Thursday, February 17, 2022

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses

While putting away Christmas things, I moved a stack of books that I had hidden from view. It was a stack as many who 'decorate' use as a focal point of interest on the shelves of side tables or displayed on coffee tables. I'm not sure if anyone who visits the house ever opens up one of the books on display, but this time, I took the time to sort and look through the books that are used mostly as dust collectors. Robert Louis Stevenson's "A Child's Garden of Verses," I remember very clearly from my childhood. I am not certain how it came to the house. I do remember reading it when I was young. 

As a child, I loved the illustration on the cover. Even now, it captures the spirit of what I remember childhood to be for me. My mother would sew jumpers, a simple dress without sleeves that fell from shoulder to knee, often with two pockets on the front for me to wear to school. Underneath the jumper, I wore a white cotton, peter pan collared blouse. I typical wore scuffed, brown leather shoes that were bought new at the beginning of the school year to last the year and white socks. My favorite jumper was cranberry colored, wide wale corduroy. My mom would braid my long hair into plaits that were turned up in circles close to my ears. In the illustration, the girl leads the others in what appears to be an adventure. As young as third grade, maybe even earlier, I too would lead the younger kids in the neighborhood. Or coerce my younger sisters into playing at some planned activity, often centering on a song and a dance or, for one Christmas, a recitation of the "The Night Before Christmas."

My favorite poem in the book was "The Swing." Like many elementary schools, ours had a park nearby. Occasionally, we were allowed to run over to it during out recess. I loved the swings more than anything else in the park. Once I got going, I felt like I could fly so high and see the whole world. In my estimation, it was "the pleasantest thing/Ever a child can do?" Without being aware of it, the poems also taught me how to communicate using a different form than speaking or writing a sentence. Without understanding poetics, I sensed that if I wrote a poem about a subject, I could fully describe the feeling or emotion of the thing I was trying to describe in order to get closest to the heart of what it meant to me.  Technically, the poems taught me how to write a poem. All of the poems are written in stanza form and in a rhyme scheme. Sure, nursery rhymes and children's books are written using rhythm and rhyme and I would have had that earlier exposure, but for the most part, those devices were delivered in a sentence or two, not in an organized stanza format. 

In third grade, the teacher created in class clubs for us to join. I chose the poetry club, possibly because I wanted to write like Robert Louis Stevenson in "A Child's Garden of Verses." I don't know this for sure, but in examining this long ago book that I cherished, I can't help but think that it was the catalyst for my own poetry writing. As I look back on it, the teacher didn't teach poetry to class. Nor did she go over basic principals of what a poem looks like. Once in the club, I took it very seriously. I created my own book of poems using the techniques that I had picked up from Stevenson. How else would I have known to write in stanzas and develop a rhyme and meter scheme. 

For the Park School Third Grade Poetry club, the teacher introduced the idea of a prize for the student who wrote the most poems. I got to work. I was always a competitive student. I raced to get through the Math problems first. I never received a prize for getting through problems fast, but I was always satisfied that I had. I knew that I had a chance to write more poetry than the others in my class. I was motivated.

My First Book of Poetry circa 3rd Grade
 As you can see, my first book of poetry has seen better days. It is old! And I've kept it all of the years as a testament to my earliest work as a poet. Clearly, someone got a hold of it and wrote with crayon across it. I notice that I did not use a pen; rather, I wrote the title and my name, barely visible on the bottom, in pencil. Did third graders use pens? I did include illustrations, as you can see, with each poem. When I composed the poem and wrote the final draft, I did include those. The letter grades and corrections I may have done when I would play school. Good for me that I thought that the originals could do with an edit. The handwriting is so perfectly 'I just learned the Parker method of cursive writing.' The 'Ts' are stellar. 

"Remember the Wourld [sic]' was the epic poem that I wrote. I think about this poem sometimes and wonder if climate change was on mind. What about my eight year old self would think that I would have to remember blue skies, green grass, and all of nature that I had experienced up to that time. I would have been in Brownies as the time. I probably had made a sit upon and a dunking bag. Both would have been used for outdoor adventures. I had an awareness of nature.  Was something going to change it? Or was I aware of how I was changing. Would it be important for me to remember who I was at eight. 

I wrote about ten poems for my first poetry collection. I was very proud of them and was happy to turn them in for the contest. In addition to remembering the world, I also wrote about each of the seasons, rain, Valentine's Day. It is an auto biography in verse of how I saw the world. For the most part, the tone was optimistic, however, a small cloud sat across a few of my thoughts. I think that could be said for who I am now too. I didn't win the competition. Another girl in the club copied out poems of someone else's pen and was able to turn in many more than me. I didn't get it. Mine were original. I was happy to go back to the ease of getting the math problems done faster than any one else in the class. It was an immediate gratification. The long haul sense of accomplishment comes now as I look through the yellowed pages of my life then. It was definitely not a copy. It is a testimony of the original.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Looking Forward


Me watching the sunset in Puerto Rico. Spring Break 2021

I have not consistently written for the pages of my own blog; I am well aware of this. I was inspired to begin one so many years ago by an acquaintance who has very consistently written every day on his own. Each year, he changes the theme of his writing focus, but he pounds out a post every day. It's dizzying. I didn't know him 'in person' for more than a month while we were both a part of a teacher exchange program in Japan, but we kept up a correspondence for many years and wrote to each other almost every day. At one point, I decided that I needed to see him 'in person' and sent him a plane ticket to visit. He declined. And so did our correspondence. I don't know how much longer that I could have kept it up every day without ever having a face to face conversation. Well, maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to cancel him because one of the things that I have learned during the pandemic is that it can work to not be in person or face to face. But with that being said, I may have gone bonkers emailing him everyday. Too much can be too much.

When I started writing this blog, I was deep into the enthrall of my magazine collections. I loved nothing better than to have a stack of them waiting for me on the table next to my reading chair to get to on a Saturday morning. I'd rip out the pages of articles or fashion and either write about them or tape them up around my desk in a sort of dreamy vision board of colors, beautiful clothes, faces and destinations. But a couple things happened that changed that particular habit that I cherished. 

First, I moved from the apartment that I had lived in for nearly 25 years in the heart of the city out to my mom's house. I moved in with her as her health had begun to deteriorate, and it seemed that as soon as I moved in, her health declined rapidly. Within six months, she died. And for those six months, I worked full time teaching during the day and  overnight caring for her. I didn't have much time for pursuing hobbies and definitely not for reading magazines. I have stayed on in her home and will continue to do so. Friends ask whether I miss living in my dusty, vintage apartment in the city now that I am living, in my view, the farm. There are not big things that I miss, but one habit that I miss is sitting on a Saturday morning in my chair, drinking a cup of coffee, looking out the window into the trees that lined the block, and leisurely thumbing through Vogue or Elle or Tatler. I suppose that I could pick up the habit again, but my lifestyle has changed. I don't look out of a window at trees as I am responsible for the trees and plants and flowers in a rather large yard. I do live on a farm after all. That takes up a lot of time. Plus, I'm not sure that I've even settled into particular habits just yet. Soon after my mother's death, we all walked into the pandemic. I began working from home, still do at this writing, and life at home has been unusual. I imagine as we move deeper into 2021, we'll all resume a more 'normal' life and habits will begin to build again.

But will I return to the magreads? I've already stopped subscriptions to some of them. I feel that I've grown out of them in some respects. They don't hold my attention as they once did.  This might be attributable to the rise in social media. Between email, Instagram, Twitter and the like, I see most of the content that would be published in the following month's pages. And magazines like Rolling Stone, one of my favorites, has become more of a political journal that rock and roll magazine. I don't need politics across all mediums. So much content can be found on the Internet now. I can understand how this point and the pandemic has punched magazines in the gut.

So here I sit. As I often say to my students, writers must continue to write regularly. It's good practice. I had come upon an excellent focus for my daily writing. But as that has become less of a priority for me, I have to consider other topics. We will  see how it goes. As I am more or less talking this out with myself, I suppose that I can make or change the rules as necessary. But I am looking forward to what will come next. 

Sidenote: Happy to be vaccinated, I was able to travel to visit my sister, who lives in Puerto Rico, during Spring Break. She took the snap of me above as we watched the sun set on the lovely Caribbean Sea. I think that it perfectly captures my mood and the sense that I'm reflective and looking forward to see what the view will be for what happens next.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Barbra Streisand's Funny Girl

My uncle's painting of Barbra Streisand

 My grandmother took my siblings and I to see the film "Funny Girl" when we were young children. The film was first shown in 1968, so it must have been a reshowing of it a couple of years later because I doubt that grandma took 8, 6, 4, and a 2 year old to the movies to see an adult. Or maybe she did?  It was a treat to go to the movies. But the effect of listening to that voice, Barbra Streisand, in a dark movie theater is what really was transcendent for me. 

After an early Easter dinner with my sister this week, we decided to watch "Funny Girl." It classifies as a holiday movie to us- good for Christmas or Easter. It doesn't matter how many times that I've seen it and that I know that I know all the songs by heart, it never gets old. In this viewing, I was particularly struck with how Fanny,  the character Streisand plays, pushes back when Mr. Keeney, the first theater manager, fires her when she can't keep up with the chorus girl routines she's hired to perform. She does not take no for an answer and pushes until she hears the yes that she desperately wants it to be. I had to wonder if seeing this as a girl when the movie made such an incredible impact on me that I didn't become who I am because of it. My sister gave me a look during the scene that said to me, oh! she's not the only one who doesn't take no for an answer. I've 'but, but, but-ed' to plenty of men. And if I believe in it, I don't let it go until I hear, 'go ahead.'

Then there's Nick Arnstein. Oh! I know that man. And I have been known to 'do too much' when I believe that I'm in love. I think that I'm doing the right thing- in Fanny's case, she tries to find her down and out husband a job by going behind his back to set it up thinking that she's helping when the last thing that he wants is her interference. I may not have ever done that, but I have been in a relationship where the man just has had enough of me doing too much. Fanny does it because she can't let go of  the one man who has seen her beauty. For me, it's the curse of the pleaser. I tear up every time that Fanny steps onto the stage after Nick walks away to sing the finale of the show: 'My Man.' She starts slowly, but soon builds to the crescendo of what her feelings for him are through the song. But that voice is hers, not his. As a girl I saw that, must have. 

The portrait above depicts the last scene of the movie when she sings 'My Man.' My uncle painted it in college, and it hung in my grandfather's house from the time that I was the girl who was so taken by Barbra that it was my favorite thing to visit. I forever thought about it. When I got older, I asked my Dad whether he thought grandpa would give it up so that I could have it. Oh, I was that bold. And every year, I became more and more bold. At a great-aunt's funeral, I asked my uncle, 'so, did you paint more than one of the Barbra paintings?' I knew that he hadn't, but I wanted to open up the conversation. In the end, he told me that it was his father's and not his to give. Hmph! My dad promised me that he would talk to his father about the painting, but I'm sure that it got lost in one of the many Manhattans being consumed. My grandfather lived to his mid 90's and when he passed, my father wasn't alive. And apparently it wasn't left to me in a will because I didn't get it.

You may think that I'm tacky for being so fixated on a material object. Oh yes, I've read many stories of how treasured items just happen to come to those wait. But in this case, I don't think that any one that had the ability to gift it to me realized how much I loved it. Growing up with my Dad's father and his half brothers (4 of them), they were the typical patriarchal, Irish men. Men did and often apart from women. And women? Well, they were someone else, not with them. I may be a little harsh, but it isn't far from the truth. 

Grandfather's house sat empty for more than a couple of years out of a sense of nostalgia. When it finally came time to sell and empty the house, I became nearly frantic. What would happen to Barbra? And then a light bulb lit. At a family Fourth of July party, I decided to enquire about the painting not from one of my uncles, but one of their wives. That would be an ear that would listen to me. One uncle was in charge as he lived near to the house. All it took was one question to his wife: Does anyone want the Barbara painting? And can I have it by any chance? Uncle's wife looked at me, smiled, and said, 'sure. You're welcome to it!' I made a special trip to pick it up. Taking it wasn't entirely without resistance. Another uncle said, 'hey, what are you doing with that?' I grabbed it and walked to the door shouting over my shoulder, 'she said I could take it.' Or something like that.

Tacky. Oh, don't I know it. But she's mine now. And she's beloved. I had her framed. And when I got it back from the framers, I threw a party. I placed a dozen yellow roses, like the ones that Nick Arstein always sent to Fanny on her opening nights, on either side. We drank champagne and listened to Barbra. If I could save only one item from a burning house, aside from my cat, it would be the portrait. It gives me an indescribable joy. It is Streisand, but it's Fanny too. No one could stop her. And I try not to let anyone stop me either.

Monday, February 10, 2020

And the Oscar goes to ...

I don't know. I didn't watch the Oscars last night.

I cancelled my cable television subscription last year because it was an unnecessary bill. I rarely watch televised programs except for during the NFL football season or for special events such as the Grammy's or Oscars. All of the my viewing time is spent on streaming services like the rest of the world, I imagine.

For the football season, I signed up for YouTube TV for $50 a month to ensure that I would enjoy uninterrupted viewing of what turned out to be a losing season for my team. When they didn't make the playoffs, I cancelled YouTube TV. Back to streaming only.

At Christmas, my brother-in-law bought an antennae for me so that I could capture network television. I had tried to buy one on my own, but I couldn't get many stations with the two different ones that I had purchased. I had even tried to find someone on a home project site to install a digital antennae on my roof as a friend had recommended. No one picked up the project. Back to square one. And when the brother-in-law offered to help and plugged his solution in, it seemed to work. Cool. But the reception was non-existent when I wanted to watch the Grammy's. Scrambling, I enrolled in the CBS all-access trial through Amazon Prime and watched it there. And cancelled it the next day.

The Oscars were trickier. I was able to stream the pre-game on Twitter, but in order to get ABC, I would've had to change my Hulu subscription from free, thank you Spotify, to paid. I had had it ...I gave up.

And I wonder if I really didn't just give up on the Oscars all together. I can remember when it was so important to watch. I would invite friends over and make it a night. We'd start by watching Barbara Walters, 'The World's Most Fascinating People.' That was must see ... who would be the most interesting or fascinating person this year? I imagine, Billie Eilish or Lizzo. Maybe Harry and Megan ... I'm not sure that even Barbara Walters could snag that interview. And of course Brad Pitt would be the most fascinating this year. He's shaken the bond that held him away from his adoring fans and found a place in film again.

And I suppose that with the evolution of Twitter, and more specifically Instagram, access to fashion has become pedestrian. We have access to all of the dresses all of the time. There really aren't any surprises. This year, I would have liked to have heard that the Oscars were asking the stars to re-wear like they did for BAFTA. That would have made the game more interesting ... what would they pull out of the closet. I suppose that if I would give an award to the best dressed this year, it would have to go to Jane Fonda, who has declared that she isn't buying any more clothes and re-word a dress from a few years back.

And the nominations ... with so many platforms available for viewing content, I'm not sure if the Oscars are even relevant anymore. There's too much to choose from ... why did "The Irishman" get nominated? To be honest, I haven't watched it. I feel that it would be ... fairly predictable. I liked Scorese's "Hugo" because it was different from his usual. I was surprised that Iiked "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" as much as I did. I'm not really a fan of Leonardo DeCaprio ... but he was solid. And the movie was different for Tarantino, yet in his own way, his. I could critique all of the nominees and discuss all of those that weren't nominated, but that would take pages ... and research given the number of movies that I watched last year. I suppose that the Oscar's are sort of in a slump, which may account for the lack of diversity in their choices.

Something's gotta change. The old guard and Tom Hanks sitting in the front row with his lovely wife, Rita Wilson, need to make room for different- movies, actors, access to the show through streaming services that are user friendly and a dress code that expects the nominees to walk the red carpet with a story about their outfit that isn't just 'oh, it's been made by so and so.' Be the story teller. And give Kevin Hart the chance for a do-over. The no host and presenters trying to cram 10 jokes into 45 seconds is chaotic.

Monday, August 5, 2019

YSL's Call Me By Your Name

Harper's Bazaar March 2019
Nearly out of my system, my love comes back to me. Here, on the pages of a magazine is  an YSL handbag, this statue brings me to mind of the beautiful statuary that was the life's work of Elio's father in the novel and film "Call Me By Your Name." I wonder if this one, in particular, was pulled from the bottom of a lovely, summery Mediterranean sea. I hope that it was. And that it spent a restful retreat from the perils of the world; however, from the looks of it, this guy doesn't look like he's had a restful submersion. His lost limbs and expression is quite telling of how that feels.

My nephew, who was visiting recently, said that he finally saw the film on the plane traveling in for a visit. He had to watch it for the many times that I have shouted out the name 'Timothy Chalamet' how Oprah in her Oprahness shouted out his name when they passed having both appeared on the same late night talk show. I wonder what my nephew, who is 18, thought of the film. I didn't have a chance to ask him in the frenzy of arrival and talking about all of things that need to be talked about. I hope that he did if for only the reason that it portrayed a beautiful place in the world and a lifestyle that recommends leisure and copious amounts of Italian wine.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Dolce & Gabbana: An Ode to "Call Me By My Name"

About two weeks ago, I allowed myself the pleasure of watching the film "Call Me By Your Name" again. It is one of those movies where the rhythm of it meets mine and is a comfort. I have lost track of the number of times that I have watched it. I have read the novel twice; and yes, I listened to Armie Hammer read it twice. It has struck a chord.

But why? I have wondered. I made a list in my head of the ways that it captivates me - one, Timothee Chalamet. I hadn't seen anything  before, he did before, and I was immediately taken by him. Not in any immoral sense of that attraction, but he showed a vulnerability in his acting, and I can't take my eyes off of it, not him, but it - the vulnerability. Another aspect of the story that I love is in the setting. I've been in small Italian towns with a central church and square in the heat of summer where the sun doesn't set until late in the evening. I've sat at linen covered tables and drank wine from a carafe and ate a meal slowly, one course at a time. I haven't ever ridden a bicycle in that country, but I have ventured out of the town into the environs with its dusky, dry fields that are populated with muted colors and heaven scents.  Every time I watch the movie or have heard Armie Hammer read it, I am immediately transported to the places where I've been before. Where I live now, I would love to have an old tree to position a long farmer's table under it to lay a white, linen tablecloth to show the color of the wine as it spills from the glasses of my friends making merry. I can hear the sun move across the horizon and hold on to the wings of fireflies and the call of night trains moving through my own town on distant tracks. 

I'm going down a rabbit hole ... let me calibrate. I like the movie because of Timothee Chalamet, Italy, wine, al fresco dining, vulnerability. How does Dolce and Gabbana capture it in their spring editorials? In the film, Elio's father studies statuary. He and Oliver look at slides of marble statues, mainly men, and exclaim at the beauty of them. The trip to the sea to watch lost works being pulled from the depths has our lovers coming back to each other. The sight of beauty, even in its ancient, marbleized state expresses the very vulnerability of the art and the boys that is most compelling. Beauty had life as it molded, but then froze to stay in a perfect state of love, if that can be said of a piece of art. The dress thrown on to this beauty brings new life to the ancient. And feelings, or love, capturing beauty is an ancient art. Bellisimo.