For some random reason, i found myself watching this terrific PBS kids show, with the curious bunny Elinor and her friends Olive (an elephant) & Ari (a bat) finding out about things like echolocation, snow, & the mystery of what happens to leaves in the forest that no one rakes. They research & look closely & figure things out. Love it!
Elinor Wonders Why
The original tiny house? But all that land means the residents are out & about most of the time, plowing the sod & all that. When people can't imagine how two people (Johnny & I, i.e.) have lived — comfortably! cheerily! cozily! — in a studio for decades, I should point out what it was like out on the prairies 150 years ago. Read Giants in the Earth. I've read books about mail-order brides who lived in shacks like this with their in-laws, the babies as they came along, and a cow or 2 till a barn got built. My apartment has all the space I need.
634 Ways to Kill Fidel
What a great title: 634 Ways to Kill Fidel. It's by Fabián Escalante, founder of the Cuban intelligence services and head of the Cuban State Security Department and details some of the "Looney Tunes-esque assassination attempts," using seashells, shoes, a softball, a milkshake... & more.
The Ezra Pound 2022
Soon the landlord will cover our lively front door with that institutional beige paint he keeps around & soon after that we'll have another vision to remind us that the East Village is still hopping.
What I'm reading
I'm mostly reading the astonishingly gripping Gibbon (Decline & Fall) but when I can't stay awake or go to sleep, I've had fun with Maisie Dobbs, detective & psychologist. I like novels about World War I (both of my granddads fought, on different sides) & I like mysteries. These feel like a glimpse into the world of my grandparents' generation. I also like the thread of mysticism. And I'm more interested in women investigators.
On this date in 1971 my life changed permanently when Beth & I hitchhiked to D.C. to attend the last big antiwar demonstration. We slept out & she woke up smiling at a handsome stranger, who became her boyfriend for several years. This was how I got hooked into The House, a loose group of Air Force men who challenged, loved, understood, encouraged me, & still do. I was ready for I didn't know what & they handed freedom to me. I was ready & The House appeared, giving me everything I needed.
Many of us still stay in touch & those of us who were deeply present still count this as (one of) the most important time(s) in our lives. I know I do. I've written about it a lot & am always, always grateful for the experience, which continues to this day. I am who I am as much because of The House as anything else.
Our clever ancestors
I just read a remarkable article in The Economist: "Why 15,000-year-old art might have been displayed in firelight." They learned about it from this article. British researchers used computer modeling to discover that limestone plaquettes (slabs about the size of a postcard) excavated in southern France & carved with local animals may have been an attempt at animation - as much as 23,000 years ago. "The interaction of engraved stone and roving fire light made engraved forms appear dynamic and alive... Human neurology is particularly attuned to interpreting shifting light and shadow as movement and identifying visually familiar forms in such varying light conditions."
Isn't that cool? Both the creative genius of our earliest ancestors and the researchers.
Sioux Falls: City of Hustle
Who knew "City of Hustle" was a moniker for my hometown? Not me, but apparently Patrick Hicks & Jon Lauck, editors the editors of the forthcoming anthology of that name do. It's not due out till October but I'm sure you'll want to preorder now, especially when you find out the book includes my essay on the Nordic Hall (secret heart of Scandinavian Sioux Falls). I also didn't know it was residents (or anyone) who call Sioux Falls "the Best Little City in America." But it's 100% accurate that Money magazine once named Sioux Falls the best place to live in America.
Drawing by my granddaughter, age around 5, on the back of a kids' menu at a Mexican restaurant called La Señorita in Mount Pleasant, MI. "I hope Michigan is really regretting their adoption of teaching phonetic spelling in the early 2000s," said her mom.
Word of the Day
Borborygmus (pl, borborygmi): The growling noises your stomach makes.
Man, how annoying I could (WOULD!) have been if I'd know this terrific word when I was 9 years old...
MQ/What I'm reading
Life is not promised—it is crucial for a writer to respect time. Without urgency or panic, a writer can use this recognition to both make the necessary time for writing, and make much of that time.
~ bell hooks, Remembered Rapture: The writer at work
I had never read anything by bell hooks, but so many people described the impact of her writing after her death last December that I thought I had better check her out. I am beginning to see what drew so many readers: her methodical steps through her own psyche make you see her, really see another person. So far that's all I can say.
Note: I've decided to make Monday the day for either a quote or "what I'm reading." sometimes a combination of the two.
Also: I was off yesterday for Day 2 of Passover.
What should I talk about? The rat in the toilet (2nd in a month)? First seder tonight & my dilemma about going to a seder with 18 people I don't know when covid is surging again? That they caught the subway shooter a block away from my office & we happened to be sitting on a bench across from the precinct, so we got to watch the brass get ready to shove themselves into the photos? The glorious spring weather? The glorious spring allergies that add another reason not to go to the seder? The impossibility of actually using my companion airline ticket to go anywhere?
I need a nap & something besides matzo on my Passover shelf, so off I go.
If I think of anything to write about, I'll update.
From the vault
with the pronouns
I no longer know
I address or
I have no recollection of writing this or what was in my mind. It's interesting to me that it was in my mind at all.
Contemporary in not quite the right way.
Poets & poetry
Running into poets, the kiss-withdraw gesture we all use now, the reading had to to with John Giorno & was at a record store on 2nd St just west of 2nd Ave, I'm fuzzy on the details, Anselm read, charmingly, works of Ted, one of the poets Giorno recorded, & David Henderson read a song Sun Ra recorded. "Write songs, you just need one & you're all set." Anne Waldman next but I was done in by close calls. The Brooklyn subway shooter was caught today & we watched from a bench on 5th St, across from the 9th precinct, while the brass prepared for the spotlight.
I have a couple of friends that, like me, enjoy being out and about early in the morning. On Sunday Robyn and I rode our bikes to Governors Island. It's 20 minutes to the ferry, three minutes on the ferry, and then a big beautiful open space. That early on a chillier than expected day, we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
My new summer plan: do the same thing once a week or so. The first ferry is at 7 a.m.
The past is a work of art, free of irrelevancies and loose ends.
~ Max Beerbohm
That is absolutely false. The past changes with every revelation, every action. If anything, the quote should be: The future is a work of art, free of irrelevancies and loose ends.
In my months-long decluttering project, I have found so many documents that have rocked my beliefs about myself & my youth. I plan to write about this at length but right now it's a jumble of surprises & a few confirmations ~ as well as irrelevancies & loose ends.
What I'm reading
I intended to list what I was reading on this date in 1985 (87?) because I found a slip of paper with that info & the coincidence was too great to skip. But I managed to mislay it, & because I was planning to copy it, I didn't pay much attention. Barbara Guest on Auden (?) is the only thing I remember.
It was fortuitous because the book I'm really reading might seem pretentious (but isn't!): The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, which I was inspired to read because I'm also reading Mortimer Adler's 1940 How to Read a Book & want to be a better lifelong learner.
So there you have it.
Elinor goes to the Upper East Side
I feel rich because I'm not destitute (but it never seems impossible) & then I go uptown & see, I dunno, private gardens & people spending hundreds & thousands of dollars on a single meal & lines for expensive delicacies... & I'm so happy to get back to my shabby, unpretentious (except in unpretentiousness) East Village. Did I find the EV or did it make me? No, I'm pretty sure I was lucky enough to find a place that suited me & smart enough to stay.
In a column bemoaning the resurgence of homophobia, the usually sensitive Frank Bruni showed some misogyny. Besides institutional affiliation, the only people he ID'ed of the several he mentioned were "conservative superstar Ben Shapiro" and "former beauty queen Anita Bryant" ~ former indeed: it was 1958 & she was 18. She also had four Top 40 songs & was a "brand ambassador" for 11 years for Florida citrus. You can dismiss her for her horrible politics but to hit at her teenage looks? Nope. Discouraging as it is to see ANY bigotry back, it is worse to see bigotry used in service of decrying bigotry.
Do you have your social security card?
My friend has to get hers replaced, so I'd been thinking about this. I posed the question on Facebook. I would have guessed that most people didn't still have theirs but at least three quarters of the people who answered my (obviously unscientific) poll do. Really, how did they keep track all these years & decades? One little scrap of paper that could so easily be lost, stolen (with the wallet it's in), destroyed. How did so many of us who could barely keep track of our names manage to hang on to it? The government told us to & we did. That's a little depressing.
It turned out to be a great question though, because it applies to everyone & everyone (for the most part) knows the answer. A lot of people were surprised to still have theirs. Many had a parent or grandparent's card too.
Even though I had no expectation that Social Security would have any bearing on my life, I kept that dang card & there it is in a wallet, with my old address from Sioux Falls & my old signature. Where was it throughout the 70s that I have it now? I don't suppose I'll ever know.
The habit of neglecting to cash checks goes back so far that it's not a sign of senility. That's all I can say. When I went to Mexico & Central America in 1981, before I crossed the border I called my friend who was staying in my place & she'd found a check in the bathroom. She managed to deposit it, something that would be harder to do today. It's not like I didn't need the money! My dad was an accountant ~ I think that I'm careful & attentive, that it's my genetic inheritance. I just found a check for $100 from 2005. It's not the only one I've come upon since 1981. Maybe I'll tape it to my wall as a reminder to go to the bank. Which is around the corner, for heaven's sake.
Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.
~ Warren Buffett
All the news makes me want to take a long view & believe that things will work themselves out. I don't know that they will but I'm trying to plant trees. I was reading about Russians who went on beach vacations to places like Thailand & Bali & are stranded, with non-working credit cards, no way to get home, & not sure they want to be back in Russia, except that it's their home. I was so relieved not to get stuck in Scotland when the pandemic lockdown began & I at least had a cousin eager to put me up for as long as I needed (although probably not for as long as I would have been stuck) & access to money. Access to my own language.
I breathe & look ahead.
What I'm reading
And then there's the middlebrow mysteries, where the detective ruminates. Donna Leon's Brunetti series, set in Venice, resembles Louise Penny's Gamache series, set in Quebec in featuring philosophical uxorious detectives amid lots of food & local color. Nothing too hardboiled although there's always the risk of disaster.
And now I go home and try to keep myself from finishing the latest Leon in one go. Savor, El, savor!
Hey, it's Friday
I'm kind of in a bad mood but it cheers me up to look at this little drittsekk, who looks sweet & compliant but in fact is a jerk and a half, who wakes me way way too early & bites my calf to get my attention. I admire that he's not fazed by being 1/25th the size of us. He's a scrapper. And neighborly: Lefty knows everyone on our floor & one up, & visits in his talkative way. My favorite thing is that he can bug me all evening & then the minute I get in bed, he leaps between us purring like a jackhammer.