Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

BLUE ROCK XXXIV

As I happen in your life, you begin to comprehend
I’m a maturing apparition. You’re contrary
bearings. I’m steadfast mourning. You reconsider

talent. I’m so many lost causes. You’re Baltimore’s
perfumed night in ancient contexts. I’m hostilities
originating in beauty. You’re almost a taxi ride

home from the airport. I’m a sentry statue flanked
by thistles on my town common. When we engage,
you’re more expressive than any boom box.

Poem copyright 2014 by Jnana Hodson

Blue_Rock~*~

The entire sequence of poems is finally available in a FREE ebook collection at Smashwords.com and other digital book dealers.

UP IN THE MOUNTAINS

When love’s not enough, will the promise endure? Jaya upholds her end of their vows in moving them to their shared dreamland, but Erik sees nothing resembling the Eden his wife remembered from her childhood. Can this young couple survive being transplanted into a desert? As they explore their new surroundings, they tap into their deepest aspirations as well and find guidance from an older, wiser loving couple.

~*~

Attempting to overcome the queasy sensation at the pits of their stomachs, they looked up and embraced a dizzying view of mighty Rainier, soaring so high its summit seemed to reach clear around their heads to tickle the back of their necks. Its crown was still a good fifteen miles away. “So that’s why Wes brought us up here, to a spot we might never otherwise have found on our own,” Jaya thought. This site was obviously special to the Blackburns, one saved for precious friends and occasions. Already, the Blackburns were honoring their new friends. Jaya, meanwhile, could now identify snowy Goat Rocks, Mount Adams, St. Helens, and the Stuart complex. Even so, most of the more than one hundred other peaks and ridges surrounding them were impossible to identify, even for Wes, who had climbed half of them. Jaya and Erik were also discovering that simply trying to keep up with Wes and Emma could be a challenge. “We really need to shape up,” Erik grunted.

Back in the gap, Emma and Erik spread lunch out on a poncho. Wes pointed to “chutes,” the cascades threading down the mountainsides, and explained their seasonal performance.

“Don’t mess with that kind of bug,” Emma sang when chattering grasshoppers, dragonflies, and locusts buzzed past. “Don’t mess with that kind of bug, kid, or it will sew your mouth shut.”

Erik gave Emma a sharp glance. “Where’d you ever get that weird expression?”

“Yeah,” Wes added, “where do we collect these bizarre folk tales?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “My brother got it from an uncle, who got it from his grandfather, I think.”

Promise

~*~

To learn more about my novel, go to my page at Smashwords.com.

TRULY CORRESPONDENCE

A while back, while reading a selection of letters by the itinerant Quaker minister Elias Hicks (1748-1830), I was impressed by the length and quality of some of the individual correspondence. These were pieces that could have been published essays, yet were addressed to a specific individual – pieces, I should add, from a farmer by trade.

I’m left wondering about the amount of time some Friends (and others, of course) spent daily or weekly in reading and writing as well as reflecting on the issues at hand.

Don’t tell me it was a slower era or that they had more time to employ – labor was more demanding and often tedious, after all. I think something else is at play here.

As I said, I’m impressed.

AN UNFOLDING GREEK TRAGEDY

For past several weeks, the hottest news story across New England has been over what will no doubt be a textbook case of how to kill your own golden goose in corporate America.

The business is a family-owned chain of 71 supermarkets that has somehow managed to carve out the region’s highest profit rate in a notoriously thin-margin field while simultaneously paying its workers more than its rivals — along with profit-sharing and bonuses — while keeping its prices well below those of the other grocers. (You can imagine, for one thing, that the pilferage that undermines many groceries is nonexistent at Market Basket. Its workers are loyal, at least to the executive responsible for the success — a man who seems to know not just each of them but their family members as well.) Add to that a great deal of flexibility for store managers to respond to customer requests and you can understand the wide variety of ethnic foods found on the shelves; consider the fact that our local Asian restaurants choose to buy their tofu supplies at Market Basket rather than the wholesalers, and you get a sense of how that policy pays off all the way around.

In recent years customers have turned in droves away from the competition, and their loyalty is palpable. Lately, I’ve found parking spaces are always available right by the front doors of those underpopulated stores, unlike Market Basket, where the parking lot and aisles are always overflowing.

Given the win/win/win realities of the still growing Market Basket chain, nobody was prepared for the directors’ decision to ax its successful president. Well, half of the board’s decision.

The half that wasn’t prepared for the impassioned backlash from the public or its own workers, who have essentially shut down the operation.

The board’s decision, as far as anyone can see, was based more on lingering bad blood in the Demoulas family that had previously erupted in a notorious 1990 lawsuit that nearly forced the sale of the company, this time apparently heightened by greed. Seems there’s  a $300 million reserve fund, for one thing.

But if the side that ousted Arthur T. Demoulas and his top aides thinks it can manage the company better than he did, it’s produced no evidence to date. Indeed, each day brings another public relations debacle that has gone unchallenged and signs the victorious side of the board is unaware of what’s happening on the streets. Brand loyalty, as the lore goes, is priceless. And it’s hard to win back. If they’re hoping to sell the chain, its value is plummeting by the hour. How often, after all, have you seen managers and workers stand together in solidarity as they are now?

The daily drama is not subsiding.The region’s newspapers, led by the Boston Globe, have been covering the details thoroughly, and I’ll point you in that direction.

For now, there are the petitions to sign and emails to send.

Here’s one example that was sent to the independent board members:

~*~

Dear All,

I have shopped at Market Basket for 30 years. I appreciated the low prices as well as the availability and quality of ethnic foods. When I learned that the employees were also the highest paid of any grocery in New England, that cemented the choice. I’ve barely walked through the door of a Hannaford or Shaw’s in 15 years.

Yesterday, I went to my local Market Basket, but only to sign the petition and cheer on the workers. I then I bought my groceries at Shaw’s and planned a trip to Costco.

You have had a business model that serves customers, employees, and owners. That this model would be thrown over for no discernible reason except personal animosity and greed is beyond me. I do not know or care if ATD is a good or terrible human being. I do believe he is a supremely competent one. He has run a business that gives customer the lowest prices, employees the highest compensation, and  the owners considerable profit, while maintaining zero debt and ensuring the stability of the company. I have paid close attention to every news report I can find to see if there was any substantial reason for ATD”s removal. Nothing I have heard or read has indicated that new management has better ideas, or for that matter any ideas at all. That, in addition it cared so little for the loyalty and dedication of its employees that made the model work is the final straw.

You’ve lost another customer.

MAKING TIME FOR THE WORK

As I said at the time …

There’s no denying the importance for a writer to have a physical space where the work-in-progress can be left out in the open, safely behind a closed door, between sessions. Where there’s no lost time putting everything away, only to have to bring it out again in order to resume where one left off. This doesn’t have to be a dream space, either.

But making time for writing is even more crucial. Being able to get a thought or line down on paper, while it’s fresh. Of finding large blocks of time to engage in the interior dialogue of characters as they emerge amid your daily errands and nocturnal dreams. (Like babies or demons, they possess you.)

I’m not alone in finding my practice of writing becomes part of a larger juggling act, especially when I’m already working fifty-hour weeks as a professional whatever somewhere else. Especially when those hours are outside the “literary” field altogether. Then there are the needs of a home life to contend with, and, in my experience, a faith community, too. For instance, I’ve found that as long as I’m employed as a full-time journalist, my off-duty hours leave me only enough hours to (a) write and revise or (b) focus on submissions and correspondence or (c) attend and give readings and other public events; but there is no way to do two of the three (much less all three) in the same period.

On top of it all, the work takes as long as it needs. Or, like the old-house syndrome, every repair or renovation project will require at least three times more time and money than you budgeted.

PAGES ALONG THE WAY

One question a publisher asks an author is what other works are like the one that’s being offered. That is, competing works and how yours differs.

When it came to Subway Hitchhikers’ original appearance in 1990, here’s the tack:

~*~

I know of no other work quite like Subway Hitchhikers. Perhaps Trout Fishing in America comes closest, even though that work is a generation earlier, has dated badly over the years, and is both rural and West Coast in its orientation. As I noted earlier, most of the presentations dealing with the hitchhikers’ period in history tend to focus on events that I relegate to the background. (Indeed, how often is hitchhiking even mentioned, much less discussed?)

As for the subject of subways, fictional accounts usually place them as a brief scene of terror, rather than treating them as a fascinating entity in their own right (The Taking of the Pelham Express or Frank King’s new Take the D Train are two examples); non-fiction tends either toward the technical or else toward reports on the important layers beneath the city streets – the sewers, cables, steam pipes, and so on.

100_9908

The closest work in terms of subject matter appears to be the just-published Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination by Rosalind Williams (MIT Press, 265 pages, $19.95, illustrated). Judging from a review in the Boston Globe, her work is a scholarly examination of both fiction and technology: “As the natural environment dwindles, the constructed or artificial environment assumes further importance.” Her work, however informative, is clearly not intended to amuse, delight, or humor. I see her volume as an academic (and more expensive) adjunct giving increased credibility to the mission of Subway Hitchhikers.

A big question mark involves the volume that Jim Dyer is preparing. As the subway columnist three times a week for New York Newsday since its inception (four years ago?), he has a lode of insider’s information on the workings and bizarre inhabitants of New York’s system. His leave and acting replacement were announced in the weekly Editor & Publisher magazine in early February, so we should have time to beat him to the gate. Perhaps his opus, whatever its form, will add to an overall interest in subways as such, and in the end benefit sales of our Hitchhikers.

~*~

To learn more about my novel, go to my page at Smashwords.com.

100_8863

PACKERS FALLS NEIGHBOR

The siding and shutters of a large Colonial house on the quaintly named Wednesday Hill Road are a classic New England scene.

The siding and shutters of a large Colonial house on the quaintly named Wednesday Hill Road are a classic New England scene. I love the little porch that seems to lead almost secretly from one room to another.

GREEN REPOSE: WITHIN A PERSONAL CANAAN

With its title inspired by John Muir – “There is no repose like that of the deep green woods. … Sleep in forgetfulness of all ills” – the series of poems I call “Green Repose” originates as a celebration of a particular intersection of fields, woods, hills, hollows, and waters just beyond a small city in southern Indiana. Here, ecology does not require vast, uninterrupted virgin forest to yield deep green repose, but integrates layers of human dependence in groves and thickets that sometimes, but do not always, touch other woodlands. In timberland such as this, expanding into marginal farmlands deemed unfit for agribusiness, comes opportunities for rediscovery and awakening potential.

In these woods, also, green embodies not only deciduous leaves, which linger unseen through winter before unfurling, but also roots in the soil and bedrock – elements that shape the particular character of a place. Green, too, befits a newly married adult coming into fullness, yet still close to adolescent stirring. Add to this the green tint of ponds and rivers, and all that occurs unobserved beneath their surface, and the green glass of accumulating years.

Over the decades, a few other works – similar in tone and experience – have been added to the repose that ultimately becomes a quest and a centering – a spiritual condition that Quakers call centering or the author of the Book of Hebrews repeatedly terms rest.

OF GOLDFINCHES AND BLUEBIRDS

Signs proclaim NO TRESPASSING/
NO FISHING, but he eyeballs
his line and waves anyway.

Quarry derricks web sparkling cable.
Sparrows circus. A beer-swollen
T-shirt carries rod and reel across blue asphalt.

He stares where car-sized limestone
is heaped like junk beside green water
as if it means something.

*   *   *

By ten o’clock Saturday
the neighboring farmers are off
to town, excepting Orlando Hollers
whose horse team and sickle bar
circle in on his field
on our singular cool day of the month.
He comes to the fence line and speaks.

*   *   *

In front of their collapsing two rooms
six children, a mother, & two dogs
gawk under the coal stove’s contrails.
They hope I can’t afford that much.
I know to keep walking.

*   *   *

A blue neon WELCOME
indicates these church
doors are locked.

August is dying.

Please don’t love me so much
you put plastic flowers on my grave
where goldfinches and bluebirds cavort.

poem copyright 2014 by Jnana Hodson

JUST A ROLLING STONE

Lately, thanks in part to a great yard-sale find, I’ve been revisiting a lot of Bob Dylan and realizing how many phrases that pass through my head originate in his lyrics. Or at least the ones that also have a musical line. I came to him in late ’62 or early ’63 and was a loyal fan until he went electrified and left the activist and folk scenes. Count me among the contingent that felt betrayed.

OK, I’ve come to recognize and even admire a lot of significant material he wrote in the years since. The man could turn a phrase, for certain, even when he was drawing heavily from others.

The line, “Like a Rolling Stone,” had me wondering about its relationship to the naming of the band and the rock magazine, all three products of the ’60s. Did the song prompt the other two?

Turns out the band was formed in ’62; the song, ’65; and the magazine, then a tabloid newspaper, November 9, ’67. But, in another twist, the band took its name from Muddy Waters’ 1950 “Rollin’ Stone.”

As for the popular phrase, “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” the line points to John Heywood’s 1546 translation of the Roman-era Pubilius Syrus. So it’s been rolling around for some time.

~*~

Also from the ’60s was my discovery of the common Pennsylvania road sign, “Beware of Rolling Rock,” along with the brew. I suppose looking at the connection between those two would be like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. Or even why the chicken crossed the road before or after.

 

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