Archive for ‘Fresh Ideas’

The Farmer’s Daughter

November 17th, 2009

I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint by buying locally grown produce. I grew up eating tomatoes my grandfather grew, rhubarb from the backyard, corn fresh from the farm, cucumbers straight off the vine. When I left for the big city, supermarkets became my farm, and I got used to apples from New Zealand or edamame from China. Now we’ve come full circle, and I subscribe to a local farm co-op that delivers a bag of fresh vegetables every week. Unfortunately, my life with vegetables resembles the “I Love Lucy” episode in the candy factory. I’m cooking as fast as I can, but I just can’t keep up with the supply. Toward the end of the week, I get frantic and start throwing everything into a massive stir fry just to use it up. Not to mention that I often don’t recognize what comes in my bag. Napa Cabbage? Never heard of it in Kentucky. Those chiles — are they mild or hot? Evidently they’re hot, because I rubbed my nose after handling and chopping them, and now it’s on fire. Really–my nose has gone to Hell! Can you hear me scream from there? I know it’s important to go green, but (please don’t despise me!) I hate LED lights (the twinkle lights on my porch are magical), those curly light bulbs (you can’t dim or 3-way them), pleather shoes (don’t take my Fryes away), reading the paper online (I want ink on my fingers) and stainless steel water bottles (I feel like I’m using a WWI canteen). It’s like going green means being on a perpetual diet — yeah, it’s good for you, but so is Pete Seeger and sometimes I want a little rock and roll. But if I have to be on a green diet, I would love to see big business voluntarily reduce their carbon footprint or Japan give up slaughtering whales or Massey Coal just say no to mountaintop removal in Appalachia. But no, we little people press on — composting in our backyards, recycling our magazines, eating grass-fed beef or going vegan, while the biggest offenders on the planet continue their greedy, grasping way of life and our elected officials take money from their lobbyists. How about a peaceful, powerful revolution?

Resisting the Door Trying to Open

September 15th, 2009

When I start a writing project or even begin thinking of one, I alternate between flashes of excitement and great despair or resistance to the idea. I allow myself to fall into blank discouragement — and when it happens, it feels like a physical collapse in which I question the idea’s uniqueness, wonder if it’s useful, convince myself I can never pull it off and then sit down on the floor and stare at the door closed against me, unable, unwilling to push against it. Eventually I put my shoulder to the locked door and shove, or I sneak around it and enter through an open window, and I remind myself that this is just part of my normal way of working. It helps to know this is not something out of the ordinary, that my initial reaction doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a crappy idea, that I have to go through this to break through to the inner room of my imagination. And after all is said and done, aren’t I lucky to be able to do this for a living? What tricks do you use to break through to the other side?

Off-Center World

July 26th, 2009

Why is it so hard to see the world in a different way? I know I’m supposed to look at everyday scenes with fresh eyes, but I constantly catch myself giving my surroundings a blank stare. I take my power walks through beautiful neighborhoods, under greybeard oak trees swagged with Spanish moss, down to the marsh and the Intracoastal Waterway in the distance. I often pass a house where there’s a crazy-colored parrot walking and squawking, an old cemetery divided into white and black folks, a shop window full of covetable objects, and still I find myself marching along to the beat of “Beat It” and checking my heart rate instead of my heart’s desire. Snapping this photo while crossing the bridge to work gave me an accidental off-center take on a view I “see” twice a day, five days a week. If only I could set my eye’s lens to do that at will.

Celestial Tomato

June 16th, 2009

On the way to my car this morning, I picked one of my new homegrown tomatoes and put it on the seat next to me. When I got to work, I decided to let it ripen a bit more on the dashboard, but when I locked the car I noticed the sky was reflected in the car window and the tomato seemed to be floating in midair. Of course I think this tomato is a miracle, lacking only the face of Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe to warrant crowds of worshippers, but beyond that, it reminded me yet again to look for beauty everywhere. Today, my dental hygienist asked me if I was going to be doing anything fun this summer, and I almost said “not really,” but caught myself in mid-naysay and answered, “Every day is fun.” We both laughed at the novelty of that thought. Not that I remember to live by that often enough, but I’m going to try to look for more celestial tomatoes every day.

Ask Not?

May 11th, 2009

I don’t know what this directive on the theater marquee across the street from my office refers to, but it made me start doodling mentally and filling in the blanks. 
ASK NOT:
* for more than you need.
* for something that rightfully belongs to someone else.
* for extra dessert because you’ll hate yourself for it in the morning.
* for advice unless you’re going to take it.
* for an Incomplete unless you have mono or swine flu because you’ll hate yourself for it next semester.
* for something or someone bad for you unless you’re willing to take the consequences.
* for an easy life because you’ll be a fragile hothouse flower instead of a hardy perennial.
* for just one more procedure because you’ll end up looking like Joan Rivers. Even Demi Moore might end up looking like Joan Rivers.
* for closure because doors don’t always get shut as we move from one room of our life to another.

Opening, Not Falling Apart

April 13th, 2009

I’m a worrier. I see the sky falling instead of realizing it’s just a storm moving through. Too often I assume a mental fetal position instead of  rising up into Warrior One. I sometimes gnaw on my fingers until they bleed–21st century workplace stigmata brought on by fear of being dispensable. But today I had breakfast with some out-of-town friends who not only gave me a jolt of their creative electricity but also passed on some of the best advice I’ve heard in a long time: “Things are not falling apart–they’re opening up for you. Just don’t get freaked out by the cracking sound.” I felt that inner click you get when things/ideas/whispers fall into place in your mind. Click, click, click–like moving the tiles around on one of those old-school games I used to give my kids to play with. That satisfying physical click when all the signs align properly and you recognize the path, don’t know where it’s going, but know there are other people traveling with you.


This week my mail was stolen out of my mail box. A sweet little standard box with a red flag on a post outside a white picket fence entangled in a jasmine vine. I’ve lived in my neighborhood 7 years, and this is the first time I’ve been vandalized. Worst of all, it was someone who lives nearby, according to the neighbor who saw her. I’m sad and angry all at once. It’s hard times out there and people might be verging on desperate, but it breaks my heart and pisses me off that now I have to install the Alcatraz lockdown version of mailboxes. That the Barnes & Noble gift card my daughter sent me was stolen. That this woman might have taken my Social Security check if I’d been an old lady living on a fixed income. But then I started fantasizing about what was stolen.  The announcement that I won the MacArthur Genius Award? A letter from an old lover who realized after decades that he could not live without me? An apology from someone who wronged me years ago? A job offer from Tina Brown? The possibilities inherent in what I didn’t receive are magical. 

Information Sickness

February 4th, 2009

Twice this week, I’ve been at dinner parties where the main course was conversation. On Superbowl Sunday, no football was watched. Instead, we ate shrimp creole, climbed up to our hostess’s roof to look at the stars in the cold night sky, and listened to a chef tell funny stories about his colleagues until the hour was late and all the wine bottles were empty. Two nights later, I shared soup and sensibility with three smart, independent women, and again the talk and ideas were what whet our appetites. They were occasions that reminded me of how much more satisfying face to face, heart to heart contacts are than electronic ones. And how I need to spend deep quality time with myself as well as others. I’m so often guilty of coming home after work and turning on both the television and the computer until it’s time to go to bed. In the morning, I get up and turn on the television again to get the Sponge Bob Square Pants version of world events via the Today Show. When my children were small, I relished opportunities for silence and solitude, but that was before the computer took over my life. Over the past decade, I’ve gradually become addicted to chatter, both literal and digital, and I’ve started to realize how hard it is for me to turn it off. I’m going to try and make one night a week free of electronics–a small step toward renewing my acquaintance with my old self–the one who writes with a pen, sticks with a story instead of changing channels and listens to wind chimes instead of the Weather Channel. 

Messages from Another Planet

October 25th, 2008

Funny how I can remember the yellow tulips on this dress my mother made and I can barely recall what I had for dinner yesterday. This photo was taken at my grandmother’s house–see the clover in the grass? And just across the street behind those trees is an old cemetery where many of my family are buried and where I loved to play as a kid. I went back there this summer and it was actually much the same, not smaller as so often happens to places that we loved in childhood. The thing that was diminished was my capacity for wonder, awe and imagination. My sense that right around the bend in the road, where it turned from tarmac to dirt, an alternate universe would open up. Just over that next hill. Just on the other side of that high stone wall. As a child, I lived in an enchanted world that lay just under the “real” one. If I made a map of that wonder land, I’d include the bank of violets down the road–a pool of inky blue that made me want to lie down on it and become the essense of violets–only I didn’t understand that was what I longed for. I’d draw myself by the the lake in the cemetery whose dark waters were occasionally pierced by the dart of a red carp/koi–like a message about death, grief, foreverness seen for a moment, almost grasped by my little heart and then lost. I’d put an X on the grainy cement cistern top covered with tomatoes set there to ripen in the sun and make wavy green and red lines to indicate the mingled smells of fresh cut grass and fresh cut watermelon–so similar and so distinct. I’d show my grandfather always walking away toward toward a row of rhubarb by the fence. I’d leave space for the silences between adults that I never understood and the closed doors and raised voices. The shoals of mystery. The places on the map where a child can get lost for long years. I was reading Twitter messages on a friend’s blog today–minute by minute minutiae of what she was doing, cooking, eating, watching and thinking–and I thought how sad that we know everything now and it has turned out to be so little.

Hotel of Dreams

August 3rd, 2008

I’ve been staying at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville for the past two days. It’s my second visit and I wish I could live here. The photo was snapped of the welcome mat in the lobby. It’s a video projection and as you stand around waiting to check in, the sleepers move, turn over, reach out for each other. I never tire of waiting for something to happen…a potential little story unfolding before my eyes. The hotel is filled with startling, controversial, thought-provoking art installations, and it makes me wonder why schools, hospitals, and other public buildings can’t be as well. I don’t mean the bland pudding-comfortable stuff that generally passes for public art, but pieces like this that jar your sensibilities, move you out of your ordinary state of mind. Every time I stay here, I’m all shook up by it. Originally, I booked it to have a refuge from my family’s antics when I come home to visit. Now I look forward to coming here. It’s not just a place to sleep or stash my suitcase; it’s a destination on its own, a place to create, conjure, recover, dream. It never occurred to me that a hotel could be a muse.