Dogs and Words

 

Brightly colored collage with medieval painting and Allen Ginsberg's head.

Die Melancholie Bluebird

What is a dog but the lovely wagging of his tail?

I am a writer: I live in my head most days, and if I do not set timers and automatic devices, I would forget to eat on time or consume adequate amounts of life-giving coffee. When I am writing or thinking about writing (which is almost all of the time), I live not outside of time but between time—I wake to a thin straw of light poking through the barkcloth blackout curtains The Husband built. At night, I go to sleep when it is dark and quiet and the arterial whoosh of cars gives way to the surreal winter bark-amidst-silence of a dog in a backyard two miles away.

Or rather, I should say this is how I think I live—suspended in a neural web of spacelessness and placelessness. Instead I live amidst life in all its screaming glory for I live with dogs, who are the natural champions of joie de vivre. Dogs don’t merely enjoy your presence, they require things of you throughout a given day. The needs of each of the three dogs who live with me (with whom I live) vary, but they more or less follow some pattern—a daily shape that helps me to pay attention, to step out of my own mind and the story unspooling (hopefully) through my fingers onto a page, either digital or physical, but no less real in actuality.

 

What is a dog but the lovely wagging of his tail?

 
My dogs keep me anchored here, sunk into my own real-life narrative of meals and tamed caffeinated vices and phone calls and clean laundry, and not that other here where the story has formed a ripe and tempting surface that begs to be sliced open like a pomegranate to allow the seeds to spill forth. That here lives in a luminous fugue of fog over my head—but that here can wait for me to bathe or to return that phone call. It will pause and swirl in place so that I may get down on the floor and roll around with Abelard, a dog who’s been known to grab you by the neck with his single polydactyl front paw to draw your face into a broad lick that swipes your schnoz.

If you’re wondering, that here and this here are not the same here. They don’t really shift and mix into a single soap bubble the way most people imagine writer’s reality and real reality to commingle. Most modern mistakes about writers begin with montages from b-grade movies and end in bad soft jazz. In these movies, you never see the writer writing, you see the writer moving about. They’re speed-walking with a neighbor. They’re browsing through the cozy bookstore. They’re talking over dinner, and it’s all okay because they’re writing in their heads again, all while wearing this year’s trouser and next year’s watch with an unstudied elegance that makes me ball my inky hands into inky fists.

There are reasons that writers have rooms with doors that lock. There are reasons why writers wake up at 4:23 in the morning to write while the rest of the household sidestrokes through a five-fathom sleep in tousled warm beds. There are reasons for the battered sweaters and the old shoes. (Who wants to get ink and newsprint on your good clothes, if you can avoid it?) And there are other reasonable things a writer does not mention because to mention them is to discuss the mechanics of the close magic that maps out the place where writers write. (It has little to do with speed-walking, I assure you.)
 

…the story has formed a ripe and tempting surface that begs to be sliced open like a pomegranate to allow the seeds to spill forth.

 

Regarding that close magic, here’s the hardest trick: To even get to that other here takes work. In order to write something new, a writer must put herself into a space akin to a trance state, which can be achieved by the following means: a daily routine that is never broken, a ritual space and/or time to write in which one is not disturbed for the duration of the writing experience; noise or silence—there’s no between on this aspect of writing—you either write with music or white noise or the only music you want to hear is your own words in your own head. And time. Lots and lots of time.

It is irregularity that will destroy the writer’s hyperfocused state— intermittent events of no particular pattern, e.g., the sounds that people make doing all sorts of ordinary everyday things as well as the normal goings-on of dogs. At our house, Abelard lives in the nowest of nows. He’s the most physical of our three canines. When we go to bed at night, it’s Abelard who will fall back into my or The Husband’s arms and asks to be spooned and skritched. It’s Abelard who flea-checks my hair every other day; Abelard who wobbles his girth into most of my desk chair while I sit and write on its precipitous edge. It’s the drowsing Abelard’s damp adenoidal breath deposited directly into my ear that levitates me into the deepest sleep I’ve ever entertained, night after night. As a result, Abelard walks through my dreams and into my stories in a variety of guises.

 

Abelard lives in the nowest of nows.

 

But it’s not just him—it’s Ilsa’s cold nose and her warning bark at the door (“Visitors! Visitors! Visitors!”); it’s Monkey’s soft, questing nudge on the leg—(“May we go out now?”; “Will you feed me?”; “Can I sit in your chair?”; “Do you know it’s time for bed?”; “Is this something I can chew up?”). It’s the day and it’s The Husband and it’s the words I will set forth, which live in that supraliminal space between my head and my heart, my inner eye and my outer sight. It’s word meshed to action and action braided to word. It’s the part of my person that knows to get up once an hour from the wrecked Hollywood Regency desk to reach and shout and move around the house. It’s the dogs barking at glossy black Sapo the fence-jumper who never barks back. It’s reading a poem from a book out loud in my office and Abelard sauntering into the doorway to hear it because he thinks the poem is for his ears, and in a way, it is.

It’s the metronomic beat between idea and expression, betwixt thirst and glass and water, behind every gesture I make, even the ones I make at my desk, especially the ones I make at my desk: I studied dance for 20-odd years of my life and to live with dogs and words is to live in the constant space of the dance studio and its sweaty, silent rituals punctuated by the shouts of the teacher in the room: “HIGHER!” “FASTER!” “DO IT AGAIN!”.  And so we do.
 

PHOTO CREDIT: Allen Ginsberg’s black and white mug was provided by Wikimedia’s own Michel Hendryckx. (Dank u wel, Meneer Hendryckx. Votre photo est trés belle!)

At night’s end (a dog that snores)



Abelard the Dog and Courtenay Bluebird sharing a pillow on the bed.


When Abelard is drowsy, he will often curl up against my back—or drape his head across my torso—and drop into a wild and natural sleep.

 

Abelard snores: his breathing is wet and sonorous and deep.  This dog shows himself to be a true slumberer, a gourmand of snooze, an enthusiast of rest, a sleeper of great gusto.

In other words, Abelard is the young canine Orson Wells of deep sleep and I love him for it.

But there’s something funny about Abelard and his sleep, and by funny, I mean strange. I’ve discovered that I have to make sure I’ve finished getting ready for bed myself before I settle in with Abelard because his sleep-sounds are a natural soporific.



It’s a shock, I tell you, to wake up and discover that I’ve managed to fall asleep with my clothes and street shoes on. Again. I’m a lifelong, honest-to-goodness, there-are-doctors-involved insomniac—this sort of thing doesn’t happen in my world, ever.

Yet, thanks to Abelard, I sleep. It’s suddenly very simple. I brush my teeth for two minutes; attend to my skin; straighten the covers; listen to Abelard gulp and snore and fuffle, and WHAMMO!—I’m out.

Gee, just thinking about Abelard’s artful torpor makes me want to head off to Snoozeville.  Let’s see if Abelard is ready for bed. Abelard? Bed?



Ah, here he comes.

Hand me that butterfly net, will you?  I want to catch some z’s.


Even the rivers have rivers where he shall go

 

Santa_Fe_R.R._crosses_the_Colorado_River_into_California_between_Topock1a34756v

 

Some stories are more impossible than others.

  Take the story of my friend Mark.  I’ve been trying to write something about him for nearly three weeks.

Ever since I received the quiet phone call from my friend Phillip regarding Mark’s death, I’ve sat at my desk at varied hours in different arrangements to do just this one thing.  To this end, you would find me here in the morning staring at the French gray walls of my office, and again, in the afternoon, holding my $5 fountain pen over my $2 notebook.  Late at night I remain rooted here— hunched forward, scowling at the screen while a 70 lb. three-legged dog attempts—in a show of loyalty—to co-occupy my office chair as I write.

 

Or not write, as has been the case, about Mark and Mark’s life.  My stalled fingers hover and tremble at the keys not because of the dog in my chair and not because I’m constantly losing my $5 pen in my cluttered office, and not because I don’t know what to say—because goodness knows I have yet to run out of things to say about everything and everyone, even if it takes me all night or a whole year or a flaming hot deadline to figure out what to say and how to say it.

What has halted me again and again are the facts and the figures.  There is so much of Mark to know, and so many shared experiences with Mark to consider, the tenure of our two-year friendship creaks and wobbles under the weight of all the abundance that is Mark himself.

 

If you wanted to find the shape and substance of a man like Mark,  you could measure him by his heavy shelves of wonderful books or the many gorgeous frames of film he shot in his storied travels.  You could, if you liked, measure him in cultivated silences—because he was a man who considered your question with judicious care before offering an answer.

You could easily measure Mark by his stories, which were legion and inclusive, or by the sweet banter he shared with the love of his life, Dawn.

Many of you will study the length and breadth of the man based on the size and shape of his strong friendships, or maybe just one friendship, the one he had with you.  I know I will measure him by the conversations we did not yet have, the notes for which I’d ferreted away for a sunnier day when Mark was feeling well enough to talk, and I will also measure him through the books he introduced to me and I, to him.

 

But this is where I leave off the checks and balances and the counterweights because what has occupied the center of my sadness at the loss of Mark is the Mark-shaped hole in my heart, and that absence cannot be measured or weighed or explained with ease.

A person’s life is not a playbook, you see, or a morality tale or a pithy epigram; a man like Mark is not solely the sum of his stories, his books and his papers, nor is he a proof to be deduced solely by his devotedness to his family, his spouse and his friends.

Mark was Mark, and he is Mark still.  I would give every book in my library to hear the sweet scratchiness of his voice again; to listen to him tease Dawn and Dan and his parents in his funny, gracious way.   But no one’s offering me an exchange rate on my books for the width and breadth of this dear man’s life.

 

Instead, I’m left to my office in a crooked little suburb in a cranky old city, standing upright but leaning against my desk.  I am paying close attention to the rain that burbles against the panes of my dusty aluminum-framed windows, and the darkness outside seems unceasing at this time of night.   Still, the dog with three legs slumbers on the floor, running the length of the room in his dreams.  Still, this house sleeps on and on.

All the while, one part of my mind continues to cross and re-cross a single moment in another November, when I walked into a local diner ten minutes late to meet Dawn and Mark and Dan and Mr. and Mrs. A— for the first time.

 

Here.  Look.The noonday sun holds up the sky.  I open the chrome and glass doors of the diner and clatter inside, searching for faces I’ve only seen in pictures.

The cashier, seeing my confusion, steps from behind the counter to lead me around a wall of sturdy glass blocks.  The first person I see is a bespectacled and smiling man rising from his seat to greet me, followed in no short measure by his brother and his father, while his spouse and his mother look up and offer me two equally lovely grins.

 

Oh, Mark, I am so very nearly embarrassed to tell you how much I’d be willing to give up just to have this one moment, with you, again.  But no alchemy of mere words will bring you back from the places you had yet to go.  And there is no way to measure and shape the entirety of you into a single, small story.  Trust me, Mark,  I’ve tried.  You know that I’ve tried.

 

If a man’s life is a river, your life is—and was—a place where even the rivers have rivers of their own.

I believe your rivers have reached their headwaters now.  Godspeed, Mark.

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: We were always like that


This is a self-portrait of us taken by The H. when we were first dating. At the time, he worked as a furniture maker. The H. specialized in mid-century bent-wood designs, but he could make anything.* In this photo, we’re standing in his workshop. The Husband had no idea that he’d set his little point and shoot camera to panoramic. That’s why the top of his head got cut out of the frame.

But, wait! It gets better.



The Husband and Bluebird posting for a picture early in their relationship.

So, right after his camera took that first picture, The Husband (who was only The Boyfriend then) tried to pick me up, but he didn’t have a solid grip. The camera captured him trying not to drop me on my head. We are laughing hysterically, of course.



The Husband and Bluebird posting for a picture early in their relationship.

I’ve got to be honest, y’all. Every time I look at these pictures, I just laugh and laugh. There are actually four of them. There’s another with my head chopped off at the top because of the panorama setting, and one other of The H. standing by his circular saw, half in darkness. It was very cold in his shop. The building in which his workshop was housed used to be a grocery warehouse at the beginning of the 20th century.


Back to us—The Husband and I had a charmed courtship. We were friends for nearly a year before we decided to start dating, and we weren’t any hurry to get anywhere. I never had more fun in my entire life up to that point than when I met him. Even now, the most fun I ever have is with The Husband—even though he makes me half-crazy almost all of the time.

But, that’s life, right? That’s what marriage can do to a body—especially if you’re in a marriage of equals. And we laugh a lot—because that’s marriage too. Above all, we talk about every idea that can be built with common words. I look at these photos and I can see how we built the kindling for a lifetime of conversations, stick by stick and story by story.


*And by anything, I mean anything. He made Japanesque Art Nouveau-style carved cabinets and Moroccan tiled octagonal tables offound wood and all sorts of cabinets with crazy tricky parquetry.

Super-Secret Saturday Night 5-Minute Dance Party | Extra-Massif Soundcloud Edition Vol. 1





The Evening News




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Of our three dogs, Abelard requests the most constant companionship.


While Ilsa will wander off to mull a chewy over under her favorite wing chair and Monkey might curl into a drowsy ball in a corner of the couch, Abelard will almost always insist on draping himself across your person in an artful shape wherever you may sit, however you may stand.

But Abelard’s favorite thing* to do—his utter and absolute favorite—is to climb up in The Husband’s lap and tuck his head into a corner of The H.’s shoulder and drowse like a babe in arms.



*Abelard’s second favorite thing is to throw his one front paw across my shoulder as he and I swim towards sleep.

(Super-Secret!) Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party | Her Majesty’s Socialist Request







Bluebird: (Shouting over “Her Majesty’s Socialist Request.) HEEEEEEY! HOWHAVEYOUBEEN? OHMYMERG, IT’SBEENSOLONGSINCEWE’VETALKED!

(Bluebird is still dancing, but starting to get out of breath a little bit.)

Bluebird: SO, GUESSWHATTODAYIS? YES,YOUGUESSEDIT! IT’SBLUEBIRDBLVD.’S THIRDANNIVERSARY! (Shouting to The Husband in the through the adjoining wall of their offices.) ISTHATRIGHT? THETHIRD?

The Husband: (Stern, muffled by wall.) I’m not speaking to you until you “come down” from your caffeine high.

Bluebird: THAT’SRIGHT! IHADFIVE,NOSEVEN, NO TENCOFFEES—

The Husband: (To you.) —that’s “Bluebird speak” for double-espressos.

Bluebird: BUT IT’S BLUEBIRDBLVD.’SANNIVERSARY! GUESS WHAT I DID FOR YOU, HUSBAND?

The Husband: (Small fearful voice.) Oh?

Bluebird: I IRONED ALLOFYOURSCHOOLCLOTHESTODAY! YOULIKE EXTRASTARCHINYOURUNDERPANTS,RIGHT? HEAVYSTARCH! (A pause.) GONNADANCESOMEMORE TOCELEBRATEBLUEBIRDBLVD.’S ANNIVERSARY!

(Bluebird jumps up and starts dancing again.)

The Husband: (Whispering to you.) I hid the espresso maker in my truck under the driver’s seat. (Then speaking to Bluebird through the wall.) That’s GOOD, honey. THANK YOU. You KEEP dancing UNTIL you COLLAPSE, OKAY?

(Bluebird is dancing. The dogs are barking. The Husband is smiling. Here’s what The Husband doesn’t know: Bluebird keeps a back-up espresso maker in the office, which is now steaming a fresh cup.)

Bluebird: (To all and sundry) HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO BLUEBIRD BLVD.!

The Husband: (Through the wall.) Yes, happy anniversary! (A beat.) I can HEAR that you’ve got an espresso maker in there, Bluebird!

Bluebird: NO,YOUCAN’T. THAT’STHEDOGANDTHEMUSIC AND—(picks up a stack of books off of her office floor and drops them.)—ANDSOMEBOOKSIJUSTDROPPED—

The Husband: —I’m coming in there!

Bluebird: EEK!


Like this instrumental? We’re big fans of RJD2 around here—Bluebird owns four of his albums, and they get lots of airplay in her office. This song comes from More Is Than Isn’t.

The Marriage Interpreter (No. 51)


Advil Lavigne: Just tell me which one fixes the headache.

The Husband: Dude, your neck is thick! Just like that girl on Downton Abbey.

Abelard: ???

The Husband: (Grasping for name.) You know who I’m talking about—the one with the thick neck!

Abelard: ???

The Husband: (Remembers her name; face lights up. ) Lady Instagram!



THE HUSBAND is washing dishes and ruminating. Bluebird is reading.

The Husband: Bluebird?

Bluebird: Yes?

The Husband: Did you know there can only be one Highlander?

Bluebird: (Dreamily staring at open book.). Okay.

The Husband: Are you listening?

Bluebird: Yes. (Looks up.) You’re a Dr. Pepper—

The Husband: —Highlander.

Bluebird: (Returns to reading.) Congratulations.



THE HUSBAND calls Bluebird from the ranch.

The Husband: I need to ask you a serious question.

Bluebird: Okay, shoot.

The Husband: Who is Advil Lavigne?

Bluebird: I don’t—how did you…? Huh. Would you look at that.




THE HUSBAND is standing in the hallway ready to go to the hardware store. Bluebird is reading a book on the couch.

The Husband: I have your list.

Bluebird: (Without looking up.) Mmm-hmmm?

The Husband: (Scanning page.) So you need a dust mask and air filters—

Bluebird: (Still reading.) Hmmmmm.

The Husband: (Squinting.) —and a squid widow for a wool herring…

Bluebird: (Eyes still on book; shakes head.) Uh-uh.

The Husband: No squid widow?

Bluebird: (Dreamy voice.) Squeegee.

The Husband: Wool herring?

Bluebird: (Turning page of book.) Whole house.

The Husband: Your handwriting is awfu—

Bluebird: (Interjects.) —Are you wearing my glasses?

The Husband: No. (A pause.) Maybe. (A pause.) I’m going now.

Bluebird: (Turns another page.) Mmmm-hmmmm.

Miss Frankly Forty


PSST! You’re gonna want to click the picture of the book to make the words nice and big. I made this whole thing just for you, you, you!



An open vintage book: All of the conflicting advice regarding how one should comport oneself in one's 40s creates such a fuss, don't you think? The very modern editors at Bluebird Blvd. thought you might prefer a little friendly advice from our resident experts. Here are a few myths explored for the benefit of Miss Frankly Forty What is the difference between being 39 and being 40? Well...one digit? Also, the number 40 is divisible by 20, 10, 5, 4 and 2. And there you go. Why is turning 40 a taboo for women in Western culture? Because uteruses. But remember this is the same culture that believed that the uterus wandered your body until you have a husband to anchor it down. No, I'm not kidding. How come there's so much advice out there on how 40-year-old women should dress? The long answer: If you're a 40-year-old woman in a first-world country, you probably have plenty of clothes in your closet that you like which happen to fit you well. Fashion designers, style bloggers and big box stores need you to buy a whole new closetful of things in order to pay their light bill in Milan, Poughkipsee and New York. But how do you get women to buy things? Easy. Since the 20th century, businesses have advertised new products to women using a grotty potpourri of fear, shame, and the exploitation of a woman's need to be accepted by her peers. My advice? Don't buy anything that has been fear-marketed to you. The short answer: Money. What is a crone? A crone is a woman over forty whose uterus no longer wanders off. A crone is also a woman who owns several pairs of awesome shoes in which she can run flat out if chased by Godzilla. Why do women over 40 choose plastic surgery? An answer: Because women between the ages of 40 and 50 no longer see representations of themselves in magazines, movies and television. Over enough time, one may get the impression that to remain culturally visible, one should strive to look like a twentysomething. Or, at the very least, a rather plush 35-year-old. Another answer: Because they can. Is there anything great about being in your 40s? Why, darling, of course! As our Great Aunt Ida used to say: Consider the alternative.

Editor’s notes: 1) We know the actual plural of uterus is uteri, not uteruses. But, really—who’s counting uteri right now anyway? 2) I hope you don’t think I’m kidding, re: women over 40 on/in TV, but just in case here’s an industry-respected study for women in/on TV in 2014. 3) Oh, and there’s this crazy thing too.


5-Minute Dance Party | All About That Bass





 

*HEY PILGRIM! NSFW for a couple of casual curse words.

I see all the magazines
working that Photoshop
We know that s*** ain’t real.
C’mon and make it stop.

If you got beauty-beauty,
c’mon and raise ’em up.
Every inch of you is perfect
from the bottom to the top.

 

Singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor could not have picked a more timely moment to co-write (with Kevin Kadish) the body-positive hit single “All About That Bass,” especially in the face of a decade that seems to be shaping up as a reversal of the 21st century 00’s, in which plastic surgery ran amok in popular media and exaggerated thinness was hailed as the norm.

It’s no surprise, then, that increasing pressure to represent the look and lifestyle of real women and girls is quickly gaining traction as we move into the mid-point of the decade.

Fantastic advocacy groups like Brave Girls Alliance have already begun to speed up the process of redefining how women and girls are seen in the public eye, a public eye that sorely needs more women and girls creating visible work that shows the female gender in an honest light.

 

…Trainor championed for this song, which no one, not even the pop star herself, saw as being a contender for one of the hit pop singles of Summer 2014.

 

Brave Girls Alliance’s recent public offering, Heroes Pledge for Advertisers, has already been signed by mega-online retailer ModCloth with more retailers to come.

The percentages of women working in media are abysmal, especially considering the ratio of women to men in the United States. The current American population is 50.8% female, but women/girls garner only a projected 17% presence in the television and film marketplace.

According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media, the ratio of women to male characters/performers in radio, film, and television are statistically similar to—you’re not going to believe this—the ratios offered after World War II.

(And we won’t even talk about female stereotypes in media right now. Oy. But you can read about it in this fascinating FAQ: Gender in Media: The Myths & Facts.)

Back to Meghan Trainor—it warms the thorny little cockles of my heart to hear that a promising young singer-songwriter like Trainor championed for this song, which no one, not even the pop star herself, saw as being a contender for one of the hit pop singles of Summer 2014.

In a July interview with Billboard, Trainor seemed awed by the power of her hit song, saying, “So, if other girls can relate to the song, it makes me feel even better. It’s unreal that I’m kind of helping people.”

 

Purchase Trainor’s latest album on Amazon— Title or iTunes— Title Deluxe.

Are you writing?





Twirlers standing at attention for photograph. 1960s.



As you may have noticed, I haven’t been posting to Bluebird Blvd. for nearly three whole months.

I’ve been having a problem. A writing problem.

Is it writer’s block?

No, it’s something worse than writer’s block if you can believe it.

 

Writer’s block is bad enough.  And it’s real—don’t give me any of your power right through nonsense, okay? I’ve done that.  You can do it, but it’s like dancing on a broken leg. Super painful.

If you write, you know what I’m talking about. You’re sitting in the chair with the paper and the pen and the clock going, and you wait.

For what?!? You ask.

Words. You’re waiting for words.

Well, there are words everywhere, you say. Just pick up a dictionary. Hell, turn on the television. People are speaking them things all the time.

Um. They’re not the right words. That’s the whole problem.


So there you sit. Or you used to—staring at the wall. Waiting for something to materialize. The more you sit and wait, the more you believe you’re going to be sitting and waiting forever. But of course you don’t.

The words come—terribly at first, then a little better, and if you’re lucky, pretty well, and then either you go for broke and it’s hours later and you look up and go whaaaa? —because you’ve totally lost track of time and it’s late and the dogs need their supper….

Again, this is how it used to be.


Now every writer I know has a completely different writing problem.

There are too many words now, dammit. Too many freaking words.

Every day, I wake up to a phone that insists on throwing words at me.   I sit up in bed and grab the glass of water I set on the nightstand every evening. I take my pills and pull a book onto my lap—I like to wake up slowly, you see. But there are all of these things that are asking for my attention.

There’s a television set in the other room blathering about the best way to sew a Hong Kong seam. (Yes, The Husband watches his sewing shows before school.)

And my phone beeyooops! because someone on Facebook “likes” the photograph I re-posted yesterday from Humans of New York. (Dude, I love HONY. Best thing on the internet.)

And then Twitbot 3 ker-bleeps! because the alert I set for our current Texas Guvi, Captain Hairdo is blowing up this morning because—oh, is it Christmas already?—he’s being indicted. (For something. Finally.)

Yeah, I know. You’re saying, “This is a problem? I should have such a problem.”

Oh, but it is. It is!


Do you realize that I haven’t even gotten out of bed and my ears are being crammed with words that aren’t my words? They’re not even the words in the lovely book that’s fallen open on my lap like a goofy disembodied grin. These words are semi-random things, mostly banalities, that I’ve personally selected to disrupt me throughout the day.

Yes, yes. You’re getting it now. I did this to myself. It’s a nightmare; it’s a terror. I gave my brain a raging case of writer’s block, but what’s going on isn’t actually anything like writer’s block at all.

Writer’s block is turning on the faucet and only getting a dribble of rusty words. Around here it’s a damn DELUGE. I’m being pelted with a stream of blah-blah-blah seam ripper, blah-blah-blah HONY should win a Nobel this yearii…blah-blah-blah GUESS WHAT CAPTAIN HAIRDO DID NOW!


It’s no wonder I started to have serious problems with writing. There are simply TOO MANY WORDS. And they’re also ALL THE WRONG WORDS.

Look at me. I’m so upset that I’m writing in italics for emphasis. And that’s really, really bad, y’all. It’s the cheapest writing trick in the book. The only thing worse than using italics to hit your paces is… JUST LOOK AT ME. —oh, there it is. The caps-lock gambit.

I’m a mess. But it’s not just me. This word problem is a worldwide emergency.

Some writers have gone as far as locking up their devices when they’re working on deadline. (Hint: If you’re a journalist, this idea may not work.) I know of two novelists (not personally) who disabled the internet capability on their computers.

One of them literally grabbed some glue and gummed up the works in his laptop. The other novelist pulled out the little bit that connects to the internet and put it in a vault and spun the lock.


And these are good writers. The Contemporary Lit kind with the sad smile and the little bald spot and the Ivy League education and the author’s photo on some street on the Eastern Seaboard and everything. If those guys can’t pull out of a writing nosedive caused by looking at crap on their phones, what the hell am I supposed to do?!? You know me—I am as ridiculous as I tell you I am. I may be even more ridiculous than I report to you—I don’t know.

Well, this is what I’ve come up with so far: WALLPAPER. Just hear me out. You know how the first thing you see when you turn on your computer in the morning after it warms up is your desktop wallpaper, right?

Why not write something to REMIND you to write and make it into DESKTOP WALLPAPER, so that EVERY TIME you look up from some bullhound conversation you’re having on Twitter instead of writing your novel, you’ll get the point.

It’s better than guilt or an alarm or an expensive POMODORO system or GET ‘R’ DONE or any of those marketing things that help you yell at yourself to get work finished.

 

Or so I thought at the beginning of this summer.

 

In June, I designed this desktop picture and put it on my Mac so that it was the first and last thing I ever see on my computer.

 

Twirlers - Are you writing?
 

Cute, right? Okay, well that was a novelty for about a week. Then I pretty much forgot it was there and still was struggling with writing.


As you can see with this next one, I ratcheted up the noise. I didn’t want to miss this when I looked up from my browser with three tabs open that have nothing to do with me writing at the moment: The Mary Sue, Pinterest, Facewitter. Something like that.

 

Marching band sitting on steps.  Writing cheer.  Turn off your phone.  Siss-boom-bah.
 

And so that wore off in a few weeks as well. Around the beginning of July, I started to panic. That’s when I created this beaut right here:

 

Drum majorette holding baton aloft.  Write like a frightened graduate student.
 

But you know what? I ran the first part of my writing career based on fear. I’m pretty immune to fear at this point.

Plus, I am a born existentialist.  You figured that out, right?

Also, I’ve been to graduate school.  I was already a professional writer when I entered graduate school at 25.  Graduate school is way more scary than the actual writing world.  I kid you not.

Finish an MFA and you’ll be hard-pressed to be afraid of anything ever again. Deadlines.  Coral snakes.  Mortgages.  I’m serious.


None of this mattered by early August. I guess I made this?  It’s all kind of a blank here on out:

 
High school drum major marching in the dark shouting about social media.
 

And, um, this.

 

Drum Major marching the other way shouting about Bebop and burning cellphones

Here’s the last thing I haven’t really tried lately—plumping up my ego.

You know that writers have notoriously fragile egos, right? Well, mine is not so fragile.   But as a writer, I am kind of like Peter Pan in that I like it when you look up to the sky and think of me from time to time.

Who doesn’t?

Geez, I’ve missed you all.

 
Majorette doing backbend while extolling the virtues of writing. - You need a world built? Call a writer.
 

Oh, just one more thing.  I know the social media stuff is just witchy for writers. Actually, it’s so bad that it’s made me nostalgic for  old-fashioned writer’s block.

Sweet cracker sandwich, has it come to this?



ENDNOTES

i  That spelling is intentional. In Texas, you have the Guv and you have the Lite Guv. The Lite Guv is the guy with the power. The Guv. is usually a figurehead. Usually. (Anne Richards was no figurehead, darlin’!)

ii (Brandon Stanton is hitting all the right marks with his ongoing Goodwill tour. If you’re not following him right now, you should go and do that immediately. Then come right back, okay?

 

When it rains in South Texas







The Husband: Is that real rain?

Bluebird: Yessir, it sure is. From last night’s thunderstorm.

The Husband: So you didn’t use any instant rain?

Bluebird: (Tilts eyebrow.) Instant rain?

The Husband: You know… (Waves hands carelessly.) …the kind you get from a mix. Like little Betty Crocker’s Instant Thunderstorm Mix.

Bluebird: (Stares at The Husband for a long moment.) You’re really, really weird.

The Husband: Yes’m, I sure am.


[Super-Secret Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party] Am I Awake?







 

Is it that time again?

Wasn’t it already then?

So does it have to be

The time it was again?


I will only admit to this once: I’ve actually done a “This is Sparta” to The Husband…more than twice.

And we’re notorious for doing the “Two-Man Saw.”

Any funky sleeping going on at your house? Do you recognize any of these sleep moves? C’mon—I know you’ve at least seen, or participated in, at least one “Circle of Life.”

 

[5-Minute Dance Party] Suor Cristina Scuccia







Everyone on this earth has a secret dream, right?


Well Sister Cristina Succcia’s secret dream was to sing on Italy’s “The Voice.” It turns out her dream and her talents are well-matched.

Do you have a secret dream? Don’t worry—I won’t ask you what your secret dream happens to be. But I would like to know what you think of secret dreams in general.

For instance, when is okay for a person to allow a dream remain a dream? When do you think a person should pursue a secret dream? When is a secret dream truly unfeasible? Are there cultural norms for how we view personal dreams? Gender norms? And just what is a secret dream anyway?

No, really, I’m asking!




(Click CC for captions in various languages to hear the judges talk about this nun’s amazing talent.)

Names: Some secret, some not




The foster dog looks at The Husband



1.

I have been caring for a foster dog for five weeks and I have not given him any name, even a temporary one on which we all can hang our future hopes for him. Instead, I have called him “Bub” and “Junior” and “the baby” and “darling” and “you.” When I croon to him, the foster dog has heard himself named “sweetie” and “good boy” and “good dog” in the dulcet sing-song I use with babies and young dogs. And when the foster dog requires correction, my stentorian tones linger on “mister” and “sir” and “buddy” — as in “Buddy, you had better leave that power strip alone or we’ll all get a shock today.” and “Sir! Compose yourself.”

In these five weeks, I have called the foster dog so many random things that he does not know when he is being called except that I routinely clap my hand twice across my breastbone and whistle to bring him in from the darkness at the edges of the yard. When he races on three legs from out of the shadows of the loquat trees, I drop to my heels to catch him in my arms and call him “good dog” and “sweet baby” and “love.” While he sighs and presses into my shoulder, I massage his cheeks with the palms of my hands in the circle of brightness from the security light by the back door. And there it is: I regret another day in which I have not named him.


2.

I myself have two first names—a public name and a private name. Nearly four decades ago, my mother asked her mother to drive her to municipal libraries in three cities to look for names for the spark she carried between her small hips. It was my grandmother who told me this story first—with an equal amount of amusement and wonder and respect—because she, herself, would not have gone to any wild trouble over a name—names came to you, she believed, not you to them. You did not, as my grandmother put it “hunt them down” or “track a name to the near-ends of the earth.” But this is exactly what my mother did when she was six months pregnant and beginning to show a little, even when she wore her car coat.

Put another way, my mother didn’t require someone else to climb over the fence of the witch’s garden patch next door to settle her craving for green spring peas like the pregnant woman in the fairy tale. She herself launched over that garden wall with a leg up from my grandmother. Only my mother knew what she was craving, and only she could find it. And woe be to any witch who threatened my mother —she was the hero on a quest. Everybody knows you don’t mess with the hero of the story. You drive them to the library to hunt for names, or you get out of the way.

My mother, the hunter. My mother, the hero. My mother, the sorceress. My mother, who gave me two first names, one secret, one not.

To know my true name is to conjure me on the spot.


3.

In fairy tales, one’s name is the source of great power. Think of the hapless promise the terrified miller’s daughter makes to an opportunistic imp when she must spin straw into gold, or die. The imp can fix these matters if the miller’s daughter will promise him her future first child. She agrees, tout suite. True to all fairy tales, there is a twist to the promise: Should she can somehow discover the imp’s true name before he claims the child, he must forfeit her firstborn. Straw becomes gold; she lives to marry the king. When the imp arrives a year later to take her newborn child, it is the wind that finally saves the queen by carrying the imp’s name across the mountains. At the last minute, when the imp is about to lay hands on the infant, the former miller’s daughter calls him by name—Rumpelstiltskin!

Shocked, he blips out of existence. End of story.

Or is it? What has history taught us about names and naming that’s any different than the terror experienced by Rumpelstiltskin when the miller’s daughter speaks his true name? It’s the same old story, rewritten so the broken promise of the queen in the third act will appear gilded and heroic. But still: A broken promise is a broken promise. But still: The queen named names. But still: There is no Rumplestiltskin.


4.

We don’t speak our names to strangers: We give them our names. Our names are also our surest currency: We can put our name behind a venture; we can let someone work under our name to get ahead in business. That’s assuming we have a good name to start with—meaning an acquired set of respected traits that people imagine when one’s name is conjured in conversation. For bad or for good, someone can act in your name because that’s the name of the game, but if your name is mud you may have to clear your name. Even so, your name may remain tarnished beyond recognition.

Regardless, I answer to the name Courtenay. But I am also called ________, which means almost no one is on a first-name basis with me.

Besides, I will probably not catch your name for the first six times I hear it. It’s not that I’m rude—I’m just terrible at names.


5.

Names are the architecture on which we build the self. Names are the conqueror’s last word on an occupied space. Names lift and fall and bury and rise at an equal rate at which we speak those names aloud. Some names are magic. Some names are mysteries. Some names are crystalline structures that blow down at the first breath. Some things are felt to be so terrible are named ‘unnameable.’ Some names can never tbe spoken aloud or one will be seen as using that name in vain—or worse.

A name is a tailor-made burden. A name is the bright electric torch that illumines our way through everyday darkness. A name is a stamp and a trademark and a wish. A name is what we use to recall ourselves to ourselves long after the ones who named us have left the room. Sometimes we are named after someone and must live up to that name. Sometimes our names are our own to make or to destroy.

When we marry and take someone else’s name, we can even disappear.

There is no greater sleight-of-hand than a name.


6.

I am standing in darkness; the foster dog hops along the fence line, bending the branches of the loquat trees as he goes. His paralyzed foot drags across the dead leaves, which then crackle and pop. In a few weeks, the cicadas will wake from their seven-year sleep and rise from the ground to sing in chorus during the watches of the night. It’s time to go inside. I thump my breastbone and whistle out to the dog. I can hear him turning around beneath the trees, considering my call. I thump my breastbone again and whistle twice: I am the only one outside tonight.

He turns to run to me; my hands are open. He runs; I will catch him in my arms.

Every dog deserves a name.




HEY! Want to help me name a foster dog? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

[5-Minute Dance Party] That’s Not My Name










They call me ‘hell’
They call me ‘Stacey’
They call me ‘her’
They call me ‘Jane’
That’s not my name



Has anyone ever gotten your name wrong? I mean, really, really wrong?


Listen, I once allowed a woman to call me “Whitney” for eight years. It wasn’t a big deal, really—I didn’t see her often, and she was awfully nice, and Whitney was close enough that the only bother was remembering to answer her when she called me by name. I mean, her version of my name.

The longer this farce went on, the more weird it would seem if I turned around to this woman and suddenly said, “You know what? My name is actually Courtenay.”

I needn’t have worried. Eight years later, I was sitting in an airport bus headed for an Irish stepdance and music thing with ten other people from my dance school. While we were bouncing around the back on bad shocks, that lovely woman leaned forward and put her hand on my shoulder—”Whitney, here—”

“WHITney?” Someone roared from the very back. “Her name is COURTenay.”

“Oh. OH! Is this true, Whitney?” She emitted a small embarrassed laugh. “—Courtenay.”

The lights from the street lamps crisscrossed my knees as we drove into the city. “You were just so nice.” I worked my hands in the air, trying to conjure an exact explanation. “I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

I was a month shy of 18 when I had that conversation in an airport van with a woman who accidentally called me Whitney for eight years. My life lay before me in so many strange trips to so many cities with so many people who didn’t know my name, that this moment seemed like a blip. And who can call someone to fault for misnaming you when it was your own correction to make?


And besides, Courtenay is not actually my “real” name.

Courtenay is my nickname. Almost nobody knows this. In essence, my mother gave me two first names to do with as I wished. And my wish has been to keep one of my names somewhat secret.

Why am I bringing this up now? Today’s upcoming story is all about names!


STAY TUNED FOR TODAY’S ESSAY! In the meantime, please enjoy this rather apt pop song by The Ting Tings.

That’s Not My Name hit the top of the British charts in 2008. Note the intentional visual references in this music video to Toni Basil’s early ’80s hit music video for “Mickey.” Fun, right?


The Marriage Interpreter [No. 50]

Illustrated  Husband making bunny ears.

THE HUSBAND strolls into Bluebird’s office. BLUEBIRD is on the phone with Phillip.

The Husband: What are the din deets?

Bluebird: (On the phone with Phillip Lozano.) Wait, this is for you Phillip. (Turns on speaker phone.)

The Husband: What are the din deets? That means ‘dinner details’— it’s for people who are too busy to say entire words.

Phillip: (Laughs.) How are you?

The Husband: (Grabbing the speaker phone and walking away.) What have I been doing? I’ve been busy, busy. I’m busy growing out a mustache and that takes time….


***


THE HUSBAND looks glum.

Bluebird: What’s wrong?

The Husband: I was just listening to a Gwen Stefani song and now I’m confused.

Bluebird: Okay?

The Husband: (Frustrated.) What’s a hollowbacked girl?




Wait! Don’t tell me! Your talking about Eggy Strop. (Flustered.) I mean, Streggy Loop! I mean, Piggy Ope! I mean—




THE HUSBAND is driving south. BLUEBIRD is in the passenger seat talking a mile-a-minute.

Bluebird: …and that reminds me of—

The Husband: Wait! Don’t tell me! Your talking about Eggy Strop. (Flustered.) I mean, Streggy Loop! I mean, Piggy Ope! I mean—

Bluebird: (Wide-eyed.) —Iggy Pop?

The Husband: (A beat. Then, casual-like.) Well, naturally it’s…that guy.


***


THE HUSBAND IS SENDING TEXT MESSAGES to Bluebird from the ranch.

(Ping! A message arrives.)

The Husband: I’m changing my pen name to Verdana Fontt.

Bluebird: (Texting back.) Okay? What’s your middle name, then?

The Husband: Futura. (Ping!) But she’s thinking about changing it to her mother’s maiden name—

Bluebird: (Realizes what’s coming.) (Small voice.) Oh no.

The Husband: (Ping!) —San Serif.

(Bluebird covers her eyes with her hands.)

The Husband: (Ping!) Are you still there? (Ping!) Anyway, Verdana Fontt is also a superhero. (Ping!) She can give you an instant migraine at will if you stare at her too long.


***


THE HUSBAND is calling Bluebird from the ranch on Easter Sunday.

Bluebird: (Answering phone.) Hello?

The Husband: Happy Halloween!

Bluebird: ??? (Pause.) Are you having a stroke?

The Husband: (Ignoring question.) Did you know you can make an omelette with Cadbury Cream Eggs? (Talking faster.) I’ve had six cups of coffee! (And faster.) I think I may go for a run this morning!

Bluebird: I…(Stumped.) Hunh.

The Husband: (Talking at the speed of sound.) Thenewespressomaker fromthethriftstore worksgreat! (Even faster.) I’mgoingtohavemorecoffeenow! Iwillcallyouafter Ifinishstudying! HappyEaster!

(The Husband hangs up.)

The Bluebird looks at her phone in wonder.

Bluebird: (Out loud.) What just happened?

Photo-illustration of The Husband making Bunny Ears.




(Happy Easter, everyone!)

[5-Minute Dance Party] Sunny and Steve — Enjoy the Sweets









Happy Easter!


When was the last time you fought over Easter candy at your house?

The last time we fought over Easter candy was, let me see here—about three weeks ago?


On a related note, I’ve got some happy news!

We’re posting our 50th Marriage Interpreter today!

Can you believe it?

What’s been your favorite Marriage Interpreter moment so far?

(I think mine will always be the Cookie Movie incident.)







Our regular and original feature, Our Sunday Best, will return to its weekly posted time next Sunday.

And then you wake (Reprise)





Dream pop Courtenay Bluebird Faux Noir Cover



Well, what can I say? It’s been one helluva month, that’s what I can say.


In any which case, I missed you. Can you tell that I was trying to make a photograph that looked like one of those late 1960s pallet-knife paintings? Science fiction paperbacks used that style a lot. So did pulp novels. You know what those look like, right?

Tell you what—What I really want to hear is a story about the cover of your favorite paperback book.


[5-Minute Dance Party] Libertango






I am always amazed

at what the tango can do

when matched with the right dancer.


Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” may be the most recognizable work of nuevo tango music in the world as well as the most accessible. For how can you not feel excitement when you hear Piazzolla’s sharp, moody masterpiece?

Here’s the problem with masterpieces: People adore masterpieces so much that they feel the need to add their own messy thumbprint to them. Like most composers, Piazzolla played the music he created, and a pretty thorough display of those legitimate recordings can be found on the All Music database. I like Piazzolla’s versions of his own pieces best—they have bite and intellectual fervor without removing a single slice of their original use as music for dance.

Some versions don’t fare so well. Piazzolla’s “Libertango” bloats in the orchestral version with sobbing strings used for “The Tango Lesson,” and nearly lays down and quits in the recording of Piazzolla’s ‘Libertango” duet with Yo-Yo Ma. (What genius would drown out Piazzolla’s accordion playing—in a tango, no less—to make room for cellist Yo-Yo Ma? I did mention this was tango music, didn’t I?)

And those are the legit versions. On Amazon, I found a pirated version of “Libertango” that appeared to be an arrangement of “Libertango” cassette recording and bucket drum. (It could’ve been worse, right? It could have been an arrangement of kitchen sink and kazoo.)

This version was arranged and produced by Michal Dvořák (with Jiří Janouch) for Vivaldianno MMXII featuring cellist Jaroslav Svěcený, accompanied by Michal Dvořák on keyboards and a host of celebrated professional musicians.

The dancer in this music video—who is amazing, yes?—is Johanka Hájková

If you’re still yearning for the original Piazzolla-played “Libertango,” may I suggest The Soul of Tango, which is a legitimate, beautifully produced collection of premier Piazzolla classics played by the master himself. How novel! How gorgeous! How true!


Our Sunday Best | The weight of light





Matthew Brady, first known war photographer, looking stern in self-portrait contact sheet.

Whatever the photographers brought into a place was carried on their backs, and sometimes in their minds. There were the cameras and the film and the light meters and the lens brushes. There were the tripods and the black bags for the exposed film. Their bodies were crisscrossed in straps that held the cameras easily at hand when they traveled on foot, and the straps dug into their flesh, mapping and marking them, so that when they removed their clothes at night, they would look down in wonder at this accidental cartography. Another day, another arrangement of straps, and bruises like the heels of mountains would begin to rise on the photographers’ bodies wherever their cameras swayed and hit. Sometimes the photographers shot pictures.

The photographers found themselves welcomed wherever they arrived, except for those places where they weren’t welcome at all. In those unwelcome places, they hid their cameras and changed their names and took pictures from behind the broken bones of buildings where the bombs had stripped away architectural flesh. In the places where they were welcomed, the local people examined them and asked them questions if they shared a language or two, and if no language bridged the barrier of photographer to man, they relied on other ways of speaking to one another: pantomime being a common favorite, but even that was known to fail. Sometimes the man in charge just looked the photographer in the eye to see if he was a good man or if he could be made use of in some way. It was up to the photographer to understand how this might go.


Some of the photographers were honest in their intentions, as much as a photographer can be honest about what they haven’t seen yet. Really, it is never in the best interest of any subject in the field to have their picture taken because the subject cannot control the variables—the light in the sky and the temperament of the photographer could make some unhappy results. A strong photograph or four or six can topple an empire—everyone came to understand that pretty quickly. And some of the photographers were liars—their job, as they saw it, was to expose historical events, but what those photographers wanted was to be at the center of history, so the pictures they took skewed the story and shifted the outcome of what would have been to what these photographers decided it must be.

But worse still were the earnest photographers in the field that functioned like sensitive eyes. These photographers had the unhappiest luck of all—they often found themselves in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to try to save a single person from tragedy or to take a horrifying picture that might rescue an entire country. Sometimes there was no time. Sometimes there was no real choice. No one could cost out the expense of a single person’s life and yet those photographers would spend the rest of their nights and their days trying to sort out the ghoulish mathematics of what they did and what they saw.


When all was done, the photographers packed up their rucksacks and tore down their tripods and left little behind to remind anyone of who they actually were. And they trekked back through the dark and the light places of this earth to wherever it was that would welcome them home, but they never came home as heroes. The city men and city women called the photographers witnesses and observers to their faces, but these same citizens felt uneasy around the photographers and their cameras. For what do you call an instrument that can topple a king and a mountain and a regime with the simple release of a trigger? And what do you call the person who carries this deadly instrument?

And the photographers were afraid of the city men and the city women. The photographer’s faces said, You asked us to bear witness for you and we have done it. Now you cannot meet our eyes? It was too much to take. The photographers began to pack. They picked up their bags and their cameras with the straps that crisscrossed their bruised torsos. They hoisted the tripods and checked their pockets for extra film and lens cloths. Some of the photographers wanted to weep—they were tired of loud noises and strange meetings with powerful men—but they did not weep. They would go. And some of the citizens felt guilty but said nothing as the photographers walked out of sight of the city.


Soon the distant photographs would come, and with them the stories, and the city men and the city women would sit in cafés at night and argue the merits of these stories and pictures, when all the while the photographers were out there with the journalists, names forgotten, good deeds unknown. At night in these faraway places, the photographers went into tents and into rented rooms, removed their shirts or blouses and lay down on beds and bedrolls to consider solitary thoughts. Sometimes their tired fingers traced lazy streets into the places where the straps of their cameras had worn thin crisscrossed scars over the years. Sometimes, when the photographers slept, they did not dream of home.




NOTES

 

The weight of light is part of Courtenay Bluebird’s ongoing history of modern photography, which has been featured on Bluebird Blvd.’s wholly original long-running celebrated weekly feature story series, OUR SUNDAY BEST. (This particular piece is based on a composite of various biographies I’ve read about famous and not-so-famous war correspondents who spent extensive time in the field/in country.)

To read more selections from this chapter, please go to Our Sunday Best {Truth Makes Contact}. Some of those stories are serious doozies, y’all. Wait until you hear about our man, W. Eugene Smith. He’s a wild one!

The image featured today is a contact sheet of some self-portraits shot by Matthew Brady, considered to be one of the first—if not the first—war photographer. What war did he photograph? The Civil War! Brady’s intrepidness changed our understanding of current events. We are deeply in his debt. Speaking of which, much thanks to the women and men who undertake the difficult task of photographing conflict all over the world. You are our eyes, our ears, and our hearts. Thank goodness for photojournalists.


[5-Minute Dance Party] Shozo Kato – Way of the Sword





However, I believe

your ultimate foe is your own self.


In Kendo, even the sword is poetry. Nobody knows this better than Shozo Kato, Kendo and Iendo Sensai, who gracefully explains in less than three minutes the difference between Western and Eastern ideas of beauty, mental stillness and movement, and so much more.

The

Way of the Sword was produced by The Avant/Garde Diaries for MB!, the Mercedes-Benz art and culture website.

Trust me on this: Watching this short film will be the best-spent three minutes of your day.


[Super-Secret Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party] My Country







i got me, you’ve got you

that’s one plus one plus two

i never told you what to do

and then you put me in some box


Three things, and then I’ll leave you in peace to enjoy Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs singing her true-blue hit, “My Country.”

1) I get the feeling that Garbus really remembers her childhood. If she doesn’t, she has a remarkable understanding of how children think. (So does filmmaker Mimi Cave, yeah?)

2) Since we’re getting kinda sorta personal, I like very much that Garbus appears to be at home with her own body. She’s self-possessed in a way that I wish more women could be. To me this is the ne plus ultra of cool.

3) A true happy accident: tUnE-yArDs has a new album coming out in May! I had no idea, did you? Initial reviews Garbus’ third album have been unreservedly enthusiastic—I went ahead and pre-ordered my copy from Amazon here: Nikki Nack. However, there are some pretty sweet Nikki Nack t-shirt and CD bundles you might want to check out on the official tUnE-yArDs site.




From the WE GO EAST AND WE GO WEST, AND NOTHING IS EVER THE SAME DEPT.: The Ouroboros Chain. (Don’t worry, we’ll take you with us!)

The Ouroboros Chain



Franz von Stuck  "The Sin"





Wise men say, and not without reason, that whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.

Niccolò Machiavelli




In the last month of winter, I bought a clock from a man in Latvia who deals exclusively in time. I say he deals in time and not clocks because he is a master watchmaker who forges the instruments that measure and mark the physical hour, much like a maker of the sea-bound sextant fashions objects that illuminate the actuality of place. Each instrument measures what was once beyond the grasp of exactness; each is an idea and an object; a tool and a weapon. Empires were forged in steel as a result of the sextant and the clock. As a person whose private life is unlatched from both time and place, it seems fitting that I remain in awe of those who can latch and fix east to west and noon to midnight.


In any which case, I bought an alarm clock from a clock-seller in Latvia, a country close to a principality by a sea I’ve never seen where a man I cannot know boarded a ship to avoid a war I barely understand. He came to this country and bore a son who bore a son who bore a daughter whose lips have never tasted the salt air of the sea. And this is why I purchased a timepiece from a Latvian watchmaker, which arrived in a heavy swaddling of bubble wrap and tape, safe inside of a box that was wrapped with crisp brown paper, on which my address and the watchmaker’s address were written in a fine English hand with a charming trace of the native speaker’s Cyrillic, using a fading blue ballpoint pen that was carefully set down next to a vast handful of small stamps the color of old Wedgwood plates.



Chrysopoea_of_Cleopatra_1

The world is circular north to south and east to west; time is supposedly linear, but it depends on what you’re measuring. The numbers remain the same in one cycle or another. It does not matter whether you count each hour up to 24, or count twelves and twelves, you return to where you began in a rather brief amount of time. Seasons also bend back to meet themselves at the beginning; all four manage to remain in their natural order despite our messing about. The body ages from the moment it is born to the moment it dies, but in its ever-dying midst the cycle begins again with another child slipping anew into the hands of this world, so the story is carried on. There are always endings and beginnings. There is, for the moment, always time.


In the last month of winter,
I bought a clock
from a man in Latvia
who deals in time.


Exactness eludes me, but my fading memory brings me to the Ouroboros, my beloved snake-that-eats-its-own tail, and Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, a creature that seems to have wound itself around every story on every page I’ve ever attempted to write. I am lucky the Ourboros stays around to connect me to myself. Otherwise, what would happen to me? My blood is divided neatly in half, east and west, each side facing a different troubled sea, each side known for its storytellers and its cliffs and lowlands and its natural aversion to the empires that rolled through and decided that this country was a good buffer, an excellent place to set down the guard gate and man it with the threat of beasts and war.



Chrysopoea_of_Cleopatra_1

I am east; I am west; I am nowhere; I am in-between. The gate drops and my story does not get told. The gate opens and I flee, leaving the accumulated wealth that is history behind me. Quetzalcoatl opens one sleepy leonine eye and marks my passage across two brisk edges of the world. He will meet me in the middle—he always does. He meets everyone, but not everyone meets him. In me, the trail of two stories fades off and tapers to a thin knife edge of memory that lingers before it cuts. My story lacks the exactness of time and place. No compass can find me; no clock can mark me; no sextant can pin me to any center of the always-shifting ever-turning fortune of the world.


What I have instead is two of each of these: the sea, the hunger, the war, and the escape. Only the Ouroboros knows my true names. Only Quetzalcoatl knows my story. I am the daughter that slipped through the dark reach of two empires; I am the riddle that eludes each still-grasping fist. I am born from the union of transgressor and trickster—I can hear the war drums beating in the distance, but they do not beat for me.





Chrysopoea_of_Cleopatra_1


I write to the Latvian time-maker: How do I care for this strange Soviet clock? You must wind it every day, he replies in his beautiful, cautious English. Do not overwind, he says. I cannot stress this enough. In five years time, take it to a master watchmaker to have him put oil to the stones. It’s a tiny touch. A master knows how much. There is a pause, and in that pause, lands the tick of this clock winding down to ring and roar. There is silence before action: Everyone can hear it. It’s the ending of a story rolling up to meet its beginning again. It is so quiet, I can hear my blood pulse a beat inside the deep curve of my ear.—The master watchmaker writes back in a hurry: Do not forget to wind the clock today. If you do not hear the tik-tack, you must shake the clock gently. Only this will make it go.





Chrysopoea_of_Cleopatra_1



*Artist Franz von Stuck painted The Sin—”Die Sine” in 1883.

 

*The illustration of the Ouroboros (alternately titled Uroboros) is by the 3rd or 4th century figure Cleopatra the Alchemist, whose real name has been lost to war and to time.


[5-Minute Dance Party] Jimmy’s Gang






OH!


It may be the grayest spring in recent memory— but it doesn’t mean we can’t dance, right? What I love about Parov Stelar‘s take on electro swing is his use of a live band. (Do you want to see Parov Stelar actually play this piece? Here’s Jimmy’s Gang (Unplugged)

Today’s upcoming story is one of love and obsession and mythology, so it felt appropriate to post a music video built on the lexicon of dream logic. Are you excited? We’re excited! Let’s go-go-go!


Sports Mania SPECIAL broadcast: Post-Saint Patrick’s Day wrap-up




Action shot of Irish Stepdancers in Ireland.



BRIGHT BLUE SET of SPORTS MANIA television sports show. Newscasters CHET and ERNESTO sit behind a bright blue DESK tapping their PAPERS and chatting as the Sports Mania’s THEME MUSIC plays.




(ESTABLISHING SHOT of Ernesto and Chet sitting behind a bright blue desk of bright blue Sports Mania set.)

Chet: (Deep in conversation with Ernesto)…so then I sez to the produce guy, I sez to him—

(CUT TO: MEDIUM SHOT of Ernesto and Chet.)

Ernesto: What’d you say to him? Jeeeezuuuu— (Startled. Realizes show just started.)-ssssszzz. (Clears throat.) Hello! And welcome to Sports Mania’s St. Patrick’s Day post-game wrap-up. It was an exciting St. Patrick’s Day this year wasn’t it, Chet?

Chet: (Professional smile) It sure was, Ernesto! We had wins and losses all over the map! From Omsk, Russia to Lowell, Massachusetts, Irish Stepdancers and local revellers went head to head!

Ernesto: (Professional laugh.) They sure did, Chet! But there was one memorable moment from yesterday, wasn’t there? Let’s go to our interview with Niamh Ni Dálaigh, Irish stepdancer. (Trim dark-haired young woman comes up on a built in screen behind the Sports Mania desk. Ernesto and Chet turn to face screen) Niamh, how are you this morning?

Niamh Ni Dálaigh: (Sounds tired and hoarse.) I’m fine, Ernesto—just fine, all things considered.




(CUT TO: CLOSE-UP. Ernesto and Chet share a SPLIT SCREEN with NIAMH NI DÁLAIGH.)

Ernesto: (Serious face.) Now, Niamh, I’d like to show the footage from your midnight St. Patrick’s Day performance at the Wise Rhino last night. Sports fans, let me set up this clip for you. The Wise Rhino is a pub infamous for packing in the St. Patrick’s Day crowds and skimping on stage space. Niamh, how big was the stage where you danced your final show last night?

Niamh: Two feet by two feet, plus two feet high. (Pause.) And I had to share it with the band and five other dancers.

Chet: Well, that is one small stage, Niamh!

(Niamh laughs uncomfortably.)




Ernesto: (Cutting off Chet.) If you’re tuning into the broadcast just now, Irish Dancer Niamh Ni Dálaigh from Reno, Nevada is talking about last night’s performance.

Chet: Let’s run that tape.

(Footage shows Niamh dancing in place on a two-foot high stage. Amateur drunks are standing in front of the stage bobbing and weaving and shouting. The traditional Irish band sits behind her—they’re nearly sitting in each other’s laps.)

Chet: Now, watch carefully as this guy over here— (Circles a drunk guy in front and to the left of Niamh with a green screen pen.) —starts to reach out to touch Niamh’s dancing costume right here. (Chet draws wobbly green screen arrow to Niamh’s dress.)

(Footage continues. Drunk guy starts to grab the skirt of Niamh’s $1500 performance dress. Niamh executes a quick turn, yanking the dress out of his hand, but the turn sends her sprawling into the band right behind her. )




Chet: (Excitedly.) Right there— (Draws six green screen arrows on the footage.)

Ernesto: (Slaps pen out of Chet’s hand.) Shhhh!

(Niamh, still on the split screen, covers her eyes with one hand.)

(Footage: A random drunk hand goes over the lens of the camera, but viewers can hear a SQUEAK and a YELP and the WHINE-POP-PING of several squashed INSTRUMENTS.)

Chet: (Excitedly.) Wow, I’ve never seen—

Ernesto: Shhhh!

(Niamh, still on the split screen, covers her entire face with her hands.)

(Footage: Normal filming resumes. A stunned Niamh sits sprawl-legged on stage surrounded by pieces of mandolin. Three of the four musicians are wearing the remains of a smashed hammer dulcimer. The fourth, a CONCERTINA PLAYER, has the bellows of his instrument wrapped around his neck, which he’s clawing to remove. The dulcimer player is weeping loudly. His tweed vest is in ribbons. )




Chet: Can I—(Waits to be shushed again, by Ernesto. Ernesto nods.)—talk now? (A beat.) So, Niamh, what was going through your mind when you executed that turn?

Niamh: Well, not much of anything, Chet. That was my 40th performance in three cities in five days—

Ernesto: (Looking at camera.) —the standard lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, right?

Niamh: Yes. Yes, it is. (A pause.) —but, like I said, like every year, I’d been doing these performances since the first of March, really, and by last night, I didn’t even know my own name. Ernesto, I was so tired that I put on one soft shoe and one hard shoe at the beginning of that performance, and I would have gone on stage like that had another dancer not stopped me.

Chet: Wow, that IS tired, Niamh!

Niamh: (Nods.) Yeah. So, if I was thinking anything, I don’t remember it. But I remember what happened after the drunk guy grabbed the skirt part of my solo costume. I fell into the band, Chet. And all you could hear around me in the blur of the moment was Pop! Twaaaa-aaaang! Blawwp!

Niamh: (Continues.) I was smacked in the shoulder with that concertina—that thing should always be holstered when not in use—and somehow I sat on Jim’s mandolin. (Covers eyes.) All those smashed instruments and crying men. I’m never going to get that sound out of my ears, Chet. Never.




Ernesto: We’ve only got another minute here, Niamh. What I want to know is, what happened to the original drunk guy who grabbed your dress?

Niamh: Well… (Hand covers her mouth.) He started laughing.

Chet: Wow! What did you do?

Niamh: At first I was too stunned from the accident, but then I saw him doubled over, and like I said, he was laughing at us.

Ernesto and Chet: (Spellbound.) Yes?

Niamh: So I, uh, got up from the stage floor. (A final pause.) And then I walked over and punched him in the nose.

Ernesto: Whoa! That’s a serious party foul! How many Feiseanna do you have to sit out for this penalty?

Niamh: (Genuine smile.) Six. My Claddagh ring broke off in the drunk guy’s left nostril, and he smashed his face with his own beer bottle trying to pull it out. So, I’m out for one dance competition per stitch.

Chet: (Mouth open.) How much of your Claddagh ring ended up in his nose?

Niamh: The heart, the hands, and the entire crown broke off inside his nose, Chet. It was bad. It was really bad.




Ernesto: If you had to do last night all over again, would you have done anything differently?

(Niamh hesitates, then—)

Niamh: Yeah. (A beat.) I would have worn a bigger ring.

(Sports Mania theme music plays.)

Chet: Folks at home, we’ll see you after the commercial break. We’d like to thank our guest, Niamh Ni Dálaigh, who had to wake up before noon on the day after St. Patrick’s Day to be with us!

( Niamh waves a bleary hand at the camera. The split screen dissolves.)




(MEDIUM SHOT of Ernesto and Chet behind Sports Mania desk.)

Ernesto: (Continuing on.) After the break, we’re going to talk to a an eight-hand Irish figures team who got into a fight with half of the metropolitan symphony in Poughkeepsee, New York! This is Ernesto—

Chet: —and Chet. Live, with our day after St. Patrick’s Day wrap up on—

Ernesto and Chet: Sports Mania!

(Theme music swells.)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)




PRONUNCIATION GUIDE


Niamh Ni Dálaigh   NEEV   NEH DOHL-lee 

(Irish name. “Ni” replaces “O’” in feminine names.)

Feiseanna  Fesh-eAN-na  

(Irish Stepdancing competitions.)


[5-Minute Dance Party] Folk You









Flick and flick

and heel stamp!




Hey everybody! Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Did you think I could possibly forget about you on the one day of the year I refuse to wear the color green?

The truth is, I spend half the year thinking about what funny/strange/absurd short film I can show you on St. Pat’s!

This year, I decided to go with the dangerously funny Irish step-dancing duo Up & Over It one more time. Just like last year, Up & Over It decided to release a brand new video just before March 17th, but we decided to go with last year’s St. Pat’s Day release.

What’s lovely about this film is that it feels antithetical to all of the stereotypes of the Irish dancing experience, even for people like me who spent two decades inside the Irish stepdancing world. It’s sunny and melancholy and funny and spare. I do hope you enjoy it.


Here’s one of the inside jokes: Irish stepdancing is not folk dancing. (Hence, the “folk you.” Folk dancing choreographies and steps do not change whatsoever—what people danced in the 19th century is what they dance today. The goal in folk dance is to preserve dance forms exactly as they were.

But in Irish dancing, the steps are always being created or made more difficult, and the choreographies themselves belong to individual dancers or dance schools. Everything is new all of the time, even when certain rules about form are not changeable whatsoever, e.g. feet are still crossed, turnout has become even more strict, and you don’t ever land with bent knees.) The best comparison I can give you is solo ice skating competitors—they’re always trying to push past what’s already been done to something no one has ever seen before.

This short film goes out to all my homies who have been dancing for audiences all over every city in the world since 6 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day morning (and who will probably be dancing on some tiny stage somewhere until midnight tonight.) May all of your performance venues have large restrooms in which you can change your clothes, and may every floor on which you dance today be wooden and not cobblestones or concrete.


ALL THE ST. PATRICK’S DAY STORIES:


    I Was a Teenage Irish Stepdancer! Or, A Few Notes on Irish Stepdancing That I’ve Been Meaning to Write Down for Years Now
    [5-Minute Dance Party] It’s ON
    [5-Minute Dance Party] Tu vuò fà l’americano
    [5-Minute Dance Party] Danny Boy (Surprise Version!)


MORE IRISH DANCE STORIES


    Adulthood CONFIDENTIAL! You Will Win the Trophy; You Will Lose the Trophy. Keep Dancing.
    [5-Minute Dance Party] Learn to Fly (with the Rince Nia Academy)