Saturday, October 31, 2020


I was shocked this evening to see a bit of manifested holiday cheer on the streets, children and parents in costumes-- trick or treating, I suppose, at doorways of shops, grocery stores...  merriment in the park... adults on bicycles dressed as ghosts and Teletubbies.  I'm not sure what I'd be doing if I had young children-- does one keep up the illusion that life is going on as it did, that joy and celebration are still appropriate even during a pandemic?  We Americans-- we make the best of things, I've heard.  Some of us.  

In 1961 I wore one of my father's old suit jackets, pinned and rolled up-- a Stetson hat and a John F Kennedy rubber mask.  It was a good disguise for me, the perennial tomboy who at that moment hated makeup and princess clothes--  low-maintenance and warm.  I tried to imitate the walk of a war hero-turned political leader-- really the first President I celebrated in my young life.  He was a young, handsome father, like my Dad-- a former soldier.  We were old enough to follow the election in school and we loved him.  Again in 1964 I'd looked through my closet for ideas-- was way more enthusiastic about theatre and music and boys than trick or treating...  considered reviving the Kennedy mask, but post-mortem it seemed more tastelessly macabre and politically incorrect.  

Today I saw Trump masks-- left over from 2016?  New ones made with the irony of the very image of the mask-shunner stamped like a grotesque advertisement for the Corona virus?  Hard to decipher whether the wearers are haters or supporters.  An army of Trump faces on the street is as scary as Halloween gets.  Pumpkinheads. 

Last night I was so agitated about the upcoming election I slept not at all.  To distract myself I memorized the presidential sequence.  Incredible to me I've lived through twelve and hopefully will see thirteen in a matter of months.  As an early voter, I forgot I'd have this feeling of helplessness as the day approaches; not much we can do but encourage others.  It's politics, it's numbers... but I've still not fully recovered from the devastating mental hangover of November 9, 2016.  It can't happen again... but yes, it can.  

Out of the 45 names I litanised, there were some bad ones; we lived.  I can't blame the entire pandemic on one man... and yet he's become the symbol-- the mask, as it were, of evil-- of 'spread'... the very opposite of a Protector, a hero-- a blunderbuss opportunist who's turned America into a casino culture.  A cartoon-man whose flaws and failures have been woven into the very fabric of this country in a way that is unprecedented and more horrifying than any haunted house I can imagine.

I have this image in my mind... of a quiet parade-less Thanksgiving morning with one enormous balloon in the shape of an obese Donald Trump floating above the city, children being given old-fashioned pea-shooters or plastic darts.  Pin the tail on the Trump-donkey.  But today, after a sleepless night, I saw the boarded-up windows of Macy's-- a city on edge,  anticipating unrest-- catastrophe.  This is more than an election... this is not a democratic process but a seismic sociologic event.  

Just one year ago I was a musician.  Halloween for decades was not just a children's holiday but a gig-- revelry and dancing.  We played and shared microphones, sang our hearts out-- swapped sweat, licked strings and kissed one another.  We exchanged vampire teeth and masks, ate candy corn and hung plastic skulls from our guitar-necks.  We did Misfits covers and carved out pumpkins.  It is hard to think about being a musician when there is no live music.  What am I?  What are we?  We are diminished-- we are masked not from celebration but from fear.  

It's not just Halloween and a rare blue moon, but the one day of the year we are given an extra hour.  November is beginning on a 'loaded' night... spirits are flitting around, and the cold autumn air is fraught with socially distanced energy and urbanites jacked up on sugar and alcohol.  Kids are resilient, but even they know how much we've lost in the past seven months; the novelty has worn off.  I'm tired of thinking my future will be little more than nostalgic reminiscence-- story-telling.  Tonight I am measuring my life by presidents... ready for my thirteen.  Whatever lurks out there for us, let there be a little hope and humanity-- something more than candy wrappers and smashed pumpkins.  We have less choice than usual, but we can put our faith in a man with a mask, or throw our chips in with a human mask that camouflages a hollow man.  Once in a blue moon, we might deserve a miracle.  

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Monday, October 19, 2020

Blue Ink

 Over the weekend I was touched by the obituary of a type-face designer who passed away.  His fonts and graphic 'eye' are well integrated in our every-day visuals.  The musical metaphors he offered, the way letters and printed words 'speak' to some of us... these people are part of media obsolescence.  I find myself mourning the disappearance of them as though they are family.  They are part of the soul and material of my life.  I miss them; I miss the reality to which they belonged-- the priorities and signposts. “The most beautiful thing in the world,” the Times quoted him as saying,“is a blank piece of paper.”


My neighbor is a well-known older writer.  When we met, years ago, he exclusively worked on an odd and dated version of a dedicated word processing machine.  One night he called me-- panicky-- because it was malfunctioning and any self-respecting computer repair man declined to service this.  I offered him my 'transition' typewriter-- the kind that memorized a line at a time and then printed it out on a page via plastic ribbon.  I held onto these things as souvenirs, and for just such literary emergencies.  It distracted him, but it was wrong.  Ebay, I suggested... and sure enough he was able to find a replacement.  

Meanwhile, I remember thinking how far I'd come-- writing my first novel in Word Perfect, on a Dell PC I'd been gifted, to replace my used  8 MHz IBM PS  which prompted me to install DOS by floppy disk every time I turned the machine on.  From my first ancient Royal on which I'd typed my Princeton thesis (with carbons), to an electric Smith Corona, and onward.  My friends know I'm still using a telephone land-line; I've resisted change/technology along the way.   I am uncomfortable with these systems that seem to accelerate my process until I don't recognize myself.  I need the heartbeat and material of sentence-building, of story-telling.  

The cross-outs and inserts of manuscript writing are part and parcel of understanding a writer's process.  Songwriters, poets... their doodles and marginalia enhance value-- provide clues to the creative path, to private distractions and passions--  a bit of humor.  In the late sixties when I applied to college the applications were hand-written.   On one of them, instead of attaching the passport-sized photo requested, I asked one of my friends to draw me.  I maneuvered questions and embellished things-- gave them what they didn't ask but maybe wanted.  Today the 'common' app most universities use are just that; they leave little room for variety or humor.  My little portrait would have been missed by any computer.  

I wake during the night and scrawl lyrics on paper scraps-- have a supply of writing utensils among piles of books on my nightstand.  Far beyond recalling inspiration now, I still shun middle-of-the-night technology, as though the bright blue light threatens poetry.  Last night I thought about summer camp.  I hated being sent away and from the age of eight spent a full two months in a cabin full of girls with no privacy.  Besides my rag doll, I brought a small stack of paperback books my Mom approved, and a white pad of stationary paper with a blue ball-point pen.  It was the first time I was allowed to use ink.  I can still remember the way it glided along the paper, the sweetish candy smell of the ink, and the halo of my flashlight underneath the covers.  It was during those nights that I think I became a writer.

In this era of backlit news, texts and emails which spread or shrink across screens, I still take my coffee black and my reading material in print, bound and paged.  The way the words flow in linear formations-- the serifs and italics, dots and lines-- these are essential.  They comfort me when I am sleepless, sing to me when I am alone.  The hours and nights of this pandemic have run one into another-- my solitude provides little punctuation, but the near-endless supply of well-written sentences in my old books, the familiar patterns of verse and chorus-- have provided some comfort, like the homesick summer nights of white paper and blue ink.

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