Archive for the ‘evocateurs’ Category

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Losing What Can’t Be Found

January 2, 2012

I have nobody in my life where I can say, “Remember when. . .” • Joan Rivers

I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we’re in each others’ dreams, we can play together all night. • Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

My youngest brother died in 1988 and I’ve only dreamed about him once. I still remember talking to him, walking as we did so many times, to Norm’s to share a hot fudge sundae. I didn’t record this dream and although it happened many years ago, I can still recall my disappointment when I awoke. Most dreams are forgotten unless they’re written down, but some dreams are remembered even though we long to forget them.

I had such a dream last night. I do not think I will forget this one either. My Aunt Mildred had died and I was packing up her house. I felt the pain of her death as I worked. My mother and my cousin Sugar—Sugar somehow mobile after many bedridden years—were taking boxes to their cars after I packed them. I never saw either of them, but I could hear their voices, laughing and arguing about what would fit where, reminiscing about my aunt—mom’s sister and Sugar’s mother—telling stories about her life. I shouted to them, but they didn’t answer.

The house was strange, circular with narrow corridors walled yet open at the top so I could hear the other two, yet never see them. The walls were always between us and their voices were always around the endless corner in the endless corridor. I walked toward the voices, hoping to catch the two, but their voices receded as I got closer. I wanted to see Sugar walking and laughing. I wanted to see my mother’s face. I wanted to touch her hand. Talk to them. Hug them. I remember being frustrated but hopeful, sure that I would eventually catch up with them. But I never did.

And I never will. They are all dead: my mother a year ago this month, Sugar in September, Aunt Mildred several years ago, and even in my dreams I cannot find them. Once we were The Four Musketeers and now I am the only one left to remember the fun we had in our matching black watch plaid jumpers and purple shoes. I am the only one who can picture the four of us in gingerbread man bathing suits with ruffled bottoms. The only one who knows about the gardenias we bought at Union Station. Holidays are fraught with memories of what once was and will never be again and it is easy to be sad. But this morning shortly after I awoke, while I was feeling sad and looking for work to distract me, I found this quotation from Patsy Cline in my mother’s handwriting: “You don’t get anywhere wallerin’ in misery.” And that’s the message I’ll remember when I think of this dream.

What have you lost? What have you found?

Pain comes like the weather, but joy is a choice. • Rodney Crowell

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Some Thoughts On Inspiration Accompanied By A Poem About The Same, Untitled Because I Suffer From Titular Disinspiration*

June 2, 2011

When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t wait to see what I’ll come up with next. • Dolly Parton

I often feel uninspired, empty, unable, unmotivated, even disinterested when it’s time to write whatever it is that I ought to write or have to write or even want to write. It doesn’t matter how urgent the task is, there are times when I need to put words together and I can’t prime the pump. Not only do the words refuse to flow, I can’t even squeeze out a sentence or two. I’m reminded of this as I listen to my students grapple with finishing final projects this quarter. They don’t have any words left—everything has been wrung out of them and flung onto a page somewhere. They are dry.

Because my own writing isn’t done at the end of a quarter, finding inspiration is a daily challenge; experience has taught me I need to jump on it when it arrives. This jumping can be jarring to someone who’s talking with me—and I’m often inspired by things that other people say. I try to capture them immediately because I know if I don’t, these ideaseeds will disappear. I am aware that this habit of writing things down while someone is talking could be considered distracting and rude, so I always try to explain. That’s why I was delighted recently when a friend pulled out her journal and began writing after I started jotting down what she was saying. “Take your time,” she told me as I started to apologize, “I want to write a poem ‘cause you inspired me too.” As she wrote, I began this as-yet-untitled poem (I am loathe to disturb another poet at work):

Working title:

Untitled Due to Avoidance of the Obviousness of the Repetitive Line and Subsequent Titular Disinspiration

W-OZ, May 2011

 

Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s sneaking away,

hiding out, hoping you’ll

quit looking, pretty sure you’ll

give up the search. It

might be stashed in

the garage, up in the

rafters with the unicycle that

broke Uncle Charlie’s arm. Or

maybe it’s under the

stairs in a blue cardboard hatbox

filled with family photos from

that long-ago outing to the

Grand Ole Opry where cousin Sugar

danced in the aisles while

Dolly Parton sang.

 

Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s eluding the search,

and it could be

lying low, disguised,

hunkered down

in the basement behind

those dusty boxes of old Mason jars

grandpa was going to use

to brew beer till

grandma found out and put

the kibosh on his plans. Perhaps it’s

at the pool hall where he

went for consolation and you

tap danced on the bar.

 

Inspiration is hard to find.

It’s camouflaged as banality,

dressed up as the prosaic,

costumed in the ordinary,

masquerading as the

dull. It’s pretending to be

boring, up in the attic tucked

away beneath the eaves in mama’s

maple dresser, under the mothballs

and ballet slippers and dried

carnations tied with

pink ribbon from the night she

met your dad.

 

Inspiration is hard to find.

So when you do,

you need to grab it,

pin it down,

tie it to the bedpost,

lock it in the closet,

handcuff it to the banister,

set it in the rocking chair and

tell it to stay there—or else.

 

Inspiration is hard to find.

You need to drag it from its

hiding place, sweet talk it out to

the back porch, charm it,

cajole it, coax it onto the swing or

sit with it on the steps or

lie beside it on the soft summer grass,

staring at the stars and the moon

together until it can’t

resist you.

 

Because.

 

I’m sure you can ferret out the meaning in this poem, although while I was writing it, I was not thinking of any particular point I wanted to make. It is only in retrospect, after finishing multiple iterations, that I see the relationship between the poem and much of my work as an artist and poet and teacher.

What is your advice for the uninspired?

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning. • Peter DeVries

* Come up with a good title—and not the obvious one that I am avoiding—and I will include your title with your name (title provided by. . . . .) whenever I use this poem.

 

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A Poem Is Never Finished, Only Abandoned.*

April 11, 2011


A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. • Robert Frost

I told someone I lost my mother, but I find her everywhere. She’s lurking at the grocery store and at the movie theatre. She’s hidden in the pages of the books I used to buy and send to her. I see her among the bargains that she loved, like necklaces and earrings discounted seventy-five percent from their lowest marked price. We say the one who’s gone is lost, but I am the lost one, adrift in a world where I founder in the shoals of sadness, snagged by jagged rocks of memory that hide beneath the normalcy of life-goes-on. I try to find the poetry in my remembrance.

I am never sure when a poem begins because the words I write are not usually meant to be poems. I seldom sit down and say “I will write poetry today.” More often, I say “I will write,” and sometimes what emerges is the seed of a poem. Very seldom, a poem springs into being, words rushing onto the page or screen as fast as I can write. Instead, fragments arrive unbidden to be captured, saved, revisited again and again until they spark some resonance within. In my life, poetry cannot be forced and almost never flows no matter how much I might wish that it would. Right now, I very, very badly wish it would.

How do poems grow? They grow out of your life. • Robert Penn Warren

It’s almost three months since my mother died and I have begun many poems since her death. Most have been abandoned and I do not think that I will ever finish them. Revisiting the words is painful, leading me to sorrow, immersing me in grief when I want to remember joy. My mother was asked to leave a grief group shortly after my youngest brother’s unexpected death because she was not sad enough. Her upbeat attitude brought the group down, she was told. She would not want me to wallow in sadness either. “Remember me,” she’d say, “but it would make me sad to see you sorrowful. Enjoy your life and focus on the fun we had together.” I want to. I really do. It is not easy.

A poem might be defined as thinking about feelings—about human feelings and frailties. • Anne Stevenson

I do not want to hide these words where I can find them and be tempted to wrestle them into poems. Instead, I’ll abandon them here and call them done.

February 12, 2011. I wanted to play with the meanings of the word rest, the euphemism for death, the remainder, the break or relaxation, but it won’t come together as I make notes on the back of an envelope while I’m in the car. It’s a perfect example of a notion that could become something but likely never will.

A final heartbeat, a last breath,

and all my life becomes the rest.

Eternal rest

is followed by this daily rest when

life shifts into

days without and every day

I find no rest from emptiness.

I am ambushed by little things , a song on the radio, a pair of ticket stubs in a winter jacket I pull out of the closet when the weather unexpectedly turns cold, daffodils in the snow. I am adjusting to the bigness of forever, but these small reminders pull me back into my grief. As I am looking for course materials, I find something written by the French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette who authored the novel Gigi on which one of my mother’s favorite movies was based. She wrote: “It’s so curious:  one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief.  But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses.”

Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions known what it means to want to escape from these things. • T.S. Eliot

February 14, 2011. I get emails from Disneyland addressed to my mother—an annual passport holder—because she didn’t have a computer. Their offers often begin with her name and I cannot bear to cancel them. My jewelry boxes are filled with rhinestone-encrusted landmines of remembrance and letter bombs await in the bookshelves where I secreted mothermail to read again. In the Goodwill, I begin another poem about these unexpected reminders:

I am ambushed by your absence and

every time I forget that you

are gone, you find me.

You lie in wait in the thrift store

where the empty sleeves of sweaters

in your favorite pink grab me

as I troll the aisles.

In the front yard the violets breathe

your name and I know that lilacs will soon

scent the air with your memory.

There are reminders everywhere and I cannot escape them. I do not know if I want to.

Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life. • William Hazlitt

February 26, 2011. I love wordplay and make these notes while we’re on the way to the grocery store:

Rest in peace, we say,

but in their end, it is our own

peace we seek:

a piece of precious remembrance without tears,

a piece of happiness without regret,

a piece of delight in what once was and

never again will be.

Yes. Rest in peace while we pick up

the pieces and move on.

March 2, 2011: The poet Robert Frost said that poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. I am still looking for the words that will help me remember and forget.

Forgetfulness is easy

if the heart is hardened,

if every thought of you is

abandoned,

if the mind refuses to

stoke the fires of memory and

lets the embers grow cold

from neglect.

Forgetfulness is easy

if all reminders are ruthlessly

purged, brutally

neglected, systematically

destroyed, efficiently

deleted, rooted out, leaving

nothing, not even ghosts of memories

behind.

My Saturday begins and I do not think of loss, but then the phone rings early—my mother was the only one who called me early—but, of course, it is not her and all the work I do after this wrong number bears the imprint of distraction. I cannot find the words today.

What words do you seek? What words do you find?

Poetry is an orphan of silence. The words never quite equal the experience behind them. • Charles Simic

Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal. • From a headstone in Ireland

* Thanks to French poet Paul Valéry for the title quotation.

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I’m Sorta Vampiric: I Want To Suck Your Blood, But Only To The Surface Of Your Skin Where It Will Leave A Bruise And Let The World Know You Are Mine

October 27, 2010

When other little girls wanted to be ballerina dancers, I kind of wanted to be a vampire.
• Angelina Jolie

I wanted to be a trapeze artist. I loved the shiny, sparkly costumes I wore for ballet and tap recitals and I remember thinking that joining the circus would be a perfect way to continue wearing such loveliness as a grownup. Even when I was small, I knew I wasn’t interested in being a ballerina—it just didn’t seem like fun—its seriousness and the patterned perfection of its movement sucked the joy out of my dancing.

I designed circuswear for myself, crayoning colorfully fanciful outfits of gossamer fabrics bedazzled with jewels. I practiced in a friend’s basement where her father had hung a trapeze from the ceiling. As I swung, head dangling, my fingers almost touched the floor and I can still remember the horror I felt one afternoon when I realized that real trapeze artists’ fingers were far from the solid safety of the circus ring. I did not like heights. I still do not. And I still wonder what I was thinking when I imagined that this was a possible career for me. I must have been blinded by the glittery gleam of sequins and rhinestones.

Some memories of childhood are vivid and easily recalled. Others are lost, but not necessarily forever. Italian poet and novelist Cesare Pavese said that the richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten. I call the things that evoke these forgotten memories evocateurs. It’s difficult to predict what will trigger recollection. Recently, it was an episode of Freaks and Geeks (currently airing on on IFC, the Independent Film Channel, and created by Paul Feig, executive produced by Judd Apatow, first airing on NBC during the 1999-2000 season) that brought back a flood of memories.

In the episode, Sam (John Francis Daley) breaks up with Cindy Sanders (Natasha Melnick), the girl he’s pined over for many episodes. He’s finally become her boyfriend, but their love is not meant to be. She disdains the family heirloom necklace he’s given her (“How much did it cost?” she asks) and doesn’t find the movie he’s taken her to—The Jerk—funny at all. When she leans over in the theatre and gives him a hickey, he doesn’t know what’s happening, but he doesn’t like it. And that’s what let loose the flood of memory.

A hickey. When I was in grade school, I got a Mickey Mouse Club shirt. It was a white cotton turtleneck shirt with short sleeves, just like the one that Annette and the other Mouseketeers wore on the television show. My name was on the front and on the back was the circular MMC logo. I loved that shirt and wore it often, but I retired it when I started high school. Until the first time I got a hickey.

It was summer in southern California, much too hot to wear a high-necked sweater, and I was desperate not to go down to breakfast with my neck providing evidence of the previous night’s passion (tame passion, folks, I was the quintessentially “good girl” back then and my parents were ever vigilant for evidence otherwise). Desperately, I searched through the drawers for something to put on, rejecting scarves tied around my neck as too dressy for a day of babysitting and chores, and finally coming across my old friend. Thank goodness my mother and Aunt Mildred insisted on buying their children just about any kind of apparel in the largest size available so that we’d get plenty of wear from our you’ll-grow-into-it clothes. The extra large still fit. I pulled it on with my shorts and was saved from unpleasant inquiries. I hadn’t thought about that shirt in decades even though I’ve been immersed in memories related to my art exhibit entitled Flaming Youth and think often about adolescence for the courses I teach.

I’m currently doing a bit of vampire research for a paper and presentation I’m working on about the possibility of engaging in serious research about just about anything. This work is entitled, “Tootsie Pops and Toilet Paper, Vampires and Zombies: Reimagining Research through the Engaging and Creative Processes, Projects, and Products of The Collectory,” and another thought evoked by this F&G episode was how the process of the vampire’s bite and the hickey are similar, both marking the receiver as the property of the one who sucks the blood*. The paths of memory are twisted indeed.

Have you recalled a memory recently? If so, what triggered it? Write it down so you won’t forget. If not, spend a bit of time in the fields of remembrance and see what you find.

The existence of forgetting has never been proved. We only know that some things don’t come to mind when we want them.
• Friedrich Nietzsche

* How do you give a hickey? Put your mouth against the side of the the person’s neck as though you are going to kiss it, leaving your mouth slightly open. Then suck the skin into your mouth, causing the blood vessels to break and leaving a red somewhat circular bruise. This is a fairly speedy process. I have no explanation for how to actually suck someone’s blood from their body. You’re on your own for that one.