Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Writing

TWAS EVER THUS

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. The anticipation mounts when we espy our first asparagus shoots. At this point they express their kindred alignment with ferns, but we know how incredible the spears will be cut minutes before cooking. Forget what you buy in the stores or restaurants.
  2. “Twas ever thus,” as my Mr. Natural tee-shirt still proclaims.
  3. With a sticker covering part of the box, what I read was “Rock Pot, the Original Slow Cooker.” You know, like back in the Stone Age.
  4. It wasn’t in the plan when we decided to dine in Manchester, but I wound up leading a tour through the city’s West Side, plus the millyard and overlook of the Amoskeag falls and dam. “That was as satisfying as having a destination,” she proclaimed.
  5. Pondering the Holy Spirit as Shekinah. Why not a female as holy lover? The Kabbalist perceiving sparks (holy Light) everywhere! Consort of God as feminine action. As for Lillith? Ah, yes, what of her?
  6. Trying to translate from one era or culture to another presents a host of challenges. The term “kingdom of God,” for instance, can convey both patriarchy and monarchy at odds with contemporary American outlooks. I like the “commonwealth of God” instead, though there’s nothing common about it.
  7. How I’ve come to enjoy any stay-in-my-sweats day, one where I drive nowhere. Soon it may turn into slip into shorts and sandals, but the effect’s the same.
  8. How does that big city newspaper get the partygoers to look so good in its weekly charity events page?
  9. I hate “small talk” – or at least struggle with it in many social settings. Any suggestions?
  10. What do I crave? Lust for? (As for you?)

~*~

Virtually all of the rail traffic to and from Maine and the rest of the nation passes along these tracks in downtown Dover, along with the four Amrak runs to Boston and back each day.

Virtually all of the rail traffic to and from Maine and the rest of the nation passes along these tracks in downtown Dover, along with the four Amrak runs to Boston and back each day.

For my slideshow of Amtrak’s Downeaster in town, click here.

RIDING OUT GRIME AND REJECTION

When one editor dismissed an earlier version of Subway Hitchhikers as “a coming of age” novel, I abandoned chronological development and turned instead to the eventual alternation of past and present tenses. When a New York agent’s brief notes placed Daffodil in Iowa, rather than Indiana, I had to wonder how closely he and his staff read a text, period. And a small press editor responded that this work was too outstanding and deserved better production and distribution than his operation could provide, while others urged self-publication.

At one point, I feared that the subject was becoming too dated – that the period, style, and places were fading from public interest. Since then, however, news developments convinced me otherwise. Who, for instance, would have envisioned a year when Yuppie hoboes would ride the rails for their summer vacation? Or that Subway Surfing would take hold! No matter how much I’ve tried to abstract the events that underpin the presentation in Subway Hitchhikers, there were time I felt overrun by developing news events. Reports, for instance, of finding a Tibetan lama reincarnated as a Spanish boy – a decade and a half after my first draft of the novel. Or a plan considered by Paris officials to build thirty-one miles of subterranean double-decked highway 100 to 165 feet underground.

Subway systems are receiving fresh interest. As public policy makers recognize their importance in the functioning of a major metropolis, the older systems are the focus of major upgrading. (New York’s MTA, for instance, was subsequently cited “as the most improved system on the continent and the man in charge received the manager of the year award. And despite the way the subway is pictured on TV, filmmakers are having a hard time finding the once-familiar graffiti sprayed on subway cars.”) Elsewhere, newer systems flourish, modeled on San Francisco’s BART and Washington, D.C.’s clean, quiet, efficient operations. As new systems, such as Los Angeles, open and expand, we can ask each city: “Where are your Subway Hitchhikers?”

~*~

For more from my more recent THIRD RAIL collection, click here.

TAURUS, TENDERLY

Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.

~*~

  1. Daffodils and rising scrolls of ferns are two of my favorite proclamations of spring. Last year a sharp drop in temperature cut the daffodils down just as they were starting to bloom. We were so disappointed. (The same snap also wiped out peaches across New England.) How quickly, too, can a vibrant patch go scraggly if you don’t divide the bulbs every few years. As for our ferns, I now feel vindicated for all the ones I transplanted in futile efforts that first decade before they took hold here.
  2. Likewise, hold true to a vision of progress, of a more just and loving society, a realm of selflessness over selfishness.
  3. Hard for me to believe I composed Village of Gargoyles while living in an apartment complex atop the highest hill in the biggest city in the state – before moving to the smaller city where I now reside – a place more befitting the village of these poems.
  4. Need to get new Tibetan prayer flags. The old ones are totally frayed.
  5. Has anyone else read Ned Rorem’s Paris Diary or its New York sequel? Saturated in the self-centeredness and self-indulgence of youth, they’re deliciously juicy and fun reading, though I could never be snide like that. Besides, if I did it here at the Barn, you wouldn’t know anyone in my circles. They’re not even celebrities, even of the minor sort. So much for the gossip on my end.
  6. While assembling the hammock, I heard a squirrel overhead scolding one of the neighborhood cats, likely the one we call Spooky. “Get it,” I urged the cat. Whereupon an empty Nutella jar landed on the table, barely missing me, its lid neatly chewed around. Something the squirrel had pilfered from what one of the kids had likely hidden in the barn sometime over the winter. I looked around but saw nobody to confirm was had just transpired. Trust me.
  7. My emotional wall just may be a shell, too.
  8. In my first moves, all my goods fit in my car.
  9. During the American Revolution, the village center that served as Rhode Island’s capital changed its name from King’s Town to Little Rest, with its delicious double meaning.
  10. Yearning for a renewed feeling of bliss – the holy ecstasy – something I wish she, too, would experience, however foreign it might seem now.

~*~

By my side at the moment. My coffee mug's on a shelf above it.

By my side at the moment. My coffee mug’s on a shelf above it.

NO BLACK FLIES OR SKEETERS – YET

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. I’m still impressed by all the latent energy stored above the waterfalls in the streams around us.
  2. The water’s flashing. Rivers and ponds spark – shoot away – fire away – in rippling sheen.
  3. Another of my spring tasks involves bringing the garden hoses down from the loft, connecting them to the faucets, and going to the cellar to reopen the valves.
  4. It’s time to pencil in a trip to the Garden in the Woods in Framingham, Massachusetts. The site, headquarters to the New England Wildflower Society, is especially popular through May into mid-June, for good reason. The organization goes to great lengths to enhance nature, though you have to look close to detect their careful irrigation units and similar touches.
  5. Even when the material for a blog is mostly already done, this act of posting takes up more time than anticipated. Where do the hours go?
  6. A fine time to hike in Maine woods: no black flies and no skeeters. The only sounds in some places: wind in the trees or water sounding like highway traffic.
  7. It’s one of those years when the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western dates for Easter coincide.
  8. Time to be on the lookout for tender young dandelions for our diet. They’re surprisingly good with eggs over easy, a drizzle of bacon fat, or homemade vinaigrette. Gotta pick ’em, though, before they bloom and turn bitter.
  9. A favorite minitrip: Head up to Portland, Maine (just an hour northeast). Hit the Standard Bakery near the docks and then the 10 o’clock mail-run ferry around Casco Bay. Six stops on five islands. Reminds me at times of Puget Sound, so many years back.
  10. And, as they say, introduce yourself. These days, could use something catchy, humorous. Something, for that matter, like a good pickup line, not that I ever had any. Feel free to share your examples.

~*~

Here's a view, one backyard to another, only a few blocks from our house. Looks a lot wilder than it is.

Here’s a view, one backyard to another, only a few blocks from our house. Looks a lot wilder than it is.

 

ALL IN THE WILD

Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.

~*~

  1. On the highway north, somewhere just before Tamworth, comes that first big view of Mount Washington. This time of year the crest is an eagle span of ghostly white spreading atop powder-blue ranges below. Sometimes another band of clouds resembling mountains stretches above, and all three sit below a blue band of real sky. Knowing what’s coming up simply heightens the anticipation.
  2. Back home, my rounds of outdoor spring tasks soon lead to the Smoking Garden. The bags of leaves stacked beside the barn as windbreakers will need to be moved to the big compost bin, which needs to be emptied first (though it’s usually frozen tight this time of year). Then there’s the hammock to reassemble, after being stored in the loft. Strings of twinkle lights will go up overhead, too. I’ll often take lunch here, though my wife finds the air too chilly. Not too chilly, though, to prevent us from grilling on charcoal.
  3. Yes, warm enough to grill a beer-can chicken (insert open can into bird, which you cook upright). Excellent, despite the stiff wind.
  4. Seapoint in Maine (town-resident sticker required for parking, May 15 to September 30, where the road ends at the ocean): trek out to the spit between beaches, hunker down in clefts between rock and sunshine for needed respite against wind. The restless blue ocean opens before me. A tease, awaiting summer.
  5. Woodpecker still has a splitting headache.
  6. Income tax time runs up against my professional life as a journalist. How much I hate waiting till deadline to finish something. Get it off, quickly, if you can.
  7. Need to find ways to keep my lair from becoming a chamber of static energy. Ditto, the loft of the barn.
  8. The leadership we’re seeing is a bunch of cowardly brutes.
  9. Once again, the moral issue of civil disobedience comes to the fore. For the record, regarding the Transcendentalist Henry David, it’s THOR-oh, not Thor-OH. And Nixon lawyer Charles Colson came to advocate some powerful moral guidelines for civil disobedience, after he’d repented – that is, “turned” – while imprisoned.
  10. What turns you WILD? (As in dreams and passions, secrets and fetishes. Am I really so orderly or repressed at this point? I’m clueless, apart from anger.)

 ~*~

It's our end of Dover.

It’s our end of Dover.

 

REAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE YEARS SINCE I DRAFTED THAT NOVEL

The years since I drafted Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider have brought significant, often dramatic, restoration and redevelopment to long neglected historic mills like the ones at the heart of my novel.

One impetus for the renewal appeared in a handful of towns in Maine, where credit-card giant MBNA transformed old mills into attractive call centers that in turn revitalized local economies. Even after being shut down in a later buyout, the benefits linger, and other developers had concrete models to follow.

Visionary entrepreneurs like the late Joseph Sawtelle here in New Hampshire as well as nonprofit agencies or local government-backed councils entered the picture, making mills in other towns emerge as small-business incubators or readily adaptable buildings for new arrivals, especially enterprises growing rapidly.

And, if the location’s right, they can attract artists of all stripes – painters, sculptors, printers, dancers, musicians, craftsmen, bakers and caterers – as an affordable alternative with natural light and high ceilings. (We love the annual studio tours and open houses in the mills in one nearby town.)

Sometimes the downtown locations lend themselves to conversion into residential condos as well. And then there are universities, health-care organizations, and museums that move in for convenience. (Well, one mill in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, does have a helicopter pad on the roof.)

In other words, there are some fascinating case studies just about everywhere I turn.  But I still haven’t found any where the top of the tower is turned into a tiny penthouse, not the way Bill did at one point in the novel. I’m still quite fond of that touch.

WEEDS ARE ALREADY RISING

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. The amount of sunlight these days is equivalent to September. That equinox thing. But with snow and no foliage or even plain gray, the sensation’s quite different from autumn green turning golden and hazy.
  2. Spring rainfall turns our side yard into a glade. Are ‘gators next?
  3. So who do they resemble, these women in my life? Which movie stars? Which protagonists in fiction? Even before we get to the guys.
  4. On a walk about town, I stop at a bakery and pick up a selection pastries as a surprise for later in the morning. As my wife and elder daughter view me strolling up our street, they notice the box wrapped in ribbon and the way I speak with other pedestrians, and quip, “What a perfect picture of a guy a woman would want to have coming home.”
  5. How delightful, too, walking three miles on a leg of the Community Trail beside rapids and sparkling waters. No need to drive several hours to the mountains for a similar experience. Reminds me of my hidden retreat at Lake Massabesic, back when I was residing on Wellington Hill in Manchester.
  6. When I enter a house of worship, I close my eyes and feel the vibrations. Too often, the air feels leaden or dead, rather than welcoming, warm, filled with deep calm. Maybe I’m spoiled by so many Quaker meetinghouses and other sanctuaries of quiet heart-centered devotion.
  7. Suppose I’d wound up back in Dayton or Cincinnati, rather than moving on? The very thought has me feeling emotionally constrained.
  8. A reminder. Be authentic to your dreams, even in the face of the Greek chorus intoning, “Yay,” “Boo,” Ahh,” even “Mmm,” throughout. Much less Job’s friends in those periods of siege.
  9. What do we do with the superrich freeloaders?
  10. Internally, I’m still on Standard Time. How can it be so late already?

~*~

A view from Fourth Street, Dover.

A view from Fourth Street, Dover.

POETRY SPRINGING FROM WITHIN ITSELF

Here’s a section from a collection of contemporary American sonnets I’ve done along the lines of those by the late and wonderful Ted Berrigan. It’s one of 60 from Braided Double-Cross.

~*~

As I said at the time …

In defining poetry, Berrigan’s concept of a windup toy serves well for me. How basic can I make it? (A single word? Maybe two?) As well as how extended or elaborate!

I still don’t like poetry that’s written as code, an intellectual equation of meaning.

Also, I prefer lines that are long enough to have something happen within each one.

I love when literature (or any art, for that matter) opens as a state of awareness – or fullest existence – which also expands into epiphanies of dancing or singing or perhaps, well, just imagine. Think twice about the chemically aided experiences – pinot, martini, pot? Yes, the Zone, when it graces. In a continuum, with differing specifics.

A set of skills and disciplined thought and, I would hope, tradition / culture. Not that every time I read a book or sit to write I’m there. Indeed, there may be good reasons we cannot dwell long in that Zone (Is it too isolated? Too exclusionary? Self-centered even when we find it occurring in Otherness?) …

A break, then. And then back to work.

~*~

CROSSING XXXVI

A green-streaked sentry flanked by thistles
on every town common is more explicit
than any boom box. Please, my darling, please
don’t let carnal memories expire between us.

I set forth at a disadvantage.
Ribbons of baby oil. Snaking Chinese dragons.
One flesh, lagoons. Trembling like the wind
in shrubs and flowers. You chained

criticism on my Academy of St. Martin
in the wallpaper, provoking blatant spice factory
peppers and cinnamon misrepresentations
of common logic, as if you were running for office.

Without proper camouflage, there’s nothing to repulse
destitution overtaking military-issue fortifications.

Poem copyright by Jnana Hodson
(originally appeared in the journal Plungelit)
For more, click here.

Poetry

Poetry

ON INTO ARIES  

Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.

~*~

  1. First crocus, first hyacinth. More welcome signs.
  2. “Ice out” in our yard – the first day you can walk a diagonal pathway without stepping on snow.
  3. At the feeder, our goldfinches have regained their yellow, first as a tone under the gray and then full-out bold. How rapid the change!
  4. Jazz trumpeter Clark Terry had a special relationship with the University of New Hampshire, one town over. His legacy continues around here. Still wish I’d heard him live, when it was an option. Remember, he taught the incomparable Miles Davis. And my, how I remember that night!
  5. How I love Robert Rauschenberg’s concept of Combines! Neo-Dada, me? Harvesting? (As in wheat. Or driving into fields of corn.) His approach infuses so many of my poems and much of my fiction. What got me labeled as a Mixmaster. Let’s see what we can throw together. Don’t leave out Roy Lichtenstein, either, with his Ben-Day dots fetish from the hot-type days of newspaper production. Oh, how that dates my sense of contemporary!
  6. Another magazine renewal form, among those I’ve let drop. Constrained income has meant limiting my memberships, too.
  7. Here, in a period when I’m supposed to be emerging from my shell, I find myself retreating instead.
  8. In the graffiti at the top flight of the observation tower: “Sometimes love just isn’t enough.” (Looking down, I saw no evidence the author had acted rashly.)
  9. What do we make of capitalism that buys a company and then expects the workers to make concessions to pay for the move? Shouldn’t the ownership go straight to the workers?
  10. Buzzards – more properly, “turkey vultures” – have returned.

~*~

The spires show signs of serious damage.

The spires show signs of serious damage.

 

The stained glass has been removed as St. Charles Roman Catholic church awaits demolition. Just three blocks away from St. Mary Roman Catholic, the two congregations had sharp differences, as some oldtimers will relate. One originated in the Quebecoise immigrants; the other, in the much earlier Irish. Now they're part of one parish.

The stained glass has been removed as St. Charles Roman Catholic church awaits demolition. Just three blocks away from St. Mary Roman Catholic, the two congregations had sharp differences, as some oldtimers will relate. One originated in the Quebecoise immigrants; the other, in the much earlier Irish. Now they’re part of one parish.

 

Water damage had weakened the structure, and repairs were deemed too costly, especially after the city's three Roman Catholic congregations were merged into one parish.

Water damage had weakened the structure, and repairs were deemed too costly, especially after the city’s three Roman Catholic congregations were merged into one parish.

 

AS THE SAP FLOWS

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. Wet, sloppy snow? The kind that falls all day, making me want to scream each time I look out the window, even when it’s half melting on the street and ground and even though I no longer have to commute through its hazardous, annoying conditions. The mere thought of it, though, has us going stir-crazy.
  2. Maple-sugaring season, for some of our friends. Just listen to all the discussion regarding this year’s sap run.
  3. Blame the switch back to so-called Daylight Saving Time. Keep feeling I’m way behind. Look at the clock, it’s 1:30 p.m., then have to tell myself it would have been only 12:30 just a few days ago. This internal ticking!
  4. Revisiting Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle (four operas spanning 17 hours, which somehow pop up for me in late winter), I confess it’s hard for me to wrap my head or heart around the mythological story. Gods who are not omniscient or who are ruled by lust – that is, who are not omnipotent – make the first obstacle, even before we get to all the reliance on magic and potions. Only when I see them as today’s celebrities does any of this come into focus. And then there is the matter of flawed parenting and marriage. Even more tantalizing is the concept of casting the “gods” as the superrich who are bankrupting America – off they go to their compound.
  5. In observing the Eastern Orthodox dietary restrictions for Advent and now Lent, I’m made more aware of the world’s poor and hungry. Reach for milk for my coffee or for an egg or cheese or butter, then pull my hand back, realizing they’re dairy products, and thus prohibited for the stretch. Under a lacto-vegetarian regime, which I’d practiced in my past, these would be acceptable. The vegan alternative is so much stricter. How out of reach our Western abundance is for so many in the world. As my wife says, the practice makes us tea-totaling oil-free vegans. Curiously, our temporarily limited diet (or “fasting,” in the terminology) does not have me feeling penitent but rather, as we pursue it, has me delighting in ranges of food we normally slight. Even so, I’m really looking forward to feasting come Easter.
  6. Considering many of my favorite hippie-era writers, I’m surprised to see how apolitical many of them are. Richard Brautigan, ever so playful – or even Jack Kerouac, who inspired so many of us. I am open to alternatives, like John Nichols or Edward Abbey, though their writing feels far more conventional and less heartfelt. Makes for a fresh way of revisiting the literature of the era, especially as it leaps ahead to our current political situation.
  7. Insecurity is a manifestation of ego, standing counter to humility.
  8. A sense of being released in to the NOW for the NEW. The way some work continues.
  9. How do people in the construction trades schedule their lives? Do the calls for repairs, remodeling, and new building really average out week after week?
  10. No idea what’s on tap for tomorrow.

~*~

New England Aquarium.

New England Aquarium.

Yes, I’m still swimming laps in the indoor pool, the one in downtown Dover. Glad he’s not in my lane.