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All posts for the month January, 2016

In which the doll club is in turmoil

Published January 26, 2016 by The Merida Review

Another Irene chapter, early version – see? we didn’t abandon her altogether…

 
Harriet had married twice. Her first marriage had been a happy one, and her husband had died tragically young. She’d been lonely. Her second marriage wasn’t such a success. Her second husband’s children didn’t like her and her husband wanted to control every aspect of her life, told her how much she could spend, where she was allowed to go. She didn’t always listen, but it wasn’t many years till she decided she’d made a mistake in remarrying. She’d been afraid of ending up alone, but being alone had to be better than this.

She was too old to fuss about getting a divorce.

Not that her life was so awful, really. It was merely annoying. Cynthia she could pretty much ignore. Once Harriet figured out that there was no pleasing her, that she could never make Cynthia happy, she stopped trying. She was pleasant when family gatherings occurred, the occasional dinner, but she just didn’t care anymore what Cynthia thought. She certainly wasn’t trying to take anyone’s mother’s place. Wouldn’t have minded being friends, but that wasn’t going to happen, was it?

Her stepson Andrew wasn’t so bad. A bit distant. Didn’t laugh at her jokes. Didn’t compliment her cooking. She didn’t see either of them often. She wasn’t losing sleep over it.

Though sometimes she thought what it would be like if her new family liked her, if they treated her like she was a grandmother to the children (they made pains to point out to them that she wasn’t). The fun they could’ve had. The love wasted. But, oh well, no use dwelling on it. She had tried till she was blue in the face, they weren’t interested.

Ross was a different matter. Subtly and not so subtly, he undermined her life. Sometimes she could just laugh him off. Other times there was nothing funny about it. She tried not to spend too much time regretting the way things had turned out. Life was too short for that, and she wasn’t getting any younger.

She enjoyed his car club and the road trips and the other old car enthusiasts. He puttered around in the garage, people came to him with car troubles and he figured out ways to fix them, rigged together substitutes where there were no parts. She didn’t mind any of this. She didn’t know why he objected to so many things she wanted to do.

She liked people and she liked being involved in things. She was active in her church and several clubs. Had been in more before Ross came along. He didn’t like this person’s whiney voice. That person gossiped too much. Was boring. Was silly. Or he just didn’t like them for no reason. They made him feel uncomfortable. Like that meant anything. Like Ross was a great judge of character.

He approved of the doll club. Thought it was harmless, she guessed. A bunch of old women, all of them, apparently, meeting his standards.

But he never let her go to any of the regional/national doll club events. He didn’t forbid her, just always had reasons why she couldn’t go to that particular event, a family thing, a car club excursion. Car club always took precedence over anything else – not that she minded car club, and she enjoyed the trips, dressing up in vintage clothes, driving down highways in a long line of old cars, people gawking and waving at them – she just wanted to be able to make her own decisions. Sometimes she would choose things other than car club, if she were able to choose. He could go alone, or take his daughter. They could spend time together. Cynthia was always going on about him not being there for her anymore.

Every year she received brochures about upcoming conventions. They were held in different cities across the US: Philadelphia, Denver, New Orleans, Las Vegas. There were seminars, workshops, exhibits, banquets. People who went to convention were wildly enthusiastic about them. It was expensive to go, but it wasn’t as though she couldn’t afford it. She longed to go, but she supposed she never would. It would have been something to see, though.

When Emmy died unexpectedly in her sleep, Harriet’s doll club was thrown into turmoil. Emmy had been 86 years old, so her death hadn’t been out of the realm of possibility, but she had been such an energetic, vital force, had never been sick a day in her life, people assumed she’d last forever. Emmy had been outspoken, friendly, curious, bossy. She had steamrollered the club along for nigh on to 30 years. It didn’t matter who was in charge, officially. They all deferred to Emmy’s guidance. And Emmy had led them through many years of prosperity. There were little things that stuck in your craw, true, but no one else had particularly cared how things were done, and definitely no one cared to go up against Emmy. She had been a force to be reckoned with.

She had also been a generous, caring, intelligent soul. She had gone to conventions faithfully every year, knew everyone there was to know, had worked with the President of the whole UFDC, volunteering to do office work at convention.

After her death, however, the club was left scrambling to try to proceed without her. The doll club all knew she’d been having trouble finding a judge for their doll show next May. She’d called everyone she could think of and hadn’t found anyone, or if she had, she hadn’t told anyone. She hadn’t kept notes, and she’d been the entire committee for so long that the club was at a loss. They divided her jobs among other members, and it fell on Harriet to find out if Emmy’d found a judge, and to find one herself if she hadn’t.

It was a mess.

It was late to begin with. This sort of thing should’ve been settled months ago. Advance publicity had already gone out with a vague promise that an “official UFDC judge” would be present. Harriet made phone call after phone call to everyone she could think of whom Emmy might have called, starting with all the judges they’d used in the recent past. Most didn’t know about Emmy’s death and she had to explain and hear their shocked reactions (no one seemed to think it possible Emmy could die) and condolences before she could finally get to the business at hand.

It was rather awkward, she thought, as she explained the situation over and over again. People were warm, understanding. They’d all met Emmy. They could picture how managing she was, if they hadn’t seen her in action. Could picture the turmoil the club was in. Felt sorry for Harriet, having to clean up the mess she’d left (though it was only one of the messes). Harriet actually made quite a few friends in those phone calls. One of the people she’d talked to called in a favor from a friend and found her a judge. It was quite a relief when the ordeal was over.

The show could now go on, for this year, anyways.

To tell the truth, Harriet didn’t know how the club would get along without Emmy. They didn’t have any real leadership personalities (truthfully, Emmy had ended up driving away anyone that might have qualified, by obstinately opposing any suggestion that might change things in any way), the club had just drifted along in Emmy’s wake for so many years. It really wasn’t healthy for the club as a whole to have one person be such a strong presence. Emmy ended up telling anyone who was an officer how she wanted things run and no one else had cared enough to do battle to defend any non-Emmy opinions.

And club members were getting so old! Harriet didn’t suppose she herself would be around in another 5, 10 years. Only a handful of members were under 70 years old. A few members were members in name only, hardly ever came to meetings due to poor health. The one member who came every month from her nursing home slept through meetings and was too confused to know what was going on (though, to tell the truth, Beatrice had always been confused). They were lucky to have 8 people show up for meetings. Sometimes it was only 6. In years past, there had been a big crowd. 15 or 20. And one of the 8 had always faithfully been Emmy.

Harriet sighed. No use dwelling on it. Might as well hope for the best. The club had lasted for 25 years now, it could well last another 25.

But it wouldn’t be the same without Emmy.
no title

As I grow older, my days
are filled more and more by
ghosts from my past,
memories like cobwebs
obscure my view.
As I grow wounded and feeble
and broken,
as I grow wary, forgotten, unloved,
as I am pushed to the back of the shelf
where the world’s view of me is
obscured by young lives
new faces, new voices
alarmingly eager,
my sorrow cushioned, enhanced by
my past,
my memories more clear than
this world of now.

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The delicate art of screaming (in rock music)

Published January 23, 2016 by The Merida Review

When I have some warning, I will practice like anything before I go into the studio. Really, a couple weeks is what it takes, but even a couple of days is helpful. When we had a real band and the band played out all the time, I didn’t have to do it, cause my voice was always in shape, but now that playing out is kind of sporadic and we don’t have a regular rehearsal schedule, I can get pretty lazy and my voice just isn’t ready for it, and there’s only so much bluffing you can do.

I don’t particularly practice the songs that are coming up, unless they’re new and have tricky lyrics that I have trouble fitting into the rhythm of the lines (now, really, Cher, who would write those lyrics that have way too many words???) (I have gotten into a rehearsal situation and discovered, to my surprise, that I have added complete extra lines that I can’t figure out how to take out, so I have to say embarrassing things like, Ok guys, this verse has 9 lines instead of 8.) I practice the hardest songs I can. I have to stretch my voice out as far as I can get it. You can’t just bull your way into those hard songs, you have to work slowly towards them. The hardest songs for me are the screaming songs where the notes have to be on. Where you’ve got lots of roughness in your voice – easy when you’re playing out every night, not so easy when you’re not. When you’re alone with your acoustic guitar, playing the 6 chords you know (which severely limits the song choices), the dogs sleeping in all the good chairs and the neighbors out barbecuing or whatever, Michael, row the boat ashore, halleluia…ok, I don’t go that far! But acoustic versions of screamy songs don’t usually happen.

You want to get your voice so it can do more than you need it to, so you’ve got that extra in reserve, if you need it. If that makes sense. That hidden reserve of power you can tap when the evil overlord is trying to take over your village and no one can save it but you… How do I explain this one so it makes sense? You need to sound like you have more than you’re giving, and you have control over it, and give those undertones that you can unleash it if you have to, but you’re not, you’re kind of teasing the listener, letting them get glimpses of what you’re capable of and all that….

When I was in a regular playing out band, I found out I could do all sorts of things with my voice that I didn’t know. (Some of them, when played back to you on a recording, don’t always sound as cool as you think they do when you’re doing them – embarrassing!) (or- one reason why I will never be a diva!)

Yeah. Going into the studio this evening. I only had 2 days warning, so I divided the practices up into morning sessions and evening sessions, so I could get more in. I’ve been singing all sorts of weird songs. I used to use Oh holy night. Sing it over and over till that Oh night devine was right on. Kind of a strange song to use to sing rock music, especially since I am not religious. I am so not religious. But I could play the chords on my guitar, and it stretched my voice out. And I don’t have a range like normal people. My voice is really low for a female. When I was a kid and I joined the school choir, (I have no explanation for this, I was young, I liked music. I only lasted a couple months.) they put me with the boys. When I sing along with Gilbert and Sullivan, I have to mostly do the guys’ parts. In my bedroom, when I’m alone, I can do a really nifty version of Love, unrequited, robs me of my sleep.

When I was in the band, they kept bringing me girls’ songs and I would have a whole lot of trouble singing them. I remember struggling with Just a Girl. On the other hand, I can do anything that guy from Pearl Jam can do! Some guy songs, I have to bring up a couple notes to do the low ones. I don’t think my range is really all that great. My falsetto voice is embarrassing, like I’m doing a cartoon voice, and I can’t smoothly go back and forth from my real voice to falsetto, which I’ve heard people do, but I can’t, so don’t even suggest it. The only way I can hit those high notes is with the screamy voice, which people like, and which they expect me to do. But screaminess isn’t really part of my normal day to day voice (except yelling at the cat, and that doesn’t have much range in it), and the 9 years I lived in Merida, even the rare times when I had a band going, we didn’t get into it enough to get the screamy voice out of mothballs. But I’m back in Ohio now, where people know how to put some power into the music, damn it! Yeah.

Even if it’s an acoustic album.

(Excuse me, I don’t have time to write now, I have to go do some intense singing….)

random thoughts from in the studio

Published January 22, 2016 by The Merida Review

At the end of the song, you can hear me say, “I didn’t leave you any room for a solo.” It’s just the demo, and me talking will be gone by the time it’s done, but I just love hearing these little things. It brings the day back in a way that just the song doesn’t. When you are singing over and over, trying to get a perfect take (which is easier than it used to be, since they can fix all sorts of things they didn’t used to be able to fix on the computer, but still, you need the right feel, the right base for them to be able to build on….) – when you are singing over and over, concentrating on every little weird moment, every stumble, every odd breath, you are no longer human, you are – oh wait, I’m not going to try and explain what you are, it’ll sound too corny. Lifted to another plane, shall we say? And leave it at that. And when the song turns out well and you listen to it later, you are back in that other plane. Not a human plane.

So, hearing the little human moments in a recording is really sweet – to me, anyways. It’s actually kind of weird that we spend so much time and energy trying to sound perfect. Trying to sound like machines? Only not. Trying to sound like ourselves, but better, using all sorts of tricks to get us there. Will this song ever sound like this live?

It kind of amuses me, watching videos of bands who go over the top trying to recreate their studio sound, like a cover band of themselves. A song can be elastic, you can give a different version of it every time you perform it. You don’t have to do a note for note cover. But people seem to want that.

In a perfect world, I guess, you’d want to top your last performance. Every time. I guess at some point, you’d peak and go into decline, and I guess that’s why we write new songs, hey?

We have had songs that we write and work on a little, work out an arrangement, and then go into the studio and record it, and then perform the song night after night at shows and the song gets way better, but the only recording is that old one, before we got to know the song so well, before we added this and that.

Other songs kind of get lost. You write them, you record them, they come out on albums, they don’t go over so well live, you don’t do them, you forget they exist. And they’re not bad songs, just something didn’t gel at that particular point of existence.

We have a live recording we discovered in the vaults, we were once going to put out a live album, but it didn’t get done. Anyhow, it’s pretty damned good! But during the lull in the first song, Dave (we were never very good at stage patter) is saying, roughly, “I’d like to introduce Cher Bibler…and the rest of the band….we’re Tinfoil…” and lamely trails off. This makes me crack up every time I hear it. I have said that to him so many times. “CHER BIBLER! And the rest of the band….) Like he forgot everyone else’s names? Ha ha. Yeah. We were never good at talking, so we rushed from one song to the next. We got really good at sliding from the end of one into the beginning of the next. Our set lists had plenty of trilogies of unrelated songs that we had perfected the transition. It’s easy to write set lists when your songs come in clumps.

I mean, I’m not going to say that I don’t get a thrill out of listening to old songs (sometimes, I don’t do it ALL the time) and them sounding really good and thinking Wow. That was ME? But those little snippets where you can hear someone talk, those are precious.

We went through bass players like anything. What is it about bass players? Gees. We went through a few drummers, in fact, you can identify the eras from the drummers, they defined our sound so much. Me and Dave were always there, so that always stays the same. (What? Tinfoil went on without me after I left? No…) Yeah, sometimes we struggle to figure out the lineup on a particular song, though Dave never has any trouble recognizing guitar parts. (A female voice singing is ALWAYS me! It’s good to be the person who stands out! No one else ever gets credited with MY vocals.)

And, man, we saved everything. Piles of cassette tapes, various versions of old studio tapes, rehearsal tapes, song demos. There’s so much of it you can’t really listen to it all. I have all sorts of unlabeled cassettes I’m afraid to throw away, and I don’t even have a cassette player to listen to anything on anymore. While the band was going strong, we were writing songs faster than we could learn them, practically (I do remember Jim Covert saying, “Another one? Give us a break!”), we would record a trial of a set list to see how it sounded, and no one would have time to listen to it, in between practices. And then once the band was over (what? They went on without me? No!), I was in mourning and couldn’t cope with listening to anything Tinfoil. I just wanted to move on, and stumbled around trying to figure out what my identity post-Tinfoil was. But I didn’t throw anything away. I have them still, heaped up in a box. And I’m sure Dave has way more than me.

Yeah, so we’re back together, Dave and I, and we’ve finished recording a real album, or at least I think we’re done, if he’s done tweaking things, that is, and we’re working on an acoustic album (the opposite of acoustic is real), and I’m starting to write new songs again, but not at the pace I used to. I never stopped altogether, but sometimes it was as few as one song in a year. It was hard, living in a country that speaks another language and where people don’t really appreciate your lyrics. People liked hearing me sing but they didn’t really care what I sang. It wasn’t conducive to writing. I’ve written more in the 6 months since I’ve been back than I did in the last few years put together. It’s great. (Whether or not the songs are great is a whole nother matter.)

And I did change, I did move on. So did Dave. What we’re bringing to our partnership now is part old, part new. I hope better. You always strive for better. It’s what makes life worth living.

We spent a kind of drunken night trying out songs for the acoustic album, some really unexpected, heavier songs that you wouldn’t think of when you think acoustic. And then there’s the screamy parts. Do you still scream them? Do you soften them up? Do they still even work? How do you get that much emotion into your vocals without the heavy drums and guitars? You don’t really want them to stand out, you want them to go with the songs. You kind of have to forget what went before and concentrate on what you’re doing here, now. And yet, you don’t want the song to lose what it used to have.

Yeah, this acoustic thing is all new to me. Why would anyone want to do an acoustic song if they could do it electric (oh yeah, that’s the opposite of acoustic!)? But everyone I’ve mentioned the album to seems all excited about it. Crazy people. What I really can’t figure out is why people keep telling Dave, who is a phenomenal guitarist, that an album without him playing guitar on it would be a better thing. And why he doesn’t just punch them in the nose when they say it and walk away.

Though I will say, he’s doing some really cool stuff with these songs. He almost maybe sorta has me a little bit convinced. What is it about acoustic albums? Why the heck does anyone want to hear them? But apparently people do, and here we are doing it for them. (Whoever they are.) But hey, the next album’s for ME, and it’s going to be twice as loud to make up for this acoustic thing.

If you see me in person, go ahead and say you’re excited about the acoustic album. Just add on (quickly) “But I really love you guys electric the most!” And please don’t infer in any way, shape or form that at MY age, it’s time I settled down and stopped rocking it so heavy. That’s not allowed.

Some thoughts on shopping at small businesses

Published January 20, 2016 by The Merida Review

which I didn’t really understand till I had a small business of my own….

For most people, shopping is all about price and selection. They like stores that are open long hours and have giant parking lots. Small businesses can’t offer that. Many mom and pop shops are run solely be mom and pop. They stock what they can afford to stock and because their orders are small, they don’t get much in the way of discounts from suppliers. Their competitors offer items for cheaper than they can buy them. They work all the hours they can manage, but they can’t afford a staff. If they do have a staff they have to pay worker’s compensation and such. The only people who start businesses today are fools, but there are always some starry eyed dreamers to step in and replace businesses who’ve failed before them. The odds aren’t good, but there is always someone driving through a blighted downtown area thinking to themselves, wouldn’t that be a nice location for a little gift shop? Or book shop. Or coffee shop. A yarn shop. A train shop. Whatever.

Towns should roll out the red carpet for these foolish entrepreneurs. Residents should line up at the doors. And a few do. Most people, however, offer odds on how many months the newcomer will stay in business. Opening a store is expensive. Keeping the store open is even more expensive, and a business needs years to break even, let alone to make a profit.

Oh sure, we hear success stories.

Perhaps, you are someone who’s complained about the empty downtown storefronts, or even wished for interesting little shops. Perhaps you’ve come to realize that shopping at the mall, or shopping in chain stores doesn’t really satisfy your soul.

Every fall, our small town paper runs an editorial telling us to shop locally and support our local businesses. They never tell us why and they never tell us how. In fact, throughout the rest of the year, they don’t particularly support small business. Mom and pop stores can’t afford to advertise much, after all. And newspapers need advertising revenue.

Why, indeed, shop locally? What do we get out of it? It’s inconvenient. It costs more. It’s harder to find the things we want.

Some stores close with a whimper. Others are institutions you thought you could always depend on, and they are failing because they can’t compete with the chains, with the internet. So many businesses closed without us noticing, with us enchanted by the Targets and the Barnes and Nobles, that perhaps some of us haven’t noticed yet that we’ve lost anything.

Every week I make a grocery list and I shop at 3 stores. I start with the smallest store first and buy everything I can there. Then I go to a larger, locally owned supermarket. About once a month I trek over to the big chain grocery store and stock up on the things I have to buy there and can’t get anywhere local. I go to a lot of trouble to shop locally. I probably pay more for individual items, but I have a grocery budget and I stop when I get to my limit, so in the end I’m just as far ahead.

I don’t go so far as to buy things I don’t need or want just to support local shops. But you can generally find something you can buy on a regular basis at a certain place.

You have to take the time to do some exploring. You need to wander through places and look. Maybe one new shop a week? Sometimes the person behind the counter is too solicitous. Sometimes crochety. Sometimes downright bitchy. Small business owners have to work days when they’re sick, when their cats die, when their car wouldn’t start and the repair shop said it’s not worth fixing, better just haul it to the junkyard. They have to work because they are often times the only staff, and the store won’t be open if they don’t come in. Lots of times people who start businesses don’t have much in the way of people skills to begin with. You, as the customer, have to work with that. You can at least give them a couple chances to see if a shopping relationship blossoms.

Sometimes shop owners get a little surly after being criticised by browsers. You have to earn their trust.

Once I bought a pile of books at a little bookshop and the owner was in tears when I gave her my check. She said, “You don’t know what a bad week this has been.” I was buying a lot, spending a couple hundred dollars, but then books are my weakness. This was several years ago. She is still in business, and she took me out to lunch last time I was in her store.

Let’s say you want a cd that’s a bestseller. Certainly you can find that at a locally owned business. If you want one that’s more obscure, perhaps you can have it special ordered for you, but I’ve not had good results with this. I work my way up the food chain (er, store chain) and yes, I order things from Amazon when I can’t find them elsewhere. But I try to support my local shops first. I’m not going to stop buying music I like because I can’t buy it at a mom & pop shop, however. I do try the special ordering thing a few times before I give it up, though.

There are basically 4 tiers of store types. The tiny one person or one couple operations, the bigger locally owned businesses with a few or several employees, the locally owned franchises of nationally known businesses, and then the stores that are owned by people or companies far far away. I figure the smaller the business, the more they need me, so I try to shop there first. Then I work my way up. Even when I’m supporting a store owned by some rich guy, I figure it’s better to support the local rich guy than the non local one. The local rich guy will bank in town, pay taxes in town, and hopefully spend a lot of his big bucks locally. Maybe he even supports some of the tiny businesses. Who knows? The out of town ones definitely don’t.

My little support isn’t enough to keep any business out of bankruptcy, but there are other people out there who think like me, and if there are enough of us, we can fill up those empty downtown storefronts and keep our cities thriving.

The Poet

Published January 18, 2016 by The Merida Review

This is a character study for a novel that I didn’t end up writing….

 

The poet was a bit odd, a quirky extremely shy person whom they had gotten to know rather slowly, though he haunted the bookstore at odd hours and grew to know the shelves as well as anyone who worked there. Gradually Betsy had come to like him, but he was a hard man to like and even after knowing him many years, she didn’t know him all that well, really, but then she hadn’t tried to. There were limits, places where she felt she was intruding into his privacy. He was an extremely private person, wary and protective of his space. He was a poet in a world that doesn’t need poets.

Regular customers didn’t always have names. There are people who talk, who they felt as if they knew, but they didn’t have a name to match to the being, so it was common to give them nicknames, such as the Star Trek girl, the Mystery Lady, and so on. Even when you had a name and were able to connect it to the person, the nickname was usually so ingrained that they didn’t bother to switch. Thus he had become the Poet, and thus he stayed the Poet, even after he had responded to their “Help Wanted” sign, and was hired in. He was flattered by the name, he enjoyed being publicly referred to by it. He dressed the part, with his long dark coats and his Edwardian style, his longish stringy hair and abstracted moody lapses of attention.

He had been a sickly child, been pampered by his parents, kept close to home. He was a voracious reader and had been well educated, but lacked any sort of ambition to thrive in the real world. He and his sister lived in the family home, which had once been a stately house in an upscale neighborhood, but was now falling into a sad disheveled state. They hadn’t been left rich, but were actually quite comfortable. He worked only because he needed to be out among people. He fell easily into a dark depression, and needed a place away from his writing. He had tried teaching, but had a dreamy disdain for following rules and was utterly incapable of controlling a class full of kids. That experiment had lasted only two years. His sister was his greatest fan, and felt honored to be related to him. She, however, was his only fan.

He had discovered poetry, as a child, at his grandmother’s house. It was a holiday, the only time they seemed to visit, and the house was filled with relatives. He didn’t have cousins his age, as his parents had been older when they’d had children. His sister was six years his senior and at that age, had better things to do than hang around with him, so he found solace in his grandmother’s bookcase. It was an ordinary collection of poetry, nothing intellectual, old fashioned even then. He had often read poetry, but something in that volume sparked a deep satisfaction, an awe, a longing in him, that had not been there before. His grandmother had let him take the book with him for a long visit, and at a young age, he became a poet. He loved the romantics, loved Longfellow, loved Wordsworth. There was no modern poetry in the book. He certainly couldn’t have understood it if there had been.

At last there seemed to be a place for him in the world, a place where he belonged. He was discover the mistake in that much later. He was a poet in a world that no longer needed poets.

His first verse was rhyming sing-songs, which only he and his adoring parents could find any value in. He stubbornly clung to rhyme and form through school and through college, marking himself a pariah when he could’ve been helped and guided along an easier path. He saw beauty in antiquity and believed that poetry had gone in the wrong direction and that it was up to him to bring it back.

Later, when he had nothing to champion, no one left to prove anything to, he began to read modern poets, and found a few to cherish. And then a few more. And then was able to see beauty where he hadn’t seen it before. But his poetry, even without rhyme, always stood with one foot firmly planted in the past, and his confusion, his inability to follow any path, or burn new ones, gave his own verse a weight that kept it from taking flight. He would show a hint of genius, a touch of originality, and then his creation would stumble and fall. Enough genius to keep him trying, keep him tasting at the well, but too little to sustain him.

There was always hope, however. And he hung (too much) on the reactions of the few people he let read his work. He was old enough to know that if he had been any good, he certainly would’ve been plucked from obscurity by now, but he was so close to it, he believed every day that today would be the day.

Well, almost every day. There were the long periods of melancholy. He knew no other life. He couldn’t not write. There was something pathetic in the story of a failed poet who could do nothing but write, but when he considered the alternative, he had to feel that even the life of a failed poet was superior than a life with no poetry.

He was saddled with a family name, embarrassed by it.He signed his work R Reynard, with a flourish, like an oil painter. His sister called him Reggie. He often flinched. To him it was a ridiculous name. And the idea of living up to the legacy of the Reginald Reynards who went before was laughable. There was no one more unsuitable than he. Neely didn’t care. When their parents died, she had taken over the role of his mother, protecting him, supporting him, keeping him safe. Watching him with perpetually rose hued lenses. Asking nothing from him. Expecting nothing.

Which is what he delivered.

Nothing.

He’d had a simple enough method of organizing his work. Folders with the better poems and a big cardboard box full of the rejects. He was unable to throw away the bad poems because he was never quite sure it wasn’t salvageable. Perhaps some day he would find something in there that he missed. The last few months he’d decided it was getting too unruly, and that there was something depressing about the big cardboard box. He began thinking about his mortality and about someone (Neely?) sorting through his papers after he was gone. He winced at the idea of anyone reading through his failed works. He wasn’t sure he wanted to leave his journals behind. Wasn’t sure anyone should read his unrestrained thoughts. These things needed to be read through, organized, and he needed to actually throw away the things that needed to be thrown away. Even if all that was left was a slim folder, it was better to have a life boil down to that than a huge box of lesser work.

He needed to get serious, to take himself in hand. He needed to deal with the past, and needed to adopt a direction for the future. He wouldn’t live forever and couldn’t bear the idea of a stranger sifting through his things. Better to leave a neat pile of admirable work.

He pictured a symbolistic bonfire. They had the yard for it. He could burn the things he didn’t want anyone else to see, and it would set him free. All that would be left would be the good stuff. People would say, “Well, he didn’t write much, but everything he wrote was good.” He would leave them wishing he’d written more. Wondering at his promise. Amazed at his talent.

So far, all he’d done was heap the whole mess together. The few things he’d read through had been singularly uninspiring.

* * *

A few months after he’d begun working at the bookstore, Betsy had taken him to a reading of local writers, a group where they did a little critiquing and a lot of supporting. Only a few of the writers were any good. It was held in the bar of a greek restaurant, in a meeting room off the main bar. People drifted in and out all evening, refreshing their drinks, or perhaps staving off the boredom. A fortune teller held court in the main bar, reading palms. Betsy had hers read and laughed, but the Poet couldn’t see anything to it. His head was already in the clouds, he didn’t need any other reason to hope for the future. The future was a lifeline he clung to.

They went together several times to the readings, and when Betsy couldn’t go, he actually went alone. People who’d talked to Betsy were friendly to him even when she wasn’t there. He was adopted into a group who gathered early to eat, and wandered off midway to drink. He didn’t talk much. He began to bring in poetry, not by himself, but by poets he admired, and would read one or two. He never read his own until he met Mercedes.

Ghost quilt

Published January 17, 2016 by The Merida Review

People say I am too attached to my things, and maybe I am. I seem to have an extraordinary sense of empathy both for people (I listened to so many life stories in my days working behind the counter of a bookstore….I should’ve been a bartender) and things.

 
I have an old quilt of my mother’s, not a great quilt, not particularly pretty and not in very good shape. It was folded up in a trunk, I’d never seen it before. We divided up quilts (and many, many other things) when my mother died, and I took this and since it wasn’t very good condition, I put it on my bed. Where dogs would lay on it, as well as people. And I got to know it a whole lot better. Honestly, putting it on my bed was a way better idea than putting it in a trunk. It has white squares that I think must’ve been embroidered by different friends. Some are really nice, others are pretty basic, lots are signed with initials. And some have started to tear.

 
(This is where the too attached to things comes in.) Instead of pitching the quilt (or putting it back into a trunk or something), I’ve decided to make new squares and applique over the torn squares. I did a little bit of embroidery a long time ago, but I am by no means an expert. I spent some time trying to figure out what kind of pictures I could embroider to express my personality, and then it dawned on me that I could trace the embroidery on the old squares and try my hand at reproducing it. Thus it would become a learning experience as well as rescuing my mom’s poor old quilt.

 
I don’t know who any of these people are who made quilt squares. Their initials aren’t any help to me. I have decided, however, that this would be either a teenaged or a young married sort of project, getting your friends to make you quilt squares. It could have been a group thing. Maybe everyone in this little circle made a quilt. My mom wasn’t a brilliant sewer. Her mother (my grandmother) was, and I understand that my great grandmother (who died when I was too little to know her) was even better. So, yeah, the quilt’s kinda funky, and the color is a pale yellow with the white squares, it’s not very striking at all.

 
My mom was married during World War II, got pregnant right away, and went home to live with her mom while my dad was off in the Pacific, so I imagine she was back with friends and family, planning her life ahead. Probably she would’ve been in quilt making mode at that point, I’d think. And probably had lots of friends and family around to make squares for her.

 
Since I only knew my mother when she had big emotional problems, I like to imagine her young and happy. There are lots of smiling photos of her and my dad from their courtship period. I like to imagine I knew her like that.

 
At this point there are only 3 squares that need replacing. I carefully cut one out of the quilt, the design part, and traced over it with pencil. It’s really cute, a basket of flowers. This person was a better embroiderer than most, and yet they only used 3 stitches, a kind of outliney stitch, which I can do, easy peasy, a long loop for flower petals that’s tacked down on the other side by a stitch (don’t you love my technicalness? Master sewer, here, ha!), and a french knot. The reason I know the name of that one is that I didn’t know how to do it and I googled “embroidery knot” and watched youtube videos – gosh, isn’t youtube great? There’s nothing you can’t learn to do with youtube. I was so delighted with my new french knot abilities that I french knotted all over the place.

 
I am even matching up the thread colors as close as I can. And, boy, as I work on this, I feel this bond with the unknown person who made this original quilt square. I’m going to be so darned attached to this quilt, no one will ever be able to pry it out of my grasp!

 
I’ve been watching the original Swedish version of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) with subtitles. It’s a great show, but it’s hard to embroider whilst reading subtitles, let me tell you. I only have 2 shows left (out of 20). The tension is getting unbearable. Solve it already, guys!!!

 
(Exciting rock star existence, embroidering flowers whilst watching a detective show, yep, that’s me.)

 
During my days working at the bookstore, I spent a lot of time at auctions – it was a used and rare bookstore – empathizing with people’s stuff. I really felt like the atmosphere of the bookstore reflected the different personalities of all the people whose books landed there. I could look around the shelves and recall all these people who I mostly never met, cause most people selling their book collections are dead…my bookstore was full of ghosts.

 
My life is full of ghosts. Some of those ghosts are me, of course, from my own past. There are memories hanging thick from almost everything I own.

 
I guess a quilt full of ghosts is just the thing for me.

 

 

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2 flowers and a bunch of green leaves to go! Gosh, I’m so domestic.

Once upon a time in a little library…

Published January 16, 2016 by The Merida Review

I grew up in a small town in Ohio, twelve hundred people and shrinking at the time I lived there. One stoplight, a grocery store, two gas stations, two drugstores – neither of which actually sold drugs by the time I came along. They had old fashioned soda fountains, though, which I thought infinitely more useful. The town was built around a sulphur spring which the Indians regarded as a sacred place of healing. When they were forced off their land, they tried to bury it under dirt and stuff, so white men wouldn’t find it. Of course they did, and at one point Green Springs had a big health spa where rich folks could come take sulphur baths. There was an academy where rich folk could send their sons. When I grew up, there were a few structures left from the academy, and the falling down remains of two spas. The springs were owned by the catholic church, who had a big rehabilitation hospital, and a pretty public park around the springs themselves, with swans swimming in the pond, roses tended by an old man who had been in a concentration camp in the war, and plenty of rarely visited nooks where lovers could tryst and drug deals could go down.

It was a town full of ghosts, asleep and dreaming of its illustrious past.

The public library was located in what used to be a church, a far prettier building than the modern one they built to replace it. Far more romantic, too. And, of course, it was full of books, a warmer, more welcoming place than any church. I knew every corner of it. I spent far more time at the library than I should admit.

I was steeped in nostalgia from the time I could walk.

The library was independent at that time and had not much budget, and, therefore, a wonderful selection of odd books. They purchased new books cautiously and treasured their old ones. Occasionally there would be a spring clean when they tossed some of the less read. There used to be long lists of people who wanted to read bestsellers. The library only got one copy of each book and that one copy worked its way through the list until it got to you. A page attached to the back endpaper had the book’s whole history of who read it and when. I used to take favorite books out just so they could have lots of stamps in them, so the librarian would think the books were in constant demand and not throw them out. Two of my favorite books disappeared that way once, and even though I begged to be allowed to go through the boxes of discarded books reputedly stored up in the old church loft, she would never let me. For the life of me, looking back, I can’t understand why. I constantly reminded the librarian of those books. Why couldn’t she have taken a half an hour sometime and dug them out for me? When you are a kid, the rules and ways of grownups are unfathomable. When you’re an adult dealing with whiney children, you tend to tune them out. Faulty communication, I guess. I probably got on her nerves.

I found myself copies of those books, years later. They were Jack, Jock and Funny, a dog story by Eleanor Youmans, and Red Fox, a nature (fiction) book by Charles G D Roberts, though I didn’t know that when I was looking. This was pre-internet, mind you. Jack, Jock and Funny was relatively easy to find, in that there were no other books with similar titles, but I can’t tell you how many people tried to sell me The Adventures of Reddy Fox by Thornton Burgess. I read it, and several others by him, and knew it wasn’t my own special book from childhood. I nearly despaired of ever finding it, but we were in one of those big old used book stores in New York City (are any of them left?) and I was just scanning shelves, which I had to do since I didn’t know who the author was, and there it was. The cover looked different, cause the library always had those ugly rebinding jobs with that thick, weird feeling cover material, but when I opened it, I recognized the illustrations. I knew it was the right one. I can’t tell you how excited I was. It’s almost embarrassing.

Someday, will someone feel that way about my books? I hope so.

I’ve never met anyone else in the world who was impressed by either of those books, indeed, who had even read them. I am a fan club of one. Well, two on the Jack, Jock and Funny, as I managed to convert my daughter. I have no idea what makes one book a classic and another not. Why some books stay in print and charm generation after generation, and why others are forgotten. Or why I seem to be the one who passionately loves those forgotten ones (not EVERY forgotten book, mind). I truly love old books, the look of them, the feel of them, the smell of them. Not hard to figure out how I ended up owning a used bookshop, is it?

The librarian must have been a fairly patient person, we became good friends. I used to sit up there at the library and talk to her about all sorts of things. As a grown up, trapped behind the desk at a used bookstore, feigning interest as customers went on and on about something, I guess I received my just rewards. Gee, I hope I wasn’t so much of a pain to her as those customers were to me (well, most of them, some I really liked). Oh dear. So much for childhood memories.

In later years, my library was swallowed up by another, larger one. There was a wholesale throwing out of the old, which were replaced by multiple copies of slick new books, librarians with actual library degrees, and lots of new rules. I’m sure it made a lot of people happy. I was gone by then, I never really gave it a chance. They got rid of the big wooden shelves, and replaced them with metal. I suppose the big old globe that lighted up is gone, too, and the naugahyde covered chairs with brass studs.

I used to walk through sections and run my fingers across the spines of the books. I used to pull them out at random and start reading just to see what they were like. I suppose some kid there right now might be taking out a Twilight book, say, lingering at the desk and telling the librarian about some kid at school she thinks is cute. Not everything can have changed, after all.