Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

AN IDEA NOTED EARLY

Not long ago, I came across this note to myself:

“Story idea: paragraph or two, repeated … one or two words changed each time, till the end provides an entirely new view.”

It’s old, probably from the mid-’70s, and yet has become the basis of several series of my poems from the last decade.

In a way, it’s also the basis of my novel Hometown News, although the repeated sections and their variations are much longer than single paragraphs.

Works for me. Wonder what else I’ll turn up.

~*~

To learn more about my novels and poems, go to my page at Smashwords.com.

GREETINGS FROM THE PAST

Back when I was living in the townhouse apartments “on the hill,” the preschool tot next door was learning he could manipulate me presumably, any grown up into waving to him. All he has to do is wave first.

At first, he was pretty shy, wondering whether he should wave at all when I wiggled my hand or arm in his direction before driving off to the office or the grocery. In time he became more intrigued, hovering at their open front door or staying close to his mother if she were sitting at their stoop.

And then he became bolder. One morning, he parted their upstairs blinds and cried out from the window to me, just so I could see his smile and wave.

The next day, he told me as he rode his bike around the parking lot, “I runned into your car.”

“Oh, where’d you hit it,” I replied, not the least worried, not with all the rust spots that are appearing simultaneously on my well worn vehicle.

“On the tire!” he piped up as I performed a mock inspection.

And finally, he came charging out the door just as I was about to drive off, grinning and hailing me in huge motions. “Welcome!” he cried out. “Welcome to Walmart!”

“Well, say `hi’ to Sam for me!” I chuckled.

His father, a few steps behind, shrugged as they set off on their errands.

RIVERSING

RiverSing was accompanied by large butterflies and other imaginative creations from Moonship Productions and the Puppeteers Cooperative. Here's one by daylight.

RiverSing is accompanied by large butterflies and other imaginative creations from Moonship Productions and the Puppeteers Cooperative. Here’s one by daylight.

And if you've ever wanted to converse with a butterfly, here's your chance.

And if you’ve ever wanted to converse with a butterfly, here’s your chance.

Once the sun goes down, the butterflies take on a new look as they swirl at the margin of the audience.

Once the sun goes down, the butterflies take on a new look as they swirl at the margin of the audience.

Best known for its 16 packed shows in Harvard’s Sanders Theatre each Christmas, Boston’s Revels organization also presents many other activities of community-enhancing music, theater, dance, and storytelling for family audiences through the year.

Each autumn, for instance, it welcomes the equinox with a free Sunday evening concert along the Charles River in Cambridge, which takes place tonight with activities beginning at 5 p.m. in Winthrop Park at Harvard Square. A police-escorted street procession leads down to the riverside, where thousands settle in for a two-hour high-energy performance.

The marvelous Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band played a lively set in Winthrop Park before escorting a large procession to the Charles River. I'll refrain from telling stories about the trombonist on the right, who I've known long before he even knew about trombones.

The marvelous Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band plays a lively set in Winthrop Park before it escorts a large procession to the Charles River. I’ll refrain from telling stories about the trombonist on the right, whom I’ve known long before he even knew about trombones.

Last year’s concert featured Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary fame, and I was part of the chorus of 120 behind him. It was a blast.

Here we are, with Noel Paul Stookey beside conductor, arranger, and master of ceremonies George Emlen in the white tie-and-tails.

Here we are, with Noel Paul Stookey beside conductor, arranger, and master of ceremonies George Emlen in the white tie-and-tails.

After the show, this puppet quickly filled with children.

After the show, this puppet quickly filled with children.

The stage also provided some great views of the sunset and audience, which was ringed by glowing butterflies. It was a magical experience.

My wife took these photos with her phone. For some showing my face in the choir, though, go to the Revels site.

If you’re in New England, consider showing up tonight. The more, in this case, the merrier.

A TINY DETAIL

We’d get the phone call. “You promised a story.” We knew we’d been very careful not to do that. Instead, it was, “I’ll look into that” or “I’ll pass that along to the appropriate editor for a decision.”

My favorite was the caller who claimed to be good friends with the publisher, who had promised the coverage. Followed by our response, “You know she died twelve years ago?” And their embarrassed silence.

Of course, it’s not just stories.

People read into the most carefully crafted texts and then respond to only the parts they want to hear while tuning out the rest. Or they just plain tune out. It’s called the theory of cognitive dissonance. If they think you’re agreeing with them, they’ll bend the message their way. If they think you’re critical, they’ll shove you out altogether.

Often, all tripping over a tiny detail or two.

~*~

Oh, how I came to hate the telephone when I worked in the newsroom! If you want further proof, just go to my novel Hometown News.

Hometown_News

 

GEORGE AND MERTIE’S PLACE

As I said at the time …

You asked about my handle, Jnana. In essence, it’s Sanskrit for the spiritual “path of the intellect,” but that knowledge comes into fullness only when it finds harmony with the other forms of devotion – passion and compassion, physical labor, humility, charity, and so on. “Theoretical knowledge” misses the mark; rather, the name was given to me, in the ashram, only when I came to appreciate all the other spiritual gifts people have. Eliade calls it “the knowledge of ultimate realities” as well as “philosophy.” Perhaps “discernment” would be its equivalent in Christian practice. Whatever, I do tend to dwell in the mind and to dance in a field of ideas; I become grateful for those around me who help ground me in everyday applications.

Here it is, two months after hearing of your decision to shutter the place. (Hmm, was it a rooming house, bed-and-breakfast, or mountain inn? – so many possibilities!) Six years is a respectable run and for that, our gratitude and respect.

I once heard that before Caterpillar was launched, its editors had resolved that a journal has only three years of fresh insights to offer, and so they limited its life span to that – truncated, in my opinion, though I have my own theory of being in the public eye, which I first saw when I was pushing new comic strips and text features to newspaper editors: I see the “talent” as having a 10-year creative span – two years for readers to catch on to a new regular feature, and roughly five for a feature to start to take off in popularity; meanwhile, the artist/writer is using up the conceptual reservoir, so at five years the project is going into decline. You can tally your own list of television, radio, newspaper, or magazine projects that continued long after they had gone stale. (Of course, sometimes an individual will catch a second wind, but that’s another story.)

A year-and-a-half ago I stepped down as clerk of Dover Quarterly Meeting after a six-year term. That meant I had been presiding officer of a fellowship that met four times a year, gathering most of the local Quaker congregations in New Hampshire. (New England Yearly Meeting is the parent body, obviously named.) I was really happy to discover in the Book of Faith and Practice that limit to the length of service in any one post! It was long enough – I had initiated all I could.

More recently, I had hoped to be sending off some new material for you to consider. After a number of upheavals, of a positive sort detailed below, I’m back at writing again – got tied up, though, in some heavy-duty theological drafts rather than “creative” stuff. Things like why “Christ” equals Logos or Light more than Jesus, or why God wanted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit and why their expulsion from the Garden was not the cause of Original Sin, contrary to Augustine’s teaching. Who knows what those whackos in your neck of the woods would make of all that.

Your observation about the lack of time really hits home. It’s a disease or unease of today’s America – something that has received a lot of consideration in our Friends Meeting when we look at what we’d like to accomplish as a faith community, and then what we feel we can volunteer. Or when I debate whether to accept some OT shifts, which would help with all the bills, but decide instead to decline.

And your plans to move hit home, too. Guess the best place to catch up is just to cannibalize from the long-draft of my annual Yule letter from this past winter. Maybe some will resonate. If it doesn’t, skip!

NOTHIN’ DOIN’

I remember clothing scattered
about her kitchen floor. The real

revolutionaries were a black and
a white studying the Bible next door.

I remember feeling overwhelmed by
everything in the impending storm.

This is where I should have asked
about returning to earth.

I remember ultraviolet revelations
under the magical lamp and keep

wondering what might have fixed
our course and destination.

I remember her charisma
exploited many friendships.

She really didn’t care
what anyone was thinking.

I remember nothing, except we’re
known by scars more than beauty.

poem copyright by Jnana Hodson
(originally appeared in George and Mertie’s Place)

 

INDEPENDENT OWNERSHIP

When I moved to New Hampshire nearly three decades ago, only one of its 10 daily newspapers was owned by a national chain, a situation at odds with the rest of the country.

Ownership by families or small, regional groups gave the papers more stability, for one thing. The top editors were in place for years, rather than being replaced at a nearly annual clip, as I’d just seen across the 14 states I’d been handling as a field representative for a major newspaper syndicate. As a result, there was also more connection to the local communities.

The one exception, owned by the conglomerate, was stingy with its staff and coverage. Everything went to the bottom line and off to corporate headquarters, rather than reinvesting in the organization and community.

While local ownership was no guarantee of good management or visionary progress, it did result in a journalism with a different flavor from what you might taste elsewhere. I’m not sure I could quite place my finger on it, but I suspect much of it came from having editors and publishers who knew everybody we were covering. As one top editor told me, New Hampshire’s the kind of state where you can know everybody you need to within two years. Well, at least you might know who to call to get in touch with the rest.

This didn’t necessarily mean an old-boy network, either. The sides can get pretty testy, and memories can be long.

Hometown_NewsI return to this as I reflect on my Hometown News novel, where ownership is very much an issue in the action.

Just what do we need to know to make our locales true community? How can a strong spotlight and a trusted voice bring about positive change and action? Where are we missing out in today’s shrinking newspaper environment?

There’s so much I hope my novel stirs up – and so many new answers we need in the near future.

HUMMINGBIRD HEAVEN

While the flowers demand attention from a block down our street, we've found an even better reason to have them: the hummingbirds have a special fondness for bright zinnias in addition to the sunflower trail behind them.

While the flowers demand attention from a block down our street, we’ve found an even better reason to have them: the hummingbirds have a special fondness for bright zinnias in addition to the sunflower trail behind them.

FLATBED

Returning to my native corner of Ohio, I’m astonished by its flatness; what had seemed to be large hills or significant valleys now appear embarrassingly horizontal.

On the other hand, as I’ve uncovered my ancestral roots in that land, I’m finding a lost and untold richness in what was essentially a Pennsylvania Dutch heritage continuing in western Ohio. Feel free to take a look at my findings at the Orphan George Chronicles.

ORDINANCE

about 1840, John and Jacob Swank, ministers,
withdrew from the United Brethren (Salem)
because it ceased to practice foot-washing as an ordinance

and later united with the Brethren in Christ
(River Brethren)

you could drive a wagon right up through the middle
of the impressive brick barn in the middle of the field
and out the other side
all theirs

the blue quilt
of furry woodlots

OHIO STAR a classic

now the Methodist reverend paws antique glass

the church organist’s
country style
is mostly sincere flourishes

finally out past Cornstalk Road, all the sprawl
turns to tall corn, open green, lush fields

canyons of grain, vistas of production

in the contrast, wondering
how many lost what they had
if they ever had it

whether holy revelations
or visions from cheap whiskey

while she keeps her head in a scarf
in or out of their white farmhouse

poem copyright 2014 by Jnana Hodson

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,044 other followers