Friday, February 5, 2016

"Sweet overtones of cocoa...subtle aftertaste of raisins"

The enticing words about a certain coffee blend in Trader Joe's recent flyer reminded me of days, some years actually, spent as an advertising and public relations copywriter for a small, shall we say limited market.  They reminded me of being hired to sell what were, at times, goods and services without unique aspects, sometimes almost without aspects of any sort.  A moving company whose only hook was that they wouldn't break your stuff, a pleasant enough seafood restaurant with lots of competition, an eating contest (!), radio spots for car dealers, plus a regional bank and a local dress shop that put on fashion shows.  Some of the copy I actually remember, a tiny portion of it won prizes from the area's advertising club, some I've lost altogether.

Mostly, what this train of thought brought up was how certain jobs help us find our muscle.  We grow stronger (or stranger) pushing against deadlines, occasionally turning nothing into something, digging and probing and prodding to unearth one bit of color or humor or drama around which to build a story, one that is mostly true.  We are strengthened by casting wildly about our stored language to find words that will elevate what is ordinary, regular, to something with a bit more shine.

We don't realize when we occupy them that these jobs are boot camp, from which we either wash out or get promoted.  Or choose to enter another line of work.  We don't know in 1975 that in 2016 we will look back and appreciate the impossible clients and interviews, passed along to us by a much more impossible boss as the last stop. This may have been the assignment that helped me believe everyone must possess sparkle, no matter how elusive.

It's all tap dancing.  Some of it requires a typewriter.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Word of the Week - 100

Vintage magic poster.
Word(s) of the Week:  SMALL MAGIC

I believe in magic.  Whether sleight of hand or sleight of mind, I believe we perform it.  It is part of the current that carries us through.  Unsung, perhaps never mentioned, the multiple acts of small magic with which we conjure on a daily, or more frequent basis serve to levitate us above, well, all that isn't magic.

No need to pretend that life does not deliver leaden moments, sleepless nights, hand-wringing and tears of oh-so-many descriptions.  It is small magic that rescues us from being wedged into those tight spots we thought inescapable.

My magic list includes (as I've mentioned so often) the color red, being surprised at my own explosive laughter, friends and family and love, each new day, sleep, encouraging words, good news, our Southern California version of stormy weather, really delicious coffee, getting warm when I'm cold, signs of intelligent life, the fact that people play music and write books and make movies, the experience of impossible things happening, all wonders created by man and nature, the ability to change my mind, dark chocolate (alas, in moderation), poetry (in unlimited quantities), kindness, beauty, making things with my hands.

There is no true magic too small to be counted.  The simple act of noticing, of knowing, makes us participants.  "Is THIS your card?"  Astonishment, admiration.  "Yes, that's my card."  How many moments in a day deliver impossible results no less remarkable.

And this, the power of words, the minds and souls to which we turn for incantations:

“She conceived of life as a road down which one traveled, an easy enough road through a broad country, and that one's destination was there from the very beginning, a measured distance away, standing in the ordinary light like some plain house where one went in and was greeted by respectable people and was shown to a room where everything one had ever lost or put aside was gathered together, waiting.”
Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping   

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sitting here waiting for it to be February

Embroidered, beaded "love token" from World War I.  Thank you, DIY Fashion Sense for this and other heart projects generously shared at this blog.
A traditional Sailors' Valentine.
As I briefly ponder the notion of romantic love, hearts and cacti seem like dance partners.  Thus it makes sense that heart-shaped pincushions were popular souvenir items and intricate - spiny - shell assemblages were called Sailors' Valentines.  The course of true love and all that.

It is almost February.  Together with my often-mentioned fondness for red is an equally powerful preference for things shaped like hearts, both of which may be celebrated with abandon, at least until Feb. 14.  Even longer if we are procrastinators with good excuses.

If nostalgia were visible like fog or could make the eyes smart like a too-strong cologne, you would know when I was in the neighborhood.  I drift backward with almost no prompting.  Unlike some months, which for me could be March, May, and possibly August when I don't remember Big Things happening, February is filled with memories.  For the fortunate among us, birthday months are associated with celebration, with receiving welcome attention, with gifts.  Rain, school holidays and a world swathed in pink and red for a paper crafters' dream event conspire to make it the perfect little month.  This is just a shout-out to February, an old and dear friend.  Our adventures have been many.
Color version of Albertine Randall Wheelan's illustration, reproduced by Green Tiger Press.
Native American beadwork souvenir pincushion.  (no source)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Radio days

Available as MP3s from Amazon - CHANDU, THE MAGICIAN.
I belong to a Facebook group called, "You know you're from old school Pasadena when..."  So much of what I would still find entertaining, tasty and generally pleasing exists only in the past.

Among the uncountable blessings of technology is preservation.  I knew of Chandu, most likely through films based on the radio serials.  Though they, too, were produced during the 1930s it is not a stretch to imagine them turning up as television sought programming to fill its channels and airtime.  In the early 1970s, the radio show reappeared on Sunday afternoons on KPPC in Pasadena.  Exotic, foreign, mysterious, it returned me to childhood as it may or may not have been.  It all felt familiar.  What I know is the episodes were compelling enough to make me want to be home next to my radio at a time I would likely have been elsewhere.  My downstairs neighbors were also fans.  It was not the same, listening in a moving car.  One wished to pay attention.

When I was ill as a child, home from school, I got to have a radio in the room my younger sister and I shared and listened to programs that began with Don McNeill's Breakfast Club and ran through the early afternoon soaps, maybe One Man's Family and Ma Perkins.  I'm no longer sure.  I was not caught up in the daily drama of those shows as I was later in Chandu.  Had that been one of the daily programs, I might have become an elementary school drop-out.  But I couldn't find excitement in those midday shows and gladly returned to school.  Regardless of what was playing, the radio was company during a pox or flu or some unwelcome thing.

We are so very much the products of our histories, of our longings for what we knew, what we loved.  I am not surprised that my fiction writing takes the form of episodes or chapters.   I like that many of the tv shows I watch now have story lines, often mysteries, that run through an entire season rather than being quickly resolved in single, free-standing episodes.  I think it is smart programming to have the audience feel invested in the outcome.  Oscar Wilde told us, "The suspense is terrible.  I hope it will last."  In my case, it seems to be lasting a lifetime.  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Olga Zharkova and the thoughtful bears

Nothing ordinary about these handmade bears by Russian artist Olga Zharkova.
The fear of being ordinary,  of speaking, writing, in cliches.  It can be paralyzing.

On a post this morning by a Welsh illustrator-writer, I read a brief discussion about not writing like a fridge magnet,  based on a quote from the book, "Grief Is A Thing With Feathers."  I gather from the one page shared, from the context I found by reading a few reviews, that the character Crow may have been (I am only guessing) exaggerating, perhaps to make someone laugh.  In me it added to occasional wonderings about the nearness of fridgemagnetisms.

When I saw Olga Zharkova's wise old bears, above,  I heard how they spoke to each other, heard their observations about life as it flowed around them.  Aging if not elderly gentlemen who find comfort when their pants are loosened, shirts a bit rumpled, fur matted in spots, bristly in others, their language is sometimes wry, always direct, reflective, honest.  They've seen a lot, they may have seen it all, and are not done yet.  They speak like my midwestern grandfathers, one saying a familiar grace over every meal, one explaining over his shoulder some aspect of crop raising as he hoes open an irrigation channel.

I would cast these bears in any story I might imagine.  One could be an English bear with Alan Rickman's voice.  His friend could be a poet, exiled from the land of his birth, melancholy clinging to him no matter how roaring his laughter.  He would sweeten his black tea with berry jam.  In common with my grandfathers, neither chatters nor speaks idly.  Their words emerge from thought, everything is considered.  I hope the same may be true for me

Monday, January 25, 2016

Word of the Week - 99

Both illustrations by Wolf Erlbruch.
Word of the Week:  TEND

To apply one's self to the care of.  To watch over.

How do we see to one another, not allow any of us to disappear beneath the waves of ordinary misfortune?   That, I believe, is our Work.

My list of Those Most Dear leans toward the simultaneously blessed and cursed whose minds and works reveal them to be angels, possibly gods in human form to whom sorrow is no stranger.

Poets, musicians, writers, painters, performers, shamans, samaritans, cooks, teachers, healers, fliers at all altitudes, entrepreneurs, intuitives, we are all richer for what you bring to our days.  That your own days have been, and frequently continue to be filled with illness, loss, trauma, lack, terror, pain and bewilderment has not stopped you, has rarely slowed you down.

My tending, if such were possible, would be a continual disbursement of care packages filled with everything you need most:  health, peace, strength, optimism, guarantee of a desired outcome, the meeting of every possible physical, material and spiritual need, humor and music and beauty and light and love.   My tending would bring, to the outer edge of anyone's ability, safety.  The unknown will always be part of this existence but it would not be the lurking, crouching thing-behind-the-door that it has become.  A margin of security is not too much to ask.

I would walk you in your fishbowl, groom and stroke your dear warty head, smooth your collar and see that your necktie was properly knotted.   I would send what is warm (or cool) and bright, lend my own solid arm to lean upon, install elevators where needed and employ reliable, skilled craftspeople to fix whatever required mending.  Going without would no longer be the only option.

My life is continually blessed and illuminated by those who tend to me.  One profound reminder of such tending hangs on my bedroom wall, an assemblage that proclaims, "I get by with a little help from my friends."  So do we all.  xo

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I have discovered my kryptonite.

Eating disorders, addictions, are no laughing matter.  Sometimes dark (no pun intended) humor helps us through.  Today I cannot be in the vicinity of Lindt Dark Chili chocolate.  I ought not be within grabbing distance of any sugar-and-chocolate based food but this is trouble on a whole new level.

If life is not to chafe or pinch or make our heads explode, it needs to be balanced.  I see it as a circumstance through which I must tread with mindfulness, caution and at a very slow pace.  As children, my siblings and I had to leave the house early on rainy days to avoid stepping on worms on the sidewalk on our way to school.  I'm still trying to sidestep crawly things.

At what I consider a somewhat advanced age, I am still trying to learn the art of living in peace with my body and mind, not punishing, shaming or bullying myself with unmeetable expectations, nor running amok with a tendency to gobble what is sweet on the tongue.

It may be that some of you do not see human existence as a mine field.  Were my mind unshakably quiet, I might not either.  That it IS quieter than it once was is a gift beyond price.  I suppose in this as in many other things, my motto is I Aspire.

One reaches a point when focusing upon failure can be seen clearly as the chump's game it has always been.  We are never going to get it all exactly right, unless we can embrace a highly personal yardstick by which to measure.  And even then, we will likely arrive at the tea with gum in our hair and a hem held in place with staples or tape.  It is to be hoped that we will enjoy ourselves in spite of that.

My wish is to have lab work numbers that cause my health care practitioner to note on the report that they are "acceptable."  My wish is to require less medication.  Additionally, my wish is for thoughts of beauty, of humor, of love, not fear.  Moderation, I can be peaceful with moderation.  Everything comes down to choices, what can we live with and what sends us screaming into the night.

I believe there are reasons why I am here, now, as myself, and that the same is true for you.  It is possible that what and how and where we are at this moment is exactly what the world is waiting for.  I work to hold onto that notion.  Stranger things have happened.