SoCS: cards

Over the past few days, I have started to work on my Christmas card list.

Well, Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, or whatever anyone is celebrating list…

Sending greetings this time of year is one of my highest priorities of the season, so I am determined to get things in the mail to my list. There are a number of people that I am only in touch with at this time of year – and a number that I haven’t seen in person in decades – and some that I haven’t heard from in decades, but it is important to me to send something to them.

These past few years haven’t been exemplary for me, though. There were years that I sent letters only instead of cards because I couldn’t bring myself to the extra work of choosing and signing cards. I’ve accepted help from family members with addressing and sending. Last year was probably the most difficult. I couldn’t bear the thought of following up “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!” with “Not sure if you heard the news that my mother died.” I wrote a letter to my friends in November and left B and T with the task of sending cards to the rest of our list.

But this year, I’m trying to get back to something closer to what I used to do, choosing cards, signing and hand addressing envelopes, adding Christmas seals, stamps, and return address labels, enclosing a letter and photo when appropriate.

So far, I have about half the cards written and envelopes prepared, but none of the enclosures yet.

I did do a step that I have skipped for several years, going through last year’s cards received and marking them in the appropriate box on my list, which is written in a special holiday card list booklet. (Actually, this list has also become my de facto address book. I used to keep a separate address book but haven’t updated it in years.) This has been poignant because many of the notes on the cards include condolences for my mom and often reminiscences on the loss of people’s own mothers.

I haven’t quite figured out what to write about 2020. How to sum up a year that has been marked by such universal fear, loss, grief, and sadness, but that has also seen such blessings in our lives, such as the fact that B’s job is able to carry on from home and the safe arrival and thriving of granddaughter JG, even though we can’t travel to London to meet her.

I’ll work on it.

Later.

After I’ve gotten the rest of the list finished with cards chosen, signed, addressed, with envelopes open and waiting.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “list.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/12/04/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-dec-5-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

today

This wasn’t the plan.

I expected right now I would be in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic after a month in the UK visiting daughter E and her family, meeting granddaughter JG, walking granddaughter ABC home from nursery school, celebrating US Thanksgiving in London on what is there just the fourth Thursday of November.

I thought I would get to attend mass for the first time since March as we celebrated JG’s baptism, wearing the white dress that I, E, and ABC wore before her, as well her Aunt T and great-aunts.

Of course, there would have been two weeks in quarantine before any of the visiting, but still…

It was a blessing in disguise that the news of the UK lockdown leaked early, before we flew out, so that there was time to cancel. It took most of the month, but I finally got all the charges refunded.

I had planned to get a lot of writing done while we were in quarantine and to do a long-delayed, self-guided retreat, neither of which happened this month as the usual things that needed doing were before us here and the inevitable bumps in the road appeared that needed attention. I was also impossible to ignore/escape the maelstrom of news on the election and its aftermath and of the horrifying, continuing escalation of the coronavirus pandemic.

Enter the first Sunday of Advent, with its message of watching in hope.

I’m struggling with that.

By nature, I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I try to be more of a realist. I know that with over 13 million confirmed cases so far and a seven-day average of new confirmed cases of about 160,000, compounded by Thanksgiving travel, the United States is going to have further acceleration in COVID cases in December and most likely into January, as well. There are also going to be spikes in hospitalizations and deaths flowing from that. Although there will likely be some vaccine administration starting in December, there won’t be enough to make much of a dent in transmission. The exception is that, if health care workers are vaccinated first as expected, we may be able to keep our hospitals staffed well enough to meet the surge in cases this winter.

I do have hope that the incoming Biden administration will have staff and appointees who are capable of improving the lives of people here and beginning to repair our international relationships. However, I am disheartened by the efforts of the current administration to undermine the chances that Biden’s team can implement changes quickly and easily. There are a number of last-minute rule changes, treaty withdrawals, troop withdrawals, and other measures that will make the transition even more difficult than anticipated in this time of public health emergency, economic downturn, civil rights protests, and general distrust in government.

Sigh.

So, one foot in front of the other. Doing the best I can manage under the circumstances.

Stay tuned.

SoCS: for the birds

We have been feeding the birds in our backyard for years. We also wind up feeding the squirrels, who eat the seeds that fall from the feeders.

We do our best to not have the squirrels eat the bulk of the seed we put out for the birds, so we have some safeguards in place. This year, though, some of our safeguards failed.

We store our bags of birdseed in our backyard shed. In the warm weather, we leave the louvers on the windows open so it doesn’t get too hot inside. This year, an enterprising squirrel chewed through the (metal) window screen to get into the shed, where it chewed through the plastic bags holding the seed and proceeded to eat a lot and make a mess!

We had a metal can inverted on the pole that holds our birdfeeders to act as a squirrel guard. It had worked well for years, but now at least one squirrel – not sure if it is the same one that breached the shed or not – has managed to learn to jump on the side of the can and quickly scramble to the top, whence it can get to all the feeders.

Our large hopper-style feeder is its favorite.

So, in order to keep feeding the birds, we needed new options to protect our seed from ravenous squirrels.

We closed the windows into the shed. The squirrel, remembering there was lots of food in there, then tried to chew its way through the wooden door. Fortunately, the door is too thick, although it does now sport edges that have had the green paint gnawed off.

For the feeders, we went to our local bird feeding store to look at options.

We tried to get an additional cone squirrel guard to put on top of our can one so the squirrel couldn’t get over it to the feeders, but our pole diameter was too large to attach it.

We moved onto option B – to buy a new pole system. (Our original one had been out there at least twenty years and was beginning to have some rust showing, so a new system with a smaller diameter pole seemed to make the most sense.) This also gave us an opportunity to relocate the feeders. When we had placed them initially, they were centered to be seen from the sliding glass doors in our dining room. Since then, we added an addition that houses our kitchen, which has large windows overlooking the backyard. B was able to place the new pole centered in those windows, so our view of the feeders is much better.

The birds are loving the new feeder placement! Some of the birds we see regularly are cardinals, blue jays, chickadees (my favorite), tufted titmouse, downy and hairy woodpeckers, nuthatches…

None of which you can see in the photo I just took, but at least the squirrel is on the ground.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “opt.” Join us! Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/11/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-28-2020/

Political labels

The two political/ideological labels that one hears most frequently are liberal and conservative.

I think we should stop using them.

The Oxford Languages definition of liberal is “relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.” The definition of conservative is “(in a political context) favoring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditional ideas.”

It’s interesting to me that free enterprise appears in both definitions.

In the United States, the Democratic party is considered liberal and the Republican party is considered conservative but there are several ways in which the definitions above don’t apply. For example, the Republican party is very vocal on upholding certain individual rights, such as gun ownership, while opposing others, such as the right to make one’s own medical decisions.

In this last election cycle, the Republicans repeatedly accused Joe Biden and the Democrats of being “socialist,” thus frightening some people into voting for Republicans. For the record, the definition of socialism is “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” To be clear, President-elect Biden and the Democratic party as a whole are capitalists. No one needs to worry that the United States will not continue to be a capitalist country where businesses are owned by individuals, families, small groups of people, and/or stockholders, not buy the society as a whole or the government.

I admit that one of the things that confuses me about the Republican party is that they are inconsistent. They think that deficits and increases to the national debt are terrible when there is a Democratic president, but when there is a Republican one, they pass tax cuts that push the budget deficit and national debt higher.

These last four years have confused the identity of the Republican party further. A number of traditional conservatives have left the party altogether.

I have no idea what comes next for the Republicans as a party.

I don’t think that they do, either.

Thanksgiving 2020

The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It’s traditional to gather with family and friends for a big dinner, usually turkey with lots of side dishes.

This Thanksgiving will be quieter for many of us because of the pandemic. Cases are rising across the country and in many states are already so numerous that hospitals are running out of space for patients. Frighteningly, millions of people are not heeding the advice of public health experts and are travelling long distances and/or gathering in groups larger than ten or with people outside their household, thus increasing the danger of even higher case counts in December.

Our plan for the day is for spouse B, daughter T, and I to go to Paco’s apartment in his senior community where we will have a Zoom session with my sisters and daughter E. In that way, Paco will get to see his great-granddaughters ABC and JG who will be celebrating American Thanksgiving on an ordinary (lockdown) Thursday in London, UK. B,T, and I were supposed to be in London with them near the end of a month-long visit until the lockdown there cancelled our trip. Once I have Paco set up with the Zoom session on this laptop, I’ll go to another room with another device so he can take his mask off.

After our video chat, Thanksgiving dinner will be delivered to the apartment and we will eat with Paco on one side of the room and B, T, and me on the other as we will need to take our masks off to eat. We will leave expeditiously after dinner so as to limit our contact time.

It won’t be the usual Thanksgiving, but it will be special in its own way.

The point of the holiday is to give thanks but the gratitude this year is tinged with sorrow and regret. I am very grateful that our family is weathering this very disrupted year. B is able to work from home and we are able to stay safe at home for the most part. We certainly miss being able to visit Paco every day and are sad to not be able to travel to the UK to visit for all of 2020, but it would be so horrifying and dangerous to have inadvertently exposed someone to COVID that the separation is necessary.

I am grateful for Governor Cuomo and all the medical personnel and other essential workers who have worked so hard to keep as many of us safe and well as possible. At the same time, I mourn the millions of people in the US and around the world who have been impacted by the coronavirus, either by illness or death of themselves or a loved one or loss of work, shelter, food security, medical care, etc. I am also dreading the coming weeks, which are projected to see a steep rise in cases on top of already soaring rates in the US. There have already been over 12.8 million confirmed cases and 261,000 deaths and the thought of millions more is overwhelming.

I am grateful that the Biden /Harris administration is starting to take shape with the announcement of well-qualified people to key posts. At the same time, I’m sad to see so many not accepting the facts of the situation and not being willing to join in the efforts to come together to fight the pandemic, revive our communities, and unite as one nation.

I’m grateful for the ideals of our country but sad that we are so far from embodying them.

I feel similarly about the Catholic church. I’m grateful for the moral grounding, social doctrine, integral ecology principles, and primacy of love that it has taught me, but sorrowful and penitent about the many abuses of power done in its name, including war, torture, colonialism, racism, sexism, clericalism, sexual abuse and cover-up, and oppression of other religions and peoples over centuries.

So, yes, a very different Thanksgiving. With widespread vaccine use possible by November 2021, maybe next year will be more “normal.”

Or, maybe, there will be no going back to what used to be considered normal.

I pray that we can finally build institutions that live up to their high ideals for the good of all creation.

X years ago

Facebook often presents users with the opportunity to repost something from prior years. Today, it suggested this photo from two years ago:

a post-dinner four generation photo of me, Nana, daughter E, and granddaughter ABC

This was our last Thanksgiving with my mom, known here as Nana. She passed away from congestive heart failure the following May. Daughter E and granddaughter ABC moved to London, UK, that October when E’s spousal visa finally came through. ABC is now in nursery school and big sister to JG, whom we planned to meet this month until England went into a new pandemic lockdown phase.

It’s a lot in two years.

And it seems like it’s been longer than two years.

Three days ago, one of my poet-friends posted a photo from the Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency from which the Boiler House Poets Collective sprang five years ago. In the comment thread that followed, someone asked if anyone had written about it, which prompted me to re-read my blog posts from the residency. This post links to most of them. It was interesting to read my real-time take on what was happening, although I did temper the amount of anxiety I expressed somewhat. It was nice to see that I accomplished more than I remembered and good to be reminded of our various sessions with our poet-teachers and the bonding among our original nine poets-in-residence.

We have gone back to North Adams for a reunion residency every autumn, until being derailed this year by COVID. We have a reservation for both 2021 and 2022, though, which is tempering the sadness at missing this year a bit.

And, yes, those five years feel longer than they are, too.

Binghamton Poetry Project Fall 2020 anthology and reading

Due to the pandemic, the Binghamton Poetry Project has moved to Zoom for 2020. For each of our spring, summer, and fall seasons, we did five sessions of poem study and prompts, followed by a reading via Zoom. For the fall, our directors at Binghamton University have re-imagined our anthologies, which had been distributed in print at our in-person readings in prior years, as a digital publication. You can find the anthology at the Binghamton Poetry Project site here: https://thebinghamtonpoetryproject.wordpress.com/fall-2020-anthology/

One of the 2020 innovations from the Binghamton Poetry Project was to offer two different workshops, one for beginners and one for more experienced poets. I was part of the latter group. I enjoyed working with our instructor Shin Watanabe, who is a PhD student at Binghamton University. I also appreciated the opportunity to connect with the other community poets who attended, some of whom I have known for years in person and others of whom I have only met via Zoom. One of the advantages of Zoom meetings is that we have been able to include poets who are further afield, including some from the Ithaca area.

All three of the poems I chose for the anthology were written in response to Shin’s prompts based on our reading for that session. I thought it might be interesting to include how these poems came to be written; one of the advantages of taking a class or workshop is that you generate poems that otherwise would not have been written were it not for the prompts.

That being said, this first poem is one that was conceived before the prompt, as it will eventually be part of the collection about the North Adams, Massachusetts area that I have been working on for several years. The prompt was about employing interesting adjectives, based on our study of The Colossus by Sylvia Plath.

Navigating North Adams for MWS

Google maps had no street-view
for the addresses you had unearthed
through Ancestry.com
in the year since we each lost
our mothers May-days apart.
We were excited to discover
your great-grandmother

as a young Scottish immigrant
lived in the city where I also had roots.
As I drove the two hundred miles there,
I thought of you,
ten times further away,
of the photos I would send
so we could imagine

your ancestors and mine crossing
paths, setting in motion
our friendship generations on.
I navigated the streets too steep,
narrow, and unassuming
for the google-cars that take wrap-around
photos to satisfy the curious or nostalgic.

When Jeanie lived at 34 Jackson
did she cross Eagle
and walk with Ruth down
Bracewell toward the school?
When did the neighbors
at 27 Hudson put
up a sign, Established

in 1860? Surely
not back then, when
the hillside houses
were only middle-aged.
Did she sled down
Veazie with Mary
who lived parallel

on Williams? Did the imprint
of these ancestral
connections somehow
draw us to each
other as college roommates,
forty-year friends clinging
to each other on steep climbs?

The next poem was an experiment with line breaks, based on our discussion of Charles Bukowski’s Fingernails; Nostrils; Shoelaces.

Two and a half hours

The line stretched from
St. Paul’s Church down
the block to the library
voters spread six feet apart
waiting for
their turn to enter
go downstairs
wait
give their
name, sign the
tablet with a
disinfected stylus
watch the printer spit out
their ballot
sequester together in a
cubicle, completely fill in the
bubbles for their
choices with a
black felt pen
feed their ballot into the
machine, wait for
confirmation, walk back to
their car
go home and
hope.

This final poem is a failed attempt at the American Sublime, a la Hart Crane’s The Bridge: To Brooklyn Bridge. I think I managed a bit of the awe component, though.

For Jillian Grace

On my screen, you appear
smaller than your 2.9 kilos –
kilos because, from the start,
you are a British baby,
unlike your older sister, born
in the same upstate New York
hospital as your mother,
just miles from where
I, bleary-eyed at dawn,
stare at your first photos.

Your dark hair peeks
from under the knit cap
meant to keep you warm
as you adjust to air,
not the tiny ocean
that had been your home
for thirty-seven weeks,
your cheeks rosy
against the white blankets
and Winnie-the-Pooh sleeper.

I long to cradle you,
to breathe your newborn scent,
stroke your soft skin,
feel your fingers
wrap one of mine,
hum quiet lullabies,
claim you as my granddaughter,
but you are thirty-five hundred miles
and a pandemic
away.

I hope you will take a look at our anthology. Feel free to comment here or on the Binghamton Poetry Project site. Enjoy!

What do you think of when you see a Warhol Campbell Soup can painting?

You can see responses from seventeen writers, including me and fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member Kyle Laws, at the link below. Many thanks to The Ekphrastic Review founder and editor Lorette C. Luzajic for the always interesting Ekphrastic Writing Challenge features. Enjoy!

https://www.ekphrastic.net/ekphrastic/ekphrastic-writing-responses-andy-warhol

email, email, and more email

Since I first started using email over twenty years ago, I have had the same email address. It was initially set up through Roadrunner, affiliated then with Time Warner although it has since moved to Spectrum.

I’ve used this email address for everything from personal correspondence to charity donations to newsletters to subscriptions to poetry submissions to online shopping. It has been registered in hundreds of places over the years. The address has occasionally been unreliable but, given how widespread it was, I was loath to change it.

Now, however, it has lost or delayed so many things that my hand is forced. I got the October newsletter from the Biden campaign and an email about planning my vote after election day. I sent a poem to my local poet circle for workshop twice without anyone receiving it. An email from the resolution center working on refunds for our cancelled trip to London went astray and almost resulted in the case being closed prematurely.

So, I have embarked on the the painstaking process of migrating from my one-stop email destination to a constellation of gmail addresses for different purposes. There is one for poetry related things, one for shopping and business contacts for B and me, and one for all the rest of my personal and organizational contacts.

The sorting is proving to be a long and complicated process. I realize I am still in the early stages of it, but it is beginning to take shape. Daughter E taught me how to keep tabs for the three different gmail inboxes open simultaneously in my browser and I have a fourth with my original inbox, all of which I am getting into the habit of monitoring several times a day. [Note that none of these is my long-neglected blog email topofjcsmind@gmail.com. The recommendation still holds that if you want to contact me by email that you leave a comment telling me you have done so, as I will see the comment and know to check the inbox. Some year or other, I’ll get to making it usable.]

What is taking a ton of time is changing the address on email lists. Some organizations have a straightforward process with a link for updating at the end of their email. Click the link. Edit your address. Save changes and you’re done. Sometimes, they email you a confirmation link for security reasons. Other times, the setup is that they email you an edit link first. Both guard against unauthorized changes.

Some sites don’t offer a way to make changes. I’ve had to subscribe with a new email address and then unsubscribe the old address.

Others allow you to update your online profile at their site, but I’ve run into lots of problems doing this. Sometimes, the site will let you change your address but then won’t update for the emails it sends you. Other times, it seems they won’t save your preferences for how often you want to hear from them. And some seem to just stop sending emails altogether.

This endeavor is also making me consider each email sender and whether or not I want to keep hearing from them. As I have posted about previously, I have been trying to tame my inbox for some time. I’m hoping the time that I’m investing in this organizational effort will eventually make it easier to deal with my email and give me more time for other things.

I wish I could figure out when I will arrive at that “eventual” point.

So far, I’ve done very little about changing my email for personal contacts. Personal messages seem to get through to my original email inbox pretty reliably, although occasionally one gets delayed for days or lands in my spam folder. Perhaps, I’ll draft a bcc email blast at some point, although I’ll probably have my poet-friends use my poetry address rather than my general one and friends of both B and me our joint address.

Something else to think about.

Who knew email could be so tiring?

the pleasures and dangers of poetry readings

One of the opportunities that has arisen during the pandemic is the easy availability of poetry readings, as many institutions have re-imagined their live readings as online events.

I admit that I wasn’t in the habit of going to a lot of readings in-person before the pandemic. They are usually in the evenings and I try to keep as much evening time reserved for family as possible, so it was difficult for me to commit to the transport time plus the reading time. That is less of a factor now that I can attend and still be at home, in case something comes up that needs my immediate attention.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend a virtual book launch for fellow Boiler House Poets Collective member Erica Bodwell’s Crown of Wild. I heard one of my Smith College poetry godmothers Anne Harding Woodworth read from her new book Trouble, as well as her previous books. I’ve tuned into readings sponsored by the Smith College Boutelle-Day Poetry Center and the Binghamton University Center for Writers. I have even participated in an online reading with the Binghamton Poetry Project.

It’s been wonderful to hear poets reading their work and I’ve also appreciated the opportunity to hear poets speak about their lives and work in interviews or question and answer sessions.

I admit, though, that these discussions, particularly when they take place in academic settings, can shake my sense of myself as a poet.

I consider myself to be a community poet, meaning that my work is informed by my experiences much more so than by my academic background. While I have been blessed with learning about craft through the Binghamton Poetry Project, the Broome County Arts Council, Sappho’s Circle, and my poet-friends of the Grapevine Group and Boiler House Poets Collective, the last time that poetry was a significant part of my academic work was in grammar school, many decades ago. I’ve also learned a lot by reading different poets.

In comments in their readings, poets that I admire talk about the wonders of writing in forms like sonnets or villanelles and how this focuses their writing.

I’ve tried variously to write in form. I’ve never managed to write a traditional sonnet or villanelle that was worth making it out of my notebook.

The thought of trying to write a decent sestina is enough to make me break out in hives.

I do a bit better with forms that have made their way into English from Japan. I have written some successful haiku, tanka, and haibun. I am especially fond of tanka and have included several in my chapbook manuscript, which is still in circulation with publishers and amassing an impressive list of rejections. (Note to self: send more submissions.)

When I am feeling shaken about not having formal training, an English major, or an MFA with all their attendant skills and expertise, I try to remember the times that my poet-friends have reassured me that, although my poetry is different, it is still worthwhile – and that I am indeed a poet.

Now if I can just find those presses and publishers that agree…