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BLOG: SWANS LAST DIVE (inactive) Please see my Crooked Mirror blog www.crookedmirror.wordpress.com

on a July morning, thinking about Thoreau and 1968

On a July morning, garden growing, sun glowing... reading about Emerson and Thoreau and Alcott in preparation for a visit to Walden Pond, cleaning house... just in case anyone wonders why this blog looks like an abandoned car lot, i've moved over to Wordpress which is much easier to use! This morning, I'm paying a visit to ye old blog...

This morning Joe Maizlish, my neighbor in Silver Lake, dropped off an envelope of letters I wrote to him while he was in prison for draft resisting in the late sixties. I was in high school and deeply involved in the draft resistance movement. The letters are written on yellow three-hole punch paper with a sepia typewriter ribbon. I quote Levertov and Eliot, Patchen and Whitman and I describe the morning in Watts in 1968 when my high school boyfriend chained himself to the altar and was carried away by federal marshalls for refusing to register for the draft. In these letters is the voice of my younger self, agonizing about the war in Vietnam.

My young self was lucky, in hindsight, to be part of a community organized against the war. In these days with combat operations still active in Afghanistan and Iraq (and now Libya)-- the response is muted and confused. And the wounded soldiers (surviving more heinous trauma than anyone ever used to survive) continue to come home and try to fit in to "ordinary" life where both the dangers of snipers and the comfort of community are rarely encountered Read More 
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Home from Malheur

September 7, 2010

Home from Malheur. 6 hour drive from Portland into the wilds of eastern Oregon. Labor Day weekend— where were all the people? No one there! I drove out with two longtime friends—Freda and Joan—for a birding workshop at the Malheur Field Station.

I stroke the netted shrike (the executioner bird). The Great Horned Owl regards me with round yellow eyes, visible across the length of Benson’s Grove where we stand in respectful silence under the giant cottonwoods. Duncan sets up the telescope, helps me focus my eyes on what is distant, what is near and waiting. Look for the owl and you’ll find the owl is looking right at you. The presence of the winged ones around us. Remember to look up! Across the marsh, a sleek coyote stalks sandhill cranes. Muskrat glides through the reeds, slipslop dives under. The namesake for “skinny as a rail” fits its narrow bird body through the cattails.

Yellow-headed blackbird in the net, struggling. Suddenly calm in Duncan’s hands. He ruffles fingers through feathers, revealing bird ears, the structure of leg ligaments. Duncan, our guide/teacher, is the naturalist/shaman who speaks to animals, reads from their behavior and appearance their anxieties and intentions. He can tell that Western tanager on the branch of the Russian olive is here on its first migration. Should it approach the water source or not? Are there predators nearby? On a first migration, who would know? Duncan can think like a bird.

Quails rushing nervously to and fro across the road. Layla-- Duncan’s wife who is also a naturalist-- has noticed different strategies of quail parenting. Some quail parents muster their chicks in straight lines (a la Madeleine). Others are more like hippie parents. Their chicks merrily commingle with other quail families. Layla has seen the father quail issue a “talking to,” a peck to the delinquent chick. Quail discipline.

I must write more about this, but must ready for work tomorrow. My mind wants to live in that ocean of sage, that starry sky with the whoosh of Milky Way, the swoop of swallows in the dusk and the song of the meadowlark “at break of day arising.”
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Meredith Monk, Inner Voice

Lloyd and I watched the documentary "Inner Voice" tonight, about the great artist (and dear friend) Meredith Monk. The film is as clear as the New Mexico light, as calm as the image of Meredith sitting on her porch at her studio in Canones. Her work has been a beacon to me for over thirty-four years, since I met her at Naropa in 1976. The film is calm and delicate... there is Meredith looking into the eyes of her dying mother, there she is in rehearsal with her singers, at her piano composing, lighting a candle for her partner Mieke van Hook-- who died too young, talking to her longtime collaborator Lanny Harrison. There are excerpts from "Quarry" and the opera "Atlas," and stunning images from the recent Voices of Ascension. This is a film about confronting fear, about what death teaches us, about holding on to a vision, about listening deeply to one's inner voice.

I saw Meredith last week when I was in NYC. We had breakfast at a downtown greasy spoon and attempted to catch each other up on our lives. We walked back to her loft via the dry cleaners where she left off a costume that needed cleaning. Ahmet the dry cleaner is a Persian poet, a handsome man. He remembered standing in front of his shop on W. Broadway and seeing the twin towers fall. Afterwards, we went up to Meredith's loft and I took her picture with her tortoise Neutron, who's been around awhile. Permanence. Impermanence.  Read More 
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A dear friend... visit from Scotty

Scotty came into town this week in her truck, mud-splattered, Utah license plates. She's on a California road trip from her home in Boulder, Utah-- visits to old friends, family, and as well—plans to paint in Pt. Lobos, Joshua Tree. I’ve known Scotty since high school. In 1967, when Scotty's dad Alan got a job in Heidelberg, Germany, Scotty boarded at Westlake for a year and my parents were her legal guardians.

We roamed Westwood with flowers in our hair, haunted the Sandalmaker's shop on Broxton (he was our older—maybe not wiser—Beat mentor). We filled our green canvas bookbags with European history homework and hitchhiked up the coast to Ojai. Then Scotty moved to Rome to finish high school, where she had a Persian filmmaker boyfriend who wore a suit and tie. The day I graduated h.s., I took off to meet her in Europe. Later, I visited Scotty in Crete, where she lived for twenty years, painting still lifes and landscapes. We hiked to the Prevali monastery, where a mischievous old monk kept filling and refilling my glass with raki… (distilled from mulberry pulp) at 11 in the morning until I/we were blasted, laughing, ecstatic. We are friends. For life.

I’m putting a link to an essay I wrote about Scotty in the L.A. Times to the right, and you can check out her fantastic paintings of the Utah landscape and Rome at www.scottymitchell.com and there she is, beautiful smile…

Someday I may pull out the ms. of the book I started writing about Scotty in Crete, LIVING A STILL LIFE.  Read More 
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Eduardo Galeano

notes from my journal, June, 2009:

Our evening with Eduardo Galeano. He’s already standing in front of Checkers Hotel, taking in the street, when I arrive to pick him up. He is more stooped than when I saw him at Lannan fifteen years ago. Greyer. Up close he has a more complicated face than I imagined… wrinkles full of smiles around his eyes. He offers an embrace. Even in that walk to the back door of the green room, a mere half block away I am transported to the sidewalks of Montevideo because we are walking so slowly and he is telling me a story, about the airplane, about “being the ham in the sandwich” between two fat men on the flight from Philadelphia, about having to strip so many times for security. There is humor and wisdom in what he has to say. There is no hurrying him, either in the walking or in the talking.  Read More 
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A visit from Buster

Buster Simpson stayed last night on a too-rare visit to Los Angeles. Buster and his artist wife Laura (Sindell) are among our dearest friends. It was thanks to Buster, really, that Lloyd and I met... or met again.

Buster was my next door neighbor in an artists' tenement in Seattle, WA in the early 80's. We all shared garden space in the backyard. Buster did his wash on an old ringer washing machine. In downtown Seattle, he was known as the unofficial Mayor of Belltown, holding court over root pie at the Belltown Cafe. He was already known for his public art which explored ecological issues in then unheard of ways. He placed limestone discs (antacid tablets) into the Hudson River to neutralize the acid rain.

Our building, on Western Avenue just half a mile north of the PIke Place mkt, was originally built for the cannery workers. The back stairs were rickety but the view from my pantry was stunning-- Puget Sound, Myrtle Edwards Park. i could hear the blast of Princess Marguerite, the ferry to Alaska, at night when she docked. I was recovering from a severe car accident and a divorce, writing my first book (The Knowing Body).

Buster told me he was collaborating with a fellow artist named Lloyd Hamrol, on a public art competition in Port Townsend, WA. A benefactor, Ruth Seavey Jackson, had left her fortune to the city: "to create an art work that could be seen from the sea." (and if no artwork were chosen, the money would go to Guide Dogs of the Desert.)

I remembered Lloyd from student art days in Los Angeles. I told Buster I'd enjoy seeing him again. Lloyd and I met gazes on those rickety back stairs. The proverbial lightning bolt struck. Now it's twenty-six years and several cities later, and Buster our dear friend has come to spend the night at our house on Earl Street. in Los Angeles, after giving a talk.

Our Seattle Cupid.

Check out Buster's website: www.bustersimpson.net
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to blog or not to blog

In an issue of Harper's, an erratic blogger by the name of Matthew Specktor described blogging's fundamental paradoxes--" the split between publicity and privacy, between Whitmanesque openness and Yeatsian retreat... "

I am more an erratic than a prolific blogger, though I am a prolific emailer and I used to be a prolific letter writer. I still love envelopes with stamps, writing addresses out longhand, taking time to write a long thoughtful letter to a friend. But that happens less and less.

But I digress.

But isn't that the nature of blogging?

There is such a swirl of events racing around me, around you, around all of us. This week saw historic health reform finally pass the House and head on its way to the Senate. I remember Paul Krugman at ALOUD, exactly 18 months ago, predicting that if we got a Dem in the White House, in 18 months we'd have some kind of health care reform. It's been a long slog (rhymes with blog), but I'm grateful for the changes on the way. At ALOUD last week, we hosted writer Tim O'Brien whose commentary on the line between fiction and nonfiction itself deserves a long blog. Misery in Haiti. the explosion of spring in my yard.

But today I will engage in a Yeatsian retreat.
I am primarily devoting the hours I have for writing mind into editing/revising my book THE CROOKED MIRROR.

But to anyone out there who actually reads this... I salute the effort it takes to capture, distill, ponder the swirl of life around us. Happy spring Read More 
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The Souvenir at the Walters

Just home from Baltimore, where I joined museum director Gary Vikan for a conversation about "The Souvenir" at the Walters Art Museum. The museum brought me out in conjunction with a beautiful Japanese art show, delicate cloisonne vases with koi and egrets, pheasants and wisteria. Gary and I discussed the Occupation of Japan, and he noted how surprised he was to learn that the first museum art show in America of Japanese art was not until 1953. When my father went ashore in Wakayama Harbor, he was entering a country, a culture... about which he knew very little, and against which he was deeply prejudiced.

But my father liked what he saw. He even wrote to my mother that he thought the idea of taking off one's shoes before entering a house was a great idea.

One woman in the audience offered the following insight: "At first, I thought your father must have preserved the letters hoping that you would find them. After listening to you, I think your father kept them as a reminder of who he was."  Read More 
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Sculptures coming to light

Last Saturday my husband's sculpture show opened at Cardwell Jimmerson Gallery in Culver City. The work looked wonderful in the gallery... a re-creation of an installation from the 60's called "5 x 9", and two of his new felt sculptures: "Capsize" and "Rigg." I know I'm biased, but this is beautiful work.

It was a joyous evening, seeing this work out in the world, seeing people move through Lloyd's installation. The configuration of the 9 sculptures create a landscape and people have to make choices about how they will move through the pieces. Sometimes this results in a little tango, a graceful folk hop, backing up and around... finding different pathways each time.

Lloyd works out in his studio like a mad scientist (as a kid, he liked to experiment with chemistry and nearly blew up his mother's garage), creating new inventions, wrangling with big rolls of industrial felt, cutting through layers of fabric as if he's channeling his grandfather Louis who was an ace garment cutter. it is a joy and a privilege to watch his process. I admire his perseverence and dedication; it's humbling, inspiring.

You can see more of Lloyd's work here: www.lloydhamrol.com

His show at Cardwell Jimmerson is up until March 20th. Read More 
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memorial in sign language

I'd never been to a sign language memorial before. 8th of Jan, an appreciative community-- mainly deaf adults-- gathered to honored the memory of Dr. Virginia McKinney, founder of the Center for Communicative Development. Her great legacy was there, in person, her students and former students. These are deaf adults that were cast away, abandoned by the educational system. Virginia would not take NO for an answer. She didn't give up on people. Thanks to her persistence, her students told us, they were out in the world, working, married, raising kids, earning a living.

One of the speakers, a deaf Russian gentleman named Vladimir, said, that when he'd walked in that day, Viriginia's office was dark, her desk chair empty. "But she was there."

Documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu is finishing a documentary about Virginia (whom, we all agreed, would have been played by Bette Davis in a feature film.) and her son Walter is working hard to ensure that the legacy of CCD continues. "What would Virginia say?" was a common refrain and the answer was clear: "Don't take my school away."  Read More 
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