"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, September 14, 2018

Talking About the Homestead

Map of the Family Homesteads and Surrounding Area ~ 1890s
Sketched out in the 1940s by Wayne Wallace Lindsey (1889 - 1951)

Madrid, Perkins County, Nebraska

Detail of Perkins County ~ Grant = County Seat

In 1887 my great-grandparents (my mother's paternal grandparents), James Sankey Lindsey and Sarah Elisabeth Hartman Lindsey, headed west from Ohio to settle a homestead in Perkins County, Nebraska, taking along their three children: Mabel (b 1880 in Ohio), Jim (b 1883 in Ohio), and Nellie (b 1887, along the way, in Illinois). During their years in Nebraska, three more children were born: Wayne (b 1889), Beatrice (b 1891) and Sam (b 1893). My grandfather Paul (b 1895 in Oklahoma) and his two younger sisters Virginia (b 1897 in Kansas) and Gail (b 1899 in Kansas) were born after the family gave up the homestead claim and returned to Kansas.

Sometime in the 1940s, my grandfather's brother Wayne sketched out the above map, recalling all of the homesteading families who lived near them in Madrid, Nebraska (in the 1890s). The two Hartman - Lindsey homesteads are near the middle: "Grand Pa" (Sarah's father, Charles Gordon Hartman) marked with an "X" and "H sted" marked with an X (James & Sarah's place). Another "X" on the "Road from Madrid" marks the "School where mother taught" (Mother = Sarah Elisabeth Hartman Lindsey). If you look at the right hand column listing all the other families, you can see at the very top of the list is another school -- maybe "Rucker" School. Going south from there, the families seem to be: Williams, Randall, Simon, Janes, Bauer, Kegras, Cutler; to the west are Olesons, two unnamed farms, and Kenaugh; and further west on the "Road from Madrid" is Sam Culver.

It was the adventure of a lifetime, but it was also a tough, harsh time, filled with adversity, frustration, and loss. Saddest of all was the death of 4 1/2 - year - old Nellie in 1891, when she fell from a horse. Yet somehow my Great - Grandmother Sarah persisted, caring for the other children, teaching school, and maintaining connections with relatives back East.

Sarah's account of the devastating drought reads like a testimomial in a history book (for additional narratives, see The Great West, p 424; and "Drought and Depression in 1890s Nebraska").

On July 30, 1893, she wrote to her niece in Ohio:
We have had the worst drought this summer that we have ever had. We have always had what we call our spring rains, until this year we had none until the first of June we had a thunder shower [which knocked James unconscious!], and two light showers since . . . . This is the first spring without some early garden vegetables. Even 3 years ago when we suffered so from drought we had early vegetables, but later ones such as beans, peas and beets, etc. did not grow. But this year we have not had any of any description -- nor a bite of fruit. Our wheat was blown out entirely by the severe spring winds and the drought has burned up the corn. It is general too, and the coming winter will be the worst that the homesteaders of this county have ever known.

I see by the papers that the governor of Kansas has called an extra session of the Legislature to afford relief to the drought stricken farmers in the western half of the state, immediately south of us.

Well, as a result of this succession of crop failures, Jimmie [her husband James] has at length concluded to take your advice and go where he can gain something for his labor but he cannot go until his time on the homestead expires, which will be a year and a half yet.

Thus far our experience in this country: a good year follows a general drought and invariably a great many eastern people who have heard of the rich land. So long as the poor fools will come and will have the land, we hope to dispose of ours so that we will not lose everything by this dearly bought experience. It had to be experience with us too for we thought it was a grand country, and have laughed at folks for moving away. People cannot live on a crop once in 3 years. That is the average -- as we have found it, but we kept on hoping that the rainbelt would be extended and we would have rain more regularly. . . . The effects of the rainfall we do have are carried away by the constant winds. I have not kept account but I don't believe we have had a dozen days this last five months without strong winds all day long -- sometimes ceasing at nightfall but renewing their energies with the sunrise.

People are deceived by the appearance of the country and the occasional good crops. A very wealthy gentleman from Philadelphia has purchased hundreds of acres of land north of Madrid and has been at great expense to have it plowed this summer. Another from the central part of this state has done the same. Had we the amount of moisture required to grow vegetation, never was there a more fertile country; but we are so far from any stream that it is impossible to irrigate it. The winds are very destructive and disagreeable, once the sandy soil is cultivated the wind blows it in great clouds across the country almost blinding the people and filling the houses with dust. This is what we call a sandstorm. It blows the pig pens full of sand like drifts of snow so that the pigs can walk out over the top of the pen.

. . . We don't know where we'll go but we will certainly go -- if we live -- as soon as we can dispose of our claims.

As the historians will tell you, immigration to Nebraska slowed to a halt in these years and thousands of covered wagons (18,000 of them in 1891 alone) reversed their westward path and returned to friendlier climes. In 1895, three of these wagons belonged to James and Sarah, who was expecting my grandfather at the time.
In his autobiography, my grandfather writes:
I was born in a covered wagon in the fall of 1895 in Choctaw Indiana Territory near Stigler, Oklahoma. My father left Perkins County, Nebraska, two months before I was born, with his family in three wagons outfitted for sleeping, and with 30-some loose horses He was headed for Arkansas and intended to trade horses for land.

They came through Caney, Kansas, and on southeast when they had to halt for my birth.

By this time they were all chilling. Everyone was full of ague [malarial fever] from drinking water out of creeks. They saw graves being dug in every graveyard they passed, so decided to come back north.

The country around Caney had appealed to them so they came back thus way and traded horses for eighty acres of land in the Sand Hills of Cascade Community, immediately west of Caney.

By the time they got settled they had been on the road and in camp one year, I was ten months old when we stopped one - half mile west of Cascade Schoolhouse."
Paul Jones Lindsey (1895 - 1983)


Here I am with my grandfather in 1981,
around the time that he jotted down the above
story of his childhood and recounted several
hours of oral history that my kind husband Gerry
has painstakingly transcribed from cassette tapes
to digital files for safekeeping.

When I encountered the following poem in Plainsongs -- appropriately, a literary magazine from the Great Plains of Nebraska -- I felt the truth of my ancestors' homesteading experience:
This Is Not the Farm I Talk About
When I Talk About the Farm

Show me a vase of daisies,
and I will turn over dirt, point
to chopped root of thistle
pulled the day before.

All summer
I filled the back of her truck
with purple flowers
then set the field on fire.

If you squint, you won't see
sweat or prickled skin or the way
we curled away at night
from the brown recluse
that paced our headboard,
from a loaded revolver,
from spirits of animals stretched
and pinned to the wall -- for protection
or company, I don't know,
we were very alone.

Sometimes I heard wheelbarrows
bumping over rocks, saw horses
running in the two - by - fours
we'd used to build the barn. Or, if not
horses, someone's face missing
half its nose, a small child
rocking. A splinter of wood
was a gash of cloud,
and it all meant something.

The chicks are learning to pluck
maggots from a steaming pile of straw.
It is winter,and you can warm your feet
to burning on last week's shit
stomped flat between two trees.

Genevieve N. Williams
Contemporary American Poet ~ Nebraska & Iowa
Associate Editor Dwight Marsh explains that "This poem is an anti - pastoral, a tradition with a distinguished history, probably as old as the pastoral itself. The pastoral idealized country life where the only problems were indifferent maidens and calluses on finger tips from strumming lutes. . . . But debunking the myth of idyllic country life is wide spread. . . .

"'This Is Not the Farm . . . ' enumerates some brute realities of rural life: thistles, fires, spiders, sweat, armaments, predators, injury, splinters, the rawness of the life cycle of ingestion and excretion in a range of animals . . . . The poem is a bitter lament for the hard life of farming, in terse forceful images and language

Plainsongs, Vol XXXV, #3, pp 2 - 3
Spring 2015, 35th Anniversary Issue

In one of those remarkable literary coincidences that I love writing about on this blog, I was recently thumbing through one of my old notebooks of saved poetry from 1984. One of my favorites that year was "The Drama Critic Warns of Cliches" by Evan Zimroth, photocopied from Poetry magazine (April 1984). In all these thirty - four years, I can't recall ever having stopped to read the poem on the facing page until that day last month:

Once, on the last ice-hauling,
the sled went through the surface
of the frozen pond,
pulling the son under
the thrashing hooves
of horses. Listening for him

after all her tears was perhaps
what drew the mother
into that silence. Long afternoons
she sat with the daughter,
speaking in the sign language
they invented together,
going deaf to the world.

How, exactly, did they touch
their mouths? What was the thought
of the old man on the porch
growing so drunk by nightfall
he could not hear
mosquitoes in his ears?

There is so much no one remembers
about the farm where sound,
even the bawling of the unmilked cows,
came to a stop. Even the man’s name,

which neighbors must have spoken
passing by in twilight, on their way
to forgetting it forever.

Wesley McNair
Contemporary American Poet, New Hampshire & Maine
In a radio interview with McNair, Mary Kuechenmeister observes that "Drawing from his personal experiences, McNair's poetry is emblematic of both family and economic hardships, and New England living." For example, McNair recalls the time during his childhood when his stepfather "began building a garage, which we lived in for many years, actually, while he got the wherewithal to start a house. So this garage was probably one of the most forlorn family homes in existence."

In "Mute," McNair memorializes the bleak reality of rural farming, the untimely loss of life, the relentless elements, and the inevitability of nature. If the farm itself grows mute, then we must talk -- and write -- about it for its own sake and for our own. Although from different parts of the country, both Wesley McNair and Genevieve Williams, insist on the anti - pastoral rather than the cozy romantic Home on the Range. Their poems bear witness to the lived reality of my great - grandparents, to the persistence and stamina required of them in their search for a homestead and a home.

"Barber ~ Shop ~ W. W. Lindsey"
One of my Great - Uncle Wayne's Barbershops

Some of my second cousins: Dick, Katheryn (top left)
Marilee, Joyce, Jeannie (front row) Fitzwater
Wish I could name the other two, but alas I cannot!
Nor do I know the exact location of the shop but know
that Wayne had shops in Chautauqua, Elgin, Havana, Peru
~ all in Southeast Kansas ~
and that in one of them, he shaved Emmett Dalton!

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, September 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Greener Grass Over There


Photo by Stan Lichens
Family Home of Louisa MayAlcott
Remember, in Little Women, this is the house of the "poor" family.
Yet by my standards -- when first reading the novel back in 1968 and,
even now, 50 years later -- Jo March lived in a dream house!

Just as the March girls were intrigued by the big house over there where Laurie lived, I imagined the enchanted life taking place right here in Orchard House where Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy embodied the creativity and romance that seemed hopelessly lacking from my painfully bland, uninspired split - foyer subdivision existence. It seems that there is always an over there, no matter where you are; and, in fact, it is always somewhere that you are not.

Double - Fronted Symmetry, Order, and Dignity
Everything I Longed For -- But Could Not Find

However problematic things may have been for the unprosperous March - Alcotts, their "humble" dwelling continues to represent beauty and perfection to countless readers and tourists who never cease in their admiration of the interior and exterior of this all - American New England home. The following selections capture the double bind of childhood nostalgia, ever convinced that the lawn next door had greener grass:
Over There

Although we know they may
not be better necessarily,
over there we know at least
things are different, and we

sense we would be different
ourselves all these years
had we been born, brought
up, nurtured over there,

been given opportunities
to play the barefoot games,
had we had the friends
with the perfect trochee names

who lived on streets with
no sharp corners but with trees
that grew, merged over roads,
melded light like arches,

in houses shadowed with
pianos and portraits in oil,
who went to the alabaster
school on the low, smooth hill

with a library on whose
shelves are only first editions
bound in leather and halls
echoing a bronze tradition

like a language stranger
than ours, older and stronger,
the language of flawless children
into which ours fades forever.

by J. R. Solonche
in New Criterion (February 1993, Volume 11 Number 6, p 44)


Yury Olesha (1899 - 1960)
from the novel Envy

"I would like to have been born in a small French town, to have grown up in daydreams, to have set myself some sort of high goal and one fine day to have walked out of that small town and come to the capital on foot, and there, working fanatically, to have reached my goal. But I wasn't born in the West. . . . I won't ever be either handsome or famous. I won't come walking from the small town into the capital." (17 - 19)

Bruno Schulz (1892 - 1942)
from the novel The Street of Crocodiles

"Goodwill knows no obstacle; nothing can stand before deep desire. I have only to imagine a door, a door old and good, like in the kitchen of my childhood, with an iron latch and bolt. There is no room so walled up that it will not open with such a trusty door, if you have but the strength to insinuate it.” (19)

from "Green, Green Grass of Home"
by American songwriter Claude "Curly" Putman, Jr. (1930 - 2016)
sung by Porter Wagoner (1927 - 2007)

The old home town looks the same as I step down from the train,
and there to meet me is my Mama and Papa.
Down the road I look and there runs Mary
hair of gold and lips like cherries.
It's good to touch the green, green grass of home.
Yes, they'll all come to meet me, arms reaching, smiling sweetly.
It's good to touch the green, green, grass of home.
The old house is still standing, tho' the paint is cracked and dry,
and there's that old oak tree that I used to play on. . . .

George Orwell (1903 - 1950)
from the novel Coming Up For Air

"But I’d wanted to come over Chamford Hill, the way we used to go when we biked home from fishing in the Thames, When you get just past the crown of the hill the trees open out and you can see Lower Binfield lying in the valley below you.

"It’s a queer experience to go over a bit of country you haven’t seen in twenty years. You remember it in great detail, and you remember it all wrong. All the distances are different, and the landmarks seem to have moved about. You keep feeling, surely this hill used to be a lot steeper — surely that turning was on the other side of the road? And on the other hand you’ll have memories which are perfectly accurate, but which only belong to one particular occasion. You’ll remember, for instance, a corner of a field, on a wet day in winter, with the grass so green that it’s almost blue, and a rotten gatepost covered with lichen and a cow standing in the grass and looking at you. And you’ll go back after twenty years and be surprised because the cow isn’t standing in the same place and looking at you with the same expression.

"As I drove up Chamford Hill I realized that the picture I’d had of it in my mind was almost entirely imaginary."
(Part Four, Chapter One, 175)
Binfield Heath

In every case, the tenuous belief in childhood innocence and unconditional acceptance is challenged by the reality of residual damage inflicted by careless adults and overbearing parents. Compounding the unreliable nostalgia of "the old home place" are the problematic parental units -- what a struggle it is to ever imagine them young, how difficult to know which memories are real, which perceptions accurate.
Yury Olesha (1899 - 1960)
from the novel Envy

"I saw myself in the mirror and suddenly I sort of caught a similarity in me to my father. In reality there is no such similarity. I remembered: my parents' bedroom and I, a small boy, am watching my father changing his shirt. I was sorry for him. It's already too late for him to be handsome, famous; he's already done, finished and nothing more than what he is can he be. That's what I thought, feeling sorry for him and taking pride in my superiority. But now I recognized my father in me." (19)

Julian Barnes (b 1946)
from the novel The Sense of an Ending

"In those days we imagined ourselves as being kept in some kind of holding pen, waiting to be released into our lives. And when the moment came, our lives -- and time itself -- would speed up. How were we to know that our lives had in any case begun, that some advantage had already been gained, some damage already inflicted? Also, that our release would only be into a larger holding pen, whose boundaries would be at first undiscernible.

"[Our teachers] and parents used to remind us irritatingly that they too had once been young, and so could speak with authority. It's just a phase, they would insist. You'll grow out of it; life will teach you reality and realism. But back then we declined to acknowledge that they had ever been anything like us, and we knew that we grasped life - and truth, and morality, and art - far more clearly than our compromised elders. . . .

"This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature. Look at our parents -- were they the stuff of literature? At best, they might aspire to the condition of onlookers and bystanders, part of a social backdrop against which real, true, important things could happen."
(10, 12, 16)

I have yet to visit Orchard House. It's on my Bucket List; and, when I finally get there, I expect to find some greener grass and a finer house than the one I lived in as a girl. I hope to encounter the co-existence of Life and Literature, the embodiment and security of Home, where a talented young writer felt equally the pull to stay and the push to go, the longing to depart and the desire to remain forever.

More posts, poems, songs, and stories
about the houses we used to live in:
Derek Walcott & Kenneth Koch

the streets we used to live on:
Frank Sinatra & Art Garfunkel

the places we've left behind
Joyce Barlow, William Meissner,
Robert Wallace & Howard Nemerov

the rooms we can't forget
Sam McCartney & Clement Long

the places we dream about:
Frederick Buechner, Salman Rushdie & John Denver

Next Fortnightly Post
Friday, September 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lammas ~ Lughnasa


August 1st is the cross-quarter holiday halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox, called Lughnasa (from the ancient Irish god Lugh) or Lammas Day (from the Anglo-Saxon term hlaf [meaning loaf] - mas. Sometimes called The Feast of the First Corn, it is the first harvest festival of the year -- the cutting of the first corn, the first wheat, the "first fruits." One time - honored custom was to celebrate Lughnasa not necessarily on the 1st day of August, but on the evening of the nearest full moon. Another was to extend the celebration from August 1st through September 1st, giving us not merely Lammas but Lammastide, and making this Fortnightly post the perfect occasion for observing the midway point of the season.

Although some Americans may be familiar with -- fans even -- of the Meryl Streep movie: Dancing at Lughnasa, for the most part this holiday goes unobserved in the United States. It simply doesn't draw the kind of attention to itself that the other cross - quarter days do: Groundhog Day (halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox); May Day (halfway between the Vernal Equinox and the Summer Solstice); Halloween / All Saints Day / Dia de los Muertos (halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice).

In England, back in 1981 anyway,
Lammastide retained enough currency
to feature on a postage stamp,
along with several other folk celebrations:

Thanks to my friend Steven for reminding me that Shakespeare's tragic heroine Juliet (like Harry Potter and his creator J. K. Rowling) was born on July 31st -- Lammas - Eve. We learn this fun fact from Juliet's devoted Nurse, as she recollects Juliet's toddler - hood:

"On Lammas - Eve at night shall she be fourteen.
That shall she. Marry, I remember it well. . . ."
Romeo & Juliet
, I, iii, 23 - 24

Color illustration of Juliet and Her Nurse
by British artist ~ Gertrude Demain Hammond (1862 - 1952)
for an 1878 illustrated edition of Charles and Mary Lamb's
Tales from Shakspeare

I like to think that Carole King had Lughnasa in mind when she wrote these lovely lyrics about the seamless transition from July to August, along with the subtlest hint that before long, Summer will soon give way to Fall:
The First Day in August

On the first day in August
I want to wake up by your side
After sleeping with you
On the last night in July
In the morning
We'll catch the sun rising
And we'll chase it from the mountains
To the bottom of the sea

When the day is over
And the night air comes to chill us
You'll build a fire
And we'll watch the flames dancing

You'll fall asleep
With your arm around my shoulder
And nothing will come between us
On the first night in August
The first day in August
Noon, Rest from Work (1890)
Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890)
~ after Millet ~

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, August 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Advancing & Receding

Red Sky ~ or ~ Red Sea?
Advancing ~ or ~ Receding?

Painting by Leonard Orr

An literary exploration of the intriguing concept
of a perpetual redistribution of human emotion:

"We seem to have learned of the horizon
the art of perpetual retreating and reference."

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson ~
from "Experience" ~ 1844

"The tears of the world are a constant quantity.
For each one who begins to weep
somewhere else another stops.
The same is true of the laugh."

~ Samuel Beckett ~
from Waiting for Godot ~ 1953

"Every moment of one's existence
one is growing into more or retreating into less.
One is always living a little more or dying a little bit."

~ Norman Mailer ~
from Advertisements for Myself ~ 1959

"As in the fusion with Mercer, everyone ascended together or, when the cycle had come to an end, fell together into the trough of the tomb world. Oddly, it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. A herd animal such as man would acquire a higher survival factor through this..."
~ Philip K. Dick ~
from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ~ 1968

"So how do we seize the past? As it recedes, does it come into focus? Some think so. We know more, we discover extra documents, we use infra - red light to pierce erasures in the correspondence, and we are free of contemporary prejudice; so we understand better. Is that it? I wonder. . . .

“The past is a distant, receding coastline, and we are all in the same boat. Along the stern rail there is a line of telescopes; each brings the shore into focus at a given distance. If the boat is becalmed, one of the telescopes will be in continual use; it will seem to tell the whole, the unchanging truth. But this is an illusion; and as the boat sets off again, we return to our normal activity: scurrying from one telescope to another, seeing the sharpness fade in one, waiting for the blur to clear in another. And when the blur does clear, we imagine that we have made it do so all by ourselves.

"Does the world progress? Or does it merely shuttle back and forth like a ferry?"
(100, 101, 105)
~ Julian Barnes ~
Flaubert's Parrot ~ 1984

"Their happiness is not her unhappiness. Unless it is.
What if there is only an equal ratio of happiness to
unhappiness in the world at any given time?"

~ Gabrielle Zevin ~
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry ~ 2014

"But life is not a zero - sum game.
There isn't a limited quantity of success or happiness,
meaning that if one person achieves something,
the rest of us take an automatic step backward."

~ Natalie Hanes ~ "Introduction" ~ 2015
to Extracts from The Second Sex
by Simone de Beauvoir ~ 1949

"It's the universe showing us that we're all connected
and feel the love, happiness, and pain oif one another
-- we just have to be ready to listen."

~ Peggy Carriker Rosenbluth ~ 2014

"One fire burns out another's burning.
One pain is lessened by another's anguish.
Tut man, one fire burns out another’s burning.
One pain is lessened by another’s anguish.
Turn giddy, and be helped by backward turning.
One desperate grief cures with another’s languish.
Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
And the rank poison of the old will die."

~ Shakespeare ~
Romeo & Juliet ~ 1597
Quoted by Peter Abernathy in Westworld ~ 2016

Green Bird ~ and / or ~ Green Fish?
Sky ~ and / or ~ Sea?

Painting by Leonard Orr


Thanks Len for multiple appearances on my blogs!
Previously Posted Paintings & Poetry:

Capturing the Ginkgo Light
Like An Ant
I Will Show You Modernism In A Handful of Dust
The Ides of Whatever
Advancing & Receding

End of Summer Sounds
Golden Paintings by Leonard Orr
Excellent Images
Happy Birthday Dylan Thomas
The same war continues . . .
The Magpie Waiting for his Beautiful Partner
An Ant and a Grain of Sand
Bursting Into Light
Sun ~ Flower ~ Moon
Days of Optimism
Life Without Poetry
What To Do
Star - Spanlged But Unsingable
That Lost Time & Place

Book List
Lovely As A Tree
Evening ~ Timing ~ Floating: Poetry by Leonard Orr

Poems: "Past Tense, Future Tense" ~ "Yiddish for Travellers"
"The Loop" ~ "Desperate Times" ~ "Optimist" ~
"Sun and Wheatfields" & "Russian Olives" ~ "Monet's The Magpie"

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, August 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Rough Places Plain

~ Photo by Sam McCartney ~ Colorado ~ July 2018 ~

"Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low:
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough places plain . . . "

Isaiah 40:4


"For God has decreed the flattening
of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,
the filling of the valleys to make the ground level
so that Israel can walk in safety . . . "

Baruch 5: 7


". . . settle your mean heights down
a little to short heights . . . "
~ Adorable Tiana's Heartfelt Advice ~ with subtitles ~

How did this tiny little girl get to be so wise? She hardly looks old enough to have listened to a performance of the Messiah, yet she is able to understand the message of the prophets. She seems to have no trouble grasping the concept of a middle ground, of bringing the high low and the low high. Truly, "a little child shall lead them":
Mom, are you ready to be his friend?

~ Yes.

Try not to be that high up to be friends.
I want everything to be low. Okay?

~ Okay.

Just try your best.
I don't want you and my dad to be replaced and meanies again.
I want you and my dad to be placed as settled and be friends.

I'm not trying to be mean.
I just want everyone to be friends.
And if I can be nice, I think all of us can be nice too.

I'm not trying to be mean, but
I'm trying to do my best in my heart.
Nothing else than that.

I want you Mom, my dad, everyone to be friends.
I want everyone to be smiling,
Not like being mad. I want everything smile.
Especially when I see someone, I want them to smile.

Especially Nana, everyone. I want everyone to smile.
And if that's for my dad and you Mom,
I think you can do it.

I think you can settle your mean heights down
a little to short heights.

Then it's both. Okay?

I'm not trying to be mean.
I'm not trying to be a bully.

I'm trying to be steady, on the floor.
Not way down. On straight.
On the middle where my heart is.

My heart is something.
Everyone else's heart is something too.
And if we live in a world where everyone is being mean,
everyone is going to be a monster in the future.

What if there is a little bit of persons
and we will eat them?
Then no one will ever be here,
Only the monsters in our place.

We need everyone to be a person. Everyone.
Including me and my mom, everyone,

I just want everything to be settled down.
Nothing else.
I want everything to be good as possible.
Nothing else.

~ Thank you Tiana. I love you.

I love you too.

"Every valley shall be exalted,
and every mountain and hill made low,
the crooked straight and the rough places plain."

~ Handel's Messiah ~

~ Photo by Steven A. J. Kordenat ~ Mount St Helens ~ July 2012 ~

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, July 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Thursday, June 28, 2018

I Shall But Love Thee Better

The Woman's Club of Portsmouth, where
my son Ben and his bride Cathleen were married last week
~ right there on the front porch!

A few months ago, in preparation for the ceremony, Ben asked me to suggest some poems -- no tired old conventions and nothing ridiculously outdated, please! -- to read at the wedding. Naturally, I was honored to comply with this request and share my treasure trove of ideas, starting with the readings that Gerry and chose for our wedding, twenty - nine years ago.

I also recommended this combination, which Gerry and I didn't use, but almost did:
From Psalm 46: "Therefore will not we fear,
though the earth be removed, and
though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea

Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled,
though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.

There is a river, the streams whereof shall make us glad . . . "


From Stand By Me by Ben E. King

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No, I won't be afraid
Oh, I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand
Stand by me . . .

If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountain should crumble to the sea

I won't cry, I won't cry
No, I won't shed a tear
Just as long as you stand
Stand by me
Though, in the end, these lyrics didn't make it into either wedding, they were a close runner - up both times, and the song remains a favorite with everyone.

My next suggestion was Sonnet #43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Even though it may seem like a total cliche, I love this poem, written to her husband Robert Browning (excepting the morbid conclusion and most of lines 3 - 4, which I have never really understood, in brackets below):
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach,
[when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.]
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life;
[and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.]

Ben shared my admiration for this one and made a couple more enlightened edits, trusting that Elizabeth Barrett Browning would concur:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach . . .
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as we strive for right.
I love thee purely, as we turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life . . .
Best Wishes to the Newlyweds Cathleen & Ben!

Ever since Sam's undergrad days as Purdue Boilermaker #43,
this particular number seems to follow our family around,
compounding its significance and bringing good fortune.
My reading of "Sonnet #43" on Ben & Cathleen's wedding day
proved to be yet another case in point!
See also: Boiler Up! ~ DYFJ ~ Waiting For Football

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, July 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Thursday, June 14, 2018

So Many Synchronicities!

Christmas, 1930 - 1940
by Florine Stettheimer, 1871 – 1944

Post - Holiday Chat With a Friend

K: Here is a copy of the card I mailed you, featuring a painting of New York City by one of my new favorite artists, Florine Stettheimer. I love all the pinks & yellows, don't you?

N: Ooh! I love Florine’s artwork! I’d never heard of her so thanks for introducing her to me. I look forward to receiving your card. Her style kind of reminds me of Maira Kalman’s. Are you familiar with her? I fell in love with her when I read her Principles of Uncertainty column in the NYT years ago. It’s now published in a lovely book form (and more recently, an hour - long choreographic collaboration). By the way, I learned while listening to an interview with her that her name is pronounced “Myra” (not “Mayra," as I had been saying in my head).

Thanks for telling me about Maira Kalman. I looked her up on amazon and already ordered the book you suggested -- Principles of Uncertainty, plus another one -- And the Pursuit of Happiness. When I googled her name, I immediately recognized one of the New Yorker covers, a woman wearing an Easter Bunny Bonnet (filled with tiny Chagall - like figures), that I had years ago in a box of note cards featuring several different artists -- but I didn't really pay any attention at the time, just used up the cards without thinking or remembering. So, thanks to your tip, now I know!

I hope you enjoy Maira Kalman as much as I do. She has also done illustrations for a new publication of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style that you might enjoy (required reading in my 9th grade English class). She’s actually done many books since that first one. She just might be a new favorite for you, too!

K: Here's another Florine, from the Chicago Art Institute:

N: I thought that painting looked familiar! I, too, took a picture of it when visiting that museum in 2014! I just didn’t make note of the artist because I’d never heard of her. See my close - ups:

K: How serendiptious that we were both so drawn to this painting, in the same location but at different times!

N: By the way, I was just looking through some photos from a brief weekend in NYC years ago, and came across these ones I took at the Met! Can you believe it? Apparently, I’ve been admiring Florine’s work for years without even realizing it!

N: So many synchronicities! Florine seems an unusual name and yet a little girl in our neighborhood has this name! Also, I had just been reading The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Swami Vivekananda and the same day, when leaving the museum, I looked up and saw this road sign! I thought it unusual enough to photograph it:

K: Amazing! I love these three Stettheimer paintings that I have never seen before! And how amazing that you saw "Swami Vivekananda Way" on the same day that you were in Chicago, and that you know another "Florine"! I like the way you express it: "So many synchronicities!" That's what I love writing about on my blogposts -- all the daily connections and coincidences!

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, June 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts ~ Kalman & Stettheimer

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Monday, May 28, 2018

Don't Ruin My Birthday!

A Chocolate Cheesecake for Ben ~ June 2, 2005


Because my happiness was based on external measures —
on tasks being completed, plans running accordingly,
goals being met, hairs being in place —
I was continually disappointed
— upset — impatient — and stressed.
Rachel Macy Stafford
from her article
"The Day My Child Lost Her Joy —
And What I Did to Revive It


Thanks to my friend Laura Thudium Zieglowsky for posting Rachel Macy Stafford's article, which is well worth reading no matter what the age of your loved ones. Whether or not you are surrounded by impressionable children, Stafford's points are well taken. I appreciate her observation that, yes, our moods and actions do indeed have an impact on others around us; and if we care about their feelings, we will modify our behavior accordingly. Easier said than done, however, when, rightly or wrongly, little things seem to matter so much: "I’m talking trivial, insignificant, minor inconveniences here, but that was the state of a distracted [or in my case at the time, pre-menopausal and strangely sad] woman who could no longer see the blessings, only the inconveniences, of her life."

Stafford's quest to revive her joy reminded me of my son Ben's 15th birthday (13 years ago!), when I went to pick the boys up from summer band and burst into tears because another mom had given me a mean scowl on the parking lot for being a bad driver. No one was hurt, no one's car was damaged, yet still I felt so shamed and stressed and worried that I could not stop crying to save my life (maybe because I took the scowl personally, and started hearing the tapes in my head: "you're so stupid, you don't belong here"). Why couldn't I just say, "Oh, well"?

I tried to proceed with my normal activities that afternoon, going home and making a cake, but crying all the while. Even an hour or so later, while Ben and Sam were in the study doing their homework and I was in the kitchen assembling Ben's favorite -- chocolate cheesecake -- I simply could not get a grip. Finally, Ben called in from the other room, "Mom, stop crying! You're ruining my birthday!" Now THAT was a wake-up call!

It was bad enough that Sam was constantly reminding me "to chill." But looking crazy in the eyes of my children or ruining their birthdays? That was the last thing I wanted. Quick! Send in the emergency perception checkers!

Around the same time, one of my most introspective friends wrote to say:
"Hope all is well with you. By which I guess I mean two things: I hope for pleasant circumstances to surround you, but also I hope you feel well deep within, where no circumstance can touch you. Lately I think of myself as a tree, and those two realms of life are the branches and the root system, respectively."

Similarly, Susan Jeffers, in The Little Book of Peace of Mind (which may sound trite but is not), draws a distinction between Higher Self (the source inner peace, peace of mind, etc.) and the Lower Self (who insists on struggling with circumstances). She says "that true joy comes not from something out there, but from something wondrous within our being . . . something . . . present and always accessible."
What a perfectly timed reminder that circumstances are merely superficial and not the barometer of happiness -- and most importantly, that they needn't touch me. Why give every little detail or misstep the power to determine my mood and the way I feel about and act toward others? Instead of being so reactive to all the inconsequential little bothers -- or even the larger hurtful ones -- I had only to shift my focus from circumstances to state of mind. It's partly a question of maturity and, perhaps, learning to live with our natures; and partly resisting the tendency to take every perceived slight personally -- even when there was no need at all -- particularly things over which we have little or no control.

Could I train myself to privilege to peace of mind over circumstances? As Kafka reminds us, we can be so good at intellectualizing these precepts yet so inept at applying them to our daily struggles and living them out, all the time, in all areas of life. Rachel Macy Stafford explains the "positive mantras" that she finds helpful:
"Only Love Today to silence my inner bully. Whenever a critical thought would come to my mind or my mouth, I’d cut it off with Only Love Today. I used See Flowers Not Weeds as a pathway to gratitude, to see what was good in situations and people."
I too have a few of these mantras. Whenever I start fighting the circumstances too hard, I rely on one of my long - time favorites from Margaret Atwood: "You have nothing to live against." Whenever I start feeling frustrated and critical, I take the advice that Hugh Prather shares in How To Live in the World and Still Be Happy: Try going through the day saying to yourself, "Today I will be gently amused by everything" or "Today I will not make any judgments."

Ben displayed some "gentle amusement" (again this was years ago) when we were stuck up on campus at a boring meeting, and afterward I told him about my new Hugh Prather approach. He said, "Good luck with that, Mom. As for me, I judged the meeting to be boring and was not amused." Well, regardless of his assessment, clearly he retained his sense of humor; always a plus!

Another funny talk with Ben from those days occurred one night when we burned a batch of cookies. Rather than my usual fretting or blaming, I said, "Well, you know what the doctor says . . . ." Ben looked at me quizzically, and I told him that the best medical advice I'd received lately was to say, "Oh, well!" Furthermore, do whatever it might take (positive mantras, talk therapy, SSRIs, emotional tools) to keep your "Oh, well!" function in good working order, never forgetting the connection between emotional outlook and physical well-being. Whenever you might be otherwise tempted to "cry over spilled milk" -- or whatever it is that I might have just spilled or burned or broken or lost -- instead, just say "Oh, well!" or another useful variation: "That happens sometimes!"

So far, this post has not been very literary, but I am happy to share these lyrics, at times mysterious, about the lifelong quest for peace of mind:
One of These Days

Well I won't have to chop no wood
I can be bad or I can be good
I can be any way that I feel
One of these days

Might be a woman that's dressed in black
Be a hobo by the railroad track
I'll be gone like the wayward wind
one of these days

One of these days it will soon
be all over cut and dry
And I won't have this urge
to go all bottled up inside
One of these days I'll look back
and I'll say I left in time
'Cause somewhere for me
I know there's peace of mind

I might someday walk across this land
Carrying the Lord's book in my hand
Goin' cross the country singin' loud as I can
One of these days

But I won't have trouble on my back
Cuttin' like the devil with a choppin' axe,
Got to shake it off my back
one of these days

One of these days it will soon
be all over cut and dry
And I won't have this urge
to go all bottled up inside
One of these days I'll look back
and I'll say I left in time
'Cause somewhere for me
I know there's peace of mind
There's gonna be peace of mind for me
one of these days

Music & lyrics by Earl Montgomery / Sung by Emmylou Harris

On a slightly lighter note, but still introspectively,
the narrator of this little song urges the lovelorn to say,
"Oh, well!"

Why So Pale and Wan?

Why so pale and wan fond lover?
Prithee why so pale?
Will, when looking well can’t move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee why so pale?

Why so dull and mute young sinner?
Prithee why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can’t win her,
Saying nothing do’t?
Prithee why so mute?

Quit, quit for shame, this will not move,
This cannot take her;
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her;
The devil take her.

By Cavalier Poet, Sir John Suckling (1609 - 1641)

Interesting to note that both of these songs include a reference to the devil (as in "Get thee behind me Satan!") -- there's a connection for you! And here's a coincidence: just this morning, I ran across this inspiring short sermon about the devil by cutting edge priest Nadia Bolz-Weber:

The Devil = Your Inner Critic = The Accuser

Maybe you've seen her work before. I only discovered her website this week, and every video I've watched so far has been great:

Forgive Assholes / Longer Version

How Much BS Can You Call on Yourself?

More About Nadia

Being a Lutheran Pastor

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, June 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Monday, May 14, 2018

Mr. and Mrs. Blue Sky

by Ferdinand Hodler (1853 - 1918)

These beautiful blue dancers seem appropriate to two events
that we celebrated over the weekend:

Happy Mother's Day
to all manner of moms out there


Happy Graduation Day
to my son William Benedict McCartney, Ph.D.
who completed his graduate degree from Duke University
Go Blue Devils!

In keeping with the theme, a couple of old favorites,
both by ELO turned up on the playlist yesterday:

Mister Blue Sky

Sun is shinin' in the sky
There ain't a cloud in sight
It's stopped rainin' everybody's in a play
And don't you know
It's a beautiful new day, hey hey

Runnin' down the avenue
See how the sun shines brightly in the city
On the streets where once was pity
Mister blue sky is living here today, hey hey

Mister blue sky please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long (so long)
Where did we go wrong?

Mister blue sky please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long (so long)
Where did we go wrong?

Hey you with the pretty face
Welcome to the human race
A celebration, mister blue sky's up there waitin'
And today is the day we've waited for

Oh mister blue sky please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long (so long)
Where did we go wrong?

Hey there mister blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you

Hey there mister blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you

Mister blue sky, mister blue sky
Mister blue sky

Mister blue, you did it right
But soon comes mister night creepin' over
Now his hand is on your shoulder
Never mind I'll remember you this
I'll remember you this way

Mister blue sky please tell us why
You had to hide away for so long (so long)
Where did we go wrong?

Hey there mister blue
We're so pleased to be with you
Look around see what you do
Everybody smiles at you
Mister blue sky


Turn to Stone (My Blue World)

. . . A sound that flows into my mind
(The echoes of the daylight)
Of everything that is alive
(In my blue world)

. . . Through all I sit here and I wait
(I turn to stone, I turn to stone)
You will return again some day
To my blue world . . .

Lyrics by Jeff Lynne


In addition to being treated, unexpectedly, to the various blue tunes from ELO, I've been recently puzzling over a comment from Muriel Spark's novel A Far Cry From Kensington. When Mrs. Hawkins notices a resemblance between one of her neighbors and the Mona Lisa she "decided that the intellectual practice of associating ideas overlays and obliterates our spontaneous gifts of recognition" (159).

I adore Sparks witticisms and insights; yet I would have concluded quite the reverse. For example, when Jeff Lynne's blue lyrics bring to mind Ferdinand Hodler's blue women, it seems that the association is spontaneous, and that once again, connection and coincidence have pulled the universe into sharper focus.

Here are a couple more examples of
Hodler's Blue World

View Into Infinity


Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, May 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Geese Girls

May is National Bike Month
Motocycles Comiot, 1899
Theophile Steinlen, 1859 - 1923

Many years ago, a friend gave me a
small copy of the above poster because:
"Last Spring, I saw you one day riding your bike and you reminded me of an image that I could not place at that time. I found out the other night that I had this poster in mind when I came upon it going through my things. I hope you like it."
A year or so later, another friend wrote:

"I bought this card for you because
the ducks reminded me of that print you've got."

No Ugly Duckling, 1894
Alfred Augustus Glendening, 1861 - 1907

And a third installment:
The Goosegirl, 1900
Arthur Rackham, 1867 - 1939
Illustration for
The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
[Read more about ~ the fairy tale]


Related Poetry

What the Goose-Girl Said About the Dean

Turn again, turn again,
Goose Clothilda, Goosie Jane.

Bright wooden waves of people creak
From houses built with coloured straws
Of heat; Dean Pasppus’ long nose snores
Harsh as a hautbois, marshy-weak.

The wooden waves of people creak
Through the fields all water-sleek.

And in among the straws of light
Those bumpkin hautbois-sounds take flight.

Whence he lies snoring like the moon
Clownish-white all afternoon.

Beneath the trees’ arsenical
Sharp woodwind tunes; heretical—

Blown like the wind’s mane
(Creaking woodenly again).

His wandering thoughts escape like geese
Till he, their gooseherd, sets up chase,
And clouds of wool join the bright race
For scattered old simplicities.

by Edith Sitwell, 1887 - 1964

The Goose-Girl

Spring rides no horses down the hill,
But comes on foot, a goose-girl still.
And all the loveliest things there be
Come simply, so, it seems to me.
If ever I said, in grief or pride,
I tired of honest things, I lied:
And should be cursed forevermore
With Love in laces, like a whore,
And neighbours cold, and friends unsteady,
And Spring on horseback, like a lady!

by Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 - 1950

The Goose-Girl

I wandered lonely by the sea,
As is my daily use,
I saw her drive across the lea
The gander and the goose.
The gander and the gray, gray goose,
She drove them all together;
Her cheeks were rose, her gold hair loose,
All in the wild gray weather.

'O dainty maid who drive the geese
Across the common wide,
Turn, turn your pretty back on these
And come and be my bride.

I am a poet from the town,
And, 'mid the ladies there,
There is not one would wear a crown
With half your charming air!'

She laughed, she shook her pretty head.
'I want no poet's hand;
Go read your fairy-books,' she said,
'For this is fairy-land.
My Prince comes riding o'er the leas;
He fitly comes to woo,
For I'm a Princess, and my geese
Were poets, once, like you!'

by Edith Nesbit, 1858 - 1924

"Curdken and the Goosegirl"
by Helene Mullins
New Yorker, September 1, 1928

"Heroine's Journey: The Goose Girl"

"So Many More Geese Girls"


Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, May 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading