Friday, July 22, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Seven: Conventions

When I was a child growing up in a multi-generational house (two separate households with our own separate living space), we always gathered in front of my grandmother's large (not by today's standards, mind you) color TV to watch the national political conventions. One week we would sit through the Republican convention, the next week through the Democratic one.

Often my Uncle Buster would be in town during convention time, visiting from Baltimore with my aunt and cousins. Buster would serve as color commentator for what was unfolding on television. A dyed-deep-in-the-wool Republican, he all the same ranted when Richard Nixon named Spiro Agnew to the veep slot in 1968.

"That guy's a crook!" Buster bellowed. "He's our governor in Maryland and he's a crook there too!" (And, as it turned out, Uncle Buster was right.)

The real excitement, however, would be when my Uncle Dawrence would be in town and stop in to watch the convention. A deeply committed Democrat, he loved nothing better than to talk politics with his brother. The two of them would end the evening shouting at one another about the merits and evils of the two major parties, an argument that would always close with Uncle Dawrence saying "Well, hell, I'm voting for Gus Hall [the perennial Communist party candidate] anyway."

Those were the days.

I gradually fell away from watching the conventions. Time got short, children came along: you know, the usual. I cannot remember the last convention I saw more than a few highlights of: maybe the 1988 Democratic convention? Once I gave up television, the decision not to follow the conventions, except by newspaper the next day, became even easier.

This year I do not regret that distance. The Republican convention just finished last night, with Donald Trump triumphing over the Republican establishment by accepting the nomination. I am appalled at the vitriol expressed over the last few days; I am aghast that Trump is the nominee.

(Vitriol expressed over the last few days? How about over the last several months?) 

And next week won't be any better.  Oh, it'll be different words and different themes, maybe, but I have as much enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton as president as I do for Trump. For different reasons, mind you, but the same conclusion: this person should not be president.

Third party tickets have little traction in this country, and, as deeply divided as we seem to be as a nation, I do not see the Green Party (Jill Stein), Libertarians (Gary Johnson), or any of the other small parties making much headway, except to act, perhaps, as a spoiler to either candidate. (Remember Ralph Nader in 2000?) And the independent candidates (many of whom have no affiliation with anything or anyone other than themselves) have no chance of being sworn in next January.

A coworker, a conservative Republican (for the record, most of my co-workers are conservative Republicans), frequently stops by my office to bemoan the state of politics. "April, we are so screwed this year. We are doomed." His "we" is universal, not "we, the Republicans," but "we, the people." He sent me this quote, from Mike Florio, former director of the NFL referees:
 Regardless of anyone’s political beliefs, we all should be a little troubled by the article in the New Yorker from George Saunders detailing the face-to-face squabbles of those who support and those who oppose Donald Trump’s presidential run. The red state/blue state divide that first emerged in the 2000 election has become a red country/blue country, with citizens of the two distinct nations living elbow to elbow and, on matters of politics, speaking entirely different languages fueled by the narrow echo chambers from which each side gathers its information and sharpens its opinions. Caught in the middle are those who have grown so weary with the complete lack of common ground and civil discourse that, eventually, apathy will take root.
 I hope I do not become one of the apathetic. I certainly am one of the alienated, one for whom neither major candidate speaks. This year, this whole bruising political, ugly year, is putting me to the test. All I can do is hunker down, focus on my community, and wait for the storm to hit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Six: Poetry Night

Poetry Night is every Wednesday evening, starting around 7:30 p.m.

Poetry Night can be at Mark and Mel's house, or my house, or Michele's house. We may not end up at Michele's house until the fall, because of other complications, but the point is that Poetry Night floats.

Poetry Night involves food and drink. And, of course, poetry. Lots of poetry. 


Poetry Night just started a few Wednesdays ago, but shows signs of becoming a permanent fixture.

If you come to Poetry Night, you may read either your own poems or poems by someone else. At the last Poetry Night, which was held on our back deck, we soon had a towering stack of poetry anthologies on the table. I read some of my own work, as well as "Supper with Lindsay" by Theodore Roethke. I read the Roethke because Mel had just read Ginsberg's "A Supermarket in California" and Walt Whitman appears in both of them. 

At that same Poetry Night, Mel also read Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz," which is a heartbreaking poem. 

You may attend Poetry Night and not participate, but so far that is a limited privilege granted only to my husband, who got badly scarred somewhere in his formative years and has been poetry adverse ever since. However, despite his scars, Warren sat and listened and smiled. 

Poetry Night is the inspiration of my friend, Mark, with whom I created the Death and Dying Poetry Club.  Because we know each other's work, he can say to me, "oh, read the one about the baggage," and I know exactly which poem he is referencing. 

At the last poetry night. Michele read a work in draft about fireflies. Some of the poem contrasted the use of the light for both mating and attracting prey. Mel and I heard the word "prey" as "pray" and so we had a whole different take on the poem. It was appropriate that we were on our back deck and the fireflies were just beginning to flash their lights as Michele read. 

Mark read some fragments of poems at the last Poetry Night, then emailed them to us all. Our assignment is to use the fragments as prompts for writing a poem. I wrote mine last Friday while sitting in the parking lot at the library waiting for it to open. Mine is called "When Walt Whitman Called Upon Emily Dickinson." 

Warren and I will miss two weeks of Poetry Night in August, when we are traveling out of town, but I am hopeful I will find some poems in our travels and bring them back with me to Delaware. By then, I should have received a copy of a small poetry anthology I just bought online at Etsy. It is a collections of works by indigenous poets, and my daughter-in-law Alise has a poem in it. I am looking forward to reading both her poem and my poem at the same Poetry Night. 

There are undoubtedly poems in Poetry Night itself, but none of us has written them yet. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Five: Another Look at the 4th of July

My last post was written on the threshold of July, looking ahead to the 4th. Well, the 4th has come and gone, both to my relief and sorrow. Relief because the holiday represents a lot of work for this household, sorrow because it will be another year before it comes again.

Following the 4th (which was a late, late night by the time the concert was over, the stage was struck, and at least some of the instruments shepherded home), I exchanged some emails with a close friend about the holiday. In the first, I commented:  I am on alert this morning after a hectic yesterday. The saving grace was that due to weather concerns, I did not have to worry about helping Aunt Ginger navigate uneven terrain or uneven memory. She, my mom, and my dad all passed on last night's concert. Huge worry/burden off my shoulders. Spent the concert with longtime friends--we have celebrated the 4th together since Sam was a baby. They are also dealing with a parent with dementia, so Sally, Chris, and I exchanged war stories. 

My friend commented back somewhat wistfully that her 4th of July lacked definition, because she had never "really figured out" how to celebrate the day. She and her husband have no particular traditions, the large urban area in which they live has multiple fireworks displays on different days, and her nod to the day was spooning blueberries and strawberries over vanilla frozen custard. She concluded that my 4th of July, this one or any of them, sounded more stressful but more interesting.

My friend's words caused me to think about the whole holiday. Eventually, I penned this response:
I enjoy 4th of July, except for the increasing length of it, which is all due to the Symphony. Last night it was about 11:30 before we rolled out out of campus and headed home with full vans/cars to unload. One of the trustees (our backyard neighbor, a good friend of many years, AND the judge I work for) came home with me for the final unloading, then strolled out the back deck door to his home.
 That being said, what I like best about the community concert is just that: community. I know the men and women staffing the Kiwanis food trailer (hot dogs! Klondike bars! popcorn! brats!); I know the fire chief (a friend) and the firefighters setting off the theater cannons for the 1812 Overture, I know lots of faces in the audience. As I already mentioned, I sat with friends for the 23rd or 24th year in a row. Other very close friends were right behind me (and I handed Gerald a small pie and Margo a page torn from the latest Writer's Digest). People calling back and forth, hugs, laughter. Veterans standing during the Armed Forces Salute and the crowd applauding. Cheers for the musicians, everyone on their feet for the Stars and Stripes Forever, clapping in rhythm to the music, seeing the brass rise to their feet for the last repeat. Even striking the stage afterwards is good—people stopping up to exclaim (those who do not rush to the fireworks, which are really good in Delaware), sending Jaime (conductor) and his wife on their way back to Cincinnati with pie (of course) and hugs and kisses, laughing with the other volunteers as we celebrate another 4th over, the quiet of being the very last 4 or 5 people on campus after the sound truck pulls away. 
The 4th of July concert is Delaware at its best, and with the exception of Legal Clinic, the night I feel closest and most connected to this community. 
I continue to have a bumpy relationship with my hometown, even 25+ years after I moved back. I have learned to take it for better or for worse, but there are still many times I put my head in my hands and groan, or run into an unexpected or unpleasant barrier that reminds me why I left so adamantly over four decades ago.

But the last line rings true: the 4th of July is Delaware at its best. The 4th of July is the night I feel closest and most connected to the community.

And that's not a bad way to celebrate Independence Day, by celebrating the interconnectedness of us all.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Four: July

How can it be July already? The year half over already? Spring long behind and Summer just ripening?

I think July is taking me by such surprise because I was in transit for so much of June. Between the trip out west and then a trip last week to Mayo Clinic, I was only home for one June weekend. And even that was marked by Symphony matters. All days added together, I was home for less than half of June.

No wonder I am disoriented in time and space. Perhaps July will root me once again.

The 4th of July is just a few short days away. The coneflowers and butterfly weed have exploded in fistfuls of color, foreshadowing the fireworks to come Monday night. With a nod to John Adams, my garden is once again heeding his call to celebrate Independence Day by showing "Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more."

Friday, June 24, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Three: The Good Enough Garden

My Aunt Ginger has subscribed to Good Housekeeping for decades. When she finishes reading an issue, she passes it along to me, so I have been reading GH for decades as well.

There used to be a monthly feature, often showing a small DIY project, in which the editors would show the reader the "Good Housekeeping" (read "more expensive and more detailed") way to do it, then show the "Good Enough" (read "cheaper and less complicated") way to accomplish close to the same thing.

My garden this year is the Good Enough Garden.

As I wrote in May, before I left for my lengthy trip, I wanted to get my tomatoes and other plants in the garden. We accomplished that before I left. Warren watered my garden well and faithfully while I was gone. I came back to the basil doing great, the tomatoes starting to grow, and the peppers looking forlorn and pathetic (I do not know what is going on there). As I predicted, most of the marigolds I had hand-sowed in the perimeter blocks sprouted while I was away.

So had the pigweed. And so had the grass.

I don't have the physical energy or strength to weed regularly. Or even sporadically. I don't have the means to hire a gardener. I really just want the tomatoes and the flowers and the basil without all the interference. But for about the equivalent of my copays for a full three weeks of treatment ($90.00), I could finish my garden.

So I did what in the old days I would have considered cheating. In the old days, I would have started everything—flowers, vegetables, herbs—inside the house in the early spring and nurtured it along. I don't do that anymore: too much work, too little strength. So I bought three large containers of Blanket flowers (Gaillardia), four smaller containers of lavender, and five bags of mulch. Sunday morning Warren and I hoed up the garden. We were careful around the established plantings. The rest we slashed at with abandon.

Pigweed, be gone! Grass, be gone!

When we were done, I dug holes for the new plants. In they went. Then Warren got the shovel and dug the holes deeper. In they went again. Then I watered: the extra basil starts (from my good friend Donna) I had planted Saturday, the new plants, the marigolds, the tomatoes, even the pathetic peppers.

I can only work in the early morning (before 8:15 a.m.) or the evening because of the heat and sun. The mulch did not go down on Sunday, but Wednesday night (after chemo), I started to spread a few bags. I quickly measured my energy and realized the best "good enough" thing I could do was mulch around the vegetables, the herbs, and the new plantings. There are three bags of mulch yet to go, although one is earmarked for the front. I just transferred to the east side of the house, in the shade of the dogwood tree, some blue spiderwort and planted some pink spiderwort that a good friend gave me. It will probably get some mulch too to help it get going, although spiderwort is pretty hardy and takes root quickly.

I could have/should have put down newspaper for a weed cover before I started on the mulch, but I am too tired to do that too.

But it is done.

Here is my good enough garden. The tomatoes are starting to set fruit. The basil looks great. And the flowers are beautiful.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Inch One Hundred Twenty-Two: Home Again

I got home Monday at about 5:00 p.m., almost the last person off the plane. Of course we were parked at the very furthest gate, so I had a hike (albeit a small one compared to coming through Houston a few hours earlier) before I could clear the security area, drop my bags, and hug Warren.

This trip may have been the very last lengthy trip I take where I fly by myself. Besides the simple pleasure of having Warren with me, my overall health may be such that I simply need to have him accompany me. I am typing this on Friday and I am just now starting to feel I have recovered from the travel.

Health issues aside, it was a very, very good trip. The Seattle conference was exciting, my joint presentation with my daughter-in-law Alise was lively and thought provoking, and there are not enough words in the dictionary (to quote an old friend) to describe how great it was to be with my family in the Portland/Vancouver area.

There are no words to describe adequately what a wonder Ramona is at three and three-quarters years of age. Of course, she is a wonder child. She is funny and bright and lively and thought provoking (not unlike our seminar) and I marveled at her every moment I was with her.

As may be expected, I took pictures, but not as many as I would have thought. I realized that the only way to fully appreciate the trip—Seattle, Portland, my sons, Alise, Ramona, Mackenzie, and the rest of the family—was to put the camera down and just savor the time.

Ben, Alise, Ramona, and I went to the Oregon coast, to Rockaway Beach, on one of my days. It was
a typical Oregon coast day: cold, windy, overcast, an occasional sprinkle. All the same, Ramona frolicked in the tide pools until long after she was wet and chilled and ready for lunch. I found myself going between watching Ramona scamper and standing facing the ocean, watching the gray waves break as they came in.

I have always loved the ocean; I have always found its ceaseless rhythm to be a source of comfort. This time was no exception. Children (and grandchildren) grow up, cities change, life happens, the world turns, but the ocean, the amazing ocean, stays eternal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016