Sunday, December 25, 2011

An unglazed Baby Jesus.

Years ago, when my mom enjoyed working in ceramics, she decided to make Vicki and me a nativity set, one for each daughter to cherish for years to come. 

Now, there are a number of pieces to the nativity sets that mom decided to make for us.  Not only are they made up of the three wise men and the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus, our nativity sets have a glorious Angel of the Lord, a camel, a shepherd holding a lamb, a sheep, a cow, a donkey, and a ram. They are full and unique nativity sets.

And my nativity set is even more full and unique than my sister’s.  You see, somehow, my set ended up with two identical sheep (well, identical except for the one sheep that has the broken and mended ear), an extra wise man or two, and a random guy standing solemnly looking on.  And unlike the fired glossiness of all the other figures in the set, my Baby Jesus has the matte finish of chalk (his straw-lined manger is glossy, but He is not). 

I remember the first time I opened my box of nativity figures, and the first time I laid eyes on my chalky Jesus.  “What happened to the Baby Jesus?” I asked mom.  “Well, I was making so many nativity sets at the same time (which explained my extra wise men and my Dolly the sheep with her clone), and I guess I forgot to glaze Him with the rest.”

I stared down disapprovingly at my little unglazed Jesus and sighed.  He wasn’t very pretty, and He sure didn’t fit in with the rest of the shiny figures…

Now, over the years I’ve come to really appreciate everything about that nativity set.  First, my mom made it for me, herself.  So it is special in that, when she wanted Vicki and me to have nativity sets, she didn’t go out and purchase us mass-produced ones from Kmart.  She made them for us with her own two hands, with love for her daughters and with the spirit of generosity.  Second, the sets are not perfect in a traditional sense. Speaking only for my own nativity set, I have an unglazed Baby Jesus, some extra wise men, a solemn unidentified guy, and a broken-eared sheep to go along with all the usual nativity stuff.  Nobody else’s nativity set has all that, which means that my set is all the more special.  It also means that when Eric and I eventually get around to building a crèche for the set, we will have to include an annex to house all the extra figures…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

First Paper

From GPL Book Arts Project:

Had my first papermaking outreach session yesterday at Gaston High School. The school media specialist, Heather Mashburn, allowed me to essentially take over her library and turn it into a papermaking factory! Throughout the day, I worked with over sixty teens, aging from 8th grade up to 11th (and possibly 12th) grade, and even did a quick impromptu demo for a group of elementary kids who had a counciling class in the library during my visit (the fact that the paper pulp looked like snot, that I pretended to sneeze the pulp out of my nose, AND that I allowed them to dip their hands in the pulp to touch it made the moment all the more magical...yes, I did actually do a demo of papermaking during all the playing).

The response was better than I dreamed it would be!  The students were interested and very engaged, as was evidenced by the five or so young ladies who cleared the rest of their school schedules for the day so that they could be my helpers.  And helpers they were…making paper until there was nothing left to make paper with.  I’ve never seen a pulp bucket so clean in my life…

Some folks have expressed interest in my method of papermaking.  Well, to be quite honest, after researching and considering a number of different papermaking techniques (paying special attention to things such as time consumption, availability of materials and equipment, cost of materials and equipment, etc.), I opted for a technique that combines two online tutorials that stood out to me for their use of recycled material (we are a library, after all, and have lots of used copy paper, discarded magazines and catalogues, old newspapers, and plenty of junk mail…all the things that regular folks would have lying about their own homes).  The two processes that I most closely followed are those by Christina Fajardo and Kim Logue.  Both artists offer similar techniques that I could replicate easily with a crowd.  I highly recommend you check out their websites.

To view photos of Gaston High School's Papermaking on The Gadsden Times website, click here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thrift Store Harmonica Player

On my way home from Mom and Dad’s house last week, I decided to stop at the thrift store to pick up some books to use for book art.  While I was browsing through the 5 for .99 paperbacks, I hummed along with the live harmonica performance of “Shall We Gather At the River.” 

Yes, you heard me correctly, a live harmonica performance of “Shall We Gather At the River,” and it was being played by a frail-looking little old lady who was sitting in a metal folding chair by the cash register. 

As I gathered five paperbacks I absolutely HAD to have (Emile, The Portable Sherwood Anderson, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Holidays On Ice, and a second copy of All Quiet on the Western Front, 'cause you can't have too many copies of All Quiet on the Western Front), I listened to several other songs that I took to be spirituals, but cannot confirm as such.

By the time I came up to the register to pay, the harmonica player had stood up and was walking (with one of those pronged walking canes that ALWAYS make me think of Posiden) towards the door.   She stopped and gave me a once-over.

“I like your pants.”

“Thank you, ma’am.  They’re my painting pants.  I was just painting over at my folk’s house.  I like your harmonica playin.”

Well, about that time, the thrift store harmonica player reached over and took my hand, and she and I proceeded to walk out the door together, talking like me and her and Jesus had known each other for years.  During the conversation, I realized that something about her was a little different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. 

Me:  “You live ‘round here?”

Harmonica Player:  “Just about two blocks away.  Where are you headed?”

Me:  “I’m headed back home.  My partner and I live downtown.  How’d you get here?”

Harmonica Player: “I walked.”

Me:  “Well, can I give you a lift?”

Harmonica Player: “Oh, that would nice.”

So, I cleaned out the seat and helped the thrift store harmonica player into my car. 

Sure enough, she lived just a piece down the road, in a modest brick ranch house that she referred to as “the retirement home.”  While we sat in the car together for the next thirty minutes or so, I learned that her name was Ethel, that she was 90 years old, and was blind (macular degeneration, like my gran).  She had several children (two of which she had outlived), and a husband she had been married to for many years (he passed away about eleven years after purchasing the retirement home, thereby not getting to enjoy the retirement home much). She loved Jesus deeply, and she enjoyed hamburgers.

I also learned some things about Ethel that her kids may not even know about, personal discoveries (that I’ll not mention out of respect for her privacy) that she seemed to come upon for the first time while sitting in my car with me.  She was a revelation to me and to herself.

She lives alone.  And likes it that way.  Probably because there is no one there to stop her from walking down to the thrift store to play the harmonica for folks on a sunny Saturday afternoon…

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just the Facts

So now, let’s get back to the grant writing process.

Several blog entries ago, I promised to be as transparent as possible about my grant writing process.  I also promised to post some of my responses to certain queries on the Alabama State Council on the Arts grant application.   I will do this today.

Section A of the ASCA application requested information about the applicant organization.  This section focused on identification (name of organization, legislative districts, federal identification numbers, etc.), contact information, and grant amount being requested.  It was all pretty straight forward information.

Section B requested some projected statistical info (who will participate in the project, number of participants, number of educators involved, number of artists involved, etc.), and “a brief narrative paragraph that summarizes your proposed project.”  My brief narrative looked like this (keep in mind the strict character count I mentioned in an earlier blog post):
The Gadsden Public Library will offer a series of educational book arts programs to the public designed to instill an appreciation and passion for the book as an art form (from both a literary and from an artistic perspective), and to present book arts in an accessible way.  Programs will consist of lectures, demonstrations and educational outreach in the following areas:  papermaking, letterpress printing, bookmaking, altered book forms, and creative writing.  The lectures and demonstrations will take place within the library facility; the educational outreach will take place at schools, an alternative teen living facility, and assisted living facilities.  Additionally, there will be ongoing educational benefits after the project is finished through continued letterpress and papermaking outreach conducted by the library outreach coordinator.

Section C asked for a project description, which allowed me to flesh out the narrative a bit more:
The GPL Foundation seeks funding for lectures, demonstrations and educational outreach in the areas of papermaking, letterpress printing, bookmaking, altered book forms, and creative writing.  Through these programs, the GPL will provide a variety of educational, hands-on opportunities for the community to learn more about book arts.  Additionally, the GPL will purchase letterpress equipment to use for educational in-house and outreach programs.  There will be eight total school outreach programs (to schools and living facilities) divided up into four days of papermaking demonstrations and four days of letterpress demonstrations.  The GPL will host three educational hands-on demonstrations/classes for the general public in the following areas:  papermaking, letterpress printing, and book making.  Internationally recognized book artist Brian Dettmer will present a lecture on altered book forms.  There will be a writer’s residency with Alabama author Irene Latham (author of Leaving Gee’s Bend, What Came Before, and The Color of Lost Rooms) that will consist of three creative writing workshops for high schoolers, and one public reading/book signing at the library.  The entire project will culminate with the Print, Paper & Poetry Exhibition (P3), which will be made up of works from participating students and patrons.  There will be ongoing educational benefits after the project is finished through continued letterpress and papermaking outreach conducted by the library outreach coordinator.

Nothing fancy.  Just the facts.  Which is hard to do sometimes if you are a fan of creative writing.

More riveting grant writing info soon…

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All this, in Gordo, AL.

From the GPL Book Arts Project:

A little over a week ago, Eric and I made the trip to Gordo to pick up our tabletop letterpress AND receive some letterpress training from Glenn House, Sr.  While at Gallery 121 (gallery and studio/workshop of Glenn House and his wife, artist Kathleen Fetters), we also got a whirlwind lesson in papermaking.

The entire day was like a grad school class on steroids.  There was note-taking.   There was hands-on letterpressing.  There was a lot of delicate-shimmying-and shaking of papermaking (you see, there is a subtle dance to which you must know the steps in order to do it right).

As overhead lights flickered and went out (chalked up to a longstanding side effect of Glenn’s personal magnetism), Eric and I listened to instructional information, cautionary tales (the ability of levers to crush or smash, Wickersham quoins to pinch, and the ease with which cast iron will break when dropped), and practiced papermaking dance moves until Glenn thought we could replicate them on our own once we returned to Gadsden.

In the midst of all this, we dined family-style at the endearing Cheeky’s Restaurant just down the street from the Gallery.  Eric ordered the special, a Cheeky Burger, which was not actually a burger, but a grilled chicken fillet, smothered in wing sauce, topped with bacon, nestled inside a pretzel bun.  The Cheeky Burger, as the proprietress told us, was created in loving memory of her late daughter.  Basically, she took everything her daughter enjoyed eating, and put it on a bun…I can’t think of a better, more beautiful way to remember someone you love.

Did you all know that there are other fabulous artists in Gordo, within a stone’s throw of Gallery 121?  Photographer Barbara Lee Black has a gallery across the street from Glenn and Kathleen’s place, and letterpress artist Amos Kennedy works in a studio just around the corner.  All this, in Gordo, AL.  Wonder what else they have…

Friday, November 11, 2011 see a man about a letterpress.

From GPL Book Arts Project:

Was headed to a cyclocross race just outside of Tuscaloosa a week and a half ago and accidentally came upon a landmark that I had been hoping to see for myself:  the Moon Winx Lodge neon sign.  Now, I had heard about the Moon Winx Lodge sign many years ago; had even seen picture of it.  But, I had never seen it in person (it’s a shame to have spent so much time in the Tuscaloosa of the early nineties while friends finished law school at the University, and to have even earned my master’s degree from the same fine University many years later and have NEVER seen the Moon Winx Lodge sign).  And I only found out who its celebrated creator was until I actually met the man myself last November, that man being Glenn House, Sr. 

I saw the neon mustachioed moon sitting up there looking like some kind of mischievous (to use Glenn’s word) ambassador of Alberta City, Alabama (gateway to Tuscaloosa, in case you were wondering).  And then I looked beyond the sign…to the pines snapped and scattered and strewn about on the surrounding hills, the rubble piles of houses and buildings, evidence of the almost complete devastation of the area by the mile-plus-wide tornado that ripped across Alabama this past April.  How the sign survived the storm is anyone’s guess…

As long as I live, I will never forget what this particular tornado did to my friends, to neighbors…to folks I didn’t know but came to care about in the most powerful way.  That tornado did some mighty bad things.  But I’m here to tell you that some mighty good things came out of that destruction, too.  Neighbors helped neighbors.  Strangers helped strangers.  Heck, I personally know of some Northerners who came down to Alabama and helped out a bunch of Southerners (yep, B.J. Hill, I’m talking about you and your Red Cross crew).  My throat gets tight just thinking about it.

Now I know we’ve got a long way to go before we’ve cleaned up all that damage.  And I know that some damage…well, some kinds of damage just can’t be cleaned up.  But we’ll be alright.   That Moon Winx Lodge sign standing up there on University Boulevard East proves that we’ll be alright…

We’ll be passing that way again soon; got to go see a man about a letterpress.  In about a week I’ll be meeting with Glenn and Kathy in Gordo to learn how to use our new-to-us Kelsey 5x7 tabletop press and get a real quick lesson in papermaking.  Eric is going to open up a can of photojournalism and document the trip.  He’ll also serve as an extra pair of ears to catch important information.  We are looking forward to it.

By the way, I’m sure you noticed the fabulous photo of the Moon Winx Lodge sign at the beginning of this post.  You probably also noticed that the photo was taken by Ginger Ann Brook.  Ginger (photographer, writer and eternal student of folkways) happens to be one of my favorite bloggers of all time.  Her site, Deep Fried Kudzu, is an addictive assemblage of architecture, art (mainstream, outsider, and otherwise), food, horticulture…and a gazillion other engaging topics.  Ginger was kind enough to give permission for me to use my favorite of her Moon Winx Lodge sign photos.  If you would like to see more of Ginger’s Moon Winx photos, please go here and here.  And seriously, you have to visit Deep Fried Kudzu right now!  But like I mentioned, it is addictive…

Other Moon Winx things you may be interested in:

Alabama Public Radio interview of Glenn House, Sr.:   Kentuck Artist and the "Moon Winx" connection

Monday, October 31, 2011

BeFunky Bungalow

Years ago I received a Christmas card from a friend in Denver.  The image on the Christmas card was a line drawing of her historic home.  It was simple and beautiful.  It made me want a home that I loved enough to have an artist do a line drawing of for a Christmas card that I could send out.  I love The Bungalow enough to want to do that with its' image.  But I don't have the money to spend on something so frivolous.  So, I turned to the internet to see if I could find a program that would do it for free.  I found BeFunky.  It may not do a simple line drawing of The Bungalow, but it does some really fun stuff with a photo of The Bungalow.

My original image:

The InkyBungalow:

The LomoBungalow (so 70s):

 The PinholeBungalow (aka HauntedHouseBungalow):

 If you end up receiving a card from me with one of these images on it, act surprised.

Something useful...

From the GPL Book Arts Project:

Summer went by quickly.  We are always extraordinarily busy at the library during the summer, what with our Summer Reading Programs for children, teens and adults.  This year was no exception.  Days were filled with face painting, rock ‘n roll history lessons, and poetry slams.  In a blink of an eye, we found ourselves at the end of August, visiting kindergarten classrooms in our yearly effort to bring awareness to September’s Library Card Sign-up Month.  I had hardly stopped to breathe, much less think about the grant that I had written months before.

Then it came.  It was an envelope with a return address to the Alabama State Council on the Arts.  It looked thin, thin like some of the rejection letters I had received in the past.  As I tore open the envelope, I was already imagining the letter inside beginning with the words, “It is with our sincerest regret that we inform you…” Instead, the letter began with, “I am pleased to inform you that the Alabama State Council on the Arts has approved a grant for your organization…”  It went on to state the amount that we had been granted (half of what I wrote the grant for, no doubt because of all the budgetcuts the state has been experiencing), and encouraged us to contact all of our legislators to thank them for their support and let them know how the funds were going to be used. A contract/agreement would arrive soon.  One must sign the contract and return it within thirty days so as to make the grant effective…

The agreement arrived about nine days later.  I have since read the agreement, made more notes about obligations to the ASCA over the course of the project, and mailed it back.  I have created a new budget based upon our grant amount, altered our schedule of events to fit the time constraints of the contract, and have begun emailing artists/lecturers to line them up for the spring.  I am wildly excited about this project, and cannot wait to get started.  We will begin in January.

In the meantime, I will be finalizing our schedule and hopefully be taking a trip to Gordo soon to meet up with Glenn House, Sr.  Glenn, or someone from his artists’ colony who will train me on the tabletop letterpress that we will be purchasing from him.  I very much look forward to the lesson.  No doubt there will be something to blog about after it is all over.

So, between now and our January start time, I will be using this blog to keep everyone posted on project progress and share some of the grant writing process that got me to this point.  I think it might be a useful thing for someone who is curious about writing a grant to the Alabama State Council on the Arts to see the way I addressed certain sections of the application.  I know that when I first began grant writing five years ago, it was difficult to find resources to help me navigate my way through the writing process.  Books about grant writing did not help much.  I learned far more about grant writing by looking at already-written grants and studying them for their secrets than by reading Grantwriting For Dummies.  Maybe someone out there will find what I share useful.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


From the GPL Book Arts Project blog:

With less than a month to complete the grant application, I took every spare moment I had to work on the grant.  I came in a half hour early here…stayed late twenty minutes there…spilled hummus and salsa and various other gluten-free foods on my notes while working during my lunch times.  I wanted this grant too badly to not at least make the June 1st deadline.  And if the Council didn’t think it was good enough to grant this go around, I’d just work on it again and resubmit at the September deadline (as per my letterpress sensei Glenn House, Sr. advised).  I was crazed and unstoppable…

After gathering all of the technical/statistical information for the Section B/Request Profile and for the Section E/Organizational Profile, I reworked my Project Description, Project Evaluation, and my Activity Budget.  With a few more anxious emails to Ms. Boykin and some tweaking to content due to a strict character count (this is another reason why I went ahead and took a look at the application before I began writing), I was able to plug everything into the online application (I do the bulk of my work in a Word document).

I clicked SUBMIT and promptly tried to forget about the grant.  The date was May 30…

Monday, October 24, 2011

Crunch Time

From the GPL Book Arts Project:

There were two reasons for me to reach out to the Alabama State Council on the Arts:  1) to see if they were even interested in this project, and 2) to confirm which program area our project would fall under.  I could visualize the GPL Book Arts Project falling under both the Arts In Education because of the great deal of outreach into the schools, and Community Arts because of its potential to reach out to the entire community.  Hmmmm…

I wrote a Project Evaluation and fleshed out my outline a bit more based upon ASCA’s General Evaluation Criteria (part of ASCA's Guidelines handbook) before emailing Diana Green, Arts in Education Program Manager.  Since the project was less about collaborating with the teachers and administrators of the 12-K system and more about working directly with the community, Ms. Green put me into contact with Deborah Boykin, acting Community Arts Program Manager.  Ms. Boykin very encouragingly gave me some suggestions for the grant content that I had sent her, and said that yes, the project sounded “interesting.”   Our email exchange took place on May 6.  I had less than a month until the June 1st deadline, and I had a month’s worth of regular work to do while trying to research and complete the grant (a golf tournament fund raiser, a writer residency with YA author C. C. Hunter, a teen Summer Reading Program to kickoff, a Gadsden Reads finale, and all of the following month’s publicity and marketing).  Would I make the deadline?

Friday, October 21, 2011

All Aboard

This is yet another installment to my new work blog (the GPL Book Arts Project...I will continue to share the posts here, as well as there because...well, because I'm writing the posts, and you guys may be interested in the process about which I am writing, too):

I’ve written many grants in the past.  I’ve been lucky that the majority of them have been funded.  But I had never written a grant to the Alabama State Council on the Arts.  I just never felt like I was up to that caliber of a grant.  Not to downplay any of the grants that I have written in the past.  All of them meant a great deal to me, whether they were for large amounts or small.  But, as most of you out there know, some grants are more complicated than others.  Some grants consist of a one-page, online application and require no reporting, whatsoever.  Some grants are several pages long and require a final report to prove that you were a good steward of the money that you received.  Then some grants, like State Council on the Arts grants (in ANY state), strike fear in the hearts of a potential grant writer.  State council grants are so competitive, so thorough, so you-better-not-even-think-about-recycling-a-raggedy-old-grant-to-these-people-kind-of-grants…you have to be on your game to even think about writing one of these grants.  They require a great deal of thought, planning and research.  No mistaking, I was going to have to think long and hard before I even started writing this rascal.

So, to begin with, I did like I always do when I start writing a grant, I researched the grantor.  I went to the Alabama State Council on the Arts website to see if our organization’s mission was compatible with theirs.  It was.  Check.

Next, I looked up their grant guidelines.  It turned out that they had a grant Guidelines booklet that was available to download.  I downloaded it, and printed it out so that I could make notes as I read.  Check. Check.

At this point, I went ahead and set up a grant account for my library so I could access and print out portions of the grant to use as my guide during the writing process.  Check. Check. Check.

Although I had not completely finished reading the grant guidelines, I went ahead and decided on a very basic name for the series, GPL Book Arts Project, and sketched out a preliminary outline of the who, what, why, when, and where.  I needed this information in front of me when I began writing emails and making phone inquiries to potential lecturers and interested parties.

The first people I reached out to were Jeanie Thompson (to make sure that I was headed in the right direction), Ian Robertson (to get advice on tabletop presses and to beg him to come to Gadsden as a lecturer/demonstrator) and Glenn House, Sr. (to also get advice on tabletop presses and to beg he and his wife Kathleen Fetters to come to Gadsden as lecturers/deomonstrators).  Jeanie kindly assured me that the project sounded fundable, and encouraged me to keep moving forward.  Ian Robertson graciously offered up some valuable letterpress resources in some of his personal copies of the letterpress monthly, The Printer (he was “doubtful” about travel, though).  And Glenn House, Sr., in some of the most hilariously inspirational email exchanges I’ve ever received, took the bull by the horns and not only gave me some splendid advice on multiple levels (resources for lecturers, papermaking kits, tutorials, miscellany), but also (within seven days of my first query) secured a tabletop press for the library, payment due when the grant came through (evidently he had far more confidence in me than I did in myself).  As far as lecturers were concerned, he and Kathleen were committed to too many other projects for them to be available, but he suggested that I contact Dr. Steve Miller at the University of Alabama to see about the availability of book arts grad students who could act as lecturers.  I then asked award-winning author Irene Latham (who has given some entertaining and educational readings in the past here at the library) if she would be interested in participating as our writer in residence.  She was.

It seemed that everyone was, in one way or another, on board for the project, SHOULD it get funded.  The only other contact that I needed to make (as per the ASCA Guidebook) was to the Alabama State Council on the Arts itself…

Monday, October 17, 2011

GPL Book Arts Project...A new blog

A grant that I wrote to the Alabama State Council on the Arts (ASCA) was recently funded.  I was so thrilled, I almost peed my pants (no surprise to all of you who know that's what I want to do when I get excited).  Since I will have to do some reporting back to ASCA, and because I already blog, I asked ASCA for permission to blog about the experience.  They thought it was a cool idea, so I have started a new work-related blog, a place for my dealings with GPL Book Arts Project.  I have just started it ten minutes ago, so it still needs a bit of work.  Please feel free to visit it to see what I am up to over there:

In case you don't have time to go there right now, here is the post that I just published there:

A year ago November (November 6, 2010 to be exact), my partner Eric and I had the good fortune to be invited to the inaugural meeting of the Alabama Center for the Book at in Tuscaloosa, AL.  Now, you may be thinking, “Hey, wait a minute.  The Alabama Center for the Book has been around for awhile.  How could you have gone to the inaugural meeting of the Alabama Center for the Book just last year?”  Well, last November, the Alabama Center for the Book was moved from the picturesque antebellum home, Pebble Hill, in Auburn, AL to the Amelia Gayle Gorgas Library on the campus of the University of Alabama.  The move prompted a gathering of book artists, letterpress printers, bookbinders, papermakers, librarians, book arts students, and pretty much anyone else in the book/book arts industry to discuss the role of book arts in the community and the best methods to create a greater visibility for book arts through outreach, exhibits and teaching.  I saw people whom I had not seen in years (Jay Lamar), people I knew of very well, but had never met (Jeanie Thompson, Glenn House, Sr., Ian Robertson), and people I had just had recent grad school dealings with in some form or another (Dr. Aversa, Dr. MacCall, Dr. Miller).

Brainstorming happened.  Ideas were shared.  I was able to talk with several folks about my thoughts on having a book arts series at the Gadsden Public Library, a series that would give the community a taste of, and a better understanding of book arts as an art form.  I envisioned workshops that started from the beginning of a book’s life with papermaking, to working our way through letterpress printing, bookbinding, and creative writing workshops to fill those empty pages!  I saw us having in-house lectures, as well as take the whole shooting match on the road as outreach!  I tentatively pitched these thoughts to some of the folks with whom I was sharing break-out sessions.  My ideas were well received.  So well received, in fact, that Jeanie Thompson of the Alabama Writers’ Forum encouraged me to look into writing a grant to the Alabama State Council on the Arts.  So, I left Tuscaloosa with a fire lit under my butt to quit THINKING about the book arts project, and start DOING it…
 More to come...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Safety Net

I am not the kind of gal who flies by the seat of her pants.  When I introduce an author at a reading, I always have a safety net in the form of a sheet of notes about the author and their work.  That sheet of notes contains items that I have cogitated on usually for a couple of days, perhaps even weeks.  Often, the notes come from the marginalia that I have scribbled in the margins and in between the lines of text in my copy of their book (if you have ever borrowed a well-loved book from me, you have noticed this obsessive habit…Eric says that he likes to read my copies so that he can see what I have written).  The notes are usually a bit of a review of the book for which the author is about to give a reading.  I do not usually read directly from the sheet of notes, unless I am reading an example of the author’s work, a review of their work, or some statistical fact about the author.  But I do keep the sheet of notes on my body, or in my hand, should I need to remind myself of something I wanted to say. 

So, I have notes for most of the author introductions that I have made over the last five years.  I sometimes turn them into reviews of the author’s work and post them on Goodreads; sometimes not.  Here is the fleshed-out version of my introduction of Dan, a sort of review of his work:

I cannot help but compare Daniel Donaghy to the great singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen.  My reasoning behind this is because he writes poems of the working class; the people working to make a living, to get by, but hoping for more.

In Start with the Trouble, Donaghy envisions a better future for people about whom he writes:  the bikers, the prostitutes, the dock workers, the homeless, his own family…himself.

But there is no romanticizing.  Some folks don’t get that better future.    Donaghy knows that all too well.

From the poem Touch (pg. 38, Start with the Trouble):
“…in the days before we’d sit alone
aching to be touched,
Johnny Wurtzel looking for a hand

to pull him back from heroin,
Angel Beach reaching out
for the fathers of her five kids,

Danny Boyer wanting someone
to do something other than tease
his lisp and his weight, finding

only a .22 he pressed to his head
one night on Snake Road in the rain.

But some do find a better future, they make it for themselves, as we see in the personal journey the narrator takes us on.  We find that he is transformed from a patron saint of nothing, to a man who finds salvation in the telling of others stories.

So, if you are looking for something worthwhile to read, pick up one of Dan’s books of poetry.  Streetfighting is his first book; Start with the Trouble is his second and most recent book.  They are both solid works, and I would recommend reading them back-to-back. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

'Cause he's real good at what he does...

Had the good fortune to have an old friend in town last week.  It wasn’t a social call, but not every moment was work, either.  Dan was in from Connecticut to give a poetry reading at the library and to conduct workshops at some of the local high schools.  He did everything he came into town to do, and made quite a name for himself as he did.  I believe that he may even be an honorary citizen of Gadsden now, for all his local-high-school-football-score-knowin,’ Gone-with-the-Wind-exhibit-tournin,’ and fried-chicken-eatin’ ways.  That’s all fine and good, but the real reasons for him being an honorary Gadsdenite is because he gave one hell of a reading at the library, and turned about a hundred and twenty students into poets.  I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a Gadsden chapter of the Daniel Donaghy Club, and that they were working on an epic poem about his exploits along the banks of the Coosa.  I could see it rivaling the story of Emma Sansom or Noccalula…

During one of the high school workshops, Dan brainstormed with the students and asked them to write two narrative portrait poems, based upon certain personal things, following certain guidelines. He encouraged me and my friends (a coworker, who was sitting in on the exercise, and the student’s teacher) to participate as well.

The students worked.  They worked with eyes looking up to the ceiling while thinking.  They worked with arms curled around their papers (to shield from prying eyes) when writing.  They seemed unaffected by the assignment.  Or less affected by the assignment than were the adults.

For us adults (and I’m basing my assessment upon the fact that, when I glanced over at my coworker friend and at my teacher friend, they gave me the same anguished look that I imagine was on my own face), the assignment was like what I would imagine a person’s first session of therapy to be like.  I didn’t know where to begin.  And once I started writing, oh, my gosh, I went and made the poems too personal, too therapeutic, too not-for-reading-to-a-group-of-high-school-students-with-whom-I-conduct-business-with-some-of-their-parents.  I just prayed to not be called upon to read my poems out loud, which was fitting…because I’m sure that I would’ve felt the same way, had I been seventeen, and part of the student body that day. 

So, with the understanding that I am not a writer or poet (although my parents may think differently because they are the people who bankrolled my ballet career, my painting career, my sewing career, which means I am probably still a brilliant ballerina/sartorialist/painter in their eyes.  In actuality, I'm just a sometimes teacher of "Ballet for the Uncoordinated," a weekend sewer of stuffed animals, and a painter who can only do the kind of painting that is considered manual labor.), I present my two poems.  As you will see, they are linked, and meant to be read together:

Dinner at Elizabeth Padgett’s Trailer, Waynesburg, KY, Summer 1982

A housedressed Gran at the stove,
scrape, scrape, scraping a wooden spoon along the bottom of the skillet.
A knock at the trailer door.
Sky blotted out by Uncle Roder’s dark form.
Smell of red-eye gravy and his hat is missing.
I open the door to his “I done her up right this time.”
This, over the sound of dinner being made.
Aunt Sarah & Uncle Roder’s Farm, Waynesburg, KY Summer 1982

Corn, rows a body could get lost in, leading to a bleached-grey barn.
Rustling of stalks, mom’s footfalls in front of me, and Gran stumbling out of the barn, “The son of a bitch’s killed her!”
A dog’s mournful wail, for hunger, not for this loss.
Me, blinking hard, an impossibly blue sky, even more impossible scene unfolding.
Nose full of animal, both body and manure.
Aunt Sarah, Uncle Roder, Gran, mom and me,
A straight-line equation equaling nothing good can come of this
On a farm in Waynesburg, KY during the summer of 1982.

What did I tell you?  Not fit for certain company, right?  Well, they are what they are.  And I have Dan to thank for dragging them out of me.

Soon, I’ll be posting the intro I gave for Dan’s reading at the library.  It’s not quite a review of his work, but it is pretty darn close, in my eyes.  And I want folks to get out there and read his work.  'Cause he's real good at what he does.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What big eyes you have...

I enjoy sewing.  Like yard work, it relaxes me.  But, other than the usual mending or hemming (I’m a short, wee lassie), I haven’t been able to sew much in the last ten years of so.  I either didn’t have the room for my sewing machine to be out, which means sewing was never on my mind (outta sight, outta mind), or I just didn’t have the inspiration to sew (I like to sew as a project, or as a gift). 

There have been an explosion of children in my and Eric’s life.  Our Catoe friends boast three younguns, with plans for at least one more.  IT Guy and his wife are expecting a little boy Sasquach soon.  Our friends and neighbors down the street are expecting a boy, too.  And there are chirren running all ‘round this sweet neighborhood we live in.  I want to give gifts when births and birthdays happen, but the pocketbook is a little tight right now.  So, I’ve taken up sewing again.  Fabric comes in many inexpensive forms:  vibrant linen thrift store clothing, a retired shower curtain, markdown fabrics at Walmart.  I have managed to scavenge some really beautiful cloth and buttons from lots of different sources.  If it still has life in it, it is game to be upcycled into something else. 

I first tried to make a stuffed animal when I was about eight years old.  A friend of the family had recently had a baby, and I wanted to make the baby a stuffed dolphin.  My Gran helped me (Gran was a master at making Red Riding Hood flip dolls…you know, the ones with a granny and a wolf hiding under Red Riding Hood’s skirt?).  She helped me sketch a picture of a dolphin onto a brown grocery bag, found some leftover grey fabric from wolf-making, and set me to work pinning, sewing and stuffing (with the end of a wooden spoon) what turned out to be a pretty nice little dolphin, whose curved body fit perfectly into the hand of the baby. 

Now, I’ve not made too many stuffed animals since then.  Most of my sewing has been reserved for alterations, decorative bags, pillows, curtains and the like.  So, when I decided to try my hand at making a stuffed bunny, I’m not sure that I was mentally prepared…I drew a lopsided, misshapen rabbit onto a piece of scrap paper.  I pinned it and cut it from a retired pair of beloved palazzo pants.  I embroidered eyes, nose, mouth and tail.  And I sewed and stuffed the little rascal.  Yes, it required that I use the end of a wooden spoon to get the stuffing into all the ears, arms and legs.  The end result was a bunny worthy of a Tim Burton film.  All it needed were fangs and dripping blood…it was a frightening looking thing.  But when I took it over to give to little Cash Catoe for his birthday, the other Catoe children wanted to hold it immediately.  Now, I know the reason why they all wanted to hold it was less for its Tim Burton charm and high quality stitching, and more because there was only one bunny (it is a law that when there is only one item and three children, there is bound to be dearth and feigned despair).  But then the other Catoe children requested a stuffed animal of their own.  Zoe requested pink (probably because it is less about the shape and more about the color for her).  Ben requested a bison (probably because Eric and I are affectionately thought of by Ben as large shaggy, lumbering ungulates…well, more so because before Eric’s accident, we played bison with him and his siblings).

So, I had my orders, and I took them seriously.  Something in pink for Zoe.  Something in bison for Ben.  

I associate owls with Zoe because her mommy and daddy had an owl pillow waiting for her on her bed when she came home from China.  Stuffed owls shouldn’t be too hard to make, so I began looking for simple patterns on the internet.  And I found the most adorable one from the wonderful blogger Toad’s Treasures.  Toad, who is a mommy, photographer, artist, among many other things, offered the cutest owl pattern for free on her blogsite.  She also offers the pattern, plus an instructional booklet through her Etsy Shoppe for a very reasonable price.  I think she’s the bee’s knees for sharing her owl pattern.  And for posting a tutorial on owl construction on her website.  I made two owls Friday night, while Eric worked late.  I thought they were cute.  The pink one is for Zoe.  The blue one is for a forthcoming male offspring of a friend.  Now, I just have to get cracking on that bison…

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gulf Water Under the Bridge

A couple of years ago I blogged briefly about where I was when 9/11 happened.  It was a post that I named after one of my favorite songs, September Song.  I first heard September Song as a child.  My sister and I would spend hours dressing up in mom’s clothes and listening to mom and dad’s record albums.  The album which contained September Song was entitled Music for Lovers and had a photograph of a suave adult couple having an intimate dinner at a crystal-laden table by candle light on it.  The woman was half-facing the camera (cause she was leaning forward and looking deep into the eyes of her black-suited companion) and was wearing a Dior-like 40s dress.   She had glossy, Veronica Lake hair, and I wanted to be her.  The melody of September Song made me sad for no reason, so I equated the entire Music for Lovers album as melancholy, and I exhibited the appropriate amount of melancholy while acting out the album cover art in one of my mom’s fancy dresses…

Sorry, I digress. Back to my story.

9/11 happened while I was living in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Denver.  My sister and brother-in-law (then, boyfriend) were visiting.  After the planes and fire and rubble and dust of the morning, September Song kept coming to mind the rest of the afternoon, thus the title of that blog in 2009.  But the song Concrete and Clay by Unit 4+2 also came to mind (a 1965 Brittish hit; see the Rushmore film soundtrack).  It is a catchy, upbeat tune about love.  Nothing sad about that.  But the chorus, taken out of context and plunked into the midst of 9/11, lends a different feeling (the video is also a little eerie in the fact that the band sings and plays the tune from what appears to be a building construction site...a site that is reminiscent of what Ground Zero would look like after much of the rubble of the Twin Towers was cleared away):

"The sidewalks in the street, the concrete and the clay
Beneath my feet begins to crumble, but love will never die
Because we'll see the mountains tumble, before we say goodbye"

Really?  I don’t know what to say.  So, I’ll leave it at that.

There have been a number of 9/11 anniversaries that have come and gone, punctuated for me by a reflection on those whose lives were lost (many), and those whose lives were changed forever (all of us). But this anniversary of 9/11 was more significant to me.  Not only was it the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, but also my family had planned a vacation at the coast without realizing that the anniversary would fall during our time with each other.  There were two things about this vacation that made the significant-ness more…well, significant:  1) my sister had secured a condo for all of us in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, which is where we used to spend our summers together at the Greenwood Inn as a family (owned at the time by a couple from Gadsden); and 2)  Vicki, Tony and I were all together again on 9/11, which was something that had not happened since THE 9/11. 

Now, a lot of water (both literal and figurative) has flowed under the proverbial bridge in the twenty-four-odd years since we vacationed as a family in Florida.  Just to mention the most obvious:  1) We have a new addition to our family, my nephew Alex.  He is a delightful imp.  2) My sister, mom and dad have all three faced some serious, life-threatening illnesses (multiple times) since our last visit to the area.  I thank the good Lord every day that they have persevered.  3) And the Greenwood Inn was destroyed many years ago during one of the famous hurricanes (maybe Ivan), and the land upon which it stood (along with the adjacent land that the hotel my friend’s parents owned) has been thankfully preserved from commercialism by virtue of being turned into a state beach park. It was a blessing to be able to spend a couple of days eating and frolicking with people I love so much, at a beach that holds so many childhood memories.  And to be able to share this with my partner Eric…well, it just meant more to me than I can ever describe.  It was a time of reflection and communion.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Some feelings from you...

Few people know that at one time in my life I bore a striking resemblance to Warren Zevon.  I do not lie when I say this (if you doubt me, compare my photo to his, here).  I say this with certainty and with pride.  I really like Warren Zevon, so it doesn’t bother me that I looked like him when I was a pre-teen.  It may have bothered me at the time this photo was taken, but it doesn't now.  I mean, we all have to recognize that we went through awkward stages before we figured out how to handle our skin, hair, eyes, etc., right?  Well, I’m here today, admitting that Mr. Zevon and I could’ve shared the same genes…or at least the same sense of style.  I do sometimes kinda wish that I had looked more like David Bowie, least he, on occasion, looked like a girl.

More embarrassing photos and stories to come...yes, I went through a VERY high maintenance stage...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Glad you called. I was just about to pack up the rest of the house…

 “Oh, yeah.  See that?  That’s not supposed to be sticking up that way (pointing to the jagged edge of clavicle that was darn near poking its way out of the skin).  And this (mashing on the scapula), this feels real crunchy.  That’s definitely broke, too.  We’ll have to get an MRI, just as soon as we get that leg closed up.” 

These are not words that you want to hear being strung into sentences and coming out of the mouth of the attending ER doctor who is examining your busted up mate.  But there they were, being said while the nurses took vitals and started an IV. 

Eric’s jaw was set in such a way that indicated he was in an extreme amount of pain (it would take weeks of healing and lots of pain meds for that jaw to come unclenched), but he managed to crack a few jokes, ask about his bike (without batting an eyelash, I lied and told him that his bike was fine) and explain that no, he had not been riding a motorcycle, he had been riding a bicycle (we had to explain this over and over again to the various nurses and orderlies who bustled in an out).  Evidently these types of injuries are normally reserved for folks who lay down their choppers or hogs.

What occurred then was a flurry of hospital staff shift changes, a parking lot passing-off of Eric’s injured bike to Kris Catoe (who left the well-oiled morning routine that he and Laura have of getting three precocious children ready for daycare …thank the Lord for the Catoes), x-rays showing multiple broken bones (clavicle, rib and scapula…they missed the cracked humerus, which would be discovered the next day at the orthopedist’s office), visits from well-wishers, whispers of being sent to Huntsville to see a specialist (should the scapula be as badly broken as they thought it might be) and orders for an MRI…but only after the gaping and seeping wound of Eric’s shin was stitched up.

How do you mend a piece of fabric that has torn into a V-shape?  You put an anchor stitch in the middle to hold the two pieces back together, and work from each outside edge into the middle, towards the anchor stitch.  That is basically what the doctor did to Eric’s wound, starting with an anchor stitch in the middle, then working his way from the outside edges in.  He used a couple of different stitches in his suturing, one which I recognized as a stitch that I have used in the past to close up the misshapen stuffed animals I’ve been known to make…the blanket stitch.  The other stitch was one that I couldn’t recall, even after looking up on the Internet stitches used to close wounds. Surprisingly, during this Internet search of stitches, I did discover one called the Smead-Jones/Far and Near, which sounded to me more like a long lost Tolkien novel than a type of suture. 

Once stitched, Eric was bundled off to get an MRI…and then…waiting…and waiting for the doctor to come and discuss the results of the MRI. 

With the uncertainty of the situation, and the possibility of Eric being transported to Huntsville (pending MRI results), I asked the nurse if she thought I would have time to run home to put some real clothes on and pack a bag for Eric.  She said that yes, I would have plenty of time before the doctor came back.  I gave the nurse my cell number (just in case), grabbed Eric’s bag of belongings, said an anxious goodbye to my broken cyclist and headed home in lunch-hour traffic on Meighan Boulevard.  While I drove, I planned every move that I would make in the I would make a sweeping circle while grabbing everything we could possibly need in the next couple of days.  Cell phone chargers, underwear, toothbrushes, deodorant, granola, insurance card, wallet…

I hit the front door running, and within five minutes had exactly half of the house packed up and ready to go.  About that time, my cell phone rang.  It wasn’t a number I recognized and my experience of answering a call from an unknown number earlier just that morning made me brace myself as I answered.  It was the ER nurse. 

ER Nurse:  The doctor just came in.  They’re getting ready to release him.
Me:  Really?  No transfer to Huntsville?
ER Nurse:  No.  He’ll have to make an appointment to see an orthopedist, but he’s about to be released from here.  You’ll want to bring him some clothes to wear.
Me:  I will.  No problem.  I’m glad you called.  I was just about to pack up the rest of the house.
ER Nurse:  Yes, that’s what I was afraid you’d be doing. I was trying to catch you before you did.
Me:  Well, I appreciate that.  I’ll be back up there in about twenty minutes…

Eric was dismissed with a signing of papers, a putting on of his clothes (I paid very close attention to how to get a shirt on him), and a fresh dose of pain killers (these I had to ask specifically for…I told them that he was already in pain, and that they needed to buy me some time so that I could get him home and then go out for his prescriptions…thankfully they agreed before I had to pitch a full-blown conniption fit).  Yet again, he was almost impossible to get into the car.  And yet again, he was almost impossible to get back out of the car once we arrived home.  And little did we know that it would be almost three weeks before he would be able to sit comfortably, or even get a decent night’s sleep.  Glad we didn’t know all that up front.

So, with lots of help from friends bringing home cooked meals, groceries, baked goods, Thai food…friends picking Eric up and dropping him off…lots of prayers and lots of well wishes, we’ve made it through the hardest part.  Recovery has been comical while it has been hard.  We laugh when we can, and just do our best to get through one day at a time.  But short of the injuries themselves, I think the part that has hurt Eric the most is the loss of a cyclocross season, a cyclocross season that he was putting a lot of training time into.  Thankfully, the season lasts into the winter months of 2012, plenty of time for Eric to be back on the bike and ready to hit the mud.  We’ll just keep moving towards that goal.  And we’ll try to remember the words of Hemingway, “The world breaks us all. Afterward, some are stronger at the broken places.”