Tuesday, April 22, 2008

PACKAGE

Today's Word of the Day was: package
When we stepped on the right side of the line in the big Deal or No Deal in Heaven; when we raised our hands and said we would follow the one born first; that's when we started the whole package thing. Since then pretty much everything has come in a package. First one was the fleshy one. It came all pink and red and squirmy and squealing and it was tied to the package that came before it, which was tied to the one before, and so on all the way back to mother Eve. That package we keep till we're done. It stretches and swells and shrinks and wrinkles. But it holds the goods whether we like it or not.
Most everything else around us is packaged as well, some of it painted and glittered and infused with aromas. Some of it covered in ugly. Some of it untouched and wrapped by God himself. Tonight I slipped the edge of a peeler under the skin of some organic carrots for my sister. Shaved the outer layer off and julienned little pieces with the blade of a well sharpened knife. Cooked them in their bright orange glory to tender and laid them on some fresh parsley, all deep deep green and lacy. Laid on a white dinner plate, it was so beautifully packaged it whispered "Nurture, nurture" as I carried it over to my sister. This same sister used to send we three little girls packages from her grown up world all the way across the country, in the salty foggy air of California. Little packages of treats and trinkets from the one who had clothed and cradled us while our mother worked in the potato fields or fried fries and mixed milkshakes at Mert's Drive-In. We left her standing on the tarmac at the airport when we moved to Pittsburgh and she stayed in Idaho to start college. I was 5. One day when I was maybe 10 and she had graduated and taken a job in the San Francisco Bay area, a box arrived with the shape of a diamond in the left hand corner. Inside were shiny little metal cans of nuts; almonds from California. Roasted and salted and flavored and yummy. It was my first taste of many first tastes she gave us. Packaged fresh and new to the tastebuds of a cluster of kids in southwestern PA. Sherry's packages at Christmas were wrapped in tidy little boxes with crisply tied bows. Even now, when I hold a package from her, there is a little electrical current that rises from the floor up through my feet, past my tummy and through my heart, straight into my head and up to heaven.
Grandma Connors was famous for her packages. Giant brown boxes left on the front porch by the mail lady, at least 6 times a year, one for each of our birthdays and one for Christmas. Inside each mother-package were other packages, sometimes more packages tied into those like the wooden dolls from Russia, layered into themselves. And, though the birthday child usually got the most, every other child received gifts as well. For a while there everyone got their own rolls of scotch tape and their own sets of magic markers, with art pads and scissors and spools of plastic boondoggle that would make 5,000 keychains if anyone was patient enough to use it all. Sarah received every single Babysitters Club book in those various Gramma Connors packages. John's first baseball cards. Kate's Trouble game and Annie's Fisher Price tape recorder. Grandma Connors wrapped her love and longing on her dining table, folding the edges to make clean lines, and embellished them with yards of colored ribbon. Sent little pieces of herself 2,000 miles to the west to her little ones. They received her gifts with giggles and shouts and clapping. Same way I imagine we received the news of the first package we would get, way back there in the heaven realm.
Look around. Just about everything is packaged. The down sewn into layers of fabric that warm my mother in her easy chair. The angel-white furry softness of Pi as she sleeps in her new doggy pen on the floor beside us. The shapely wooden body and long slender neck of my guitar leaning against the fireplace. Tomatoes on the sink. Wedding invitation on the counter with the name of someone I love scrolled across the envelope and other people I love embossed on the inner card. Time captured in the large black disc on the wall. All packaged. All aesthetic and so...so...oh, I don't know...so alive. Thanks, God.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Dylan Pulitzes


Bob Dylan received the Pulitzer Prize yesterday. I've seen him live a few times, once with my brother John at Deer Valley here in Utah. We went early and sat right up front to get a good view and good sound, except that we ended up standing the whole time because everyone squeezed in front of us and raised their arms to the beat and all we could see were hairy armpits if we remained seated. The best, the very best, concert I've ever attended was under the trolley tracks in Pittsburgh PA with my son, the other John.

Bob Dylan
"Lay lady, lay. Lay across my big brass bed." He sang with a twang, or something like it. The words slurred into each other like molasses on the kitchen counter, smooth and unsettling. I heard him through the paneled wall that divided our room from our brother's. Grumbling in Hi Fi. Haunting melodies I hummed while I walked to elementary school. His songs sat on my skin and tickled it. "Is that a real singer?", I used to think. That was before I realized that songs didn't just appear from heaven...that people had to create them.
Years later, the day after we buried my mother-in-law, my son and I went to see Bob Dylan in concert in Pittsburgh. Took our heavy hearts downtown to Station Square. The Pittsburgh Press had whispered the news to us on the living room couch. Back from the funeral home, painfully quiet. "Hey," I said, "Says here Bob Dylan is playing downtown this weekend." "Take John and go," Dave said. So we called and ordered up two tickets. Drove through that old familiar Pittsburgh traffic, parked under the trolley tracks and walked to the outdoor cafe with the stage up front. There were maybe 200 people there, and we could order a drink and some nibbles and watch him from the table if we wanted. We chose to get closer, right up front. So close we could see the thickening wrinkles in his skin, the wacky frizz in his hair. We could watch his fingers find the chords, see the shadow of his eyelashes when he really felt the music. He wore black. I've seen Bob Dylan three times in concert and he always wears black. Bob Dylan would probably look really dorky in chartreuse. Black for mourning. He took our pain and swirled it around in his cup and drank it with us. Drank it with us.
I hear Bob Dylan now and I am all at once the little sister, the mother, the writer, the daughter...and the leaves are mulching beneath my feet, and the air is sweet with new Spring growth, and Mom is clinking the dishes into the cupboard downstairs, and the crabapple in the front yard is just about to burst...my son is 14, long and skinny, and the walls of his room are covered with pictures of Bob Dylan while his music wafts out of his bedroom window and up into mine.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Word of the Day - WORD



BLOGGERS NOTE: a few writer-friends and I do a daily writing exercise (only it ends up not being daily because we are all LAZY) called Word Of The Day (WOTD). The first one to the computer in the morning sends out a word to the others and we all write on that word for around 10 minutes. I use two random word generators from the internet to find the words, usually nouns. Sometimes the word is just a jumping off place for us to practice our writing skills...ie, use strong imagery and include all our senses in the writing. Obviously, today's writing from me did not prove any skill in using all my senses. I need to work on that. But it did remind me what an insane thing songwriting is. So here in my newborn BLOG I will sometimes paste my Word Of The Day writing. Here goes today's piece. The word is WORD (seriously, that's what came up on the random word generator)

April 4, 2008 word
The word is hand. It’s at the end of the line in the song in a place that needs a rhyme. When I am that deep into the creation of a song it consumes my head, like thinking about food does when I am on a diet. I quit diets a long time ago because I don’t like myself when I’m on them. I keep thinking I’ll do the same with songwriting…just quit the process altogether…but I have so darn much I want to say, and that matters to me so much more than the way I look. Or feel, sadly. So I am doing the dishes, and the dang song I am working on is underscoring every thought. It even underscores the score to TV shows I watch. The melody in embryo bounces off the tile walls of our shower. It’s sifted in between the tiny light feather down in my pillow. Sits under my ears all night and makes itself known before I raise my head off the pillow in the morning. It accompanies my prayers. Songs in process are like the novels I keep myself from reading, because I cannot live my life and forget about them, so they are with me 24/7 until they are complete. I like songs. I just don’t love songwriting. Except for the 1 in 10 times after laboring through a thought and squeezing it into a crazy format that has certain meter and certain rhyme patterns and you have to make it sound fluid and not contrived…one in maybe 10 or even 20 ends up saying what I meant to say, and that can be pretty satisfying. I’ve written hundreds of songs and I can probably count on one hand, and one extra finger maybe, the songs I’ve written that really do it for me. We’re talking thousands of hours laboring over words. And music. Let’s see, adding up my royalties, which is pretty hard to do because my royalty checks have ranged between the thousands of dollars and the .03 dollars (Yes, I have received a royalty check for 3 cents) and I am an artist and not an accountant…hmmm, I probably have made just about .03 dollars an hour writing songs. Not that such things should be measured in dollars. I’m just saying.
So I am trying to find the appropriate thought for the place in the song I am writing that just happens to end with the right syllable landing on a rhyme to the word hand. Since I was a kid I’ve rhymed like this: …and…band…cand…dand…eand…fanned…gand…hand, oh that’s the word itself…ummmm, where was I…iand…jand…kand…land…mand…and so on until I hit the letter z. Then I start the two letter word starters…stand…shand…thand…planned. When the right word pops up I grab onto it and start thinking about what that word might have to do with what I am writing and I see if I can make it work and appear like I did not just go through the whole alphabet looking for a word that rhymed. I’ve tried songs without rhymes and very few of them work. Seriously, try singing your favorite songs and see if they do not have rhymes. So anyway, when I have exhausted my old method alphabet-in-the-head word search I go to the study and pull out my Clement Wood Rhyming Dictionary and work my way to the words that end with –and. As often as not I end up changing the line that has the word I am trying to rhyme because nothing fits the pattern and lets me say what I want to say. But at least I have Clement Wood on my side, laying those words out for me in one place.
Writing songs is like trying to be me and do the Rubik’s Cube. Some people can just wiz right through it, twisting and rolling and coming up with one color on each side. But I can’t. Sometimes I get close, like a side or two will be just perfect. But there is always some little green pixel amid the red, and when I try to change it, it also puts blue in the yellow. I don’t really know why I put myself through this. When I die my kids will sort through my stuff and one of them will take my scriptures, which should have much more tattered pages than they actually have. And one will take my journals, all smeary and hard to read. And one will take my Clement Wood Rhyming Dictionary, with its yellowed pages and somewhat ragged edges. They’re all just words, and they all meant something to me.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Parker's Shoes


"You'd better get a picture of that", I said as we walked out John and Ash's front door tonight. Next to the door mat, splashed with dried mud and sandbox sand, one of them laying in it's side, were two little size 5 Van tenny runners. They are almost too small for him now. "Better grab that before it's gone", I thought, because tomorrow morning those will be size 9 baseball cleats with red dirt stuck between the spikes and your boy will be somewhere else more than he is home. Then tomorrow afternoon the shoes will be gone for good and you'll have to drive down the road, maybe even a far away drive down the road, just to get to a place where his shoes might have been. Not that this is bad. It's sweet in the end, to have the circle grow thicker around you, though the process can be painful. Big shoes lead to little shoes, which lead to bigger shoes, which lead to the heartbreak which lead to the heart swells. Like the merry go round ride on the playground. It's fun as long as it doesn't go too fast.