Songs I Sing When I’m A-Lonesome (A List)

 
 
RRProvisoYard-JackDelano-LOC

 
 
 

Ten o’clock at night in my office.

I stare at a wall painted the color of gray French silk.

I think and breathe and think some more.

All of my stories have had hard births this week; all of my revisions fought me to the back teeth.  The edits bit into me like grit in my shoes on a long walking day.

And here I sit, again, way past the hours I normally keep, blunt-faced at my desk with three notebooks open.

I dance around my fatigue, breathe from deep in my gut, and think of you.
 
 
 

In the small black notebook, I have block-printed the word “EXODUS.”

In the hardback composition notebook, the phrase “Twyla Tharp covered all of her mirrors,” rolls across the page.

In the poetry flip-top, I see this in my private handwriting, the shorthand no person can read—  “A narrative cannot be found.”
 
 
 

I observe another late night blooming in my palm.

It is an orchid curved across four days of hard writing.

The petals are the color of notebooks and the leaves are the tint of the shadows below my eyes.

Lamplight echoes across the walls, and outside my window— is the stem of an indigo night.
 
 
 

Eleven p.m.  I am rewriting. 

I read from the page in front of me, make a mark in a notebook. 

And I read what I have written, again.  Again.  Again.
 
 
 

I slash a paragraph.  I torque a verb.

I revisit the opening section.  It is not good enough. 

I stare at the wall, the French gray wall that cools my skin.

I am dowsing for words underneath the white, white page.

So far, all I see is a vast sea of silky French gray.  It is not good enough.
 
 
 

Discipline serves the dancer, the artist, the writer the same savory dish— it is the gift of ritual so familiar it calls up the deep breath in the gut.

No matter how much you would rather be somewhere else right now, you are here.

You go through the ritual.

You are immersed, and your immersion is the gift that inspiration, fickle child, cannot give you.

The gift of discipline is muscle.
 
 
 

The white page ripples on my desk where the fan hits it.  I smooth it down with a finger.

I lift my pen.  And I begin.

Again.  Again.  Again.
 
 
 

These are the stories that writers do not tell.

Some weeks the words do not want to come to you.

You cup your hand and beckon; they shy away.  So, you write your way into their presence.

It may take hours.  It may hurt like hell.  It may test your ability to be patient with yourself.

Do not blame the page for being blank.  Call gently.  The words will come, somehow.
 
 
 

Midnight.  I have gone through four revisions in five hours.  Today is the fourth day of hard writing.

I glance at the notebook in my lap, at another rough draft of a poem— And, lo, I was unprepared for craving, for its absence.

I was base jumping, in the dark—

Plunged headfirst into the whistling night—
 
 
 

Again. Read it again.

And, lo—
 
Again!
 
 
 
 
 
 

PHOTO CREDIT: From the LOC Commons: “Work goes on 24 hours a day at C & NW RR’s Proviso yard, Chicago, Ill. (LOC) Delano, Jack,, photographer. 1942 Dec. One transparency : color. Originally shot for the Office of War Information.)

To read more about the LOC/OWI, please consider reading one of the stories about our mad, passionate love for the history of early modern photography, which you can find here: A Smörgåsbord of Posts
 
 
 

I originally wrote “Songs” as part of our regular series The Bluebird Pillow Book, an idea based on The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon. The Pillow Book, as I see it, has a very elastic form, but a singular intent— to help me be aware of, and intimate with— this wealth of genuine experiences before me.

“Songs I Sing When I’m A-Lonesome” originally ran on April 20, 2012. I’m giddy with anticipation to hear what you think of this short, elliptical piece of mine.
 
 
 

Why a repost? Go here for a partial explanation as to why we’re reposting this week.
 
 
 

A NOTE: I mentioned late last week that I was going on a trip, right? Well, I am in BIG BEND U.S. NATIONAL PARK. It has panoramic vistas and one verrrrry crowded WiFi spot. (See the Bluebird Blvd. FB Page for pictures and links.)

Y’all know that I said I would do my darndest to be online each evening for a bit during these three nights in Big Bend to chat here on Bluebird Blvd, but the fact is— it’s too darn cold and dark, and the next time I will have access, the conditions will be… cold and dark.

What that means is that I’m going to have to catch up with everyone on Saturday afternoon. (Sorry for that!) (Why not Friday? I think I’m going to be flat-out exhausted after a seven-hour trip home that day.)

Today, I have been under the weather, so I decided to use part of the day as an exercise to shoot the cabin where we are staying. The cabin is a work of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the height of the Great Depression. I was really excited about this aspect of our trip because I haven’t seen as many works of the CCC outside of the city where I live. I am thinking of you, and I am thinking of the way the natural world ends up surprising us all. I believe in the grace of unexpected things, and I think the unexpected is what stitches us together in the end. (Hence, my unabashed adoration of y’all, and to a much lesser extent, the CCC.)

 
 
 

THE BLUEBIRD BLVD. GENUINE PHOTOGRAPHY/STORY CONTEST CALL FOR ENTRIES: The GENUINE call for photos/self-portraits/100 word stories is open! See the link for deets and rules.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Roaring Back: Remembering Maurice Sendak

 
 
 

The Big Green Book

 
 
 

For M.L.
 
 
An unseasonable thunderstorm crisscrossed South Texas on Monday night. 

It smashed and kicked outside the windows of my office. 

While lightning x-rayed the trees, I tried to work my way through a set of revisions that curled on the page into a stubborn knot of gnarled roots and words.

After two hours of sweat-hard writing, I put my pen down.

I sat in my chair in the dark and listened to the storm growl and snap.

It rained on and off through the night. 

I woke yesterday to a thin thread of light and to the death of Maurice Sendak. 

He had experienced a stroke several days before, and his body yielded the way bodies do to great trauma.  Sendak was 83.

I was devastated.  Why?  Sendak had a wonderful adult life, mostly. His childhood was grim, but he made his peace with it. He had a strong partner for many years.  He left great art.
 
 
 
The Big Green Book
 
 
 
 

If you think that my devastation over Sendak’s death has something to do with my childhood, it does not.
 

You see, I never stopped reading children’s literature. 
 

Pictures books. Easy readers.
 

Whatever lit ghettoized[i] name you want to apply to it— any artist-writer who can transcend mere pictures and words? I’m there.
 

In short, I never stopped reading Sendak’s art.
 
 
 
The way I read children’s literature deepened, strengthened, as I aged. 

My mother and I continued to check out books from the children’s section until I was old enough to take the bus downtown alone to the library. 

On my own, I still checked out children’s lit— and I watched larger themes of love and loss and mystery emerge— rendered in crisp language with exquisite art. 

I was learning about illuminated manuscripts then, too, like The Book of Kells, so these books for children had special portents and signs.

As this was my mother’s area of special interest, she began to tell me stories, some apocryphal, about these mythical writers and artists who made an impact on generations of readers.
 
 
 
She has two stories about Maurice Sendak.

These tales remain wrapped in the cloth of her vernacular, a language as stylized as a Japanese furoshiki covered present. 

I hope to unfold them carefully for you.

Every artist I know gets The Fear[ii]

When I was in my 20s and things got bleak between writing jobs and projects, she’d tell me the apocryphal story about the time that heavyweight Maurice Sendak met Tomie dePaola in Italy, and one artist asked the other— Do you ever fear it will all go away someday?  The other answered.  Yes, absolutely.

Imagine it!  She would say again and again when I’d call tense with The Fear. 

Imagine these two prolific geniuses sitting down to lunch with an interpreter.  And this? Is the first question on the table? Do you ever fear it will go away someday?  Yes, absolutely.

The second story she tells comes up when I call her with a different fear— Do I tell the story?  What if people yell?
 
 
 
The Big Green Book  by Maurice Sendak and Mallory McInnis
 
 
 
 
She says— Remember In the Night Kitchen.

This phrase is code for Sendak’s seminal 1971 book— which folks have tried to ban off and on because it has a child with no clothes on this page here and that page there.  

When those folks can’t get the book banned, they deface it by covering up the little boy with a Wite-Out diaper, or some other nonsense.

It’s one of my mother’s favorite books, and my own as well— In the Night Kitchen captures that landscape of the fantastic and the banal that populates all children’s dreams.

The subtext of my mother’s code is— What if Sendak didn’t publish In the Night Kitchen?  What if he bowed to popular opinion?  What if his publishers had balked?

That book mirrored my nightly dreamscape as a child. I sleep-thrashed my way through vivid narratives. 

Picture books like The Perky Puppy were not going to help me understand the synaptic tango my brain improvised night after night.

I needed a darker and sweeter tale. A story much more like actual childhood. In the Night Kitchen explained dreams to me and so much more.

Plus, Sendak’s children aren’t like the children in other stories.
 
 
 
In Sendak’s stories, children were children.

His characters refused to do as they were told.

Lions threatened them.   His children roared back.

Why?

Childhood is a fantastic and terrible business, really.

Sendak said famously that he did not write children’s books.  He wrote, and then people told him that what he wrote was for children.[iii] And then he grimaced.

Beause Maurice Sendak, unlike the rest of us, never forgot the complexity that once knotted all of our tiny faces.

 
 
 
It rained all morning yesterday. I sat in my office and wondered at the cool weather, wondered at my own sadness at Sendak’s passing.  

Between watching interviews with Sendak all day, I asked myself the questions that float under the wet skin of all rainy days— how will I proceed?  What artists light the way ahead?

Today, it will rain again. I’m still asking hard questions.

Oh, Sendak. 

I owed you a greater debt than I realized.  You were fierce and true to what you had to say on the page.  Today, I place your name on the altar of my hopes and dreams.  

All these years, you gave me courage and asked for nothing in return. 

The lion roars.  I roar back.
 
 
 
 

The Big Green Book

 
 
 
 


[i] The ghettoization of genre literature— including children’s books, science fiction (Speculative Fiction), mysteries, et. al.— is an ongoing issue and a potent one.  Hence, the loaded term “literary ghetto”— which gets used— a lot— with a great deal of symbolic weight.

 

[ii] “The Fear” is an idea coined by Hunter S. Thompson.  It’s mentioned as a drug reference in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  My friends and I use this phrase casually to refer to artist’s/writer’s block.  It’s apt.

 

[iii] Stephen Colbert interviewed Maurice Sendak in 2011, which my friend J. and her friend A brought to my attention— Maurice Sendak on The Colbert Report Part 1, Maurice Sendak on the Colbert Report Part 2. The intrepid artist M.L. recommended the NPR compilation of Maurice Sendak interviews as well.

 

 
*Thanks to Mallory McInnis for the great Sendak reference images.

 

Instant Bluebird! Make the Song Go Bang! (A Quick Lester Bangs Primer)








Lester Bangs singing. He had quite a set of pipes.



Music reviewers were of several stripes during Lester Bang’s heyday. Some of them were just yes-men with press badges, others were imitators of Hunter S. Thompson and all those guys trying out gonzo journalism for size, and there was the full-immersion theory employed by people like music writer Nick Kent, which seemed to consist of developing the same drug addictions as famous rock stars and nodding off on the couch together*.

And then there’s Lester Bangs— he looked like a slob, he sounded like a college professor and he ate other rock critics whole to amuse himself.


Really, Bangs still stands out from his peers: His dedication to the writing craft and his ardent never-gonna-let-ya-go-baby love of music proved to be a potent mix for future generations of rock music listeners.

Without further hooha, here are a handful of rich sources to help you find your inner Lester Bangs:

A word of caution, though— at unpredictable moments you will find that his writing will be NSFW. (I mean really NSFW. It’s a brand new world of NSFW. You think I make up words? I’ve got nothing on this guy. Mine are totally SFW, though.)


Richard Hell, originally of the seminal NYC punk band, Television, wrote this moving essay, “The Right to Be Wrong,” for the Village Voice when “[amazon text=Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste&chan=default&asin=0375713670]” was released in 2003.

Here’s a delicious quote from Hell’s short essay:

    Nevertheless, of all the most highly regarded rock journalists (say Tosches, Robert Christgau, Marcus, and the execrable and excremental Richard Meltzer) Lester was the only one who valued self-doubt and who actually seemed to like the music more than he liked himself. Lester was a critic who reserved the right to be wrong, which seems to me admirable.


Cousin Creep maintains a full copy of a really rare audio interview with Lester Bangs being interviewed by Sue Matthews. A full transcript is also provided. You can find short interviews on YouTube, but most of them are rehashes of some drunken things he said about Roxy Music’s Brian Ferry. This interview is much more comprehensive. I am so glad it exists, and so grateful that blog Cousin Creep maintains this legacy.


While doing the research for my Lester Bangs Mash Note, I discovered a new resource on WordPress called Rock Critics. Rock Critics created this scrumptious list of Lester Bangs-related links. The sources are comprehensive and fair-minded. I considered other possible sources before choosing this one. What I discovered, though, is that many blogs copied a single Bangs’ essay in its entirety without any source attribution. Go to Rock Critics and be pleased to note that RC uses legit sources with real attributions and links.


To round off this Instant Bluebird, I found a gorgeous and heart-glowing audio recording on YouTube of Lester Bangs and his protégé, rock musician and writer Peter Laughner, goofing off and playing music in the offices of Creem. The link is to part 1 of 10.






*We really should write about rock writer Nick Kent sometime soon. He’s a little bit more complex than my pithy statement up-top implies. I think what I like about Kent as a rock writer is that he used to be intentionally gullible for a story. Blithe doesn’t really cover this sort of thing, and insane is overreaching. You see, Kent would wander into situations that he knew were seriously hazardous to his own health/sanity/bank book, and then write about them after. I don’t recommend this lunatic method he employed in his youth— I’m just amazed that he managed to pull out of a nosedive each and every time and make his deadlines with that dogged journalist’s commitment to good writing that has always been the gold standard for print publication work. Love it.

Bathing in the Flames of the Fire I Built

 
 
 
Proud as...
 
 
 

One of the singular pleasures of my life is laying up in bed with the lamp on, reading a book. 

I’ll read anywhere I’m put.  

But my first instinct when I have a book in my hand is to get horizontal— floor, bed, couch— any flat surface will do me.

I’ll even take a bench if that’s all there is, and I’ll tuck my elbow behind my ear to keep from getting one of those hard bench headaches.
 
 
 

Two or three days ago, I found myself horizontal and sideways on the bed and reading— with a stomachache.  I pulled up my knees and yanked up the sheets.  One hand absently rested above my abdomen. 

The book on the bed that day was Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners:  Occasional Prose.

I don’t know what you’ve read by O’Connor, but she’s an American writer from the South— one of the writers who got lumped in with the New Gothic Fiction crowd back in the 1940s.  

As a further insult, she got lambasted for about everything you can think of that doesn’t sound useful.

Critics took her down for being too Southern, too grotesque, too darkly comic, too religious (She was Catholic.), not religious enough, too accessible, and too inaccessible.

Oh— and mean.  The critics loved to call her mean.

Nobody was thrilled with the fact that she was a woman, writing, either, but in those days, being a woman was an ongoing insult no matter what you did.

Besides putting up with critics, O’Connor had lupus, early, hard and young. (She died at the age of 39.)

That gal really couldn’t win for losing.
 
 
 

Except—

She could write.  Better than me, anyway.  Better than most people, living or dead.

It’s the one thing O’Connor could do, and she did it well, and she was quite sick from her twenties onward and that’s all there is to it.

When she was called upon to speak about writing around where she lived (she couldn’t travel much when the lupus progressed), O’Connor wasn’t about to waste her time or yours making you feel good about your sloppily constructed story.

She honestly didn’t care what you thought.  She was going to tell you what she knew.  And that takes sure aim.

This book I was reading?  Basically, it’s a collection of speeches where Flannery O’Connor goes on a tour nailing every writer to the wall like she was collecting the pelts of any ink jockey who overused passive tense verbs. 

Good for her.  Time is short.  And art is long.
 
 
 

As I lay up there in the bed, I found myself laughing so hard my stomach hurt bad-awful.  But, y’all, I couldn’t help it.

All I could think as I alternated between laughing and gasping from the pain, is that O’Connor was no different than any of my mentors.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I have always had real teachers, the kind that won’t mess around, the kind that could, and did, say, “This is not good enough.  There’s more in you than what you’ve got right here.  And now I’m going to tell you why.”

The true mentors I have in my life, I think we picked each other, and they knew— and know— that when I’m in, I’m all in.  No going back.  And I know this about them, too.

O’Connor wanted writing more than she wanted anything else.  And she wanted it to be good writing.  She didn’t want to fool around with folks who were trying to make a quick buck off a bad story, or as she put it in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction”—
 
 

    They are interested in being a writer, not in writing.  They are interested in seeing their names at the top of something printed, it matters not what.  And they seem to feel that this can be accomplished by learning certain things about working habits and about markets and about what subjects are currently acceptable.

 
 

And that’s one of her nicer statements.
 
 
 

I was born with a furrow between my light brown brows.  It’s only gained depth and width over the years.  I didn’t have much of what I’d call a childhood— I had dreams and I had a family who helped me get to those dreams as quick as I could because I had a lot of work in front of me. A life like that will deepen any furrow.

The furrow used to bother me, but that set of vertical lines stands for something I knew from a young age. 

Real art?  It is play and a ton of work.  If you’re a messing ’round type, you get a messing ’round art. 

I want to think that you (that I, that O’Connor) bathed in fire of our own making to put this story on the page in front of you, of me, of us all.
 
 
 

The stomachache shuffled off by the evening, but what I read that afternoon stayed in my gut.

I’ve been writing and laughing for two days because Flannery O’Connor gave me a talking-to about what I love most, which is writing and making art. In that same essay, she rounds out her wallop by saying—
 
 

    Now in every writing class you find people who care nothing about writing, because they think are already writers by virtue of some experience they had.  It is fact that if, either by nature or training, these people can learn to write badly enough, they can make a great deal of money, and in a way it seems a shame to deny them this opportunity; but then, unless the college is a trade school, it still has its responsibility to truth, and I believe myself that these people should be stifled with all deliberate speed.

 
 

I told you the first excerpt was one of her nicer statements.  Now you believe me. 

That furrow between my light brown brows? That furrow means I’m paying attention. That furrow means I earned it the hard way. I got that furrow from laughing, too.

But, mostly, I earned that furrow by bathing in the flames of the fire I built. I’m building that fire right now.

And if I do it right, do it as a deliberate, meaningful act— it will crackle and pop for the both of us.

 
 
 

Mash Note Dept. | Joan Didion

 
 
 

 
 
 


Once, a long time ago, I moved to Los Angeles, a city so large it defies the description of city.

The traffic from my apartment sounded as thick as an ocean, day and night, and the ocean, the few times I got near it, sounded like traffic, volatile and crashing and endless.

And in this place a long time ago, I discovered a writer I had not read before— whose voice, brittle and hard, made me tremble at the knees.  I was brash then, and a little mean on the inside, and I was under the mistaken impression that I knew what I was doing.

I read Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem in a single afternoon while sprawled on an olive green vintage couch with a curved back and brocade upholstery.  I was cloaked in jeans and a black t-shirt and a scowl.  (That was my uniform when I lived in L.A.  I wore a pair of broken-down black cockroach-stomper boots too.  It was all of a piece, really.)
 
 
 

That warm musty gold light of a Los Angeles sunset flamed and flared over the dingbat apartments through my useless picture window.

The view was traffic and crumbly ‘60s apartments like my own.  I turned the last page of the paperback copy of Slouching.  I closed the back cover with care, and still lying on the couch, I set the book on the cheetah-print hand-painted coffee table to my left.  I stared at the popcorn ceiling for five minutes, ten, and then, I swung my legs over the side and sat up abruptly.

And as I sat up to watch the sun burn out like the last red ash of a big fire in the window behind me, I knew then for the first time, really, something somebody should have told me, anyone, a stranger on the street, even.  Someone needed to put a hand on my mean little shoulder and say:

You don’t know what you’re doing, and you never will.  That is why you are a writer.

Well, to be honest, I don’t know if I would have listened had someone gently or rudely passed along this important bit of information.

It’s possible someone said this to me and I brushed it off.

It’s also possible that, had someone said this to me, I would not have understood what she was trying to say.

Joan Didion had to say it to me.  Not personally.  In one afternoon, and one book of essays, I learned the hardest lesson I had learned to that date:

You’re never gonna know what you’re doing.  Nobody does.  Especially writers.
 
 
 

Let me unfold myself off of that old olive green couch for a minute, and look you square and make Didion plain.

Joan Didion is a writer that many people picked up in the last few years due to a memoir she wrote about dealing with the death of her husband.  Now, she has a second book out that covers the horror of losing her daughter Quintana Roo, within months after her husband died.

What I find though, is that most people aren’t rooting around to see what else she has written.  Had they read The Year of Magical Thinking closely, they would have noticed that Didion’s first reader, the one who read all of her drafts, was her husband.  A fellow writer.  Had they read a few other things, they might have discovered that she lost her editor Henry Robbins, 33 years ago.  He was her second reader.

Here’s something to know about writers–all writers have primary and secondary readers.  These people, whether they are writers, editors or mainly a keen friend with a good eye, are the ones that the writer is writing for and to and any other preposition you can think of. 

We don’t even fit in the picture.  We are what arrive after the thing is written.  We are not participants in this process.  We are observers of the artifact that is left after the writer and her readers have done the dance of draft and redraft, revision and notation.
 
 
 

Didion’s readers were gone.  She remained.

It’s in her soul to survive, and when you read her early essays and fiction, you get the sense that she was rooting around, even then, looking for the survivors, trying to understand what makes a person take this path instead of that one.  This choice instead of that one.  

She wasn’t mean then, nor is she mean now.   However, Didion had an uncanny knack for hearing sirens in the night, for being with the wrong people at the right time, for watching things fall apart.

And between the lines of the essays in Slouching Toward Bethlehem and the one before that, The White Album, you know she too is trying not to fall apart, trying to hold it together.  She picked up her pen in a quiet room.  And she took out her notes and her clippings.  And she thought of her first reader, her husband John Gregory Dunne, in the next room. 

And she thought of her editor Henry, all the way in Manhattan, as she sat in that room in a row of dying mansions in Los Angeles of the mid-’60s.
 
 
 

Her pen touched the paper.  Her mind stroked the match of an idea into a light.

I imagine this essay, On Self Respect, written for Vogue, was first scrawled in this way in the middle of the night:

    In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues…. Nonetheless, character—the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life—is the source from which self-respect springs.

Should you decide to read more Didion, I will tell you her words will trick you into thinking that what is happening in front of her was all under control. 

You may even mistake the reading as a pleasure because her hand is so steady with words and phrases, starkly poetic.  When you walk away though, you too may learn what I learned that long ago day on a couch in a dingbat apartment watching the sky flame and go out over Los Angeles:

We don’t know what we’re doing.  We’re trying to know what we do.  That’s why we’re human.

Today I still read Didion.  She’s another touchstone for me, a reminder of the way words can be tools or weapons.  I handle her work carefully; keep an eye on my own pulse.  Didion may be small in stature but she knows her weaponry and she knows how to use it.
 
 
 

Four years ago, I found a copy of a first edition of The White Album.

I tucked it into my bag the day that I took my old sole-broken cockroach stompers to a cobbler who specializes in hard luck cases like these old black boots of mine.  I sat in the waiting room of his small building, staring over the counter at the heavy machinery and the man weaving in-between it, a small man with a starched oxford shirt and an old heavy apron that brushed against his knees as he walked.

As I waited and watched, I read the first sentence of Didion’s White Album:
 

    We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

 

The cobbler called me to the counter.  He carefully looked over my boots, the broken seams of the fancystitching on the shaft , the trim pulling away from the dip at the tops, the bombed out interior where my feet had beaten down the insoles, and finally the soles themselves, splintered into so many pieces.  He sighed.

Mi’ja, these boots. You see this?  Had you brought me these boots before you tore the seam here, maybe then, I could have repaired them.  Like the ones you see up here on the shelf.  They look new, but they are not.  You did not care for these boots, and now…”

The cobbler shrugged expressively.

“…I am sorry.  You will have to find a new pair of boots.”

I thanked him in a small voice, and took my broken boots home.  I put the boots on a shelf and let them gather two year’s worth of dust.  I put The White Album on a shelf in another room, and that too, gathered dust.

Someday soon, I’m gonna get me another pair of boots.  A pair that I will shine and moisturize and love.  I’ve learned to protect my books from dust. 

And I learned how to wash away that mean little streak I’d been carrying around like a pebble in a boot for years. 

I may not know what I’m doing.  In fact, I’m glad I don’t.  What I do know, most days, is how to protect and nourish what I love.  It is good enough.  It is the toughest thing I own these days.
 
 
 

 
 
 

The Cultured Cowboy provided me with a well-written refresher on the names of the anatomy of a cowboy boot.

As you consider this essay, and Joan Didion,  please keep in mind that I only really discuss two of her early collections of essays.  She is an accomplished novelist as well,  and with her husband,  wrote several screenplays that became famous movies.

To know more about Didion, I find my way in her work by reading this interview from The Paris Review published in 1977.  Though this interview did not inform this essay,  I think it reflects Didion in a light that is not overly precious.  And I love that,  as I do not think Didion sees herself as overly precious.

 

Merry; Not So Bright

 

Lecon_de_Cake-Walk

The last one standing wins.


 
 
This list/ list-poem is an homage to one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets, Michael Ondaatje.

His poem is called “Elimination Dance,”** and is based on a game (that I think he made up) in which something is called out that could happen, and anyone who has experienced the scenario must sit down.

The last one standing wins.

Anyone who has recently plugged in a set of ancient Christmas lights only to experience an electric shock so bad, it resets your clock.

Anyone that is a family member of the shocked Christmas light-checker who spent the rest of the day reminding your stunned relative that it hasn’t been 1981 for at least ten years.

Anyone who drinks eggnog straight from the carton every year without fail, and who also unwittingly walks around for an afternoon with a creamy mustache that smells like nutmeg.

Anyone who has ever laughed inappropriately at a very sad rendition of a popular Christmas song by Ernest Tubb.

Anyone who has sung a terrible version of this song.

Anyone who, in a fit of pique, roughly Scotch-taped a holiday present into an ugly red and green hobo baggie from the last of the holiday wrapping paper and then immediately regretted it.

Anyone whose last name sounds like a play on a holiday word, such as Merry, Kringle, or Bright.

Anyone whose witty parents thought it would be hilarious to name you something festive to go with your Christmassy last name— (e.g.– Holiday Merry; Christian Kringle; Light Bright).

Anyone who once undercooked or overcooked the Christmas dinner because you were exhausted from dealing with the relative who plugged in the set of crummy Christmas lights, a relative that tried to eat the children’s homemade ornaments, twice the night before, and once, today.

Anyone who has cried over the tree the cat knocked over the night before your family is due to arrive.

Anyone who has yelled at a cat for playing with the Christmas ornaments, and then felt awful about it.

Anyone who isn’t sure whether marzipan is for eating or for caulking.

Anyone who has told an embarrassing holiday story at the dinner table, only to discover that the person being talked about has walked in the room.

Anyone who has walked in the room while a relative is relating your worst childhood blunder.

Anyone who has ever witnessed a Christmas fistfight.

Anyone who started the family Christmas fistfight, but was restrained because your hand-knitted Christmas sweater from Auntie Tony turned out to be perfect for yanking over your head before you managed to really get going.

Anyone who isn’t sure if you mislabeled all the presents, or merely thought you did because you were so tired.

Anyone with an unnatural fear of tinsel.

Anyone who has ever had a terrible Christmas, Chanukah, Solstice or winter holiday, specific or unlisted.

Anyone who has ever experienced incredible joy or extreme pain.
 
 
 
Although this poem has the feel of a list, I have tagged it primarily as poetry.

(Once again, it is an homage, so keep in mind that Michael Ondaatje originated the idea.)

My foundation is in poetry, which I will only be posting periodically, as it takes a long time to craft what I feel is a “real” poem. That said, I have posted one here.

Additional writing about poetic list-making for your reading pleasure: Bluebird Pillow Book List.

To see my last two lists, go here or here.

And one more thing… Happy Holidays. All of them. And I mean that, sincerely.