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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Barn Swallow's Return

The barn swallows are back! Every year they arrive here on or around my birthday (April 24th.) I was in the yard, thinking about all my birthday surprises. When I glanced skyward, a pair swooped through the open door of the barn.

I get an 'alls right with the world" feeling when I see them. What a blessing - animals that come home without me calling, that I don't have to feed, that take care of their babies without my help. They are the cherry on the sundae of my spring! A being that, like my daughter-in-law says, appear just for extra happiness! Aristotle insisted that one swallow (or one happy thing) does not make a spring (or a person happy). Oh, go suck a lemon. As long as there have been happy things, someone has been around to deflate the moment.

This group of barn swallows have, I imagine, been coming to my barn since around 1790. I actually researched this as best I could on the internet, so I wasn't building idle daydreams on wishes. Something I have been trying lately, as a point of evolution - not rejecting facts because they collide with any convenient theory that I might come up with. And yes, people who care about these things assert that barn swallows have, forever, been following humans around and nesting in their buildings, tolerated for their attractiveness and their voracious appetite for flying insects. Meaning, like camp followers, they migrated with the European settlers from the coasts of the North East going from cabin to barn as settlement spread inland. Maybe that first woman who lived here, the one that left her hair pins in the rafters over the fireplace in the basement, watched the barn swallows follow her man's plowing, like I watched them swoop and swirl after Charles as he mowed the field.

I found out this morning as I read up on them a little, that DNA studies show that barn swallows from here colonized the Baikal area of Siberia. This is not a direction that is expected in bird migration circles, but the idea pleases me. You only have to watch them (not count them, analyze them, or catch them and dissect them) to see how errant they are, how they have a wonderful independence that defies gravity and sense to realize that sense and science are only going to explain so much about them, and the rest is left to that plan greater than us.

A barn swallow's life is not all being a happy harbinger of spring. Like all things that eat, a barn swallow is prey to larger species, like the American kestrel, which nests here, too. I'm not the boss here, I don't make all the rules so acceptance of the checks and balances of life is part of my tenancy. I have watched kestrels pluck barn swallows out of the air, but I have also seen the same kestrel fly smack into the barn while chasing a twirling barn swallow aerialist as it flew effortlessly into a tiny crack in the barn siding. Mrs. Kestrel hovered over him in the air, screaming what sounded like the bird version of the Honey Brook Cursing Dance until he picked himself up off the ground and took flight again. Hey, they were just trying to feed their kids.

I wish the kestrels would eat the bluebirds. Oh, stop! I know those are like the Golden Child of bird people, but honestly if you compare that demanding, picky species with all their requirements for special housing and fickle parenting with the barn swallow, WHO is exactly more useful? The barn swallow prefers to rebuild old nests. The babies that are born first in the spring stick around all summer and feed their younger siblings. Your flock begins in the spring with three couples and at the end of the summer you have forty or fifty Cirque De Barn performers doing a show with no matinees. Hours and hours of entertainment, right on the lawn, a useful search for food (bugs) turned ballet. I read they eat TONS of bugs. Those bugs are somebody's baby, too. It's just what happens.

What DOESN'T happen here is messing with nests. One kid, never invited back, decided that the mud nests were hornet's nests and attacked them with a stick. His mother and I don't speak. A horse boarder hung fly strips (completely unnecessary) which snared swallows out of the air and meant I had to drown three in the trough, to put them out of their misery. I put myself out of misery by sending her and her horse packing.

Some experts insist that they mate for life, but apparently that is when the experts are watching. We have the same drama in the barn, eight feet above the ground where their nests are, that we have in the chicken house. Males defend their mate and territory unless they are busy trying to invade some other male's territory and mate with their female. The females have kind of a (press hand back to forehead and appear overcome) boys will be boys attitude about it. I wonder how much T.S. Eliot knew about this, when he wrote "Quando fiam uti chelidon [ut tacere desinam]?" ("When will I be like the swallow, so that I can stop being silent?") in the Waste Land? And why did he write it in Latin?

If I ever get another tattoo, it will be a barn swallow. Sailors used to get one after returning home safe after a journey of 5,000 miles and another, if they ever returned after another. Sailors with two swallows were rare. Things happen.

I feel like I am on that second trip.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Opera Company of Philadelphia "Flash Brindisi" at Reading Terminal Marke...

I Could Have Touched a Tenor!

About ten years ago, for my birthday, Charles took me to a restaurant in Philly named Victor's. The food is Southern Italian so I was in Carb Heaven. And the wait staff sings opera. SO I was completely immersed in Rodeo's version of Paradise.

I had a glass of red red wine (this was before I understood that the flushing and the heat and the stuffed up nose I get from drinking wine is an allergy). I ordered lots of scrumptious food. And every time a little bell rang, a waitperson would sing OPERA. Right next to me!

I asked our waitperson if I could make a request. I had a notion that if someone would sing Nessun Dorma the top of my head might blow off from pleasure. She said, No. They don't take requests.

Cheerful with a filling belly and heady with wine and a stuffed up nose, I continued to shovel food into my mouth and enjoyed the random bursts of song. Arias from operas - all Italian, thank God - sprouted from all over the room.

Through the haze in my brain from the alcohol and carbs (I know, I'm making excuses) I become aware that yet another bell has rung and the room is getting quiet. Forks are placed next to plates. Glasses jingle as they are set down. A hush falls.

Directly behind me, a Tenor rumbles slowly, softly into the first notes of Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma!
Tu pure, o, Principessa

No one shall sleep, no one shall sleep, not even you, Princess!

I can feel the pressure of his swelling chest against the back of my chair. His breath disturbs my hair.

Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!

I have a secret, No one shall know....

Enveloped in his thunder, he rumbles through the lyrics. My right hand stirs in my lap. It begins to shake. Rises to my throat. I am helpless to stop it....

nella tua fredda stanza,
guardi le stelle
che tremano d'amore
e di speranza.
Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me,
il nome mio nessun saprà!

"Don't TOUCH the TENOR, MADAM!" Stunned by the shrieking of the maître d', I bring my hand back to my lap, and it lies there, spent and quivering. A roomful of proper people who have complete control of their limbs pause in judgment. I am shamed, but mostly disappointed. I didn't get to feel the vibration coming from that massive chest, the vibration that results in the gorgeous noise and the passion.

I make myself feel better by ordering baba au rhum. Charles can't even look at me.

An unfulfilled fantasy. A thwarted desire. It festers. It lurks. It waits for its moment.

Fast forward ten years. I am still reeling from my great birthday weekend - I had everything anyone could desire for a happy occasion. Great friends, love outpouring. Best wishes. Unexpected surprises and generous gifts. Larry Holmes The FREAKING LONGEST REIGNING HEAVY WEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD called me to wish me Happy Birthday! I mean, how cool is that? (A gift from a dear friend who knows I love boxing.)

And then, this morning, I check my twitter (something not possible ten years ago) and I notice that there was a twit about a Mob-opera at the Reading Market Terminal. Youtube has the video. I have shared it below. This happened on Saturday, my birthday. For a half a second, I have a regret. I could have gone to this, if I had known.

And then I realize, it's here for me now, on the video, and in my future, I am sure, there will be a tenor I can touch. I also realize that for me, there is always more out there. Nothing is going away. It's not that things don't happen, they just haven't happened yet.

To see the MobOpera, see the previous post for April.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What is in your wood pile?

Big Dog Nola and Little Dogs Petey and Daisy spend a couple of hours every day in the outside kennels, keeping an eye on things, barking at chickens and goats, getting fresh air and sleeping in the sun. These dog kennels have a six foot by six foot run in the front like an enclosed porch, and insulated room in the back with a window, a pitched roof with shingles, mats to lie on, water buckets, chew bars, bones, etc. There is one for the big dog and one for little dogs. When it's time to go in, Big Dog gets a fifteen minute vigorous exercise with four frisbees, almost constant running at full tilt. She tells me when she's finished by taking a frisbee, walking toward her kennel and indicating she wants to go in and get a drink. Then she lies down and pants, and watches as I play frisbee with Daisy and Petey wanders around, marking his territory. We go inside when everyone is finished for an evening of tv watching and lounging on the sofa.

The other day, when Nola had collapsed inside her kennel for her rest, and I let Petey and Daisy out, they went immediately to the wood pile. I thought, MY GOOD DOGS watched a rat or mouse go into that wood pile! They are hunting! Good dogs! Smart Dogs! They dug in the wood and growled. They pulled boards out with their teeth, working as a team. I thought - I will just let them do this, get their "dog' on. After about three minutes, Petey emerged triumphant. With a dill pickle.

I took it from him, but not after he had swallowed a big chunk of it. It was cold, fresh, crisp and yes, a six inch Kosher dill. Dogs can eat dill pickles but not keep them down, because while I was eating dinner an hour later, he threw up green chunks.

This is why I do not write fiction, although my family thinks I do. My mother and my sisters call my blogs 'little stories' and my mother is sure most of them did not happen at all. My kids say things happened completely differently for them, than me. We all seem to remember the same thing, but in different ways. I am the only one who writes them down = that is my offense.

I am still obsessing about writer's groups and what I have heard in them. People write about vampires, werewolves, fairies, space, mysterious elements, ghosts, miraculous adventures, made up romances, character sketches of people they don't know, imaginary conversations with historical characters, all kinds of flights of fancy.

I am convinced these people do not have pickles in their wood piles. I DO. Dead deer appear under my car overnight. Hot water kettles get run over in the driveway.Strange men appear under my window at 2am, singing rock songs. Motor cycle axles get stuck in my ice maker.

On Saturday night, I had dinner with some dear friends and John said, Let the sails set your course, not the gale. I understand his intention. But the gale sends me to the places where pickles appear out of nowhere, and goats eat your hammock and that is my Wonderland.

It sounds like chaos, but actually, these pickles are always about the bigger issues. Strange singing men bring to me an understanding of loneliness. Goats eating hammocks put me in mind of good intentions to take care of myself that get forgotten. The pickle reminds me that I am not the center of the universe.

So life is a series of shocking realizations brought about by the unexpected, for me. I have been trying to get a handle on the mess that I made of my life while recovering from Charles' sudden death and the way that brought the issues that were just percolating along before to a 'Come to Jesus Moment.' I guess some people have a midlife crisis. I have a midlife pickle in a wood pile.

This week, the kids have moved into their new home and out of mine. This freed up a room which I turned into a huge walk-in closet. For the first time, all my clothes, handbags, shoes, hats, coats, scarves and mittens, are organized and visible, easily accessible. For seven days, I spent several hours a day in a fugue state, folding, hanging, arranging and cleaning. Quietly, I moved around my home, gathering, making decisions about keeping or trashing, placing things in order. I hung all my clothes by color. I cleaned all my shoes. I was profoundly moved when placing my suitcases on a shelf where I can see them, but they are not constantly tripping me. I could have done this before, in some fashion, but resisted. But now, I am ready. I am ready to integrate order into my richly textured life. The outer order will manifest an inner order. But, bad news, everyone else - I will still be writing my truth and not yours. No fairies, no werewolves or other people's view of the facts.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Head Bangers, Writer's Groups, and World Peace

So, Emma remarks on her Facebook page. "It makes such a weird sound when the carpenter bees repeatedly fly head on into my lab window." I think, we must annoy God in much the same way.

I'm not a church going person, but I do have an abiding faith that what I do is of passing interest to some force greater than myself. I refuse to call this force a name or a gender personally, because I consider those identifiers to be human, and as I said, this force is greater than my humanity. I have to believe it is greater, because otherwise, I would argue with it all the time. Instead of arguing, I ask for help and then, misunderstand or disregard the help and bang my head into the same things over and over.

I'm not the only one. Whether it is a solitary committee of one running a life as best they can, or the collections of individuals organized as families, neighborhoods, villages, towns, states, countries, and unions, we seem to find a mistake we like and keep repeating it. We all know we do it. Change is more powerful and harder than the huge sins or acts of violence and war that they eventually lead to - the simple act of recognizing the crazy and making a different decision is what is going to save the world. Or maybe the day, or the essay.

Right this minute, I am sitting on a stool, typing away with my laptop perched on an ironing board in my closet. WHY? Because three days ago, I didn't listen to my own voice yelling STOP DON'T when I unplugged the router on the second floor of my house - the one that jumps the signal from the other end of the house into my bedroom, where I prefer to write. Now it won't work and I keep forgetting to ask for help to put it right. This is the only place that I can pick up a connection. Can I stop and move to a more comfortable location? NO, because I will lose all I have written. So, here I sit, getting crankier by the minute, with no one to blame but myself. Like ripples in a pond, this will affect my whole day and probably someone else's, as it spills over on to other things, and by mid-day, I will feel frustrated and defeated, mentally ticking off the list of similar things that prove I am a failure. All the while, writing about why I do this. No wonder I piss off that force.

One of the things I do over and over again which never leads anywhere is join writer's groups. It starts with this running commentary by the itty bitty committee: "You should get some opinions from other people, on your writing. Your friends love you, they know you, but they are biased. You really need some complete strangers who will give you input. Complete strangers are always experts and worthwhile listening to."

So, I sign up with a writing group and eagerly share. I start getting emails. Eventually, one comes in like this, as it did the other day, "i have plenty of poems i would like to be published i just dont know how to go about it help is needed desperetly" (errors intact.)

Now, if I was a fish, this would be the biggest, fattest bait worm in the history of chum. It has grammatical errors, punctuation errors, spelling errors and perhaps most heinous of all, a cutesy lack of capitalization that says, "You can't pick on me because I lack ego enough to type a capital I." No wait, maybe even more egregious is the presumption that they can write an email that badly and expect people to help them become a published author. No, wait, that the person who sent it feels it is that easy! YES! That is what bothers me. I spell check everything, try my hardest to be grammatically as accurate as my voice will allow, the voice it took me decades to resurrect from my bowels as honest and true, then, I read and re-read and re-re-read, and, as beads of sweat and blood form on my forehead, send my writing off to the universe to be judged, with the certainty that it is, despite my best efforts, flawed and imperfect. By flibberdegibbets like this one. But the wiggle on the worm that sets the hook is the plea for help. I can not resist.

In seconds, I dash off a reply, "That red line that appears under a word means it is misspelled. Desperately. If you want to be taken seriously, use proper capitalization and punctuation. Heed your spell-check. "Don't" is a contraction. If you send an email to a publisher or a magazine with this many errors in it, they will not even look at your poem.
Also, follow directions.
Now, don't get insulted. You asked for help."

I honestly believe, at the moment I send this, that it is a good, helpful and correct thing to do. Well, that is, I have convinced myself that it is, and shushed the protesting of the itty bitty committee who are pantomiming head banging into walls and slicing of wrists. They just don't understand the gift I am giving - like the thirteenth Fairy Godmother I am giving a gift of honesty - one that could be the help this writer desperately wants.

In seconds an indignant response comes from someone on the list. "You just got the smack down layed (sic) on you with the Paddle of Passive Aggressiveness. . . holy shit." (errors intact)

And the race is on. I fume, I stew. I have arguments in my head with this one and that one. This is a WRITER'S group. I start compiling the list of things that irk me about this defense. A! It is spelled LAID! B! The Paddle of Passive Aggressiveness may be clever but I was NOT passive aggressive. I was pretty up front aggressive. No, I wasn't. I was HONEST. I start looking up the definition of passive aggressive, just to prove to myself I am right.

And then I get a private email: "Your email was awesome, I was thinking the same things myself!"

Oh, really? Then why didn't you respond to the whole list? When did stupid people get loud and brave, and smart people get quiet and frightened?

Another list wide email appears: "Same rules apply: It's cell phone."

This refers to the PUN (a literary device used to convey several layers of meaning) I use in my signature - sell phone. I'm a Realtor, for God's sake.

My brain sparks and my spirit is galled and I find sympathetic ears to listen to my drama. I figure I just proved myself right about another writer's group - I don't belong.

I joined this group to be judged. Now, I am not liking it, because I don't respect the judges. Head Banger? Oh my, how many times I have done this, the pattern to each micro-drama exactly the same: !. Join. 2. Submit 3. Get insulted 4. Argue 5. Feel Martyred 6. Quit.

Beyond the issue of the judging/quality of judging issue is the more disturbing idea that I do this ALL THE TIME. It's just the most minor of all my constantly repeated idiotic, non-productive, constantly looping same old songs. What ails me?

I wonder if I find comfort in these same old stories? I know that life brings troubles. I have endured pretty horrific unexpected, drop on you like a comet troubles, but many many more of the same old same old troubles. Chagrined, I realize that maybe I am hoping that the same old troubles will squeeze out the unexpected troubles, as if there is only space for a certain amount and I get to pick. I am reminded of another old hackneyed truism: God will only give you what you can handle. My choices are the currency of a bargain I think I can make with God. If this is true for me, is it true for committees, nations and continents? Could the answer to all our ills, global and local, be just waiting to be chosen, instead?