Once in a blue moon

A week ago an email database of mine disappeared. 

Gone from the server, no clear explanation of how it happened other than an unfortunate glitch in the process of moving my website/blog from one server to another. That’s reason enough to warrant freaking out (or appeal to the Russians for help) but what kept me sane was my suspicion that all was not lost since those very emails exist on my laptop via a desktop app.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a sleepless night or two figuring out how to save a retrievable backup of the emails. In the best of all possible worlds, emails backed up from one database waltz smoothly into another. More often than not, the transition requires a little tech support even for a reasonably tech-savvy woman like me.

Yet a funny thing happens along the way. You look at your inbox and ask yourself: how do I have thousands of emails? A file cabinet filled with letters would likely be thinned down from time to time. But emails—received, read, flagged, sent, discarded—find their way into that deceptive out-of-sight/out-of-mind compartment of our brains.

Until one day a potential disaster forces your hand. Maybe you saved a bunch of emails for a good reason back in 2014. Or maybe you just didn’t give it that much thought.  They don’t take up space after all. 

And maybe it’s a hedge against that once-in-a-blue-moon moment when there’s an email you absolutely need to unearth and you simply can’t rest until you do. Why that particular email is so important is beside the point. 

We all hate losing things. We all resent the feeling of vulnerability that kicks in when the very technology that has been such a good friend begins to give us pause. 

Pause is a perfect word for the moment, once in a blue moon the most exquisite of tropes. There’s nothing necessarily blue about a blue moon, even if it’s riddled with everything the color evokes. Melancholy comes to mind. Elvis may have defined the song, but Cowboy Junkies took it to another level.  

Powder blue. Dusk blue. Midnight blue. 

Sky blue. Ice blue. Cerulean. 

Yves Klein blue.

The blue of distance that Rebecca Solnit writes about so evocatively. 

More than a color, it’s a mood, a state of mind. In a recent Brainpickings roundup, Maria Popova characterizes it as “a symbol, a state of being, a foothold to the most lyrical and transcendent heights of the imagination.”

Listen to the blues as much as I do and you’d be hard put to disagree. What genre of music is as riddled with sexuality, sensuality, vulnerability? Not to mention the cultural undertones it embodies.

There’s a thread here, and vulnerability may be its epicenter. 

Who isn’t feeling vulnerable these days, what with the Manchurian Candidate occupying the Oval Office? 

Last week brought me a riveting poem by Terrance Hayes via The New Yorker.

things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly
things got ugly embarrassingly quickly
actually things got ugly unbelievably quickly
honestly things got ugly seemingly infrequently
initially things got ugly ironically usually
awfully carefully things got ugly unsuccessfully
occasionally things got ugly mostly painstakingly
quietly seemingly things got ugly beautifully
infrequently things got ugly sadly especially
frequently unfortunately things got ugly
increasingly obviously things got ugly suddenly
embarrassingly forcefully things got really ugly
regularly truly quickly things got really incredibly
ugly things will get less ugly inevitably hopefully

Last week also brought me to Springsteen on Broadway via Netflix. As a longtime Bruce fan, I resisted the impulse to get tickets when the show had its Broadway run. The intimacy of a solo performance struck me as out of character with the nature of the large venue. The price of a ticket to be up close enough struck me as out of sync with a performer who prides himself on being a working class hero. More to the point, nothing will ever come close to having seen him in his up-and-coming days at a small club, the Bottom Line, NYC.

Streaming the show, via Netflix, on a large-screen television, was the way it was meant to be seen for fans like me. The vulnerability of the man behind the music shines through as he takes us through his life, via excerpts/adaptations from his wonderful memoir and the songs he sings.

This week brought me to “Sonny’s Blues,” a masterful James Baldwin story in which music becomes a catalyst for a moment of transcendence between two estranged brothers. The fragile reconciliation that unfolds in the course of the story brings the brothers to a new understanding of each other.

“Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back, he really began with the spare, flat statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. . . . I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours.”

All of which has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, the things we hold onto are the ones most in need of being let go. Even if it takes a blue moon to realize it.


Trees. Bees. A flirting bird.

As morning rituals go, sipping coffee and reading are a constant, sometimes following meditation, sometimes a meditation of its own. Autumn and winter I have my indoor perch. Springtime and summer find me on my deck.  This week has me caught up in The Quantum and the Lotus, as perfect a follow-up as it gets to Richard Powers’s The Overstory.  It’s a brilliant novel and not the first time I’ve been awed by the author.  Anyone who can integrate a knowledge of physics and music the way he does in both The Time of Our Singing and The Goldbug Variations has my attention.  Anyone whose prose is lush and poetic gets right to my writer’s heart.

The interconnectedness of things, with its Buddhist undertones, is at the heart of his latest novel, so why should it surprise me that the book now calling out to me is a dialogue between a Buddhist monk and an astrophysicist born into a Buddhist family?

Hard not to marvel at the way the mind works.

Hard not to smile when distraction takes the form of a bird call. It’s a very particular call, a two-note flirtation. I can ‘t see the bird, and that’s probably his point. But my need to identify him has me searching the Internet.  This little bird, apparently a Black-capped Chickadee, issues a mating call that’s as close as it gets to what we think of as a catcall. How is it that the two-tone harmony enchants me when it’s coming from the bird and irritates me when I hear it from a man?

This particular chickadee appears to be perched somewhere in one of my Locust trees. Barely two weeks ago this Black locust was dripping with clusters of fragrant white flowers that had me realizing there were more trees of this variety on my property than I was ever aware of.  In the cyclical way that Mother Nature works, this may have been a particularly abundant year for those flowers. Or maybe attention to my surroundings is becoming more fine-tuned. Part of my motivation for leaving the city years ago to take up residence in the exurbian world was to be able to tell one tree from another. Sometimes local friends give me answers. Sometimes I resort to Google. Oak trees are easily identifiable but now I take pride in singling out a Hickory, an Elm, a Linden. A Black locust whose flowers fill the air in a way that almost intoxicates me.

The flowers have dropped but now I have my wild roses, another bit of flora I needed help identifying. For my first years up in Northern Westchester there were no wild roses on my property though I’d be captivated by the sight and scent of them on my walks. One spring just a few years back they landed on a Barberry bush alongside my driveway. That’s what they do, attach themselves wherever they see fit.   And that’s what I love about them most, besides their fragrance.

I’m not by nature a gardener but I do have a beautifully evolving landscape, a product of my husband’s vision, coupled with a gardening guru who does her magic. When he sees bees hovering around the Catmint my husband is happy. Doesn’t matter whether Einstein ever really said we’re doomed if bees disappear from our world; what matters is that enough people, including my husband, know there’s wisdom to this prophecy.

“A forest knows things,” says a central character in The Overstory. “They wire themselves up underground. There are brains down there, ones our own brains aren’t shaped to see. Root plasticity, solving problems and making decisions. Fungal synapses. What else do you want to call it? Link enough trees together, and a forest grows aware.”

Even if I grapple with comprehending a world in which everything I see and touch exists as an independent, immutable thing in contrast to a reality premised on interdependence, the combined wisdom I glean from a great novelist, a Buddhist monk, and an astrophysicist lead me in the direction of knowing things we don’t know we know.

Then there’s Shel Silverstein: “Once there was a tree. . . and she loved a little boy.”

Groundhog Day

I love Groundhog Day.  It’s a silly tradition but it manages to work its charm. I always wake up on February 2nd filled with anticipation about all the implications of a shadow. (Did that funny-looking creature with an equally odd name see his shadow? Did he not see it?) The shift to more daylight, so incremental since the winter solstice, suddenly feels dramatic. Winter is on its way out; spring is on its way in.

I know Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t always get it right, and I don’t care. I may be less forgiving with my local know-before-you-go meteorologist whose forecast promised clear skies and left me running for cover in a downpour—just the thing that got Bill Murray’s character in trouble in a cult classic movie that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. What better way to mark the story of a weatherman caught in a comedic time warp with existential implications than for Starz Encore Classic to have round-the-clock showings today?

Putting aside the clever spin ‘Groundhog Day’ (the movie) brought to this very day, for me it’s more about continuity, and the whys and wherefores of legends.

One legend links Groundhog Day to Candelmas, an ancient Christian tradition marking the midpoint between winter and spring during which candles were blessed by clergy and handed out. A sunny, clear day signaled (superstitiously speaking) a long, rough winter; a cloudy sky meant warm weather was on its way.  The legend of Punxsutawney Phil as we know him, seems to derive more directly from German lore in which a hedgehog seeing his shadow on a sunny February 2nd was a sign of a six more weeks of winter.  Early German settlers in Pennsylvania made the groundhog a stand-in for the hedgehog.

This February brings more than a spring alert. As many of you may already know, that novel you got a glimpse of when I asked for your support in a Kindle Scout campaign (which did rev me up even if it felt a little like ‘American Idol’ for book lovers), is coming, April 10th to be exact.  Publishing is a quirky business that demands a great deal of tenacity and faith from a writer.  We write, we revise, we chuck what we think doesn’t quite cut it or we tuck it into a folder if it has some vestige of possibility.  We crave validation, we cry at disappointments that make us question why we do the very thing we could not live without doing.

At the heart of my novel is a young girl’s special relationship with a doting gay uncle and her coming of age during the ‘80s, which were nothing if not a threshold decade. Think about it—AIDS. Ronald Reagan. Glamour and greed.  My fictional mind took me to an era marked by innocence lost. And my metaphoric soul took me to a month on the cusp of spring, the shortest month of the year.

Now it’s here, the novel and the month for which Just Like February gets its name. Leap Year plays its part in reminding us there’s something more at play in how we measure our days. And, yes, the groundhog makes a brief appearance.

 

 

 

My Dog Is Ruining My Life

Well, we all know we’re talking tongue-in-cheek here . . .

But just to entice you, here’s the beginning of my Indie Writers Deathmatch story —

“Impossible,” says Gary. “Dogs are pals – playmates. Nobody will ever love you the way they do.” His voice crackles. Words snap and pop. Tunnel . . . lunch meeting . . . lace panties. “You’re breaking up,” I tell him. “Lace panties,” he says again.  Red. Eight p.m.  I shake my head, hang up the phone. Misha surfaces from beneath the bed, eager to give me her peace offering,  a pair of red lace panties she is so sure will make up for the overturned trash can, merit a pat on the head, if not a biscuit.  She drops the panties on a neon green Frisbee lying at the foot of the bed. 

The hyperlink above will take you to the Broken Pencil site, where you can read the rest of the story (just click the link above my name), maybe even cast your vote for it (which requires email login, something some people, understandably, shy away from). So even if I need Russian hackers to help me get past this first round, which ends at midnight tomorrow (Sunday),  I’ll take great pride in knowing my story was selected to compete and even greater pleasure in sharing it.

Fictional dog aside, these irresistible puppies, found alive after the avalanche in Italy, are guaranteed to take your mind off current affairs.

Let the games begin —

My Father’s Voice

It’s a sunny Father’s Day and my husband (thousands of miles from his daughter) is busy making the hill next to our house beautiful. Planting. Weeding. Watering. I’m on the deck watching. In the background is the perfect CD for the moment, Keith Jarrett, Bye Bye Blackbird. The title song is one I can never listen to without seeing/hearing my father, onstage at a wedding or a bar mitzvah when the band took a break, a drink or two to loosen him (not that he needed it), microphone in hand.bird_blackbird_bto

In the way that real life becomes the stuff of fiction, I used his love of singing (and a young daughter’s reaction to it) as the premise of a story. What better way to celebrate the day than to post a link to My Father’s Voice.

And speaking of fiction, another story of mine recently placed third in the Women’s National Book Association 2013 Writing Contest.  What makes this all the more gratifying is that it was the first of what’s to become an annual contest.

Unlike the fictional father in the story, mine was a gambling man, and it’s taken me many years to recognize what I have of his, namely the gambling spirit of a writer.  At the same time, I hear my mother’s voice as well: you live long enough you see everything.