A story about me

Thomas Hardy girl-woman, spiritual sailor, seasoned hunter. That’s me. But I won’t tell you this. When I was a kid, a parent blew the magic away from an improvisation in a chair. That taught me to keep my stories to myself. You will think you know me, but you’ll misinterpret me in any number of ways. The visible surface of my life has been edited leanly. You’re welcome to reclothe it from your imagination. You can think of me as a paper doll or some such. Unless you have heart, curiosity and much patience, that is. Most people summon one or two of these characteristics, but it’s only the rare person who is all three. So pretty much, my secret’s safe with me.

You want to know anyway? Without taking tests or accepting challenges, without putting the work in? Well, here’s a brief rundown: There are “done” facts: I’m a Mom. I draw and paint. Then there are “would’ve” facts: I would have liked to dance, and be a doctor — a psychiatrist. And then there are “now” facts: I do tech and design things to make money. The rest is nobody’s business.

Do I have “if” facts? Yes I do. Those I can detail, because they don’t belong to me yet. If I had the time, for pleasure I’d be a beach girl. I more than like the ocean: I can’t live far away from it. I can accept an inland ocean — remnants of seas that rose up as plateaus, and folded into mountains that weathered away, leaving limestone strata riddled with caves, filtering rainwater into underground aquifers, the water pressurized, tasting sweet from dissolved minerals, welling up from springs that pockmark worn-down slopes dressed in blue-green meadows decorated with stands of ancient tannic-barked trees, the old fissures softened to valleys hidden in the mornings by ever-present mists: old oceans like New York’s Saratoga County, Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region. Near a living sea, or upon an old one, I’d dance, and have a horse and a couple of dogs. Maybe two horses.

And that’s it. Except: when I’m coldest is when I’m not. When I’m quiet, something’s boiling inside. And when I’m noisy, I’m feinting. For what, and why? It’ll take you years to figure out why, not to mention what’s involved. Just like everyone, I’m an imperfect mess (sic) of contradictions.

Lord, have mercy on us. Ameen.


The sloop on motor

(a first Dharma 2009 poem?)

the arch of the GWB’s span, the arch of clouds over. north of me, the clouds so low they’re below the tops of the Palisades. south, the bridge has made own weather and the clouds are rolling up a hill of air higher than its towers. the river’s curve to north is lost in dense grey. a sloop, just south of the buoy, has its sails down and is moving on motor. how the cars are stopping for 20 secs at the dead-end overlooking the river, to see the view. normally they immediately turn north to go on the highway north or make a u around the little park on the south to catch the highway south. how the trees — maples, oaks, and wild apples wearing grapevines — are full and rounded. how the bridge is straight and strong. the high stone walls. the river’s on the ebb. the rain’s monsoon-like, even on the slope of this steep hill, the water’s more than ankle deep. how if there were no streets, this would be a wilderness threaded with streams feeding the river. a beautiful man in a purple shirt and running shorts, walking by the river. how I worry that I’m weak and might slip. I wore backless sandals, for the rain. leaning on the stone wall for a while, I decide to go. a rock-dove flies by to land in its cranny in the face of the stone wall below me, south of me. it flew by a few feet from my face. it made a long, long landing. beautiful colors — blues, greys, creams, and a little black — to the undersides of its wings — the curves of the overlapping wingfeathers distinct in the rain, against the soft clouds. how when I got home, the only bit of cloth dry enough to get the rain off my keys was a rain-shadow my left elbow made against my waist. how pneumonia sucks, and rain sings. my hair and skin and spirit are grateful that I walked in the rain. I wanted to to catch the smell of the salt, but the rain was washing the air, so it wasn’t salty.

Columbia U: a NYC tale for you

last night, I went into a stationery shop across from Columbia’s main entrance
to look for a book light, a small lamp I could read by in the middle of the night
the shop was long and narrow with ceilings about 20 feet high
all available space from floor to ceiling from front to back was taken by rows and tiers of zillions of kinds of pens and paper and notebooks and various junk
there were just two long corridors between the stacks of goods through which one could walk to find things
the shop was closing soon, so I asked the shopkeeper where his book lights were, rather than search them out myself
somehow he looked surprised when he looked into my eyes
he took me very seriously and was polite and even a little kind though he was surly with everyone else, from patrons to assistants
I noticed it and just thought of it again now
he didn’t have the book light I wanted so I left
and in the 8 AM light, I remembered being at Pratt when I was 18
and how little money I had for books and brushes, pens, paint, ink and paper
and how cruel the shopkeeper was, at the art supplies store across from the Pratt entrance
and how humiliating it was to be a student with few resources and nowhere to turn
and I realized the shopkeeper by Columbia was like that with everyone, too, but not with me, last night
and I think it’s because when he looked into my eyes
he knew I could see the truth
and he didn’t feel like fucking with me
but all day long he otherwise fucks with the students who come to buy
because he thinks they’re rich because they’re in college
and he fucks with his assistants to show himself he’s better than they are
and because he’s feeling guilty because he’s not being true to his better heart all day long
if he knew how hard it is for so many of those students, money-wise
he should take himself into the little Morton-Williams supermarket two doors south of his shop
and watch how the students walk around for half an hour to find food for twenty-four hours without spending more than five dollars
how the mother with two sons in Columbia has come with them from Spain
and is advising them to buy milk in half-gallon or gallon sizes rather than in single quarts, to save half a dollar
how some of the young women buy things full of sugar that will ruin their health and impede their focus, because those things are cheap
how some of the young men buy nothing but hot dogs and beer for the same reason
how some buy a single apple, and a single portion of fish
and how some walk in and drift around, holding coins, not bills, in their hands,
and walk out, buying nothing, looking hungry and desperate
he would reduce his fucking with others time and feel better inside
anyway I am glad that he doesn’t fuck with everyone 100% of the time
it’s raining this morning
I like the sound of the tires on the wet street
and how it’s starting to smell like fall
it was a day like this when I first came to Pratt
I was born in NYC but we left when I was a year and a half old
the city light in the morning
is very beautiful
long angles
lots of depth
somber energy
the start of another day

Perception and Dance and the Mind


Gia Kourlas’ review of ABT at Saratoga…

“To borrow a line from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Mr. Ratmansky’s favorite book, “It was so long since she had been anything near the right size, that it felt quite strange at first.””

appropros of my own life, in terms of where my emotions have been for seven months, and where they are today.

and dance — what and where it is in my life, and wanting to dance with someone who refuses to dance, who is spoiled and stubborn like a child, and wants to be coaxed for the attention and a hidden dream to break out of his shell that he’s too scared to get out of, no matter how much coaxing, jollying, clowning, loving, caring, and so on, is done.

It takes a War and Bad News All Around

Headlines this afternoon at the NY Times:

Israeli Planes Batter Lebanon Again, Killing 30 People
Lebanon’s president accused Israel of “committing massacres.”
An Israeli general said operations could last for weeks
Over 3,000 Iraqi Civilians Killed in June, U.N. Reports
3 Arrested in Hospital Deaths After Katrina
Indonesians Slow to Return Home After Tsunami
U.S. and British Navies Join Evacuation Efforts

It takes a war to bring the real focus of news into play in the NY Times. We live in a global society now. When there’s no new war, the NY TImes headlines are limited to the US and local news,for the most part. Yeah, the NY Times is a local city paper, NYC is a world-class city. The driving force of the city is its economy. Its economy is global now. its parish is the world. The parochial focus on the NY Times should be global news, every day. These global stories affect us more strongly than the personal but more ephemeral local and US stories. World trends and crises have much more [power and torque] over time than local and national events do. …

(focus: i want more international news from the times — now is the time for the paper to realize we are a global culture. and the times shoudl allow personal blogs — at what cost to them? loyalty of readers, power of the press, versus dollars for servers, staff and power — will it pay? it’s worth a try.)

Scott’s Defense: Art vs. Boxoffice

AO Scott’s Arts section article from today, Tue, 18 Jul 2006, Avast, Me Critics! Ye Kill the Fun: Critics and the Masses Disagree About Film Choices, comes across as a rich set of excuses as to why he and his film critic colleagues are out of step with the public when it comes to some films. He focuses on the disparaging reviews of POTC: Dead Man’s Chest, and the fantastic boxoffice it did this weekend.

Hey, who am I to criticize a film critic? I’m a member of the mass audience who pays his salary: That is, I buy the paper he works for every day, I pay for tickets to the films he reviews.

I’m consistently annoyed with the quality of most of the film reviews in the NY Times these days. Back when Elvis Mitchell was around, the reviews themselves had literar , cultural and social value, much like Anthony Lane’s bi-weekly reviews in The New Yorker Magazine. While I often agree with and trust AO Scott’s reviews, they are very pale in comparison to what they could be. And who is reviewing th ebig box office filsm from other countries? The NYC and US cultural in general is only willign to look at small filsm fom other countries, as if other culturals’ mass entertainment has no value here. Yet how else can we learn about the world, if not through their pupiolar culture? How cna we adapt gracefully and with real understanding to a global world, if we don;t udnerstand what the people of the worl see, and liek well enough to pay for?

(article concept: One thing critics can do is get some distance between themselves and films on a regualr basis. I’ve found the more I know about film the less I enjoy it. It takes some time being immersed in other cultures and media and arts, to be able to come back to film with the same knowledge + other knowledge and a fresh view. With the fresh view comes a fresh viewpoint, a fresh way to see things, and a better understanding of the mass audience that supports film as an industry, and therefore, the critics’ jobs.)

Necco Magic

Items required for Necco Magic:

Summer nights.
Central New York State’s Finger Lakes.
Specifically, Lake Keuka, shaped like a Y.
A foray to Penn Yan or another town, to buy supplies.
The green Studebaker.
A little childish audacity.
The parents, whose supplies-buying trip in the Studebaker was their first summer delight.

Our parents were running away from us for an hour or so. We needed audacity to face their gleeful guilt, and ask them to bring back Necco wafers.

In the summer night, our thin summer pyjamas looking ghostly in the dark, we’d grope under our pillows, to find the Necco wafers we’d put there after our parents brought them back.

Magic time.

First, a skill: Opening the roll at the top, so the thin transluscent paper didn’t tear to spill wafers over bed and floor. Then, a mystery: finding white wafers, which were almost impossible to distinguish from other light colors in the dark. Then, an accomplishment: snapping them so they sparked — they had to be fresh (dry, untasted, and unlicked), held the right way (possible only if they were unchipped, unbroken), and the right pressure had to be applied to crack them halfway across. This produced a tiny spark of light in the deep summer night.

And eating them. The white ones had a harsh mint-like flavor that seemed to corrode the tender skin of our upper palates. The others were more mellow, and much enjoyed, especially the orange and chocolate flavors. The licorice were to be avoided, but since they looked like chocolate in the dark, we never escaped their sharp vegetal taste.

We’d start each summer believing we’d only dreamed of white wafers that could spark. If we had fresh wafers and luck (not every roll had white wafers amongst the others), the dream would become real for a moment or two. The usual maximim of Necco wafer rolls per child per summer was one. If we were lucky, and more came our way, we’d just eat them. When the first tiny sparks flashed and disappeared into the summer night, the myth and magic disappeared with them. Thereafter, Necco wafers lived with us in the everyday world as candies, and nothing more.

Back home, as we moved through the seasons after summer, the myth of the sparking white Necco wafers would grow from summer-end’s nothing to something. In late summer and the autumn, Necco wafers didn’t exist. By Christmas time, fleeting thoughts of dark nights with round white disks and tiny sparks might shimmer their way into our minds. By springtime, the visions were more substantial and exciting. And when summer started, the magic would be fully alive again.

Necco wafers never sparked, back home. Our parents’ explanation was the Necco wafers purchased downstate were made in a different factory. Perhaps the downstate Necco rolls were simply stale, spending their existence sitting quietly in the candy racks while other, fancier, pricier candies were steadily paid for and eaten by the more affluent families in the downstate counties — until dreamers like us bought them at last.

The summmertime magic of Necco wafers became a family secret. It was our own discovery, or so we thought then. There was no way to prove the myth was not a myth, because Necco wafers never sparked, back home. The Necco secret could only be shared with the closest of pals, who might believe us on our word alone. I only told one other person outside the family that Necco wafers were sometimes made of magic. The magic worked only if we were lucky and careful and skillful, and it lasted for only a few moments of our first summer nights in a rented bungalow, perched on a steep wooded slope above pretty Y-shaped Lake Keuka…

…and that brings to mind the year when the toilet didn’t flush! Our bungalow that year was perhaps 60 feet above lake level, and there wasn’t enough water pressure to allow the toilet to flush properly.

Our legs grew very strong, and we became work-hardened, and the soles of our feet became splinter-chafed, as we climbed down and up, down and up, six zigzagging flights of open board stairs to the lake, our buckets in hand, to lift lake water to the house to use for flushing the toilet. A week or more into our stay, after the problem had been fixed by a plumber, I guess by repairing a pump, I remember missing those treks. That was real work, and we didn’t have enough if it, usually. It seemed grown-up stuff to me, serious and survival-related. Those days of lifting water by hand to make sure family hygiene was preserved, became part of my ethos. I took hard work and service and stoicism as my secret friends. And I became very skilled at flushing toilets with buckets of water.

view of Lake Keuka from the shore
P.S. While setting up the links in this post, I found that the white Necco wafers were flavored with cinnamon (elaichi)– no wonder they stung our mouths. And it’s the pink wafers, which are flavored with wintergreen, that actually spark. So much for the accuracy of childhood memories, and night vision! Without knowing what was happening, we’d been able to tell white Necco wafers from pink ones, in that downstate dark that’s not so dark, due to the ambient light from its population centers. And we’d been cracking the white wafers, that don’t spark, while eating up the pink ones, that do. No wonder Necco wafers never sparked, back home.

Albright and Democracy

Today’s Sunday NY Times Magazine has a short Q&A with Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State. One of her answers rings very true to me:

"What really troubles me is that democracy is getting a bad name because it is identified with imposition and occupation. I’m for democracy, but imposing democracy is an oxymoron. People have to choose democracy, and it has to come up from below."

How many people, even in the US, have lost sight of this? Our forgetfulness — even our ignorance — of what makes things work best for everyone has become profound. Sometimes this makes me want to just stand by the side of a road, and scream my frustration to the sky.

The democracy of the US is a group of legal, philosophical, political and social structures that worked well for more than two centuries. In the space of six and a half years, we’ve turned our backs on so much of this. Some have deliberately turned their backs. The rest of us stand in a fog of delusion wrought by the deliberate back-turners. What’s wrong with our will, that we can’t blow the fog away?

Our democracy changed people’s lives for the better. How, when and where is that happening now?

© 23 Apr 2006 Heather Quinn

Sometimes You Just Have to Smile

Here’s an article, Summer Cool of a Different Stripe, that needs nothing from me except a link to it.

If you’re into fashion, you’ll recognize a well-written piece that has just enough sincerity to prevent readers’ boredom, just enough cheek to keep from being too sincere, that is 100% authentic in presenting smart attitudes towards fashion from men to do and don’t take themselves seriously. Juxtaposition makes fashion in the first place.

Juxtaposition. Contrast. A dance of opposites. Hot fudge, vanilla ice cream. Sweet and pungent. Hot coffee, cold day. Cool wind, hot day. Sunny back, ocean swim. Salty breeze, lemon ice. Life, death. And humor about it all — that’s the dance part.

So read Summer Cool of a Different Stripe, and smile.

© 20 Apr 2006 Heather Quinn