA/MA LoveLink so that we could keep each other updated on changing world events. Since that date, nearly 4 years ago, we haven’t missed a day posting something…political, personal, or comical… to each other on the LoveLink. Because Jim and Dan were online before they died, I can’t even bring myself delete my siblings e-mails, knowing how much Jim and Dan’s e-mails meant to me after the died, and fearing another loss.

I started blogging only recently, in March of 2004. I wanted my siblings to participate in my blog from day one, but it took time. Except for my sister, Kathy, who has her own blog, most didn’t completely understand the nature of blogging. I cut and pasted each day’s entry and sent it to the LoveLink… until slowly and occasionally some of them came to my site and even left comments.

It means the world to me when they do.

To read more of my family story you can go to my silver and gold website, which is dedicated to my brothers.

June 16, 2005

All About Books

A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.
-Jerry Seinfeld

I’ve never been considered a book worm. Although I’ve read my share of books, I seem to collect them even more than I read them. The first book I remember being stirred by was a family copy of Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. The pictures on the cover were deeply disturbing to me as a child, but that’s what drew me to them. My father read Anderson's “The Snow Queen” to me, and it’s haunted me ever since.

The following meme theme on books was sent to me by Lora at Black Currant Jam and is being passed on to my sister Kathy, a voracious reader, at A Particularly Persistent Point of View. My answers are below:

Total books owned, ever: This is like asking me how many times I’ve eaten spaghetti? Between my husband and me, we can fill a new bookshelf every few years. We both have a weakness for books.

Last Book I bought: Does the $100 gift certificate I won from the Easy Chair bookstore at the last poetry slam count? So far I got “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” by Pablo Neruda, “The Gold Cell” by Sharon Olds, “Vintage Hughes,” poetry by Langston Hughes, and “A Year by the Sea,” by Joan Anderson (curious after reading her second book first). The last book I bought with cash was “The Hidden Messages in Water,” by Masaru Emoto, which I wrote about here.

Last book I read: I have a lot of books going at once. I lean towards non-fiction, and I confess that I often don’t finish books. I read about ¾ of “Who Let the Blogs Out” before I had to bring it back to the library. I’m just starting “Beauty: The Invisible Embrace” by John O’Donohue, which was a birthday gift. The last book I read from cover to cover was “A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom from an Unconventional Woman” by Joan Anderson. I bought it and read while I was at the beach in St. Augustine, Florida, this past winter. I particularly liked that this memoir was set in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, near where I grew up.

Five books that mean a lot to me: This is like winning an academy award and trying to remember all the people you want to thank…so says my blogger “more about me” bio in answer to the question ‘what are your favorite books?’ Today I might say:

"Jayber Crow" by Wendell Berry: A fiction that tells the truth about what agri-business does to small town rural life as told by the local barber. Also, a poignant love story.

"The Bones of the Master" by George Crane: A poet and exiled Buddhist monk living in Woodstock NY make a pilgrimage into Inner Mongolia to search for the bones of the monk’s teacher. A compelling and well told true story.

"Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg: Although I can’t write in noisy cafés like Natalie does, I enjoy all her books about writing, and this one started it all. She speaks my language.

"Angela’s Ashes" by Frank McCourt: I do prefer true stories. This one is about growing up in riveting poverty as an Irish Catholic, here in the U.S. and in Ireland. McCourt masterfully calls up his inner child and tells the story through that voice. I tapped into my own genetic pool and found my Irish accent while reading parts of this book out loud to my youngest son. (The movie didn't come close to living up to the book.)

On another day or in another decade, I might say: "The Soul of Sex" by Thomas Moore, "The Spell of the Sensuous" by David Abram, "How the Irish Saved Civilization" by Thomas Cahill, "Ishmael" by Daniel Quinn, "The Mists of Avalon," "The Aquarian Conspiracy," "The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You," or "The Earthsea Trilogy."

What do you have to say about books?

June 15, 2005

A Flood of Old Memories

Spring Street house.png Below is a short excerpt from “The Jim and Dan Stories”, a book I wrote after my brothers died a month apart nearly 4 years ago. The book weaves the events of the last few weeks that led to my brother’s deaths with growing up in a large Irish Catholic family in Massachusetts during the 1950s and 60s. It’s also a chronicle of my experience writing the book while coping with heart-wrenching grief. But don’t expect the below excerpt to choke you up. There’s as much comic relief in the book of stories as there was in our lives growing up together. It’s in the spirit of recent themes, “When do you know its Summer?” and “What 5 Things Do You Miss About Your Childhood,” that I share it:

I had been working all morning with nothing to show for it. The printer was down. The stories I had written didn’t seem real until they were printed onto paper, and I held them in my hand. It was as if they didn’t exist if I couldn’t see them, in the same way it’s hard to understand the infinite with a finite mind, with a soul you can’t see or prove is really there.

I decided to clean the bathroom while my husband, Joe, was working on the broken printer. Cleaning would take my mind off my frustration, and I would immediately see the results of my labor.

While scrubbing the toilet, I noticed the plunger, which triggered a flood of old memories. It was bad enough that we grew up with one bathroom for eleven people, but we also had bad plumbing. It wasn’t just that our toilet didn’t flush well, sometimes it would overflow and sometimes so profusely that it would leak from the bathroom floor to the living room ceiling, which was really the same thing. God forbid, if this happened while you were the one in the bathroom. I had nightmares about broken toilets for years and occasionally still do.

Sometimes, when we all get together, we relive our toilet trauma through the re-telling of stories. We remember the time Jim dropped a comb in the toilet and, rather than put his hand into the bowl to retrieve it, he flushed it down – or the time John flushed down a potato after using part of it for his pop gun ammunition. He didn’t want to get in trouble for wasting good food and thought the toilet would be the perfect place to get rid of the evidence. We laugh now when we remember the time our cousin, Freddie, sat on our bathroom sink to wash the beach sand off his feet and caused it to break right off the wall. We were glad none of us had done that. Freddie got yelled at, but he also got to go home and that was the end of it.

In the back of the house (see photo) was the source of the bad plumbing (although our antics didn’t help), a foul cesspool of darkness that would also sometimes overflow. I will never forget how my boyfriend, Kevin, while running playfully around the house, fell into the cesspool. I was surprised that he still liked me after that.

It’s funny how as you get older, even the bad memories seem good, or how when someone dies, the most ordinary of objects can be traced back to them. So many of my actions have been triggering childhood memories. Most of my conversations either revolve around Jim and Dan or eventually get steered back to them. The space they inhabit in my heart and mind is larger and deeper than when they were alive. It’s as if a part of Jim and Dan lives in me, just as a part of me has left with them? Is that what death does? Funny, isn’t it?

June 14, 2005

Meme: 5 Things I Miss

The first time I saw the word "meme" on a blog, I decided it meant “theme about me” (hence the “me” “me”) and was pronounced “meem” to rhyme with theme. Eventually, I looked it up. It’s not in my 1978 dictionary, but the Wikepedia says that “meme,” which comes from the Greek word for memory, stems from a 1976 book by Richard Dawkins, “The Selfish Gene.” Dawkins defined the meme as “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. But in casual use, the Wikepedia goes on to say, “the term meme often refers to any piece of information passed from one mind to another. This useage more closely resembles the analogy of “language as a virus” than Dawkins’ analogy of memes as replicating units.”

I got tagged with 2 memes over the weekend. This one, which came via JustaskJudy, asks: What 5 Things do you miss about your childhood? But first the rules to this meme game:

Remove the blog at #1 from the following list and bump every one up one place; add your blog’s name in the #5 spot; link to each of the other blogs for the desired cross pollination effect.

1. Solioquy http://nbond.blogspot.com
2. Lyvvie’s Limelight http://lyvvielimelight.blogspot.com
3. The Cerebral Outpost http://thecerebraloutpost.blogspot.com
4. JustaskJudy http://justaskjudy.blogspot.com
5. Loose Leaf http://looseleafnotes.com

Next: select four new friends to add to the pollen count. (No one is obligated to participate).

1. Lora http://blackcurrantjam.blogspot.com
2. Jeanne http://musingsofamiddle-agedwoman.blogspot.com/
3. Terrilynn http://seaandsky.typepad.com/
4. Sean http://seans.typepad.com
5. Lu http://luann919.blogspot.com

Five Things I Miss About My Childhood

I miss the house I grew up in, 10 ½ Spring Street in Hull, Massachusetts. We moved there from Quincy when I was 5 years old. When I was 20, the town took our property through eminent domain and burned the house to the ground, before building a sewage plant in its place. I still try to remember or imagine all the things I left in my bedroom closet. I am thrilled when I occasionally see the house again, in a dream.

I miss the granite boulder seawall that ran along the ocean in the back of our house. I ran on it, hopping from rock to rock, in my bare feet and never fell, which I think was formative in developing a “surefooted” self-confidence that carried over into some other parts of my life. We made forts in the boulder crevices that we were sure we could live in. We tried to start fires by rubbing two sticks together to heat up cans of soup.

I miss being with all my siblings as children and the sense of belonging I felt as one of nine. I miss the innocence of the prayer we said at night: God Bless Mommy, Daddy, Jimmy, Kathy, Colleen, Danny, Sherry, Johnny, Joey, Bobby, and Tricia…and believing in Santa Claus. I know we fought, like most siblings do, but even that helped to bond us, I think.

I miss the wild things and the land itself where I grew up. The blackberry patch was where I saw my first bat and black willow spider nest. In the winter the marshy land around it would sometimes fill in with water and freeze, and we could ice skate on it. We had forts and a tower and a cemetery, all within view of our house. The ocean ran along the back of our house and the bay was in front. Once, during a storm, we got flooded and the Coast Guard (who were our neighbors) came in rowboats to get us out.

I miss the lazy days of summer and sometimes even being bored. There was time to lie in the grass and watch clouds, or invent games. I miss the jump rope songs we sang and the game called 7-up. All you needed was a ball and a wall to play it. What ever happened to our paper dolls? Sometimes we played “teenager.” We wore sweaters on our heads for long hair and wrapped bath towels around us for skirts. We made glue from flour and water and looked at the Sears catalog for hours, making imaginary orders that felt real to us.

What do you miss about your childhood?

June 13, 2005

100 Things About Me

When I first got interested in blogs, I noticed that many bloggers had "100 Things About Me" on their sites. I look for the 100 Things when I'm exploring a new blog because it's a condensed and entertaining way to get to know someone. In that spirit, I'm offereing my 100 Things, which I'll do in 4 parts over the next couple of weeks.

1. I grew up in an amusement park town but never rode on the roller coaster.
2. I’m allergic to PABA in sunscreen.
3. I manifested my second husband (love of my life) by playing and dancing to Steve Winwood’s “Bring Me a Higher Love” over and over.
4. My sister, Trish, manifested her husband this way too.
5. I don’t like blue ink pens. Pen ink should be black.
6. My license plate says: L3T IT B
7. When I was a little girl, I thought reporters on TV could see me. I hid behind the couch when they were doing the news because I didn’t want to be seen.
8. My earliest memory was putting a rock in my mouth and wondering if my mother was omnipresent enough to see me do it.
9. When I was 13 my hair went white in a streak on the left side of my head.
10. I had a clinical major depression when I was 19 that lasted 1 -2 years. There were no anti-depressants drugs back then.
11. I used to sneak into the drive-inn theatre by hiding in the trunk of a car.
12. Summer squash used to make me gag, but I like it now.
13. I wore a black crow feather in my hair for one whole summer.
14. I jumped in a hole in an ice covered pond, naked after a sauna.
15. I bought my house with a down payment made from vending my own jewelry at Grateful Dead Concerts.
16. The most life changing event in my life was being with my brother Danny when he took his last breath.
17. I contracted Chronic Fatigue when I was in my mid 20’s. There was no name for it then. I once filled a notebook page with all the therapies I have tried for it. Everything has helped, nothing has cured. I’m in ongoing recovery. Most people don't notice.
18. The most unusual therapy on my above list is: Phsycic Surgery by a healer from the Philippines.
19. Being mother to my sons, Josh and Dylan, has been the highlight of my life.
20. Marrying my husband, Joe, has been the reward of my life.
21. Secret pleasure: popping bubble wrap.
22. Song title that best describes my life: What’s it all about Alfie?
23. Chairs that don’t move are useless to me. I was a rocker as a child, and I'm still in constant movement (usually my foot shakes back and forth).
24. I meditate everyday. I practiced TM (transcendental meditation) in the 1970s. Now I do passage meditation as taught by Sri Eknath Eswaran. (Must sit still for this.)
25. I wrote a book about losing my brothers a month apart. The booked spurred a reunion in the small town my siblings and I grew up in and is being used in a grief and loss class at Radford University.

June 12, 2005

A Blogger’s Blind Date

Okay Gretchen, I wrote it on my calendar...1:00 Friday, Cafe del Sol.
Looking forward to it. ~ e-mail message from Colleen to Gretchen St. Lawrence on 6/6/05

I arrived at the Café del Sol on Friday at 11:00, excited to meet Gretchen and David St. Lawrence from over at ripples.typepad.com. David is a blogger and author of “Danger Quicksand – Have a Nice Day.” He and Gretchen live in Charlottesville, Virginia, but they plan to move to Floyd County soon.

Of course they weren’t at the café at 11:00, since our meeting was set for 1:00 (see above e-mail confirmation). I did write it on my calendar. I wrote “Gretchen and David” in the Friday June 10th box. But I forgot to write in the time, and somehow that morning I convinced myself that we were scheduled to meet at 11.

Plunked down on the big comfy couch with a cup of Earl Grey in my hand, I chatted with my friends, Bernie and Chris, who happened to be in the Café that morning. At noon, I left, disappointed that I had missed meeting Gretchen and David (not realizing, but suspecting, I had the wrong time). I found myself next door at the Winter Sun clothing store spending some money on a beautiful Ecuadorian batik jacket (hey, that wasn’t part of the plan). I was up at the counter, pulling out my wallet when Bernie came over to tell me that Gretchen and David had arrived.

I’m not sure I made a very good first impression, what with getting the time wrong and all. But from my point of view, the real life Gretchen and David far exceeded any expectation I might have had. I knew what David looked liked from the photo on his blog, and Gretchen and I had been corresponding via Loose Leaf and e-mails. The first thing David said to me was that I looked different without my hat on, referring to my blog photo. He didn’t look like his one-dimensional blog photo either. His smile was warm and engaging and his enthusiasm for life was apparent. This is going to be fun, I thought to myself. And it was.

The mix-up was soon forgotten, and over soup and Swiss cheese and spinach quiches, we talked about blogging, publishing, our grown children, and the places we have lived. Gretchen and I hit it off famously. Did I mention that she grew up in Hingham, the next town over from my hometown of Hull?

After a couple of hours and before heading out to do town errands, David signed his book for me, and I signed a copy of "The Jim and Dan Stories” for him. For those of you who are curious about David’s book, which is about surviving and thriving in the workplace, here’s a comment from the back cover, written by William Schaffer, author of High-Tech Careers for Low-Tech People: David St. Lawrence probes the underbelly of the American corporation with wit, and a fierce determination to help employees hand on to – or regain – their sanity. Danger…Quicksand! is right on the mark.

It’ll be great to have Gretchen and David in the county. The more bloggers the merrier, I say.

On Another Note: Happy 80th birthday to my mother.

June 11, 2005

Sex Change

macho me.png

Okay. Do I have your attention?

After two long posts in two days, I’m ready for some blog-lite. A photo will do just fine. Do you notice anything strange about this one? Remember the flash cards we played with as kids of faces, upper bodies, and lower bodies? The object of the fun was to mix up the cards in unlikely orders.

Shall I tell you the secret to the photo?

It’s actually 3 photos lined up to look like one. It’s my head, my Asheville potter son who loves the Red Sox’s upper body, and my husband’s lower body.

Now I know what I’d look like if I was a man. It’s almost too weird to look at. But I always did want to be taller.

June 10, 2005

Is It Summer Yet?

beach foot.png

Technically, the first day of summer isn’t until June 21. But who really thinks of June as a spring month? My blogger friend, Fragments Fred, recently asked his readers, “When Do You Know It’s Summer?” Although, my childhood is the source of my most vivid summer memories, some are continuous and transcend time and age…

I seem to know summer through my bare feet. As a girl, I remember how they hurt, walking on our long gravel drive-way. It didn’t occur to me to put shoes on in June. And if I had, how would my feet ever have gotten tough enough to withstand the rest of the summer?

Growing up on a peninsula in Hull, Massachusetts, my whole body was immersed in water for most of the summer. My feet would flap like flippers through the cool dark liquid bay, while I imagined I was a seal or a mermaid. I recall the feeling of sand through my toes and the sticky residue of dried salt water on my body and in my hair. I can still remember my revelation when, as a young girl, I licked my own skin and tasted the ocean.

Summertime meant being outside at night, something that didn’t happen much when the weather was colder. Feeling as though I was a character from the storybook “Where the Wild Things Are,” I played flashlight tag and relieve-o with my 8 siblings. We lived close enough to our neighborhood friends to call out for them to join in. Although, I was hardly ever alone, when I was, I marveled at the stars, moon-shadows, and the fireflies that lit up the night. I remember the dew drenched grass on my feet and then, because it was dark, stepping on something sharp. I probably screamed louder than I needed to, because howling at night somehow seemed normal.

My feet knew the paths to all my friend’s houses. There were back yard shortcuts to all the best places. Braving the sticker burrs and overgrown fields, we foraged for wild food because our appetites were fierce in summer. We put sugar on everything back then, the mashed up wild blackberries, and the sour rhubarb-like fruit that we called bamboo. I even knew which flowers tasted good (purple crown vetch), but I didn’t tell anyone that I ate flowers.

I often walked barefoot on the paved road to Hull village, just outside our own Stony Beach neighborhood, because the playground was in the village and there was a larger pool of friends to play with there. It was less than a mile, but seemed longer on foot, and sometimes the pavement was too hot. Sometimes the tar would melt into a soup and I would poke it with a stick.

It was safe to roam the whole of our small town, to run down hills and on the granite boulder seawall, to pedal bicycles, jump from swings, and climb trees. In the summer our feet barely ever felt linoleum or carpet. The cuts and bruises and the splinters they endured was a small price to pay for our summer freedom.

My Irish ancestors were a poor and rural people who often wore no shoes. Is that why I feel more myself when I’m barefoot? Perhaps the reason I chose to live in the country, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, is because being barefoot fits the country lifestyle, and I learned as child that I was an extension of nature, meant to feel the earth beneath my feet.

But My 4th grade school teacher, Mrs. Neville, didn’t understand that. She scolded me for taking my shoes off under my desk. It was probably late May and almost summer. What did she expect? Even if she could have managed to get my mind on long division, my feet had another agenda. They knew something much better.

Feel free to share what makes summer for you?

June 9, 2005

Cockney Rhyming Slang

You might think me an English socialite, judging from the fact that I just attended two tea parties in one week. The first was held on my friend Katherine’s back porch and the topic of conversation was growing up Catholic. All of us in attendance were raised Catholic, and one woman had actually spent over 20 years as a nun before being guided from within to leave the convent. There were scones and jam and cream and pots of tea. The words “fire and brimstone” were used.

Then there was “high tea” at Gillies in Blacksburg where black Assam tea, strawberry shortcake, and lemon squares were partaken. The subject there was “the Downing Street Memo,” the leaked English memo which reveals that President Bush and Tony Blair had fully intended to invade Iraq, even while they were telling the public that invasion would be a last resort. The word “impeachment” was uttered, more than once.

The next day, while recovering from carbohydrate overload, I received a phone call from my Asheville potter son who loves the Red Sox. He was back from his trip to England and planned to stop by and visit me on his way home to Asheville. Not only was he speaking in a perfect English accent, he was using Cockney Rhyming Slang.

From my understanding, rhyming slang is most associated with East London and likely derived from gangsters who learned to talk in code as a way to be discreet about their activities. In the bizarro world of rhyming slang “plates of meat” mean feet, and “apples and pairs” are stairs. It would be fun and easy if that was all there was to it, but it’s not. Part of the tradition is to drop the rhyming part of the coded phrase, so that stairs would be called simply “apples.” Holy shite (Irish for you know what)! My son already uses lingo profusely…how will I ever understand him now?

Here’s an example and translation of rhyming slang that I found at The Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary Page: “Got my mickey, found me way up the apples, put on me whistle and the bloody dog went. It was me trouble telling me to fetch the teapots.” It means: “Got to my house (mickey mouse), found my way up the stairs (apples and pairs), put on my suit (whistle and flute) when the phone (dog and bone) rang. It was my wife (trouble and strife) telling me to get the kids (teapots and lids).

While waiting for my son to arrive, I made up a few rhyming slang phrases that I wanted to try out on him…but not before offering him a “spot of tea” (not another tea party, please), so I got the tea-set down from the cupboard, put it on the kitchen table and waited.

He arrived wearing a souvenir T-shirt that said “Mind the Gap” (that would be “watch your step” to us), and after some big greeting hugs, the subject of Cockney Rhyming Slang came up. I told him about the two tea parties I had attended, the scones and lemon squares, and then I said, “If I keep going to tea parties, I’ll end up in with a big jar." I had to translate: jar of jelly = belly. Drop the rhyme word “jelly” and jar, according to rhyming slang logic, now means “belly.”

Some Cockney Rhyming Slang made its way to this country and is still used today, such as with a wet “raspberry” kiss that you blow on the object of your affection (or your victim). The translation goes like this: raspberry tart = fart. Drop the word tart and now raspberry means fart. That’s the sound a good raspberry kiss makes.

Confused yet? If not, feel free to make up your own rhyming slang.

June 8, 2005

All That Jazz

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Her name is Jazzy, but it could be Aslan from “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe,” or maybe Red Riding Hood's "Wolf." She’s my son Dylan’s dog, but she may as well be ours, since Dylan now lives in an apartment in Roanoke that doesn’t allow big dogs and we have the 3 acres.

A few years ago, when Dylan was a teenager, I was driving through town when I spotted him cruising along in his black Honda civic. Sitting next to him was what I thought was a wild blonde woman. What the…? She’s way too old for him. And what’s up with her hair? This was definitely not your typical high school girl, I thought.

Feeling confused, I pulled up closer to get a better look and realized…you guessed it…it was Jazzy.

June 7, 2005

Other Names I’ve Been Called

I was watching the 4th of July fireworks – I like to ooh and aah and give them names like “Pistachio Afro” or “Orange Zinnia in a Blender” – when my eldest son said, “Mum, you’re just like Gidget.” I took it as compliment because when I was a girl, I wanted to be either like Gidget or Annie Oakley.

On another occasion, my younger son was mad at me for some reason I can’t remember now. He was fuming. His face was red. He stammered and stuttered and then let this out… “you…you…YOU BIG FAT OLD LADY!” I tried to keep a straight face. I was neither old nor overweight, but there was no sense in mentioning that and risking escalating him further.

Later, when he calmed down, I had to ask (and did not hold back my smile when I did), “Do you remember what you called me?”

“Yeah…well you won’t let us curse,” he answered.

June 6, 2005

Name Spell

I wasn’t trying to make a statement by keeping my maiden surname, Redman, when I got married; I just felt it was my name, and I didn’t think I should have to change it. “How do you do that, keep your maiden name?” people would ask me. “You don’t do anything,” I told them. “It’s when you change your name that you have to do something, but since I’ve never done it, I don’t know what that is.”

Years later, after receiving a post card from a woman friend that was addressed to “Colleen Red One,” as opposed to “Colleen Redman,” I was prompted to think about how patriarchal our naming traditions are. Not only do we carry our father’s name, but many of those names end in “man” or “son.” After getting that postcard, the fun began…

For 20 years I’ve been co-editing and contributing to "A Museletter," a monthly Floyd community publication. It was there that I began to play with my name, changing it to reflect the subject I was writing about. Over the years Museletter readers have witnessed an endless supply of my last names. Below is just a brief sampling of my chameleon-like aliases.

Name Spell

When it’s spring my name is Colleen Redrobin
In the fall it’s Redelicious
On the road it’s Redroof Inn
On a vacation island it’s Redpassionflowerwoman
When I’m in love I’m Redmana
When I meditate I’m Redmantra
When I haven’t written in a long time I’m Redmanymoons
When it’s Christmas I’m Rednosereindeer
When I’m feeling prosperous I’m Redmany or Redcarpet treatment
When I’m healing I’m Redmend
When I’m mad I’m C. Red
When I’m bleeding I’m SacRed
And sometimes just for fun I’m Redmandala
Redmania, Redmama or Redmoon
My mailmana is very confused

Signed Redmanymorewherethatcamefrom ‘95

June 5, 2005

Word Play

“In a poem the word should be as pleasing to the ear as the meaning is to the mind.” Marianne Moore

I’ve logged in enough hours during my lifetime – fooling around with words, in search of just the right ones – to finally call myself a poet. For many years I would say only, “I write poetry.” To claim to “be a poet” sounds presumptuous, unlike other claims, such as “I am a gardener,” or “I am a mother.” But what other word do we have in our culture to explain one who is so fascinated with language and with using it?

I’m the sort of person who reads a “wet paint” sign, but still has to touch the bench to see if it’s true. I’ve always been curious about the alphabet that way too. I believe that alphabet sounds have properties, like foods have vitamins, plants have medicine and colors have the power to affect our moods. The M…M…M sound conjures a sense of manna, matter or mother. Whereas, the letter G…G…G, when it's hard, sounds antagonistic, especially if it’s followed by R…R…R (Grrr). Why does an L sound so light and lovely while D seems to say “downward descent”?

I like to play with the alphabet. I notice that the word “slack” has “lack” right in it. (Is slack somehow the plural of lack, the way too many pets become pests?) I notice that silent and listen are made up of the same letters, like note and tone are. I know that coyote is coy, because his name tells me so.

I once met a woman who made sock puppets, not the Sesame Street variety, but matriarchal figures, wise women, and witches. When I learned that her last name was “Weinstock,” I couldn’t help but point out that her name also said “Wise in Sock.” When I mentioned to another woman that if she added a G to her last name, “Robinson,” it would become “Robinsong,” she changed her name!

I believe that our names are our assignments and that there is mathematics to language. If we take a letter away or add another, everything changes. I don’t think it’s a mistake that the word “spell” means to put letters together in the right way, and it also means to make magic.

If you look at the word “universe,” you’ll see that it implies a unifying poetry. If you add one letter to “word” and you get the whole “world.” Why don’t they teach that in school?
~From "Muses Like Moonlight" by Colleen

June 4, 2005

An Occupational Hazard

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Sometimes writing is like juggling, like having apples and oranges in the air at the same time. You start to hear the next story before finishing the one you’re working on. Soon you have three or four going at the same time. ~ From Gravity, Muses Like Moonlight

We tend to forget that writing is a sloppy business. None of us would accept a garage mechanic working in our home, leaving greasy tools all over the place. But, somehow we accept writers working at home who are almost as messy. Many of us have one in our home, or are one.

Not only do writers who work at home make messes, but they are inclined to repeatedly burn pots of food on the stove or ignore a sink full of dishes in order catch their drifting thoughts onto paper. Loose papers get spread out all over the house. Stacks of them pile up, threatening to tip over. Half finished drafts and scraps, some typed, some scribbled, get started and then left, and then maybe lost in translation.

Weren’t computers supposed to save us from drowning in so much paper? My husband was recently trying to talk me into getting a laptop that you handwrite onto. The handwriting is then converted into typed and stored text. I told him I didn’t think I would use it, in the same way I didn’t use the digital recorder he bought me to talk my notes into. I couldn’t get used to playing back notes, re-winding and fast forwarding to find the right place. I’d rather shuffle through my papers, spread them out like a buffet, or like a puzzle I’m putting together, and see all parts of the whole. If I can’t hold the written evidence in my hand, I forget it exists.

“I know it’s messy, but this is the way I write,” I defended myself. “I may use a computer more than ever before, but paper is still my first language.”

June 3, 2005

Losing a Loved One

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

When my brothers, Jim and Dan, died a month apart in 2001, the reality of impermanence hit me hard. I’ve been reading about death and contemplating it ever since. Although I’ve experienced firsthand how it feels to have a loved one die, I still don’t understand death. Most of us don't. We know it happens, but when it happens in our own family, our innocence is shattered and our understanding is reduced to that of a child’s. Where do we come from? Where do we go? How do you lose a person? Below are some of my attempts at putting into words the stages I’ve lived through coping with loss over the last few years.

~ In the first year, you look the same, but you’re different. Someone who was a part of you is gone. You feel as if you’ve been abducted by aliens who have conducted experiments that have changed you. You look around for others who have also been abducted (lost a loved one) to compare notes with. You know those who haven’t lost someone close yet will be abducted someday too. But you can’t tell them much about it, because they won’t believe you.

~ The first couple of years: You know how it is when you’ve lost a tooth, and your tongue keeps going to the spot where the tooth used to be? Your tongue is drawn to feel the remaining sharp edges and to repeatedly examine the huge gapping hole left in the tooth’s place. You realize you’ll have to learn to eat differently. It’s sort of like that, losing someone you love. Your mind is compelled to review every detail of your loved ones life and death. It’s a seductive kind of torture that feels good while it hurts.

~ By the 3rd year after losing a loved one, you’re busy with your life. You don’t cry much. Things seem okay, but then you remember: They’re gone. They’re still really gone. It’s like getting the punch line to a very bad joke, over and over.

June 2, 2005

Two Sons


I have another son, the mechanically-minded one who likes cars and 4-wheeling. He does plumbing, remodeling, and electrical work. He’s quieter than his older brother, the Asheville potter who loves the Red Sox, and so he doesn’t end up on my blog very often, which I’m sure suits him just fine.

Generally, my younger son is more yin than his older yang brother. You could assume by the fact that my older son loves the Red Sox that he is naturally competitive and athletic, and you’d be right. He’s all heart and gusto and was born ready to go. It’s not that my younger son isn’t athletic or competitive, but he’s more laid back about it. And he is also full of heart. He’s the kind of person that when playing monopoly as a boy, couldn’t bear to see me lose and would slip me monopoly money under the table if he thought I was losing.

Recently, he came up the mountain from Roanoke, where he lives with his girlfriend, to visit. “What’s new, Dyl?” I asked him.

After thinking a moment, he answered, “I got a new grille.”

I smiled, sweetly remembering, and then responded, “That’s funny. “Grille” is exactly how you used to say “girl” when you were a little boy.”

For Dylan

I dream you as a child
just to hear you talk
in that little boy voice
when I was

Somehow knowing
your voice was just that sweet
when you were seven you asked me
“Do I sound like a girl,

Always striving to be grown up
It happens soon enough
The child will be buried like a pit within
from a fruit already eaten

From that heartbreaking sweetness
you’ve arrived safely grown
with your voice deeply rooted now
in a wondrous young man’s body

But how long have I been deaf
so severed from the past
grieving the death of my child
while you still exist?

You’re my favorite dream
I yearn to compose
each delicately placed detail
In this awakening I am restored

Opening a window
to the music of first speech
It pours like honey through me
I struggle to be lucid

to hold you like a note
to be loved again that purely
to hear you call me

~ Colleen 2/00

June 1, 2005

Two Bits

~ Yesterday I got an e-mail from my friend, Fragments Fred, a blogger who has been mulling over the idea of a “blook” (a book drawn from blog entries), according to a recent post at "Fragments From Floyd." He asked if I wanted to meet him and some out-of-town fellow bloggers at the local Café for lunch. I wanted to go but had too much to do (mostly writing), and so I declined saying, “Sorry Fred, I’m too backlogged…or should I say “backblogged.”

~ On Monday, I called the Easy Chair Bookstore to thank them for my $100 gift certificate slam prize and to give them my Loose Leaf address. The woman I spoke with told me that the store would like to carry my poetry book, “Muses Like Moonlight,” and that they wanted to discuss the possibility of another event, which could include a booksigning. After finishing our conversation, I hung up the phone and exclaimed to my husband, “Wow, you’re not going to believe this?!”

“What? They meant for the gift certificate to be for $10, right?” he responded.