(This call may be monitored by the subconscious.)

In Tieck’s creepy tale from the late 18th Century, Der blonde Eckbert, a Knight tells a story of a magical bird and dog to a dear friend whom he kills immediately afterwards.  The friend keeps on showing up in different guises til Eckbert loses his mind.

The late Roberto Bolaño tells a strange story of a fascist skywriter, who doggedly appears in different places, etching his famous bad poetry across the tainted Latin American sky.

Aimee Bender writes about de-evolving boyfriends, mothers who give birth to grandmothers, and lemon cake that tastes of the psychic trouble of the baker.

All around us, the unreal spins its strange webs:  Game of Thrones, The Trueblood romances, Scott Pilgrim, and the hectic animated films of the Italian artist named Blu.  Tangled in these stories, we think we ignore magic, as we read the paper, or increasingly view the fraught truths of a complicated world on the internet.  But the unreal and its siblings — the fairy-tale as brought to us by the German Romantics, surrealism, expressionism, and magical realism, now supplemented/enhanced by the technologies of gaming and the aesthetics of anime — have never been more alive to us than now.

In the Surrealist Manifesto, Andre Breton rejects the “reign of logic” and announces the primacy, in life and in art, of dreams.

What would Breton think of today’s strange creative utterances?  Lady Gaga’s performative lies?  Pan’s Labyrinth?  Ghost Hunters? Santa Con?

He would smile.  The artist dreams, he would say.  And when s/he does, the artist works.

Magically Real interrogates this phenomenon.  And celebrates it.

Welcome and fruitful dreaming.

newyork-tour-stripper-4244781-o

courtesyhttp://s3.amazonaws.com/everystockphoto/fspid30/42/44/78/1/newyork-tour-stripper-4244781-o.jpg

Once upon there was a taxi driver.

Wait.

First there was a boy. The boy lived in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union. His dad flew fighter jets – the ones with the big bombs in them. Not big as in size. Big as in nuclear. Then the dad got a different job flying cargo planes because the fighter jets take a lot out of you when you fly them. Isn’t that interesting to know?

The boy grew up on military bases. He hung out with soldiers and military men because his mother worked in special services typing up secret documents and inputting secret case files.

So the boy grew up with great discipline, and he became a very disciplined taxi driver.

He tells me about life in Ukraine while he drives me to the airport in the United States. I ask about the current conflict and he says he has friends fighting each other. One friend wanting to be Russian, and the other friend wanting – fiercely – to be Ukrainian.

It breaks our hearts he said.

Once upon a time there was a millionaire.

Wait.

First there was a boy. A boy who lived in New York. A boy who was the child of famously rich parents who were themselves the children of famously rich parents. A boy who had liberal sympathies, a boy who played the piano. His father was a banker and his mother was a lawyer and so servants raised the boy as well as nannies and then he went to a very important university. He became a doctor and then a philanthropist and after he healed his patients he would talk to them about their books and operas. And then he would fund raise so these important cultural things could happen.

The millionaire meets me for coffee because I am a friend of a friend of a cousin who likes Comparative Literature and who thinks we might get along. He tells me about life at this famous university where he has met and gotten to know so many famous people.

It’s thrilling he said.

Today I think about the differences between these two stories. If these boys could talk to each other what would they say? How could life in the Soviet Union connect with life in New York? What wisdoms could be collected? How could prompt taxi driving inform and connect with famous doctoring?

I feel sad that they will probably never meet.

And THAT makes me think about a third story.

Once upon a time there was a theater company.

Hold on.

Once there were 7 actors.

They weren’t any one nationality, and they didn’t speak just one language. They formed a troupe and they did something called devise-theater (or perhaps its device-theater… I couldn’t understand what the theater expert meant when he told me about this kind of show and he’s not here so you’ll have to bear with me) and these actors went into the street and talked to people.

Whoever the actors met became part of their story. They filmed it and showed it in a little theater last week.

In my mind’s eye the theater company brings the millionaire and the taxi driver together on the streets of somewhere – Rio? Berlin? Los Angeles? Bucharest?

And together they solve it all – they solve all the world’s problems. Because they bring everyone else into it. Think about it: you need a taxi driver and a jet plane pilot and a special services operative and a comparative literature lover and a theater expert and a medical doctor and all the successful artists you can think of and the theater company to get the job done. As well as a lawyer and a banker. If you think about it – that’s a lot of useful expertises.

And everyone would applaud, because honestly – that would be a pretty good play wouldn’t it?

 

For a glimpse at what Gob Squad’s performances “might” look like in a city near you….

 

Once upon a time there was a photographer. He had lost his parents when he was eight, and he missed them as well as who he had been before they died, because you seen when someone you love dies, a part of you dies with them. You probably know this already, and are thinking to yourself “oh my god how horrible, I couldn’t stand that, so I guess I have to make sure NOONE dies so I don’t have to die in little bits and then rebirth myself in little bits for my whole life long because that is going to be very hard work and probably painful.”

Well, good luck with that.

The boy became a man and the man became a photographer, which is the perfect thing to become because photography is all about showing you what isn’t there any longer as a very smart man named Roland Barthes once noticed. But even with making photographs for money, and even with making those cutesy photographs of kids that one can do as a profession for money in the 1950’s, the man missed his family and he missed – he continued to miss his dead little self.

So he did what artists always do – he found a secret way to express this loss and to also restore it.

That’s when he started to make the dolls.

15 in all. 12 girls – like the 12 dancing princesses of legend – and 3 boys. Ranging in age from 8-18. And he dressed them up in different sorts of outfits. And he took photographs of them.

The girls look various. The boys all look like him.

You can see some of the photographs if you live in Los Angeles.

“Ew” said my friend, the filmmaker. “This is really gross.”
“Aren’t they fascinating?” said my friend the performance artist. “They love him in Germany.”

Which goes to show that people can react very differently to the same art work, and both people could be right. It also goes to show that sometimes you need to make a secret art form – one that you don’t show to anybody. And it’s fine to do that, as long as you don’t hurt anybody, including yourself. Finally, it goes to show that – to quote Barbe Hammer — “people are really pretty weird.”

They are. We are.

I looked at the photographs and I thought about the secret plays I put on as a child, and the time I did a whole dance routine to Royksopp alone in the bathroom in the metrolink going from Riverside to LA. Because I’d had a tough day at the office. Or the ways I used to play ALL the parts of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance because – I felt like it, and it made me feel better.

Sometimes secret art helps us.

I wonder how Mr. Bartlett would feel about his secret art being revealed in Los Angeles. I hope he’s ok with it. I for one am grateful, because the next time I feel the urge to sing Gilbert and Sullivan with myself in a closet, I don’t have to feel bad.

And when I sing I can think about Barbe Hammer, who is dead, and Leonard Hammer, who is dead and all the people I love who are dead too. And I will have to suffer that loss, and that little personal death that happens all the times bits of me have expired too. At the same moment, I will have to look for the small part that is new and that says in quiet voice “now it is my turn to be born.”

————————-
To see Bartlett’s dolls in Los Angeles, visit LACMA:Morton Bartlett’s Uncanny Playthings

The lover is sitting across from me in the train station, on a bed, with a green blanket pulled tight over it as though he were at summer camp. He has seen me, but he has not noticed the husband, who sits beside me and who is consulting timetables, long shiny pamphlets that fold out for miles.

You have time for a shower he says, and by “he” I mean the husband.

I look over surreptitiously at the lover, who has seen me but does not know I’ve seen him. He sighs loudly, apparently resigning himself to being ignored for the moment, and gets under the covers of the bed, preparing himself for what is sure to be a long journey.

I walk out of the train station, and jump the 3 barriers to my friend Edwina’s house, where the shower is. She is having a party. I slip into the bathroom but at least 3 women are in there talking about blow jobs and how drunk do you have to be to give one.

I don’t answer and I can’t shower. I go out. What are you doing? says, Edwina, can’t you stay for the party? No, I say. I have to deal with the lover and the husband sitting alone waiting for trains. Who knows what they’ll get in to?  Then you’d better hurry, she says because the barriers have grown and as she speaks I can hear them groaning into ever greater heights. I slide down slippery cuttings of rocks like you see in a rock store. Blue and quartz and igneous, and then I am at the barriers. There are three:  a wired fence, with batteries at intervals, hanging like the curls of an orthodox Jewish man, and a high brick wall, and after that a barrier I cannot see but know is there. I fly but fly backwards, ending up on the lawn.

Mind the tulips says Edwina. So I have to leap over the fences. I manage but my feet and legs get all muddy.

Thank God I didn’t shower.

I come back just as my husband is leaving. The lover is playing pool with some other young travellers. His eyes are hooded. I wish he could be acknowledged, but he has an 8 ball in the side pocket and this is as well as he’s ever done.

 

 

 

Once upon a time she tried to tell a story. But she couldn’t. There were too many wars, and then there was an earthquake, and the murder of a boy in the street in a city where she lived. Then, she walked outside to get the mail and 2 birds lay motionless on the deck in front of the windows. They had smashed themselves against the glass. She fell asleep thinking of those birds whispering i’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry.

Friends — Prose- stories are wondrous things, but sometimes we just need poems.

Poems are amazing because they tell the story of a civilization as well as of an instant, outline the epic of dynastic rulers or of one British guy looking at a ruined monastery, racount the history of the feelings of hundreds of people or of hundreds of emotions in one single person.

Poems delve razor sharp into the small, jump up into the big and come back down again to remind us of ourselves.

And always they ask the big, basic questions.

Who are you? What do you value? What matters? Why?

Like in  the Iliad. Did you know that it’s a great anti-war poem?  Yup. Simone Weil argues as much, because in her opinion the Iliad shows – without any question – the seductiveness and horror of force:

Here’s a famous moment in the poem:

Priam finished. His words roused in Achilles
a desire to weep for his own father. Taking Priam’s hand,
he gently moved him back. So the two men there
both remembered warriors who’d been slaughtered.
Priam, lying at Achilles’ feet, wept aloud                                                             [510]
for man-killing Hector, and Achilles also wept                                       630
for his own father and once more for Patroclus.
The sound of their lamenting filled the house.

Book 24, The Iliad 

Isn’t it interesting that in this most famous of heroic narratives, one that seemingly celebrates war, this scene — the enemies who weep together and who eventually break bread together — finds a place?

And isn’t it something that on Achilles’ shield there is a depiction of 2 cities?:

Here’s the first city:

Strife and Confusion joined the fight,
along with cruel Death, who seized one wounded man                         660
while still alive and then another man without a wound,
while pulling the feet of one more corpse from the fight.
The clothes Death wore around her shoulders were dyed red
with human blood. They even joined the slaughter
as living mortals, fighting there and hauling off
the bodies of dead men which each of them had killed.

 

To the city of war, the Homeric poets compare this city:

Then the people gathered
in the assembly, for a dispute had taken place.
Two men were arguing about blood-money owed
for a murdered man. One claimed he’d paid in full,
setting out his case before the people, but the other                                         [500]
was refusing any compensation. Both were keen
to receive the judgment from an arbitration.                                          620
The crowd there cheered them on, some supporting one,
some the other, while heralds kept the throng controlled.
Meanwhile, elders were sitting there on polished stones
in the sacred circle, holding in their hands
the staffs they’d taken from the clear-voiced heralds.
With those they’d stand up there and render judgment,
each in his turn. In the centre lay two golden talents,
to be awarded to the one among them all
who would deliver the most righteous verdict.

Book 18 The Iliad

What always gets me about the above description is how unidealized the “good” city is. The Homeric poets don’t show us a utopia. It’s not that war/peace binary that we’re used to thinking about. The city at “peace” isn’t perfectly peaceful – that’s for sure. But it’s a city were weddings are held and not funerals, and as the above lines show it’s a place where justice – a radically social event – is deemed so crucial that it finds its place on Achilles’ shield.

Simone Weil believed that the ethical questions raised in the Iliad look forward to those of the Gospels.

But really, you can see these sorts of questions raised by poems in lots of places:

 

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.

 

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other

doesn’t make any sense.

 

From Essential Rumi

by Coleman Bark

Once upon a time there was an island. And on the island there were buses. The buses ran for free almost every day, and they took people – rich, poor, local, visitor, young, old, abled and not so abled — almost everywhere in the island.

”What????” said some private citizen. “You are just GIVING AWAY MASS TRANSIT? What about laziness and self-reliance? What about the rugged individualist who should pay his (and I suppose her) way in life? What about accountability and fees for service and pay to play and all those IDEAS?”

So a local government committee was formed to do a feasibility study for taking money on the buses. To everyone’s surprise, the study that showed that putting in the coin boxes, and the ticket machines, and putting in the surveillance cameras and hiring the surprise ticket police people to check on you unexpectedly like they used do to in LA and Berlin was REALLY expensive.

The committee report ran as follows :

It’s not worth it to make people pay for the bus.

It’s cheaper to let them ride for free.

So the buses continued to run for free as the years went by. Surprisingly, the government subsidies for the buses built up til there was actually something called a surplus. You may have heard of this – it’s when you have more money than you need to do whatever it is you’re doing.

But then something bad happened.

The surplus disappeared and became the opposite. It became no money. It became negative dollars.

What happened to the money, no one knew. Investigations were called for. People accused and defended.

But in the meantime people got fired because there was no money to pay them. These were not the people in charge. These were the other people.

It’ s often the other people who get fired, as you have perhaps noticed.

But life goes on even when you’re fired. The fired bus worker people went to a meeting in a forest to talk with their neighbors about how to live in the forest successfully and carefully. There was a road person and a trees person and a water person and a maintenance person and they all talked and shared and sometimes debated how best to take care of these things in the forest where they lived.

I was there too, because I live in the forest sometimes with a wise man, whom I like quite alot.

The water person talked calmly about the things that needed to be done to keep the water clean and flowing and then they all voted on how to do it.

The wise man whom I live with said to me, “this is what government does. It’s about how to live your life.”

A woman said, “Yes, but we need more leaders. People to take over watching the water and the roads and the maintenance of our forest. And we also may need some money.”

That’s when the fired bus workers began to cry. “We don’t have any money,” they said. They stood in the forest and cried some more but then they explained. “We’re sad not just for ourselves but for the people who need the buses! The buses won’t run the way they did. And making the riders pay for this mistake isn’t fair!”

I stood in the forest with the others. I don’t like being in charge and I don’t think I’m much of a leader.

But if everyone says this, then things like the money disappearing and the people getting fired for no good reason happen.

We stood together in the woods. I looked into the faces of the people who had lost their jobs, and those faces were not numbers and abstractions, but were actually people.

My neighbors.

I thought and am thinking about how government needs to help us live our lives.

How we practice politics IS our life.

I just wish it hadn’t taken this meeting in the forest with my fired neighbors to make me realize it.

 

Once upon a time there was a little girl who read the Cat in the Hat book and thought to herself  “poetry rhymes and is funny and can tell a story with great pictures, and I shall make a poem that rhymes and is perhaps a little bit funny, but mostly the sounds at the end have to sound the same.” So she made words on a piece of paper with a pencil and had “shine” and “fine” show up and she felt very excited about the high pitched squeal of  those sounds. She showed the words on the piece of paper to her babysitter who was a southern lady down on her luck, and the lady said “this is a poem!” and the girl felt very proud and told her parents who looked at her a bit confusedly because they were business people, and poetry was not a “business” and therefore had questionable application to real and fiscal life. This was the beginning of making these things called poems.

The girl made them in high-school after reading about a strange man who insisted on never using capital letters and who wrote about conscientious objectors and cars and having sex. Then she read about another man who lived far away in South America and who was something called a “radical” and she read about another man who lived in the Soviet Union (which used to be Russia) and who wrote poems about the terrible things that happened there. She realized that poems did not have to rhyme and could be weird and could be sad and could be funny and could be political, and she loved them even more. So she made and made and made and made.

But then she got to college and she sat on the editorial committee of something called a literary journal. And the women on the committee were very picky about what was a poem and what wasn’t and whether something called a “line ending” worked or not. None of her poems got accepted into the journal, and this was the beginning of poetry world feeling like a not very nice place to be. After a few more encounters with said literary journal, the girl went underground. She wrote and she wrote and she wrote, but she put it all on pieces of paper in drawers or on the backs of envelopes shoved into books, and this went on for many years.

But poems do not stay put. They insist on saying “hello! I’m here! What do you think?” And eventually the girl started to show her work to others and a few poems made it out into the world. But it was still very hard, and the line-endings people, and the significance people were still out there making very hard-to-understand pronouncements about poems and then reading their own poems (which always fit these mysterious categories) with an odd voice that sounded a little like they were talking in slow-motion.

But other poets came along. One was a man who made odd films in Los Angeles, and another was a woman who wrote about India and another woman who wrote about being a Jewish New Yorker, and a woman who wrote about her alter ego who was a weird scary lady, and these people helped other people bring work into the world. And there was a nice man who looked like a bear and his wife who was a beautiful artist and they said POEMS SHOULD EXIST IN HAIR SALONS AND IN LIVING ROOMS AND IN COMMUNITY COLLEGES AND IN BOOKS THAT WE WILL MAKE. And suddenly poetry world was changed.

Then a thin woman with blue eyes came along and got on the radio and said that poems were conversations, and that conversations could happen, and don’t you want to organize into groups and chats and talk about poems and make them too? This radio woman said “by the way —  you don’t have to be famous and you don’t have to win awards, but you have to keep practicing and appreciating,”  One day the radio woman stood at the edge of the ocean with some new friends, and as the sun set and the moon rose, she recited a poem by a person she admired. And that sharing reminded everyone there that poems are about sharing, and remembering out loud — twisting the words over and around your tongue and teeth and making the sounds, feeling them in your body as physical actual things that vibrate outside and inside and stay.

The girl was there with the others at the edge of the ocean. Later she told a friend. “I felt like that poem was for me.” “I felt that also!” said the friend, and so — it turned out — did everyone there.

That was the truth that emerged. Because that’s how big and and at the same time how small and specific poetry world was always meant to be.

And as we speak and write and think, poetry world gets kinder and wants to get — can get — kinder still.

( a story I have been playing around with for a long time)

 

“I am a teamster,” he said once to me. “I am deceptively strong. I can lift heavy boxes.”

I had never wished for him. But then I saw him in a hallway, and then I saw him in a classroom. And then I saw him in my classroom.

I know what you’re going to say. It’s against procedure. You are going to remind me that I’m overdue to re-take the university-required online animated sexual harassment classes – which you’re supposed to take once every 2 years so that this fact can be hammered into you.

But people do it. You should know. You’ve done it. And what about that poet over at the other campus? He did it. And that woman in Art History. People need to connect even and across boundaries of the permissible.

No, what happened to you wasn’t different. It was the same. So stop hunching your shoulders and let me tell you about him.

He appeared the first day of office hours – an unthinkable thing – no one ever did it.

He loomed in the doorway, came in, sat, folded and unfolded long legs.

I didn’t normally like those tall string bean men.

“You like them tough, Walter” said Brady – who was a janitor and a bird watcher and a weight lifter and was older and was Irish.

“Don’t you?” he said to me at night at home in bed. “You like them manly.”

I did. I do.

“I’m a teamster, “ said the tall one in the office during office hours. But he really just worked part-time for Fedex while he got his Science diploma. A poor boy from the South whose voice didn’t work right but who could do equations — long ladder formulae — in his head. Double major in Physics and Engineering.

“I can’t cheer,” he said in his light soft voice. “I’m a washout at any sports event.”

His younger sister was a scientist too, and she liked girls exclusively.

But this one – he didn’t know for sure.

The sex got discussed in that first hour in the office.

“I didn’t know either,” I said, playing Socrates. “For a long time. These things are difficult.”

Later, at home, I studied the refrigerator, wondering about the men that make mechanical things work.

“What are you doing in remedial English?” I asked him another time, another office hour visit. I’d read a poem he’d written about a boy in an insane asylum. It was good.

He shrugged luminous bony shoulders that jutted out of a thin, old t-shirt.

“Poor tester.”

Another time he came in for advice about a suit. He had a wedding to go to. His aunt. He needed to shop. He didn’t know how: where to go, or what size or what color or anything.

“You’ve never owned a suit?” I said.

He shrugged.

I helped him. Nordstrom’s Rack.

“I’m going to do this store,” he announced. He spun before me in pinstripe.

A crisp pastel pink shirt glinted between the lapels. Like my father used to wear.

I started coming home later and later.

Teaching got less interesting.

I started photographing machines. I took pictures of telephones, and ovens; then of computers, and automated parking meters. The earthmovers at campus. Sprinkler systems, circuits in the utility closet outside the department reception area.

“You should take more pictures,” he said simply when I showed him the work. He said things in a way that felt absolutely, completely true. And he said this the first time we had sex:

“You are very far from looking bad.”

We became thresholds for each other. Doorways.

Then–

“I have to grow up,” he said at the airport the next summer. “I have to figure out cold fusion – I have to see and know others.”

He smiled. Thin lips, but they suited him.

He lifted me into his arms like a heavy box he couldn’t find a way transport.

He went to study quarks and the grand unifying theory at a pretty good graduate school. Despite the poor testing.

Brady got sick as older men are wont to do – it got — lonely. We had been together a long time.

In the hospital, before he died, Brady told me about the many men who have been his lovers. I nodded. I know all these stories.

“What about that boy at school?” he asked.

“He graduated,” I answered.

“Find another one, Walter,” he replied. “It’s important to connect with others.”

When Brady died, I came home and took pictures of the science shows on television. Now at least once a week I freeze the picture so I can photograph both the apparatus and the screen clearly focused. Then I watch the shows.

This week one program told about the CERN atom smasher in Switzerland. The accelerator builders state that they are looking for the Higgs bosun. It’s a possible particle — only speculated to exist. Producing it might explain the origin of mass in the universe.

Another program discusses how cold fusion has fallen into disregard because the experiments have not proved productive.

I take a picture with one hand of my other hand clutching my knee with the silver tv in the background.

The announcer explains that it’s clear that the quest for fusion isn’t over. And surely multiple approaches to understanding energy and the universe are necessary and worthwhile.

Back in the classroom, I scan the seats. The students are young and indifferent. They want to know what is the right answer. They are unmoved by singularities, and ask repeatedly about grammatical rules.

I shrug my shoulders and teach about thesis statements and paragraphs. Then I go back to my office. The new printers have arrived, and I volunteer to carry them to my colleagues.

“These boxes are heavy,” the new office assistant warns me. I look at him – he’s a young guy, wearing a crisp oxford shirt. He has rolled the sleeves up; he has miraculously shaped arm muscles.

“I used to be a teamster,” I say.

He arches an eyebrow.

I pick up the first box, and assure him that I am deceptively strong.

That’s when you say you think I’m a brave person. You say I need to keep on taking pictures, making connections, looking for the unifying truth.

I say ok. I will try.

But you have to try too.

 

Mount ShastaThere’s a vortex there she said they said. Someone spoke at a ridiculous dinner where she wasn’t sure whether the main teller was the wife or the daughter of the man who first said the thing about Mount Shasta. Vortex she told me she told them – the daughter/wife and the man — I don’t believe in that shit. But the man did and the daughter (it turned out it was his daughter) did and when she told me about the conversation we looked it all up online and yup there is a vortex there supposedly. It’s one of several power centers, our visitor said when we asked him about it, when he arrived from hanging with the Radical Fairies and the Reclaimed Witches. But don’t bring crystals or herbs. Don’t bring anything. Bring a purity of intention. I don’t even know what that means I told him, but we went to Mount Shasta anyway.

We went just today. We couldn’t help it. We wanted to know about the vortex and the healing and we were hoping for some sort of power – any kind, but good. Any sort of power that could heal what’s going on: the broken airplanes and the broken ferry, the broken countries and the broken borders, the broken water and the broken everything. We drove past so much drought that the cracked land made us thirsty and we drank all the water in the car and then we bought more and we wondered how long before the water runs out? How long before everything runs out? We aren’t paying attention enough. We aren’t. And soon quite soon it will be too late. But it’s not too late yet. So we went to Shasta, out of a kind of desperation, although in truth we weren’t and aren’t desperate yet either. I think you know it when you feel it. We watched The Mummy on TV last night and it was oddly sexual and strange, and this morning we sat under moose heads in a gigantic restaurant eating stale soft bagels where everyone was speaking some Eastern European language, and then standing outside in the parking lot in 2 lines to hug everyone afterwards. There was one man amongst the lines – one man wearing a yarmulke – and I said to my man, do you see that guy? Yes, he said. I see him. Then we drove. We drove to find breakfast but the places were all too crowded, so we drove some more. On the street corner of downtown Shasta a white boy stood with a hand painted sign and he showed it to all the cars. It said PRAY FOR PEACE IN JERUSALEM, and I put my palms together at the boy and then I gave him the thumbs up. He’s not one of us, he said to me – my man, the driver — and I said it doesn’t matter, and then he said would you have lunch with him? Would you invite him to lunch with us? And I said I don’t know but I will certainly pray with him. And then we drove up the long road to the mountain. It was all pretty trees, and then scraggly trees, the little trees trying to find root in the rocks, and then we were above the tree line and it was all rocks and dirt and station wagons and a girl standing in a loose white shirt balancing on some ledge above us.

There were more Russian people there and bored Americans with ponytails speaking on cell phones. And then a group of 5 people with backpacks – 2 boys, 1 man and 2 women, and I listened to them talk. Lo said the woman, lo. And I smiled at the woman with the big camera and the biggest backpack. Hi she said in English, and I heard them speak the language I heard in Jerusalem 4 months ago, and my man asked me where are they from and I said where do you think? And he said you know this for sure? and I said yes and he said should I ask them if they would like me to take their picture. I nodded, and he did, and the 5 posed and sang a song that we used to know in the language we cannot speak but that is our language – the tongue of our origins – and then we drove down the mountain. The boy was reading the bible and still holding the sign, and we sat on metal chairs in a restaurant by a river and ate burritos.

Did you feel anything? my man said to me. I didn’t know what to answer, because what I felt was the people – not the emptiness – the people hugging in lines in the parking lot and the boy with his bible and the 5 with their backpacks and I was thinking it can be like this sometimes. Sometimes it can be harmonious and strange and beautiful just like this. It could be like this, I think. All the time.Mount Shasta

This story started with this quiz:

Which famous king or queen are you?

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Once upon a time there were 7 Catherine the Greats. No, 8.

“Let’s free the serfs,” said a Catherine.

“Let’s review the troops,” said another.

“Before we do ANYTHING, we need to watch Scarlet Empress to see how it’s done,” said a third.

When 8 Catherines the Greats get together to watch tv what does that mean? Yup. A PARTY.

1 Catherine called Z-Pizza. Catherine 2 started making the humus, because she’d lived in Beirut. Catherine 3 got on the phone and ordered the whiskey, to be delivered and served by very handsome waiters. Catherine’s 4 and 5 called Code Pink and invited them over to watch Scarlet Empress, because being a pacifist is very tiring and who doesn’t get refreshed watching Marlene vamping it up in pretend Russia? Then 1 texted Queen Victoria.

“Hmm,” he said. “I’m planning on visiting the colonies, but I’ll see if I can squeeze this into my schedule.”

In the meantime, Catherine 6 ordered fried chicken from Chow Hound, and Catherine 7 called her doctor because she had recently had surgery and then she called the florist, because seriously…. what’s a party without a huge bouquet? Catherine 8 folded the napkins and lay down on the sofa, a slipper dangling off of her foot.

The food came, the waiters came, and they were about to start the movie when Elizabeth I called.

“Wonderful!” shouted the queens as Catherine 3 told them who was on the line.

“Tell her to come right over.”

“And bring some potato chips.”

Today I met a lady in my online women’s support group who is a sword swallower. She is also a dermatologist, a juggler, a mother of 2 and an award winning pastry chef. Also a novelist.

Do people like that make you feel insecure?

Me too.

But I’ve learned to do what my mom always told me – make a list of my special talents.

  1. I am very good at taking the bus. I know exactly where to put the change or the card, and even if I don’t I always compliment the bus driver on their cool sunglasses or great hair.
  2. I am excellent at avoiding talking on the telephone. The phone makes me very nervous so I compose lovely letters to the pizzeria on cream-colored paper telling them about the pizzas I would like to have delivered to me in a week’s time.
  3. I have been told that I am an exquisite TV commentator. No! Not sports commentating – but rather Hannibal watching, Battlestar Galactica watching, or even Antique Road Show watching and then talking about the stuff and the people and the details like the cannibal cuisine, the cylon’s dresses, and the carpets in the background or the cars. My daughter is great at commentating on PBS shows – her specialty. She once gave a particularly piquant explanation of why Huell’s Howser’s name sounds a bit like a person getting ready to – if you’ll pardon the expression – hurl.
  4. Relaxing in bed. Seriously, no one does this as well as I do. I can relax in bed for hours with a cool drink, some carne asada fries with lots of napkins, books, Netflix, and depending on my mood – a vibrator.
  5. Sitting around. I sit at the kitchen table and make up my list (this one) and I look at the orchid my friend who is a dramatist, and an actor and a scholar and a mother of 4 gave me. It’s so beautiful. Purple, useless, tall. It doesn’t toil and it doesn’t spin. Wait – that’s lilies. But still. You get the idea.

 

With thanks to Jo Scott Coe for the list exercise and Noel Pabillo Mariano for the fries. And to Erith Jaffe Berg for the orchid. And to who know who for you know what.

courtesy of myself

courtesy of myself