dual personalities

The powerful play goes on

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Opera

Throw all your stagey chandeliers in wheelbarrows and

move them north

To celebrate my mother’s sewing-machine

And her beneath an eighty-watt bulb, pedalling

Iambs on an antique metal footplate

Powering the needle through its regular lines,

Doing her work.  To me as a young boy

That was her typewriter.  I’d watch

Her hands and feet in unison, or read

Between her calves the wrought-iron letters:

SINGER.  Mass-produced polished wood and metal,

It was a powerful instrument.  I stared

Hard at its brilliant needle’s eye that purred

And shone at night; and then each morning after

I went to work at school, wearing her songs.

– Robert Crawford, b. 1959   

We haven’t had a poem for awhile, so I thought I’d include this one which I read in an online poetry class facilitated by a friend of mine. It reminded me of my own mother, although her Singer sewing machine was always on the dining room table. I don’t know a lot about contemporary poetry beyond a few poems by Mary Oliver and Billy Collins and Seamus Heaney, but I am learning that there is some good stuff out there.

One birthday has passed this week that we have not noted, Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803), and another, Walt Whitman’s (May 31, 1819), is coming up on Sunday. It is always a good time to turn to these two titans for some inspiration.

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
                                       Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

Sunday is also the birthday of film titan Clint Eastwood, who turns 90! Can you believe it? He is still going strong–the man has got some good genes.

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I might watch Million Dollar Baby (2004) or Gran Torino (2008) which are both excellent. I watched A Perfect World (1993) a few weeks ago and liked it. Kevin Costner is the lead with Eastwood supporting. He directed all three of these movies. Another good one, directed by Eastwood but not starring him, is American Sniper (2014) which, you  may recall, set box-office records.  I will probably opt for the younger, dreamier Clint though.

Lately he has been speaking to me.

So anyway there will be lots to toast this weekend! 🍷🍷🍷 To Ralph, to Walt, to Clint, to life!

The painting is Sewing (The Artist’s Wife) by Australian painter Hans Heysen (1877–-1968)

Not-so-patiently waiting…

As you likely know, we are nearing the 40 week mark and are getting pretty darn antsy over here. Tuesday was my last official day of work, which is a true blessing — no more Zoom calls! I should probably enjoy this blissful time between work and a newborn, but of course that isn’t really how it works. I am deeply uncomfortable and not sleeping!

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I spent my first day off reading, dozing, and watching a movie. For lighter reading material, I picked up an Anne Tyler collection and started The Accidental Tourist.

I honestly think the last time I read an Anne Tyler novel I was in middle school (sometimes my advanced reading capacity made for some odd choices), and I thought it was a good time to revisit her as an adult. Well this one is a bit odd — a pretty depressing conceit from the beginning, plus a weirdo protagonist. So far my favorite character is the corgi! But I am chugging along and it’s still better than so much literary fiction, so I will stick with it for now.

Then I watched Annie Hall.

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This is how I always felt on large-group Zoom calls.

My mother famously (well, famous in our family) went into labor with me after watching a Woody Allen movie, so we couldn’t help but experiment with this one. So far, no luck, but let’s not forget that these blog posts are pre-scheduled. Who knows what could happen before morning!

I’ll let you know…

“Spread the facts on the floor like a fan/throw away the ones that make you feel bad.”

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Aren’t we all. Well, it’s Tuesday, but it feels like Monday, and I’m not full of rage today. Perhaps tomorrow will be a different story. The weather has been a whole of this for the past few days:

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That is to say, sunny and then rainy, but maybe just cloudy, but possibly going to rain, but never really raining, very humid, and vaguely ominous in the distance. It’s getting to be a bit of a bore. You never know if you can take a walk or not!

As my mother said, we had a lovely weekend. We shopped in downtown Kirkwood (where we had to sign in at stores for contact tracing purposes [insert face palm emoji]), walked around Kirkwood Park (I don’t think I’d been there in at least 15 years), listened to music (it’s a great stress reliever), and accidentally drank a whole bottle of Rose. In one sitting. A Henry Mancini record has that effect!

These days, I think it’s important to do things that bring you joy and help take your mind off the world (maybe don’t drink a whole bottle of wine, especially if the wee babes are coming over the next morning). But, indulging in hours of music and not much else is totally fine. Sitting outside in the sunshine, or even just sitting inside, also totally fine. Starting each blog post with something from the Simpsons, totally legit.

I was reading my bible last night (the 99 Days of Joy) and I particularly enjoyed the verse in Luke where Jesus declares “How dull you are!” to the disciples who fail to recognize him when he returns. I just love that. People can be the worst. We’re so irritating, even Jesus gets annoyed with us. We also haven’t changed a whole lot in 2000 years.

So what’s my point? I’m not really sure. But everyday I strive to not be a total bore. Now, I’ll work on not being so dull, as well.

*Bastard, Ben Folds

 

Madder ‘n mischief

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We had several good midwestern thunderstorms this past long weekend. Coincidentally I found this copy of “The Thunder Baby Boy” handwritten by our mother many years ago. At some point in my childhood, she placated me during a thunderstorm, explaining about the Thunder Baby Boy who was making all the noise.

After that we would ask her to recite the poem from time to time. We weren’t scared anymore, but we liked the poem.

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On the reverse side is another poem and a drawing by our brother of Civil War era soldiers (blue and gray) firing at each other.  I suppose you could date the note by his skill level–pretty darn good–to the late 1950s?

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Isn’t it amazing the things that turn up?

Here’s a link to the poem on Project Gutenberg from the original book of poetry.

And now it’s back to the salt mine. I hardly looked at my computer or phone all weekend! Lovely.

“I see my light come shining From the west unto the east/Any day now, any day now I shall be released.”*

Happy belated  birthday to Bob Dylan who turned 79 yesterday. We love you and God loves you, Bob.

The weekend rushed by and daughter #1 and I had fun doing things we had not been able to do in a long time, like walking around downtown Kirkwood and actually going in a store and buying something! (Don’t worry, we wore masks.) We also sat outside on the patio and drank a cold one. It was 87 degrees!

Their parents dropped off the wee babes for awhile on Sunday morning and they ran us ragged.

We finally had to resort to getting out the giant box of Beanie Babies.

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Hog Heaven

We were done in after that, but daughter #1 did give me a gel manicure. The rain actually held off for most of the weekend until Sunday when the OM decided to barbecue. Then it rained for hours.

We watched The LongRiders (1980) which you may recall is a movie about the outlaw James brothers, the Younger brothers, and assorted other brothers, all played by actual brothers: The Caradines, the Keaches, the Quaids, and even Christopher Guest and his brother. I had not seen it in a long time and really enjoyed it.

Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 9.58.46 PMRather than being gimmicky, the real brothers lent an air of authenticity to the film which I appreciated. The musical score by Ry Cooder was also excellent. And I enjoyed the Missouri setting and the story of our homegrown famous outlaws.

Today I am celebrating Memorial Day and watching war movies as previously mentioned. I will also toast John Wayne on the 111th anniversary of his birth.

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FYI daughter #2 is scaling back her blog post activity to once a week on Thursdays as she anticipates the imminent arrival of baby U.  L’Chaim!

*Bob Dylan

 

Stay at home Saturday

I know it’s Saturday because it’s my turn to post something. This week was just like last week and the week before that, and they have all blurred together. At some point, as I puttered around, I found this priceless photo in a box of stuff.

What song do you imagine they are playing along to? Why the hats? And, yes, toy weapons do make great air guitars.

In other discovery news, I found this story by our grandfather in a book titled The Best News Stories of 1923. I had to capture it using the snipping tool, hence the three differently sized sections.

Aside from this human interest story, the book included a much longer, more serious selection dealing with rum-running in New York. Here’s the beginning:

If you’re interested, you can read the rest via Google Books.  Our poor grandmother did not bargain on our adventure-seeking grandfather. I imagine that when they got married in 1917 she thought he was an upright, patriotic citizen going off to fight in WWI (which, of course, he was). She expected that after the war he would come home and start practicing law, and that they would become pillars of whatever community they graced. It was not to be. The war killed his brother, but it also introduced Arthur to all sorts of stimulating people and experiences. He flew planes; he rubbed shoulders with movers and shakers different from the staid businessmen of his youth in Burlington. He liked the fast pace of big city journalism. Mira played along for a decade or more, but eventually it got to her and they separated. Arthur went to the west coast, and she and my father went home to Massachusetts. And that, as they say, was that.

When I wasn’t searching through my family’s past, I finished re-reading Wolf Hall, every page of which seems to reward the reader with some insight, beautifully expressed.

But it is no use to justify yourself. It is no good to explain. It is weak to be anecdotal. It is wise to conceal the past even if there is nothing to conceal. A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the un-guessed-at expression of his face. It is the absence of facts that frightens people: the gap you open, into which they pour their fears, fantasies and desires (p. 331).

This passage particularly resonated:

You can have a silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, hold a concord. A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts (p. 597).

I am looking forward to re-reading Bring up the Bodies before I start the last book in the series, though it will be difficult to read about Thomas Cromwell’s demise.

In the meantime, life continues apace. Tim and Abbie are arriving for a visit later today. The weather is beautiful and warm (in the 80s) and everything is blooming, but we promise not to go anywhere, do anything or have fun. It’s not allowed here in New York, because we are just starting our phased reopening. Here are the rules:

Have a grand weekend, wherever you are and whatever your circumstances!

 

“Take ’em to Missouri, Matt.”*

Huzzah! We have a long weekend ahead of us and perhaps some actual places to go! Or we may just stay in and listen to music and watch movies, because–of course–it’s supposed to rain all weekend!

Monday is Memorial day and one of the ways I typically observe Memorial Day, honoring the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military, is to watch a good war movie. Here are a few suggestions, mostly old movies as is my wont, but please note I have included one from the 21st century!

They Were Expendable (1945) John Ford directed this story of a PT boat unit defending the Philippines during WWII. John Wayne and Robert Montgomery star.

Cry Havoc (1943) A mostly all-female cast portrays a group of Army hospital volunteers stationed in Bataan during WWII. In some ways it is standard wartime melodrama, but the ending, as the brave nurses and volunteers fall into the hands of the Japanese, is quite powerful. Margaret Sullavan and Joan Blondell star.

Twelve O’Clock High (1949) Gregory Peck stars as a general who takes over a bomber unit suffering from low morale and whips them into shape before collapsing himself under the strain.

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Robert Emmett Sherwood adapted MacKinlay Kantor’s story of veterans returning to their hometown after service in WWII. William Wyler directed; Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Harold Russell star.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) Captain Nathan Brittles, on the eve of retirement, takes out a last patrol to stop an impending Indian uprising following the disaster at the Little Big Horn. John Ford directed; John Wayne stars.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) An Army medic and conscientious objector becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor for incredible acts of valor without having fired a shot. The scenes during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII are very intense and more graphic than I like to see, but the movie is a good one. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington.

Monday is also John Wayne’s birthday (🎉🎉🎉) so I will probably be leaning toward They Were Expendable. 

Last Monday (our regular John Wayne movie night) I watched Red River (1948) and it was great. John Wayne and Montgomery Clift play so well off each other.  Clift was never better.

So you might want to check it out as well.

I should also note the passing of Indian-born Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias.  Ravi’s ministry gradually evolved, but his basic focus remained the same: to “help the thinker believe and the believer think.”

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In March doctors discovered a malignant tumor when he underwent back surgery. He began receiving treatment, but two months later they deemed his cancer untreatable and he died shortly thereafter. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

And I really want one of these face masks from the National Cowboy Museum! #HashtagTheCowboy…

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*Tom Dunston to Matthew Garth in Red River. They end up taking ’em to Kansas, of course, in order to avoid the marauding border ruffians in Missouri.

Quarantine literature

Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, lots of people were writing about plague literature. Most often referenced was Albert Camus’s The Plague, though people also loved to note that Shakespeare largely wrote his plays while in quarantine. So far I have failed to bring much literary focus to this blog, though I did make the rather obvious observation that Thoreau socially distanced at Walden Pond.

Well, I finally got around to making some headway in The Scarlet Letter, which I started way back when in February. And I couldn’t help but think that Hester Prynne, too, was an expert at social distancing. I’m half kidding. Ostracized is more like it, but she had her little cabin outside of town and she rarely went within six feet of others.

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In the bit I read last night, Hester reconnects with Arthur Dimmesdale, and feels liberated from her “quarantine” for the first time in seven years:

But Hester Prynne, with a mind of native courage and activity, and for so long a period not merely estranged, but outlawed, from society, had habituated herself to such latitude of speculation as was altogether foreign to the clergyman. She wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide their fate. Her intellect and heart had their home, as it were, in desert places, where she roamed as freely as the wild Indian in his woods. For years past she had looked from this estranged point of view at human institutions, and whatever priests or legislators had established; criticising all with hardly more reverence than the Indian would feel for the clerical band, the judicial robe, the pillory, the gallows, the fireside, or the church. The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, — stern and wild ones, — and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.

Do you feel that you are wandering a moral wilderness?

Anyway, I haven’t yet finished the novel and I’ve forgotten precisely how it ends. I’ll have to let you know if — and how — Hester (and her daughter) successfully reenter society.

Do I detect a note of sarcasm?

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Must be Tuesday.

Well, today was one of those days. Apple thinks I’ve had my old iPhone for too long and clearly wants me to buy a new one so it is rendering my phone non-functional through its mandatory updates. You know how they work. Then, I managed to spill half a can of soda on my lap during a work call. And, after giving me hope that my car (which I still don’t have) might be ready this afternoon, the mechanic called to say that the windshield they’d been waiting on was delivered but was the wrong one. I’ll never get my little car back. 

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In other news, I have to say that one of the most enlightening things about this global pandemic has been learning how many people I know who, despite majoring in Communications in college, are experts in the field of public health and government. It’s really amazing isn’t it?

I’ve also really enjoyed learning how many people I know have access to second homes, pools, bodies of water, or all of the above. And in a Venn diagram of these two groups of people, the overlap is pretty wild.

Normally, I’d wrap this up with something inspirational but I don’t have it in me today. I’ve also used two Simpsons references and a 30 Rock gif so this is a real low for me. I hope everyone has a good rest of the week. And maybe the next time I post, I’ll have my car (but don’t hold your breath).

Let angels prostrate fall

Well, it has been rainy and rather bleak here in flyover country for several days. But as William Law said, “He who complains of the weather–complains of the God who ordains the weather!”

The highlight of my quiet weekend was driving a bunch of boxes to the recycling center. (Okay, we also got some frozen custard.) Woohoo. The boy came over on Sunday afternoon for a brief parley which is always a treat. The good news is that he reopened his store yesterday, but we probably won’t see him for awhile.

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 3.56.52 PMI watched The Green Mile (1999) about the mysterious goings on in a prison in 1935. It was as good as I remembered it. One of Tom Hanks’s best.

Screen Shot 2020-05-18 at 4.07.50 PMIt is over three hours long, but I can’t think of anything I would cut. So if you have three hours, I recommend it. I read the book by Stephen King back in the day and it is good too.

A fellow fan emailed me the sad news that Ken Osmond had died. You remember Ken–he played Eddie Haskell, Wally Cleaver’s super polite-with-parents but a jerk-to-his-little brother-Beaver friend. Quel icon.

Rest in peace, Ken. You nailed it. And those 18 years as a real-life motorcycle cop were impressive too.

On the horticultural front, the iris this year have been insane.

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And don’t the new pillows (with thistles!) that daughter #2 gave me for my birthday spruce up the Florida room nicely?

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“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”
–  Rainer Maria Rilke

Have a good week! Shop local and small!