January 31, 2011

In the Belly of the Albatross

"We’ve come to make sense of this embrace

to see the shapes of ourselves in these birds"

                                                    --Victoria Sloan Jordan

The Great American Garbage Patch-- it almost sounds quaint, doesn't it? As if it might be a junk pile on the back acre of grandpa's farm where one could find and re-purpose a rusty old wagon or a two-wheeled tricycle.

The name doesn't connote the serious nature of it (no pun intended), so perhaps it should be called the Great Pacific Eco-Destroying Cesspool of Plastic and Toxic Sludge. There's been some recent debate about the size of the plastic island in the Pacific, some saying it's as big as the U.S., some saying it's as big as Texas, and some arguing that, no, it's only about one percent of the size of Texas.

I don't know how big one percent of Texas is, but here's the thing: If the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is any bigger than the size of, oh, say, my ass, it's too big, and there are a million reasons why this is true, but here's one of them: the albatross.

Once a month I teach poetry to the children at the Unitarian Church in Fitchburg, Mass. The theme for January is Reuse, Reduce, Recycle, and I wanted to show the children the ways artists and writers employ their talents to make the world a better place.

As I researched environmental poetry I stumbled across Victoria Sloan Jordan's poems about the albatrosses, and I knew it was going to be the lesson. (I didn't swear during the lesson, though, in case you were wondering).

The albatrosses mistake the brightly colored plastic floating in the ocean for food, eat it and starve to death or choke, but not before feeding it to their babies, repeating the cycle. All over the atoll are rotted albatross carcasses, bellies exposed to show the pieces of plastic perfectly intact.  Of the 21 species of albatross, 19 are nearly extinct.

Sloan Jordan wrote about her visit to Midway Atoll with Chris Jordan who photographed the dead albatrosses.

I showed the UU children one of the less graphic photos, and they wrote poems titled, "In the Albatross's Belly," listing what they saw there. One boy's poem began, "No fish."

I didn't know what was happening in the sanctuary while we were downstairs discussing the plastic pieces we saw inside the albatross, but when I opened Rev. Seligman's sermon this morning I found this:

"None of us alone or even collectively can save everyone. We cannot stop homelessness or hunger. We cannot compel those who wield weapons of mass destruction or improvised explosive devices to turn them into ploughshares. We cannot eliminate all forms of exploitation: animal, human, botanical. But we can build an ark. We can create a structure to preserve creation. To preserve the power and relentless testimony of creativity: human, animal and botanical. We can implement ministries urban and rural. We can till the ground and cultivate gardens. We can compost. We can create spaces for contemplation: labyrinths and gardens and walking trails. We can create spaces to memorialize and honor our beloved by partnering with the land and its verdant beings." -- Rev. Leaf Seligman

There are very few things I do well. I can't be trusted with a hammer and most of what I attempt to grow browns and curls, but I like to think I can turn a phrase on occasion. Maybe I can make an ark of words.

What will your ark be?

You may also be interested in Chris Jordan's artwork depicting U.S. mass consumption: Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait.

January 28, 2011

Winter Blahs


Most days, it's hard for me to get out of bed, not because I'm old and feeble but because I feel tremendous sadness in the morning. I'm usually able to shake it by the time I've slid Buckaroo's bowl of oatmeal across the table, but some days not.

I know what I need: exercise, poetry, a dose of love, vitamin D, maybe a smidge of therapy, and warm makes-ya-happy-to-be-alive sunshine. The latter is not forthcoming anytime soon, according to the weather report. What's a mama to do? Muddle through.

Reading with the kidlets is a mood booster for everyone in the house, though, so we do it often. Sweet P and I are still reading Little Women, and I just finished reading Charlotte's Web to Buckaroo. In Charlotte's farewell speech to Wilbur, I found a tidbit of wisdom to carry me through the white days:

"Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond. The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again. All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur--this lovely world, these precious days."

Amen, Charlotte.

Summer may be a distant speck on the horizon, but, inshallah, when it arrives I'll be around to see it.

January 25, 2011

The Great Bedroom Switcheroo

 Whenever Honey Man (as I've decided to re-title R) stresses about our finances, Frog Mama tells me to remind him that one must let go of money so that it may go forth and multiply and return bigger and better-- or something like that.

Actually, I've never passed that tidbit of wisdom on to Honey Man as I'm afraid he'll snarl at me, but this weekend we put that lesson into practice in a different way. We let go of our bedroom.

When we moved to The Woods, Sweet P took the bunk room, a tiny room next to Buckaroo's which consists of a bunk bed, a small closet, and just enough width for one and a half people to stand shoulder to shoulder. Sweet P was not so bothered by the lack of space (although it was a detriment to slumber parties). Her annoyance centered around the room's lack of complete walls and door, which hindered her ability to escape her family a proper fashion. Also, it meant that when her brother woke nightly at 3 a.m., she woke, too.

Since that moving day, we've promised Sweet P we'd build a bedroom in the basement, but one thing I've learned about home ownership is that there's always a choice between home renovation and vacation, and I'm always inclined toward vacation. It's been more than two years, and the basement is far from finished.

The longer we postponed the bedroom building, the more disgruntled our Sweet P became (even though she enjoys vacation as much as her mother).

We kept stewing in the idea of giving her our bedroom because it's spacious and has a door, but it's the master bedroom, with a master bath, and we are The Masters, right? Plus, we put all that work into decorating it.

But sibling relations came to a head one fateful night, and it became clear that if Sweet P did not have her own space none of us would make it out of this winter alive.

We set aside a whole weekend for the Great Bedroom Switcheroo during which Sweet P moved into our bedroom, we moved into Buckaroo's bedroom, and he moved into Sweet P's matchbox-sized bedroom, which meant clearing the furniture (including a beastly heavy and green antique couch) out of the porchy front room so there would be a place for Buckaroo's many trucks and trains-- so, yes, as Sweet P pointed out Buckaroo does have two rooms like Dudley Dursley.

While it was our idea, Honey Man and I went into the operation begrudgingly as our new, smaller, bedroom also has a dearth of walls and doors and no closet whatsoever, accessories we enjoy immensely, but despite our resistance we hoped that Sweet P might be blown off of her cranky pedestal by the kindness of our selfless act. Of course, that didn't happen. I suppose it's a challenge to feel loving kindness for people who are bestowing their favors most unwillingly.

Well, we made the move, and our backs are sore, but something crazy came out of it.  Our new bedroom is cozier than our old bedroom ever was, and because Buckaroo is just on the other side of the wall in his new bed-fort, he jumps into our bed at 3 a.m. with little to no fanfare, which is a major improvement of our nighttime routine.

Our new bedroom, including the wall hanging that formerly had no wall

The half-painted front room, which was a sore point between Honey Man and me because I could never decide whether or not I liked the shocking blue we chose, is now a cheery play area complemented by the brightness.

Now that Sweet P is tucked away in her new room the pressure is off to finish the basement, and we're going to focus our energy on the upstairs where we actually live now. So sensible. Setting aside a work weekend worked so well we're going to do it again and again and again.

I think I speak for myself and Honey Man when I say that, while we do mourn the loss of our bedroom door and closet, we feel more contended with our house than ever; we've been knocked out of our renovation stupor and can see the possibilities afresh.


The wall between our new bedroom and Buckaroo's
 No, Sweet P is not the blissed out teen we hoped she'd be post-move. She still harrumphs, rolls her eyes, and generally ignores us, but the bedroom switch did bring us all a dose of much-needed peace, and my fantasy is that one day, a long, long, time from now, Sweet P will be the parent of a thirteen-year-old girl, and O how the gratefulness will flow then, and we'll be waiting downriver.

Or maybe not. That's the rub.

In any case, we give, and the giving comes back to us in unexpected ways, so let that be enough.   

January 20, 2011

The Honey Man Tasteth

The Bee Man gave R a dead hive to dissect and examine, explore and tidy. Here, R is scraping at the capped honey so we three greedy bears might have a sample. Not too shabby.

January 19, 2011

Wintery Mix

I wish that a wintery mix were some Chex-like snack with white chocolate morsels and raisins. It is not, much to my dismay, and if it were I've had enough of it to become quite plump with the stuff. It's been a week of snow, sleet, rain, ice, and every variation here in The Woods, and January is slinking by in its slothy way.

I often find myself enjoying nearly erotic fantasies about the SF Bay Area spring that is February.

But Lo and Behold, today as I was picking my way tenderly up the ice rink that is our driveway I discovered these tiny paw prints in the snow. I know they're just squirrel tracks, but there is something delightful about finding the evidence of critters run amok while we're away.

Also, Sweet P returned from her skiing lesson downright cheery this evening, which does the whole family good.

And so, tomorrow is another day. And it's one day closer to the equinox.

January 18, 2011

Phoetry (Photo + Poetry) Project #1

I've started a new project at the Fitchburg UU site. Check it out by clicking your mouse here.

January 16, 2011

Rosie Posie, Take II

I got a little ahead of myself before when I posted the link to my poems in Rose and Thorn, so now, without further hullaballoo, here is the entire Winter Issue of Rose and Thorn. Enjoy!

January 13, 2011

Life without Facebook

I have several thousand New Year's resolutions, but the grandaddy of all my resolutions is that I'll spend more time writing poetry and fiction instead of status updates, sending submissions instead of friend requests. I have a new policy whereas I allow myself to visit the site only on Fridays.

I've been at it three weeks now-- I like to get a jumpstart on resolutions-- and the result is . . . well, the result is nebulous, but my dreams may be suggestive of what's happening in my head.

First, I dream once again of moving back to California. In the last dream, R and I were viewing a victorian with hardwood floors, tall, sunny windows, and a sweet little office for writing. It was, of course, across the street from a coffee shop and book store. I woke bereft.

I also dreamed I was graduating from Chico State all over again, and my last project was to create a painting for one of my professors. I painted an autumn ginkgo for Gary Thompson, from whom I learned to appreciate the ginkgo and the egret. I woke and spent the morning reminiscing about Gary's classes and long post-class afternoons drinking wheat beer with lemon and discussing poetry at the pub with my classmates.

Oprah's lifecoach, Martha Beck, says the goals we set for ourselves are not always what's best for us. We should re-consider our goals, think about how we believe our goals will make us feel, and then decide if there's anything else that will bring that same emotion.

My forever goal is to publish my poetry manuscript, and I can't imagine any reason why that goal is not appropriate for me. Lately, though, every rejection letter or "you-missed-it-by-that-much" letter brings me to a new low in a way it never did before.

After applying Beck's formula for happiness, I realized that, while rejection is never a blast, what I'm really grieving is the loss of the writing scene. I miss those lengthy craft conversations, and I've been trying to bring the scene to me by publishing instead of going to where I might find it.

And it all came to me when I cut back on my Facebook time because Facebook is a bit of a band-aid: it fulfills the need to connect with others, but the connection is mostly superficial, and without Facebook every day, I realized just how incredibly isolated I am from everyone, but especially from other writers. Facebook can't heal that wound.

I've made a plan to attend some local poetry readings-- well, they're not local at all, but I'm going to get myself there come hell . . . Uh, I can't really complete that line since yesterday my attempt to poetize myself was foiled by a blizzard, but I am going to try really, really hard.

And in the meantime I have a conference call this weekend with three lovely poetic type people scattered across the country. In fact, I need to write a poem to share with them, so I'd better get to it.