At home with “Frost”

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It snowed again today. Again.

Hello March 22nd. Sorry, Spring…your brother Winter is a jerkface.

It’s appropriate then that a new connection sent me a quote by Robert Frost. Synchronicity, huh?

“What I am pointing out is that unless you are at home
in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper
poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe
anywhere. Because you are not at ease with figurative
values: you don’t know the metaphor in its strength
and its weakness. You don’t know how far you may
expect to ride it and when it may break down with you.
You are not safe in science; you are not safe in history.”

Dive into the warm water of metaphor, folks.

🙂

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The problem with poetry…

Last week I was fortunate to have an essay I’d written picked up and published at Art House America’s blog. This week I had the opportunity to do a Q & A with poet, Scott Cairns for Image Journal’s Good Letters blog. This morning as I drove through the alley that takes me to and from the safety of my garage I saw the broken glass that littered the sidewalk just where that alley meets the road. There was another shooting last week here. It was at around 3am and it involved known gang members, as is usual for shootings in Logan Square.

It was after another such shooting a few months ago that I wrote the essay that was picked up by Art House America. This one was a few blocks away. The scattered safety glass glimmered on the blacktop and spilled onto the sidewalk. After the driver was shot the car must have hit a bordering tree. Police tape flapped in the wind and I thought, does poetry matter here?

I went home a little shaken, not because of the shooting but because of the idea that perhaps my love of poetry was frivolous, extraneous and maybe even elitist. I have the luxury of reading poetry. I have had the privilege of studying it, of writing it, of discussing it with smart people in many beautiful places. But here, in the broken glass and police line tape, does poetry matter here?

The essay for Art House served to assure me that poetry was more than frivolous for me, it has been life blood in all of the difficult times in my life. My family, though smart folks, were not intellectuals. We did not sit around reading for fun. We did not discuss or debate literature or poetry. We were as ordinary and maybe a little more troubled than most of our neighbors but my parents valued higher education and pushed for it. They instilled the idea in my siblings and myself that going to college was an honor and a necessity in a time when going to college was not a certainty for most kids of my generation. I had to work hard to make it to college. I had to work hard to pay for it. I had to work hard to keep my grades up and keep my meager scholarship and aid money.

But unlike the kids in my neighborhood, I did not have to worry whether I’d live long enough to do any of those things.

Sometimes I think about being able to have a short talk with the gangbanger boys I see in my neighborhood. I don’t see them as dangerous or degenerate. They are all someone’s son. Many of them are the ages of my own children. I consider asking if poetry matters to them. I want to ask about their hopes and dreams, about their family lives. I want to ask them to write a poem, to imagine this poem would be read someday far in the future by anthropologists and literature professors and young people who want to know about life in this time, in this place. What would they say, I wonder.

And I just want to understand, not so that I can fix it, because when my white savior instincts kick in (and they do) I try hard to remember that these kids are not a problem to be fixed. They are someone’s son. I don’t have the solve them so that I feel safer in my neighborhood or so that I feel better about my own worth. I want to understand so that I can avoid being part of the problem.

While I will profess my undying love of poetry to all who will listen (obviously) in moments like this, the day after another shooting, another loss of life, it is sometimes difficult to know that poetry matters here, where the alley meets the road.

fotos: urban winter

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“But for me, winter has an even greater gift to give. It comes when the sky is clear, the sun is brilliant, the trees are bare, and the first snow is yet to come. It is the gift of utter clarity. In winter, one can walk into woods that had been opaque with summer growth only a few months earlier and see the trees clearly, singly and together, and see the ground they are rooted in.”
-Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

I’m trying to keep these words of Parker Palmer in mind this week as January wears on. Winter in Chicago can be mild or brutal, sometimes both in the same week. In the middle of the Chicago winter it’s hard for me to recall that feeling, just before the first snow, that feeling of shifting into a new season. In the middle of Chicago winter I get lost in the cold and the calendar. I just want it to be Spring again, now.

This week I’m working on recapturing the gift Winter has for me. I’m working on looking up when they sky is clear and the sun brilliant, and in the midst of the snow and slush I will reach for those bare trees and recall the feel of my fingers in the soil, the ground in which I’m rooted.

Spring will come with time.

“Lars and the Real Girl” : on Perspective and Precipitation

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“I was hoping winter was over” Lars says.

“No,” Margo replied, “it’s just a thaw. Winter isn’t over until Easter”

This morning as I drove through the slush left over from the snow accumulations of the Midwest snow storm everyone called “Hercules,” I was struck by the balmy feel of the day; 34 degrees and a light sprinkle of rain was falling. It was a quick turnaround for us, the snow only living on the ground about a week or so. It was a thaw. We’ll get another cold snap, another snow, before too long.

Not long ago, I watched the film, “Lars and the real girl” twice in a week. I’m usually late to the table when it comes to movies. We don’t get out as much as we used to and when we do get out my husband and I find ourselves drifting through the crowded list of “things to do” and “things to see.” We often have to throw a (metaphorical) dart at the board to decide what gets our attention at those moments because there is so much out there. It must have been the dart throwing that led us to miss this film back in 2007 but then a few months ago, Netflix began to  suggest it to me. I ignored it but Netflix was persistent and then one night when Dave was out I gave in and watched it finally. I drank in the quirky of it, the lovely of it, the wonderful package of it all when taken together. When Dave got home a few days later I insisted he watch it. “You’ll love it,” I said. I sat and watched it with him and he did. I might watch it again tomorrow. I love it that much. Really.

And a line from the movie came back to me as I waded through the melting snow, through the pond sized puddles on my patio, through the shrinking blackened icy snow banks that resided still between the curb and the sidewalk. It’s just a thaw.

Sure enough, the weather’s meant to grow colder this week. Snow is forecast again reminding me that winter is still going strong here in the midwest. It’s strange how our perception of things changes depending on how far out we look from the window or the dashboard and the calendar. In the middle of grief or fear or even joy, it’s hard to know that the seasonal cycle of life keeps rotating for as long as we breathe. It’s hard to remember when the snow falls that it will also, eventually melt, giving way to soft earth, warming sun, trees budding and blooming.

It’s just a thaw but it’s a thaw when we needed it most. Maybe that’s what the momentary winter thaw is for, after all.

new year’s eve…

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I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. 

Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.

-Andrew Wyeth

Well, my friends, here we are again. We are entering into that end of the old year/beginning of the new year holding pattern at the airport of life, waiting to land and disembark into the foggy future. We are ready to let go of the stale air we’ve been breathing all year and take in the fresh sights and sounds of  2014.

I have always liked even-numbered years. I have great hopes for this one. Even so, I admit it’s hard to get excited about the New Year in the middle of the gray Chicago winter. The view outside my window seems to work against that overall “hopeful” feeling I’m meant to employ this time of year.

The first full winter we spent in our Chicago bungalow on the north side of the city, my husband and I decided to stay in on New Year’s Eve. Our house sat at an odd bend on a “cut through” street so though we were snuggled in close to our small, wood burning fireplace in the front room of that bungalow, we were privy to each wild reveller who staggered down the sidewalk and each drunk driver tearing down the street. We turned off the lights in our house once our daughter was in bed and we sat, warmed by the fire, watching the action outside. The snow had been piling up all day and showed no signs of stopping. By the time midnight drew near the snow lay as a thick carpet on the road and the sidewalks. Cars tearing down the road began to slow a little, just a little, sliding along that odd bend and we watched from the safety of our house set back just enough from the road.

When, finally the magic midnight hour had passed, we made ready to get to bed. Just then a car came careening down Manor avenue. We could hear it plowing its way through the thick, compacted snow on the street, cracking under the weight of the car, brakes squealing and failing, tires locking. The mid-sized vehicle hit the snow bank opposite our house, not being stopped by or entering into the bank but, rather, seeming to climb it. It came to rest, for the most part, on top of that 5 foot bank of snow. It was suspended there, the driver and passengers of the vehicle making no move to get out. The driver spent some time trying to back his way off that snow bank but it was no use. The car was taken in by the snow bank, picked up, embraced and adopted. After a short time, the car wobbled a little as doors opened and four men tumbled out into the waiting cold. They were laughing and swearing, teasing the driver who seemed completely flummoxed by the situation. They were most likely drunk and most certainly amused. It surprised my husband and I to see them turn quietly, all at once, and walk away from the car once they began to feel the cold and the falling snow. It was as if a switch was thrown and they were given orders to move from the place.

The night was quiet then, maybe a car or two drove slowly down the street, perhaps a plow or a salt truck, slowing down to see the wrecked car taken hostage by the snow bank. In the morning the car was still there, residing in all the white. It was a banner storm. The tow truck showed up a day later when the roads were clear. We were never really sure of the whole story there. We would invent scenarios in the coming days to amuse ourselves, imagine the conversations that came in the wake of that event.

I don’t know exactly what it is about that story that begs me to write about it today, on the cusp of this New Year. It may be the strangeness of it, the unexpected nature of things, perhaps prophetic to where we’re find ourselves in the coming years as we struggle with seeking out peace and embracing the chaos that’s bound to show up despite our best efforts to stave it off.

It’s life. It’s just like that and we take it as it comes, whether we’re the ones in the car climbing the snow bank or in front of the fire witnessing it. The story stays though. It remains in us, waiting for the telling.

Many happy returns, lovely readers!

anniversary…

May 29, 1993Happy 20th anniversary to that guy I met on my golden birthday. The one I hired for a shoot by mistake.  I was 25 on the 25th of September in 1992 and I meant to hire Dave Cosby for that little half day shoot but I got caught in a bout of rolodex dsylexia.

I had avoided booking that David Carlson because I thought he was arrogant. He groused about the shoot the first time I’d called. “I’m taking my band to Brazil” he stated, “you’d have to fly me to the location.” “Well, I don’t need a rock star,” I returned, “I need a shooter and this crew is driving to the location.” I told myself I would not try to book him again. The misread on the index card caught up to me just after I confirmed the booking.

He showed up wearing a black cap, his curly hair pulled back into a ponytail. He smirked and flirted shamelessly, then he asked me out for a drink. I showed up to Rainbow Club around the corner from my house with my posse of female friends. We closed the place after many cheap beers and deep conversations, the girl gang had gone home and it was just us. I would not let him drive me home, you know, because I’m all independent and such.

I walked home as he trailed along behind in his car at 3am in East Village back before it was filled with trendy bars and eateries, before Starbucks, before upscale apartments and fitness centers. It was an adventure.

I married that guy 9 months later, in a television studio in downtown Chicago in a ceremony we designed with electronic music, 15 lighting changes, three sets, poetry, live music and a fog machine and spotlight to usher me down the aisle. It’s still an adventure, an amazing and beautiful adventure. Happy anniversary, David Carlson. I’m tremendously grateful for you, for us, for all of it.