Snow storms and key chains

September 19, 2009

October 13, 2006.  So all my old friends in Michigan and Chicago are snowed in as I type.  Seems a little early for this, but let’s face it, the weather has been insane like everything else in the world in recent years…yet another price we humans are paying for our bullish refusal to take care of ourselves and each other and the environment and so on.  (I sound like such a hippie, but it’s still true, isn’t it?)

I remember when I was 8 and living in Kalamazoo.  It was the last week of January and naturally, snow in Michigan in January was not a surprise.  But this snowfall was a stunner.  The weather had actually been on the temperate side earlier in the day and it almost looked as if we could anticipate an early spring.  I wore my sneakers to school that day and a windbreaker because nothing more was really needed, or so we thought.  After lunch, though, the snow started slowly, then began falling more heavily….by the time school ended for the day, there had to have been several inches on the ground already with more coming.  I shivered in my blue windbreaker and red Keds as I waited for my dad (who taught music at our school) to put my little brother in the backseat of the Volkswagen, then I climbed in behind him.

To this day I still have only very patchy recollections of this event (apparently I had nightmares for weeks afterward) but I don’t think we got very far in the VW.  I think we still had about three miles to reach home when the car got stuck and we had to abandon it.  I remember being very, very cold.  My dad carried Jeff through the mounting snowdrifts and held me by the hand as I navigated my way through snow that came up almost to my waist (maybe it really wasn’t that high, but I was small and it felt that way at the time), in my thin windbreaker and soaking wet Keds.  I don’t know how long we were out there but eventually we sought shelter at a house that turned out to be just two blocks from ours.  An elderly man lived there seemingly alone and he gave us haven from the storm, literally (by now it was evening; I remember watching the snowflakes in the streetlights as if I were hypnotized).  He gave us dry clothes and I remember sitting on his sofa underneath a blanket, eating soup and watching television.  When my mother and older brother finally arrived later on via boots and sled, carrying our own winter coats and boots, I apparently balked at having to leave the warmth and safety of this kind man’s abode.  But I did, and finally we were home again.  It could have been so much worse…we were really lucky, actually.

The snow continued for another two and half days and we had no school for almost two weeks as a result.  (That part I loved, needless to say.)  It’s a miracle that none of us fell ill or suffered any other physical ailment (like, say, frostbite or hypothermia!) after this unexpected adventure, but apparently I did have nightmares for some time afterward…I don’t remember this, though.

I hope everyone in the path of the current blizzard is and will remain safe.


In the shadow of the pyramid

camels are

fire racing through the dunes.

Diamonds shatter like glass.

Servants feed

their masters manna from heaven

and honey from the catacombs.

Orion is yet a decade away

as your skin tastes of caramel

and eyes burning pure amber

we soak up sand in every crevice

and mystics whirl

entranced by thunder sounding

in our memories alone.

Pinwheels explode

in the moon’s eye and he shuts it in reverence

as I lick the sweat from your every pore

and the pyramid winks.

Last stop (gengaku)

September 7, 2009

Immobile in time I

watch you grow ever distant.

Memories recede in

another inclination.

My heart is shattered glass

resounding in my ribcage,

synched with your far engines.

You are just a shadow now,

slipping through my fingers

rather like misty mountains

on the train to Oban.

Beauty 3

September 7, 2009

Recently, my friend Alexis asked me to send him my impressions of Edie Sedgwick and it made me realize that I have never really considered this before. So I poured a glass of chardonnay and pondered it awhile…you know how some people walk into a room and seem to be leaving a trail of stars in their wake? As a gut reaction, that’s how I see Edie. In my mental Factory, she breezes in, all gamine, giggly and electric, and each time she moves, a little shower of mini-astral bodies issues from her and vanishes as if by magic before hitting the ground. Doesn’t she seem that way to you too?

So many of us love Edie; she is eternally glamorous and gorgeous, forever the Belle of the Ball, the flame to whom all of us mere moths flock. This is the Edie that first enraptured me all those years ago when I first picked up the Jean Stein book (Edie: An American Biography) at a friend’s house in Philadelphia. She was and is Charisma Personified and reading about her often troubled life only endeared her to me all the more. I needed to possess the Edie persona, so I began to wear t-shirts and tights on my nights out in homage to my idol, and the longest earrings I could find to accessorize. Despite the fact that our backgrounds were disparate, I only knew about her what I read, and our paths never crossed, I felt a bond with Edie where it counts, in the heart and soul. I still think of her as a fragile butterfly too beautiful for this world, and while I consider myself much more of a permanent caterpillar, I used to feel too sensitive for my own good. Like Edie, I battled with anorexia in my later teens. And, like Edie, I self-medicated frequently, though my weapons of choice were generally more liquid than pharmaceutical, with certain exceptions. It doesn’t matter, though. Trying to smother the pain is pretty much the same, no matter what your method. But I was lucky because I survived. Or was I? Sometimes I wonder, ha.

It’s a cliché but it’s also true that everyone loves a pretty, tragic figure. Edie, James Dean, River Phoenix and Heath Ledger (to name but a few) will never develop a need for Botox or hair transplants, never develop middle-age spread. The rest of us can admire their eternal beauty while mourning their loss. It’s almost like a trade in some ways for apparently having so much more than most of us: it’s as if the gods decided these people had too much and decided to take it all away far too soon, you know? It’s not fair but then a lot of life isn’t. Of course, in reality the gods had nothing to do with the drugs and the fast cars, but it’s nice to be able to assign blame somewhere safe, right?

So really, Alexis, I guess my basic impressions of Edie are that of a gorgeous, somewhat wounded bird whose wings were clipped before she could fly as far as she wanted, a tarnished angel with much more depth to her than many imagine, a talented artist in her own right but who ended up being celebrated far more for her surface fabulosity than her ability with ink and paint. Perhaps my ruminations appear overly romanticized, but I never had the chance to formulate any first hand. Like anyone else, Edie Sedgwick had her good and bad sides I’m sure, but it’s hard to resist the dimples and the long-limbed charm that continue to captivate thirty-seven years after her death, and the inner hurt simmering underneath.

To put it bluntly, I love this album.

Altered Carbon is a lush, musically ambient slice of electronica. It is three-dimensional in texture; indeed, each track almost feels tangible to me. As I type, I have “Frozen Ground” playing in my ears: I close my eyes and feel myself literally surrounded by the beats and tones. I am Alice in a gorgeous atmospheric Wonderland where the landscape is populated by lavish, lovely sensations that are heard as well as felt, where some beats grow larger as others shrink, some keyboards morph into blips and static and throughout I am falling down an endlessly awesome aural rabbit hole. These are mesmerizing sounds that will take you to a different place if you relax and let go.

But don’t relax too much! The primal funk of “Levitation” will have your feet going before the rest of you has recovered from your abrupt landing at the bottom of the rabbit hole. Too, “Conduit” would be right at home in a dark, smoky, strobelit tea party with its moody yet pulsating feel.

I don’t pretend to be the most knowledgeable person around re: the genres of electronica and ambient music, but I  do know that Altered Carbon contains some of the most beautiful, hypnotic, intricate sounds I have heard in ages, that transcends categories and usual iPod tastes.

Give it a listen and allow yourself to be transported too.

Patient (a very short story)

September 5, 2009

Outside it looked like a perfectly ordinary day. The sun was streaming through the branches of the oak trees beside the window; she watched the reflected light and shadows tango on the carpet, wall and furniture before her. She noted how, gradually, the said light and shadows moved as the sun crept higher in the heavens. People passed by on occasion, in car or by foot, apparently not paying heed to the immaculate sky, the warm spring tinge to the air, that lovely intangible scent and feel that the air gets when winter has finally shut down for another year and the new season brings the world back to life.

The Beatles sang that all we need is love as she thought of another spring day not so long ago. On this day, there were clouds, lots of them, dark ones that hovered low and thunder rumbled distantly. She was enroute to meet a friend at their favorite café for lunch and decided to take a shortcut through the park to hopefully beat the rain. While crossing the grassy expanse between the pavilion and the playground, something caught her eye and she stopped, knelt down for closer examination. It was a four leaf clover, wasn’t it? She had always hoped to find one but never really thought it actually existed. Automatically she reached for it, pulled it out by its roots…only to find that the fourth leaf had been an illusion created by her own mind or the grass beside it. Before she could react, she felt the first raindrops hit the back of her neck, quickly joined by many more. Standing quickly, the three leaf clover dropped from her fingers as she pulled her jacket over her head and began to run, imagining herself darting between the bullets of rain that now fell liberally and smashed on the ground below. In her wake, the clover landed near its plucking place, already forgotten, waiting for the next person who might mistake it for something magical before it died.

As The Beatles gave way to an anonymous female singing of lost romance, she watched the shadows dancing on the Manet print beside the black metal floor lamp and tried not to dwell on the what ifs, the maybes. Suddenly another memory filled her mind. She must have been ten years old and it was January, not April. She was trying out the brand new ice skates she had received for Christmas and she was doing so on the small pond two blocks from home. She was too shy to let her friends at the rink see her in her beginning stages on ice, so alone she ventured to the pond, sat in the snow to lace up her new white Riedells and then, very carefully, stood up on the edge of the ice. Tentatively she tiptoed out until she felt safe enough to put her feet down and take that first skating step. She thought she heard the ice groaning and creaking below; she worried that it might give way, so she kept to the sides of the pond as she relaxed and enjoyed the feeling of moving on the blades, her arms extended for balance. Eventually she stopped concentrating, losing herself in the cold wind hitting her back and imagining herself being propelled along like a kite. It was then that she caught her toe on the ice and sprawled headlong on the frozen water, banging her chin, biting her tongue and tearing a hole in her Christmas snow pants in the process. Tears freezing to her cheeks, the taste of blood in her mouth, chin and knee aching, she crawled back to the snowbank and removed her new skates. At least I didn’t fall in, she reasoned from her current vantage point, as the memory of her younger self limping home, torn and raw, receded into the distance as the sun rose higher in the sky outside the window.

Restless now, she wondered how long it would be as she glanced at her watch for the nth time and shifted in her chair, recrossing her right leg. She caught the eye of an elderly woman in a blue linen shirt and trousers sitting across the room; the woman smiled blandly and rolled her eyes in mock exasperation and comradeship before turning her attention back to her book. Meanwhile, the small boy in blue jeans and dirty sneakers crossed his eyes at her before turning around and attempting to stand on his head in the chair beside the oblivious older woman.

The song playing now was new to her but soothing to her ears and spirit. She began to relax in her seat as the piano and gentle harmonies seemed to leap out of the speakers and Norah Jones et al. played before her. A familiar hand was taking hers and gently pulling her to her feet. All of a sudden she was dancing with him again, this special person whom she never expected to see again after that ugly, hateful night last year. Bitterness ebbed, only to be replaced by peace and that feeling of rightness that only love can bring. Seamlessly they moved together in the natural way they always had done…her head fit so comfortably into the crevice of his shoulder and neck. Just as she was about to speak, though, ask him if he was back for good…the song ended and she found herself sitting where she had been all along: no Norah Jones, no piano, no lover. She blinked back tears and looked at her watch again. Tick tock tick tock tick tock….the girl jumped off the dock…the band knew how to rock…I need to mend a sock…I’m going into shock. No, he wouldn’t be back, and that’s fine. Life moves on. There’s no time for corny reveries or might have beens. There is just now, and that might be all there ever is.

Somewhere nearby a phone rang but by now she was unsure if it was inside or outside her mind.

When the door opened and the nurse beckoned to her, she stood, setting aside the unopened People magazine, and as she left the waiting area for the examination room, she thought of three leaf clovers and scabbed chins and knees, the marks of a survivor who was just lucky enough. So far, anyway.

Don’t You Forget About Me

September 5, 2009

August 6, 2009. John Hughes died today and I can’t sleep again. I don’t know if the two are connected because I have frankly not been sleeping well since I returned from Edinburgh nearly three weeks ago, but it doesn’t help. John Hughes was only 59 and he made some of my favorite films ever. I know that I’m not alone here; at the risk of sounding melodramatic, his movies are touchstones for an entire generation and then some. Who doesn’t think of the 80s without accompanying mental images of Anthony Michael Hall asking to borrow Molly Ringwald’s panties in Sixteen Candles, Hall again plus Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez doing the Madness dance in the library in The Breakfast Club, Jon Cryer trying a little tenderness (and failing) in Pretty in Pink? And then there was Macaulay Culkin holding his face and screaming in Home Alone, although to be technical that was a 1990 film but so what.

And then of course there was Bueller. Bueller. Bueller. Save Ferris! The classic day off that no one will ever be able to top no matter how hard they try.

I remember the first time I saw The Breakfast Club. By this time, I was no longer a teen but I still felt like one in many ways and all these years later, I have come to recognize that in certain ways I probably always will; I think each of us still has that inner sixteen year old lying dormant somewhere within, right? My friends and I all took this film so personally; it just spoke to us in a way that few had ever done before. We were all Ally Sheedy inside and out, complete with the overstuffed bags but minus the dandruff, lol (that was a great scene, wasn’t it?). Our single complaint was that Emilio Estevez only liked Ally after she was given a makeover by Molly Ringwald; to this day, I still maintain she looked better before. But whatever.

“When you grow up, your heart dies.”

“Who cares?”

“I care!” This little segment made me cry the first time I heard it, and it made me determined never, ever to let that happen to me. And somehow, so far it hasn’t.

Goodbye Mr. Hughes, and don’t worry, we’ll never forget about you.

Ninth month

September 2, 2009

September…new beginnings…a hint of autumn air finally cooling summer’s humid hold…birthdays for family and soul mates alike…a David Sylvian song…a Woody Allen film…school days and waiting for December…work days and waiting for December…Halloween decor assembled in stores…good tv, bad tv…canadian geese headed further south still in beryl skies..nine one one…goodbye to an old friend…a bittersweet hello to others.

September…a month of promise and sorrow, a month of change, of more color to come.