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October 2008

The audacity of hope...

Sgshvs I'm back home in beautiful, chilly Devon this week, but I made sure to cast my presidential ballot before I left New York. (I'm still a U.S. citizen, despite my U.K. residence.) It sure felt good to put that puppy in the mail, especially since, incredibly, my home state of Arizona is now looking like it could swing either way. I wore my "I'm an early voter" sticker on the flight home, and it prompted some interesting conversations with British travelers eager to talk about the American election. And yes, our electoral system is deeply flawed, but it gave me a thrill to cast my ballot nonetheless. Women fought and even died to give me this right, and it's something I never take for granted.

The picture above is an AP Photo by Alex Brandon, via Colleen Mondor's Chasing Ray blog. I'm with Colleen when she says, "...here is a picture that impressed the hell out of me. When was the last time kids looked at a presidential candidate like he was a rock star? They're beautiful aren't they? Beautiful and ready to change the world."

Amen.



Telling Stories

I've been thinking about the storytelling process recently -- and why some of us are driven to make the telling of stories (on paper, on canvas, on the stage, etc.) the central work of our lives. What's behind this compulsion? Beyond issues of skill, craft, and earning a living, what is it we have to say? Every so often, in different stages of my life, I ask myself once again: Why am I a writer; why am I a painter; what is it I am trying to communicate? I can't reply on past answers to those questions, because the answers change as I age and change. Sometimes I'm clear and passionate about why it is I do the work I do. Other times, it is only by engaging with the work itself that I come to understand my own mind -- as thoughts, feelings, and concerns I didn't even know I had emerge in the creative process.

Yesterday I was in a large bookstore, which is generally one of my favorite places to be -- and instead of feeling thrilled by all the choices around me, I felt suddenly depressed by all those shiny new books. So many authors, so many dreams, so many voices clamoring to be heard. What need had anyone of mine? I thought, dispirited. Later, while I was making supper, I turned on Ellen's radio program Sound & Spirit for company. I've only recently discovered how many of the Sound & Spirit shows are now available online, and I'm enjoying listening to old favorites again and catching up on the ones I'd missed. Last night, I listened to "Surviving Survival" -- a show Ellen recorded years ago, for which I'd been one of the writers interviewed. I then had the very odd experience of listening to my younger self explain to me why the telling of stories is important. It's simple really (my younger self reminded me): I tell the stories that I do because I'm the person that I am. It's bearing witness. It's creating beauty in the teeth of destruction. It's both a necessity and a privilege, and that's enough.

Patricia Hampl once wrote (in The Writer on Her Work, Volume II): "For a writer it's a big deal to bow -- or kneel or get knocked down -- to the fact that you are going to write your own books and not somebody else's. Not even those books of the somebody else you thought it was your express business to spruce yourself up to be."

It's taken me all these years to fully appreciate how true this is.

(The video above is "Telling Stories" by the exquisite Tracy Chapman.)


Recommended Reading:

Gary_snyder Two things to share with you today . . . .

First:
The October 20th issue of The New Yorker magazine contains an excellent profile of  poet/mythographer Gary Snyder.

Here's a taste:
"Snyder, who is seventy-eight, has written nineteen books of poems and essays that are engaged with watersheds, geology, logging, backpacking, enthnopoetics, Native American oral storytelling, communal living, sex, coyotes, bears, Tibetan deities, Chinese landscape painting, Japanese Noh drama, and the intimacies of family life....He is, notably, a poet of the Pacific Rim. He told me, 'I think of my territory as that which I have walked in person and know the weather at any given time of year, know a lot of the critters, and know a lot of the people. That would be from around Baja up to Alaska, through the Aluetian Islands, then pick up again in Hokkaido, down Japan and into Taiwan and the south coast of China, and the Pacific, which I know pretty well, having sailed it a half a dozen times by a nice slow boat going fourteen knots, day and night."

Now that is a poet's life.

(You'll find a small selection of Snyder's work online here, and the poem he kindly allowed Midori Snyder and me to publish in The Journal of Mythic Arts here.)

 

The second item to share:
This blog post on the Atlantic magazine website made me cry.

 


The Goblins strike again....

Gobfall08back_3 The Autumn 2008 Issue of the poetry webzine Goblin Fruit is now online - filled, this time, with bones and sighs and a dollop of goblin mischief. The talented young team of Amal El-Motar, Jessica P. Wick, and Oliver Hunter have produced yet another excellent issue, going from strength to strength.

And while you're at it, don't miss the interview with Jess and Amal over on the Cabinet des Fees site. Or their new merchandise page on Cafe Press.


King of the Road...

Here's another classic from The Proclaimers (whose previous song, posted below, was the soundtrack of my September). They crack me up with this Scots-accented version of a song that, as a truck driver's daughter, takes me right back to childhood. Move over Roger Miller, the Scots have claimed it for their own. 

It goes out to Midori and Stephen, who are driving a U-haul truck cross-country this week. And also to Howard, as my "letter from America."



The New York Marriage Bureau...

NYC Marriage Chapel signHow serendipitious! The New York Times has an article on City Hall weddings today: "Drab Setting, but Joyous Work" -- with a nice gallery of pictures here. Had our own recent wedding at City Hall been a mere two days later, we might have been pictured too.

The Times article is right, the Manhattan chapel is indeed quite drab and shabby, but it's also a facinating and fun way to tie the knot, surrounded by other couples and families from every imaginable kind of background. We enjoyed it thoroughly: no stress, lots of laughter, and it was even rather romantic, in an historic Old New York kind of way. I hope the slick "wedding destination" chapel they are planning doesn't lose the unique spirit of those funky, old rooms, so full of life and many decades worth of stories. We loved them.

Here's a picture from the old City Hall marriage chapel that you won't find in the Times today:

At New York City Hall


Newly wed in NYC

Last week, my partner Howard and I got hitched at New York City Hall. A few of you asked for pictures from the day....

We opted for black-and-white clothes because getting married at the old "Marriage Bureau" in City Hall felt like stepping into an old black-and-white movie. The dress comes from Howard's mum, a theatrical costume designer, who collects odds and ends of vintage clothing. It's sheer black lace (with a silk underslip) from the 1920s, via the costume department of the Royal Shakespeare Company, worn with a black silk Victorian-style jacket, black Victorian-style lace-up boots (which were also cast-offs from the RSC), and jewelry by the amazing Jen Parrish (Parrish Relics, Boston). Our wedding rings were made by our friend Miriam Boy-Hackney (Silverandmoor, Chagford), and the organdy silk scarf by our friend Mimi Panitch. The scarf bears a white-on-white quote from William Shakespeare: "Now join hands, and with your hands your hearts." Two points if you know what play that's from.