Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zipped

Another year, another month, another April A to Z Blogging Challenge zipped up. Granted, I haven't been as faithful to it this year as I was last year, but it did help drag me out of my writing slump a little. And it was still a great experience reading other bloggers and having new folks stop by here. Thank you to all of my readers this past month for your wonderful comments and support. Plus, a huge shout out thank you!!! to Arlee and his crew for the tremendous amount of work they put into hosting this gig.

I didn't blog for "X" because, well... there's just not a lot to do with it aside from some scientific terms. I thought about xenophobia, but all I could come up with was some scathing vitriol. As in, "Dear Xenophobics, get over your tiny little selves. Your fear-fueled anger and hatred are more obnoxious than anything you might possibly be afraid of."

I kind of wanted to write something about youth for "Y", but so many other A to Z'ers shot off that gun, that it would have been superfluous. Let me just say that Henny Youngman had it right: Youth is wasted on the young. I used to hate that phrase, thinking that it was only useful to crotchety old curmudgeons existing on the fumes of bitterness left from their own misspent youth. But I get it now. Much to my chagrin.

Besides all that, I've just been so flippin' busy! Crazy with card orders. And I want more!

So, there you have it. And now, it's back to the salt mines for me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for When

I remember, when I was a child, my mother would dish up food or pour milk and say, "Say when." Say when, meaning, "tell me when it's enough for you."

We don't implement that option as adults. We don't get to say "when!" when it's enough for us. We just keep filling our figurative plates, while looking around the table to see what else we can get our hands on.

I think that part of the problem is that we've completely confused want and need. We want all sorts of things. Sure, why not? It's natural to want things. But where we go wrong is that we don't recognize the difference between what we want and what we actually need.

What we actually need is pretty basic. We need shelter and just enough food to fuel us. That's it. Everything else is a privilege. Everything else is based on what we want.

There isn't a thing wrong with wanting, nor is there anything wrong with attaining what we want. However, when we lose sight of the fact that we have it pretty damned good, that our needs are already met, it's time to say "When!" It's time to push back from the buffet and take action.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Verisimilitude

verisimilitude: noun-
1. the appearance or semblance of truth or reality; probability; quality of seeming true.
2. something, as an assertion, having merely the appearance of truth.
3. something that merely seems to be true or real, such as a doubtful statement

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
~Abraham Lincoln

I am always just a little bit amazed (can one be a little bit amazed?) at how easily people will accept as truth something that they've heard or read. Most of the time they've only heard or read one side or one view of whatever it is. This is why I don't get into political or religious discussions (or politics and religion in general, for that matter). All those blinders make it impossible for anyone to know the truth when they see it. It's all verisimilitude.

I'm not against a sidestep from reality. But what gets me is people who insist on arguing their point without fully knowing their point. And people who get hostile about it all, people who don't even try to look at the flip side? Fie.

The truth is, there is very little that is true in this world. Even nature likes to fool us - animals and bugs camouflage themselves and trick us into thinking they're leaves or grass or whatever. I remember a day back in my 20's. I was spending time on the beach just south of Atlantic City. It was a hot day and I'd been sitting on a blanket reading for a while. I thought, "Ahhh... a dip in the ocean is exactly what I need!" Five minutes later I was running on water, trying to get away from the jellyfish. The ocean had tricked me with its gentle waves, had seduced me with it's clean salt scent. Mother Nature is the grand mistress of verisimilitude.

So, why are we so stinkin' trusting when it comes to mere words that have been uttered by someone else? Is it that we're too lazy to dig a little deeper? Too busy? Are we so impatiently in need of answers that we'll accept whatever comes along?

Because I believe, as Thomas Jefferson so eloquently penned, that the truth ought to be self-evident. Everything else is just a pale verisimilitude, no matter how real it seems or how comforting it feels.

What it comes down to is: question everything.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

U is for Ugly

I am double-dipping again today. I’m keeping up with the April A to Z Challenge as well as hanging with Fiona and the gang over at Writing Our Way Home and participating in the “What’s Your Most Beautiful Thing” challenge.

What’s my most beautiful thing?

My most beautiful thing is ugly.

I have a really ugly scar on my left calf. Taking up almost all of my calf, it gets noticed. It’s deep, gnarly… hideous. But I love that damned scar. Why? Because it reminds me that I’m a fighter, that when I‘m up against it, I don‘t accept “no“ for an answer. It reminds me that I almost lost a leg, but thanks to the intelligence and perseverance of others, I still get to stand on my own two feet.

I also have a really ugly scar that runs across my belly. It’s the result of having ruptured appendix when I was a mere 16 months old. It’s not just a line, it’s a big dent - there because ruptured appendix is almost unheard of in a baby, so the doctors had to cut me in half and explore to find out what was going on. I love that damned scar too, because it reminds me that someone cared enough to give me the opportunity to experience my life. Someone else didn’t take “no” for an answer because they wanted to help me.

There are several unseen scars. There are scars left by bad times in my life - scars that have left dents in the flesh of my emotions. There are certain scars that were left by harsh words and cruel actions. They were etched into me by people who were indifferent to my feelings. They’re the ugliest of all. Those are the scars that have, at various times, made me feel ignorant, unattractive, and unlovable. To this day, if I’m not careful, those scars still sometimes fill me with self-doubt, and worse yet, self-loathing.

I love those scars most of all. Those scars prove to me that I can, as I have, rise above the things that would cripple a weaker soul. Those scars fuel my creativity. Those scars boost my stubborn attitude into an asset. Those scars help me accept that yes, sometimes life hurts and that’s just the way it is. Those scars help me see the scars in others and hopefully treat them with a little kindness. Those scars make me appreciate the good times that much more. Those scars are the shadows that make the light seem to shine even brighter. Those scars make me want to, as Jane Siberry once sang, “sing a little sweeter and love a little deeper.”

Those ugly scars are my most beautiful thing. Without them, there is no beauty.

“Here, all we have here is sky.
All the sky is, is blue.
All the blue is, is one more colour.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

RST: Ready? Set? Tempus Fugit!

Once again I must mete out apologies to the A to Z blogging community for dropping the ball on R and S.

R was for R&R. Rest and Relaxation. Y'see, last week my mate and I went for a much needed five day vacation to Lake Chelan. While I had set up my A to Z posts to run from Monday through Thursday, I foolishly thought I could come back Thursday night and be ready to run with a new post on Friday morning. Yes. Foolishly. As it was, I had to hit the ground running with card orders.

*cue shameless self-promotion*
What? Yes, card orders. For those of you who may not know, you can order all of my designs from me. I also do graduation announcements, wedding invitations, party invitations, etc. Either visit my etsy shop (here), or just shoot me an email (here).
*end shameless self-promotion*

So then, on to "S"...
S was supposed to be for shamelessness. I had a brilliant post in my head, one which I will actually write soon. I'll give you this much of a clue, the idea for the post was borne of watching little kids at the lake and the freedom (shamelessness) with which they dance, sing, skip, laugh, cry, and ask for what they want. Think about that kind of shamelessness.

Now then, we're at "T"... back on track, eh? T is for Time, and lately, tempus has been fugit-ing all over my life. What? Oh, very well. Tempus Fugit is Latin for Time Flees (often very wrongly translated as time flies... no, no, no... it flees; it is fleeting). I'm feeling a little caught up in a whirlwind. I've been looking back at the past five years since John died, and at just how much and how fast my life has changed. I've been working on graduation, wedding, and baby announcements for the children of people with whom I graduated high school. Like the song says, I haven't gotten any older, when did they? Yet, the gray in my hair belies my feeble protestations against the passing of time. I've suddenly realized that I've been living in Washington for fourteen years, and that it's been a quarter of a century since I left my hometown in Michigan to move to Maryland. I've started answering certain, "When did you...?" type questions in terms of decades.

The thing is, I'm not so very old. I'm... only... 50. And, yeah, before all of you write to me and say, "Age is just a number. You're as old as you feel." Just can it, will ya? I've heard it before. It may be just a number, but it somehow feels like it ought to have some kind of significance attached to it.  Some kind of you-were-there-and-now-you're-here brass marker to hang above the doorbell.

I keep chewing on the phrase that Hal Moore and Joe Galloway turned into the title of their book, "We were soldiers once... and young." I think that's where I'm having trouble reconciling all this tempus fugit-izing business. I was never young. I don't remember the innocence of my youth. At all. I don't remember being ignorant enough to want to learn. I was never one of those who planned for the life ahead of me. I was never young. It's almost a feeling of having only recently fallen to earth.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining. I'm merely pondering.

It's time well spent.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Quixote

Okay, I'm cheating a little on this one and I'm re-running the "Q" post I used during last year's A to Z Challenge. But I'm doing it because it's up there in my top ten favorite posts that I've ever kicked out into the blogasphere. Plus, there are probably enough new readers that have never seen it before, and there are probably old readers that can suffer it again.

quixotic: –adjective;
1. impulsive and often rashly unpredictable
2. extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable.
3. resembling or befitting Don Quixote.
Synonyms: idealistic, chimerical, chivalrous, dreaming, dreamy, foolish, impetuous, impractical, impulsive, romantic, starry-eyed, unrealistic

Dear Dictionary,

You define one of the most fabulous words in the English language like it's a bad thing. You make it sound as though emulating Cervantes' Don Quixote is the worst that could happen to a person. According to you, to take charge of one's own destiny and run full force at what we believe in is folly and silly.

Granted, Quixote was a bit overly zealous and not just a little irresponsible, but sometimes we need to run headlong at a problem before we figure out it's only a windmill. And, okay, yes, on a regular basis he set up his good pal, Sancho to take the fall. But, what are friends for? And Sancho never said, "Yo, dude. Enough. You really need to get laid." No, Sancho was in it for the sake of adventure. In fact, after Quixote returned home, caved to the depressive side of his mania and took a good long nap, he regained his sanity and gave up his knight-errant ways. But... Sancho tried to talk him into it all over again!

So, who's the crazy one really... huh?

Is it right to dis a guy because he ran to the aid of damsels in distress? Yeah, I know... most of them weren't really in distress, but the guy was desperate to do right by them. The world could use more characters who are desperate to do right. For example, just yesterday I was limping back from the mailbox with a very heavy parcel. A salesman was canvassing the neighborhood trying to sell vitamin supplements. He walked right up to me. Did he ask if he could help carry the parcel? No! Instead he stood in my way and asked me if I wanted to buy his "health products." I could have used some damned chivalry!

Do you think that you, Dictionary, would have come into existence without the help of some idealists and dreamers? You didn't just magically appear. Some folks sat around, slurping mead and talking about words and meanings and all that delicious syntax, rhetoric and power, and one of them said, "Y'know what I wish? I wish there was a book with all the words in the world. Something we could reference whenever we need to." Another guy at the table said, "Lofty dream that." Yet another chimed in, "Now wait a second. It would be difficult, but not impossible. We can do that!"

I hereby request that you no longer snub your nose at the quixotic among us. We may be misguided at times, but we are sincere and our hearts are in it. We may be dreamers, but our dreams take us places and we get things done. We may be impetuous, but not everything in life requires a series of checks and balances - some stuff you've just gotta let fly. We might romanticize the day, but we stop and sniff the posies. So, give us a break, huh?

We're quixotic, but we're quality folks.

Thank you, that is all.

Best regards,

Barb Black

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Personal

I may or may not have mentioned, but some of my artwork and poetry is going to be featured in the June issue of The Rusty Nail. The other day the Editor-In-Chief sent me a questionnaire to fill out - an online interview, if you will. I thought it was a great set of questions and, hoping he won't mind, I thought I'd share my answers here.


Q: When did you begin writing/painting?

A: I have been writing since I first discovered words. I can remember being fascinated as a very young child at the way words work together and the way they can be strung together. I have a distinct memory from my pre-alphabet days of me sitting at the kitchen table and "writing" a letter to my Grandmother. I knew what I was trying to say, but I'm reasonably certain it didn't translate well.

While I've always been creative, I didn't actually start painting until about three years ago. I simply felt a profound need to slap some paint at a canvas and see what happened. Much to my surprise and delight, I found the missing puzzle piece to my need for self-expression.

Q: What does the word “art” mean to you?

A: There's an anonymous saying, "Without art we are but monkeys with car keys." That really speaks to me (and I apologize to monkeys everywhere - no offense intended). Defining art is a ridiculous pursuit because it is so subjective. I'm always amused when people try to interpret my work because all too often, even I don't know what it means. So all I can speak to is what art does, not what it means. What art does, whether we're making it or standing back and surveying it, is evoke an emotional response of some kind, of any kind. It is simultaneously an outlet and an inlet into that deep part of ourselves that so often defies expression.

Q: Why do you write/paint?

A: The simplest answer is, "I need to." Back in the olden days buildings were often heated with boilers. The boiler would heat water and the warm steam would be distributed for heat. Those boilers came with pressure release valves that would let of steam if there was too much of a build up. However, sometimes the release valves wouldn't work, so the boiler had to be dumped. Art and writing are my ways of dumping the boiler on what I call my "soul gunk." Besides that, it's just plain fun.

Q: Is there a main theme in your work?

A: Kind of, but not intentionally. I certainly recognize that I have a certain style when it comes to writing or artwork. Given that those forms of expression are intensely personal, it's difficult not to have a somewhat unique voice.

When writing, whether it's fiction, poetry, or a simple "think about this" blog post, I tend toward pointing out the light that causes the shadows. Having been through some terribly rough spots in my own life, I like to let people know that it's okay to feel your life. It's okay to experience everything. Writing is a fabulous way of sorting those feelings and experiences.

My art, on the other hand, tends toward a collaged look. I like pieces, whether my own work or that of others, that make me think and then think again. I like art that takes me down different paths and leave me with several varied destinations.

Q: Does inspiration come easily to you and, if not, how to you summon the muse?

A: I would say that about 90% of the time inspiration comes easily. Part of that is just the way my mind sees things, a sense of aesthetic. As a kid I read all the time and I know that really helped develop my imagination. To this day, it isn't a very big leap for me to go from reality to pretense. Once there, things just seem to unfold by themselves.

When I do need to summon my muse, I usually just have to close my eyes. I envision a word or a phrase (if I'm writing), or a certain color (if I'm painting). Sometimes when I need a boost to write I read the dictionary and wait for a word to jump out at me. Sometimes when I need to paint I just load the palette with paint and start dabbing. The trick is to not panic or get frustrated, because that sends everything into lock-down mode. If I start feeling that way, I find something else to do that will take me outside myself for a while.

Q: What is your overall goal in regards to your art? Is it simple for personal enjoyment or is there something larger at work?

A: It’s kind of funny, the first time a friend approached me about buying some of my cards, my reaction was, “Really? You want to pay me for having fun?!” Ultimately, it’s for personal enjoyment. I’ve arrived at a point in my life where I don’t see beating myself up to do something unless there’s some level of passion involved. With that in mind, it is my goal to turn my art and/or my writing into a steady, reliable income.

Q: Do you think anyone can write/paint? In other words, is it a natural thing or can it be learned?

A: I think the people who are really good at their craft are people who have some kind of natural talent and who have given credence to that talent. I say that because for many years I didn’t allow myself to be an artist because I didn’t think I had it in me. I would go to the craft store and look longingly at paints and brushes, and then walk away without buying anything because I was certain that it was just a goofy dream I had. It wasn’t until I allowed that artistic side of me that things really took off in terms of living a creative life.

That being said, I do think that anyone can learn to write or paint at least to the degree that it will give them some personal satisfaction. And that’s what it’s really about - it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to feel good. It saddens me that so many people won’t even try for fear of failure or that they set their expectations too high. It takes time to learn anything and learn it well. I look back at some of my older work and I laugh and wonder what I was thinking. But the important thing is that I tried, that I managed to release some of that soul gunk.

When I was in high school, my piano teacher - a very forthright woman - said, “You’re not going to be a concert pianist, but you’re a good player. However, it’s my theory that if you can play well enough for your own enjoyment and to maybe entertain a few friends sitting around the living room, that’s really all you need.” It was a great lesson that I’ve revisited any time I question why I’m bothering to do something that, subjective as it is, can never really be perfect.

Q: How often do you engage in the arts? Is it a daily thing or do you work with individual marathon sessions with breaks in between?

A: It’s pretty much a daily thing. Even if I don’t produce something that I feel is worthy, I’ve at least kept the thought process limber. But I can easily get lost in a marathon session (both in writing and in art) and not even know it until I try to stand up (hours later) and realize how achy I am from immobility. I sometimes jokingly refer to my studio as The Rabbit Hole because it’s so easy for me to get lost in it.

Q: How would you describe your writing style?

A: That’s a tough one. Lyrical, I think. It has a certain meter to it, a cadence.

Q: How would you describe your painting/drawing style?

A: It’s a collage style with some surrealism tossed in. I love putting different components and textures and elements together in a way that maybe makes some mad sort of sense while at the same time (hopefully) challenging that very sense.

Q: Who are your influences?

A: Artistically, I’d have to say my greatest influences are Nick Bantock, Marc Chagall, RenĂ© Magritte, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Writing fiction, my influences are Lee Smith, Amy Tan, Stephen King, but when it comes to poetry, I’d have to list Carl Sandburg, and Robert Frost.

Q: What is the greatest misconception that people have about artists?

A: That we're crazy, flighty, or pretentious. That we have no sense of responsibility. Granted, the arts have more than their fare share of people who are "out there." But by and large, most of us are almost boring but for the work we produce. Although our work is a way of asking the world to "see" us, most of us are fairly introverted. I know that I'm happiest when I'm in old sweats and a t-shirt. Given the choice, I much prefer to curl up on the sofa and read or watch a movie than go to a party.

Q: If you could channel the artistic ability of one great artist/writer in history, who would it be?

A: Artistically it‘s a toss up. I’d love to see things the way M.C. Escher did - his work is so complex. At the same time, I can‘t begin to imagine what it would feel like to hold Van Gogh‘s paintbrush for a day - when I look at his work I can almost taste the colors.

As far as writers go, I can’t imagine a more fascinating brain to peer into than that of Douglas Adams.

Q: Do you have any major projects in the works that you’d like to share?

A: I have a novel that I’ve been working on and am hoping to complete this year. I’m also toying with the idea of putting together a book that incorporates my artwork and poetry. I’m always doing something new with art, so it’s hard to say what will come out of that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Origami


If my love for you
knows any bounds
it is its inability
to define the how or why
my heart
folds at the sight of you
folds like a plain
white sheet of paper
gets folded
folds again then unfolds
an origami bird
and at once
flying is possible

Monday, April 16, 2012

N is for Need


I don’t care
about the women
you’ve taken to your bed –
don’t care to know
if they were
blond, brunette, or redhead,
if this one
came on like a whore,
and that one a shy little girl,
if their skin
felt like dandelion fluff
or leather,
used whips
or whipped cream,
left you limp,
gobbled you whole,
screamed your name,
or prayed for mercy.
Don’t want to be
compared to,
or an amalgamation of
all the names you’ve
slept with.
Won’t be your
first girlfriend,
or mother.
What I do want –
to throw you down,
go down,
take you down,
turn you inside out,
make you forget.
I don’t dare say,
want to be god to you,
hold you to my breast
until you lose
what makes you a man,
helpless in my arms,
content to be breathing.
Want to unleash
every screaming rage,
bottomless sorrow,
overwhelming joy,
and take the same from you –
walk all over you `til you beg my name,
treat you with such tenderness
you weep my name,
touch every aching part of you –
make you laugh, make you cry,
make you know.

What I want most?
(and this stops me cold)
I want you
to need all of it
from me.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mid-stream

This is a poem that I wrote many years ago... just a bit of fun for a Saturday post.


we pee
behind doors with gaps in them
she recognizes my scuffy sandals
under the divider
"how's it going?" she asks
and I stop mid-trickle
I'm not sure
which going she means

Friday, April 13, 2012

L is for Luxury

Luxury: noun
1. a material object, or service conducive to sumptuous living, usually a delicacy, elegance, or refinement of living rather than a necessity.
2. indulgence in or enjoyment of comforts and pleasures in addition to those necessary for a reasonable standard of well-being.
3. a pleasure out of the ordinary allowed to oneself.

When most of us think in terms of luxury, we think of penthouse suites or homes large enough to get lost in, four star restaurants, cruises, flashy cars, pricey jewelry, and clothing bought in places that would call security if we showed up dressed as we are.

I don't know about you, but that all sounds like a big headache waiting to happen. It sounds like a whole lot of upkeep to me. It sounds a lot like work.

I prefer my version(s) of luxury. In my version of luxury, I sit on my humble little back deck and watch the sun come up over the mountains. In my version of luxury, I pull on the same old jeans and t-shirts that I've been wearing for years and which, when bought, didn't wipe out the grocery budget for months. In my version of luxury, I sit on the floor with my mate, eating pizza, and trying to get the answers right on Jeopardy. In my version of luxury, I lounge on the beat up old sofa in my ratty old bathrobe and read a book. In my version of luxury, I have the freedom to laugh at things that are funny, and even some that are not. In my version of luxury, my toughest decision is Cheerios or Raisin Bran.

In my version of luxury, I work in a studio that's actually the second bedroom of our home. The carpet is easily 25 years old (that color of gold belonged to one decade and one decade only!), the bookshelves are cheap veneer covered fiberboard dealies. My work table is one of those cafeteria style things with folding legs. My fancy-schmancy cutting station is an old dresser that was given to me years ago. It's all perfect because I can get paint and ink and glitter and paper bits all over the place and it won't matter. Nothing is going to get ruined any worse than it already is. To me, it's the ultimate luxury - I get to do what I love doing and without being inhibited by any kind of pretentiousness.

A couple of weeks ago quite a few friends were dreaming of winning the mega lottery and talking about what they'd do with all that cash. Honestly? Once the bills were paid and my family was taken care of, I'd buy my mate the boat of his dreams and buy myself all the art supplies I've ever wanted. And then life would just go on.

Luxury is waking up each morning head over heals, crazy in love with life.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

K is for Kibitzer

kibitzer: noun
1. a spectator at a card game who looks at the players' cards over their shoulders, especially one who gives unsolicited advice.
2. a giver of uninvited or unwanted advice.
3. a person who jokes, chitchats, or makes wisecracks, especially while others are trying to work or to discuss something seriously.
[from Yiddish kibitzen, from German kiebitzen - to be an onlooker]

Whenever my mate finds time to watch a fishing show on TV he tends to take issue. Sometimes it's about how the guys are fishing and/or the gear or bait they're using, but most of the time it's because they're talking. If you are ever within earshot at such a time, you will likely hear a deep male voice muttering, "Oh, c'mon... you gonna fish or you gonna talk about fishin'?!" In fact, the man even owns a t-shirt that reads: Shut up and fish!

One of the reasons I, to this day, love watching Bob Ross's shows is that the man didn't just stand around talking about art supplies and techniques. The man actually spent 25 minutes painting, and explaining what he was doing while he was painting. So many other arts and crafts shows spend a great deal of time hawking their wares rather than instructing, or just doing. Trust me, if you show me how to do something, I will buy product a whole lot faster than if you simply tell me how wonderful the product is.

There are people who do and people who talk about doing. The do-ers are always the ones who capture my attention. Sure, sometimes the talkers can generate excitement for a while, but in the end, they're recognized for being just talkers. Kibitzers... they take a lot of satisfaction out of talking a good game without ever playing it, without ever getting their hands dirty, without any personal responsibility.

I have a facebook "friend" who jumps on every self-help bandwagon there is. She's always exuberant when it comes to sharing links that others have generated and inspirational quotes by others.  And hey, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. However, I've yet to see any kind of growth in her life. I've yet to see her apply anything that she talks about. She's still in the exact same spot she was in two years ago. It seems she'd rather kibitz on life than live life.

Master Yoda had it all wrong. It should have been, "Do or do not. There is no talk."

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for Juxtapose

Juxtapose is one of my very favorite words. It's how I reconcile all of the events in my life - the good and the bad threads, offset against each other create this lush tapestry. One of the greatest examples of that in my life is the juxtaposition of losing my mate, John five years ago and discovering this amazing life with Steve three years ago. Without one, there wouldn't be the other. The beauty is bittersweet, but the beauty is profound.

The Juxtaposition of a Mending Heart Against a Sadder Time

if anyone were to ask
was there a time
when the black umbrellas
and the reign ended;
the crows again flew stark
against the Summer sun;
the scent of roses threw
their stain along the tendrils
of the wind;
and the quiet of a day
no longer stretched itself,
yawning like a wound -
if anyone were to ask
when was the moment
that gave beat to the measure;
what drove
the cloud from the lining;
which dog ate the marrow,
warm and quivering, from
the heart of the bone;
how gracefully the slumbering giant
rolled away from the dew
of morning -
if anyone were to ask
what changed it all
my response would be
it happened as he
listened to the unspoken;
honored an unshed tear;
gave loft to the gauze
of an airless dream;
held an empty hand until
it grasped everything -
if anyone were to ask
I’d have to say
these things became
as effortlessly
and unremarked
as the wink of an eye
that is
the color of the Aegean Sea

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Ireland

Today I'm doing double duty on my blog. I'm adhering to the Blogging from A to Z schedule, and I'm also following a prompt given to me by IndieInk (details are at the end of the post). So, without further ado, here's my bit of fiction...

I had been on Irish soil for less than an hour before I wandered into my first official pub. Sure, I wanted to see the lush green hills, see castle ruins, and all that stuff that American tourists yearn for. However, in all my dreams of traveling to Ireland, at the top were dreams of slipping into some dark, cozy pub, ordering a pint, and sitting back to listen to the musical tones of the Irish in conversation. So that’s exactly what my first order of business was.

I was well along the way toward draining my first pint and ordering another when a fellow who looked like a poster child for Irish tourism sat down next to me. He had dark curly locks that fell in tiny ringlets across his brow, bright blue eyes, ruddy cheeks, a ready smile, and massive shoulders. “Donal, a pint!” he hollered to get the bartender’s attention. Then he turned his attention toward me, noticed that my glass was nearly empty and bellowed in Donal‘s direction. “Make it two!”

“Yar noo hare,” he stated matter-of-factly in an unmistakable Northern Irish accent. I was a little shy about making my Yankee-ness known, but there was no hiding it if this guy was going to speak directly to me. So, trying to deflect any barbs ahead of time, I said, “I am. I’m one of those annoying Yankees you’ve read so much about. I’ve come to invade Ireland, kiss a blarney stone, and then return to my cozy American life.”

My ale benefactor let out a hearty laugh and clapped me on the shoulder with a hand that felt like it was the size of an Easter ham. “Pleased t’make yer acquaintance. Name’s Jack.” “Ryan here,” I replied, shaking the massive hand he offered me. “And thanks so much for the pint.” “Nonsense! Y’need a proper start to yer holiday.” And that was how I met my first Irish friend just an hour off the plane from Logan Airport.

That wasn’t the last pint we shared, and it wasn’t long before Jack decided that I needed a “proper introduction” to Irish whisky. So we switched to that. Well, we didn’t switch so much as add it on to the increasing pint orders. In all my dreams of finding a cozy Irish pub, none of them stood up to how perfect this was. Jack and I shared an easy camaraderie, finding that we had similar backgrounds in literature and writing - except that I went for a fictionalized style and his was historical.

Before I was too drunk to remember, he shared a family story with me - a story that he‘d heard his grandfather tell many times. Apparently, Jack (huge as he was) was the runt of his family. His great grandfather Ian, he told me, had been 6’9”. According to Jack, he was a gentle giant. “Sure‘n why not? When yer very size is intimidating, y’don’t have need t’be an arsehole!“ Grandpa Ian had earned a living as so many Irish had, in the fishing industry. He had lived a relatively quiet, unremarkable life with his wife and 10 children. Jack told me that although the family had been provided for, with that many mouths there was never extra to go around.

Ian was killed during a storm at sea when a flying gaff came loose from his boat and struck him in the head. The family could barely afford a funeral, let alone a specially crafted casket that would be necessary to hold the big man’s body. So, they did the unthinkable. They lopped the man’s legs off at the knees and put dead Ian and his severed legs in a standard sized pine box. It was a scandal that rocked several counties. There was great debate over the sin of desecration and whether or not a church burial should be allowed. The family was applauded for their ingenuity by some and shunned for their audacity by others.

Jack insisted it was a true story, and I believed him. I’m sure of it because of the dreams I’ve had since. Dreams of digging up a grave, opening the box, and seeing the big man lying there, clutching his severed limbs to his chest. It’s a dream that makes me wake up laughing. I know that’s irreverent of me, but somehow it’s all mixed up with my first gloriously drunken night in Ireland. At some point late in the night, or maybe it was early in the morning, Jack and I stumbled back to his flat. I have a faint recollection of him insisting that no hotel would do for his new American friend.

That’s how I happened to wake up in a strange room, on a strange sofa, with a roaring hangover my first morning in Ireland. I heard Jack humming an old Van Morrison tune and smelled potatoes frying. The former made me smile, the latter made me swallow back bile before it got the best of me. I stood up and winced at the stabbing pain in my head, then slowly shuffled out to the kitchen.

Jack smiled and nodded toward a chair. As I sat down, he placed a bottle of aspirin and a mug of tea in front of me on the table. I put my head in my hands and said, “I hate to be such a Yankee, but do you have any coffee? I need coffee. Tea cannot cure a hangover.”

“Nonsense, Ryan. Drink it up with some of those aspirin. You’ll thank me in less than 10 minutes.”

My head was pounding too wildly for me to argue. I shook some aspirin out onto the table, picked up four of them and tossed them toward the back of my tongue, then took a big gulp of the tea and swallowed before my throat could protest. I felt my eyes shoot open wide as my chest burned. “Oh, bastard. You could have told me you put whisky in that!” “If I had, y’wouldna drunk it,” Jack replied with a grin. I shrugged as if to say, “when in Ireland…” and took another sip of his concoction, prepared this time for the heat of the whisky. I felt the icicles that had been piercing my skull melt away and my muscles started to feel a little closer to normal. I looked at Jack, standing there with the spatula in his hand and one eyebrow raised in question. I nodded, smiled, and said, “Thank you. Better.” With that, Jack turned back to the stove to tend the potatoes.

That was decades ago and is still on the top five list of one of the best times of my life. My son, Ian - yes, named for that legless giant - just graduated college and as a graduation gift, my wife and I are sending him to Ireland. He asked me if I had any pieces of advice that he should take with him on the trip.

“Just one bit,” I offered. “If a stranger offers to buy you a pint, don’t refuse."

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, stacy challenged me with "Tea cannot cure a hangover " and I challenged Caitlin Durkin with "The emotion covered her like a blanket, and it was suffocating."

Monday, April 9, 2012

H is for Hello

Apparently G was for, "Good Grief! I forgot to post on Saturday!!" My apologies to the A to Z community for dropping the ball.

Hello. We hardly ever use that formal greeting any more. We say hi, howdy, hey, hiya, etc. depending on age and the area of the country that we're from. Some times we go for demure and merely nod in greeting.

Hello was first recognized in print somewhere around 1833. Thomas Edison launched it as a telephone greeting in 1877.

I don't know about you, but hello sounds much too formal when I say it. Like I should be holding my teacup, lifting my pinkie, and with a sideways glance to avoid eye contact, speaking in a low voice, say, "Hellooo."

When I call a stranger, say a company rep, I always start with, "Hi, my name is Barb. I was wondering if you carry three-handled, moss-covered family credenzas...?" When I answer a call, I always say, "Hi. This is Barb..." If I'm greeting friends, it's usually either hey or howdy. The hey is because I never got over my dissatisfaction of not having been born Scout Finch. The howdy is because I've never gotten over my dissatisfaction of not having been born a cowboy.

How do you say hello? Are you good about saying it to strangers or are you shy?

Sometimes a smile and a hi, hello, hey, howdy can completely light up someone's day. So however you say it, just say it... with a smile.

Friday, April 6, 2012

F is for Fornicating

I'm kidding... I'm kidding. This isn't that kind of blog. Okay, it's usually not that kind of blog. Hardly ever.

F is for felicity: noun,
the state of being happy, especially in a large degree; bliss.

Why? Because it's Friday. Because I feel like having fun. Because I'm filled with felicity.

Reason? What reason... why does there need to be a reason? Happiness is a choice, not a reward.

It's funny though, even though I work for myself, and even though that means I'm usually working on something seven days out of the week (hey, it's art! It's impossible not to), I still get that extra bit of excited giddy feeling when Friday comes around. Y'know... like the fun's about to begin?

Evidently, Mother Nature agreed with me today. There's a great cheerful burst of dandelions on the scene outside my window. It's as if they are shouting, "Yeah! Lighten up!! Let's have a laugh!"

Let's have some felicity; let's jumbo-size some happiness.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

E is for Ease Up on Expectations

Anyone who's perused my blog for any length of time will know that one of the things I harp on the most is the way we create expectations for others. Yes, I say we. I don't typically harangue people about anything that I don't first identify in myself.

The only person you should expect anything from is yourself. There is no certainty in what another person will do, no matter how well you know them, no matter how great the relationship. It's simple really, we're all prone to different reactions to how any given moment will tap us on the shoulder. While I can be a pretty good judge about how the people closest to me will behave, can I really know for sure? No.

The only person I can control is myself. The only person I can truly expect anything from is myself.

Of course, that doesn't mean I don't or can't rely on the people in my life. Not at all. Relying is very different from expecting. What it means is that I can't take them for granted. I can't presume that they'll do what I want unless I tell them what I want.

My mate, who works in construction, is prone to coming home at any hour. It all depends on when the work is at a suitable stopping point. If there's a big project and a time crunch involved, his work day can go well into the night. Unless I ask him, he's terrible about texting me and letting me know that he's on his way home. That's just how he is. It's not that he's inconsiderate, he just doesn't stop to readjust his thinking in order to read my mind decipher what I might expect out of him. And that's really all I have to do, just ask - without sarcasm, without rancor, without any pouty behavior. "Hey, blip me when you're on your way so I don't worry and so I can have some dinner waiting for you." With that, crammed into everything else he's got going on, he knows I'm expecting to hear from him. He knows it's important to me.

The same thing is true in any relationship - friendship, family, business, etc. If we don't tell others what we want, they can't know. So, unless you've found some magic potion that's made everyone in your circle a mind reader, ease up on expectations. Try elucidating instead.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Diligence

Diligence: noun, consistent, earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken.

Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up."

Determination is a good thing, but determination can all too easily wane. (Right about now anyone who has ever been on a diet and exercise program is hollering, "Amen!") Plus, determination will only take you so far - it gets interrupted by all manner of things.

Diligence, on the other hand, is about showing up no matter what, paying attention to the nuance in your day, and adjusting accordingly in order to get things done.

I find it ironic that the french definition of diligence (dee-lee-zhahns)is a stagecoach.

No matter the destination, diligence will carry you on the journey.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Coffee

I was going to use "c" as an opportunity to talk about creating change. But do I really need to? We all know how to change things, what it comes down to is how badly we want to and what we're willing to do for it. You want change? Start taking steps, even if the first step is simply an attitude adjustment to help you accept where you are right at this very moment.

What I really want to talk about is coffee. Deep, murky, steaming delicious bean. And please, I don't need to know that you like the scent of it, but don't like to drink it - that's like loving the feel of silk, but not wanting to wear it. Ridiculous. And I don't need to know that you're strictly a tea drinker - it just doesn't compare. I'm not a snob - you can drink whatever you'd like - but pretending you understand the world of a coffee freak when you don't drink the stuff yourself is like... like... pretending you know how it feels to be a mantis shrimp.

Coffee... mmm-hmmm. Sounds good right about now. To me, it sounds good right about any now. Someone asked the other day when my love affair  - I refuse to call it an addiction - with coffee began. You may be a little shocked, dismayed even, to find out that it began when I was a toddler and at the hands of my beloved maternal grandmother.

Seriously. I can remember sitting at the table in the highchair and having Grandma hand me coffee. Of course, it was a cup filled with mostly milk, probably two teaspoons of sugar, and a couple of tablespoons of coffee, but it was the best stuff I'd ever had in my young life. That was way back when the way to make coffee was a stove-top percolator. That was some densely satisfying stuff, and I would beg for it whenever opportunity presented itself. Of course, my parents were bean freaks too - our house was never without coffee at the ready - so it was no big deal for their children to want the stuff.

Hey. Don't judge. Those were different times. Plus, at 5'6" today, it's safe to assume that it didn't stunt my growth... and if it did, that's fine with me. I really didn't want to be 6'3" anyway.

Now I take my coffee black, and the stronger the better. For close to five decades coffee has been the one constant in my life through absolutely everything and everywhere I've been. So it shall remain the stuff my life is built upon.

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Begin and Be Bold

While discretion may just be the better part of valor, timidity never won the day.  And then there's that old adage, "go big or go home." I get that, but I don't always believe it to be true. I think you can do little things that can profoundly affect an outcome.

The trick is to make them bold little things. Make them count. You can wear a ring on every finger and have people comment, "My goodness, that's a lot of rings!" Or you can wear a single brilliant sapphire and have people comment, "Wow, is that ever striking!" Yeah, that's a really cheesy example, but I'm on a bit of a time crunch here... and you get the point.

You don't have to lambaste the world with your big idea, you simply need to begin. But when you begin, be bold about it. A baby doesn't take its first step by doing some half-assed shuffle. A baby takes its first step by trying for a gigantic stride. Sure, the baby falls over, but the baby has also said, "Look out, I'm about to run circles around you." The baby has begun. Boldly.

Once you begin, you Create Change....

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for At

This month I'm participating again in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. The upside is that you'll get more posts from me than you've been getting lately, twenty six of them in fact. The downside is that I get to come up with twenty six posts, each corresponding with a different letter of the alphabet.

As I was pondering my first post the other day, in very timely fashion, a friend of mine reminded me of one of the greatest tenets of life. "Begin where you're at." He was referring to exercise. If you've never worked out and you wake up one morning dreaming of running a marathon, you're not going to just lace up and slam 42 kilometers. You're going to start by stretching, and maybe the stretching is enough for that first day - I know it would be for me! Or you'll start by doing a light jog. The point is, you begin where you're at, and for many that first step is simply getting off the couch.

But that line, "begin where you're at" applies to everything we want to attempt in life. Everything. I don't know how many times I've talked to people who are frustrated because they think their first shot at something should land them in the realm of perfection. It just doesn't happen that way. You don't learn to cook by attempting the most difficult recipe in the book right away; you learn to cook by frying an egg. You don't learn to paint by replicating Monet your first time out, you get some brushes and paint and dabble to learn the feel of the brush. Your first sewing project isn't going to be a wedding dress. You get it... you begin where you're at, with the skills you've already got.

You begin where you're at and you build from there.

The key is... B for Begin and Be Bold.