Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rorshach Garden

I was walking around the yard with the dogs the other day, and I started wondering if yard art is a kind of Rorschach test…is it possible to gain insight into the psyche and emotional makeup of a person by studying their lawn ornaments?

For example, Mom has a garden populated with every kind of fairy statue imaginable, and at night it’s a magical fairyland atwinkle with a dozen or more solar lights. The garden seems a perfect reflection of Mom's light-hearted, mischievously humorous, and optimistic character.

What does it say about Ray and I, I wonder (non-Catholic, non-churchgoing folks), that scattered around Uncannery Row are statues of Mary and St. Francis? What does the goddess figure with seashell breasts suggest? Or the plant hanger with 8 spidery arms and a glow-in-the-dark glass ball on top? Or the cement penguin in the daylilies? Hmmm…

One of our Mary’s, I call her Our Lady of the Spiders, my friend found tossed in a dumpster along a highway. Surely, this is proof of Divine Intervention—someone tossed Mary out along a highway where my friend just happened to be travelling, she just happened to remember my Marian fascination, and my birthday just happened to be around the corner. I especially like this Mary, because she has an unusually crabby face for a holy icon, accentuated by puffy bags under her droopy, tired eyes. She’s plastic, and we’ve stuffed her full of white solar LED lights, so that at night when she glows softly out by the fence, she looks eerily exhausted. Maybe that’s the point—maybe maternal weariness, long-suffering patience, and the sacrifices of love are what draw me to the Marian ideal in the first place.

Hanging on our pyramid-shaped outbuilding are giant concrete sun and moon discs my brother sculpted and gave to my daughter as a wedding present. They’re on loan to us for a while, and they seem to BELONG on the pyramid—a sort of celestial reckoning with our most ancient spiritual and mathematical roots. And if pyramids really do turn out to be communication beacons for extra-terrestrials, well, I’ve got plenty of tomatoes and jalapenos to send home with visitors.

Our Lady of the Water, the seashell woman, sits beside a beautiful mosaic tiled birdbath, both made by an artist friend whose work I have scattered around the yard and in the house. Our Lady of the Water reminds me that whatever we layer on through the years in order to divide & subdivide, sort & separate us from each other, we are all identically elemental underneath—water, air, glass bones & tendon mortar. This helps me to remember that I am my sister’s and my brother’s keeper, which includes even those in the human family I’d sometimes rather not claim as relatives.

St. Francis is a “gimme” at first glance. After all, he’s the saint who communed with animals, and Uncannery Row is one zebra short of being a wildlife sanctuary. But the fascination for me is that St. Francis, according to some religious scholars, was the first “documented” case of someone receiving the stigmata. These are the seven wounds of Christ, which have, the stories go, spontaneously appeared in some pretty unlikely people since the Crucifixion. Padre Pio is the most talked-about example, but there have been many, including several women. I don’t know if these experiences are genuine spiritual phenomena, but I find myself at times extremely moved, sometimes to tears, just thinking about the implications if they are. It’s like the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor, when the Misfit, an escaped murderer, says to a grandmother he’s about to kill, that if we knew for sure whether Christ really resurrected, it would change everything. because if Christ didn’t really live, die, and rise from the dead, then all the piety and moral rules mean nothing. If he did, we would all have to drop what we’re doing, give away our stuff, and follow.

Sticking out of the fence around the back patio, there’s an interesting accoutrement we inherited from the former residents. It’s a piece of wood balanced in the fence, grown at one end around a rock, and at the other end around the fence wire. I wonder what this work of art will come to represent about US someday…

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This is a man's world...fa la la la la...

It’s just like the Godfather of Soul said: “This is a maaaaaaan’s world.” The world of live music is a good example. Even if they won’t admit it to you or me, any truly honest male musician will admit to himself, eventually, that women who play in bands are still just the “chicks” in the band.

I’m stereotyping, of course. And stereotyping even more, it seems to me that women don’t need an excuse to get together. Men do. They need to DO something if they want to hang out with each other. My take on the live music scene is that for many male musicians, music fills the “getting together with the boys” space that for other men is filled with pro sports, cars, construction/destruction, or power tools. The axe (gee-tar) replaces the axe (hunter-gatherer), so to speak.

I played music with various groups in bars, at weddings, dances, etc. for 20+ years. Musicians love playing music for different reasons. Some love to perform. Some need the acceptance of the crowd. Some want to cultivate a “bad boy [girl]” rep. Some want to cling to youth. Some need the companionship of the band.

For me, it may be all of those things, but it’s also, ironically, the only way I know of (except sleep) to get away from my Self for a while. There’s something about the vibration of singing that makes everything else go away. When I let go and really feel the song, it makes me hum—down to the bone—at an unexplainable, elemental level. Relax. Breathe deeper. Feel something not related to the intellect, the obligations, the reasoning—something pure. I hate to sound all new-agey and ookie-spookie, but nothing else can open my chakras like singing can.

And just so you know, there are women musicians out there doing amazing things, women who never generate the buzz that surrounds male musicians. So I’m doing my itty bitty part, foisting my partial list of essential womensong on the world. Any album by any of these women is great, but here are a few faves:

Joan Armatrading (Hearts & Flowers; What’s Inside)
Jane Siberry (Bound by the Beauty; When I Was a Boy)
Rickie Lee Jones (Flying Cowboys; The Magazine; Pirates; Naked Songs)
Bonnie Raitt (anything)
Joni Mitchell (the oldest stuff is the “baby” Joni, sweet & soprano, all good, but I like the
gutsiness of the older, alto Joni--Blue; Court & Spark; Miles of Aisles)
k.d. lang (Hymns of the 49th Parallel; Shadowland; Drag)
Regina Spektor (Begin to Hope--bonus CD version)
Pretenders (anything, especially the oldest stuff)
Kate Bush (The Whole Story)
Aretha (anything)
Maria Muldaur (Maria Muldaur; Waitress in a Donut Shop)
Bette Midler (Songs for the New Depression)
Phoebe Snow (Phoebe Snow; Against the Grain; Never Letting Go)
Edie Brickell (Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars--with The Bohemians; Picture Perfect Morning)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

State of the [Hiber]Nation

I’m thrilled to report that all of the peachicks somehow made their way back to the fold after last week’s scary unknown-assailant scattering. So we are, once again, 15.

The chicks—Gloria, Laverne & Shirley, and the Abba quads—are getting big, and the flock is getting pushy about food. Maybe they’re like me, and in spite of this beautiful fall weather, they’re laying on fat for Jack Blizzard, as my Aussie poet friend calls the South Dakota winter. I understand their desperation. In fact, I have an overpowering urge to curl up with a blankie, a truckload of Doritos, a gallon of red wine, and a bad Diane Mott Davidson novel until I’m in a deep, carb-induced hibernation. Sadly, however, I must stay awake...

Yesterday and this morning were grey and drizzly. The flock is hanging around the house, as if they know something’s coming and it’s best to stick close to the food. Hurricane fallout, maybe, or just a preliminary slap from Jack—cold winds or a hint of frost.

Other wildlife seem to feel it, too. Two fawns cut in front of my car just before the shelterbelt the other day, then ducked into the plum thicket where there’s plenty of grass and good tree cover. Mice are coming inside, so the traps are set. The dogs are poofing into their winter coats already. The birdroom windows are closed, and the parrots are spending more time fluffed up and sleeping. Hummingbirds usually come through around Mother’s Day on their trek north and spend a couple of weeks here eating at the feeders. Then we don’t see them again until right about now, when they stop for another couple of weeks until they blow south in late September with the autumn thunderstorms. But this year, they’ve already come & gone, at least two weeks early, and we’re just getting stragglers now; this morning, a fat male buzzed between feeders and the fire begonia. Snowball and Snowflake are fat & furry, and we’ve been seeing them more often, spooking around the pyramid or the loafing shed, staying near the cat food & shelter.

Maybe we’re not so different from the animals, whose behavior is regulated to a degree by the length and angle of shadows on the land. Since living in South Dakota, for example, I’ve developed this weird autumnal yen to line a cave with a knee-deep layer of twigs & leaves, or piece together hide robes thick enough to repel ice bullets. A general malaise creeps in, too, with the knowledge that soon we’ll be boxed in for as long as Jack decides to toy with us. But the sun is out right now, Mom and the kids are coming for dinner, and we’ll all pretend it’s just another glorious, lazy autumn day…as we sip our wine and dip our Doritos.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction

The semester is underway, and I’m working to get my “sea legs” back after a slow, peaceful summer. I’m steeling myself in preparation for the many, many essays I’ll be reading, and pondering--again--the evolution of the English language. It’s tempting to say that language is really devolving as students increasingly use texting and Facebook lingo in place of standard English. But I’m old; maybe it IS standard English now.

So I’ve been practicing in front of the mirror, reading aloud the examples below from actual student essays as I closely watch my face, trying to turn my knee-jerk horrified shriek into a calm, benevolent smile. As a side note, I couldn’t agree more with #’s 8, 12, and 14, and I find #’s 2, 6, 15, and 17 particularly ambiguous and creative…

1. I’d just assume not go.
2. She fell deeper and deeper into desparity.
3. I’ll never again take life for granite.
4. Now that I have an in-debt understanding…
5. It’s better to tell the truth, as a pose to lying.
6. I’ll never make that fetal mistake again.
7. I learned a valuable lesion.
8. Doctors should not perspire antidepressants to teens.
9. This will not denture terrorism.
10. They should do more indep back round checks.
11. I’ve put these in craniological order.
12. Parents should not force their children to take piano lesions.
13. Without feather a do, I present my portfolio.
14. Smoking should be banned in all pubic places.
15. Drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge would ruin the beautiful land escape.
16. The wind was abnormally clam.
17. People in the United States live a fast paste lifestyle.
18. Living at home is much more convent than living in the dorms.
19. His brother shows great love and compaction.

20. It was a text box definition of tragedy.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Reasons for My Compulsive Stockpiling of Food

1. I live in South Dakota. It snows sometimes in June. Once you settle here, you take on Norwegian genes by osmosis, regardless of your actual ancestry. These genes cause you to squirrel away food for the long winter, so you’re not forced to make the difficult mid-February lutefisk-or-death decision.

2. A psychic once told me that in a past life in 200 BCE China, I was a young man who gave away all I had to the poor, until I literally starved to death. Learn from your mistakes, I say, or you’re destined to repeat them.

3. I make & freeze massive quantities of pesto because basil is said to cause the spontaneous generation of scorpions under pots in which it grows, then in the brain when one unwittingly smells the plants. It’s also said to ensure a merry heart, or to be a cure for melancholy. If even one of these is true, it would be SO cool.

4. I’m not a dainty waif. I’m voluptuous, ample, Rubenesque. It takes a whole lotta calories to maintain these bumps & bulges.

5. I grew up in a household headed by my mom and grandma, two powerful single women, where hospitality, and especially food, was the ultimate expression of love & generosity. My mom will still drag in and force-feed anyone who walks within 100 yards of her house.

6. Where but in my kitchen could I, completely unlicensed, experiment with color, chemistry, light, heat, texture, and taste, then test on human subjects without having them sign insurance waivers, then save my experiments for years on a dark shelf or in the back of my freezer, then pull them out and play with them some more?

7. If I’m picking, sorting, washing, cooking, freezing, or canning, it means I’m NOT doing something else. Like getting ready for class tomorrow. Or grading papers. Or paying bills. Or folding laundry. Or dusting. Or grading papers. Or grading papers. Or grading papers.

8. Pearl Bailey said, “My kitchen is a mythical place. A kind of temple for me.” Ditto. Consider the votive candles in a Catholic church, lit by folks who ask for blessing or favor. I have jars of tomatoes, pickles, salsa, pesto, and jam instead, and each jar, backlit by light through a kitchen window, is my luminous little petition for sustenance.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Uncannery Ambush

Uncannery Row was the scene of hidden horrors and ensuing mayhem this morning. We were sleeping in after late-night carousing at the traditional Labor Day potluck. The party has been going on yearly for 20+ years and, after moving locations a couple of times, is now at the country home of friends. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere. I would guess that well over 100 people show up to stake out their lawn chair spots then spread several tables with the most exceptional food around, accoutrement for the fabulous pork roasted by the hosts. Various musicians play all night long, friends reconnect, dance, eat, drink, and there’s even a retired U. professor who twirls her fiery baton wearing a sequined costume she still fits into perfectly after 40 years. She twirled last night to “Oh Mama, Mama” by Commander Cody. But I digress…

So at around 10:00 this morning, we awoke to the entire flock of peacocks calling. They have several calls, but one, which sounds like hee-haw, is used to locate other flock members. Another honking sound is used by hens to gather chicks that have wandered too far off. So the flock was hee-hawing and honking like crazy, out by the north pasture’s roof-high wild sunflowers. We went outside and saw all the adults, but not a baby in sight. By noon, 5 of the 7 babies had reappeared, but the flock was obviously rattled and hunkered down by the greenhouse windows, where they continued to call. By late afternoon, the flock seemed resigned to the loss of 2 of the 4 Abba quads, as the calling had stopped. By 6:00 tonight, one more of the quads had found its was back from the nether regions. So as the birds jockey tonight for positions in the communal sleeping tree, it appears that now we are 14 instead of 15.

We figure a fox or maybe a raccoon caught the flock out in the pasture, where predators have excellent sunflower cover (Ray went out almost immediately and mowed pastures until the mower tire went flat). Whatever it was, it seems to have nabbed one baby and scattered the rest, and it took a long, worried day to get the survivors back together.

I admit to crying just for a minute this afternoon as I listened to the hens call and call. I can’t say what peahens feel, but I imagine hope, heartache, love, and an occasional profound sense of helplessness--I have chicks, too.