When I was a kid, a misbehaving kid, my mother would threaten to put a postage stamp on my rear end and drop me in the mailbox.
Trust me, that would have been light punishment considering the grief I caused her. (Come to think of it, the fact of a stamp affixed to my hindquarters underlines the fact that she was serious about dispatching me--without the postage, this wiggly parcel would surely have been returned straightaway to the sender!)
Thus began my early relationship with the mails. I wondered what it would be like to be dropped into that dark box, be bounced around amongst the letters and postcards and parcels. I kind of sort of knew that the scenario was implausible, but on the other hand, was it? Really?
Fast forward all these years, and I still have a passion for the sending and receiving of things. Surprise things. Postcards are a particular joy, a small rectangle of delight that has the ability to transport the receiver to an entirely different place. A perfect melding of image and language, all in a compact, tidy bite.
Last week's postcard-a-day blog adventure got me thinking about postcards in an entirely different way. Or, more accurately, in a deeper way. Seen from the side, a postcard is just a line, a thin wall dividing front from back, image from word. The blank side itself is often divided—half for the sender, half for the sendee. Two relationships evolve with the creation of a card—the writer to the writing of it, the recipient to what's been written there. The card is the intermediary.
I'm an eavesdropper. I love to listen in to conversations, to build whole narratives from the snippets I can grab. I love walking down a street at night, glimpsing other lives framed by uncurtained windows. I love old letters, notes in margins, fragments of handwriting found in the street. And I find a particular thrill in reading a postcard, parsing its inherent duality. What is it the writer intended to say? What is it the receiver insists on finding there?
We say so much, but so much of what we mean is in the words that go unsaid. We tiptoe through language—the very currency of communication--dodging, obfuscating. How effective are we, really, at fogging over our truest thoughts?
My mother's plainspoken postage-stamp threat was clear.
To her I send this postcard--Wish You Were Here.
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April is National Poetry Month, a fact which has little or nothing to do with my Monday Blog. But in anticipation of all of the events this busy month promises, I've been feeling, well, somewhat poetic of late. In the tradition of this blog's tendency to go slant on its subjects, I'm throwing in a little creative bonus this week. For each of the next seven days I'll be offering a rectangle of art along with its inscription, similar to something you might find in your mailbox. I'm calling this small series Postcards I Have Been.
Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy your travels—
MONDAY: POSTCARD the FIRST
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Something has happened. It involved a derailment. Shorn fields, filigree, a vanishing point. I have been feeling outside myself. I would like to say I have seen your stars, but the sky is plainspoken and pained with daylight. When I try to look into it, I can only decipher the beginnings of bruise. But I wanted to tell you of the sunflowers, how improbable they are. And true. Were.
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TUESDAY: POSTCARD the SECOND
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WEDNESDAY: POSTCARD the THIRD
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THURSDAY: POSTCARD the FOURTH
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SATURDAY: POSTCARD the SIXTH
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SUNDAY: POSTCARD the SEVENTH
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I'm not a believer.
And now here a-hoppin' comes the Easter Bunny, intent on making me take another look at my system of non-belief.
Yesterday morning, Easter Sunday, I scuffed down the stairs in my curlers and fuzzy slippers to retrieve the newspaper from the porch. Oh, the paper was there to be sure. But it was plopped in its blue plastic sheath right next to this little crackle-nosed guy, who was waiting in his adorableness with his offering of chocolate carrots.
Dare I admit that squeals ensued?
But wait, there's more!
Chicks and ducklings and jellied robin eggs in the planter box! Wheverer—whomever—did they come from?
Here I was, plodding happily along in my cynicism, only to have a bunny arrive to take a few nibbles from the snarkier edges.
I may not believe in water into wine or stones rolled back to reveal empty tombs, but I was lifted on this Sunday morning. I'll take the everyday mysteries of the human spirit over one day of holiness designated on my desktop calendar.*
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| |* Easter fun fact: Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon in Spring. Well, kinda sorta. | |
The week's just begun, and I'm already behind!
The blog will happen, it's just a question of when. Check with your local provider
for updated date and time.
Turn me into compost, Baby!
Not a huge revelation, but since admitting this to a friend last week, I've a had the opportunity to reflect on just how slothful I've really become.
Let's talk about composting, f'rinstance. I live in a region that is very conscious of—conscientious about—its stewardship of our natural resources. This isn't just noise at a governmental level; it's a cultural value that extends to the everyday of households. Homeowners are installing solar panels to capture heat; we swap out our incandescent light bulbs for the fluorescent variety; our waste is sorted before we put it out at the curb—a container for recyclable materials, one for yard debris, another for the landfill. The system works. My large barrel of recycled materials is emptied every two weeks, but my smaller-by-half landfill container is only picked up once a month. Even then, only rarely is it filled to capacity.
Five years ago I moved from a neighborhood house with a decent-sized yard to a lower-maintenance house with a yard so small I can't even call it a yard without choking on my own hyperbole. There's a strip of grass up front and a patch in back which is planted up with lackluster shrubs that I only have to tend to twice a year. It's a lazy girl's dream, allowing me to idle on the interior side of the windowglass with my cup of hot tea and not-much-to-do when the mowers and rakes and shovels and hoes begin their spring flights off the hardware-store shelves.
And so I now confess that my do-the-right-thing genes have been hunkering down indoors as well. For five this-house years, I've been tossing my vegetable scraps blithely in the trash can under the sink. Every slime-gray potato peel, each boomerang of watermelon rind, all the inedible rowboats of celery—the whole biodegradable shebang has been going right into the can that's emptied into the barrel that rides in the truck where it's dumped into a hole and compacted to a loaf that will last longer into the eons than that proverbial holiday fruitcake and all those other unkillable clichés.
Recycling kitchen waste is not an activity alien to me. I kept a compost bin at my last house. I'd made it myself with cedar boards measured and cut and configured in such a way so that the contents would breath. I filled it with kitchen waste and grass clippings and the autumn trees' dropped leaves. I didn't even begrudge the dogs their scrubbings when, after a wet mowing, they'd bound their way into the open bin, making chlorophylly green leprechauns of themselves. I watered the heap and fed it and turned it. I laced the black harvest back into the soil in the yard.
In my current life I've donated uncounted cat litter buckets to friends who've employed them for their own composting needs. When asked, I wrote a poem lauding the another neighborhood's composting efforts. And with each small gesture I've carved a notch in the expanding waistline of my own inertia.
Fiction writers talk about "consistent inconsistencies," those at-odds-with-themselves traits that legitimize a character's humanity on the page. I've tried to run this scam on myself, explaining that my failure to compost is one of those exceptions that proves the rule of my humanness. But a scam is a scam, and after a while, even I get tired of sniffing out the ones I'm selling to myself.
So last week I bought a compost bin. A recycled plastic one that took, if I puff the numbers, approximately 5 entire minutes to assemble. I installed it in the back patch, behind a threesome of pampas grass that, guaranteed come fall, I'll again be whining about having to cut back. And I'll admit I'm feeling a little proud of myself—for finally coming to do that which I know I should have been doing all along.
Oh, I'm not delusional. I'll be annoyed in short order, grumbling about how quickly my kitchen container seems to fill up, about the long walk down the stairs to empty it out. A clearer conscious does not shake off the lazy blues. But a life is about choices, I think, about trying to make the better ones—one slippery banana peel at a time.
(with thanks to my confessor, Q)
The author, with Kobi, self-composting
Nothing smells quite like a basketball. The rubber-leather-sweaty-grime of it. The wood-floor earthiness. Some old-gym, used-sock mustiness thrown in. Just looking at one makes it all come back to me.
What "it" is exactly, is up for grabs. My basketball career, if there ever was to have been one, lost all its air early on when it became clear that my DNA strands were studded with genes programmed for short & stocky, not lean & lithe. Then there was the matter of my easily distracted mind, which had me making mental artwork of the scoreboard's flashing lights instead of a launched ball's glorious parabolas.
As a point of fact, the one meaningful encounter I ever had with a basketball was in eighth grade phys ed, when a hoopster lobbed a loose one that headed straight for me while I was playing on an adjacent volleyball court. A bone in my hand was fractured when I brought it up to protect my gut. Ooompf.
Yes, okay—Dorksville—but who says you can't teach a never-to-be cager a few new tricks? Forty years later, I've developed an affection for the game. I know I'll never really comprehend the blocking rules, and my eyes aren't quick enough to see some plays through, but I know--I know—when a ball soars in grand arc from a player's hands the likelihood that it will find the net. And I can always tell you which team's got the possession arrow, or if that toe was on the three-point line. And hey, look at that woman a half-dozen rows up behind the bench. Is that a real duck she's holding in her lap?
I can't tell you how I know so intimately what a basketball smells like. My family had approximately zero interest in sports. My childhood home was somewhat isolated, at a remove from a conventional neighborhood that might have seen the occasional pick-up game. And that close encounter way back in 8th grade lasted only a half a second, even if its arthritic aftermath has nagged for a lifetime.
Is it too much of a stretch to believe that in a previous incarnation I was 6-foot-3, with legs as pent-up as pogo sticks and shoulders that understood the arc in advance of the throw? That if ever came the time when I held my face in my hands, it would take just one deep breath to bring all the glory right back into me?
CAN YOU DO THIS???
Oh boy—spring—and the tube feeder outside my office window is already seeing some heavy action.
My neighborhood is fairly new, and as the trees and shrubs have grown ever fuller, so has the checklist of birds who've begun to find the environment hospitable. The house finches are now at it all year long. Last season the occasional junco flitted by. At some point during the summer, goldfinches discovered the easy cache and could be relied upon to empty the tube in less than a day. This delighted me personally, but I have to say that my pocketbook was somewhat dismayed by the expense of the refilling.
I like to think I have an ecumenical view on who is welcome to come and dine. And up to this point, with so little feathered wildlife to enjoy, it's been easy to be full-hearted and open-minded about the visitors. Even the occasional squirrels, orange-bellied and upside-down as they master the feeder designed, supposedly, to keep them out, have been enjoyed without the arm-waving and glass-banging my savvier friends advise.
Thanks to my friend Lynn, a suet cage now hangs near the feeder. An as-yet-unidentified variety of warbler has arrived to feast on the fatty cake, but the expected bushtits have yet to descend in their sweet frenetic clusters. I sit daily at my desk and type, one eye toward the window for any new movement outside the glass.
This morning brought a new addition—a starling. Well, it began with one starling. And then there were two, then four, then eight. In geometric progression their numbers increased until there were more starlings than tree, almost more starlings than sky. The fledglings in their speckly suits attacked the suet like coupon queens on sale day.
I didn't wave or bang. Nor did I dash outside to scold them away like kids in an alley who are up to no good. Even as I watched, disheartened, as whole chunks of suet plopped to the ground uneaten. It somehow didn't seem right to have put out the welcome mat only to greet the guests with a Members Only sign.
As it turned out, the starlings didn't remain for long. Denial always a favored position, I am choosing to believe that it was a momentary fling, their gorging. Who with new wings wouldn't be seduced by every single thing flight delivered them to? But it does give me pause to think about my so-called ecumenical stance. I may open my arms, but how to resolve who's allowed to land there?
| || |The post office has been in the news lately.
A lot in the news.
It's never a good sign when something we take so much for granted suddenly blips onto the radar. Built into the granted-taking is ubiquity. And seamlessness. Only when the fabric begins to show some wear do we begin to pay attention. Let's hope in this case it's not too late for salvage.
I worked for the Postal Service for 26 years, so I've been paying attention for quite some time. I've never been an apologist for the organization. Like any large entity, it has its problems, its functionality bogged beneath the weight of itself. And the USPS's quasi-semi-pseudo-governmental status hasn't contributed to its ability to thrive in a rapidly evolving communications market.
I'm not especially interested in discussing the whys or hows or the details of the decline of the Postal Service. These have been examined at length in the media and, as importantly I think, in Town Hall meetings and around the country's supper tables. Also under discussion have been the Service's many successes. Or so it would seem, judging by the public's resistance to allowing the stamp of the Postal Service to be cancelled into oblivion.
The one conversation that really fires me up is one that I don't see much written about. The Postal Service is, despite its official status, at its core a government agency. And I don't know of any such agency whose continued existence requires that it be entirely self-supporting. Sure, some agencies are able to assess user-specific fees which offset some administrative costs, but it's never assumed that the agency will generate the revenue necessary to completely pay its own way. That the Postal Service has accomplished just this for over for forty years is to its credit, but the Service should not be handcuffed to an arrangement that is no longer tenable.Sure, we need to talk about the viability of this or that mail service or discuss improved transportation networks. We should debate the number of service days in a week. We can argue appropriate staffing levels due to changing shipping volumes. And weigh the relative value of a small post office in a rural community or the necessity of one particular processing plant or other. Every organization should always be working toward its better, smarter self. But a government's mission is not a corporation's mission. A government's mission is to serve its people.The Postal Service's own website sums this up best:
The history of the United States Postal Service is rooted in a single, great principle: that every person in the United States – no matter who, no matter where – has the right to equal access to secure, efficient, and affordable mail service.
It would be nice for us all to write our Congresspersons. But failing that, we could always email them a link.
. . . stands for
The week is young . . .
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Those-in-the-know know that I've spent some time lately working on my collages. I've been away from the practice for a while, so my efforts have largely gone toward reacquainting myself with all the papers & materials, gizmos, gadgets, goops & glops I like to use when I conjure my creations.
One of the things I have been doing is making "grounds," the bases on which new collages might be built. I like to manipulate paper, so I've been busy cutting & tearing, affixing & brayering. The plan is to develop an inventory of these bases so that foundational material will always be at the ready when I want to start on a new project.
Last night I was reading an article on blogging which advised keeping text to a minimum and getting straight to the pictures instead. That one was a bit of a head-scratcher—isn't the point of a blog, um, the writing?—but this morning I've decided to do just that. And so I present you with some bits and pieces of my collage beginnings. These are the firestarters of my imagination. Do they fire anything in you?