Friday, May 29, 2009

Wolfie Is Still Perdido

Poor Wolfie and Poor Raven

Telephone poles on Peck and Gaffey around Angel's Gate Park and the Korean Bell are still plastered, poignantly, with flyers seeking the missing Wolfie. I have been quite captivated by the Wolfie narrative -- offered in both English and Espanol. Sadly, somebody went around a week ago or so and scrawled "Still Missing" on the flyers. In the meantime, the pleading in two languages has produced no results.

"Mi perra se ha perdido. Lo estrano mucho." There's something about the word "perdido" that sounds more operatic than "lost" -- more extravagant and sad.

And in the meantime, Wolfie's distraught owner "Raven" says she just wants him back -- NO QUESTIONS ASKED. Sin hacer preguntas.

So sad - reminders of desperate loneliness on every corner. Too bad. Where is Wolfie?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Busted My Idol Cherry

...and voted for Adam Lambert. Yeah, that boy rocked all season, and sizzled right off the stage with one of my all-time favorite songs, "Change Is Gonna Come." Sam Cooke would have LOVED it. I got goose bumps on my goosebumps.

I like that I got to vote right here on our hillside in LA, after the quake this afternoon. It all seems so right. It only took five tries.

And by the way, go Lakers. In the other room, on the other TV, Ted survived a near-death experience as the Lakers took it to the last second 105-103. Phew...

Just another Tuesday in La-La Land.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Shakin' and Quakin'

Just had the second earthquake in three days in old LA...this one a 4.1 which lasted just a couple of seconds, but it's unnerving after Sunday night's 4.7 -- this new one, already being labeled an aftershock by the USGS, had its epicenter just 3600 feet from the last one.

Our apartment is between the little southeastern "bump" of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, west of Long Beach on the USGS map above.

I had just gotten home from a nice long walk along the hills of Peck Street and up to the Korean Bell. I wonder what it would have felt like up there, where the wind today was so stiff the gulls were flying backwards!

For some reason, I feel happy. Little quakes keep you in the present moment, that's for sure.

So, hey, I'm staying loose and keeping close to the doorframes. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Morning with Gilkey Creek

There's something I've been wanting to write about, something that's nudging at me, a bone in my throat, an agitation in my craw. (What is a craw, anyway? Note to self: Google "craw.")*

I begin with little winding Gilkey Creek, a feeder into the Flint River. It has been part of my life for about 25 years -- since my first husband, Danny, and I moved into our house on Seventh Street. Back then I started walking and jogging along the creek and over its three little foot bridges as part of a route through the neighborhood that has continued to this day.

Here's the thing: sometimes I am in denial about the huge chunk of my life that I've spent in Flint -- I don't know why, exactly, except that as I've said before in many other contexts, I never thought I'd stay this long, and sometimes it simply doesn't feel like "my kind of place" -- or the kind of place I thought I'd end up. Going there in my thinking dangerously leads to "it wasn't supposed to be like this," or, "I could have done better..." And thus to a tunnel of self-doubt if not outright self-recrimination, and nothing good comes of that.

But then, there's this little creek that I've been pausing to look at on its many curves and byways when it's crusted with ice in February and gushing with green life in early May; there are sometimes ducks noodling around under the bridge on Brookside. I've noted the way October leaves dapple the water in red and gold; I've delighted in the little rippling rapids at the footbridge by Kensington. This little creek has meandered its way into my daily life, and I've come to count on it. Maybe it's like an arranged marriage, where after years of just living one day after the other, you suddenly realize you've grown fond of the mate conjoined to you by fate.

There's passive aggression in keeping my feelings at bay about a place I've lived in much longer than the whole of my childhood, much longer than anyplace else I've ever lived, for that matter. It strikes me suddenly that one can take out one's individual resentment and disappointment on the land -- by withholding commitment, by ignoring its needs and travails. By simply refusing or failing to notice.

This dolorous line of reflection from individual circumstance leads me deeper: sometimes individual difficulties, unresolved baggage about ourselves, can become something bigger, taking a toll on Mother Earth. If we're not taking proper care of ourselves and unearthing (ohh...untentional but lucky "unearth" like digging potatoes out of the dirt, a gift, a consequence of our husbandry) thus, unearthing the meaning of our lives, perhaps we also stop paying attention to the natural world that sustains us.

So this is partly an argument for taking care of ourselves -- not just at the superficial "yes, I exercised today," but at the spiritual level -- "yes, I am finding a path to forgiveness, moving on from the griefs and disappointments of the past."

I woke up Saturday, in short, and decided to get up and go to Gilkey Creek, where good-hearted folks not as ambivalent or reclusive as me had organized a Flint River cleanup, including my little tributary. This new, uncharacteristic decisiveness, not without resistance or misanthropy, overall felt refreshing. I thoroughly enjoyed the morning, getting muddy on the banks while tugging out drenched plastic bags ("Toys 'r Us" being the predominant logo in my assigned stretch of creek), shards of styrofoam, candy wrappers -- the usual detritus of thoughtless humanity.

Hmm...that casual little reference just jarred me into insight -- "my little tributary" -- it IS my little creek, as it is all of ours. As I was arguing myself out of bed, dreading having to interact with "people" in my current not-quite-completed rehabilitative state, I thought "you don't have to make nice with the people. But you could care about the creek." That little creek in all its imperfections has given me many moments of pleasure. It's part of the land that was here before us and now, as always, is deserving of our love.

*Craw: a pouch in many birds and some lower animals that resembles a stomach for storage and preliminary maceration of food (

Friday, May 08, 2009

Art Walking Flint

Walking into St. Paul's Episcopal Church tonight, I felt like Flint was a real town for once. It was the monthly art walk, and like last night, this was a blessed, lovely May evening. At the church's big door, a friendly guy hailed people in, eager to show off the church's Tiffany stained glass window, which is indeed breathtaking. The gentleman gave everybody a little handout, delightful reading, with words that vibrate my childhood memories: narthex, transept, reredos, font...I love that sanctuary sensually without regard to dogma because of its colors and shape and art, including floor tiles in the chancel made by Albert Champion at Flint Faience Tiles in the 1880s -- the same company, artistically spun off using the same materials as spark plugs, that made the tiles in my own bathrooms.

It was my friend, the multi-talented Grayce, who got me to step away from lingering reclusiveness again tonight (two nights in a row...this is big), and I wanted to go because she was showing her porcelain fish in St. Paul's parlor. ( I like the idea of art in church parlors, too -- better than in my day, when the evangelicals of my childhood objected to decoration in a sanctuary as if the spectrum itself was somehow ungodly. Who were these people, so frightened of pleasure?? ) Grayce in her red sweater greeted visitors with the verve of a woman 30 years younger -- maybe it's art and poetry that keep her vibrant -- that and her Ohio pedigree.

Out on Saginaw Street there actually were people: a blend of young and old, many children, even music in front of Flint City T-Shirts, where I bought two shirts, one a muscle shirt that amusingly claims "Flint: The toughest town around since 1855" and another one, old postcard style, that says "Greetings from Flint Michigan!" Art students from Davison High School were showing their work at the T-Shirt shop, and a couple of kids sang and plunked on a keyboard and electric, um, ukelele, I think? It was sweet to see all the kids, hanging out in their bohemian garb, lounging on benches, having a little downtown adventure. Down the block, a couple kissed and nuzzled between venues: he in a beret, she in black hair with bangs. Is this Paris, for gawd's sake? Before I knew it I caught myself stopping to stare and smile, wanting to congratulate them, and then I realized I knew them. So glad to know the cosmo couple kissing on the street.

As I say, just like a real town. It felt good.

Jazz and a Full Moon over Flint

Last night at the Flint Institute of Music's warmly intimate MacArthur Recital Hall, nerdy-looking and distinctly middle-aged guitarist Lawrence Newman sat inconspicuously in the background for the first eight pieces while a wonderful collection of jazz musicians -- from the Flint Institute of Music faculty and the Limonest Conservatory in France -- performed a free concert. Then, on the ninth number, the flutes, trumpets and a trombone came out onstage to join the guitars, saxophones, vibes, piano and bass and the whole crowd played three numbers announced as Larry Newman compositions: "Aisle Land," "Voices," -- my favorite of the three -- and the buoyant "Stride" which ended the two-hour show. Throughout the three fabulous performances, Newman stood up and wandered toward the spotlight, but mainly hunched over his guitar or kept a sidelong glance on the other musicians, smiling as they played out his work. As we used to say in Ohio, "Who'd a thunk?" It was terrific entertainment and one of those nights -- a prototypical Flint kind of thing, psychologically speaking -- when one goes in with an open mind expecting nothing in particular and then comes out happily surprised and satisfied into the moonlight.

Invariably, I found myself thinking typical Flint thoughts about the FIM musicians and wondering -- hell, they live here? Where? How do they feel about plying their trade in this old town? Do they wonder how they ended up in Flint when they wake up at 4 a.m.? Where do they hang out? Does a night like last night make it all worthwhile? Do they say to skeptical colleagues from more glamorous ports, "you know, it's not a bad life after all?"

It's true the Midwest has its moments -- of stubborn resilience and serendipity. Sometimes Flint is like the Susan Boyle of cities.

Anyway, I loved the curly-haired, intellectual-looking Jeff Price, an FIM faculty member and saxophonist, gently introducing the show by describing an afternoon in a bar in Lyon, France, wishing his musician friends could play in Flint. Something that starts in a bar in Lyon, France and ends up in the MacArthur Recital Hall pleasing all the rest of us on a balmy May night isn't all bad, and I thank Price for making it happen. The money came from rich people, of course -- the small cadre (and smaller and smaller, one worries--let's hope there are no Madoff victims among them) who keep some of the finest things in Flint going -- in this case, the Patricia Cumings Dort Fund and the David T. Dort Fund.

About halfway through the show, I leaned over to my neighbor and friend John, who's about 20 years my junior, and said the music was making me thirsty for a glass of vin rose and a dark little French cigarette. Back in my day you could still hear jazz from time to time in smoky cafes if you knew where to look -- even in Ohio. John, on the other hand, said he'd never heard jazz anyplace else than in a concert hall. Too bad! We reflected on where it all started -- certainly not in a hall where everybody there looked, uh, well-educated and maybe dressed up a little for the occasion. Does it make it all too astringent, I wondered, like seeing some arcane little piece of a water jar in the Kelsey Museum in A-squared?

So yeah, full moon. John and I walked from our increasingly leafy street to the FIM, and then back, in richly silver light of the moon over the Flint Institute of Art and then Mott Community College and then over our own houses in something like a painting by Rene Magritte.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lilac Day and Joey the Cat Sings Led Zeppelin

This is the first day of lilacs in Flint. The distinct perfume, wafting over the familiar curved sidewalk at Pierce Elementary School. First, my nostrils, as they say, flaring in recognition, alert -- before my mind said, "lilacs." This confirms my long-standing argument with a long-standing friend on the subject "which comes first, thought or language?" First my nose knows, and then my voice whispers "lilacs." Need I say more?

Do you think the children still in school noticed that today was the first lilac day, garrisoned in their late-spring cages?

On another subject, Adam is singing "Whole Lotta Love" on American Idol and my cat is wailing along with him. Either Joey Two the Golden Feline is a true rocker or Adam's Led Zeppelin rendition is hurting poor Joey's ears. Well, Simon says "nobody can top that now." He should have heard my cat Joey.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

"The Pleasure of Doing" -- from The Elegance of the Hedgehog

I'm enjoying Alison Anderson's translation from the French of Muriel Barbery's charming bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog. In Chapter 18, the book's cranky yet vulnerable main character, a widowed concierge, is remembering a scene in Anna Karenina when an aged Levin is scything, at first awkwardly and then, as he works up a sweat and moves through his exhaustion, "his painful gestures become more fluid." Here's the lovely passage that follows:

A welcome breeze suddenly caresses his back. A summer rain. Gradually, his movements are freed from the shackles of his will, and he goes into a light trance which gives his gestures the perfection of conscious, automatic motion without thought or calculation, and the scythe seems to move of its own accord. Levin delights in the forgetfulness that movement brings, where the pleasure of doing is marvelously foreign to the striving of the will.

This is eminently true of many happy moments in life. Freed from the demands of decision and intention, adrift on some inner sea, we observe our various movements as if they belonged to someone else, and yet we admire their involuntary excellence. What other reason might I have for writing this -- ridiculous journal of an aging concierge -- if the writing did not have something of the art of scything about it? The lines gradually become their own demiurges and, like some witless yet miraculous participant, I witness the birth on paper of sentences that have eluded my will and appear in spite of me on the sheet, teaching me something that I neither knew nor thought I might want to know. This painless birth, like an unsolicited proof, gives me untold pleasure, and with neither toil nor certainty but the joy of frank astonishment I follow the pen that is guiding and supporting me.

Here's to scything and writing -- the pleasure of doing.