Category Archives: Literature and Poetry

Sunday Sweetness–“Start the Day In Happiness, In Kindness”

Here’s a beautiful sunny day kind of poem by Mary Oliver, read by the author:

Want more of her work? Follow this link:

 

Want to read a classic Baddest Mother Ever story about kindness? How about:

Panning For Gold Atop Lookout Mountain

Saturday Snort – The Sexiest Old White Men of American Literature

 

I’m probably going to English Major Hell for this one, but here goes…
poe

 

OK, no more jokes about Poe. I shall poke fun at him nevermore.

 

eliot

 

Man, wouldn’t it be cool if T.S. Eliot was the surprise guest at next year’s Super Bowl halftime show? Maybe doing a duet with One Direction.

 

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We always see pictures of Samuel Clemens in a white suit…so OF COURSE he wears tighty whities! Mystery solved.

If you like funny stories about underwear, check out this classic Baddest Mother Ever post:

If You Walk Out of Your Panties

To Call Myself Beloved

The last poem in Raymond Carver’s collection A New Path to the Waterfall is called “Late Fragment.” Legend has it that his wife, Tess Gallagher, found it scribbled on a scrap of paper in the pocket of his bathrobe a few weeks after he died from brain cancer.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to

feel myself

Beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver screwed up most of his life with alcohol, but he spent the last eleven years of his brief time on this earth sober, successful, and happily married. Then he died from brain cancer anyway. That’s how life goes, right? No promises. No deals. No rest for the wicked and only the good die young.

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As I grow older and my heart gets tougher, those two words–even so?–resonate. They are the acknowledgement of all that has come before, the good and the bad, the fair and the shitty: “Did you get what you wanted from this life, even considering all that has happened to you and where you are right now and whether you deserve this fate?” Carver accepts it all with two simple words: I did.

Oh, when I read this poem for the first time, I thought I knew a thing or two about life. I was 21 and completely enthralled by a man who was totally out of my reach. He loaned me this book–he liked to lend me books and ideas and I lived to borrow them, mostly because they had been imprinted with his approval. So when this poem worked its way into my tender and untried heart, I skipped right to those last words: to feel myself/Beloved on the earth. Being beloved is the point of life, right?

Nope.

The longer I live, the more I realize that the heart of this poem, this last fragment from the crumbling mind of a bruised genius is the line just above that: To call myself beloved.

It’s not about the even so and whether it will ever be balanced out.

It’s not just about being beloved while on the earth.

The work of this life is to call myself beloved.

 

late fragment

The Last Thing In Pandora’s Box

1559524_10204893052519112_4120998935743024941_oLittle did I know that the 2nd grade play, “Pandora’s Box,” would leave me with much to think about all afternoon. But that’s the gift of great theater–it stays with you. Even when the actors are quite wiggly and need to speak up a little.

We all know the story of Pandora’s Box, right? Or we think we do. Pandora’s husband tells her not to open the box so, naturally, it’s the only thing she wants. He hides it from her–she sneaks around looking for it. He falls asleep, she opens the box and unleashes every awful thing out into the world. Curiosity leads to misery and suffering in a world turned sour. Sounds a lot like the apple, the serpent and a certain unclad couple in paradise, amirite?

That’s the story I remembered, but the play Mrs. Corbett’s class put on today was far more nuanced. Turns out, it was a fix from the start (this next part is stolen from the program):

Zeus summons Hephaistos to make a beautiful woman, whom he named Pandora (which means all-gifts). Zeus sent Pandora down to Earth and gave her as a bride to Epimetheus. Also, Zeus sent Pandora with a little box, with a big lock on it. He said not to ever open the box, and he gave the key to Epimetheus. Pandora was very curious about what was in the box. She begged Epimetheus to let her open it, but he always said no. Finally, one day, he fell asleep and she opened the box.

Oh! Out of the box flew every kind of trouble that people had never known about before: sicknesses, and worries, and crimes, and hate and envy and all sorts of bad things. Pandora was very sorry now that she had opened the box. She tried to catch the bad things and put them back in the box but it was too late.

That box filled with demons could be my own mind. While I sat there in the school cafeteria waiting on the play to begin, I struggled with envy (Mary was sitting beside me and she’s so pretty and confident looking). All the other mothers are so young and vibrant. I struggled with sickness, snurfling and snorking with allergies. I had worries–next on the agenda after the play was Carlos’ 4-yr-old doctor visit, with lots of vaccinations to spring on him. And speaking of vaccinations, I struggled with anger because are we really having to worry about measles and shit again? But I digress.

Pandora. Engraving, based on a painting by F.S. Church.

Pandora. Engraving, based on a painting by F.S. Church.

Above all, I struggled with letting my kid be herself. While the other actors were saying their lines, there was a strange amount of commotion emanating from behind the curtain where my daughter was standing. She was bumping and twisting and smacking the curtain (and the massive white paper column attached to it) with such gusto that Mrs. Corbett had to climb up on the stage during the performance to shush her. That’s my kid. Yup. She was playing the role of Anger, and she did a great job! She had fun with it and projected back to the cheap seats. I guess “Commotion” wasn’t a role or she would have been a shoo-in.

Like Pandora worrying over the box, sometimes the best solution for me is just to LET IT BE. Parenting Vivi can be like that.

So there I sat, recording the whole show on my phone because G couldn’t be there, and wrestling with my own demons inside my head. Then something lovely happened that I didn’t expect.

After all the awful things had flown out of the box, announced to the audience who they were (through the authentic Greek masks they had made) and exited stage right, Mary’s daughter flitted out onto the stage wearing a pair of fairy wings and a peacefully sweet expression. She danced around the broken-hearted Pandora and announced: I am HOPE.

It was such a delightful surprise for the play to end on this note, but I was surprised to see a fairy pop up after all that misery. I checked my program:

But the very last thing to fly out of the box, as Pandora sat there crying, was not as ugly as the others. In fact, it was beautiful. It was HOPE, which Zeus had sent to keep people going when all the nasty things got them down.

Warwick Goble, "Pandora and Her Box"

Warwick Goble

That was the part of Pandora’s story that I had forgotten. Along with all the misery comes just enough hope to keep you going. I almost cried, right there in the cafeteria.

So thank you, 2nd Grade Spectrum class, for sharing what you’ve learned about ancient Greece. Thank you, Mrs. Corbett for putting up with my daughter’s commotion. Thank you, young spirits, for teaching me something I might have known once but had forgotten.

Thank you, Hope.

Underground Sondheim

Nothing beats enthusiasm, and my friend Bryn has enough enthusiasm to blow your hair back when you’re standing still. If you’ve been reading Baddest Mother Ever for a while, you might remember Bryn from the story about painting elephants. She’s an actress and a director and a painter and a bon vivante.

So when Bryn was moved to racking sobs by the new “Into the Woods” movie then confessed that she had never seen it before on stage, Facebook blew up like only thespians can blow up. Facebook emoted, with banter and stage business. Within one evening, a plan had been hatched to put together a pop-up showing of the original Broadway production of “Into the Woods.” These people have keys to the theater, y’all.

Bryn included me because I confessed to being a Sondheim virgin myself. I invited Wise Heather to come along, because she gets all worked up about musical theater, marching bands, Doctor Who and other realms of high school geekdom. We’re perfect for each other.

It was a dark and stormy night. Seriously. Raining buckets. Or as my dad says, “Raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock.” Exciting stuff-going to a theater when there’s no show going on. I felt like it was a rave, or a popup dinner or some kind of underground Fight Club (but with jazz hands!)

To share, I brought two bottles of prosecco, a block of red wax Gouda, some crostini, two Asian pears, and a dozen plastic champagne flutes. Heather hooted when she saw that I had packed it all in a little red basket. I didn’t get the joke because I didn’t know that “Into the Woods” is all about Grimm fairy tale characters and I had cast myself in the role of Little Red Riding Hood.

We ran through the puddles and into the tiny lobby of the Town and Gown Theater. It felt like home right away. To actors, new people aren’t strangers–they’re POTENTIAL AUDIENCE MEMBERS! This jolly crew arrived with hot doughnuts, olive dip, witch’s brew punch, pear crumble, popcorn, not sloppy joes, broccoli dip, cookies, nuts. I popped open a bottle of bubbles and slipped right into the party.

At a theater potluck, you have brocade on the table.

At a theater potluck, you have brocade on the table.

What a cool treat–to have the run of a theater with no crowd there. Peeking inside the sound booth. Wandering up and down and around the aisles. Being able to choose a seat for yourself then take the seat next to it for your snack plate and wine glass. Knowing that there will probably be a sing-along portion and that will be perfectly OK.

A large video screen hung across the stage, in front of the remains of the Christmas show. A couple of clicks on a laptop keyboard and BOOM, there was the 1991 Broadway cast, singing for us as big as life and twice as beautiful. If you aren’t familiar with “Into the Woods,” I hear the movie is pretty good, but I can say without a doubt that the Broadway version is delightful. It’s the story of fairy tale characters whose stories cross in the woods. My favorite character was The Baker’s Wife. She and her husband are childless, thanks to a curse put upon his family by Bernadette Peters’ witch. She charges them to fetch four magical objects and in return she will give them the baby they so desire. Thus begins the story.

The Baker’s Wife–known by her role and given no name–ends up helping her husband in his quest for Jack’s cow, Rapunzel’s hair, Red Riding Hood’s cloak, Cinderella’s shoe. Along the way, she helps some and she hinders some.

The scene that got me, really struck my heart, occurs in the second act. The Baker’s Wife has her baby, but a new problem has arisen. As she and the other townspeople join together to fight this new problem, The Baker’s Wife ends up having a tryst in the woods with one of the princes. She’s alive again, being kissed and kissing. She’s smitten. She has it all for that moment.

And of course the moment can’t last. The Prince up and returns to being a prince. She’s left ruminating in the song “Moments in the Woods” about why those special moments in life can’t remain:

 

“Back to life, back to sense,
Back to child, back to husband,
You can’t live in the woods.
There are vows, there are ties,
There are needs, there are standards,
There are shouldn’ts and shoulds.

I live so much of my life balancing shouldn’ts and shoulds. We all do. We honor our vows and maintain our ties. But we have to find room and time for passion, for sneaking off to the theater on dark and story nights. Maybe bumping into a prince in the woods. Or the spaghetti aisle at Kroger.

Just a moment,
One peculiar passing moment…
Must it all be either less or more,
Either plain or grand?
Is it always “or”?
Is it never “and”?
That’s what woods are for:
For those moments in the woods…

Sitting there in the darkened theater, I choked up at that line–“Is it always ‘or?’ Is it never ‘and?'”  Having to choose the life of creativity and passion OR the life of security and ties? Wanting to stay up all night writing but knowing that the alarm will go off at 6:30 and the kids have to get to school on time.

Let the moment go…
Don’t forget it for a moment, though.
Just remembering you’ve had an “and”,
When you’re back to “or”,
Makes the “or” mean more
Than it did before.
Now I understand-

10887613_10204667907570629_6230022429851160789_oLooking around at the other people in that theater, the people who keep Town and Gown going season after season, I realized that I was privileged to be in a crowd of people who insist on AND. They have day jobs and family and mistakes and bills and dreams. They gather together on a dark and stormy night to tell the old stories. Heather, there beside me, rehearsed for the Symphony concert via videos while handling her dad’s funeral, a new job, AND a family. She hit her marks when the curtain went up. Bryn finds time to paint AND act AND parent. Every person in that crowd is finding a way from OR to AND.

I’m glad I got to be a part of that night. AND I stayed up too late writing this, but that’s OK too. Thank y’all for reminding me that there is room for AND in my life.

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The Writing Spider

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve used my “room of her own” down in the basement. G got me a sweet notebook computer before BlogHer so I’ve been writing in bed, on the couch, outside, wherever.

This weekend, though, I retreated to my lair to write while the kids played quietly with collaborative educational games made from all natural materials (or watched Max and Ruby while sniping at each other–it’s all a blur). When I settled down at my writing table and looked out the window, to my delight, I discovered a new neighbor had moved in:

writing spider

Meet Charlotte. Please don’t EEK. She hates that.

“Hello, Charlotte!” I cooed to her. Is there any better name for a giant spider? Nope.

Her web stretches across the window that’s right at ground level. Good eating there. When I first stepped closer to the window, she scuttled a few inches higher into her web until she decided I wasn’t anything to worry about. Her wide spiral web bounced gently from her sudden motion. As it stilled, I watched her pluck the web with her front legs to set it swaying again. Her large yellow and black body perched on the white zig zag line that runs down the middle of a Charlotte web. That white line is usually the first thing I see when these spiders set up house in the fall.

And because I was supposed to be writing, and there are 1000 ways to avoid writing, I did some research on my new friend instead. Most call her the “Common Black and Yellow Garden Spider” but that hardly seems flattering. I like the sound of her Latin name: Argiope aurantia.

So much for getting away from writing–I giggled when I discovered that she is also nicknamed “The Writing Spider” for that zig zaggy line that stabilizes her web. Oh, we are going to get along just fine!

Did you ever hear the legend of the writing spiders? If you find your name spelled in her web, death will visit you soon. Makes me grateful that I have a few wiggly and curvy letters in my name, but now I worry about Vivi. That’s a whole lot of straight lines.

CharlotteWebI can’t think of a writing spider without thinking of Wilbur the pig, Fern and Charlotte and Templeton the rat. That story turned the legend of the writing spider upside down. The clever spider in “Charlotte’s Web” spelled encouraging messages like “Some Pig” and “Terrific” into her web to keep Wilbur from being turned into bacon. In turn, Wilbur watches over Charlotte’s egg sac so that her babies will be born back at the farm after she is gone. So she can pass something along to the world that lives on without her.

Huh.

I was talking to an author a few weeks ago (Anne Nahm) about how she found the courage to convince herself she could write a book. “If you don’t do it, you could die never having written that book.” Well, shit, Anne. Way to cut to the chase. It’s hard to dilly dally around that one.

This Charlotte outside my window will build a papery sac for her eggs this fall then she will die before the winter. The babies will be born and they will continue to live in the sac over the cold months.  Next spring, they’ll emerge and wander off into my garden. I hope to have something to show them by then. Something written in my web.

My story also features a pig and a kind girl, and a sweet soul who left before the story was done.

terrific

I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…

Back in the days when I was in grad school, I spent a lot of time studying Alice Walker. In my research, I discovered that Alice Walker had spent a lot of time studying Zora Neale Hurston. For the title of the collection of Hurston’s work that she edited, Walker selected a Hurston quote that has stayed with me all these years:

Zora Neale Hurston, Class of 1928, Chicago, Ill., November 9, 1934

 

These days, I feel so disconnected inside that I’m not sure what will come out if I open my mouth–a laugh, something mean, something impressive. I’m trying to love all of that. Make space for all of it.

zora

Today I wanted to scream when Carlos pooped half in the toilet and half on the floor. I resisted yelling, but I gave him a talking to that was certainly mean and impressive. Then 5 minutes later he walked by himself to the car and he looked so grown up, moving so easily away from me, that I reached out silently to let my fingers brush against his hair. He walked into school by himself instead of asking me to carry him and I thought I would have to curl up in a ball in the corner for a while.

He’s growing up–that’s a good thing–but he can’t stay my baby and I love that baby so much.

Loving tiny people this much–it’s mean and impressive.