These Cats Have Character

November 11, 2018

 

My Dad was a fan of items — ornaments, decorations and tchotchkes– that he described as having “character”.  If I brought home art from school, the highest compliment would be when he looked at something and determined it had character. Out in the world,  he would have a certain amused and admiring tone as he picked up whatever thing had caught his eye, said, “now this X has character.” I am sure he bought these honeycomb cats for their character.

My dad had a respect and care for objects that– with all love to my husband– I can say I don’t see much in my current life where even expensive electronic items are flung about and the disposable nature of anything inexpensive is emphasized in how it is treated.

I have this very distinct memory of my father sitting at our dining room table, carefully sliding the decorations out of their envelopes, and assembling them  with a precise  gentleness. Which is probably why, so many years later, they are in remarkably good repair.

 

How many years, exactly?

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Something else my father did was put dates on things, as if he knew that one day someone would become nostalgic and wonder. It’s hard to say — does this look like 1980…or 1960? Do the colors look like funky 60s colors, or neon 80s colors? The 1980s  would coincide with my childhood. But doesn’t it look like 1960? In which case he would have bought them during his first marriage, and a decade later packed and carried them into his new life, and eventually his second marriage. That’s a lot of years and travel for these little black cats.

 

View from Our Window as the World Burns

November 10, 2018

This is the view from our kitchen window at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. If you are searching for the sun,  direct your eye to that speck of muted brightness behind the palm tree.  It’s easy to look right at it because the smoky air acts as a filter.

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The city smells like a campfire. Not a campfire that you can escape by walking a few yards toward fresher air, but a campfire that is everywhere when you step outside, that seeps through your drafty windows and under the cracks in your doors, finally settling into your head as a dull ache and in your eyes as a gentle sting. We are surrounded by the areas we are luckier than — Thousand Oaks in one direction, Malibu in the other.  I heard on the radio that school where I sometimes teach a screenwriting course is being used as an evacuation site. As devastating as both of these fires are for the people in these local areas, apparently neither as destructive as the fire that continues up north, near a town called Paradise. I’m planning a trip to Northern California for early December, but as I research routes, I see the roads we hope to travel have all been closed.

I’ve felt adjacent to the line of fire in another sense as well this week. The fire in Thousand Oaks has overshadowed the event the happened just a day before the fire began — a dozen people were shot and killed at a bar in the same neighborhood. Friends have been posting memories of eating at the location over the years. The roommate of a friend’s daughter who attended Pepperdine was killed.

The Thousand Oaks shooting redirected my gaze from the shooting that took place exactly a week before, at a yoga studio in my once-home of Tallahassee, Florida, where one of the victims was a student in the same FSU English Department that I belonged to.

Not me. But close to me. I want to put my arms around the world and say, sorry.  Sorry for your loss.

This is What Love Looks Like

I will not say that my father was a hoarder, but he was an academic, an artist and a collector of books and items related to his academic, artistic and other interests. His attitude might be summarized as — why throw things away when we have an attic… a basement… a garage? When he died he left behind enough stuff to populate three yard sales a year for the first few years, and some since then.

A truly lovely and thoughtful thing that my mother is doing for her children is making an ongoing attempt to cull through our house’s half-century of accumulated items so that it does not fall so heavily on our shoulders when the time comes.  To that end, she tries to help us help ourselves by asking us — each time we visit — to do some culling of our own.

“Just go through your box,” she says.

“What box?”

“I made you each a box.”

Here is “my box” compiled by Mom.  Newspaper clippings — dean’s list and classroom citizenship awards,  reading achievement certificates, poems, drawings and stories…

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Beyond the fact that my peak publishing success was in elementary school,  I am a struck by my mother’s diligence in tucking these items away in a semi-organized fashion so consistently,  for so many years.

But, more than anything, I see the kind of life and opportunities that allowed for this collection of paperwork — and the people who made it possible–in particular, my mother. My mother used coupons at grocery store and never had a manicure — but managed our money so there were music lessons,  orthodontia, and the dance classes that she drove me to and sat through week after week. There were stories  at bedtime, tennis at the park. Rides to the pool and swimming lessons, nightly practice spelling tests. Day after day, in a million ways, my parents provided.

“Think about what you’ll want to pay to ship or store,” my mom says. Which is practical and good advice.  I manage to prune away a few dozen math worksheets and duplicate theater programs, but I don’t get far with emptying the box.

Looking at individual items I don’t think there is anything specific I would miss if it were gone. But when I look at this collection, I see how much I’ve been loved–

–and I don’t know how to throw that away yet.

 

Submitting

I’m in the process of submitting a short story to various journals.  It occurs to me that this is an act that requires “submitting” in both senses of the word: 1) “Presenting ones work for consideration or judgement,” and 2) “yielding to or acceptance of a greater authority” (whether that greater authority is whomever has the power to judge, or the way things work, or the mysteriousness of the universe and its unknowable will).

My personal submissions process generally leads to some rabbit-holing. Each journal’s website encourages me to consider whether I am a fit by reading other work they have published. I generally try to do this, and I will also occasionally search for interviews with or works by the editor.

In this way, Dogwood (a journal) led me to an essay by Carole Ann Davis, which led me to this poem by Miklos Radnoti, a poet I had never heard of.

The quote from the essay by Carol Ann Davis that caught my eye:

Before getting to my desk this morning I read a beautiful poem by the Hungarian Miklós Radnóti, who died in a ditch while performing forced labor during World War II but whose notebook of poems was found upon his exhumation in the raincoat that covered his body, a poem that contains lines about the end of summer “bath[ing] in the sun,” and a “pain that wanders around / but you start again as if you had wings.” The notebook nestled in consolation next to his dead body for over a year before it was found.

The poem by Miklos Radnoti that I subsequently found (a different translation from the link above):

Letter to my wife

Soundless worlds are listening somewhere deep
In the earth; the silence roars in my ears and I keep
On crying for help but from Serbia stunned by war
No one can give me an answer and you are far
Away. The sound of your voice becomes entwined
With my dreams and, when I awake next day, I find
Your words in my heart; I listen and meanwhile the sound
Of tall, proud ferns, cool to the touch, murmurs all round.

When I’ll see you again, I can no longer promise – you
Who once were as grave as the psalms, and as palpably true,
As lovely as light and shade and to whom I could find
My way back without eyes or ears – but now in my mind
You stray through a troubled land and from somewhere deep
Within it your flickering image is all I can keep
A hold of. Once you were real, but now you’re a dream,
I tumble back into memory’s depths till it seems

I’m a boy once more, wondering jealously whether
You love me and if, at the height of youth, you’ll ever
Become my wife – I begin to hope once more
And, tumbling back, my wakeful state is restored
And I know you are – my wife, my friend, yet how
Far off. Beyond three savage frontiers. Now
Autumn’s coming. Will it forget me here?
The vivid memory of our kisses still endures.

I believed in miracles once, but now they’ve fled
And squadrons of bombers slowly drone by overhead;
In the sky I saw with amazement the blue of your eyes;
But then it grew dark and the bombs in the aeroplane high
Above were longing to fall. All the same, I came through
And now I’m a prisoner. And though I’ve measured the true
Scale of my hopes, I’m certain I’ll reach my goal;
For you I’ve already travelled the length of the soul,

The roads that seek distant lands; if I must, I’ll contrive
To conjure myself over red-hot coals and survive
Among showers of flames – yet still I will return
To be with you one day; if I have to, I’ll learn
To be tough like the bark on a tree – and now I’m soothed
By the calm of men who, achieving power, move
Through endless trials – and the knowledge that I’ll pull through
Descends, like a wave, with the coolness of 2 x 2.

Camp Heidenau, in the hills above Zagubica, 1944. August-September.

Things like this, I guess, are the rewards of submitting oneself to the process.

Who Ya Gonna Call? Gumbusters

I just got back from my summer travels. First stop was New York City. I got to see some family and friends I hadn’t seen since my last trip five years ago. I stayed in Manhattan but traveled almost every day to Brooklyn, which gave me a chance to check out some day-to-day action in the city.

One day I saw this guy; IMG_4440

Once I saw it, I became aware of the myriad dark blotches on the sidewalks and streets and realized they were old gum. Kind of crazy. I’ve never noticed that in LA — maybe because we have less pedestrians? Though now I need to look more closely the next time I’m in a neighborhood with more foot traffic.

Who pays this guy?  The sidewalk in this picture doesn’t seem to be associated with any private business. Maybe he has  contract with the city. I found this video online, but it doesn’t address that question.