Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Quietest New Yorker

"You're the quietest New Yorker I've ever known," the young woman cutting my hair said, pausing her scissors perhaps for effect.

I have lived in the south most of my life - Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland - and have been told by southerners that I don't seem, sound, or act like a New Yorker. The subtext of these comments is "You're not the least bit obnoxious." I think of a noisy, gum-chewing Damon Runyon character and sigh. Like the characters in Al Capp's fictional southern town of Dogpatch, Runyon's New York characters are sentimental and humorous. And it's fun to imagine Daisy Mae lunching with Nathan Detroit. There is nothing humorous about the epitome of the rude New Yorker stereotype, the Republican candidate for president. 

The New Yorkers I've known growing up on Long Island, at college and drama school in Manhattan, working in New York offices and theatres, are some of the most caring and compassionate individuals I have ever known.  If you have any doubts about this, recall what all of us witnessed on and after September 11, 2001.

Donald Trump seems, sounds, and acts like the man who as Mark Shields said in a recent PBS broadcast, "has gone to, on a consistent basis, the meanest corners of the American soul, appealed to the basest and darkest side of all Americans." As a native New Yorker, I ask that you not confuse New Yorkers with Mr. Trump. 

A neighbor who owns a small dog told me that he usually avoids other dogs "like the plague." His little canine, like some of our species, has a Napoleon complex. I  usually avoid discussions of politics like the plague. I'm more comfortable with poems and books. But this election year is not the one for Americans to be quiet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fireflies

My poem "Fireflies" appears in the July issue of Front Porch Review. There are some lovely poems in this edition.

Click here to read the poem.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Aging, Courage & William Blake

"And we are put on this earth a little space that we might learn to bear the beams of love."
William Blake

My puppy Darby has a habit of pausing during fierce and furious play, coming over to me and giving me a cuddle. He then very quickly returns to his high energy and enthusiastic play, usually with a tennis ball. When my niece was a child, she did the same thing, interrupt her playing, run to me for a quick snuggle or two, then abandon me to my gentle joy as she returned to her doll house and other toys. I have a theory about this behavior shared by descendants of wolves and little girls. It has to do with what poet William Blake - who understood more than most of his contemporaries and most of ours - called "the beams of love." Little ones feel those beams and acknowledge them with a quick visit to their sender.

As I've aged, I've turned into a real scaredy-cat. It seems incredible to me that I once acted before an audience of thousands in Shakespeare in the Park in Lexington, Kentucky, rode a horse in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains, and preferred the window seat on overseas flights. I don't act, ride, or travel by plane any more. Now, simply thinking these things makes me a tad nervous. Living in a gun-crazy culture where a possible presidential candidate encourages his supporters to "beat the crap" out of his opponents does little to calm me. I'm calm right now, Darby nestled beside me on a comfy sofa, my fingers tapping the laptop. I seem in real danger of becoming one of those daffy little 'ole ladies daffy about their dogs (spotted in posh neighborhoods, the dears and their doggies often wear matching coats, usually soft plaids).

Aging in a country where looking young is a national obsession can be a challenge. Compare the lined, character-laden faces of British actors to the frozen facelifts of American actors. Jonathon Goldsmith is still the perfect "most interesting man in the world" but he has been booted away by the beer company that employed him because he turned seventy-seven. I'm  not about to bounce into the annoying boosterism that touts aging is a bunch of fun. It isn't, unless you find arthritis, back pain, and short-term memory loss a bunch of fun. But the cowardice that keeps me from stages, stables, and airports doesn't apply to my growing older. I know there are more important things to be concerned about - especially in an election year - than crow's feet and gray hairs.

William Blake sang on his deathbed so certain was he of the joy that awaited him. I doubt I'll sing on my deathbed. My off-key lyrics might offend the angels.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Pups & Poems

In the fall of 2014 I participated as a student and a community TA in  an edX massive open online course (MOOC) called The Art of Poetry. The two month course taught by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky was extremely demanding and extremely rewarding. The course is being given again (registration began March 29th) and I considered taking it again. The prospect of immersing myself in poetry for several months seemed enticing. I also imagined studying great poets would, as often happens, spark my own writing. Then I realized taking the course was out of the question. It was out of the question for one reason - I have a new puppy. It seems ungracious of me to blame a cuter-than-cute puppy for not continuing my studies and accomplishing at least a modicum of creative writing but a close look at the facts reveals the awful truth - the only writing I've done in the months since the puppy has been rent checks and bill payments. I wasn't dazzlingly productive before the puppy but I was writing.

I'd simply forgotten how much work training a puppy involves. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I am at that awkward age between older woman and death. Still, I wanted more than watching PBS and sipping cinnamon tea. I wanted a funny, friendly, petite pal.

I have abandoned my higher self - reading, writing, and more reading - to play with squeaky toy ducks, raccoons, squirrels, and foxes.

Puppy or scapegoat?
Years ago, I taught something called "Business English," appropriately enough, in a business college. Marking exam papers was tedious and as I was unsure of exactly what Business English was, I showed videos of Shakespeare's plays to my students. Shakespeare was a good businessman. In theaters, pieces of glow tape are used to mark where actors tiptoe onto dark stages. I know from grade B movies "the mark" is the intended victim of a confidence man. And there was that something on Cain's forehead. Who knew marking is also a four pound Maltese lifting his snow white hind leg to sprinkle yellow on the corner of pieces of furniture in the living room. On the plus side, from the day he arrived, Darby has slept through the night, even when teething. Apparently, like me, he realizes the importance of a good night's sleep for one's looks and disposition. And he has the sweetest disposition of any pet, feline or canine, that I've had the privilege of sharing my days with. Yes, it's okay to end a sentence with a preposition although I'm not sure Shakespeare did.

I read somewhere that we love our dogs because they show us who we really are. I find this warming and true. I'm playing fetch and tug-of-war with my puppy when I'd rather be reading poetry and my husband Victor is wrapping and freezing small amounts of chicken for Darby so his food always smells fresh when Victor would rather be reading the newspapers.

Instead of writing, I'm training my puppy and playing with the little chap. I tell myself my creative impulse is hibernating somewhere in my psyche and, when Darby is older, new poems will spring forward. In the meanwhile, can any of you recommend a pet odor remover that actually works?