sharing a poetic LIFELINE with the world

It’s almost supper time and I’m hungry, which got me thinking about my father and his ability to pick restaurants.

 Out to Lunch

One of the things about my father that always impressed me was his ability to pick out good restaurants on the fly. He would look around, sniff a few times, take a look at the menu and make a decision. I don’t ever remember having a bad meal when we ate together.

We lived in Manhattan and though we ate out quite a lot on Sunday nights it was always at the same few restaurants. One of them was Tony’s Italian Kitchen on West 79th street. It was owned by the chef and the maitre d’, I learned later, and according to my father this was one of the secrets of its success. In any case, they had one of the best antipastos I have ever eaten in any Italian restaurant. It had marinated peppers, mushrooms, olives, Italian salami and provolone and much more. I was floored when, after coming to Boston for the first time, I ordered antipasto and was served what was basically a large salad.

It was on a summer trip through England and France, however, when this ability came to the fore. We never had a bad meal even in London, which at the time had a reputation for dull food.

But it was in France that he impressed us most. We were in Paris and were walking around Montmartre when supper time rolled around. As we strolled down the hill, my father pointed to a restaurant close to the top of the hill, La Mere Catherine.

“Let’s try that one,” he suggested. I never did find out why he picked it.

I had coq au vin for supper. It is now many, many years later and I still remember the meal and the savory flavor of the chicken in red wine. I later looked the restaurant up in the famous Guide Michelin and discovered that it had an impressive one star. Trust me, one star is an amazing achievement. The thing is, though, that my father picked it out without consulting the guide book

Later that same trip I stumbled across what I remember as one of my first experiences of culture shock. We were in a restaurant in the French countryside ordering lunch, in French, which we all spoke. I was ordering a croque monsieur, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The conversation, which for convenience I’ll render mostly in English, went something like this:

“And what kind of cheese would you like?” the waitress asked.

“Fromage Suisse” (Swiss cheese) I replied.

“And what kind of Swiss cheese?” she responded.

I was floored. I never knew there was more than one. Ever on the ball, however, I came back with “what kinds do you have?” They had emmental and gruyere. I picked gruyere, mostly because it sounded familiar.

In case you ever face this dilemma, however, I’ll add that our imported Swiss cheese is in fact emmental. Gruyere is more like domestic Swiss.

Though I never figured out all of how my father did it, I did learn at least one of his secrets one day when I met him for dinner. He had spent the day at the courthouse in lower Manhattan, so we decided to go to Chinatown for dinner.

We were standing in line at the place he picked out when I asked rather plaintively, “Why not that place over there? There’s no line.”

Exactly,” he replied.

Dinner was delicious.

 

Why be difficult, when you can always be impossible?
One of my family’s mottos when I was growing up.

Last month, my epiphany about letting go of what’s driving me nuts, and engage in activity that could free my synapses, helped me resolve the issue I wrote about in A Purse Full of Poems. Wonder of wonders — I’m still using my “new” old purse, haven’t overloaded it, and know that my shoulder is happier.

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Thus emboldened, I tackled my password pandemonium that’s felt like herding cats for over a year. Choosing the most basic organizing idea I could think of, I grabbed some ten-year-old index cards, made alpha labels, and started putting one name/site/whatever on each card, with the appropriate alpha letter in the top R corner.

Feeling silly at the low-tech approach, but loving to write with pens anyway, I searched my emails, iPad, iPhone, and Mac to corral them. I’m still in gathering stage, and make bold decisions about which to delete as I find them. Next I tried to find the most recent passwords, test them out, and at some point, will decomplicate them. Who’s gonna get into my writing.com account and create havoc?

still-work-to-do

if only my mind
could grasp what is before me
as it is right now

Once I figured out how to actually attack this, and started, other things fell in line. Perhaps the benefits of procrastination are to take the time to become frustrated, snarl at the tasks, separate out the goal/end result from the process. Then DO something.

The real thing is that I feel I can move forward again, and am glad I took the pressure off myself.

Now, if I can continue to stay focused on just a few things at a time, I do believe I can get some old stuff done that I want to do, and make choices about what can just sit or can be considered “done” in their current state.

I enlisted my sister Muselings to try an accountability circle for a few weeks, with each of us choosing only two goals to work on. We all decided we need to move / exercise / walk more, so we’re reporting in on our progress every few days.

We each chose a problem to tackle; our choices ranged from making dreaded appointments and figuring out what to do next, finishing a picture book draft, diligently keeping up with an embroidery challenge, and (mine) doing what I need to do to get Lifelines back in publication.

Wonder of wonders — we are all making huge progress on our “stuff”! We’re jazzed, keep each other on point, provide encouragement when needed, pose pointed questions as appropriate. And, it’s working. Once again, we’ve taken our book title literally, and are providing a Lifeline to each other.

When I told Lisa Gentile, one of our Mentors, and my Coach, what I was doing about my password project,  she said, “We forget that a new system can be simple. It doesn’t have to incorporate the latest tech. That just makes the adoption curve higher and the change bigger. The key is having any system that makes things better. I still have a paper Rolodex for immediate storing of contacts!”

So do several others I admire. Onward! Or backward? How do you stay on track with projects, and herd your passwords?

Michele

In December 2016 I was invited to an embroidery challenge. The challenge was to stitch every day in 2017 (at least one stitch) and post your progress on social media. I joined the Facebook group: 1 Year of Stitches: 2017 https://www.facebook.com/groups/1294313713974098/ and decided to post the pictures of my progress on my Facebook timeline. I knew that freeform was not my style so I decided to do “little embroideries,” using designs that I already had and randomly picking the floss color for each one. The randomness is gone and the “little embroideries” may get bigger as the year goes by.

hummingbird-finale

I was excited to start, but apprehensive too. How much time would this take? Could I keep up?
Would I get bored? I decided on using three strands of embroidery floss (out of 6) which would make a finer design. I’m also using felt on some of the designs. I use a Sulky wash-away stabilizer that comes in packs of 12 sheets that you can print designs on with your printer. You just print out the design and peel it off the backing and it sticks to your fabric. It doesn’t always stick well. I usually embroider in the morning. If I turn on all my lights I have enough lighting at night to embroider too.

jelly-finale

Starting three days before January 1st, I felt a sense of urgency, which didn’t leave me until the first design was done, the hummingbird, in a week’s time. Now I don’t have the same sense of urgency. I am supposed to post to the Facebook group on Sundays, but now post whenever I have a finished embroidery to share. I’m on Day 54 and have finished five so far.

angelfish-finale

I’ve framed one and plan to frame the rest for gifts in 2018. One friend has already tagged the angelfish for herself. The themes are one color floss and bling! I’m beading each one, and adding sequins to some of them.

playing-cards-finale

What have I learned so far? That saying you’ll do something for a year is quite different than actually working on something every day. That I have to take it one day at a time or the task will seem far too enormous. That having external support (Facebook likes and friend’s comments and the support of the Poetic Muselings) is extremely important and helpful. Here’s to 10 more months of stitching! And 8 days!!!

aquarius-finale

This is my current WIP, a chandelier, almost done:

day-53

I was cleaning out my files in a so-far futile attempt to organize them and came across a couple of flash fiction pieces I thought I’d share with y’all.

About Chuck’s Chicken

I was pulling up to the drive-through at McDonald’s when the story below came to me. No, it was not inspired by a real incident.814015364_2879704483_0-1

Chuck’s Chicken

I rolled up to the takeout window at Chuck’s Chicken, Where The Chickens are Still Clucking and stuck my head out the open car window, sucking in a large breath of the damp, heavy summer air.

“Waddle it be, sweetie?” The guy, bald, and at least 300 pounds, leered at me. His name tag read, “Chuck.”

“Two thighs, a side of corn, a side of mashed potatoes, and corn bread. No gravy on the potatoes. Oh, and a large lemonade.”

I waited for Chuck to repeat my order back to me. Instead he held up a hand, gesturing STOP, and turned away from me. I heard a voice yelling from inside the restaurant.

“Chuck, that chicken you wanted me to slaughter? I chopped off its head, but it’s running around the kitchen, and it’s dripping blood everywhere.”

“Al, you idiot, I told you to kill the damn bird out in the yard.”

I swallowed, started my car and drove away. And here I’d thought when Chuck said, Still Clucking, he’d been feeding me a line.

About Mad Hatter Town Planners

When he was in middle school, my youngest son and I would wonder about how some of the roads near our house on the cape got their names; Rascally Rabbit Road was one of them.

Our conclusions inspired the story below. The town meeting is entirely a figment of my imagination. The only thing inspired by a real incident is the bit about the fire.houses

Mad Hatter Town Planners

I fell down the rabbit hole straight into the town planning committee meeting. A large basin of Sangria sat in the middle of the scratched wood table in the center of the room, and a keg rested against the back wall. Al, Stan, and Art were already there.

Stan wore a suit, and sweat dripped down his face into his long gray hair as he peered over Art’s shoulder.

“It’s my Mother-in-law’s recipe,” Art was saying as I walked in. Light reflected off his head, bald and smooth as an egg. He wore Khaki shorts and a very old Boston Pops t-shirt. His glasses were new, though: a snappy pair with a silver frame.

“Hey, Pete, have some Sangria.” Art handed me a large glass without waiting for my answer. The outside was still wet. I wiped my hand on my pants, leaving a purple stain on my new khaki shorts.

I took a sip. It was good. “What’s in this?”

“My father-in-law makes the wine himself. He gifted us with a barrel or two. We had to buy the fruit.” Art grinned. His father-in-law was over eighty, and Art claimed he still kept his savings in a suitcase under his bed.

 “So what’s the big crisis? I planned to spend the evening playing miniature golf with my grandkids.” I pulled out a chair across the table from Art and dropped into it.

“We need to name some streets in order to incorporate.” A shaft of sunlight reflected off Art’s thick glasses.

“They have names: Main street, Railroad Street, New Street.”  I brushed at the stain on my shorts. It didn’t help.

Stan pulled a pen from his shirt pocket, which was white and sported a large blue stain. “We applied to be part of Wonderland. A couple of our names are duplicates of theirs, and some of the others are confusing: Bay Street, Bay Road, and the like. I want to rename everything iffy so people won’t get lost. I thought we could come up with something original. All we have to do is pick names and drop the list off. They’re all set to approve us when we do.” He flipped open his notepad and scribbled something.

“I assume we have the list of existing Wonderland street names.” I took a long drink of the sangria, almost swallowing a piece of lemon at the bottom of the glass.

“Yes, and the list of ours, too. We’ve got the duplicates and the confusing ones marked.” Stan flipped to another page and passed me his notebook.

“Why not meet another night?” I glanced at the list. It was long. I handed the notebook back to Stan.

“Because I’ll be out of town after tonight. My daughter just had twin girls. We’re going out there for a month, maybe longer.” Al drained his glass of Sangria and poured himself another. Some spilled down his shirt. It was one of those nice polo shirts with a collar and some kind of logo.

Mort, the final member of our team, strolled in, dropping his pile of library books onto the table and flopping into a chair. He was young, only fifty-five or so, but he’d retired early. “Remind me why we need to be part of Wonderland.”  

Art handed Mort a glass of Sangria, which he drained and handed back to Art. Art poured him another glass.

“So we can be part of their emergency services: police, fire, and all that. They have a full-time fire department, not just volunteers on call. To do that, we need to rename some streets.” Stan passed Mort his notebook.

Mort dropped the notebook onto the table before taking another healthy swig of Sangria. “So?”

Art got up and refilled all of our glasses before turning to Mort. “That’s right, you’re new. My son’s house burned to the ground last year. He had to drop his kids from the second story window. My granddaughter Maria was screaming, ‘Daddy, don’t. They hadn’t even rounded up the so-called volunteer firemen. The chief had his phone turned off. Maria broke both legs.”

 “All right, so what are we going to name those streets?” Mort finished his glass of sangria, and Art poured him another.

 “Merciful Marvin Meadows. Treacherous Tom’s Twisty Trail Jabberwocky Junction.” I hiccuped. I’d had four, maybe five glasses of Sangria by then. 

Time passed. We drank and named streets.

 “No more,” I said, peering into the now empty tub. “Time to go home.” I tried to get my car keys but they kept falling on the floor.  Art, Al, Stan, and Mort were no better.

We called Town Taxi to come pick us up. We must have dropped off the list of names but I really don’t remember. The next thing I knew my wife was shaking me awake.  Sun streamed in the window. When I peered at the clock, it read noon.

“Al says Wonderland has approved the new street names and we’re now officially part of town.”

I sat up and groaned. My aching head! “So what’s the problem?”

“You boys really tied one on. Some of those names…”

“Art had a tub of Sangria. His father-in-law gave him a couple of barrels of his wine.” I pressed my hands to my pounding head. “Can you get me a couple of aspirin?”

“No, honey, you can get them yourself.” She turned and left. I rolled over, pulled the pillow over my head, and went back to sleep.

And that’s why I, Peter Piper, now live on Picked A Pickle Pepper Path.

 

 

Whether just starting as a poet, or well-experienced, you can learn by imitation. Choose a poem by another poet, classic or modern, and write a poem in the same style. There’s a few ways you could approach this:

  • Write a poem as a direct response to the subject.
  • Write your own poem inspired by the topic.
  • Follow the poetry form only.

Here’s an example of one of my early poems. I personalized Emily Dickinson’s “This is My Letter to the World.” I kept it in a similar style, and thought: What would I say to the world?

To: The World; From: Mary

My Letter to the World

What do I have to say to the world
That all but deserted me?
Would anyone listen to a single soul
Through the unheard art of poetry?

Although surrounded by others,
Wanting my voice to be heard,
I’m often isolated
For no one will hear my words.

Can I make a difference in someone’s life,
As others did in mine?
Will anyone read the simple words
That I wrote in my spare time?

I may be a shy, quiet person
But I have a message of my own;
Won’t someone come and discover
The soul within my poems.

The message of my poem remains true today. I want my voice, my poems, to be heard. I’d love it if you shared your own poem based on the prompt.

mary-sig2 (1)

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Julia Cameron — author of The Artist’s Way, and other books about finding your way in this world — was right.  Among her brilliant yet often simple ideas, she stated that sometimes “mending” clothes can mend the mind.

The context was about letting go of whatever is driving you nuts, and engage in activity that can free your synapses to help resolve the issue. A variation on great ideas that occur in the shower.

 

 

(Did you know that someone’s invented a water- and steam-proof board and pen so you can capture your priceless mind mutterings without trailing water all over the house? . . . and as soon as I can remember to look for one when I’m not in the shower, I intend to buy one.)

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mirror knows my face / shadows who’s inside / beckons me to live

The Poetic Muselings made a pact early last summer to NOT write, take on any new projects, work on our backload, etc.

In other words, we decided to do what we’d been doing (not much), but do it without guilt or nagging. Just let life be what it was for the duration.

By letting go of the struggle, we hoped to enjoy the time and see what it felt like to dump the pressure. It worked: we were eager to “do something!” shortly after.

 

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time smothers and numbs / we forget our fragile truth / pain, horror, and tears

 

I’m a belt-and-suspenders person, frantically trying to be prepared for almost any catastrophe. Usually I worry about the wrong thing.

One of my “medical advisors” told me that unless I stopped lugging my heavy purse, we’d continue to patch my shoulder pain, but not resolve it. At a bunch of dollars (not covered by Medicare), it worried me, but made sense to try something different.

I went to exercise classes several times a week, ate somewhat better, tried to get more sleep, and read light mysteries. I did some small decluttering bits, and knew I needed to deal with my lug-everything purse NOW.

I spent an entire day
trying to figure out
exactly what I need with me,
what can stay in the car, and
what needs to simply be tossed or left behind.
The whole day!

img_2687I tried out several purses I have, including an impulse buy in July, and came back to one I’ve had for at least a dozen years.

It’s small, has a lot of organizing sections that can be moved around (a Freedom Bag, which is temporarily closed for business while they relocate).

I keep going away from this purse because it’s black inside and out, and hard to see and find things.

 

Once I knew what to carry, on a whim I took out some metallic markers, and started writing haiku on the organizers and anything else black. After my very low output number of months, I wrote eight poems, right in a row.

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haiku seeps thru me / longs to flow onto paper / and flow further still

Yes, sometimes “mending” other bits of life can mend the mind.

Michele

 

 

 

mtns2The Story of Mathematics

It was the last day of class before Christmas vacation, and our high-school math class was restless and without anything much our teacher needed to cover.

“I can prove the existence of the integers from the axioms that there is a number one and the operation of addition,” he said, and started scribbling on the board.

1+1=2
2+1=3
and so forth.

That was the beginning of my love affair with number theory, the elegant pie-in-the-sky structures mathematicians build; structures that appear to have no application to the real world but somehow do.

The first number poem I wrote was called Round. Round was sparked by my memory of a discussion in a college physics class about the rate at which a cup of coffee would cool and how the shape of the cup played into it. We spent an entire class writing equations about the rate at which the coffee would cool based on the cup shape; we concluded a tall, narrow mug is best – least surface area at the open top.

Another trigger memory from a math class about the sphere having the least surface area per unit volume of any solid figure. One afternoon as both these memories chased each other around the inside of my head, I wrote the poem.

Round

The sphere
is the perfect
shape

for conserving heat,
providing the least
surface area
per unit
of volume,

thus explaining
why Santa

lives at
the North Pole.

It was published, a friend liked it and challenged me to write more.  So I wrote.

About Counting

If you couldn’t count, could you still tell if someone took one of your toys? Maybe, if you only had four or fewer toys. Perhaps you could tell with five, but at some point, we all reach our limit, where we can’t tell unless you we count. And, it turns out, some animals, such as birds and insects, have a number sense, too. So while the ability to count is, in a sense, built into our genes, the symbols we use for numbers and the whole structure surrounding them: addition, subtraction, and all the rest, are our own creations.
If we couldn’t count there would be no computers, no telephones, no electricity, no television or radio or boom boxes. In short, no modern civilization.

Man invented arithmetic. In fact, he invented numbers and counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and percents. He invented the whole structure of arithmetic. It did not, as I like to imagine, spring full blown from the mind of some great Mathematician in the sky.

A Few Poems

This is the way I like to dream mathematics came into being:

The Way it Should Have Been

In the beginning there was zero, void.
And the Mathematician said,
“Let there be a number one,”
and there was a number one.

And the Mathematician said,
“Let there be addition,
so numbers can be added together,”
and there was addition, the first operator.

And the Mathematician said,
“Let them go forth and add,”
and they went forth and added.
And there was two, three, four, five, …

And the Mathematician said,
“Let there be subtraction,
so one number can be subtracted from another,”
and there was subtraction, the second operator.

And the Mathematician said,
“Let them go forth and subtract,”
and the went forth and subtracted.
And there was -1, -2, -3, …

And there were positive integers,
and there were negative integers,
the first set of numbers.

And the Mathematician looked
upon what he had created,
and behold, the sum was greater than the parts.

Birth of the Twos

One is the mother
of the integers,
addition their father.

All you need
is love
and number theory.

Addition

In arithmetic,
one plus one
always makes two.

In life, if you wait
nine months
you might get three.

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