Thursday, December 31, 2015

Continental Drift

I got over New Year's Eve a long time ago.  There were some memorable ones along the way, but after a bit, they just got into expectations blown way out of proportion.  January is a tough time for many reasons, but tonight it'll get tougher because some folks will end relationships or come to the conclusion that they might think about that.  It just does that to people.
I recall a few NYE's that stand out because of where I was.  A young man in South Texas, a middle aged man on the gulf coast in Louisiana, and one particular night in Berkeley, California.
My friends and I  (at the time) came up with an idea for a New Year's Eve dinner where each guest would bring one part of an elegant feast that would take hours to consume.  The idea was to have each guest bring one dish that was particularly meaning to them and then "present" their dish  with an explanation of what went into it as well as the background detailing how they came to appreciate the item.  One of my friends explained that his aunt made Minestrone soup every day of her life.  She lived on a farm in Washington state and picked fresh vegetables all the time.  He had the recipe and shared this wonderful soup with us early on in the dinner.

I can't remember what I brought, but I think it was a main dish.  The party was at my house and my significant other at the time cooked a stew that traced to her native Kentucky home.  I should mention that it was a particularly cold New Year's Eve that year, so soup and stew were most appropriate.  Over the course of the evening, we ate many wonderful dishes.  Sometimes just a taste, sometimes a bit more.  Our original idea was that if we started at about 8:00 pm we could entertain ourselves with food until the midnight hour.

That was the plan until one of my friends and I realized that nobody brought a dessert of any kind.  Not wanting to  appear unorganized, we decided to make one in the kitchen right on the spot.  Taking some bananas dates and a few Kiwi fruit we found on the kitchen counter, we sliced and diced and ultimately plated what we called a "Turkish Continental."  Presenting this tempting delight, we improvised a bullshit story on the spot about how those ingredients were a sacred combination of healthy and symbolic ingredients that brought good fortune in the new year.  Nobody blinked.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cabin in the Sky

I see it out the window of my upstairs bathroom.  It's a handy perch from which to see everything above street level.  It's been there ever since I moved in here about 7 months ago.  After all the rain, wind, and now sleet and snow it remains tucked neatly in the upper branches of an Alder tree.  From what I can tell, it's empty.  But the fact that it's survived tells me it cold easily be occupied again in a few months.


It's a nest.  Probably a robin's nest because they were visible a while back from my upper vantage point.  I marvel how it remains secure in it's place tucked in tightly between branches and able to withstand all that nature has to offer.
Some of the new apartment buildings going in all around this little cabin in the sky don't seem so well built.  Like the birds that occupy that nest when the temperatures warm, the people soon to move into those new dwellings are just looking for some place to land.  The battle for gentrification is being fought all around my town, with and without the birds and their homes.
Do birds she shelters?  They could in this case because this one on my street is going nowhere.  This week it even filled with snow for a little while.  But like a strong road, it drained well.
Today, as I traversed the city I noticed the skyline dotted with more branch bundles and nests that have survived.  No agent to unlock the premises for potential new occupants, just move-in ready.  The rivers and streams are filling rapidly.  The snow-pack is restoring itself nicely.  And the prospect for new crops of birds look very good on this dark winter day.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Good Lord Book Club

I was looking forward to the meeting.  I't had been a few months since my old book group disbanded and I missed the possibility of discussing good literature with other people.  Yes, possibility, because some book groups don't talk about books.  I conveniently forget that.
The old group was only a few people.  They seemed more interesting in drinking the oversized cups of tea and eating the enormous slices of cake that the little coffeehouse where we met was famous for.     I get that working people have difficulty reading whole books within a few weeks.  Especially books that are deemed to be assigned.  But if the people are friendly, and the conversation good, it doesn't matter much, does it?
It does to me.  I want a book group that reads books and likes to talk about them.  Hell, my writing group could produce quality writing and do it while discussing books at the same time.  Am I being ridiculous?  Is it too much to ask for?  So...I was looking forward to the meeting of this new group sponsored by my local library.  They even give people the books!
When I saw James McBride's Good Lord Bird was to be the featured book of the December 14th meeting, I jumped at the opportunity.  I love that book. It's got everything I look for in a good read.  Dubbed a historical novel, McBride's portrait of the infamous slave rebellion leader John Brown is hilarious and poignant.  The writing voice is electric.  This book is centered in my wheelhouse.  Bring it on.

We arrived a few minutes before the start and found our way back to the little room at the read of the library where the book discussions take place.  Three older women dotted the table in the middle of the room.  They were soon joined by 3 more, all in their late 60s or early 70s.  Then the facilitator arrived.  A peppy woman in her late 50s, I'd say.  She introduced herself as Alice and plopped a bag of doughy scones on the table and proceeded to unload her backpack with books and papers all related to John Brown , James McBride, or the raid at Harper's Ferry.  Two more folks arrived and I realized this was just abut the most bizarre looking group of people I's ever seen assembled in one place.  So this is who depends on the library to give them book, I mused.
"Don't the men in this neighborhood read," as the 10 member , a woman with one eye completely closed and oozing something entered, took a scone and began rummaging around for her copy of the book.  No response to my query, I guess I need to raise my voice...but I don't see any hearing aids.
The facilitator began a brief presentation on the collection of materials she displayed before us.  Other books fiction and non-fiction, adult and young adult, all on the historical figure John Brown and some of the people in his life that many of our book's characters were based on, loosely or not. All helpful stuff.  Before the meeting formally began another person entered.  I almost blurted out , Yay! a man who reads," before the figure before me removed her had to reveal a rather masculine looking woman.  No big deal.  Just glad I didn't embarrass myself.  I'm sure I must have looked as weird to them as they appeared to me.
I was hoping to redeem my estimate of these folks, but then we began to go around the table and each tell what we thought of the book.  That's when things got murky.  The first 3 opined that they didn't care for the book but that the writing voice was great.  That was followed by two confessions that they couldn't make it through the book because it didn't hold their attention.  But...the writing voice was most original.
Who are these people?  For the next few minutes, the time it would be my turn to express an idea, I was debating what word I would use to relate how wonderful this book was and why I thought this way.  I settled on "adore."
So it went.
After the initial comments, we actually did share ideas about the substance of the book.
---Second installment to follow---

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Weather or Not

I just found out something that might be important.  The weather on the day I was born.  Apparently, on my birthday...the original...it was 54 degrees sunny but windy in Los Angeles.  I cannot substantiate that as fact, but the information came to me in the form of an advertising gimmick that offered the opportunity to punch in a few numbers on an web page and get this valuable insight.  Free!
Now what.  Maybe there is a writing prompt here.  Maybe the weather on the day you were born says more about your personality than we think?  Maybe.  Where does that leave folks born in a storm or heat wave?  Am I to believe that my 54 degree first day make me rather moderate, with a bright attitude that is prone to be blown off course from time to time. Or could that be you too?
Aside from savants who often remember the weather on every day of their lives, I wonder how many people would rely on this  data as anything reliable?  So how do we learn previously unknown things that might help us navigate our brief lives?  Other folks comes to mind first.  Here the slope can be treacherous...at times.

To see ourselves as others see us is a real privilege.  I sometimes think I have an exaggerated sense of self.  Perhaps having the bully pulpit of the classroom for many years contributes to this.  But then I hear from someone about something long buried in the past and I think that maybe, yes, I did have a hand in shaping a few lives along the way.  It's never an overt or purposeful endeavor.  It just happens from a combination of things.  Immeasurable, to be sure but delightful in it's recognition.
Malcolm X used to say, "the chickens will come home to roost," in describing the wrongs done to African Americans.  At this moment in time, we are seeing more of the chickens and getting a good glimpse of the roost.  Just think how many atrocities have gone un-videoed and how many are popping up currently.  There are homeward bound chickens all over the current political scene and system.  This reckoning will hit a temporary climax with the next Presidential election.  Core values, what it means to be American and the ethical and moral consequences of our actions now are at stake.  That's all.  I wonder what the weather was like on the day the Constitution of the United States was written?  But then as Bob Dylan has so often reminded us, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Humanity's Reminder

Dark days get darker.  More shootings than days in the year gone by, more stereotypes, and the line between perception and paranoia diminishes to a slender thread.
The nation readies itself for the holiday season as anticipation gets tempered by the varieties of pain and suffering never before imagined.  We are all waiting for another large shoe to drop somewhere...nearby.

That a pall hangs over our planet is hardly news anymore.  And still we go to the well to find relief.  What do you do or where do you go for a reason to rise and do it all over again from day to day?
Best advice I ever got was to go to what you know will always be there and what you know to be true.  The variety of filters we all use to comprehend our eternal predicament makes anything possible.  I go to the Blues.  If nothing else, it brings a smile, or a tear.  The polarization of my emotions.  The reminder of my humanity.
We all need our escapes and there are an infinite amount of alternate universes from which to choose.  Maybe we could simply by a gift for someone or pay forward  few dollars we intended for something else.  Most likely, we don't even know what we intended a few dollars for, do we?
Somewhere, a tiny voice reminds us that January is almost upon us and a huge collective corner will be turned.  The color of the month will change.  So, if in this pitch we currently navigate, the reds are violet to burgundy, and the greens don't quite have the odor of fir or spruce, the light of another sun will glow over the mountain in that someday to come next year.
This is how we do it.  We savor what we know to be permanent or at least seems so, and force ourselves to remove our own agendas from our dealings with others and then stand (and sit) back and watch the river flow.