Friday, November 01, 2013

Pan Is Not a Gentleman

Pan is not a gentleman. Do not invite him in, thinking he will wipe his hooves. If you ask, count yourself lucky if all he does is smile, or chuckle a bit. The stink of him, a goat in rut, will settle like a fog and linger long after he’s gone.

He’ll bring friends too, will Pan. They will decimate your flowers, rummage through your compost piles and garbage cans, trample the inedibles under hooves and paws and claws. Their shit and piss will befoul your tidy walkways, burn your ground covers, erode your limestone accent rocks, and somehow always, always end up on your shoes. They’ll bare their fangs when you try to shoo them out of your prize-winning azaleas, chasing you back into your climate-controlled house, shivering, to seek out poisons or weapons. They’ll bite and sting, raising itchy welts that seep and scab, making you want to claw your skin off or lose a limb. They’ll chew away your foundations, infiltrate your kitchens, wander across your legs in the night, buzz against windows or your ear, and reduce your wooden porches to sawdust.

Pan is not a gentleman. He won’t care a bit for your Greek-inspired gazebos, your filtered water features, your decorative figurines of ducks and frogs. He’ll appreciate the gnomes a bit, recognizing them as tribute, but he’ll laugh at the bucolic dress, the pathetic attempt to hide his horns and hooves, his nakedness. 

He won’t break your rules; he will never bother to learn them. He won’t even know such things exist. Your boundaries and preferences, your focal points and accents, your easy access and parking lots, he won’t see them all. He’ll use them if he likes, and erase them if that’s better.

Do not ask for a little wildness, just around the edges of your life. There is no such thing. Vigorous roots will sink deep, vines will strangle your carefully manicured shrubs, lush, enormous leaves will sprout from branches or spring from the ground, soaking up the light and rain, draining all the nourishment from the soil, leaving your tender exotics to wither and desiccate. 

Pan is not a gentleman. He’s just life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Remembering Heather Hughes: A Personal Snapshot

A year ago today, my friend Heather Hughes died. Chances are you all have gotten a glimpse of Heather once or twice, whether you knew it or not. If you ever saw the movie Singles, she's the redhead working with Tim Burton in the scene in the video store. Her work in that little scene made such an impression on Cameron Crowe, he asked her to be in the video for the movie's song (the Singles single, if you will: she's the bartender). 

Those two tiny snippets don't really tell you much about her of course, other than perhaps to show that she was, as our friend Kim said, equally at home being sexy or dorky (though the video clerk is probably more snarky than dorky). She's the first friend I've lost who could be memorialized in part by videos on Youtube, so maybe that's why I share them. The internet is a weird new facet in remembering friends these days. I'm not going to get into that right now. Take a look at the videos, and refresh your memories of the early nineties, if you like. 

Use Your Neuroses

I think it's Edith Piaf who is credited with the advice "use your faults." I've always loved that idea, but have rarely known how to implement it. This morning though, I woke up mulling over my own version of this thought. I've spent most of my life battling, or at least trying to hide my neuroses. I wonder what would happen if I found a way to use them instead? 

This idea hasn't triggered a specific game plan any more than Ms. Piaf's advice has. But I'm feeling hopeful. Have you ever found yourself using some previously hated part of yourself, and finding it effective? What got you there? And did success on one occasion make it easy to keep hold of the lesson, or is this one of those lessons one has to relearn regularly? God I hate those, but they seem to be what life, at least middle-aged life, is all about. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pipe Dream

I dreamed I went to a book signing given by Neil Gaiman. We got off to a bit of a rocky start when it was my turn to meet him; his hands were huge, but his handshake was distressingly limp. Once we got past that though, he was warm, gracious and seemed genuinely interested in connecting with me. I was going to be giving a five minute reading of my book at a panel later in the same conference, and though I knew it was a long shot, I invited him to attend. In the way of dreams it was instantly the next morning, I was doing my reading and there he was, sitting and smiling in the back row. Afterwards he came up and said some very sweet, complimentary things. 

Almost makes me want to write a book. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Meditation on Simple Pleasures

The Jersey house seems to be at the epicenter of a flock of goldfinches at the moment. Both feeders (visible from indoors) are hosting several of them, the autumn amnesty allowing them to eat together in big chirpy bunches. Earlier in the year mated pairs could share feeders, but would chase away any others of their tribe (house finches were also chased away). Now they crowd onto the feeders with relatively little objection. They occasionally form little dinner groups divided by gender. Yesterday I noticed there were five or six males gathered on the thistle sock in back, while the women folk shared the fruit and nut feeder in front. 

When I went out this morning with my coffee to inspect the grounds, I found several goldies feasting on something (I assume seed pods) in the cosmos/nasturtium/zinnia patch. I wouldn't have guessed the cosmos would support them, let alone provide sustenance, though I now may have an explanation for why some of the dried ones have snapped off at about the two foot mark. When I returned to the front door, I startled a flock of birds on the gone-to-seed sunflowers. Three walls out of four now have something to feed birds. I just wish this place had more windows, so I could watch without disturbing them. 

Looking out the kitchen window this morning, I was treated to the sight of a male goldfinch eating next to a male cardinal. I found myself wondering if there would come a time when those bright colors, separately and in combination, would cease to thrill me. This first year of regular visits to the house hasn't dimmed the pleasure yet, but surely after a while I'll get bored by it right? That thought made me a little sad; it seems ungrateful somehow, but the human ability to take common pleasures for granted eventually is well documented. Fortunately I had the good sense for once not to dwell on it. I love the sight now, why not enjoy it until I don't anymore, right? Why go to the trouble to imagine a day when the glass will be half empty, on a day when it is decidedly half full? 

Almost as if I were being rewarded for this 'be in the moment' thought, a chickadee showed up. And I got excited. I love chickadees, and unlike goldfinches, I've been watching and delighting in them since I was a kid. (My first memory of seeing a goldfinch was when I was in my thirties, so they still have a certain degree of novelty.) Chickadees are pretty common year 'round birds, so they lack the seasonal surprise that might explain why I have yet to lose my joy in fireflies, violets, autumn leaves, snowfall and thunderstorms (to name a few). Chickadees look like they were painted with Sumi ink, so it's not like there are bright, startling colors to delight my eye. But I love their plumage, and the jaunty air they seem to have. Even their chirping ("chicka dee dee dee") amuses me. 

I'm experienced enough with depression to know that one can lose appreciation for anything. But today, right now, it's comforting to be reminded that joy, even in simple things, doesn't always fade. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Spontaneous Phone Eruptions

A couple of days ago I noticed something odd on my phone. In the catalog of applications, right there on the first screen, there was one I had never seen before. You have to understand, I don't download new applications. This device already does more than I have ever asked of a phone, and occupies more of my conscious hours than I'm comfortable with as it is. It came with three pages' worth of software, most of which I've never had any reason to use. I downloaded an application once, when I realized I had forgotten the digital timer I need for work. So I felt confident stating that I had never downloaded this particular feature, and given its prominent display at the bottom of my phone's screen, I would not have failed to notice it before. It had found its way onto my phone some other way. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thoughts on Digging Earthworms: Part I

As I dig up planting beds around Bill’s place, I am always excited to find earthworms. They’re a sign of healthy soil, a good mix of organic material. So each time I find one, I carefully move it to a spot where I won’t disturb it again. It doesn't take me long to realize this activity has led to a song going through my head on continuous loop.
RED wigglers, the Cadillac of worms, HEE hee
The Cadillac of worms, HO Ho
The Cadillac of worms, HA Ha

Friday, June 07, 2013

Year Four

Dear James,

This week, including as it did the anniversary of thy birth and thy death, was hard. Almost as hard as four years ago, when we'd just lost thee. I suppose I can come up with some explanations. The four of us are each dealing with the passage of time and the slow betrayals of our bodies somehow, and that has us leaning into one another even more. We feel the lack of thy strong shoulder and cheerful support. We were leaning on thee already, more than we realized, when we first lost thee. 

Then again, maybe this is just the way grief works. Things circle around again; I assumed it would never get better, just more familiar, but even that prediction is proving false. Any time I start to think I'm making sense of it all, something knocks me sideways again. I keep trying to figure it out though. That's just how my brain works. I speculate, thee would have turned 45 on Tuesday. Do I think that age has some special resonance? Not that I can see. 41, 45, what's the difference? Sure, in ten years I can see myself trying to figure out what thee'd be like at 51, what thee'd be doing with thy days, but 45? Big deal. 

I do wonder what thee'd think of the house in Jersey. I still haven't found the right place for that huge globe crystal of thine; few of the windows are both big enough, and well exposed enough to light to make it worthwhile. But I've still got some locations to try. Thy wooden dolphin seems happy there, leaping vigorously in front of Vince's giant flatscreen. A communing of dead brothers: his love of high end electronics and television meets thy love of figurines, nice wood, dolphins, exuberant creatures. Thee would have tried like the dickens to draw Vince out, I have no doubt. Maybe thee would have even succeeded. Thee could be relentless, but it often caused some unlikely friendships to flourish. I like to picture thee managing to talk him into attending a game party. From what his siblings and neighbors tell me, it would have been quite a feat. But if anyone could have accomplished it, it would be thee. 

Thee'd love the fact that Bill's sister Laura gave us a frame designed to be filled with wine corks, and turned into a bulletin board. She knew nothing of thy cork fixation, or rather of the fixation thee tormented Mary into  forming. I told her the story of course, and she loved it. Bill and I have been adding to the collection regularly; we're almost halfway to filling it. Once it's completed, I'll hang it and put some of thy homemade totems on it, maybe thy picture. That will probably fill the thing up completely; it's not that big, really. Thy various trinkets, gew-gaws and teasing jokes continue to fill into the corners of my life. They don't even have to have belonged to thee originally at this point; stained glass, prisms, wind chimes, jaunty hats, and figurines will always make me think of thee from now on. 

Once again I missed the big gathering in Richmond; maybe my present volatility is due to that, and to not having made the time yet this week to observe my own little ritual, eating salad, blueberry pie, and junk food while watching an episode or three of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bill is always a loving and enthusiastic participant in that. Thee would have liked him a lot; thee probably could even have talked him into playing board games. He likes them too. He's sorry he never got to meet thee. 

We love and miss thee, James. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Link: A Review: The Nance

I have a review up at my other blog home, Queer New York. Go here to read my thoughts of Douglas Carter Beane's New Play, The Nance.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Tribal Feasts

A story has floated around for centuries suggesting that the Irish are  one of the lost tribes of Israel. I love this idea, but that doesn't mean I'm buying it. So many of the supposed commonalities seem to be evidence of shared Indo-European roots, nothing more. Lunar calendar? Counting nights instead of days? The harp as a national/cultural symbol? Red hair? Similar-looking wedding dances? A nomadic past? Eh, not terribly convincing. 

Even so, I had reason to remember this theory on Saturday. Bill and I were shopping for a small dinner party we were hosting to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day and I couldn't help but notice how many items we were getting from the Kosher section: corned beef, smoked salmon, saurkraut*. And while Kosher was not an issue, there were also plenty of potatoes. No, I'm still not buying this story; what we have here are two cuisines shaped by harsh northern climates, peasant cooking, and salt as a preservative in the days before refrigeration. And if we really study this, we have to realize we're looking at links between Irish and Ashkenazi cooking. I don't know this for a fact, but I'd assume the lost tribes were Sephardim, at least by default. Show me an Irish flatbread, a fondness for figs and olives, or one dish made with chickpeas, and I'll agree we have culinary reasons to explore this idea. 

No, this story doesn't hold water, but it's still fun. And one more thing both cultures share is the belief that one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story. 

*Yes, I know saurkraut is not part of the Irish tradition. Bill made mini-Reubens as appetizers. Which sets off a whole other set of fun issues; the Irish loved cabbage but didn't eat saurkraut, Jews keeping Kosher would never have meat and dairy in the same meal let alone the same dish, many Reuben purists would say the meats should be Virginia ham and turkey, not corned beef, and the sandwich includes Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. It's like lunchtime at the U.N. Yet none of our guests questioned including these in a Saint Patrick's Day dinner. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


On Sunday I began cutting sod in the backyard, as a first step to putting in a garden. My friend The Midnight Gardener had warned me not to try cutting turf that was too wet. How right he was. We'd had four inches of snow on Friday. By noon on Saturday the warmer temperatures had melted it all, but it turns out that less than thirty hours was not enough time to dry the ground out, not even this sandy soil. My impatience got the best of me by Sunday afternoon however, so I began the epic wrestling match with the sturdy, hardy grass and the heavy, sopping soil. 

The only other time I'd pulled up sod was back in June, 2009, during the month I spent in Indiana grieving for my brother. Mary and Tony were expanding the garden bed in their front lawn and I offered to help.We pulled up squares of grass, shook and scraped as much soil off the roots as possible, killed any Japanese beetle larvae we found, then threw the grass into a wheel barrow for eventual transportation to the compost box. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Expanding the Franchise

The bird feeder in the backyard continues to attract a growing population. It's just far enough away from the windows that we can't always see much detail however. This means we mostly see, as Bill puts it, 'cardinals and little guys.' I have been able to identify several kinds of sparrows, a variety of finches, lots of chickadees and juncos, and a handful of nuthatches, but it's not easy. Bill and I watched as one squirrel managed to climb up the pole and reach the feeder, but his attempt to get onto the (too small) platform sent him plummeting to the ground. This of course meant some seed fell, so it wasn't a completely wasted effort, but he probably doesn't see it that way. 

I had reported some bird-watching details on Facebook which caused one friend to share the story of her own feeders. She had enjoyed having them until she realized how much more her cats were enjoying the abundant bird buffet. Not wanting to lure birds to their deaths, she decided to get rid of the feeders. I commiserated, but said confidently that I didn't think I'd have the same problem. The feeder is mounted five feet up a pole that sits several feet away from any trees, bushes or roofs. I was mostly intent on not making things TOO easy for squirrels, but impeding land predators seemed like a side benefit. 

The next morning, less than twelve hours after this interchange, I looked out the back window, and there, as if conjured by my hubris, was a large, healthy tiger cat. He was sitting comfortably right at the base of the pole. I saw no evidence of carnage, fortunately, no feathers floating about or birdy body parts scattered on the ground, but naturally I also saw no birds. 

I trust that five feet up will be enough distance to protect the birds, and the ground feeders should have enough time to notice and flee a galloping kitty; there really is no place he can hide and sneak up on them. The cat clearly didn't have a very high opinion of bird intelligence. I'd assume sitting at the base of the pole wasn't going to  prove an effective strategy. Bill says he hasn't seen the cat again in the last week and the birds quickly returned. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Installing Bird TV

In December, while visiting my family, a pileated woodpecker showed up in my sister's backyard. Mary, Tony and I were all thrilled and sat watching it the entire time it spent there, drilling away at the magnolia tree for insects. (Bill watched too, and seemed interested, if not quite as excited as the rest of us.) At some point during this experience I thought, hm, I never get this excited about celebrity sightings in New York. 

Okay, I realize there is an apples-and-oranges aspect to this. I adore Julianne Moore, for example, and have seen her out and about on three different occasions, but even when she sat across from me on the subway eating an ice cream cone, I didn't feel like staring fixedly at her. Nor was I holding off for fear of seeming creepy or rude; I love her, but observing her in her natural habitat doesn't do anything for me. I mean, no matter how much I love a person, watching her eat ice cream isn't a big thrill, and not just because I don't really care for ice cream. I admire her beauty, sure, but mostly I admire her work; staring at her until she alerted the authorities might give me some insight into how she handles a crisis, but probably wasn't going to teach me much about acting. Watching that giant bird (the literature says they're 'crow-sized' but I swear this one was the size of a buzzard, and its crest made it look like a pterodactyl) go about its day, even just for a few minutes, was thrilling.