Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Yesterday morning my Indianapolis Star carrier tossed a plastic bag with five pounds (I weighed it) of “Black Friday” advertising flyers in my yard. The plastic bag itself was an advertisement for Kohls:



A minimal sampling of items available at fabulous deals included inside said five-pound bag included:

Diamond accent & gemstone bracelets: entire stock of Mattel, Ty, and Fisher Price toys; unlimited text, web and calling; plasma TVs, digital photo frames, kayaks, treadmills, Wii games, boxer shorts; Fender acoustic guitars, vacuum cleaners; Nora Ephron’s I Remember My Neck; Emu (fake UGG) boots; yarn, printers, mattresses, cozy socks, hoodies, Electric Reindeer White Zinfandel or Chardonnay wine; craftsman 255 piece mechanic’s tool set; iCraig Tower Stereo Systems; Zhu Zhu Hamsters and Armor; leather sofas and recliners; numerous items from the Martha Stewart Collection; ladders; washing machines; Flash Memory Camcorder & Digital Still Camera (minimum 30 per store); GrillBOSS 10,000 BTU Portable LP Gas Grill; Italian mufflers; licensed ball pits and tents; Bratz Keyboard and Bratz Speakers; DVD’s; luggage; waffle-makers; bubble jackets; Kitchen Aid Cookware 10 Piece Hard Anodized Cookware Set; Blackberries; candles; cosmetics; blenders; Ab Circle Pros; storage ottomans; gumball machines; telescopes; Simply Vera Vera Wang princess jeweled tote; Barnes & Noble Nooks; Chi Styling Irons; Viva la Juicy Eu de Parfum Spray; Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth; Colts Team apparel…

Oh, and Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas ornaments, Christmas wrapping, Christmas cards, Christmas candy, Christmas wreathes, Christmas china—

Christmas, you know, that the religious holiday that for the marketplace has become an opportunity to exploit our worst human instincts: greed and desire. Not to mention create anxiety and dread for the people (most people, in this economy) who can’t afford to make the materialistic dreams of their loved ones come true.

“Black Friday brings out bad behavior,” yesterday’s Star headline said.

“Retailers set battle for disorderly shoppers fueled by impatience, limited quantities, long lines,” the story went on. “There will be pushing and shoving and—oh yes—shopping carts rammed into backsides. On Black Friday, shopping isn’t a leisure activity. It is a sport. Sometimes it’s a fight. Sometimes it turns deadly.”

So much for the season of light.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What He Said

My cosmic brother James Still sends this poem to his friends every Thanksgiving.


Let us give thanks for a bounty of people
For children who are our second planting
and though they grow like weeds
and the wind too soon blows them away,
May they forgive us our cultivation
and remember fondly where their roots are.

Let us give thanks:
For generous friends, with hearts as big as hubbards
and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers,
keep reminding us we've had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb
and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants
and as elegant as a row of corn,
and the others, as plain as potatoes and so good for you;
For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts
and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes,
and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers
and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages,
as subtle as summer squash,
as persistent as parsley,
as delightful as dill,
as endless as zucchini,
and who, like parsnips,
can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;
For old friends,
nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time
and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils
and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And finally, for those friends now gone,
like gardens past that have been harvested,
but who fed us in their times
that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.

What he said.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ginkgo Leaves

Yesterday Steve and I drove down to Bloomington, had a late breakfast, and took a long walk through the campus. I’m about to undertake new revisions for my novel, An American Tune, part of which is loosely based on my own life as a student there in the 60’s, and I wanted to see what walking around campus might dredge up or suggest.

In a passage from the book, the main character, who has returned to campus for her daughter’s freshman orientation, remembers what I remember from my first day at IU:

“This morning, pressing the elevator button in the dorm where parents who’d accompanied their children for orientation were staying—the dorm she once lived in—she was, momentarily, a college freshman herself, saying goodbye to her own parents and her little sisters on the day they dropped her off there, more than thirty-five years before. She could almost hear the stereos cranked up loud along the corridor, as they had been on that long-ago day. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Byrds. The Rolling Stones, inciting them to rebellion. She’d stood with her family, watching the elevator light blink each floor on its way up, feeling like a can of Coke shaken up hard. Finally, the door opened. Did they hug? Speak? They must have. But all she could remember now was how, suddenly, they were gone. And herself flying back to her room, her arms wheeling, her soul rising, wild and joyous. Thinking, anything can happen to me now. Absolutely anything.”

Which is exactly how I felt (and always feel) walking through campus—along with gratitude, wonder and a touch of melancholy at the richness and complexity of what “anything” turned out to be.

Later that day, my character would meet the love of her life at the Commons, just as I did. Her life played out differently from there, a life I might have lived—but, gladly, didn’t.

It’s so weird the way living a life is not so different from writing a novel. The material you’re given could be spun countless different ways, depending on choice, serendipity, fate.

I was thinking all these things, walking, yesterday.

But what I am thinking about this morning, what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye, is a carpet of yellow ginkgo leaves in a clearing just off the wooded area in the old part of campus and a not-young woman dropping to lie down in them, spreading her arms, and moving them in arcs, the way you do to make angels in the snow.

I am thinking about a November day, freshman year, the campus deserted because everyone was at the football game, which I had to miss because I’d put off making my leaf collection for my nature study class. I remember wandering through campus, looking for the leaves on the list—red oak, sycamore, sugar maple…

Ginkgo leaves: each one a tiny yellow fan.

The trees on campus are ancient. There’s a good chance there was a carpet of ginkgo leaves in exactly the same spot on the day I gathered the leaves for my collection. If I’d noticed it, thrown myself down onto it, made an angel would my life have been different in any way?

I can’t of course. Real time moves relentlessly forward.

I might have done it yesterday. Who knows what might have happened if I had?

It didn’t occur to me to do it, though. I didn’t know seeing the woman making an angel in the leaves would stay in my mind and make me wonder about…everything.

But I’m pretty sure that carpet of leaves will end up somewhere in the revised version of the novel, though I won’t know how or why until Jane throws herself down onto it and shows me why it matters.

Monday, November 15, 2010

My So-Called Career

I miss being a student sometimes—sitting in class, taking reams of notes, typing them over, highlighting them, outlining them, finally winnowing them down into weird anagrams that made facts and insights bloom in my mind when I glanced at where I’d jotted them down on the front cover of my blue book.

I especially miss being a student in a really good class, one with a passionate, knowledgeable, generous teacher who made me take those reams of notes not only because I would need them to do well on the test, but because something inside me knew I would need them for…my life.

Last Saturday, I got to take a class like that with memoirist Thomas Larson at the Writers’ Center of Indiana. I loved sitting in the back corner of the room, being a student, and at the same time having the pleasure of watching a whole roomful of students, rapt, madly scribbling, just as I was.

I loved and felt honored to hear about the memoir ideas of the group, among them: food and grief; a family processing the loss of the early, death of a daughter; growing up and growing into a life one’s parents can’t understand: forming a steering committee of friends charged with presenting challenges to help you figure out who you are and where you’re going; weaving as a metaphor for integrating family photos into a narrative.

I loved one student’s title for a humorous memoir, a phrase her southern mom used when things weren't quite right: One Bubble Short of Plumb.

The title for the memoir floating around in my own head is My So-Called Career: How I Became a Writer and Ended Up Right Back Where I Started.

Or something like that.

Tom’s focusing exercises helped me see that the memoir I imagine could be framed by finally gathering up the courage to write way back in the late seventies and the good luck of discovering the Writers’ Center, which gave me a place to start, to finding myself the Executive Director of the Writers’ Center, still learning about writing and at the same time knowing that I’d made the class happen, perhaps providing that crucial spark for someone in the room, a springboard for fulfilling her own writing dreams.