Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I breath, not a sigh, but a giant exhalation of relief. For the last ten days we've been hosting a guest who has now left. My house is returned to me, with all its dusty corners and sweet, forgotten surprises, like this bouquet of euphorbia that's been sitting ignored in my front window. Now I can take photos of it without being questioned about my photography habits or my gardening habits. I no longer have to share my thoughts or my space.

I've been reminding myself repeatedly throughout our guest's stay, just how lucky we are. Ten days with an old acquaintance should be considered a gift, a chance to learn something new. We have plenty of room to share. We have plenty of food. But what about people who have to take in refugee relatives? What about people who have never known a couple square feet of private space?

I wonder if my love of solitude is something I was born with or if it's at least partially a product of having grown up with my own bedroom, a wide backyard and a sister who was equally uninterested in my company as I was with hers. Is there anyone in the insanely crowded cities of India or China who have the same hermetic longings but are forced to always share, to be perpetually in the presence of others? There are ways to adapt, I suppose. I'm just thankful that I don't need to find out what those are. Not yet, at least.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'd been wanting to see Jane Campion's movie Bright Star, so when I realized this month's Poetry x 12 challenge was to read a poetry collection by a poet featured in a movie, it seemed like the obvious, if not downright lazy choice. All I knew about Bright Star was that it was by Campion, who's made some truly great movies, and that it was a love story about a poet. For some reason I thought it was about W.B. Yeats and Maude Gonne. Of course, in an instant of turning on the movie, I realized these were not Irish Nationalists at the turn of the century. This was Keats and Fanny Brawne. Oh dear.

I've never been a fan of the Romantics. I distinctly missed out on studying with the best English Prof. at my college because he taught Shelly and Byron and Keats. I couldn't stomach it. But that was twenty years ago. Maybe Keats and I could come to better terms via the silver screen.

It is a beautifully filmed movie. And in this case, the beauty of each and every shot, is not just a bit of tasty frosting, but what the movie is about. I can still feel the breeze rolling in through that window, fluttering across her skirt. Aaaaah.

Scrawny, sickly Keats (who could easily have been plucked out of a Portland bar, stripped of his ironic t-shirt and made to memorize the lines) says this to Fanny when she first feigns an interest in poetry: "A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it's to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery."

Good advice in general, and in particular with the Romantics. When I pulled out my giant, tattered copy of Norton's English Literature and flipped through the thin pages to the section on Keats I tried to keep this advice in mind, but still, I failed. I could barely get through a single Ode. It wasn't until I looked up some very oddly animated videos of Keats poetry that I was able to begin luxuriating (with my eyes closed...the videos creeped me out). Without trying to follow the meaning or understand the philosophy I fell into the rhythms of the language, soothed by them like a lullaby. Of course, lullabies are really good at putting me to sleep.

So much for this month's challenge. Now who's going to make that Yeats movie? That I really want to see.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Camera Supplies. Myrtlewood. Souvenirs.

Last week, I took the train to Seattle. As wary as I was of this notoriously tardy stretch of Amtrak, it was hard for me to pass up a few hours of swaying through the scenery. I love the faded glory of the old train stations. I love the graffiti-slashed walls nobody's supposed to see. I love the brambled woods that open onto a brilliant stretch of dark blue harbor. As long as the train is moving, I feel as though I could sit forever and watch the world pass this way. Something about the train rhythm and the train view syncs perfectly with my brain's rhythms and thoughts: Not dwelling, but seeing and smiling and moving on. Over and over and over.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Other Grandmother

Last week I received a short video my sister made for her students who were doing a digital storytelling project. The subject was my paternal grandmother, a strong, bright mystery of a woman. As my sister explains in the video, my grandmother was her role model, the woman she most longed to be. My sister became an archeologist just like my grandmother, traveling the world to dig around in small plots of strange dirt.

I'm sure I've pulled out the same grandmother myself in more than one school essay. She was the easy one to spotlight as wild and unique. She had impossibly long dark hair that she secreted up into a bun every morning. She married and divorced the same man twice. She lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and rose above the ranks of the "pot pickers" to become a published archeologist.

But what about the other grandmother? She was the American born daughter of two Italian immigrants. She lived in the Bay Area for 95 years, worked in a ketchup factory, married young and raised three daughters. At the age of 55 she moved into a retirement community and made us biscotti every Christmas. Instead of ancient desert treasures, she collected crystal figurines. Instead of escaping to exotic landscapes she traveled almost exclusively to bask in the warmth of her family.

I've never really had one person, or even a series of people, that filled me with awe and ambition. My influences have always been subtle and largely undefined. But in light of my sister's project, I need to give my maternal grandmother a hardy nod. She was the person who defended me against my mother's temper, the one who, at 96, continues to love her late husband claiming (over and over) that she was happy to have him for 40 good years. Not a great intellectual, but a great lover of family and friends. The one who kept my photo on top of her TV and never fails to show her love to those who deserve it.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Dioramas and so much more

The February challenge for Poetry x 12 (now being administered by Joseph Harker) was to read a collection recommended by somebody else. I took up Amy Gerstler's Dearest Creature recommended by Deb at Stoney Moss. I forgot about writing something up for this challenge and have now returned the book to the library, but here are a few random thoughts:

This was such a different experience from the A.R. Ammons collection I read the month before. Reading this collection felt like hanging out with the cool kid, not the pretty popular girl, but the one who's really smart and sexy and just a little devious. Funny because the first poem is a letter to a young girl welcoming her into the ranks of the nerds. Well, if that's the case then Gerstler's my kind of nerd.

Fun and funny and poignant, I really enjoyed these poems. I didn't swoon with the language the way I did with a few of Ammons' pieces, but they delivered their punch. Plus there's a diorama on the cover and every good nerd knows how cool dioramas are!