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Monday Quote

Where there is little or no public opinion, there is likely to be bad government, which sooner or later becomes autocratic government. 

~ William Lyon MacKenzie King 

William Lyon Mackenzie King OM CMG PC (December 17, 1874 – July 22, 1950) was a Canadian statesman and politician who served as the 10th prime minister of Canada.

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What I'm reading

This is really going to be what I'm not reading. Books I abandoned or got shuffled down in the NEXT! pile until they shuffled right on out. Except for the Schama, I didn't get far in any of these, although far enough in most of them.

* Beneath a Ruthless Sun, Gilbert King. His Pulitzer-winning Devil in the Grove is a book I have highly recommended for years but I got pulled in too many directions to get into this. 

* Landscape and Memory, Simon Schama. The title feels like something essential but I dunno, medieval German art isn't doing it for me. I put it down to plow through a library book but with relief. I may leaf through & see if I can get back to it. 

* The Editor, Steven Rowley. Loved Lily and the Octopus, but I was bored & skeptical from the start. Disappointing. 

* The Plot, Jean Hanff Korelitz. This got great reviews but it seemed like a rehash of a million boring books about male writers & their angst. Maybe that was a satire but ugh. 

* Hour of the Witch, Chris Bohajalian. Another recommended book but the language had moments of jarring anachronism. I put it down. 

* Surviving the White Gaze, Rebecca Carroll. An adopted black child in a white family. I didn't believe she remembered things the way she says she did, & when you don't trust a memoir's author, it's all over.

* Colin Dexter. Another recommended (mystery) writer who bored me.

* Orwell's Roses, Rebecca Solnit. I'm a big fan of hers, for the most part, but I guess I'm not that interested in Orwell's soft side, & she took so long getting there. Like one of those people whose stories repeat "but to understand that, first I have to tell you this."  

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Slippin' 'n' slidin'

It snowed, rained & sleeted before dawn this morning. When I came out, early, the sidewalks were icy. I almost fell more times than I could count. Later, I had a quick sandwich with my birthday-twin granddaughter Meagan, & my hat blew off. I love seeing people run after their hats but not so much when it was me. A guy said, Twin Cities! you should know to tie it on! You are so right, my good man. It's a baseball cap with earflaps that was a giveaway at a Twins game a couple of years ago. Everyone in the ballpark had theirs on because Minnesota in April. It's my main winter hat. 

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From the vault

I was 10 when I wrote this ~ surely I was too old to mean it or not to know it was the Tooth Fairy I was writing to. I'd love to think I wrote it as a literary work. I also can't believe I even still have this. 

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The broad-minded Norwegians eat Swedish pastries at the fantastic Fabrique, on 14th Street just east of 9th Ave. This one, called semla, is an airy roll with almonds, sweet almond paste and tons of fresh whipped cream. The Norwegian version is, it seems, more plain. I grabbed a cardamom bun for later, which was just as good. These have something to do with Lent, or Shrovetide, whatever that is. Either the 3 days before Easter or the 3 days before Lent, meaning Mardi Gras. Well, Norwegian or not, Christian or not, these were delicious. 

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Sand in my shoes

Sand & surf look like sand & surf anywhere but the ugliest lamp ever was only in Freeport, Long Island. It's LARGE. This photo does not do justice to its appallingness. 

Mitt barnebarn had the day off & spontaneously we went to the beach. We chose Freeport I remembered boats & canals from an afternoon 25 years ago, but in that time its main street turned cheap & rundown, & the only open restaurant we could find was overpriced & mediocre. And what's with people answering your question (is there a beach nearby?) with their opinion ("it's too cold"). The first beach turned out to be a bird-watching walkway that was near promising dunes but not acually beach. But we got there (Jones Beach) at last & breathed the surf in, & the girls picked up shells, & their mom & I had deep wandering conversation. We drove home into the sun, full of love & laughter.

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Monday Quote

Our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. 

~ Upton Sinclair


I guess you can read that any way you want, from Democratic to wildly libertarian to unhinged Republican. 

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What I'm reading

I'm still reading everything I've been reading, but I did check out two intriguing books from the library:

The power of scenery: Frederick Law Olmsted and the origin of national parks, by Dennis Drabelle

God: an anatomy, by Francesca Stavrakopoulou

I'll start them soon. 

Rushing because I'm headed to a Swedish bakery with my Norsk class then middag med barnebarna mine. 

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It's the big one!

Johnny's way of changing the subject used to be to clutch his chest & wince out: It's the big one.My big one is rolling the odometer over to 100,000... well, a zero at the end anyway. Should I say it? Can I? Yep, 70 I am. It's weird to think about that as an age that I could be but it's great in reality. A whole new decade to explore. Yes! 


The best thing about being 70 is having friends that I've had for 40 or 50 years. So many people that I've known & loved a long time. So many inside jokes, trips, laughs, calamities, surprises..... 


When I was 20, I had never been to New York (or any city) & was living here when I was 30. 

When I was 30, I barely knew Johnny Stanton & was married to him by the time I was 40. 

At 40, I wasn't involved in Jewish life & by 50 I had learned to chant Hebrew & had an adult bat mitzvah. 

When I was 50, it never crossed my mind to do martial arts & by 60 I had earned a black belt in karate. 

At 60 I was happily monolingual & now I can speak Norwegian. 

Of course I'm excited to find out what I'll be doing or have done in 10 years that isn't even on my radar now. 

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I realize my soft spot for Myanmar is not any sympathy for its military coup but because of an exciting potboiler I read years ago about hunting for rubies there; the delicious thousand layer pancake dessert that I used to get at Minghala Village on 7th Street that I still crave; & Burma Shave shaving cream.* God, am I shallow. I hope if I ever went to that part of the world I would have a more nuanced take. 


* We loved reading Burma Shave's small sequential signs out loud when I was a kid driving around the Midwest with my family. Often clever & you just had to get to that rhythmic punchline. Early public poetry! Here are some examples:

= Every shaver / Now can snore / Six more minutes / Than before / By using / Burma-Shave
= Your shaving brush / Has had its day / So why not / Shave the modern way / With / Burma-Shave

= Shaving brushes / You'll soon see 'em / On the shelf / In some / Museum / Burma-Shave

= A shave / That's real / No cuts to heal / A soothing / Velvet after-feel / Burma-Shave
= Train approaching / Whistle squealing / Stop / Avoid that run-down feeling / Burma-Shave
= Keep well / To the right / Of the oncoming car / Get your close shaves / From the half pound jar / Burma-Shave
= Hardly a driver / Is now alive / Who passed / On hills / At 75 / Burma-Shave
= Past / Schoolhouses / Take it slow / Let the little / Shavers grow / Burma-Shave
= If you dislike / Big traffic fines / Slow down / Till you / Can read these signs / Burma-Shave

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We have mice!

This was supposed to startle Johnny but he took one look, half-asleep no less, & said, isn't that from the onion rolls? Failed pranks. Oh well. 

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My friend Craig

In my long poem "Cars," published in 1981, I write about my first time hitchhiking, when my friend Sondra & I hitched up to Gettysburg (SD) to see "our crazy poet friend Craig, now the archangel Gabriel." He was a handsome, lively, brilliant, sensitive young man, and even though I didn't know much about mental illness, I guess I knew he wasn't OK. I found a couple of letters from him the other day, including one from the South Dakota state mental hospital in Yankton that was sober and loving, as was a much earlier one when he was feeling thrashingly confined in his small town out on the prairie but full of plans. Finding the letters made me look him up. The online condolences called him "intense" and said "he bore his suffering with dignity and grace." He lived to be 61. Clearly the mental illness never let up. For 50 years I've carried him with me and now I find I can't remember very much. What was brilliant? What did we do together besides open our hearts? We cared "painfully" about the world & he quoted a lot of Jewish thinkers & was teaching himself Hebrew. Did he carry me too? I hope so. I think I hope so. 

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Monday Quote

Problems that remain persistently insoluble should always be suspected as questions asked in the wrong way. 

~ Alan Wilson Watts


I love this. I'm trying to reframe all over the place & this tags me to dart into a new point of view. 


Happy Valentine's Day. 

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What I'm reading

Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality is a takedown of the "trans agenda" by Canadian journalist Helen Joyce. Many of her stories are sad, such as the effeminate boy whose evangelical Christian mother was happy that he'd become a girl, a sex change being better than having a homosexual in the family. Some was hard to follow, & I'm not sure I ever understood who's really behind this "agenda." I do agree that Read More 

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Made it to a small show of art by family/lifelong (his) friend Joe Carey. What a wide range! It could be work by half a dozen different artists. Amazing. This very textured, relatively restrained painting was my favorite (today). The show will be gone tomorrow & is in a secret location, otherwise I'd say don't miss it. 

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Here's the invite for Sandwich Birthday Party (see February 4). 

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From the vault

A little self-serving, eh? I'm guessing this was written early on in our relationship, maybe before we were living together, those years when we were getting divorced all the time, pre-honeymoon. 

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Elinors of the world

Elinor Kaine.

I often watch What's My Line?, the genial 1950s-60s game show that featured a panel of actors & luminaries trying to guess the occupations of various guests, with a celebrity thrown in once per show. John Daly, the moderator & a fine journalist, was excellent at keeping things moving and settling knotty job-related conundrums. I remember the episode with an elderly and hard-of-hearing Frank Lloyd Wright, where Daly did a gentle job of protecting Wright without the least condescencion. The usual panelists were Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf, with an irregular 4th, among them Steve Allen,Tony Randall, & Martin Gabel (Francis's witty husband). It's a glimpse into a sophisticated, glamorous New York that still seems fun, even if it wasn't exactly what the show portrayed. 


I sat up at Elinor Kaine's name & even more to learn that she was a football journalist, who is still alive at 85 or so, still active, still lively. 

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Monday Quote

Isn't the past just the present, minus the uncertainty?

~ Mike DeCapite, from his terrific new novel Jacket Weather


I love this book & Mike & his voice & his name & the modern-eternal love story his novel's about. 

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What I'm reading

I met Siddhartha Deb on his first day at my dojo. Did he remember that I was the friendly, encouraging black belt out of all the people he met that day? I'd like to think it has something to do with him now being a valuable assistant in the YAI karate program for adult students with learning disabilities. Anyway, Siddhartha is also a writer & I'm thoroughly enjoying & learning from The Beautiful and the Damned: A portrait of the new India. Next: he's written several novels; I'll ask him his favorite or which to start with. He's another person I have an instinctive infinity for as someone who moved far away from his home & circumstances. Some do, some do not. 


Update: Now that I've finised the book, I want to highly recommend it. His eye is incredible: he sees what we couldn't possibly & is able to describe so that I felt I did understand. He is willing to be show when he is vulnerable & doesn't understand, letting the reader work things out on her own. And there are sharp insights not just about India but about people & relationships. 

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My 39th birthday

See the sandwich next to me? It was pretty darn good, as I recall. 

Since it's the Birthday Month, it's time for everyone to get excited. You can start with my 39th birthday (way back in Jack Bennytime). I had long wanted to get a 6-foot hero sandwich from Manganaro's on 9th Ave (which closed last year after being in business for 125 years). I remembered they delivered it to my friends' loft on a bitterly cold day. I invited everyone I knew & part of the fun was people who knew each other finding out that they also knew me. So many happy connections that day. Homer Erotic played their second-ever gig. One of my top birthday parties ever. 

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This is the same view on Ave A in the daytime. You can hardly see that little house. I should stay up past dusk more often & see the different world that's all around us in the night.

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In the neighborhood

So mysterious! This is on Ave A & 5th St above a ConEd building. It probably isn't little houses but I couldn't make out in the dark what it really is. But it's cool. I'll try to remember to look in the daylight. It's like those trick drawings: face or vase? 

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Poets at play

Andrei Codrescu, Greg Masters.

Man, it was great to hang out with some of my old friends/favorite people last night at Boris & Horton, the dog-friendly café on 12th & A, to celebrate the publication of Greggo's most recent book, The Complete Thoughts of Greg Masters. I totally admire that he is getting his work out, frequently & in very nice editions. And I loved seeing Anselm, Andrei, Mike & June, John G, Bob H. Bob R, Vincent, Annabel, Don Y, Peter B, & a couple of others I didn't get to talk to. I want to take for granted book parties & get-togethers again. It's inspiring to hear about all the projects & travels my poet friends are up to ~ still tireless after all these years.

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From the vault

I have no idea when (mid-'80s?) or why I wrote this. Was it published? My Social Security number was on the cover page. I'd certainly edit it if I were sending it out now but it's got its moments. And its lapses! I either lost interest at the end or couldn't figure out how to get out of it. VCRs!



The World (of Advertising) 


I think of myself as immune to advertising.

      In fact, I pride myself on being immune to advertising.

      Is it true? Is it possible?

      If not, what can catch me?

      Have I always been immune or did it start with Watergate? Our parents didn't believe was was obvious to us instantly — who else but the Republicans would have any reason to break into Democratic headquarters? We were a generation that early on got used to being lied to. We expect it. We factor it in when we cruise through the ads. Never lower! Never brighter! Never better! New! Improved! Smoother! Cheaper! Whiter! Fresh! ... Bullshit!

      You'd think advertisers would play to that skeptical or rebellious streak. Sort of "anti-advertising": "You're too smart to fall for the usual line, so listen to us." Is everything advertising? What is a wedding ring advertising? A May Day parade in Red Square? America? Art? What about those young novelists better known for what they drink than what they write? Maybe we all think of ourselves as exempt. As someone recently said you can only be affected by what you want anyway.

      It wasn't always this way. Once upon a time, when I was six or eight, I craved a hula hoop. I wanted to stand out in on the driveway and spin as wild as a comet. I have never desired anything quite so piercingly. How did I know to want this? And how readily it was granted. The ad delivered. For of course, my longing sprang from some clever inventor, rolled along to the adman, arriving by way of the Sunday papers in South Dakota, the end of the civilized world, originator of no fad, follower of the few that even arrive before they're passé. If it can make it there, it's already made it everywhere…

      But now we're post-Watergate. I'm inoculated. Immune. Don't think I don't know that the point is't so much to get me to buy any one thing, but to make me a consumer, someone who buys. Tote up everything you've bought in the last decade ("couldn't live without") that didn't even exist 10 years before that (CD player, Nintendo, Walkmate, VCR, microwave, answering machine).

      I know people who buy anything and everything as long as it's NEW. They think newness is what makes it great. It's hip, it's hop, the past has nothing to do with them. My neighbor went on a tour of London. Wow, she said, London is really historic — we saw the original Hard Rock Café! If you have no sense of history how can you not be buffeted by each little wind of suggestion, scandal or surmise?

      But wait a minute. Some kind of selling is doing its job. No one laughs at me on the street because of how I'm dressed. I look like everyone else, more or less.Where do I get a fashion sense from? My culture? I can't help but be part of it… I Am An American… It seeps in from some cosmic fashion gene… I know I dress like people who do study the fashion mags and ads. Who wants to wear the same rags every day? Is it a coincidence that what I think looks cute is also what's au courant?

      It isn't TV that sucks me in, that's for sure. I don't even own one, and I watch elsewhere rarely. And yet I'm aware of almost every popular show. It trickles down from somewhere.

      I listen to the ballgame on the radio every night all summer long. The same commercials play over and  over. I know they're for cars and beer, but boy, I couldn't tell you which car, which beer. Who sponsors my team? Is advertising working? What do they want from me?

      There's a story by Ron Hansen in his collection Nebraska that describes the "Ben Franklin close," in which the salesman lists a dozen reasons for the purchase and lets the buyer list the cons, usually two or three. Then the salesman says, What would Ben Franklin do now? What would the logical man do now? And the only response that keeps you from driving away in a new Ford that'll eat up the road is to say, "I just don't feel like it."

      Would I vote for Candidate A when I intended Candidate B because A's commercials are better? Or would it be because her ads reveal only that I agree more with her after all? Could B's ads be so cleverly written or presented that I find myself agreeing with her despite myself? Are we talking hypnosis here? Or merely flatulent puffery?

      A friend, an artist, once mentioned that she considered me the least visually oriented perseon she know. That reminded me of poring over a large, beautiful volume of Georgia O'Keeffe watercolors, with snippets of autobiography running alongside. I soon found myself reading about her life and barely glancing at the pictures.

      I can't be sold by visuals. I just can't. But obviously I fall into line like anyone else. Advertising works after all, just not the way I'd thought.

      Words are more picturesque, more convincing and commanding any day. I believe what I hear not what I see. Pictures lie and words don't. My traveling shoes tingle over a paragraph about raw Detroit sooner than a lush photo of Bali. Maybe that's why I like the unphotogenic prairie, about which there is much to say, best of all landscapes.


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