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July 31, 2007

The Best Yet Floyd Fest

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1. FloydFest Vest
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2. Where’s Waldo?
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3. Is it live or is it Memorex?
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4. Predicting the best yet FloydFest
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5. Bowled over
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6. Yielding to gravity (AKA Floydfest rest)
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7. Look what found its way center stage during a “Railroad Earth” set.
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8. Look closer. This is what it’s all about. (Read more on “Building Community” brick by brick HERE.)

Post Note:
Coming soon to a blog stage near you, the FloydFest Poetree Players.

July 29, 2007

A Hot FloydFest Date

fftillfoller.jpgAt first it seemed that my husband Joe had fallen under the seduction of a mistress. Since he took on the task of coordinating on-site parking for FloydFest ‘07, I hadn’t seen him in days. For the past five years, he’s volunteered his time in exchange for a weekend pass, but this year, as the Floyd high school soccer coach, he signed on to head up one of the most intensive behind-the-scenes jobs. In exchange, FloydFest makes a substantial donation to the soccer program to help with the purchase of uniforms and equipment.

In years past, Joe and I watched many of our Floyd friends whiz around on golf carts, taking care of FloydFest business, as we trudged around the sprawling site on foot. There looked to be a certain appeal to being part of the FloydFest inner circle and having entry to places festival goers don’t go. jogolf2f.jpg But we rarely saw those same friends on the dance floor, hanging out in the beer garden, spinning a hula hoop, climbing the climbing wall, having their fortunes read, or sitting in a lawn chair in front of the main stage for a performance.

I knew if I wanted to spend any time with Joe I would have to come into the fold, which meant seeing FloydFest through the windshield of his golf cart. I had earned my own pink sparkly wristband, a weekend pass for performing poetry with a women’s ensemble on the Global Village Stage, but Joe had VIP status and hanging out with him gave me brief access to the back-stage world of hospitality tents where food was served, beer on tap flowed, and comfy couches awaited.

He picked me up in the golf cart for our "date." I pulled in close and put my arm around him. The pace immediately and dramatically shifted. As it picked up, I began to wonder where my seatbelt was, feeling like a Jedi zooming through the back woods pathways. I took pictures as we tooled through the crowds, down the winding cart paths, up to the entrance at the Blue Ridge Parkway. There, I snapped a photo of the result Joe's and other volunteer’s hard work, a parking lot full of cars and campers in organized rows. ffmaracolfjo.jpg

Later, we hopped off the cart so that Joe could give me a tour of FloydFest headquarters, an on-site trailer tucked between trees. There, twenty or so walkie-talkies were spread out on a table being charged, computers were lit up, and several busy people were talking all at once. After that, we drove the cart down to the pond where Joe filled up the tank at an old barn that I dubbed the FloydFest gas station.

On more than one occasion our date was interrupted by the walkie-talkie, a run to the front gate to attend to a problem, or to train a replacement volunteer. “This is my wife,” Joe announced to all the volunteer workers he stopped to talk to. I enjoyed a black cherry ice cream in a homemade waffle cone from a nearby vendor's stand while Joe briefly attended a meeting.

Sometimes we parked the cart, like when it was time for my scheduled 3:30 poetry performance. Although Joe was able to attend that performance, he missed the readings later at the Coffee Bus, in which I and other poets took turns standing on a makeshift soapbox and shouting poetry, mostly about Peter Pan. I edged out on the ledge like Peter as I read, then jumped off as if I was plunging off Captain Hook’s plank, making room for the next poet.
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Live music and poetry, outside dining and dancing – what more could a girl ask for? Joe even appeared mysteriously for a set of Donna the Buffalo, spinning around me on the dance floor before zipping off in his cart again. After sunset we met-up for one last ride. We leisurely followed the moon rising full behind the main stage. Under the spell of a long day well spent, we waved to passersby.

It was dark and coolness had descended on the mountain as Joe walked me to my car. We kissed goodnight to the tune of Cat Empire's final song. It was the end of a perfect date.

Update: It’s Sunday morning and Joe is back to work as I am typing this and am about to begin putting Floyd’s August Museletter together. That’s me, Mara, and Joe in the third photo, dancing on the Poet’s Soapbox to Donna the Buffalo. For an animated clip of the first photo above, the new Hill Holler Stage, click HERE. Also check out the other Floyd bloggers coverage of FF HERE and HERE. More photos coming soon …

July 27, 2007

Stepping Out at FloydFest

annabootsll.jpgSeems you can go anywhere on the grounds of FloydFest with a sparkly pink performer’s wrist band, even to the hospitality tent for a complimentary beer on tap. And if your husband is organizing the parking at the festival you’re likely to get a decent parking place and maybe a ride in a golf cart.

Now if you happen to have on shiny new pink boots (always a good FloydFest choice, since you never know what the weather is going to do) and you’re part of the opening act on the first night of FloydFest, you’re bound to get your picture taken, a lot.

“Did you notice that quite a few people were coming up to take your picture while you were playing?” I asked my son’s girlfriend, Anna, the fiddler player for the Barrel House Mamas.
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“I sort of did.”

“That’s what happens when you’re playing in Josh’s hometown and word gets out that you’re his girlfriend,” I told her.

“But you know,” I continued, “that guy with the big camera, that was Doug Thompson. He’s covering the festival for the Floyd newspaper. He didn’t know you were my son’s girlfriend. He was probably just drawn your boots. Wearing boots like that could land you on the front page of the Floyd Press,” I said.

Here’s how the FloydFest program describes the Barrel House Mamas: This trio of women from Asheville, NC, conjure the sweet and sultry sounds of the Appalachian Mountains they call home in their robust three part harmonies and original songs. Imagine the old-timey pluck and the twang of claw-hammer, and sometimes contemporary funk, banjo. annaboots2ll.jpgNow lace it with middle-eastern inspired flute lines, the wailing honk of harmonica, and the soulful belting of heartfelt poetry. The result is a sound that is all at once bluesy, rootsy, folk, Americana, a touch of country and truly Mama’s own.

I was thoroughly impressed with their set and a couple of them are staying at my house tonight. Check out a short clip of them HERE. And Josh (wearing a Barrel House Mamas T-shirt) talking pottery to a fellow potter on the FloydFest grounds HERE.

July 26, 2007

Thirteen Thursday in Neverland

13computerll.jpg1. There’s something contagious going around Floyd that makes poets write poems about Peter Pan. So far there are five poems with this theme written by five different poets who are scheduled to read them at the café bus at Floyd Fest this weekend. Also, OUTLOUD, the woman's poetry collective I'm a member of, will be doing a thirty minute performance piece on woman's issues under the Poetree at 3:30 on Saturday.

2. I think Tinkerbell looks like Wilma Flinstone.
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3. I never considered Wendy … until the Beach Boys sang about her … The California girl with a tan … She went to the beach with Tiger Lilly … who wore a bikini …

4. I write poetry by ear like a musician who can't read notes but can still play music.

5. All my poetry is auto-biographical. I’m thinking that writing non-biographical poetry might be like being a gay actor who is playing a part of a gay person pretending to be straight.

6. “For every yard of poetry that (prolific) Mara rolls out, I write half an inch.” So began my spoken word open mic set this past Saturday night. I followed that remark with THIS and THIS as an example.

7. Choosing wedding attire for an outside wedding is almost an oxymoron. You want something dressy enough but comfortable, and you have to consider grass stains.

8. You also have to be able to do THIS.

9. When my son Dylan got married last summer his grandmother called me to ask if the women attending would be wearing hats. “Ah…I don’t think so but you can wear one if you want,” I said. She’s English.

10. Last night was the first time my husband and I emailed each other in real time from opposite ends of the house. The next morning while at the kitchen table together I called his cell phone so I could hear the special ring he has just for me. He said the name of it was something like "intrepid spy" or "rendezvous." It made us dance in our seats.

11. Sometimes when I’m typing real fast and my hands slip I end up in the Bermuda Triangle of the computer world, or Neverland.

12. Tinkerbell is described by the author of Peter Pan as a “fairy who mends pots and kettles,” so I have to assume that she was Irish. Not only did she have fiery temper and reddish hair, but her name comes from the Irish word “tinker,” a term related to tinsmith that describes someone who lives a nomadic gypsy life in Ireland (better known today as a “traveler”).

13. Before I knew that Pan was a lustful old man … that Peter was lonely when the boys went home … I was a child who knew I’d never fly … I was a girl determined … not to be tied to a 9 to 5 … wearing panty hose and stilettos … in the middle of July … More later…

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here.

July 25, 2007

The Midweek Update

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In between checking out the paint color in the newly painted Hotel Floyd Writer’s Room and riding up and down Floyd’s windy back roads with my gas tank on empty on the way to visit an artist whose work we want to use in the room, I’ve been harvesting beans, cleaning the dirt off of onions, and squishing Japanese beetles that like my zinnia flowers and basil.
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When I’m not reading poetry at open mic night, playing Scrabble with my friend Mara, attending a wedding, or practicing my part in a woman’s poetry collective that’s performing at Floyd Fest this weekend, I’m hunting down cucumbers that have hidden under leafy vines, waiting for green peppers to turn red, and pulling back little corners of corn husks to see if they're ready to pick.
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And when I’m not cutting Swiss chard, stuffing cherry tomatoes in my pockets, or pulling up the front of my sundress to fill it with potatoes, I’m researching remedies for my dog’s skin sores, googling lyrics of Peter Pan songs for a poem I’m writing, or helping Mara’s daughter count the rings in a tree stump by the Zion Lutheran Church parking lot.

Photos: 1. Hotel Floyd Writer’s Room. 2. Rosemary, Mara, and Allie, members of the woman’s poetry collective at the Zion Lutheran Church rehersing for our upcoming Floyd Fest performance. 3. Mara’s daughter counting the rings in a large tree stump. More about the Hotel Floyd and the Writer's Room HERE.

July 24, 2007

The Day the Music Died

kimandsusanll.jpg Bye-bye, Miss American pie … Drove my chevy to the levee … but the levee was dry …

I picked up the CERC Museletter mail at our local post office, dropped it on the front seat of my car, glanced over to it while turning the key in the ignition, and noticed the front page headline of The New River Free Press: The Last Waltz.

It was an unusual title for the twenty-four year old peace and justice publication. I knew it wasn’t an editorial about The Band’s music, and couldn’t be referring to President Bush, no matter how much I wished it was. I let the car idle as I picked up the newspaper and read what at first seemed unthinkable.

This is the 275th – and final issue of the New River Free Press. What a long, strange trip it’s been, nearly a quarter century of advocacy journalism – speaking out against social and economic injustice, speaking up for peace, human rights and environmental protection, speaking back to the powers that be. And striving to speak the truth.

I first met the Free Press community of activists in 1986 when I was new to Virginia and when the Klu Kux Klan came to Floyd. I stumbled upon the march while downtown and was shocked to realize that the Klan still existed, still recruited, and held marches in broad daylight. Uncomfortable and trying to explain the event to my young sons, I was relieved to see a group passing out protest signs and flyers denouncing what the Klan stands for. They were faces from a neighboring town that I would come to know over the years.

As stated in the Last Waltz editorial, "the Free Press has been more than a monthly news publication. It has been a vehicle for social change: an activist organization, a resource center for individuals and emerging grassroots groups, a meeting place and work place and work space for student and community groups, a communications hub in the network of local, regional and national progressive organizations, a sponsor and co-sponsor of nationally and internationally known speakers and performers." freepress1.jpg

I’ve attended lectures and rallies sponsored by the Free Press, marched against the war in Iraq alongside familiar Free Press volunteers and supporters, written commentaries that have been published in paper, and helped to distribute it in Floyd. But first and foremost, I’ve been a reader. The Free Press has been instrumental in my education of local and world affairs, an active model and catalyst for my own activism.

Although The Museletter, Floyd’s own alternative homespun newsletter has been in print for nearly as long as The Free Press, our readership has always been only a slim fraction of The Press’s average of between 5,000 to 7,000. Still, as a Museletter volunteer I’ve always felt a kindred connection. I felt this especially when I saw photos of the Free Press cut-and-paste layout in a Roanoke Times tribute for the Press’s 20 year anniversary. Although on a larger scale, the layout scene didn’t look that different from how the Museletter is put together. I have gleaned information from the Free Press and reprinted it in the Museletter, and they have, on occasion, used the Museletter announcements for their community calendar page.

Soon after reading the Last Waltz announcement, I was led by Doug at Blue Ridge Muse to another article about the end of the Free Press and learned that I wasn’t the “last to know.” The July 20th issue of the Roanoke Times Current begins, “The New River Free Press kept its final scoop secret for months.” After the last issue hit the streets, Kim Kipling, Free Press volunteer editor and philosophy professor, called the other volunteers to let them know that, “Elvis has left the building,” the paper reported.

Citing changes in the printing press medium due to the internet and lack of new Free Press volunteers as reasons for ending the Press’s long run, Kim’s wife, Susan Anderson, a math teacher who was recently elected to the Blacksburg town council and is the longest serving Free Press volunteer, said, "It was better to stop the paper while we felt it was strong than to kind of limp out.”

Mostly I feel sadness about the end of an era, along with concern about the lack of alternative news coverage the loss of the Free Press will create. But I also understand that change is inevitable and retirement, particularly in this case, is well earned. I hope to attend the Free Press “open house” and book give-away, scheduled at their headquarters beginning at 4 p.m. on July 25th. I have a need to say goodbye, and to say “good job” to all those involved, especially to Kim and Susan, who both promise that, although the Free Press’s run is over, they intend to remain politically active.

Photos: 1. Kim and Susan, reprinted from The Roanoke Times coverage of the Free Press’s 20th anniversary in 2003. 2. Current and last issue of The New River Free Press (scribbled on by me). Read more about the Museletter HERE and HERE.

July 23, 2007

How to Know if it’s Real Love

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Does his hair curl in loops
luring you close
like a crooked finger
gestures, “Come here?”
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Do rainbows reflect
off their wispy black sweeps?
Do your cells speak
emphatically, “YES?”
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A murmur or whimper
freeing itself
from seemingly nowhere
breaks into bold laughter
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You speak in tongues
like a contented cat
Sigh and stretch
as sounds un-spelled
are born from deep inside you
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Does his kiss engage you
in rich conversation?
Do you talk
well into the night?

Post Notes:
The above is the poem I read at Chris and Alina’s wedding. They were married under a chuppah and a big sky on their Floyd property yesterday. Chris, a longtime friend, is a woodworking artist of Native American heritage who leads sweat lodges. Alina is an artist whose art you can view HERE. You can read more about Chris and Alina HERE. The poem is one that is included in Muses Like Moonlight. Although I originally wrote it for my own true love, Joe (pictured sort of in the first photo in the lavender shirt), I picked it to read because I felt that it fit for Chris and Alina. Many blessings to them!

July 21, 2007

Poets on Scrabble Endorphins

scrab3.jpg“The word ‘cicada,’ for example, stops me in my tracks. Sorry, I simply cannot continue.” ~ Billy Collins on choosing poems for a poetry anthology.

Colleen: If I put a blank on a double letter score and a blank is worth nothing, how many points is that?

Mara: Nothing

Colleen: But is it twice as much as nothing?

When Mara and I play Scrabble there’s a lot of laughter and flipping of notebooks as we write down lines we can’t believe we just said. You’d think we were pair of comics instead of poets.

Mara’s nine year old daughter and her friend are arguing. They can’t decide whether to jump on the trampoline, play with my doll house, play pool, or Yahtzee. Mara, who is trying to figure out what to do with an all-vowel rack of letters, stops to listen to them work it out. She looks serious but doesn’t stay that way for long.

“It’s meant to be funny,” she says before reading me the latest poem she’s been working on. It reminded me of something Billy Collins might have written and did make me laugh, especially when she spoke the words “cheap black umbrellas.”

“I just like the word umbrella, the way Billy Collins doesn’t like the word cicada,” I explained when she asked me why I laughed at that particular line.
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I make Mara bubble and squeak and a venison burger for lunch. She brings me a pinch bowl that she made while visiting her aunt who’s a potter. There’s a matching small cup that says RED (for my last name) with a triple spiral like the one that’s framed in my bathroom and the one tattooed on her back.

“When I was a girl it was my chore to hang the family laundry. While doing it I would pretend that the only clothes I had left were the ones I was hanging because the rest were burned when the house caught on fire. What if the words on the board were the only ones we had left to communicate with?” I suggest.

After we decide that all filler words, words that aren’t nouns or verbs, could be used freely, we try it out.

I’m glad I’m not injured … Are you Coy? .. Are you coy daily?

“Hey, there’s a new word in the Scrabble dictionary: Zacation!” Mara announces.

“Does it mean you have to go to New Zealand or some place Dr. Seuss wrote about?” I answer.

After that and for the rest of the game, every time Mara says (shouts) the word “zacation,” she giggles.

Do you think there’s such a thing as Scrabble endorphins?” I ask her. “You know like a Scrabble high? I’m serious.”

But just like if we had smoked something while we played; everything seemed much funnier in the moment than it does to me today. I guess you just had to be there.

July 20, 2007

Flip This

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anais Nin
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1. Start Here
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2. Come in close
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3. Watch it change
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4. Frame by frame
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5. I bet it can make you smile.

I’ve always been fascinated with flip books, since the days when my school friends and I would scribble little stick figures on the corner of our notebook pads and make them move by flipping the pages. All film animation is based on this simple practice. I have a collection of flip books, Mona Lisa’s smiling, a shark biting, King Kong flaying. And I’ve noticed that when I take a group of photos of the same scene from different angles with my digital camera, and then click through them to see how they came out, it creates a flip book effect. But a computer click is not the same as a paper flip or a camera push button press and a fast scroll only blurs. So I'm using my imagination.

July 19, 2007

13 Thursday: What’s it all about, Alfie?

13bhouse.jpg 1. I’m an avid follower of world news, but not lately. The Bush presidency is like a bad movie that’s being drawn out even though many of us saw right through the plot from the start. I wish I could hit fast forward or rewind.

2. If your answering machine message says this: "Speak in rhyme if you’re so inclined … leave a clue if you do," and you’re selling your car you might get this: “I’m calling about the CRV, you see. I’ll call back tonight, even if it’s in the moonlight.”

3. Tuesday was stormy. I had to bow (a pun?) out of a Scrabble game to baby sit my dog who’s afraid of the thunder. So I took a crash course on what to do about a dog with a thunder phobia. HERE.

4. Do you know about the Shameless Lions of Lyon France? They’re not afraid to go out in public wearing horse saddles, maps, masks, or words written on their backs. Some are mod and others are classical or whimsical with names like Dandy, Alfie, Leonardo Leola, and Johnny Cash. They come in all shades of blue, some pink, red, polka dots, and patchwork. One named Mr. Mellow Yellow is blue, while another named Blue calls his owner Yellow. A couple are nameless and one is named “Nameless.” They're walking down the runway HERE, and the Shameless Writer's Circle is HERE.

5. Meet some of my artist friends HERE.

6. “What’s it all about Alfie?” has been a longtime theme song of mine that I sometimes spontaneously break out singing. I found myself singing it recently when I passed the home of an elderly man on my way to town. For years I’ve waved to him when he’s out working in his garden. He passed away a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been sad watching his corn grow taller knowing he’s not here to harvest it.

7. I’ve noticed that sparrows and chickadees have little fear of humans. When I’m out in the yard they keep eating at the bird feeder while the more colorful birds – cardinals, golden finches, woodpeckers, and indigo buntings, seem to feel the need to protect themselves and so fly away. Is there a life parallel here, I wonder?

8. Common birds are down to earth, literally.

9. My rugs and my lawn are on alternating schedules. By the time I finish vacuuming, the lawn needs mowing.

10. Is there any other word in the English language that has two consecutive U’s in it besides vacuum?
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11. Every time I harvest basil I remember Rick describing how prolific his backyard basil was by saying it grows on the moon. It’s funny what random things stick in our minds.

12. SeeingTHIS was the most fun I had yesterday.

13. The second most fun thing I did yesterday was eat my first ear of garden corn. I also ate garden green beans, tomatoes, and venison. So who says you can’t have a free lunch?

Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here. This is my 90th TT.

July 18, 2007

Girl in Blue

kinpurplell2.jpgAs I search the bowl of blueberries for the bluest black ones … I remember 4 and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie … and my son arranging battles between blueberries and grapes … The blueberries always lost because he ate them … ~ From “A Blueberry Pie” by Colleen

I left Virginia for my vacation in Massachusetts at the peak of blueberry season. The night before I left, my son Dylan’s step-daughter and I slid under the black netting that covers my blueberry plants to harvest the plump ready-to-go crop.

At one point I crawled on my hands and knees in between the fruit laden bushes, finding the best position to pluck the ripest ones while avoiding the thorny blackberry volunteers that promised to draw blood if I didn’t.
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In the balmy evening, to the call of the wood thrush, we set about to fill our containers up to the brim with blue. I was working on a quart container for a birthday present for my blueberry loving son, Josh. My husband was due to make another trip to Asheville to work on Josh’s building site, and I wanted to send it, knowing I’d be in Massachusetts for Josh’s twenty-eighth birthday. In the past, there was pie for his birthday, which falls the same time the blueberries are ready. This year fresh blueberries would have to do. (I cut out a red paper heart and placed it on top of my gift before I left.)

She was trying to fill a pint container but wasn’t getting very far because she was eating as she picked. “If you can fill your tub to the top your mother will be able to make blueberry muffins for you,” I told her.

She was thrilled with the potatoes I let her dig up and would later line them up on the kitchen table as if they were treasure or Halloween candy.
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“Do you like French fries?” I asked her and then went on to describe all the ways she could cook a potato. But her blueberry tub was emptying as we spoke, so I went and got a cover for it. I gave her another even smaller container that I would help her fill.

“This one is your very own for the drive home,” I said.

With a blueberry stuck between her lips, she smiled as she took it.

Post notes: Happy Birthday, Josh. Last year’s crop of blueberry reading HERE.

July 17, 2007

A Universal Law

writerc.jpgThis I know: If you're in your twenties and you think nothing of spending a couple hours working on a few lines of a poem, if you do that consistently day after day, it's bound to lead somewhere.

If you spend time developing whatever it is you're compelled to do, it will eventually come to fruition, even if it takes thirty years.

We are self-regulating. If left alone, we will work; we will create; we will become more of who we were meant to be. Sometimes hiring ourselves out to nine-to-five jobs to do other people's work and succumbing to the social pressure of comparing ourselves to others can become detours.

If you start from where you are and take the step right in front of you, the next one will not be a leap, and so will not feel so scary. Rather, it will make sense and be recognizable in the continuing path you're already on.

Whenever I worry that writing is taking up time I could be using to earn a better income, I remind myself that my blog is my master's degree program in creative writing. I think about how much I'm saving by not paying a university to further my education and the fossil fuels I'm not using because I work at home.

I marvel at how determined and self-motivated I've become. But let me tell you this: I'm also a slave driver who barely ever gets a day off.

The above came from some notes I jotted down after selling a piece of writing to a new venue, knowing that it was blogging that led me to freelancing stories to our local newspaper, and that my stories in the newspaper are what has led to this new connection. Unlike the trepidation I endured when I submitted work for a possible Roanoke Times columnist position, this feels more like a natural progressive step, and although I do feel a familiar twinge of self-doubt, I also know that it's an opportunity being handed to me like a pen on a silver platter.

Photo: I know it looks like we're playing cards, but it's actually a photo of the Floyd Writer's Circle at work on a Wednesday evening at the Jacksonville Center. From left to right, there is Katherine, mccabe making tea, Kathleen, Jayn, Rosemary, and Mara. I'm behind the lens.

July 16, 2007

Southie

ellenandcharlesredmanetc22.pngI 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 ... Excerpt from "Where I'm From" by Colleen

One of my goals for my recent trip home to Massachusetts was to tour South Boston, the predominately Irish neighborhood where my Irish relatives first settled. My father's parents were raised and met on the alphabet streets of Southie, and my father lived there when he was young, before moving with his family to North Quincy.

Although I had grown up in Hull, just twenty miles south of Southie, I had never been there, at least not that I could remember. It's true that I marched through the neighborhood in the St. Patrick's Day Parade when I was a girl in the Bellettes of St. Mary's drill team. But I didn't know we were in Southie, and I wasn't aware of my own connections to it. All I do remember about that time was how cold my hands were, how I and a friend had to drop out of the parade to find a bathroom, how Father Lapore helped us find a stranger willing to let us go into her house, and how we had to run to catch back up with our group. shecastleis.jpg
When I was older and took the subway into Boston, I was warned not to get off at the South Boston stops. By then the neighborhood had gone down hill and was over-run with crime, drugs, and the influence of Whitey Bulger, the Irish mob boss who the movie "The Departed" was based on.

I became especially interested in Southie after reading All Souls Day, a memoir by Michael Patrick McDonald about growing as one of ten children in the Old Colony projects. McDonald's story was set during the era of de-segregation and the school busing riots, which played out violently in South Boston. Several of his siblings became involved in drugs, crime, and murder, and one committed suicide. Being one of nine from an Irish Catholic family that began in South Boston, I kept thinking as I read, "That could have been us." Reading about the poverty and corruption, I imagined my Uncle Bernard, who was raised in Southie in a more innocent time, turning over in his grave.

But the primary thing that drew me to want to experience South Boston was some old photographs that my father passed on to me for safe keeping. They were of his mother and father and some of the youngest of their eleven children at the turn of the nineteenth century. My grandmother as a young woman, just a sliver of how I remember her, was dressed in Gibson Girl fashion. They were standing in front of one of the large cannons of Fort Independence on Castle Island at the foot of the South Boston neighborhood. nelsonandtourg.jpg

I wanted to find the same cannon and take a photograph of myself in front of it, but when my sister, her husband, and I got there we learned that most of the original cannons were moved or sold for junk after the Civil War. Others were used for scrap, recycled into more modern weapons for WWII. The biggest, probably the one I was looking for, was moved in 1961 when the island was renovated and expanded.

The tour guide took a liking to us, especially after I told him about the old photographs and promised to send him one for their historic collection. He made sure we got a good tour, even though tours mid-week weren't open to the public. We got up close to the biggest cannon they had, a replica of the older and larger ones. From the top of the fort, we watched the ships in the harbor, snapped some memorable pictures, and learned about the history of the site, which had been home to seven different fort incarnations that dated back to Pre-Revolutionary War.

Although the Irish working class influence is still strong in Southie, many wealthy people have recently bought property along the coast there. collcannon.jpgIt's more racially integrated than it was, seems to be cleaned up from crime, and, for the most part, still feels homey. We walked by the bar that was used in the filming of "Good Will Hunting," and saw the corner store used in "Mystic River." I loved the towering old four-family homes with antique trim and touches that you don't see much anymore. I forgot to bring the photos that my cousin Patty sent me of the houses our relatives once lived in, the Bergins, the Murrays, the Redmans, and Dineens. Although, I didn't remember the address numbers, I knew what streets they lived on. As we walked, I imagined them coming in and out of front doors, and walking on the same patch of sidewalk that we were walking on more than one-hundred years later.

Photos:
1. My grandparents, some of their kids and relatives on Castle Island, South Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1900's. 2. My sister Sherry at the fort on Castle Island a couple of weeks ago. 3. Her husband Nelson and a historian at the fort. 4. Me in front of a cannon on my first visit to Castle Island. More on Castle Island HERE.

July 14, 2007

Girls in Need of a Hairdresser

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Hold on to your hat and Click HERE for my video contribution to the Sunday Scribblings subject of HAIR starring me and my sister Sherry.

July 13, 2007

Stalemate

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The poem stops here
The writer concedes
She has written herself
into a corner
in a page of pawns
and flawed rhymes
There will be no final word
to move you

Post notes: Sometimes when writing poetry, cutting and editing and moving stanza lines around, a stalemate can occur. The above poem was a byproduct of THIS poem, which I wrote easily, up to a point. After work-shopping it with my fellow members of The Floyd Writer’s Circle, I rearranged the order of lines but then felt like a line was missing in the rhythm. I worked for days, coming up with many possibilities for a line to insert in between the words"shell" and "turn," none of which I was happy with.

July 12, 2007

13 Thursday: The Downhill Ride

mat13.jpg1. Number 90 on my “100 Things about Me” says, “My energy is like a ball I’m trying to keep up. If it falls it stays down for a while.”

2. On my first day home after my twelve day trip to visit my family on Massachusetts coast, I didn’t have the strength to unpack. Forced to spend a good part of the day in bed, I read most of the 2008 We’Moon that had just arrived in the mail.

3. We’Moon is described by its creators as an "astrological moon calendar and ecofeminist appointment book that contains inspirational art and writing by womyn on the growing edge of international womyn's culture.” The theme for this year, arrived at by drawing the Justice Motherpeace tarot card, is “Mending the Web.” It’s a stunningly beautiful edition with colorful art that jumps off the page and moving words that inspire activism and make me feel proud of the contribution that women make. See it HERE.

4. This excerpted quote by Marcia Starck especially struck me: “My great-grandchildren ask me in a dream, What did you do when the world was unraveling?”

5. Gloria Steinem has coined the term “prick flicks” as a counter to the characterization that films that women watch are “chick flicks.” The term “chick flick” is often used as a way to describe a movie not to be taken seriously. But Gloria points out that they are about "how people live instead of how they die” and that we should get our priorities straight. The rest of this thought provoking article is posted on Bonnie’s Book Blog HERE.

6. I took the skateboarding photo of my sister Tricia’s son, Matty, the day before I left Massachusetts. Tricia has two blonde sons like me, but because I’m fourteen years older than her, my sons are as much as fifteen years older than hers. I used to call my sons the “prototypes,” and hers the “prodigies.” And now hers are big into skateboarding just like my sons were at their age. matskate.jpg

7. Although I never rode on the Paragon Park giant roller coaster in the beach town I grew up in, I was brave enough (or crazy enough) to skateboard down Fort Hill in Hull Village with a homemade skateboard made with wheels that I took off a pair of roller skates. View image"> LOOK what stands where the Paragon Park roller coaster used to be.

8. My brother Jim’s daughter Val (in photo number 2 HERE) is a bartender in a trendy club in Boston. She is tall and lean with long dark hair, wears black eyeliner and tight low slung jeans with a silver studded belt. At our recent family cook-out she was walking around talking on her cell phone, which is when I started to call her the “anti-Paris Hilton.”

9. I have two poems in WeMoon 2008, THIS one and the first one HERE. And I’m excited to be sharing the pages of We’moon with the likes of Alice Walker, who contributed this year and said this about it: “I am thrilled to be a part of We’Moon 2008. I have been using your calendar for years and years!!!”

10. After a trip and upon returning home, I feel opportunities for big changes are opened. Not only do I feel like starting new projects but I’m ready to clean the house. I see my surroundings with new eyes, and some things I’ve accepted in the past, I no longer have any patience for. “Our house is too dark! Let’s put in skylights! Let’s make the windows bigger!” I begged Joe.

11. “You are destined to lead a religious cult full of people who paint their faces purple,” so says my virtual fortune cookie, found via Bonnie’s. I find myself hoping that this prediction isn’t part of the change I feel afoot.

12. While I was in Massachusetts, Joe spent another weekend helping my Asheville potter son Josh who is building large three tiered kiln on his property. Upon returning from Asheville, he spent the rest of the week as a staff member at a nearby week long mediation retreat for teens. Four other staff members stayed in our house. I met three of them briefly at the airport when Joe came to pick me up. They were flying back to California in the same plane I just got off!

13. In a past bio for earlier We’Moon journal, I wrote about my love of words, saying that “I like to break words down, expand on them, and read them in ways other than from left to write.” I never even thought about reading upside down letters until I found this flipped-out word generator (also at Bonnie’s). Who can read this poem that I typed in the generator about a downhill ride? ˙ǝpıls ˙˙˙ ǝɥʇ ˙˙˙ uʍop ˙˙˙ ƃuıpıɹ ˙˙˙ ʎoɾ ƃuıʇɟıldn ˙˙˙ s,ǝɟıl ʎq pǝllnd ˙˙˙ puıɥǝq punoɹ-oƃ-ʎɹɹǝɯ ǝɥʇ ǝʌɐǝl ˙˙˙ oƃ ʇǝl ı sǝɯıʇǝɯos puɐ ˙˙˙ ǝɔuǝpıɟuoɔ ou oʇ ǝɔuǝpıɟuoɔ ɯoɹɟ ˙˙˙ ʇsnɹʇsıɯ oʇ ʇsnɹʇ ɯoɹɟ ˙˙˙ ƃuıʍs ı :ʍɐs ǝǝs

Post notes: Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here.View more 13 Thursday’s here.

July 11, 2007

Beach Landing

beachum4.jpgThe airplanes taking off from Boston’s Logan Airport sound like faraway thunder. But the sun is out. I can see it in between clouds reflected on the glassy wet shore where I walk with my head down. Avoiding its hazy hot glare, I step on the cool floating cumulus fluff and forget for a moment that I’m on the beach. Feeling as if my world has been turned upside down, I’m shaken from everyday assumptions, but I’m not dizzy. I’m intrigued. In this new world, the lime green, shocking pink, and aqua blue umbrellas that dot the landscape could have fallen from above like parachutes. They could have been planted like flags on the moon by families staking their claims. Chairs, towels, blankets, and coolers, providing supplies, circle the camp-out stations. Like an explorer, I scan the open terrain and make note of all I see. More umbrellas in the distance. They look like small floating islands in a sea of undeveloped shore. ~ Nantasket Beach, Sunday July 8th.

July 9, 2007

The Twelve Days of Vacation

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In the last twelve days I’ve eaten Italian food in the North End of Boston, walked the alphabet streets of South Boston where my grandparents met and my father was born, and toured the forts on Castle Island with a tour guide who flirted with me.
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I took a five hour boat ride, saw seven lighthouses up close, got my tarot cards read at Regina’s Tea Room, stocked some of my books, The Jim and Dan Stories, at the old Coast Guard Station that’s now a Lifesaving Museum, and ate a lobster roll and fried clams on the beach, compliments of my niece Heather.
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I had my first cappuccino, told the romantic story of how Joe and I met to my nieces Molly and Samantha, and walked miles of beach at sunset and moonrise and with fireworks in the sky.
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I got a pedicure from my sister Tricia, watched her sons do skateboarding tricks, reunited with a girlfriend who I’ve known since the second grade, and played Scrabble on my mother’s porch with her neighbor’s son (who was in town from Florida and who regularly reads my blog) and his wife.
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I had a beer in Joe’s Nautical Bar across the street from the Pemberton dustbowl where I sometimes had CYO drill team practice when I was a girl, swam in my brother Joey’s pool and drove his Porche to the Hull Village Cemetery where I spent some time by myself at my brothers Jimmy and Danny’s and my father’s graves.
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I made my mother’s bed for her while she was at church, had a pink balloon flower made for me by a clown, climbed the Blue Hill observatory tower at my brother Jim’s sixth annual memorial cook-out, read up to page 197 in The Secret Life of Bees, and took a picture of the house on Allerton Hill in Hull that once belonged to President Kennedy’s grandfather.
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I got stuck in beach traffic with my sister Tricia, drove in the back of a cop car after my sister Sherry’s keys got lost and we couldn’t get into her car, ate clams dipped in butter that my brother Johnny dug at low tide, slept over my sister Kathy’s house, and blogged from a Starbucks in the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, during a two hour layover on way home (but did not have time to proof read this or load twelve pictures).

On the thirteenth day she rested.

Photos
: 1. Boston skyline. 2. Boston Light. 3. "A" Street Pier sunset on the bayside of Hull. 4. Scrabble game with Stuart and Carol. 5. Colleen in Joey's porche with the license plate that says "WRKHRD." 6. Great niece Samantha climbing the Blue Hill Observatory tower. 7. My brother Johnny in town from Minnesota on the lighthouse tour.

July 8, 2007

The Sunday Funny Papers

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1. Clowning around
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2. Best land shark singing telegram in town
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3. Don’t try this at home
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4. The usual suspects
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5. Family resemblances
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6. Life at the beach is a bowl of cherries
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7. Beachcomber

Photos: 1. My sister Trish struck up a conversation with a clown while waiting for our friend Nancy and I to pick her up at a designated meeting place. We found her on the sidewalk with him waving to us when we arrived and before heading out to the North End to eat Italian food. 2. Jim's daughter Val and longtime family friend, Ernie, with the singing telegram shark at my brother Joey’s 4th of July cookout. His kids hired the shark to sing Happy 50th birthday to him and their mother. 3. Curious is my middle name. 4. Which float would you trust? 5. My nephew Patrick and I have something in common. Read what it is HERE. 6. Beach snack. 7. I do like to comb the beach for shells, rocks, and driftwood, but sometimes I need a comb for other reasons, like THIS!

July 5, 2007

A Hullava 13 Thursday

13notebookll.jpg1. "I’m pretty much an open book with a few pages torn out." So read a comment I left on someone’s blog entry that was inspired by the recent Sunday Scribblings prompt, “I have a secret.”

2. HERE’S what my sister and I do when we’re on vacation. We go to the hairdresser, NOT!

3. 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. ~ From “Is it Summer Yet?” a past WVTF public radio essay about summer as remembered by my feet. More HERE.

4. I haven’t lived in my hometown of Hull for 35 years and I haven’t lived in Massachusetts for 27 years. Being a peninsula that is six miles long and less than one mile wide in most places, growing up here was like growing up on a small island. Whenever I come home it’s as if the place glows, like a shiny scene from a favorite dream that I realize is real.

5. My mother’s cat, which she got through a local humane society group, has the same name that my dog at home has: Jazzy.

6. Before I left Virginia for Hull, my husband did auricular therapy on me. It’s a form of acupuncture which, in this case, involves the taping of seeds in various places in my ear. When my sister Sherry saw me at our brother Joey’s cookout last Saturday, she thought I had an outbreak of blackheads in my ears.

7. One auricular website says this about the therapy: Auricular acupuncture was developed by the ancient Chinese and was also used by Northern Plains tribes using porcupine quills. It consists of stimulating designated points on the skin by the insertion of needles at specific points related to internal body functions. Energy or Qi (pronounced CHI) moves throughout the body and can become blocked, too week, or stagnant. Auricular acupuncture balances this energy. Physically, auricular acupuncture relaxes and reduces stress, decreases pain, increases energy and immunity, and normalizes sleep. Mentally and emotionally, it helps you feel clear, alert, calm and focused. Auricular acupuncture is specifically used in stress management, relaxation and chemical dependency treatment.

8. Before I left Virginia, I sent Paul Newman this email: I've been using Newman's Own salad dressing for years and have recently been disappointed in the change from glass to plastic containers. It's been determined that heated-up plastic can leech cancer causing agents. How long do some people's dressing last? Does it sit out on picnic tables in the summer heat? Why even take the chance? Your products are good and shouldn't be lowered to plastic containers. You wouldn't see imported olive oil in plastic and there's a reason. Bring back the glass!

9. As far as Scooter Libby being busted out of jail because President Bush doesn’t agree with the rulings determined by judges that he appointed, I say this: Even Paris Hilton served her jail term.

10. On the sixth day of my fun filled vacation, at my sister Sherry and Nelson’s house in Marshfield, I was sitting out in the yard under a sun umbrella, drinking tea and reading a book when Nelson came out. “I have big plans for today,” I announced. “Oh,” he asked, wanting to know what I had in mind. “I’m doing it right now,” I told him. My big plans were having no plans.

11. Nelson and Sherry and I took a tour of Southie, the part of Boston where my Irish relatives first settled. We rode past the bar where "Good Will Hunting" was filmed and the little corner store used in "The Departed." I took a picture of a TV on the sidewalk and got a free tour of the fort on Castle Island in trade for a late 1800’s photograph I have of family members in front of a big cannon at the fort. ~ More on this in a future post.

12. “I’ll get that to you by the end of the summer,” I told the tour guide as we left, which since then has been the line I’ve been using for just about everything.

13. Last night my family and I attended the 6th annual Jim Redman Memorial Cookout at the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, Massachusetts. After my brother Jim, a weather enthusiast and BHO volunteer, died in 2001, the observatory erected a dedication flag with Jim’s name on a plaque in honor of him. There are now plans to build a new facility on the site using LEED (The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building standards, the same standards that the Hotel Floyd is using back home in Virginia. “It makes sense that the weather community does its part to curb global warming and be a model for others,” I said to one of the staff members who agreed with me.

Post Notes: Thanks to Nelson for his photo shop lesson, which allowed me to insert the 13 on my notebook. And thanks to Christine at Chicken Scratch and Bonnie at Bonnie's Books for including me in her list for a Rockin Girl blog award. Thirteen Thursday headquarters is HERE. My other Thirteens are HERE.

July 4, 2007

Power to the People on Independence Day

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1. When fireworks became illegal in Massachusetts, the people took matters into their own hands. On the night before the 4th of July something akin to The Boston Tea Party takes place up and down beaches of the north and south shores of Boston.
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2. Rows of huge bonfires are set. Hordes of people come out to watch the three hour nonstop display of professional quality fireworks being set off by citizens.
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3. Screaming Mimis, diamonds, gold fringe, green caterpillars, and red cobras. With a cold beer and from a blanket in the sand, we oohed and ahhed and named the fireworks as they exploded above and from left and right for as far as we could see.
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4. In a scene reminiscent of war camp bonfires and songs about rockets red glare, boats and ships anchored near the shore to watch.
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5. It was a photographer’s dream with scene after scene of dramatic celebration. A feeling of freedom was all about.

Post Notes: Read more about this tradition HERE. See a video clip of last night’s celebration that my sister Sherry, her husband Nelson and I went to HERE.

July 3, 2007

The Poetry of Beach

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No neckties. No shoes. No business men in suits. Red and purple pails splash like paint on a wash of pale blue canvas. Sherbet colored shovels lie waiting to scoop sand or dig gullies for toy boats to sail in. Toddlers waddle and wade near the shore. Giddy girls giggle at their reflections.
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Seawater glows like polished tourmaline. Under a pillow of clouds, it ripples. At sunset a dusky shade of lavender falls. A girl in a turquoise bikini shivers and strikes a pose. A single man walks as if he has stepped out of a Monet painting with a smile on his face, looking for a snack bar to buy fried clams.

Photos: 1. Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts, four houses down from where my mother lives in the town I grew up in. 2. A day later, in the evening at Duxbury Beach while visiting my sister Sherry and her husband, Nelson.

July 2, 2007

Room to Remember

dadsll2.jpgThe Irish look within and see behind – know the heart and read the mind ~ written on a plaque in my father’s bedroom

Turns out my dad had the best room in the house. In the past when I visited him and my mom I slept in the small third floor attic bedroom that could double for a sauna on hot summer nights. Now that he’s gone, my mother has set me up in his room on the second floor. Not only is it cool and breezy because of the windows cross ventilation, but I recently discovered that I can pick up free wireless from the bed. The digital scale I used to slip in his room to weigh myself on is here. So is the best morning meditation chair. But I miss his suspenders and sweater that used to be draped across the back of it. His shoes are not on the floor by the chair waiting for him to put them on.

The patterns in the wood furniture that dates back to when my parents were newlyweds stir childhood memories as I look at them now. When I was a girl the dresser and bureau held adult mysteries, and sometimes I would peek into that world. The pictures on the walls are familiar. Mostly they're photographs that tell my father’s life story. The one above the bed hung in our living room for years when my siblings and I were growing up. It's a seascape with a big rock on the shoreline that we used to think was a giant horseshoe crab.

Cassette tapes of big band music and songs from the 40’s are still on a bedside bookcase. Their melodies used to play softly in the background, but now they are only memories. There’s no clutter, and the simple things I associated with my father – bottles of Vicks vapor rub, eye drops, and vitamins – are gone. The Chinese medicine balls that I gave him as a gift many years ago are still here in their blue satin container. I find myself staring at them and remembering his hands as he twirled them. They rang like a bell as they clanged together.

When I first arrived for my weeklong vacation I noticed that my father’s scent was gone from the room. But now I'm not so sure. Sometimes when I take a deep breath I think I can sense a faint hint of it.