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Monday Quote

The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.

~ Ida B. Wells

Who I once mixed up with Ida Tarbell

& now I can't remember again: Which one is Standard Oil? 

OK, that's Ida Tarbell.

Ida B. Wells was a founder of the NAACP & crusader for women's rights & voting, & against lynching. In 2020, she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize "for her outstanding and courageous reporting on the horrific and vicious violence against African Americans during the era of lynching." 

Why didn't I know more about her?!?!

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The roof, the roof!

The nice thing about the sky is that I can see it. 


Birds whiz by too fast for me. 

The plants grow too slow to photograph. 


But every cloud, every sunset, every shine is beautiful & I can take my time with a picture. 

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Poem of the Week

Felon Winds


We have sunk so low to make criminals of the zephyrs

that's America in two thousand nineteen


the trees are dangerous & depraved

mice don't bear thinking of


tetra & elephant fish are two-faced

O the wicked winds


that scorn the good black topsoil

& leave us offenders

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In the neighborhood

This building is on the Bowery. I took the picture a while ago & never used it because I couldn't find out anything about it. But now that I never go anywhere, I'm revisiting my roaming days & remembering how exciting New York is (or will be again). 

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So happy to read with Andrei Codrescu, John Godfrey, Vincent Katz, Sharon Mesmer, Alicia Ostriker, & Anne Waldman this afternoon, in a series organized by Andrei & the Brooklyn Rail. A friend said, hmm, all white people (she didn't say "old white people" but she was probably thinking it) reading "radical political poetry," as the event was billed? Sure! We showed her! & anyone thinking that we can't still be on point. 


And because it was on Zoom, my brother, my friend in Colombia, as well as several neighbors got to hear me. 



Here's one of the works I read: 


Personal History


I had never been in a city before I packed up my belongings in two paper bags and drove a thousand miles to spend the rest of my life in New York.


I was the smartest—& dumbest—girl in my 8th-grade class. Being dumb never got me into trouble, but being smart did, every day.


When he saw her in a tight teal fishscale dress, he knew he had to spill a drink on her.


I come from the prairie, my lies are long.

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Justin Townes Earle (1982-2020)

I'll be glad when we're seeing 2020 in hindsight. What else, what else?


Heartbroken at the death of one of my favorite young singers, Justin Townes Earle. I remember Robyn asking if I wanted to see him—his dad doesn't do much for me, she said, but I really like the son. We went to his shows several times over the years, at Webster Hall, a park in Brooklyn, City Winery, maybe another one or 2?


A good songwriter, a good musician, with a voice that went straight into your heart. A new-fashioned old-fashioned country singer. 

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Monday Quote

More Henry Adams. The last few chapters have been so allusive as to be mystifying but all in all enough gems that I keep reading. And anyway, I'm only a few chapters from the end. Anyone want my copy when I'm done? 

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August roof, the Ezra Pound

Pretty much every night we see a stunning sky. No photo comes close. When I was in Norway two years ago, I took dozens hundreds thousands of photos & they were miles away from reflecting the majesty of what I was seeing. So, please - either take my word for the beauty or tell me how to photograph it (with an iPhone). 


P.s. We have two tomatoes. Fingers crossed that there'll be a crop this summer. 

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Poem of the Week

Naps I Have Known

                                for Sy Beder


There's the sermon doze: a blank stare, a word that sifts in without catching context, unrelaxing but irresistible. You don't want to be seen slumped, the lights are bright, people know who falls out. When will I be old enough to be loud & proud in my shul nap?


Better: the Shabbat afternoon nap, when you'v made it through 3 hours of services & a sugary beige half-meal. You strip to your underwear, under the covers, between the cool sheets.


The best is the opera nap. The music & scenery are glorious & you fall into it, you're wrapped in a bright blanket of sound & spectacle, in a deep velvet seat. You're not asleep, you're taking it in, you're asleep, taking it in.


A few years ago in Idaho with three high-school friends sharing a rented condo, 40 years after high school. We all drifted off at the same time. That was what cemented our friendship.


Once in Madrid, my friends & I lay down in a public park, with no fear for out stuff or our lives. Trust, comfort, 40 winks.


And in Toledo with Mercè, tea & hot chocolate in the highest spot in the city, the library's snack bar, dusty after noon quiet of new & dusk, after so much walking, a siesta as serene as if we'd slipped off in our beds.


The nod nap, you're here & over there at the same time.


In kindergarten I resisted, but when I discovered that we got up off our rugs to tiny cartons of mil, I lay down eagerly.


After sleeping through every educational film strip in high school, it took me years to stay awake in a movie. When the lights went down: clonk zzzzz.


Airplane shuteye, no matter what, I go out. Always. Sometimes my main anticipation of an international flight is sleeping like a monk in my  window seat.


I used to think I'd sleep the night before my execution.


I don't nap much, not really, don't like waking up logy, don't like to let myself go. But maybe I'm talking myself into it?

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From the vault

This is the essay I wrote for my promotion to second-degree black belt in 2014. 


Around 15 years ago, my youngest sister was visiting from Minnesota. One evening I met up with her and a friend while they were having drinks in the East Village. "Have a  beer," Varda said. "We want to ask you something."

"Just ask me," I said.

She and Todd looked at each other.

"No, have a beer first."

"Just ask me."

She gave in (she's younger!): "Do you want to climb the Brooklyn Bridge?"

I had no idea what she was talking about, so she explained that we would be walking up a cable to the top of one of the two big towers that anchor the bridge. Todd, an architect, added that climbing bridges was his hobby, and he'd climbed dozens in New York and around the country.

I glanced down and saw that he was wearing dress shoes, not hiking boots. If this could be done in leather soles, how dangerous could it be? "Sure," I said.

Great! they said.

"I'll have that beer now."


I had never thought much about balance, never been interested in all that work-life stuff people used to talk about, never thought it had anything to do with me. If I'd thought about it at all, I would have said balance was boring: that it meant getting up at the same time every day, to a day that was the same length as the night and the same temperature, and making sure you had enough cauliflower in your diet.

I also didn't know balance had anything to do with karate.  Read More 

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A bit about masks

Not a great photo but there I am in a hand-embroidered mask from the Mexican store on 3rd Street, La Sirena. Can you see that it's two colorful donkeys? My friend Paula has "donks," as she calls them, & I am dying to visit & meet them in person. I liked her before I knew about the donks but that certainly is a delightful point in her favor. Oh right, masks. Yeah, still wearing them, still rolling my eyes at those who don't, still tired of the situation but determined to see it through. I want to be able to look back (when! if) & feel like I behaved honorably throughout. And honestly, how little is really being asked of us! My magnificent, beloved 96-year-old cousin Hazel (me mum's first cousin, they grew up together in Liverpool) wrote me this the other day:


Hi Elinor,  our turn now to sizzle in the sun, roasting hot so in the sitting room with the fan going full blast.  I have tried puting on a mask,  my hearing aid fell out,  my glasses went skewed and I was all hot and bothered. I just try not to go anywhere that a mask is required. 


During the war to confuse the German bombers we maintained a strict blackout, this meant no lights were to be seen so thick curtains or painted black windows. No street lights and car headlights had a ,cover to direct the light on to the ground, that's if you had any petrol as this was rationed. All road signs were taken down I really can't  think how we managed to get anywhere! A new type of incendiary  bomb was found unexploded, it was placed in a wooden crate packed with straw!  I was sent with an armed guard to bomb disposal down South with instructions that if it started to fizz bail out!  He never did stand guard when we made an overnight stop.  When  I reached a certain destination I had to ring a  number for directions all very James Bond. 

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Monday Quote

Consider the savage: he has bodily strength, he has courage, enterprise, and is often not without intelligence; what makes all savage communities poor and feeble? The same cause which prevented the lions and tigers from long ago extirpating the race of men—incapacity of co-operation. It is only civilized beings who can combine. All combination is compromise: it is the sacrifice of some portion of individual will, for a common purpose. The savage cannot bear to sacrifice, for any purpose, the satisfaction of his individual will. His social cannot even temporarily prevail over his selfish feelings, nor his impulses bend to his calculations.

~ John Stuart Mill (1806-73), from Civilization


And there you have it. 


Should I read more of him? Is there a dark underbelly as seems to be the case for so many 19th-century philsophers? 

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What's in a NAME

If I spell my name idiosyncratically, say, ELINor nauEN or eLiNoR nAuEn, & maybe even legally change it to that, is every place that publishes me required to follow my whim? Even if a sentence begins with my name, would it have to start with a lower case letter because that's how I prefer it? Isn't there some egotism in refusing standard capitalization by spelling one's name with all lower letters? What stands out in a sentence such as this: "John Smith, Jane Thorogood Doe, and bob thomson met for dinner two nights ago."


There's the argument that I, the editor, should abide by the person's desires. "...[I]t's my name and i should be able to frame it as i see fit... Why must it follow some New York Times standard guide for naming?" says danah[sic] michele[sic] boyd[sic]. 


Someone named Idris Mercer is cranky as hell but like him, standard English is a pet peeve of mine. In a piece from 2005, he writes: 

If you ask to be called "Dawn" rather than "Kathryn," it's like you belong to a chess club where the various sets of chess pieces don't quite look identical, and you ask to use one particular set because you think its rooks have a nicer shape. But if you ask to be called "kathryn" rather than "Kathryn" -- and everyone else's name is capitalized -- then it's more like you belong to the chess club and you ask that your rooks be allowed to move in a different way from everyone else's rooks... One of the comments from "On the difficult matter of names" puts it quite well: "My personal feeling is that one should be permitted control over the spelling and pronunciation* of one's own name up to the point that the name does not start taking over its immediate environment."


Slate copyeditor Abby McIntyre writes: 

But in standard print, capitalizing these proper names is not an act of violence nor of authoritarianism nor of betrayal. It is simply an attempt at clarity. "Capitalization is part of the social convention for writing English," writes Bill Poser at the Language Log. When a reader opens up an article or a blog post here at Slate or elsewhere, she does so with the expectation that it will conform to these "social conventions" of written English—certain norms and syntactic cues that will help digest the information therein as easily as possible. Capitalization is one of those cues. When I capitalize Danah Boyd or Bell Hooks, it's not meant as an affront on those women but as an overture to the reader.


Our job as writers and editors is to make things as easy and clear for the reader. If the writer knows what they mean, but I get tangled up in it, I ask them to clarify. Of course I'm excepting style choices (dialect, for example) etc, but that has to be consistent. I object to finding a single ELINOR or paul bobbing in a sea of Johnnys, Maggies, and Georges.



* I acknowledge the political aspect of this topic...

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Poem of the Week

How to Like Your Life


Don't have money worries

Have plenty time

That's the way I like it


Be interested

Write it down

That's the day I like it


Walk on, talk long

Read a good book

That's the play I like it

What the hey I like it


Buy books

Buy shoes

Come what may I like it


That's the way I like it

That's the day I like it

Whatever you say I like it

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On the roof

And we have our sad little garden. Everyone else is displaying (& sharing) their bounty & we are hoping the fiendish squirrel doesn't eat any of the 3 hard little tomatoes, sprung up since the zucchini was annihilated. We also have a basil plant that's the same size it was 3 months ago & some bitter lettuce. 

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On the roof

There's also this. George is the handyman for the building. Is it possible to do shoddier work? I won't let him in my house because he leaves a mess & whatever he fixes has to be fixed again in no time. It's amazing that Mike-the-landlord continues to employ him, especially now that all the apartments aren't cheap dumps. 

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On the roof

This amazing sky that I probably would not have stared at or photographed or even noticed if it weren't for spending so much time on the roof of our building. That's one reason that it hasn't been the worst summer ever. Or maybe it has—who remembers "before"? Actually it feels like it's simultaneously the worst & the best, which is dang confusing. 

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Monday Quote

"I'm glad to report that even now, at this late day, a blank sheet of paper holds the greatest excitement there is for me—more promising than a silver cloud, prettier than a little red wagon. It holds all the hope there is, all fears. I can remember, really quite distinctly, looking a sheet of paper square in the eyes when I was seven or eight years old and thinking, 'This is where I belong, this is it."

~ E. B. White, letter to Stanley Hart White January 1947


I met him once, when he brought a pair of his wife's (tiny) shoes into the shoe repair store where I worked in Ellsworth, Maine. I said, E.B. White? I love you! And in an utterly kind way, he said, I love you too. It was obvious that he responded to people with what they brought to him. He wasn't interested in me but he gave me a genuine moment. 

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Poetry Project c. 1981

Me, Bernadette Mayer, Ted Berrigan, Ed Friedman, voting for the community seat on the Poetry Project board.

The wonderful Nick Sturm sent me this video of a Swiss TV show (in German) filmed at the Poetry Project in 1981 that he figured out how to get onto YouTube. Ted Berrigan, Maureen Owen (unchanged—how is that even possible?), Ron Padgett, Elio Schneeman, Steve Carey, Bob Holman, Brodey, Ginsberg, Barg + cameos of lots of others (Rene Ricard, Steve Levine, Rose Lesniak, Danny Krakauer). I really miss Ted's voice, & I miss Ted & all the others who aren't around. It's probably only fun to watch if you know the people but I loved seeing these snatches of what I now realize is the past, although I can't say when that happened.


Small note: neither my husband nor my best friend recognized me. Will you? 

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Poem of the Week

Wild Cat


It's never restful

to talk with impatient



the ones who watch your eyes

as you look



they speak too soft

they laugh late

they have a tragedy


and then

they keep you here

by dismissing you

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Domesticity & me

Why was there a giant ice floe at the back of the fridge—not the freezer, the fridge? Why couldn't I chip it off with a butter knife & rubber mallet like I used to do when our freezer that didn't even work filled with ice every week? Instead, the shelf shattered & then I spent an hour picking up the glass & still trying to get that ice out. A mug was so stuck that when I tried to pull it out, I yanked off the handle. Where can I get a replacement shelf? Do I have to get a whole nother refrigerator? I thought it would cost $400 for a fridge but the cheapest one I can find costs $1,000. I will be better off trying to find a shelf. Where do shelves come from? My landlord, who sells appliances, was no help. This is exhausting. 

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My day, my books

What I'm reading now: 

• The Education of Henry Adams, the grandson & great-grandson of presidents, he is humble & hilarious in this autobiography. 

• Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, by Taylor Branch. It's 900 pages (+ 150 pages of notes), Pulitzer Prize–winning, & riveting. And this is only part 1 of 3. 

• Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age, by Modris Eksteins. Not as gripping as I'd expected, given my interest in the topic. But now that he's in Berlin (instead of with dancers in Paris), I'm revving up. 

• Poems of Steve Carey. If I ever forget his big generous voice, these give it back to me. 

• Helen in Egypt, by H.D. Beautiful & valiant.

• Giants in the Earth, O.E. Rolvaag. Sadly, I'm coming to the end. The copy I"m reading is at home & I appreciate having one at my office as well. 


I'm reading a few things on Kindle too—The Mill on the Floss, a Swediah mystery, essays by Diana Athill. And the newspapers. I am fine with reading on my phone or iPad but there's nothing like holding a book, even one so heavy, like the Taylor Branch, that I am giving myself a torn muscle in my arm. I guess reading is what I do most of the day. Why don't I have a better chair? 

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We got an hour or two of hard rain, branches down, & now it is so lovely & cool, & the light is light not thick with heat. 


Life is so terrible & wonderful. 

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Monday Quote

One day when Adams was pleading with a Cabinet officer for patience and tact in dealing with Representatives, the Secretary impatiently broke out: "You can't use tact with a Congressman! A Congressman is a hog! You must take a stick and hit him on the snout!"  


The most troublesome task of a reform President was that of bringing the Senate back to decency.  


I'm reading with huge enjoyment The Education of Henry Adams. These are both quotes from the chapter on President Grant, but there are frequent observations that seem just as timely as they must have 150 years ago. And it's interesting to be the fly on the wall of diplomatic maneuvers in England during the Civil War when his father (son of President John Quincy Adams) was representing the federal government there. This is just one example of his wry take on affairs of the day.

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"Dear Grandma"

Caitlin is now a week shy of being 22 & a graduate of Cornell University in one of those technical fields that I'm afraid to ask what it is she knows. Sean still bothers her & everyone has forgotten who Charlie was. And yes, honey, Grandpa is crazy. Apparently I'm his only wife who thinks that's funny & not annoying, which is why our marriage as lasted all this time.
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