a journal of...

A journal among friends...
art, words, home, people and places

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Heat

 It's half past morning, just back from a walk.  These days it's best to start out early, for the streets are still usually shaded, with a light breeze that makes it easier to face August.


Yesterday, I began my usual walk around the neighborhood circle.  A few neighbors were out, as always...across the street, down the street, around the circle.  One doesn't simply walk unheeding here; one stops to chat.  It's pleasant.  It's neighborly.  So a simple round means a protracted time out.


As I made my way back toward the house, the heat was rising.  The temperature would have pleased anyone; it was a temperate 78.  The humidity, however, was 92%.  I had begun to drip, and had to stop a few times to wipe my glasses.

Still, coming across the drive, I thought I hadn't gone far enough.  So I turned back  toward the main street, promising myself that if I kept going downtown, I could treat myself to a coffee at the new bookstore/cafe.  And maybe a new book.  The town isn't quite bustling yet, though new arrivals to campus have begun to sift in, parents in tow (or towing them).  (I carry my mask everywhere, since few of them do. Sigh.)

It's easy to fall into praise for Epilogue/Prologue as the new place is called.  The Sanchez', Jaime and Miranda, have built themselves a wonderful space to share.  Well placed in the middle of the main business blocks, the two large airy rooms of books, brightly covered and adventurously displayed, it's somewhere to drop into, drop onto a chair, drop one's books and/or laptops on a table...spaced apart for a good sense of liesure...and browse or read while you sip a really good cool or hot drink.  Their pastry...genuine bunuelos or churros or a small plate of little freshly rolled tacos...sends me back to San Antonio days. 



The stock of books is huge for a store of its kind.  In the maze of high shelves, there are corners and rounds and hidden arm chairs, tables in and outside windows. It's clear that both the personable couple have a passion for the page as well as good palettes and, important, a perfect sense of reader comforts.


My neck was wet from the heat as I browsed, but two collections of short stories, Life Ceremony, by Japanese writer Sayaka Murata and Milk Blood Heat, by Dantiel W. Moniz, fairly lept off their perches at me. For some reason, this beastly August weather has me edging more toward the shorts than toward whole works...longer library choices of late have seemed tedious and overdone, sometimes downright silly. (And frankly, the current romanticization of World War II by writers far removed from that horror makes my blood boil.)


These two writers, each fairly young and each fairly experienced, seemed to promise me paths into minds I need to explore.  Who is this generation? I have to ask myself with each turn of not only the page but daily life. 

Around me the world swells with evidence of the myriad ways I seem at a standstill.  I, whose favorite readings are among writers of other regions, countries and cultures,  lately find myself too easily startled by patterns of living I have to struggle to understand.

I can see your smiles...okay, yes, elderhood descends!...but not conservatism, not, I hope, the stodginess of a shrinking mindset. I'm plenty open to discovering, to finding out where and how and maybe why.


So last night I opened both new reads, tasting a little bit of the Moniz, then more formally beginning the Murata to settle into.  The first seems, as its title might hint, full of fervor and fire.  Her writing is clear but worms its way into the deepest parts of the heart and psyche.  

The second, perhaps not a surprise, given the translated writer, is cool, slim, dry...a pleasure to read on these too stuffy August evenings.  I can't wait to get to the Moniz, but right now, the Murata is a calm much needed.  And yet (here's the surprise) weirdness reigns in one tale after another.  Murata's sensibilities are strewn with absurdity that isn't, on second...chilling...thought, far off.  As I read further, weirdness becomes grotesque in some stories.  I wonder why she takes up those images?

What intrigues me is that each small story culminates in barely a moment or two and the crisis at the center, even in the longer stories, is sometimes only a sentence long.  Endings seem unresolved.  And yet...and yet...like ghosts surfacing, huge issues hang in the aftermath...who will love me when she is gone, asks an elderly woman who has lived with her childhood friend for 40 years...and then, in the hospital room where her friend waits for a cancer treatment, the two continue their spited arguments until they look out the window and see the snow fall, deeper and deeper.


Meanwhile, Book Group begins next month, and already I am thinking that our carefully plotted list for this coming year seems a literary lifetime away.  Maybe, like buying new school supplies each September, we should pick out our books not at the closing of the old season, but at the beginning of the new.  

Because so much time and mind and world has changed in the meantime.  And we might not have been paying attention.




Thursday, August 4, 2022

My brain needs a rest


This morning I am slow, but not as slow as operations around me...this laptop, for instance,  which remains ten words behind my typing, and has skipped the o and the y along the way.  The day, too, began as cloudy as half-night, then sunny, now just whatever by the minute.  Also the shower, dragging itself up from the water heater below, then suddenly steaming hotter than the setting.  (Fortunately, I like a lot of hot water. )  


The shower felt good, but didn't spark me from sluggedness. On the list, headed "Thursday",  there are many doings to tackle.  One of them is this blog, and walking while it's not yet too hot, and re-watering the yard because my drip system isn't getting to every thirsty plant.  Apparently I am supposed to do all that at once, since each is marked 8am

There's the ironing, too.  Because yesterday was the first day home from a cooling visit to Jim and Eileen in the mountains.  There is nothing better than walks through pretty parks, startlingly beautiful gallery art, delicious lunches with friends, and lots of thrift-storing, chair-shopping, games, and trying new recipes (see below) to bring one back to life.









Even the puzzle that teased us, until finally it fell into place under our fingers, provided  chilly respite.


So yesterday, back in the heat, was far more productive; I came home full of energy, zipping through everything including the wash, some weeding, my sister's new resume, a few cards for friends, some homemade soup for Joseph who has been under the weather,



and a new air conditioning system for upstairs to keep my sister cool.  I even went out to a welcome chill of wine at my neighbors' at aper' time.  Good wine too, from France, nice and dry.


I fell asleep last night finishing Rooms of Their Own, by a youngish man whose survey of writers' places could have used a bit of copyediting, but whose choice of illustrator was brilliant.  The book, a lovely gift from Alice May, just returned with John from an idyllic journey among gardens in England and Scotland, reminded me how many times I have changed my mind about a room of my own to write in.  This past spring and summer my mind has been full of plans...to do this and that, here and there, this way and that.  A garden in back.  An apartment and a garden.  

Okay, not an apartment...how about a new workroom/studio so I can reinstate my guest room? 

I can't seem to settle on the right configuration of space my house needs.  Consider that there is always a change in inhabitants, uses, seasons of living, and aging...none of which I mind, mind you...it seems to be the way I've always lived, and always will.

But this morning I thought, my brain is tired.  It needs to take a day off.  (It won't, of course, because there is still "Thursday" to deal with...to wit, this blog...)  I think what is behind all this spirit-drain is the state of the world, which is assaulting me with insults every day, it seems.  

Listening to news, to political and civic conversations, I think, Where is there room for me in this world?  Do you not know, you people making policies that harm more than help, that I and the rest of humanity is here?  You act like we don't exist...I who would love a little peace on this planet, some consideration for its people, food to eat and decent housing, water systems shared across the globe, children protected from the manaical. Decent health care, for pity's sake.

And for me, to be seen as a real person, an individual, a woman who doesn't need others ordering her life, thank you...accommodations being my own to make and my own principles to follow.  


Oh, here we go: this minute some life-hacker is flashing a note on my otherwise supposedly protected computer system: STOP NOW!  DON'T DARE CLOSE DOWN!  YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF .... (some technical term I think he/she made up).  CALL THIS NUMBER NOW!

Man! I say, wake up and get with it.  And leave open a world where we can be our better selves. Then, with some peace of mind and world, I can build my own room.  I'm sure to feel livelier then.

******************************************

Zucchini Casserole
(adapted from Kevin in the Garden)

·        6-8 small zucchini (1 1/2 to 2 pounds total)

·        One small eggplant

·        5 large eggs

·        1/2 cup milk

·        1 teaspoon salt

·        2 teaspoons baking powder

·        3 tablespoons flour

·        1/4 cup chopped parsley

·        1 garlic clove, minced

·        1 small onion, finely chopped (I prefer to saute the onion first)

·        Parmesan-Romano mix shredded or grated (topping)

 

1.               Center the oven rack, and preheat the oven to 350°F. Slice the zucchini into lengths.  Slice eggplant into lengths.  Drain for a few minutes.

2.               In the large mixing bowl, beat eggs, milk, salt, baking powder and flour until smooth. Then stir in the parsley, garlic, onion.  Layer between zucchini and eggplant. Pour into the greased baking dish.

3.               Sprinkle cheese on top of the casserole. Bake in the preheated oven until the casserole puffs and its center is set -- about 50 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.










Wednesday, July 13, 2022

On the state of us, or out of the mouths of...


 For a few days now, I have been working on a set of small art pieces trying to make sense of an increasingly enraging trouble in the world, ours and beyond, which has so far evaded words...the right words, anyway...to be able to speak/write about.

It's not unusual for me to trade out words for pictures, and vice-versa, when one carrier of images won't perform.  It's how, in fact, I came to art to begin with...a story I may have told you already:  decades ago, finding myself word-tied, a friend advised me to find something else to do with my pen.  I began to learn to draw, then paint, and on from there...from then on I could trust one form of expression to release the other.



What's coming out now on these small draw-paint-collage pieces are what I am trying to express of my state of mind...about the state of things, of the world.  There is terrifying stuff appearing in these images, at least the impulse behind them is.  I can feel it even in this relatively peaceful place I live, a place where life seems to go on as usual, as I seem to, despite the news of horror across the planet...a place where just beyond it, or just in imminent reach, is the violence of ignorance (often deliberate ignorance), greed, and terminal hubris...the erosion of humanity from within a man, a people, a country...seeping farther, whether we see it or not, into aspects of our lives both public and private.  It's not fear I feel, but anger.  Especially since we have seen it before, again and again over time and place.

It comes in the guise of expensive suits, of well-documented desks, perfumed encounters, across tables laden with excellent repasts and elegant table-settings. Far from the realities of lives outside those closed rooms.  On the news each day, out-lash by out-lash appears...another shooting in another school or marketplace, a war on those who are not enemies, on women who have the least respite, on children who can live in no field of safety.

The other day, Alexander showed me a youtube site he had come upon...a cartooned man running to attack another...like so many video games.  But I had caught the heading to this segment as it flashed into view and out again:  Choose violence, it glared in white letters on a black background.  "Shut that off," I demanded.  "I've had enough!"

He looked at me, quiet for once, not arguing.  What he would usually tell me, I know, is it isn't real...it's just a show, Nana.  But my tone must have silenced him.  "Listen," I said.  "There is a chasm...do you know what a chasm is? (he nodded yes)...of disconnection between make-believe and real...and yet, there is also a dangerous impulse between one and the other.  People who fight instead of talk, who blame without thinking things out, who go to war on people, on children, who have brought the two together...make-believe and real...until there is no peace, no safety, no humanity, on your screen and in the streets...things like that...it makes me sick..."

I stopped talking.  He, still looking at me, said calmly, "But that's the way people are." The life went out of me.  Is that what he believes?


It's been a long time churning, this outrage, finally bursting out at those words, Choose violence!  Even before then, I'd already done the first of the pieces I began to entitle "If there is a war..."  I didn't know, when I'd begun to draw on some old watercolor sketch paper, nearly ecru with age now, three buildings, their windows and doors, a tree leaning too near, that, paint brush in hand a few minutes later, its sky would be darting with flames.

"If there is a war, who will save us?" it asked. 

The thing is, there is already a war.  Missiles attack in many forms, from many composites of powders, seen and unseen.  As I look at the world not all that far beyond me, I am feeling attacked, and spend my psyche on searching for places of safety...not  to hide, but to uncover the ways to counter the deep injuries of those attacks, on myself, on others...on our bodies, on our minds.


I went back to art.  This second one:  against wide brush strokes the colors of fire and ash raining down, it draws a house like mine, with trees like smoke, a burnt roof, singed walls.   "If there is a war, what will happen to the trees?" it asked me, for me. 

The third and fourth came quickly (I think I worked on them nearly simultaneously):  "If there is a war, what will happen to the music?"



And "If there is a war, what will happen to the children?"

There is one more, unfinished until tomorrow when I will know how, but it already asks its question:  If there is a war, what will happen to...water, air, the means by which life...all life, any life...is able to grow? 


Violence grows nothing.  There is no phoenix waiting in its ash of body or mind.  

It is tempting, as comfort and sameness call out from these quiet streets, to go on as usual, routines domestic and social safely in place.  But is safety even there, really? where only the illusion--the delusion--that the horrors of the outer world (someone else's inner world) do not affect us, have not struck its bloody sword into our widest arteries.  Only small pinpricks so far.

It is easy, too, to write of the usual things...of that small, barely undulating daily life, of natural beauty...gardens and rain and wind shaking leaves...the safe subjects, those where hope or peace or smiling adventure...the spirits of growing, not destroying beings...rise to ordinary theme.

Perhaps I could have begun this with that moment earlier the same day when, walking through the narrow pass between copse of trees and shed that connects our houses, Alexander and I consider a fallen leaf, exquisitely laced by a tiny bright green mite feasting.  Holding the leaf, he asks me, "Do you think this is art?"

"Of course," I say.  And at the same instant we say together, "It's nature's art...the art of nature."

It is, to turn an overused coin, the other side.  I want to believe what is in there somewhere.

How to teach, to instill, that life is growth instead, even in that fallen, delicately eaten leaf?  that violence is not the chosen way? How?


Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Je voyage...

                            

(I'm learning French, for the fourth time.  Someday I'll voyage en France encore.  Meanwhile...)

It's late morning, the second day of this blog.  I began yesterday with this opening:

This morning I am making meatloaf, something I have not done in years, I would guess. (Who knows who will eat it?) But there has been a package of ground meat in the freezer for a month now, and its time has come.

On this second morning, I've been in the kitchen since 8:30 baking and cooking.  Tomorrow is my neighbor Steve's 75th birthday, and in honor of that milestone his wife Holly, Joseph and Alexander and I will be bringing in dinner from Squid's, Steve's favorite seafood restaurant, to eat on the porch.  I'm making a dessert I think will work for everyone. That's actually what I began with this morning, and then went on to a batch of almond cookies to bring to my nephew's wedding this weekend.


Aside from the celebratory sweets, I'm cleaning out the frig and freezer (hence the meatloaf), prepping for my trip north.  Not far north, no...the wedding is in West Virginia where my sister Ann's family is from.  So I went on to roast an eggplant, saute' spinach, and throw out two small chunks of ruined watermelon I found in the back of the middle shelf...you know, the one that the top shelf always obscures.  

Anyway, it seemed a good morning to do that kitchen stuff, since, after a little rain yesterday, the air has cooled to a pleasant light breeze.  I'm sitting on the porch now, the oven empty, the pans washed up, watching the nearly noon sun filter through the thick screen of trees surrounding my house...the whole neighborhood, actually...and some tiny marigold volunteers inching up on my drive.  


Cooking seems to release me when I'm feeling put off...blocked, you could say...from everything else.  It's been a whole month since I've posted here.  It's not that I've had nothing to write about...this month has been ripe with events...but somehow I couldn't break through.  Just as I had given up yesterday's plodding attempt, Susan, ever watchful (in her caring way), sent me a message wondering if all were well.  Starting over today, I'm much more open.


This wedding will be a reunion for us.  Weddings and funerals are what get us out there.  Most of our family is staying at the Bicentennial Inn in the small college town where my sister reared her family. We've inhabited it before; I doubt it's changed much, so we feel the pull of past adventure.  Among the things to pack are 36 gold-dotted welcome bags for guests, which my sisters and I have put ourselves cooperatively in charge of, and other than the last minute addition of local mini-sausage rolls (don't ask...it's West Virginia), they are ready for transport.  Each of us has baked something, too...another family tradition.

This will be my second trip out of state this month, a hot June, rife with humidity and little rain where it counts (this last is becoming a two-year complaint, I know, but I feel that dryness in my bones as well as on this hard-packed garden).  


Earlier in June, I turned right onto the interstate, going south that time, and, after a few hours, took a left onto US 17 to see my friends Pam and Paul in Wilmington.  As it had for many of us, the past years have prevented visits, though usually our birthdays are incentives.  I'd met Pam the year I taught, by fortuitous accident, at Meredith College; she and Paul were living in Raleigh then, their three girls mostly gone, though the youngest was floating perilously about in Greenville, if I remember correctly.


It didn't take us long to become lunch-friends, and then, as both of us moved on, to corresponding friends.  Pam is a great correspondent.  She writes real letters, and even with the advent of email continues to send long missives through both post and cyberspace.  Her description of their daily lives, the state of things in town and beyond, is always spot-on and often witty.  It makes me glad to have someone who can expect the same life stories from me without falling in boredom.

When I visit, though, I can also see how talented both Pam and Paul are...the first a master of ikibana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, and the second whose pots  glaze every room in their neat home.  They are modest about both, but I see through that to the eyes and hands that craft such beauty.


They are wonderful hosts, too...it's easy to be with them in their comfortable space.  There is always a good lunch or dinner, out or in, and nearly always a trip to the Cameron Art Museum.  It made an auspicious beginning to what was to be a long trip to northern Florida to visit another friend, equally talented and witty and comfortable, though our history as friends is quite different.  More about Marty later.

The next morning, Pam, Paul and I headed out early to our separate destinations...they to the gym and I back onto 17 to Murrells Inlet, where Brookgreen Gardens, my favorite of all those I have been to (even...gasp!...the Luxembourg).  The sculpture garden, once part of Anna Hyatt Huntington's residence, is a treasure of peaceful beauty...acres of set pieces around which her and others' sculpture live and breathe.  







I spent a good three hours roaming there, and in between had a resting lunch at their outdoor cafe.




Sated with flowery art, I drove across 17 to Huntington State Park, where the sculptress's Moorish rambling house, Atalaya, still stands, wide open to the sand below and water views and visitors.  Like her gardens, Ann Huntington's house is a testimony to the expansiveness of creative mind and life.  I love my house, but a house open to weather and tides, designed with work and company in mind...that would be utopia.






I'd made arrangements to spend the night at an AirB and B nearby, the Blue Pearl Inn.  In all such site-based places I have stayed, I've only been let down once (in Spain, dark and dank and unclean) and inconvenienced once (in Wales, impeding clutter).  Hosts from Provence to Havana were charming, helpful, accommodating, comfort-savy people, each in their own cultural ways.  And this one was not to be excepted.






Brook, who actually designed the house to be home, bed and breakfast, and salon with his partner Jon, who furnished it with collections of curiosities, were not only welcoming but great conversationalists.  They found me on their front porch around cocktail time and in no time we were deep in story mode. 


 By the time I'd had dinner, on the deck at Costa, I was ready for the sleep-enfolding Green Room and the good book from the sitting room outside my door.  Ah.

Early morning, after a bit of breakfast, I was back on the road to Middleburg, Florida, where Marty had promised I could play with her art/craft group the next morning.  From Murrells Inlet, it's a five or six hour trip at best, and it was; storms in Florida had abated by the time I rolled into Marty's yard.  It seemed strange to be bypassing Charleston, another town I enjoy strolling, but there was always the way back, I thought.  (If only I had known...)

Marty tells everyone that she inherited me as a friend from her mother, Kaye Mayer, whom I knew in Washington, and that's certainly one way of looking at it.  She is in many ways her mother's daughter, and in many others her father's, but mostly she is her own.  That's what I like about her...she's a reader, a sewer, a traveler, a great hostess, a keeper of family history, a collector of things that make her happy.


Once she retired from her three decades of of teaching high school English, she took up traveling and quilting, the latter proving an excellent COVID-years occupation.   Every room, every space in her ranch house is draped, folded, unfolded, stacked and stocked and piled with finished, unfinished, and still-dreamt-of quilts.  Color is the blood in her sewing veins.  A quilt- and fabric-lover, who nonetheless is far too imprecise to take up the craft myself, I wandered the rooms for two days awed.







That night, though, my admiration had to move to the Quilt Guild meeting.  There, the members show-and-tell uncovered more treasures, both fabric and friends.  Some of them reconvened at Marty's the next morning to learn the skill of the month...hot-gluing.


Don't laugh...I have never used a hot-glue gun before.  Neither, apparently, had a few others, despite our long years of fooling with hand-made arts.  Besides figuring out (and failing) to use the glue on the stones I had dreamed of making into small cairns (alas, as they cool they separate from the hardened glue), I most enjoyed watching the others invent all kinds of things from earrings to clothes clips to an intricate mandala, simply using this waxy substance.  As one does while creating with a group, talk is the undercurrent of the hours.  Exchanging tips, tools, takes and tales, you come to know with whom you work.  


I came away only with a few stones glued on boards, but more important the friendship of some very accomplished quilters and crafts-people who will try anything at home and abroad.  Marty draws such people into one's circumference.

 I'd have stayed another day, to visit the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings house and a nearby winery which makes its refreshing wares from all sorts of fruit, but bad timing meant I once more set out on the road early morning...COVID had struck closer to home, and I was afraid that if it had passed on to me I'd pass it to Marty.

I had thought about stopping a night along the way, but suddenly I was tired...it had been a long time since I had driven that distance...and the return trip had turned tedious.  In Savannah, I had to detour through a long confusion of roundabout turns on a Sunday when all of eastern tourism had descended on River Road.  I decided I'd better bypass Charleston and get to another night in Murrells Inlet and maybe Brookgreen Gardens.



By afternoon, the heat on the road was burning the asphalt, and when I spotted, in the non-town of Awendaw, the old fish shack Jake and I liked to stop at, I pulled around into the shady part of Seedaw's parking lot to enjoy whatever they'd cooked up fresh from the water.


Unfortunately, I didn't see the cypress knees jutting up in the gravel under the car, and when, after that meal, I pulled out again, the knees ripped the engine guard and pulled out the too-low front bumper. Since it was impossible to scrape along with all that metal and sheeting dragging, I at first tried to push it back together, but failed.  A nice sheriff's deputy came along and he tried...and failed.  Four o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, traffic pouring north on 17, ignoring me, the heat reaching 96, I sat waiting for AAA to find someone to tow me the 36 miles to  Georgetown, where I could get a room and repair the damages...to myself as well as the car.

But two and a half hours later, AAA still failing, I began to think I'd have to sleep in the car overnight.  As I sweated, a man passing south in a royal blue sedan, seeing my dilemma, turned to the rescue.  "I'm a mechanic," he said cheerily.  "I can patch you up to get you to the next town."

And he did, working in the heat under the front end until the car was movable.  "There," he said.  "Tomorrow morning get you to a shop in Georgetown, and they'll fix it so you can get home." His name was Sky, and he wouldn't take anything for it, though I pleaded.  "No," he insisted, backing away across the road.  "I'm a child of God...look where you got stuck."  I looked.  The square brick sign off the road beside me read Child of God Missionary Baptist Church. He knew a sign when he saw it.


I drove at speed limit all the way to Georgetown, where I threw my sweat-soaked clothes over the towel rack and showered.  Then I ate a salad I'd carried with me and watched an old movie until I slept.



The next morning, I showed up early at Livington Auto Repair, a mile back.  The owner was just opening up.  He looked harried already.  As I explained my problem, he shook his head.  "Yeah, I know what it is...happens all the time.  It'll be a while til I can get to it, though.  I've got an accident out on the road and a lady with a van won't start.  You're first, but not first, if you know what I mean."

I did, and told him I didn't mind a bit.  I thought to myself, if I have to stay here watching the philodendron grow and spend another night at the Hampton Inn, it's fine with me...far better than sleeping in the car on the edge of 17N.


But by 9:30 am, he waved me goodbye.  "You're good to go.  We checked the fluids and tires and everything, so if you don't crash into anything more, you'll get home safe."  At the window, I paid the bill, the tiniest one I'd ever seen even for an oil change.

As I drove off, I remembered a time 55 years ago, riding west alone across the country, when the A-frame under my green VW bug came loose and the steering suddenly wouldn't steer.  Lady, said the two men who ran across an interstate in the rain to get to me, the angels were sure with you...

Thinking of all that pure human kindness, I couldn't argue with that then or now.