Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happy Birthday Laura! Happy Birthday Andi!

My sister Laura's birthday is on January 30th. Andi's is on January 31st. Here is the Icelandic version of the Sugar Cubes' song "Birthday."

Friday, January 29, 2010

Big Toe Moon

Tonight's full moon will be the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. It will be about 14 percent wider and 30 percent brighter than the other moons to follow, like a big toe compared to little toe moons. According to Native American lore, this moon is known as "Lalawethika" or "big toe poking through moccasion of the night sky."

Actually, that's a load of hooey. They really called it the Wolf Moon, because of the way the wolves would howl at the moon on a cold winter's night.

The names they gave the moon for the rest of the year are listed below. No fooling.

February is the Full Snow Moon. Or Hunger Moon, since the snow made hunting difficult.

March is the Full Worm Moon. Because the ground softens and the earthworms reappear, inviting the return of robins. Other tribes named it the Full Crow Moon, the Full Crust Moon (snow cover becoming crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night), and the Full Sap Moon.

April is the Pink Moon, also known as the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, or the Full Fish Moon, in coastal areas.

May is the Full Flower Moon. Also known as the Full Corn Planting Moon or the Milk Moon.

June is the Full Strawberry Moon. Europeans called this the Rose Moon.

July is the Full Buck Moon, because the buck deer are growing antlers. Also called the Full Thunder Moon or the Full Hay Moon.

August is the Full Sturgeon Moon. also called the Green Corn Moon or Grain Moon.

September is the Full Harvest Moon.

October is the Full Hunters' Moon.

November is the Full Beaver Moon. Also called the Frosty Moon.

December is the Full Cold Moon. Sometimes this moon is referred to as the Full Long Nights Moon .

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kerouac Quoted

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

"What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."

"It seemed like a matter of minutes when we began rolling in the foothills before Oakland and suddenly reached a height and saw stretched out ahead of us the fabulous white city of San Francisco on her eleven mystic hills with the blue Pacific and its advancing wall of potato-patch fog beyond, and smoke and goldenness of the late afternoon of time."

“I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.”

“All human beings are also dream beings. Dreaming ties all mankind together.”

“I was going to be left alone on my butt at the other end of the continent. But why think about that when all the golden land's ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you're alive to see?”

“My witness is the empty sky.”

“Mainly I've been back to my books and writings and being nice and quiet and lazy. As I'm writing this, the radio says there's a foot of snow falling on Long Island. I really love snow and wish I could take a long walk in it right now.”

“Write in recollection and amazement for yourself”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Making Topeka Holy

Neal Cassady on the left and Jack Kerouac on the right

Over the last several weeks, I've been reading as much Jack Kerouac as I could squeeze in before my classes started back up. I resumed reading On the Road , and finally finished it.

What struck me about that book early on was how life-affirming it was. I hadn't expected that. I knew that Kerouac was supposed to be a voice for the Beat generation, a hipster who had hung out with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and so I thought it might be a cool, detached, chronicle of hipness.

Instead, Kerouac exults over the tiniest details in his surroundings, in the people he hangs out with, and all that goes on. His prose exudes an exhuberant joy of life, and a fascination with the American countryside.

I am totally smitten by this book. Kerouac's way with words is so original. Kerouac's parents were French-Canadian immigrants and he spoke only their dialet, Joual, until he was six. He has said that since English wasn't his own language, it was easier to play around with it, and put "French imagery" into it.

I was relieved to learn that no one has made a movie of On the Road yet. There is no way anyone could do it justice. And they would probably get it all wrong. They'd emphasize the wild side of it --the parties, the escapades of the hyperactive, hypersexual, manic Dean Moriarty, based on Kerouac's real-life friend, Neal Cassady.

In the book, which is transparently autobiographical, Sal Paradise is the character based on Kerouac's life, and he hitchhikes across the country and hops freight trains, as the real Kerouac did. He hooks up with Dean in Denver and they take a series of trips back and forth across the continent. I did begin to lose patience with Dean, who is so addicted to being in the moment, he takes practically no responsibilty for himself or for how his actions affect others. But because we experience Dean through Sal's point of view, his humanity is elaborately sketched out for us, so he is still a likeable character.

It's a myth that Kerouac wrote the book in three days, while high on Benny's. The truth is, Kerouac was working on the book for years, keeping notes, journals and travel diaries, that he hoped to use in a book about the road. He started the book several times, and tried out various passages with different characters. His efforts to work on the book and re-start the book are found in his personal writings.

When he finally sat down to write "the original scroll" that would become the published On the Road, he was well-prepared, just as a jazz musician who blows a well-improvised solo knows his craft and has spent years practicing. Kerouac wrote the scroll from April 2 to April 22nd in 1951. He wanted it to be like the road was, long and continuous, so he taped sheets of paper togetherand put this one long strip of paper into his typewriter. He wanted to write it fast, without using paragraphs, "because the road is fast."

Kerouac dispells the myth that he wrote the book hyped up on bennies. In one of his letters to Neal Cassady he says: "

I wrote that book on COFFEE, remember said rule. Benny, tea, anything I KNOW none as good as coffee for real mental power kicks.”

Well then. I used to wonder if taking drugs would help me write. Now I know that I need to get back on the coffee. Goodbye stomach lining! Hello literary success.

Kerouac also wrote to Neal that "of course since April 22nd I've been typing and revising. Thirty days on that." Kerouac re-typed the scroll on separate pages to make it more appealing to publishers.

After having started the book in 1948, Kerouac finally saw the book published in 1957. One of the best descriptions of the book comes from Kerouac scholar Douglas Brinkley,

"If you read On the Road, it's a valentine to the United States," he says. "All this is pure poetry for almost a boy's love for his country that's just gushing in its adjectives and descriptions. You know, Kerouac used to say, 'Anybody can make Paris holy, but I can make Topeka holy."

The book was a big hit, and suddenly Kerouac was cast as the Beat spokesperson, but Kerouac was not pleased by this or the ways the book was misunderstood. He reportedly hated the beatnik routines on TV, and he criticized those "who think that the Beat Generation means crime, delinquency, immorality, amorality."

For Kerouac, the Beat Generation was about "a weariness with all the forms, all the conventions of the world." This is what sets Sal Paradise out on the road in the first place. He leaves his cozy East coast home and sets out hitching for rides, planning to end up in California.

I like what an article on the NPR website says about the book:

"At the heart of the novel is Jack’s quest and that he’s asking the same questions that keep you awake at night and fill your days. What is life? What does it mean to be alive when death, the shrouded stranger, is gaining at your heels? Will God ever show his face? Can joy kick darkness?"

"This quest is interior, but the lessons of the road, the apprehended magic of the American landscape described like a poem, are applied to illuminate and amplify the spiritual journey. Kerouac writes to be understood. The road is the path of life and life is a road."

After finishing On the Road, I read Dharma Bums, another autobiographical novel, this time depicting Kerouac's time hanging out with friends at Berkeley, their incredible hiking and mountain-climbing in the High Sierras, with descriptions of breath-taking beauty, and Kerouac's summer job all alone in a look-out station for the National Forest Service in the mountains of northern Washington state. The imagery is absolutely invigorating. It makes you want to go running screaming out of the office and head for the great outdoors, camping under the stars.

Now I'm reading The Vanity of Duluoz, in which Kerouac, once again in novel form, writes of his actual life as a young man in the late thirties, and during war-time. He won a football scholarship to Columbia university in New York City. But his sophomore year, he left one Saturday night with a suitcase. His coach said, "You have to be back by 8:00 tomorrow night!" But he didn't go back, because he wanted to be a WRITER and he needed to be writing, by god, and so he found a job as a grease monkey and rented a small room and typed on an old Underwood typewriter every night.

Well, all kinds of things happen, but eventually the war interrupts everything. He joins the military but just can't stomach military discipline, so eventually gets a psychiatric discharge. He joins the merchant marine and goes out on several ships, where he is nearly blown up.

And that's where I am now. The events of this book precede his free-wheeling, vagabond days of On the Road, but he wrote this book a few years before his death at the age of 47. Kerouac was an alcoholic and apparently died from alcohol-related causes. Whatever the case, he was brilliant.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"You Are About To Witness A Miracle"

I'm grateful to people who have their Christmas lights up well into January. When I'm out walking Cheri on a cold winter's night and a damp mist is crawling up my bones, the lights are an encouragement. There is a house on our street with a string of scraggly blue and pink/orange lights, and it cheers me when I pass by on my way home at night and see the lights still on.

I went out for drinks with some librarians last week. (Really kicking up my heels there.) We had just wrapped up the official business meeting for our library group, made up of librarians from hospitals, medical colleges and research centers. A few years ago I got suckered into chairing the awards committee, so every January I must see to it that five libraries are presented with expensive plaques and fancy certificates all written up with praise. I have to stand up in the front of the room and make a little speech and hand out the plaques and have my picture taken with the award winners.

After the meeting, a few of us went to Bo Ling's for drinks. I ordered my first ever sake. They kept it warm in a coconut-shaped container full of hot water. It was a soothing medicine on that chilly night. But they had no fireplace. Now one of my goals in life is to drink warm sake by a roaring fire.

We got fortune cookies. Mine said, "You are about to witness a miracle." That made me sit straight up. Would this be the sort of everyday miracle that happens in nature right beneath my feet, (think vast ant cities that go on for miles underground) or would this be a supernatural apparition that would brand me a nut for the rest of my days?

Well, it's been over a week now, and no illuminated beings in sight. If the sun had come out I would have claimed that as my miracle, but it has been as grey and damp as a pile of gym socks.

Maybe the miracle was merely this: I mentioned to the librarians that this was my last semester of library school and I would be graduating in May. One of the women, who has a nice three-story house in Brookside, immediately offered to throw me a graduation party. The other women started scheming, saying they could turn it into an official party for our group, and let the group pay for the food. So there, in a matter of seconds, a graduation party materialized out of nowhere.

Forget, "I love you." Right now, the three sweetest words in the universe are "my last semester."

I am taking three classes, to finish up. One is a required class, called "Managing collections and access." We explore deep, riveting issues, such as "What is a collection? How do librarians "collect" digital and virtual content? Hum-de-blah-de-blah-blah snooze. It's not that I don't care, it's just that we've already discussed this ad nauseum in other classes.

The second class is an elective--Internet Reference. Finding reliable reference sources on the internet, blah, blah, blah.

The third class is the one I'm excited about. It is an elective course on Teen Lit and we are going to read tons of teen novels of all sorts and analyze them and discuss them.

This class is weird because our discussion group meets at night in a virtual classroom. I sit at my laptop in my bedroom and wear a headset and speak to the class into a microphone. If I want to raise my hand, I click on a hand icon, and it shows the instructor that I am waiting for my turn to speak. I have to sit there and listen to all the disembodied voices of the other students and my teachers.

But I'm excited about the class, because I will be READING BOOKS! And we are going to be talking about the importance of STORY. Yes!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Street That Plows Forgot

This week the weather is reasonable, you can sit down and have a conversation with it. The snow dumped along the shoulders and medians has grown stale and dirty, and is generally disregarded, as people flash by in their cars with ease. The city streets are wet but clear. The arctic beast has been vanquished. But our neighborhood is like some Alaskan outpost, still shivering. The road in front of our house remains packed with snow. Like children, we keep waiting for the plows to come, but they've forgotten us. The single digit  temperatures last week kept the snow hard and smooth, but now that it's warming up, the snow has softened into thick piles that catch your car tires and swish you around. When two cars approach each other, one waits nervously while the other car fishtails past.

Our driveway is banked with treacherous ridges of frozen snow. Last Thursday, as the arctic beast was huffing its cold breath from the sky, I backed into one of those ridges and got the car stuck up to its belly. Lilah and I had just returned from a long, dizzying trip through the dress racks at JCPenney to find her a dress to wear to her friend's bat mitzvah. After much shoveling and grimacing, ice sneaking into our gloves, Roger and I were greeted by a buff neighbor, who got behind the car with Roger and pushed while I gunned the gas pedal. The ground stank of hot rubber, but our car lurched free.

The bat mitzvah happened Saturday night, on the coldest night of all. I dropped Lilah off at the dance, held inside an old movie theater. The marquee read "Margo's Bat Mitzvah." Back at home, I walked the dog. My butt still ached from sledding the week before. So I was trying not to lose my footing as we went down a particularly slick street. But then Cheri saw something, jerked to go after it, and her pink leather collar, which had been getting threadbare, snapped in two. She tore off and I fell right on my moons. I got up and walked stiffly, trying not to shake or rattle my aggrieved hiney, which was impossible. I called Cheri, but she was in a state of revelry, bounding about the smells and objects in other people's yards. My hands stung with cold, so I went home to warm them before trying to reclaim her. I found some wooly socks to put over my gloves, and I put on  my plum London Fog jacket, wearing it over my pea coat. I’d found the jacket for a song at the thrift store. I trudged back up the street, sore glutes and all, waving a cold hot dog and calling for Cheri.

That night, safe at home and bedded down in her crate, Cheri was more restless than usual. Usually she sleeps like a curled up rock, but she kept rustling around and sitting up. Then came a retched hacking wet sound from her throat and she threw up. She did this several times throughout the course of the night. Some godawful thing she ate while she was off the chain. I stepped out onto the frigid porch to toss the mound of barf under the bushes. Roger washed the bottom of the crate. I stuffed her dirty bedding in the washer, and left it there til morning. Washed my hands. But a few hours later, the water in the same faucet didn't flow, and we discovered that our pipes had frozen. We’d opened up the cupboards, but forgot to keep the water dripping. So Roger spent two hours under the house, trying to the thaw the pipe with a blowdryer, while I took Lilah to her indoor soccer game.

The pipes didn't burst, at least, and by 1:00 in the afternoon, after we had bought some drinking water and  formulated plans to melt snow, the blow dryer in the crawl space worked and we had water again. Which was a good thing, because by then we were all getting kind of skanky.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Arctic Beast

From yesterday's Kansas City Star:

Forecast for Tuesday: A chance of snow by Tuesday night. High of 14 degrees.

Forecast for Wednesday: Periods of snow and becoming windy. High of 18 degrees.

Forecast for Thursday: Snow ending as arctic blast arrives. (WTF? The arctic blast hasn't arrived yet?) High of 7 degrees.

Forecast for Friday: Coldest weather in many years. High of 4 degrees. Low of -13 degrees. (Okay, can we all just agree to stay home that day??!)

If you look on the weather map, there is a big u-shaped dip shaded white, where the coldest air resides, around Minnesota and those parts. We are right below that dip, in an area shaded light blue. The light blue area is also very cold, just not quite as cold as the white area. But the white dip is moving down the map, and Thursday it will be upon us. And we will be shaded in white. The color of oblivion.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Holy Crap, It's Cold!

This morning Roger heard the following forecast: The current temperature was 4 degrees. The high today would be 9 degrees. It was supposed to be really cold ALL WEEK, and then on Friday, it was going to get even colder! Can I please go back into my cave now?

I spent today a lot like I spent yesterday. Here's what I did on new year's day: I slept late. Made a cup of English Breakfast tea. Sat around and sipped it. Bundled up and put on about ten layers of clothing, including two pairs of jeans. Took the dog out for a long winter's walk. We went for over an hour. I watched her for signs of discomfort, but the cold doesn't seem to bother her. She climbs over snow banks, buries her snout down into the snow to try to dig up god knows what---her favorite thing is chomping on turdcicles--and continues trotting down the icy street with a spring in her step.

The cold doesn't get to me either, since I am wearing twice my weight in clothing. I shuffle over the snow like a giant weebil. When everything is so white and frigid, the world is blanked out and it's easy to lose a sense of time. Cheri and I are just specks in a big cold void that doesn't contain anything and can't be measured by anything.

My little Nokia cell phone holds music, and has its own speaker, so I stick the phone in my coat pocket and listen to the tunes it shuffles for me: a delightful mash, everything from the Throwing Muses, the Smiths, Bjork, Nick Drake, Beck, the Beatles, REM, Al Green, Ariel Pink, the Verve, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Donovan, Modest Mouse, Bob Dylan. I have found that Dylan always hits the spot in a bleak winter landscape. Today as I was walking, Englebert Humperdink began crooning, "Winter World of Love".

After the long walk, it was time for more tea and a delicious lunch of crackers and the salmon my sister sent me. Then I worked on making my first ever homemade chicken broth. Removing meat from bones exhausts me, so after I had pulled the white and dark meat off the chicken, I collapsed upstairs and watched an old Christmas show from the 70's I have on VHS, called The house without a Christmas tree.

For supper on new year's day I made a lasagna. Tonight, I made chicken noodle soup using the homemade chicken stock. The other day I made bierocks. Winter is a time to do lots of cooking, boil lots of water for tea and drink lots of wine. I've been doing all three, happily.

Yesterday evening we went to Blockbuster and picked out some movies. Last night was the kids' choice: The Water Horse, about the legend of the Loch Ness monster. Some really cool scenery of Scotland and vintage interiors in that movie. Tonight it's our choice: Gandhi. Sure it's a three hour movie, but it's snowing and there is no place to go, so who cares?