Lover of all things impulsive, you should buy my delightful friend Boni Joi’s book Before, During Or After Rainstorms. You will love this book and wish to meet the inimitable Boni, whose life as she lives it is an amazing story in itself.
In January, I shot my mouth off in my doctor’s office by mentioning I’d had some sort of brain explosion and suddenly my doctor, who is amused by every breath I take, stopped laughing. I felt kind of dickish about that. Anyhoo, she told me she’d ditch her trainee and I should make an appointment come spring. What with the warm weather, I figured it was time to turn myself in. Yesterday, I had my doctor’s undivided attention for about an hour, which was a whole lot like having all searchlights find me at once, only with a charming European accent and excellent shoes. My doctor is a damn fascinating person. You may remember me whining that I used to be Me, now I’m me and have little idea what happened in between. Starting tomorrow, we’re going to try to find out. This brought up lots of issues I had pushed to the back of my mind, including who I was and what I think now of the artwork I was doing then. And then, Adrienne Rich died. I feel speechless about that because one of the last things I did as Me was to exceed my time limit at a huge, prestigious academic poetry reading for which I was the opening act and Adrienne Rich was the feature. It was a bridge-burning move of Golden Gate proportions in which I put on a good, visceral show and never did it again. In the bargain, I lost the protection of another famous woman artist I had grown to love. I never wrote another poem. Then my brain cut me off.
In another life, maybe Adrienne Rich and I would have been friends now. Maybe.
This morning, my friend Robert sent me a different obituary for Adrienne Rich, leading us to conclude that Robert’s life broke in half at just about the same time mine did. I remember being the engine that pushed an art scene, a comedy troupe, an underground life for dozens of people too fired up to stay home at night, but it’s a distant memory now. In it, I look like Annie Sullivan in Danskin capris. As the day wore on, I felt a sense of my place in things firming up. Finally, as I was sitting in my cousin Carmello’s hair salon, I heard this on the CD player and just about sat up straight at the shampoo sink.
In the early nineties, when I was burning a swath across the landscape, I sat at my Mac at nights, listening to music in languages I didn’t speak and writing my next performance poems. Blue Bell Knoll was one of my favorite albums for this kind of work. It possesses a certain emotional plasticity that lets the mind wander and the characters flow. I wrote some of my best work listening to this album and haven’t listened to it since. In the salon today, it seemed like the Universe was shouting my name. Carmello reminded me today wasn’t the first time that’d happened in his shop.
Okay, I hear it. But why? What is there to know?
This morning, I woke up knowing what one significant word had fallen out of the public discourse.
Progress meant charging into the future, with technology and science that would benefit us all, from greatest to least, young and old, rich and poor alike. Sure, a few of us might trampled underfoot, but we would all benefit. The interstate highways. Household appliances. The space race. New materials. New ways to fight disease. New ways to spread messages and tell stories. New frontiers in education and health. Progress meant we would live longer, happier, more productive and prosperous lives. And now we have crazy coots standing up at townhall meetings across the country refusing to contribute another dime to our mutual prosperity because people who are not old, straight, white and Republican can’t be shipped back to Gay Brownislavia. No one is asking these crazy people important questions like:
1. Hey crazy, if you have a plan, what does the goal look like? Like where you live, circa 1950 or like Santiago, Chile in 1970? Because neither was good for a whooooole lot of people and both very bad for a lot of people.
2. Hey crazy, there is every possibility your plan will ruin the country, destroy your life and take the world economy with it. Did you take that into account? Because when peace, happiness and prosperity are the other option, it would be a giant sign of CRAZY not to take that second thing.
Note to users of the word ruin the way teens spit it at strict parents: ruin is a permanent state. Ruin means the Colosseum in the center of Rome won’t be hosting track races because it’s a ruin, a thing broken literally forever. Cannot be fixed or restored to hunky-doryosity. That is what the Tea Party is poised to do to our economy and as a result our country, and we wouldn’t just pop up from economic ruin in 2013 after – say – fifteen years and say, “Shit, those selfish fuckers can party. It was a joke for hundreds of years, but we actually ate some babies.”
If our public discourse is not about Progress it is necessarily about Ruin.
I want someone to stand up and talk about our better future and the Progress that will get us there.
It’s been a week since All My Children rolled credits for the last time and thank Vishnu it’s over. As my cousin and hairdresser Carmello said, “That was on before I made my debut!” The soap opera, never closely connected to reality lost its grip entirely during the last four months, with the final two weeks veering into the unabashedly cartoony. If it had gone on much longer, I would have sworn off it completely. I rolled my eyes often during the last month of episodes. If nothing else, AMC’s bad dialog may pay off next time I see the optometrist. So there’s your silver lining.It’s Banned Book Week, which is practically a religious experience in the library. This morning, my co-worker read selections from Native Son and tomorrow, there will be more reading. Earlier in the week, Lupe read from Their Eyes Were Watching God, which I love. My boss Gianna read a selection from a book I can’t recall at the moment, but the whole idea is quite charming. When we speak to each other in work-related conversations, language in the library is ordinary and genteel. It’s nice we’re finally swearing at one another.
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of my first day as a full-time employee of the unnamed university. Many times, it seemed like I wouldn’t last another day, but here we are. One of my co-workers has 50 years in, so 25 is nothing special and tomorrow is another day. Now that Susan Lucci can cut up her cocktail dresses and stay home nibble bonbons, it’s tempting to imagine going out in nothing but satin pajamas.
That brings us to now. For the first time in my entire life, I do not feel much like using words. This is a baffling sensation for me. Words are my paint and paintbrush, my guitar and drum. I can barely summon the will to finish sentences half the time and if I had any skill at all with a camera this would be a photo blog. I don’t know what this all means. Perhaps it’s a stage of life or a stage in every artist’s life where the medium falls away and something else presents itself. At the moment, I want to communicate through the colors and textures of pickled beets and peach butter. The internet, while very useful, does not yet offer us the fragrances of cinnamon and sweet basil. I don’t know how to talk to you without rosemary-infused olive oil.
And there is never enough time to talk, is there? Especially when we don’t want to. There’s never enough time when berries are ripe and skin is warm with sweat and we move through this sweet quietude. In other news: near my sister’s house sits an enormous dairy farm. The homeowners’ association is most exercised about the aroma of cow poop on the breeze.
I forgot what I was going to say. Let me start over:
This morning, my co-worker stepped off the bus and onto the curb. At the same moment, elastic let go and her pants fell to her ankles. The bus driver, seeing this, said, “Have a good day, ma’am.”
Our lives are short. I try not to wish away time I’ll never get back or remember when I last got my car inspected. This weekend: it’s blackberries or bust and no second chances. There is still time for golden beets.
I meant to say those things. And these, too:
Imagine the grandest salad. Statistically speaking, there will always be one more pistachio.
Do you remember when cicada song and cooling sweat at the nape of your neck signified a new day and your own endless possibility?
Oh look – the anthem of my teenage idealism and small town despair!
If you have not lived in a college town, shared an apartment with a grad student or made the terrible mistake of marrying one, consider yourself warned. They are not regular people like you and me. You watch ESPN. I watch Jacques Pepin on PBS. Grad students are desperately broke and drink Olympia beer in cans. If you go to a party where grad students are drinking Olympia beer in cans, you will see them discuss nationalism and geography until the coolers and fridges are empty and the grad students fall over sideways, but by dinnertime, Olympia beer in cans will be floating in the coolers and hiding in the fridge again and no one will know why or how. This illustrates the principle difficulty of living near a grad student in the Humanities: they’re not going anywhere until they’ve carefully picked every fiber, every thread, every bit of lint and every smidge of dust out of a topic other grad students have been picking apart for decades. These people strain for a single original thought and if they have one write thousands of pages about it in which nobody learns anything truly useful. Your best bet is to seal the house where they live and toss in a comic book – but it better be a good one.
The mistake the book makes is assuming that a fourteen year old could have the same brain chemistry, the same field of vision and the same calm and tempered fluidity with the language as its author. I say the book makes it because the book should know better, but you see the same horseshit with the Twilight books, which REALLY should have found an author who didn’t have I WANT MY VIRGINITY BACK on the brain. We can talk about that some other time, because we’re talking about teenagers here: they’re stupid. Even the smart teenagers are stupid. Their brains do not work like your brain, even when you do something stupid. No, the premise of this stupid book is entirely backward. The stupid adult writes about a teenager smarter than she is and the book-reading, English-speaking world offers a movie deal.
Well, in some quarters that might qualify as pretty smart. As a business move, maybe it was. The book, however, is not good art and its elevation provides a window into the soul of a society eternally wishing it died young, pretty and stupid.
Time and again, I come back to the fez.
A hat either fits or does not fit on one’s head, suits or does not suit one’s style. I happen to love the fez, though I have no cultural attachment to it and it doesn’t amplify my already ample beauty. Which is ample. For a party years ago, I cut up my hat to make a pattern. I then wrote instructions for a friend in Wisconsin whose access to paper fezzes was spotty at best. Some sacrifices must be made!
You and Your Paper Fez
• One (1) red stencil.
• One (1) buttload. Sturdy red posterboard. 24” x 36”.
• One (1) pencil.
• One (1) pair. Scissors.
• One (1) bottle. Elmer’s Glue.
• One (1) box. Straight pins.
• One (1) bag. Wussy rubber bands.
• One (1) roll. Scotch tape.
• Optional: first aid kit, helpful pets.
Run with scissors. Spill glue. Draw on walls. Perforate fingers. Pre-disastered, you are now ready to begin.
1. Lay stencil on one sheet of posterboard. Trace with pencil. Now turn pencil over and use sharp lead side. If you are terribly clever (or an ordinary woman) you can fit three tracings per posterboard.
2. Carefully, use scissors to cut out your paper fez. Keep first aid kit handy.
3. Fold Part A toward Part B, stopping when A and B are perpendicular to each other.
4. Fold individual tabs to form right angles from Part A.
5. Lay Part A on floor such that tabs stick up like dead spider legs.
6. Gently bend Part B until ends meet and B forms a conic section. When it looks like an upside-down fez, glue matched ends together.
7. Immediately, pin together wet, gluey ends. Nothing fancy. Just pin like you’re torturing a voodoo doll.
8. Secure wet, gluey, pinned Part B with rubber bands. Let dry for 12 hours.
9. Re-glue when helpful pets discover snapping rolling pin cushion toys.
10. Tape tabs to inside of Part B. Remove pins and rubber bands. Garnish and serve.
This is obviously meant to be silly, though the fez has a very serious history. If you think back, you will remember mention of it in The Little Prince.
Grownups, you will recall, may be completely fooled by the appearances of things. In the story, a scientist presents a theory to a conference in traditional Turkish attire, complete with fez. Because the grownups can’t see past his appearance, the scientist is dismissed out of hand. Then traditional attire is outlawed in Turkey. The scientist presents his theory again in Western costume and his theory is accepted. It is a triumph of form and an accident of function.
During the reign hi[sic] the Sultan Mahmud Khan II (1808-39), a European code of dress gradually replaced the traditional robes worn by members of the Ottoman court. The change in costume was soon emulated by the public and senior civil servants, followed by the members of the ruling intelligentsia and the emancipated classes throughout the Ottoman Empire. While European style coats and trousers were gradually adopted, this change did not extend to headwear. Peaked or broad brimmed headdresses such as the top hat did not meet the Islamic requirement that men should press their heads to the ground when praying. Accordingly the Sultan issued a firman (royal decree) that the checheya headgear in a modified form would become part of the formal attire of the Turkish Empire irrespective of his subjects’ religious sects or millets.
In post-Ottoman Turkey, the fez was discouraged & ultimately banned under the leadership of the revered Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) through the Hat Law in 1925 & the Law Relating to Prohibited Garments in 1934.
This omits mention of the riots that ensued. It’s just a hat, you see. Nothing serious until the shooting starts. I should tell you my co-worker has been out with a backache for a couple of weeks that was actually spinal meningitis, and two days ago her heart stopped. She is currently on life support and the doctors have advised her family they should pull the plug. I walked with her to our cars one Thursday afternoon, talking about our Thursday evening plans, and now we find ourselves bargaining with the snake. What do we see here, as children? As grownups? What is before our eyes?