All the wrinkled ladies

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Judging books by their covers: I

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Off and on this summer I have been organizing the multitude of books in our house. Over these many years I have picked up appealing old books with awesome illustrations, intriguing titles, and/or engaging covers. Some of them I have already used in artistic projects. Some I am still planning to use. Some are just beautiful to look at as they are.

These photos are of books from the first shelf (of 69+ shelves) of books in our house.

Above— The Works of Charles Lever Vol. IV: The Dodd Family, The Confessions of Con Cregan, New York: Collier Publishers, n.d. (Probably late 1800s at the height of Lever’s popularity).

Below—Little Journeys to the homes of the Great: Little Journeys to the Homes of Eminent Artists, Memorial Edition, (no author), New York: Roycrafters, 1916.

Bottom of post— Lady Missionaries in Foreign Lands by Mrs. E.R. Pitman, New York: Fleming H.Revell, n.d.

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“Choices We Make When We Are Too Young To Make Them” by Lois Parker Edstrom

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Evenings at the table with my father,
stewing over algebraic equations,

chemical reactions, my young life
sloped toward science and healing.

He didn’t recognize, nor did I,
how I fingered letters

the way the devout touch
prayer beads, that I held them

up to my ear to hear the music
they made when strung together,

a child rearranging alphabet blocks,
balancing them into a fragile

tower that spelled out something
I was too young to understand.

I can’t say how we know
we please, without hearing the exact

words, but I knew. His pride in me
slipped into my hands with soup spoons

and Yardley’s soap as I fed and bathed him
during the last months of his life.

I often wonder if he is surprised,
living as he does, in the spaces

between words, there among
the pages of my books.

“Choices We Make When We Are Too Young To Make Them” by Lois Parker Edstrom from Night Beyond Black. © MoonPath Press, 2016.

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Gembaku no ko

Today is the 71st anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. We visited there four years ago with our son who was teaching in Satsuma Sendai at the time. The many memorials and monuments to peace and nuclear non-proliferation were moving, powerful, plaintive, sometimes even hopeful, though the world itself seems not to have heeded their messages, not to have learned many lessons regarding the value of human life and humanity.

I came across the movie, Children of Hiroshima, Gembaku no ko (1952), the third movie of director Kaneto Shindo, which was the first movie made after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima which actually dealt with the devastation of the atomic bomb (because American censorship had ended on April 28, 1952). The movie itself was commissioned by the Japanese Teachers Union (established in 1947) and is based on the novel by Arata Osada, itself based on personal accounts of survivors of the bombing. The movie was filmed in Hiroshima so has a very convincing feel of a documentary. Though there are definitely parts of this movie that are clearly very sentimental, it is an understandably poignant look at post-war Japan through the lives of survivors and from a Japanese point of view. The movie was first released here in the U.S. just two years ago (2012) when the Brooklyn Academy held a retrospective of Shindo’s films. (Shindo died a month later at 100 years old.) This film in Japan is considered one of Shindo’s most important (of the 48 films he directed and 238 films which he wrote).

Justified in the name of politics and power, the trauma we inflict on each other must end. Recognizing, honoring, valuing our mutual humanity is the work to which we must continue to commit.

The magic of the internet has allowed me to post the film in its entirety below.

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Nothing else to do but read

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Today JB and I went to the library. We haven’t been to the library in many, many years. We read a lot, but somehow have purchased all our reading materials from bookstores or online. When I was at work I would use our school library, but usually I had only a short window of time. But in the last decade, maybe even longer, trips to the public library have been pretty rare. Somehow it seemed there wasn’t enough time. Until today.

When I was a kid, we went to the library all the time. The West Toledo Branch Library, which I frequented as a child, looked like a medieval castle or a chalet. There was something enchanting, magical, sacred about entering its internal space. There were big windows that flooded the interior with light. You could sit there, in the window seats, with your book, soaking up light inside and out. The right half of the library was children’s books, the adult books to the left. I remember my dad letting me wander in the adult section to browse. I felt so grown-up. There were better art books there. There was a fireplace and comfy chairs.

The library was walking distance from our house. After dinner, my dad, sister, brother, and I would often go to take out books. Though we lived so close it never failed that our books were always returned late, especially my dad’s. My mother would sometimes come as well and she would get stacks of mysteries. Sometimes after school we would go to the library and wait until my dad got home from work. I remember the librarian often saying, as we checked out our books, “Please tell your Dad to return his books. They’re all overdue.”

There was this feeling, this smell, this feel about the place. I’m sitting here writing this now and its memory seems so real. The look of the books. Those textured bookclothed-covers with the opaque printed titles and images. The rounded hefty spines.  The illustrations. Mrs. Piggly Wiggly, books on dinosaurs, the librarian’s desk, the counter where you checked out books, the stamp the librarian used to put the date on the card when the books were due, and the pocket that held that card. The window seat. The quiet. The browsing. The walk home. The anticipation of the stories inside my checked out books. The calm. The palpable sense there was nothing else to do but read.

Today JB and I updated our library cards, paid some old fines, and casually spent a chunk of time browsing in the public library. It was incredibly refreshing, stimulating, inspiring. The literary temptations were endless. There was a palpable sense that there was nothing else to do but read.

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Lunching on Joe Pye Weed in the east garden

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Emptying out some of the cluttered spaces

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I was driving home today after doing some errands and a very old memory popped into my head. I was young —maybe 8 years old. There was a car accident at the corner of our street, Sabra Road and Willys Parkway. I was outside watching the people involved in the relatively minor accident get out of their cars. It was then I saw a motorcyclist sans helmet ride by and he turned his head to look at the accident as he continued driving down the street. There was an oncoming car and I remember shouting, “Look out” as the motorcyclist, with his head still looking at the accident which by that time was behind him, plowed right into the oncoming car. He was thrown from his bike.

It was shocking. My heart was racing and it felt like a heavy lump in the middle of my chest. I am almost certain I even projected myself onto the seat of that motorcycle because I too felt compelled to stare at the car accident. I remember feeling the overwhelming irony of the whole affair— the accident because of the accident, the bitter consequences of this distraction. I’m not sure what happened to the motorcyclist, but the rumors that flew through the neighborhood were that he had died. He had died because he was distracted, because his focus was dangerously other than where it needed to be.

I remember the grief and the powerlessness I felt when I thought about how my inadequate warning had absolutely no impact whatsoever on the situation.

My husband, listening carefully, asked me why I thought this image came up for me today.

Perhaps it is because I have been emptying out old files and organizing piles. Maybe a few cobwebs came loose. Perhaps it is because I spent this last weekend with family celebrating my mother’s and her twin sister’s 89th birthday. There were lots of stories shared and my mother even recited some of the poetry she wrote and performed when she was a teenager.

This is not the first time I ever recalled this memory, but it is the first time I asked my mother and sister if they recalled anything about it. (They didn’t.) I even tried to google information about the accident but nothing came up. It wouldn’t surprise me if I didn’t say much to my mother about it at the time or that she had little response to it if I did. I remember at the time trying to talk about the accident with a former babysitter of mine who lived in a white house facing where the accidents occurred and recall that she cut the conversation short.

Maybe the dwelling in this memory today is all about emptying out some of the cluttered spaces inside. Tossing and letting go of the accumulated material detritus of my life has perhaps initiated an emotional and psychological cleansing as well, setting free clots of deeply buried feelings. Perhaps.

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