Let Them Eat Artichoke

For the longest time, I disliked artichoke (among other “weird” looking vegetables and fruits). Artichoke looked entirely unapproachable. Artichoke looked scary, unknown and unknowable. Dislike is the absolutely easiest thing in the world. Dislike implies little to no emotional risk.

My thoughts will sound non sequitur, but trust me, as my grad school mentor (progenitor of bitch face) used to say, “Everything is to the point. Our job is to make the connections.” I should know: even when I was a sketchy teacher, I proved Nancy Walker right every single school year, and usually again during the miniscule weeks of summer break. I still do. Every year, I remember that I know for sure that our job is to make the connections.

I first gave artichoke a chance the summer of 1996 when Paulina, a dear teacher friend, gave me a book called She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes. (I think I finally know why, after a four week summer writing workshop she gave me that book – connections don’t always come instantly.) My mom was visiting that summer. My mom the gardener, the would-be vegetarian; my mom the writer and thinker and teacher. Momma and I were inspired to boil up artichoke and make hollandaise dipping sauce thanks to Paulina. Thanks to Momma, I learned about the “choke”, and the nutty sweetness of the heart.

To get to that tender nutty sweetness, the raw, fresh artichoke has to be boiled, steamed or baked a long time. A long time. An hour. Sometimes more. And like the efforts of a teacher who has watched over raw, fresh students, the cook asks and waits, offers and waits, and even after she asks and asks again in a rolling boil the work is still not done.

I waited, and watched, and offered, and asked, and “boiled” this senior class all fall semester. There was a part of me that began to think finding their hearts was too hard, and maybe I should just dislike them and move on with my life. But early in the spring, as I kept watching and offering and waiting and asking – I saw unexpected bubbles of interest here and there linking the struggles of the wife who lamented to the conflict between vengeance and survival in Hamlet; recognition of themselves and their culture in the frustration of Winston and Julia as they sought freedom. Among these bubbles of interest and hints of tenderness the purple heart beneath the choke began to appear.

The artichoke metaphor came to me in the blinding, breathless five days in which I read and evaluated ninety-four 10-page essays (sometimes more, sometimes less). But the metaphor was incomplete until the following week when I sat for three straight class days in the brand new auditorium listening to my students tell each other and their teachers what they know for sure, right now, this moment – about themselves, about excellence, about the world at large.

Unlike my students, when the talks got a little dull or repetitive, I couldn’t distract myself with games or social media on my phone since I was evaluating the nuance and structure of argument and general effectiveness of the talks. I had to pay attention to the peeling away of each teardrop-shaped leaf of experience with my complete self, my whole brain and intellect, while my students reached into themselves and exposed the tricky, hair like choke above their hearts.

At times, during the talks, I wanted to curl up on the floor under my chair and disappear as students sheared away all illusion of youthful innocence. Despite all the watching and waiting, I had glossed over important details about the needs of astronauts, the bent backs of dancers, the shadows of introverts, the power of WORDS, the losses and losses and losses and near misses. In those three days I could see how my students held each other together both intentionally and by accident through the traumas and victories of their lives and the lives of others. Being a grown-up had dulled my sense of observation and turned me into nearly pure choke. On the final day of the talks I was both shaken and renewed. My students had revealed the heart hidden beneath the protective choke, and allowed me to find the nutty sweetness the choke protects.

That was three weeks ago. Now those students are gone and they will never be that senior class in those particular groupings ever again. And they are a nutty sweet memory with a lingering burn on my tongue and in my throat. I will remember each leaf – the beast, the giant weeping Pooh bear, the surgical steel-coated heart, the twin, the son, the daughter, the dancer, the actor, the comedian, the philosopher, the coder, the triathlete, the scholar, the loafer, the lover, the friend, the artist, the broken-hearted and the whole, the insomniac, the gamer, the anxious, and the complete orange – as if I had scraped away the choke protecting them with a spoon and let the pure heart beneath meld into my own experience.

When the artichoke is gone, it always seems too soon. As if I could have savored these hearts so much more, appreciated more, loved more. The wish for more leaves me with an ache, a yearning. Yes, dislike would have been easier, less complicated. But the heart is totally worth the effort.

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A Word on Notes … A Note on Words

Recently, a musician friend sent me this quotation and the question that follows: “If I could express the same thing with words as with music, I would, of course, use a verbal expression. Music is something autonomous and much richer. Music begins where the possibilities of language end. That is why I write music.” — Jean Sibelius

Would you debate this one?

#25 Violin & Piano Sonata

#25 Violin & Piano Sonata — Mozart

At first I leaned toward agreeing with Sibelius about nuance and richness of music. One reason I don’t write much about music as a generality is that I’ve read too much bad writing about music: “It always meets me where I am and never asks any questions. It can pick me up when I’m down, and mellow me out when I’m sad / mad / jealous / etc.” And to some extent that has also been my experience with music. But to a much greater extent, my experience with music is cerebral as well as emotional and tends to defy words.   Like many other people, my life has been bookmarked with music: the sweet and sorrowful memory of my great loves, losses, accomplishments, ridiculous decisions, and moments of simply living — at the beach, in the forest, on my bike, in the city, under Christmas lights, holding hands, kissing in the rain — all come with their accompanying harmonies, melodies, drum lines, oboes, cellos, electric bass, and of course, violins. Suggesting that, in fact, music does tend to speak deeper and, indeed, embrace more widely than mere language.

As I learned a second language, and came to be able to use it (relatively) well, I became aware of many limitations in my native language. As a writer who works toward a precarious mix of precision of words and bending of language to build an idea or an image, such limitations quickly frustrated me. I solved this problem by using Spanish words where nothing quite “fit the bill” in English, even though I know that most of my readers aren’t bilingual. Here again, music overcomes the limitations that culture, education, and social expectation impose on language.

But then I ran across (with an entirely unrelated motivation) a TED talk by Jamila Lyiscott in which she addresses the problems and joys of being “articulate” in her 3 languages. (It’s worth a look. Her talk / poem brought me to tears – no small feat.) She says, “I speak a composite version of your language because mines was raped along with my history. I speak broken English so the profusing gashes can remind us that our current state is not a mystery.” Listening to her speak I thought again about the way that being bilingual has changed the way I write, and even what I write about. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’ve become convinced that the changes in my poetry over the last five years or so are indebted to my daily immersion in my second language. I don’t think that anything other than someone else playing with language(s) could have made me think those exact thoughts. Not even music.

nobody told you

…no one alerted you…

In the end though, I can’t fully agree or disagree with Sibelius. There are times when language reaches places that music doesn’t even try to reach. When I write a poem, I know that readers will see the exact images I write, even if they don’t attach the same emotion to them that I do. I know that I use words to reach certain unspoken taboos, emotions, memories in readers, and I’m also aware that the places my words touch are not fully predictable.

I think much the same about music. Sibelius and Rimsky-Korsakov and the other favorites tell stories in musical phrasing and pitch and key (and …), which have the advantage of bypassing languages and cultures in ways that language cannot, or are unlikely to do. Still, I feel certain that the government of Germany in the 1930s and 40s did not hear the same stories in Wagner that I hear. That music reaches me as a listener is without question; that the intent remains intact from Sibelius’ ear to my ear, must remain a question forever, as I cannot sit down and ask him about any given piece. His experience is not my experience, though we are both human and from Western cultures. These intersections in culture may influence my response, but I can never know if my response is the response he sought.

I’ve heard and read artists of many genres who say that it doesn’t matter that their audience “gets” the same thing that they imagined. The matter and substance that the audience picks up go far beyond the original intent, encompassing both more and less than “intended.” In this sense, art is not a spectator sport. In spectating we also participate actively, a fuerzas, and in general the artist and her intent is no longer a factor. The art becomes art via the interpretation of, and interaction with, the audience. Without that dialogue, art of any stripe is meaningless.

A little piece of me (the bogus English teacher part) wants to suggest that perhaps Sibelius should have put a bit more time into his writing, maybe experimented a bit with things outside his ken and comfort zone. Maybe in words, too, he could have transmitted more than he imagined. But then again, his music has left so much to think about, so much to experience in the worlds and scenes he weaves over our eardrums and nervous systems. Perhaps, he was right. At least for himself.

So to answer the question, I don’t think I’d debate Sibelius at all. But I wouldn’t mind sitting down over a good glass of wine and talking it all through with him in front of a Finnish fireplace. I’m certain I would learn much about how to listen and be a better audience of music. And, who knows, he might learn a thing or two, as well. ‘-)

~LD

A Poor Tribute

Preface:

Many years ago, on the occasion of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, I wrote a heartfelt poem of thanks for her daring and grief for her loss. I was little more than a child, and since then I have begun to understand or at the very least to have more experience in the twisty ways of politics, corruption, and human hate. And though I don’t know that I could have agreed — as an adult — with Mrs. Gandhi’s politics, I still see the importance of her election at that time, and am dismayed, even now, at the power of humanity to destroy the best of who we can be. My words built a fine novice poem spoken from the voice of a very young and naïve broken heart.

Twinges of that tiny outraged voice resounded in my belly today on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, when I ran across an interview with Elie Wiesel conducted by Bill Moyers in 1991.

I was struck by the tenderness of Dr. Wiesel’s voice. Not his words alone, but the melody and scope of honest question and wonder that permeates the sound of his voice. I could listen endlessly to Dr. Wiesel speak. The poem that follows, poor and clichéd as it is, encapsulates my side of a conversation I’d have liked to have with Dr. Wiesel, as fine a teacher and witness as I can imagine. *Namaste*

(I find it much harder these days to share such work. Not because it is intensely personal, but because I realize now how flawed my (our) perceptions of public personas can be. I hope the spirit of my thought is clear.)

May Your Work Set You Free: A Blessing for Dr. Wiesel

Seventy years ago you stepped into
a chill, rosed Polish Dawn of human indifference,
a boy no more.
And though the words
you’ve scratched out
as you’ve trod the path since that day
shatter repeatedly against the fogged mirror
of Night in our minds,
the song in your voice seeps
relentlessly between the cracks
of our human weakness
illuminating the poetry –
not of Joshua’s wars –
but of human experience,
and we are better
for hearing
the power
in your
diminishing
years.

~LD

Parts of a letter: thinking out loud in the cold

The thing about art is, as Beethoven said (Is this true? Is this a myth someone told me to make a point when I was a youngling? I will look it up later. Anyway, in my head a grizzled, bitter Beethoven speaks) there is nothing new in music (or any art). There are seven basic notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B, their sharps and flats, repeated at higher or lower pitches, but the combinations are essentially finite. Measurable. Maybe even predictable to an extent (enter math).

What varies infinitely (or seems to – maybe this depends, like so many things, on one’s take on God and creation) is the certain curve and weight and touch that imparts “feeling” to a piece. What varies infinitely is whether we hear the same stories that Maxim Vengerov does in an Ysaye piece (unlikely, unless we happen to have the good fortune of being one of his master class students), or some other story entirely. With good, solid study, the stories should come near to being the same, even among musicians who’ve never met, but are unlikely to be what Ysaye himself saw as he composed. (Insert Shakespeare and Harold Bloom as the expert here if you like. Same result.)

What this tells us about a text like, say, The Hunger Games is not that it’s bad, or even especially good, but rather that Collins’ perspective on things like feminism, survival, capitalism / socialism, the conflict between love and self are presented sufficiently intelligently and artistically to pull in readers who might not otherwise have considered such important ideas (if they were forced to read them, say, for class). Ideally such texts lead them to read and appreciate (if not always enjoy), other, more complex, more artful works on similar ideas.

Naturally, many young readers aren’t ready to go there (neuro-biology works against them), but sometimes readers go back to books (and other works of art) like an old friend after they’ve matured, and see the bigger ideas then. (And yes, there are more than a handful of knuckleheads who never get it. Still, my teacher brain insists there is hope for human enlightenment. ‘-)) Even Harry Potter has at least some artistic value for bringing the old Greek myth figures back to the front of people’s minds. Ok, maybe not the front, but not the pit of intellectual despair that was 9th grade lit class with Odysseus.

So reading those books has value to the extent that they open a door for readers to be intellectually warmed up for 1984, Gatsby, The Old Man and the Sea, Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare, A Clockwork Orange, and the rest. I read “lesser” works because working with young intellects is part of what I’ve chosen to do with my life and I need to know how to talk to them with some authority about the big ideas in the little stories that get their attention. Sometimes such works even have the added bonus of being “fun”, which is too often undervalued.

Perhaps the fact that we read / enjoy / participate in mediocre and bad art eventually leads us to greater and greater feats of human imagination. At the very least, the mediocre and the bad may lead us to think differently than we did before.

I agree that the artist must create for him/herself. But it seems to me that the great value in art must go beyond the interior world. Visual image (dance, flat art (like painting), sculpture, film) and auditory image (music, speech / language) become ways of relating to the world and the experiences you live. Creating art is a way of making meaning out of the (sometimes) apparent meaninglessness of being human; I’d go so far as to suggest that art requires the artist to consider an audience, even an unreal one, to offer a serving of perspective (like a glass of wine on a tray) in order for the meaning to be, well, meaningful.

And yes, I know, I’ve just effectively destroyed all my reasons for not writing lately. I think sometimes that I work harder at not writing than I do at writing. ‘-) I’m pretty sure I’ll be cold and dead before I can really not write. Weaving language and words into meaning are my skin and heart, maybe even my soul. Only my ridiculous, flawed, grown-up human brain gets in the way. ‘-) Ego is a powerful dismotivator.

I loved what you wrote: “Art (in any form) is a gift from God … designed for … people who understand it to keep them happy even when everything else is shit. (I could not find a simpler and more complicated definition than that). Life is like running in the freezing cold in the middle of the woods, and art is like finding a nice cabin with a fireplace inside, to stay there forever. One who enjoys art should never have to quit [the cabin] ever again.”

Once in a while the only way to get to complexity is simply. I’d add that life is like running NAKED and BAREFOOT in the freezing cold. But I can’t help thinking that art need not be a consolation prize.

~LD

Tools of the Trade — thoughts on home ownership (week 1)

As I clamped the pliers down on the disappointingly named decorator hook and it bent into a shape utterly unrecognizable as a hook, I thought, “I should have known better. They’re called “decorator hooks”; OF COURSE they are made of cruddy pot metal that won’t hold up to any serious twist.” I had pre-“drilled” a hole using a hammer and nail, and still, the underside of the MDF cabinet wouldn’t take the pretty little hooks I’d picked for hanging my measuring spoons and cups without mangling the hooks. I sighed, such a waste of elbow grease. Did the math – about two bucks for ten essentially useless, but pretty, hooks. Lesson learned (again): if you can’t handle and examine the product before you buy it (especially when it comes to hardware) there’s a good chance that it is, well, crap. Back to the hardware store, this time for hooks which are less pretty and more functional. Fine.

In the master bedroom, as I set up the somewhat tall, massive, buffet-style table that I built a few years back, with the notion of using it to fold clothes and to hold my jewelry boxes, I’m still rather amazed that the only major flaw is that (just) one leg is about a centimeter shorter than the other three. I cut the lumber for that table with a handsaw. A HANDsaw. I measured everything carefully, but still that one leg got away from me. Though the table is hardly what you might call beautiful, it is exactly what I wanted; I should take the time to plane the other legs down to match the short one. But, I never do. You should see my plane, so antiquated as to be nearly a joke. A plane requiring elbow grease. I use it. But I try to keep it to a minimum. I’m low on elbow grease, and they don’t sell that stuff at the hardware store.

Having purchased a home, I think I might have done well to also invest heavily in a hardware / paint store. I’ve lived here four nights, and already I need a new key for the hot water feed to the washer (that side is drippy at the handle), a decent drill with concrete-capable bit, paint for the façade — not to mention the front entryway — a couple of quarts of hole-filler putty, a good pair of cable cutters to dispose of the tv cable in inconvenient places. I’m sure more such details will occur to me over the weeks and months and years to come. Maybe if I’d invested in a hardware store, I could convince them to stock elbow grease.

~LD

PS. Ridiculously happy in my new place in spite of minor details. I’m dreaming and drawing it into the shape I’d like it to take. No doubt, this will be a project of some planning and time. ❤

On Students and Other Strangers (revised from ’09)

I was led back to this multi-genre piece by the friend (one time student) who asked me to write it for one of his final projects. I was stunned not to find it in my files, and he was good enough to resend it. So while he’s off on inspiring adventures all over the place, I thought you might like to have a peek. I used to call him double-O-seven, because as a yearbook staff member, he could get his mitts on anything. A terrific person all the way around. I’m so lucky to be a teacher and learner of THIS kind of person. There are so many of them! NOTE: I’ve adjusted to make the timing make more sense now.

***

Approximately seven years ago I was accosted in the hall by a student from a grade that I’ve never taught and hassled about books.

“Ms. Head,” the strange, but vaguely-familiar looking young man said to me. “Have you ever read ‘X’ by ‘Y’?” Let’s face it: I’ve slept since then; I have no idea what books he asked about. I wasn’t really listening in any case. I was trying to figure out which of my students he reminded me of.

Still, I must have responded to the question, because not to do so would have been rude. I think there was more conversation, perhaps more questions. But I was still trying to figure out who the student reminded me of.

Time passed. A week? A month? A year? Enough time for me to forget about the hallway book-assault.

I was walking from my classroom toward the elevator. I’m sure my mind was wandering around in the stars somewhere, distracted by English department business, or NHS business, or some other business. From the far end of the hallway down by Mr. Miranda’s room, I heard, “Ms. Head! Ms. Head!!” Lo and behold, Book Boy strode toward me. I remember being amused, even laughing out loud at the eagerness that lit up his eyes and ran like electric current into his smile. I know for certain that he way-laid me twice in the hallway to ask about books, but there may have been more than two occasions. I remember being floored, knocked-flat, astonished, speechless, flabbergasted to see a student so excited about reading that he was walking the halls looking for book experts. Secretly, I couldn’t wait for him to be a Senior.

The wait seemed interminable, but eventually one August I saw that curiously familiar face pass by me in the hallway, “Good morning, Ms. Head,” he said as he reached for the brushed steel handle of my classroom door. While his work was often far from perfect, or less than punctual, his enthusiasm masked unsightly flaws.

All year long, his writings were daring, and sometimes wrought as with iron or steel: the sound of the furnace roaring in our ears and sweat obscuring our eyes. From the thoughtful analysis of nature symbols in Hardy, to lyrics that take the shine off the enameled gloss of self-destructive relationships, R– has a way of making old things new again, and new things familiar and comfortable.

Let the resplendent blade of the sun
bear down on the time-faded sands
Let the moon sprinkle false rains
over desert hills
Let time glide down the window pane
while I slip another page through my fingers
and look up to see the bookwright’s back
far down the hall from whence he used to come…

~LD

Sorting — a piece of thought (think piece)

Packing up the things that have helped turn the house I’ve lived in over the last 6 years into a home I’ve found a lot of trash (and tossed it) and a few treasures (and packed them carefully into boxes). Pictures of family now gone, big groups of us together, lost earrings, broken earrings that I can use to fix another broken pair, but mostly a lot of trash. And I’ve listened to music relentlessly. New to me music (Kodaly, Ysaye, Sibelius among others), and old favorites (Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, CCR, Def Leppard, Beatles). The music makes the packing easier, somehow. I’m reluctant to try to explain.

* * *

As the things that make my home my own gather themselves (apparently) into carefully arranged boxes and bags and piles, I find myself in the most curious position of thinking about how odd life is, and that the things that make me most uncomfortable are also sometimes the things that give me the greatest delight.

As much as I hate packing, and moving, I am kind of in love with moving right now. I assume that’s because this particular move is to a house I am buying. I’ve always had a knack for making a house my home regardless of who it belonged to, but this time, for real, the house will be mine (someday, many moons from now when all the payments are made).

I have loved taking down every little detail: fan pulls given to me by a dear friend ages ago, the unicorn doo dads, the remarkable number of art works done for me by former students, tapestries I’ve carted all over creation. Even the sorting of DVDs, clothes, earrings, photos and papers has been interesting and enlightening. What a life!

As I sort, I try to figure out, again, how to explain to those who despair of my ever returning “home”, that this is home. Truthfully, I’m probably closer to “home” now than I might have been had I not ever come to Mexico to work for a year, and finally to make my life. In miles, anyway. I think it’s the international border that causes discomfort. Or maybe it’s the US perception of Mexico as a dangerous place over the last few years.

* * *

There is nothing particularly remarkable about moving. People do it all the time. I have wrapped bottles and treasures of various sorts in newspaper and stashed them in boxes: shells, glass unicorns, bottles of patchouli and lavender oil, the gaming pc and its wireless keyboard and mouse. I’ve stumbled across photos I didn’t even know existed (how does that happen?). I’ve sorted through old medicines and vitamins and thrown out anything that was in doubt. I’ve gone through my closet and tossed or given away anything I’ve not worn in a year. I decided to pack all soft things (clothes, sheets, towels, etc) in plastic bags. I’ve thought about what I might need in my new place, and what I can use and what I can live without.

I despised this house when I first moved in, and was sure I wouldn’t be here more than a year, two at the very most. But now, six years later, I’m grateful for the space this house has given me to grow as a person, to let go of ideas that no longer fit what I want, what I need. As annoying as the daily little league games are every day of summer vacation, I will miss their white noise blending with the mockingbird songs in the morning. I want to pack up the mockingbirds and take them with me. I’ve already told them. I think they are following me. I will need a tree to give them.

In a year or so I will be fully unpacked and know what I really need, what I really don’t. In the meantime, the anticipation of Christmas in July is enough to keep me going. The idea of doing all this alone (buying a house, packing, moving in, unpacking) before I began, was rather overwhelming. But now that I’ve begun, I am starting to see how all this work can come together to build a new, or maybe a continued, version of a life I’ve longed for, even if it looks nothing like the original yearning.
~LD

Makin’ Cookies: The Almost True Story

The process is nearly rote now, even though I only bake cookies once a year, twice at most: nearly always at Christmas, and less reliably near July 4th.

Sugar, brown sugar, shortening, vanilla, eggs: beat until creamy and light and most of the sugar crystals have gone smooth. The flour, soda, and salt look on from a nearby bowl supervising. Forget to pre-heat the oven.

Lick the beaters, or if you must, pass the beaters to a small person(s) to lick. Sneak a lick off each beater as you hand it to a small person. Keep your back turned so they don’t notice. If they catch you anyway, tell them you are testing the dough. Make the small people share if there are more than two. Forget, accidentally-on-purpose, about raw eggs.

Throw the flour on top of the creamified sweetness and with a sturdy spoon, stir a bit. By now the envious flour will be mostly incorporated and the dough will begin to look like dough more than ingredients. Add the chopped pecans and Nestle Toll House Semi-sweet Chocolate Morsels ®. Accept no substitutes. Not even Hershey’s ®.

cookie dough2014

Forget that this last stirring is nearly impossible with a spoon, no matter how sturdy. Ditch the spoon and dive in hands first. Forget how the dough tries to become one with your rings. Cuss. Forget about the small people gleefully engrossed in sugared raw-egg lollipops. Hope they didn’t hear, or at worst, won’t repeat to their parents (in this case, my brothers, and my sisters-in-law).

Remove dough-encrusted rings and set them aside. You can clean them later, when you clean up the nieces and nephews (or your siblings, your kids, your grandkids — reader’s choice). Squish the dough between now naked fingers a few more times. Watch for dry patches and spaces where the flour is still just flour. Fix those dry bits with an energetic massage. Like that.

Realize that you “forgot” to pre-heat the oven and do that now. Meanwhile, enlist the pint-sized nieces and nephews to start making walnut-sized balls of cookie dough. Show them, again — same as last time — how big, exactly, a walnut-sized ball of cookie dough is. Otherwise, be prepared for the biggest balls of cookie-dough you’ve ever seen.

“That one says, ‘Ryan’s’.”

“No way, Mister. Make like four out of that one.”

“Awwww….”

Remember showing their parents how to do this when we were only slightly less pint-sized than these characters. Ok, maybe I was the one who wasn’t pint-sized, but I was only a quart, not a full gallon or even half-gallon.

Place the finger-marked, lopsided cookie dough balls on the cookie sheet at about two inches apart; you should be able to get a dozen on a cookie sheet, and with luck, two cookie sheets each round. Set the timer for 8, 10 or 12 minutes. This depends on your oven. Twelve usually works best at Mom’s (and also at my sister-in-law’s).

Take the intervening minutes to wash small hands and faces clean of illicit, raw-egg cookie makings. Remember to wash your rings while you’re at it. Find a walnut-size ball of uncookie in a pocket. Scold. Try not to laugh. At least not right now.

Wait for the magic to happen around minute 9 or 10. Turn on the oven light to give a peek, but don’t open the oven door (you’ll mess up the temperature). Flicking the switch on that light does something to people while the still pale-ish cookie dough has not quite converted to its soon-to-be cookie self.

The brothers and their respective wives, Mom, and all the small people start hovering in and around the kitchen. There is talk of milk. Is it cold? Is there enough? How many glasses do we need? Give an eye roll to conceal delight. Threaten anyone standing too near the cookie landing zone with loss of life and limb. Don’t mean it. Smile. Oh, go on, giggle.

Once everyone’s had a look, turn off the oven light. Look for the cooling racks and a spatula. Ask (again) where the paper towels are. Check the timer. Still two-ish minutes to go. Try not to pace.

When the hundred last seconds have passed, slow like the wait for Christmas, and the timer finally bings, turn on the oven light one last time. The cookies should now look done, shiny with melty shortening or butter, but clearly cookies. Experience tells you that the shine will fade as the cookies cool.

Slip the oven mitt over your hand and slide the first tray out of the oven. Identify your landing area and make the removal a clean one. There are hoverers all around, the kitchen crowded with bodies and cookie heat. Swipe the spatula under each row and gently release them to the freedom of the cooling rack.

Warn small people about heat while watching a big hand reach around and snag the first boiling cookie. He juggles it, but the cookie is safe. Broken in his palm, but safe. When the moms say go, little hands reach up, too, then march dutifully to the table where ice-cold cups of milk await. There are dippers and sippers, between them the first batch of cookies has been cut in half in a matter of breaths.

cookies2014

Now, you are alone with the rolling of walnut-sized cookie dough balls, the timing and the sliding and the cooling. Tummies small and large are warm and full of cookies and milk and have retired to the latest round of Minecraft or Skyrim in the next room.

Only you remain. Sacrificing yourself for the sake of a cookie broken on the end of the spatula, or, heaven forbid, the tiniest uncookie known to man — the last bit in the bowl.

As the last pans of cookies come out of the hot oven, lean against the kitchen counter listening to the joy, the warmth, the competition, the sheer family-ness of the moment in the other room – nearby, but still removed. Know that neither they, nor you, could possibly be this satisfied more than once or twice a year, at most.

Don’t forget to turn off the oven.

The Last Delicious Bite — Thoughts on NaPoWriMo now that it’s over.

This scribbler's notebook and pen.

This scribbler’s notebook and pen.

And so poetry month ended, not with a bang but a whimper (at least at my house). I didn’t get the final two poems written, having intended to get two more up yesterday evening, but the siren song of my pillow won the night. Today, a day out of the classroom in celebration of International Labor Day, I spent alternating between student essays and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Obviously, I made more progress on the novel than on the student essays. It’s been many years since it took me more than two weeks to grade a set of student essays, though this round looks like it may break all heretofore standing records. After two weeks, I’m merely halfway through. But I didn’t stop in to share my woes about my current student writers. (Or maybe these woes are more about me; anyway.)

In fact, this pit stop on the way to the asparagus “florentine” and salmon filet waiting in the kitchen is to close out NaPoWriMo. Honestly, I am sad to see it go. I looked forward to reading the prompt each day with my early morning coffee, and though each day I wished I could have had the prompt the night before, the prompt dutifully percolated away in my mind after breakfast while I milled around in students’ goings on, and the day’s news, and taking out the trash, and going to dance class, and all the quotidian details.

On the other hand, NaPoWriMo has been one of those guests that after thirty straight days, really could have packed it in a week earlier and been afforded a larger space for longing in my heart. The challenge of coming up with a new (albeit often bad to mediocre) set of semi-poetic looking / sounding words and phrases to post grew to be nearly tedious. Rather (I imagine) like trying to cook for guests every single day when you aren’t a chef. Sometimes, you just order take out and call it good. So I missed two days all together, and recycled two other days. Twenty-six out of thirty poems ain’t too shabby for a self-proclaimed essay scribbler.

The challenge did jerk my imagination out of routine and jangle words and syntax around on my tongue in ways that might not have happened for any other occasion. I will play again next time, though I might not cleave so closely to the prompts.

The best part of NaPoWriMo was reading the participants’ pieces each day. Early on, I had trouble getting to sleep before one or two in the morning because I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of the whorl of all their lovely, troubling, powerful words. What a wonderful reason to stay up late!

So, I won’t be around everyday. Once a week of me is more than anyone should have to tolerate. Besides, you also have other things to do and think. I thank you for all your comments and well-wishes and reading over these thirty days; I got some thoughtful feedback that was both helpful and inspiring. I return now to my weekly (ish) posting format with full faith that the exercise of NaPoWriMo has loosened up my tongue and brain and pen. ‘Till next week, then! ~LD

Invisible Tattoos — NaPoWriMo #12

The ink on my ankle
no longer burns,
while

salty on my cheeks,
blue in blacklight,
forty-some streams
scald things I would tell you,
but never will.

Easier,
now,
to leave silent
and unseen,
sweetarts and cupcake
Supe-man and Strawberry pie
Lego cowboy, medium rare t-bones,
stories read and misunderstood.

Tattoos and piercings
are mutilations
that stay forever,
and I shouldn’t let them,
but here they lie
against skin and soul and Self,
along with
some other broken appliances
wishing to be fixed.

~LD

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P.S. No post script today. Have a great weekend. ~LD