Book Review: All Night It Is Morning

allnightI’ve read many books of poetry this year but none like “All Night It Is Morning” by Andy Young and published by Lavender Ink Press/Dialogos Books. The subjects of Ms Young’s poetry spans continents and cultures in a very personal voice including Egypt, Chile, Morocco, West Virginia, and New Orleans, among others. The book has a strong thread of disaster running through it; the struggle of life in the war torn Middle East, in the coal mines of West Virginia,  and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her voice clearly and bravely documents these events, the horror and the pain revealed with humility and grace. I particularly enjoyed her poems about West Virginia and the hard lives lived there in the coal mining community. The strength and purity of the people, her relatives, shone like a light of hope. I think my favorite poem in the book is Sower, written about her Grandmother. This passage in the poem just grabbed my heart:

She worked the earth through
drought and strike, through her
husband’s slow asphyxiation,

through childbirth and stillbirth
and bad blood even sassafras
can’t clean. When the trees were

chopped as easy as thieves necks
and the nearby mill flooded her field,
when she buried another daughter,

In fact, she writes a good deal about the struggles of women in war, in life, in love, in mothering. Her mentions of her own children are sweet and poignant and often shiver-inducing, such as this:

I study the flutter
of your breath, your arms

folded by your sides,
your ear that could fit in a thimble.

Your infant face is still
like glass as the children

of Qana are wiped of their dust.

New Orleanians and others who’ve lived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will nod their heads, saying Yes! while reading her memories of that challenging time. Reading those poems brought back memories to me that I hadn’t thought of in a long time such as the sunflowers that sprouted all over the city in the inhospitable muck left behind. Remember how amazed we all were at the sight of those flowers? Her Katrina poems do not disappoint. Be prepared to find tears in your eyes.

While the mood of the book tends toward the dark side, Ms Young also gives us sunbeams as in the sweet (and another favorite) Meet Me in Morocco:

There are a thousand ways
to name the morning, morning
of jasmine, morning of lemon

blossom. Swallow my words
with your mouth. the earth springs
new beneath our feet.

Ms Young weaves the narrative of all these places and events throughout the book with a deft hand, sometimes intermingling them within a single piece which I found quite effective. This book was very satisfying to read and I find myself going back to reread many of the poems, finding even more layers each time.

Ms Young will be reading from this book Saturday, December 20 at Faubourg Wines, 2805 St. Claude Ave.

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This Autumn Refresh Your Wild Spirit

It’s finally autumn in New Orleans, I think, since we’ve had a couple of cool-ish days and it’s mid-October. The sky today is a blue so blue it’s like looking into infinity and the air is thin and breathable. Ahhhhh…. On days like this all I want to do is sit lie in the backyard and stare up through the trees and daydream. But the crisp, cool days are also great for revving your spirit up, for tackling projects that were too hot to handle in the summer, and (best of all) for spending some time paying attention to YOU and to what nourishes you.

I read an article on Rebelle Society, a cool website I recently discovered, that I just had to share with you. They’ve graciously given me permission to share their list of 8 Wondrous Ways to Restore Your Wild Spirit, part of a longer piece by Victoria Erickson. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the simple things are still the  best things for restoring a weary spirit. The entire article is here and I highly recommend it!

1. Garden

Gardeners are cultivators and regenerators, harvesting new life and replacing the old, stagnant energy with new seeds. Dig into the dirt with bare hands and breathe the essence of herbs and flowers into your wise body, for it will recognize them as home. Get earthy and gorgeously dirty.

***

2. Feed on raw food.

Energize, alkalize, and heal your body on a deep, cellular level. Nourish yourself with vibrant greens and fresh juices with nutrients you know the story behind; nutrients that heal illnesses instead of creating them with chemicals born in a lab.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison. ” ~ Ann Wigmore

Start buzzing with aliveness from food that is also alive, and feel your body’s wisdom beat with every breath.

***

 3. Find live music.

Find the kind of music that makes your soul soar from the sound. From drum circles under ancient trees, to jazz on city streets, to underground clubs that keep people dancing through the night, music’s rhythmic beats exist to tell universal truths that awaken us from everyday hibernation. 

Have you ever seen crowds of 60,000 people at music festivals?  They sing with the bands under enormous summer skies, erupting into applause, dance, and smiles so large they ache. If that isn’t the wild, primal roar of the human spirit, than I don’t know what is. Find it, because music, my friends, is life. 

***

4. Play. 

Find the most hilarious person you know, whether it’s over social media, lunch, or the work water cooler and laugh. Even if you only have 20 minutes, take a random car ride to somewhere even more random. Dance to eighties music while you clean the house, paint the inside of your garage neon, or watch a Pixar movie with your favorite kiddo.

Personally, I love swing sets. I don’t care what your age is or how busy you are, play is essential to promote a youthful mind which is dynamic, curious, and enthusiastic, and that will open you to new possibilities which will feed your wild spirit even more.  A playful mind is fluid, creative, and of course, wild.

***

 5. Make love.

“Despite what you’ve been conditioned to believe, sexual desire is sacred and virtuous. When you and your beloved merge physically and emotionally, you go beyond the boundaries of the ego and experience timelessness, naturalness, playfulness and defenselessness.” ~ Deepak Chopra

Make love like it’s your last night on earth, gasping for air and sanity, frantic under clouds and stars and sheets. The kind of animalistic lovemaking that’s written in books that hypnotizes and captivates. The kind that’s made of heartbeats, intertwined flesh, and fiery, blazing, all consuming passion.

***

6. Get wet.

These are cures that open you in places you forgot could even open, for salt and water are a miraculous mix. Release disappointment through tears, sweat from awesome, bodily pumping movement, and swim in the soft caress of water.

These wild activities often launch you into the feeling of vulnerability and renewed power at the same time, while carrying you to a a clearer place inside your mind. Yes, there you are again, wild one.

 ***

7. Tell your stories. 

Tell stories of your childhood, of deep rooted pain, of intense loss, of blood and of your greatest loves. Tell them by firelight under violet, star-filled skies, or by sending words into cyberspace. Tell them over cups of strong espresso or glasses of sweet red wine. Tell them with tears and laughter and faith in the human race. Tell them to friends, to lovers, and to strangers.

Everyone has stories that need to be told, and there is always someone to listen. Make sure you tell your stories while you still have the chance.

***

8. Shine.

Show who you are, authentically, and completely unapologetically. Be fearless in your ambitions, goals and decisions. That energy will then spread itself into the universe and boost the human race, for one drop can indeed, raise the entire ocean.

“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the right to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others” ~ Marianne Williamson

And as you work on these wondrous things to restore your wild spirit, do remember that even when you’re still not quite there, you are a miraculous human warrior and that…

***All images via Rebelle Society

Old Indie Theatre: “Another Happy Day”

ahdI like watching movies, especially obscure little indie movies that almost no one’s heard of or, at least, that I haven’t heard of. Recently I watched “Another Happy Day” (2011) a dark comedy starring Ellen Barkin, Ellen Burstyn, Thomas Haden Church, Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth, George Kennedy, and, one of my favorite good-bad guy actors, Ezra Miller. The film is written and directed by Sam Levinson who won the 2011 Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the Sundance Film Festival for this film. I chose this movie strictly based on a great cast, only knowing it was about a large family getting together for a wedding. Ha! It was far from a simple family dramady.

The story is about a family week-end in Annapolis where the estranged son of mom Lynn (Barkin) is getting married at the estate of the Grandparents (Burstyn and Kennedy). Lynn arrives with her two sons in tow, a 17-year old who is a volatile, wise-ass druggie who’s just come home from his 5th rehab stay (Miller) and a 13 year old who has (a little bit of) Asperger’s. A daughter (Bosworth), a cutter, joins the family later. Lynn’s two sisters, their husbands and kids are already there and immediately you sense the hostility and derision they have for Lynn and her kids and you see this throughout most of the movie.  Lynn has hopes for a happy reunion with her betrothed son whom she has seen very little over the years because he lives with her first husband and his wife Patty (Moore), an aggressive, aging trophy wife and (allegedly) ex-stripper.

If you think you have a crazy, dysfunctional family you really should watch this film. This is the most f-bombed up family I’ve ever seen and it made me feel ecstatic that mine is so tame! Lest you think this film sounds depressing it actually isn’t. These characters are multi-layered, complicated, issue-driven and tragically comical, at times.AnotherHappyDay_2 Miller’s portrayal of the cynical druggie son vacillates between chuckle-inducing smart-ass juvenile humor and plain old selfish meanness that makes you want to slap the shit out of him. Demi Moore’s portrayal of second wife Patty is the typical middle-ageing beauty who wants everyone to think she’s still hot but she is one cray-cray drama queen who appears to have everyone fooled. I looked everywhere to find a photo of her in her black step-mom-of-the-groom dress with a huge  white ruffle down the back that looks like a dragon tail but this is the best I could find. (See the trailer below!)another-happy-day_404930_10498 The dynamics between her and Lynn could be a hit “reality” TV show.

The people in this family have so many layers of issues and craziness that they could fill their own DSM. Not a moment of this film is boring and I think you will find yourself, like me, exclaiming over and over “this family is so effed up!” The acting is superb, especially Barkin whose every emotion plays across her face like a symphony.

I could write so, so much about this movie but I won’t because I want you to watch it yourself. It’s a  movie about love, hate, heartbreak, life, death, teenage problems, mental and emotional disorders, marriages, and of course, family. It’s a great story with great actors and great dialog. What more could you want?

 

A Reminder of What Was Lost….

Losing my mom at the age of 64 six years ago was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. It all seems rather unfair to me that she was taken at such a young age and I feel like I have lost my best friend, confidant and mentor. By nature, mothers and daughters have a special, unbreakable bond with each other and my mom was simply AMAZING.

I miss talking to her every day and I miss getting random phone calls from her to just “check in.” As in most families, especially in the south, my mom was the glue that kept everyone together. Over the past 6 years, our family has changed so much since she passed.

At first we rallied together to try to get through the hurt of losing her and the losses of our family homes in this new version of our life we were still adjusting to post-Katrina. Today, our family has drifted apart and has turned into something I don’t even recognize. I’ve tried to fill her shoes to be that person to keep our family close like we used to be, but there’s just too much resistance and I can’t bring everyone together like she could. I know she is watching over us and I would guess that she is probably very hurt to see that things just aren’t the way they used to be.

My kids are the youngest in our family and I often feel like they missed the amazing opportunity of getting to know their grandmother the way I knew her. My son was only 4 when she died and he doesn’t remember her other than through the photos, home videos and stories that we have shared with him and this hurts me more than anything.  My daughter was very close to my mom – she was only 9 years old when she died and I don’t think she has recovered from losing her either.  Like most grandmothers, my mom had a way to make each grandchild feel like they were special and that they were loved. I know my daughter misses that feeling and I just wish my son was able to experience it longer.

Today as I reflect on the past six years without my mom, I realize that no matter when this inevitable day would have happened…the result would be the same for me – I miss her every minute of every day. We shared a very close bond and losing a parent, especially your mom, is the hardest thing in the world. So, whenever I hear my friends talk about how much of a pain their mom is being – I remind them that life is short – whatever you do – please give your mom a big hug and tell her how much you love her as often as you can. Don’t fight over the petty things…they don’t matter. Spending quality time with your mom = PRICELESS.

There are reminders, signs if you believe in them, of her every day. From the yellow butterflies that I see following me along the path to work, or the images of giraffes that I spot in random places and then there are the times when I look at the clock the same time almost every day that I like to think is her way of telling me “I’m still with you.” Not everyone believes in life after death but this is a discussion we had several years before she died and she knows I’m a believer.

Mamma

It’s 1:48 in the morning and I woke up thinking about mamma again. I got up, drank some water and turned on the laptop and came across this piece by Jarvis DeBerry. For the last, oh, two or three days my mamma has weighed heavy on my mind. She died in June and the road has been rocky ever since. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her with love, loss, recriminations, regret and desperation. I don’t talk about it much but it eats at my solar plexis like a savage animal some days and I hang on by concentrating on the goodness of her spirit and the hope of reunion in whatever world is out there for us after we leave this one. Jarvis’ words about his mother was a bit of a balm on the open sore of my mothers death and a realization that this is a universal experience in life, one we all must face one day. Your mother is a primal part of your life, like it or not, and when she’s gone a part of you dies too. It’s that simple.

Last night, I sat down just before bed and this came pouring out:

Train 59, City of New Orleans

Now every time I hear that Nora Jones
song, I think of leaving you
alone in a room crowded with
ministering hands and hanging
bags of life sustaining liquid

while outside the window a
bald eagle’s nest in a leafless
cypress tree didn’t amaze me
a tenth as much as your strength
but it’s beauty reminded me

of you so with cloudy eyes I had
to leave my seat in the midst of a
boisterous family, I couldn’t
pretend to be friendly or even be
civil when my entire being wanted
to be with you

again in the kitchen watching you
mix up cornbread and stir the beans
and, later, watching a marathon of
American Pickers on TV.
Something we’ll never do together
ever
again.

I know it will take a while to come to terms with mamma’s death. I know that. But will the ache ever go away?

When it was possible to fall in love while waiting to buy concert tickets

Today I purchased tickets online for a couple of touring acts soon to be appearing at the House of Blues. For me, this is still an infrequent life event… When I was younger, concert tickets were somehow simultaneously a true splurge and something that I would budget carefully for; now it’s a question of whether or not I’ll have the time to go to the show or if I’m able to make plans that far in advance (life’s just more complicated). And these days I tend to go to see local bands playing in bars or nightclubs instead of going to see big shows — it’s the more flexible option, especially when one lives in New Orleans.

It surprised me that today’s transaction was oddly anti-climactic and distinctly lacking. It made me think about how things change over time and how, occasionally, experiences can be short-changed in favor of efficiency.

I realized that I actually sort of miss the ritual of days past, when one would stand in line at dawn at Tower Records or wherever on a Saturday morning, waiting for the tickets to go on sale. It was never boring! (I can’t say the same about how we purchase tickets now, obsessively refreshing the browser’s window repeatedly as we wait.)

For me, buying tickets in the days before the Internet meant getting up way-too-early, dressing for comfort and the weather, buying a large cup of convenience store coffee, visit the cash machine, then going to wait in line and making friends with the people ahead of and behind me as needed — sometimes I’d even be lucky enough to be the first person in line!

(Frequently I’d get an extra cup of coffee so that I could make an “instant friend” to hold my place for a few minutes’ time during the hours of waiting if needed. Or I’d take coffee orders and make a run to the nearest open place as more people arrived.)

More often than not, whoever was in front of me would agree to purchase an extra ticket for me (that’s why having cash mattered), running our two requests as one transaction (which could be crucial when a much-anticipated show could sell out in mere minutes), or I’d do the same for the people behind me if I was first in line — we’d help each other on the spot. The camaraderie and courtesy became infectious.

(Best spontaneous line party experience? Waiting to get tickets for any Cheap Trick show — singing, fun, and laughter were guaranteed!)

Purchasing tickets was also a more democratic experience in those days. There weren’t pre-sale codes only available to a select few or special access early-bird opportunities for “preferred customers.” Your success in procuring a ticket to the desired event was based solely on either showing up early enough to get a good spot in line or being lucky to get through to Ticketmaster if you opted to order by phone instead. The only advantage one could exercise depended upon cooperation — not which flavor of credit card happened to be in one’s wallet or if one had access to an iThing-only app.

(And if I’d chosen instead to buy my tickets today at the venue’s window? I would’ve had to wait an additional two hours after the time when tickets went on sale online for that opportunity — there’d have been no one working the window until noon.)

All of that said, it’s not the process I miss as much as the experience of interacting with the other people who were there because they also enjoyed the same band/artist: the low-level humming excitement, the concert stories shared, how people would smile as they walked away from the ticket window, and sometimes how a few of us would converge upon a diner for breakfast after as new friendships were formed.

Now it’s automated, isolated, solitary, and perfunctory… a chore instead of an adventure. Check that off of today’s “Things To Do” list and move on.

(Even if we still had to queue up, it’d probably not be the same kind of experience — because everyone would likely be paying more attention to their smartphones or stay resolutely plugged into their iPods instead of noticing and conversing with the people around them. Until someone needed to go find a restroom… there’s still no app for that!)

One of my best days ever started with my waiting in line to buy a ticket for a show at the same just-opened House of Blues in New Orleans almost 20 years ago. I’d bounced out of bed and dressed expressly for comfort — yoga pants, a long-sleeved cropped waffle shirt, sandals. My hair was morning-disheveled in a good way and I was fresh-faced, having paused only long enough to wash the sleep from my eyes and brush my teeth before rocketing out of the house. I was passing the time reading a Tom Robbins novel and drinking my coffee, chatting with the people around me intermittently. I was happy, still slightly sleepy, un-self-conscious, and cheerfully excited.

A guy I’d seen around the French Quarter every now and again for a couple of years had been hired as part of the security staff for the venue — he was there that morning to keep the line orderly. We didn’t have many friends in common, nor did we frequent the same bars or hangouts; I’d admired him in passing and mostly from a distance (although we had, in fact, spoken briefly a few times). It seemed to be a one-sided interest and I was okay with that. But that morning, while we were in the same place for a few hours at the same time and for the same reason, he noticed me.

I’d been reading and, for whatever reason, I glanced up and saw him looking at me. I smiled reflexively. He looked startled as if he’d been physically shocked for a second or two, sort of jumped back a bit as if he’d been hit by something, dropped his walkie-talkie and picked it up, and finally grinned sheepishly. Then he walked over and introduced himself, said “hello,” and showed me the new crack in the walkie-talkie’s display screen.

I remember thinking, “What took you so long?”

(Although I was very much involved with someone else at that time, it was the beginning of a friendship that I still appreciate and a stolen moment in my life that I’ll never forget. In an alternate universe, I’ve no doubt that it would have been the start of one hell of a love affair.)

I strongly suspect that there’s zero chance of something similar ever happening while purchasing tickets via the ether and pixels — this convenience robs us of such opportunities to connect with each other. I have yet to hear of anyone having a shot at falling in love, if only just a little bit, while hitting refresh and waiting to complete a transaction.

There’s a world of difference between the magic of the Internet and that of making simple human connections. I’m grateful for the memories of what I experienced during those hours spent waiting with strangers who shared a common interest — it was never “lost time.”

requiem for love

Love is so fleeting and fickle and must be nurtured. It is like the flower: without sunlight and warmth and water and fertile soil it will wither and die. And that is what happened to mine.

Blame it on my ambition, my drive to get to a place where the last 20 years of my career will be smooth. But at what cost? What if I don’t live past 50, or 60, then what? Why is it I am unable to roll with fate, to trust that things will simply fall into place? No, that is not how I was raised – study hard so you will be a success. Sacrifice will lead to riches and not necessarily of the monetary kind. Apply yourself because you are smart and you always want something to fall back on. I guess those that were guiding me never thought that I would amount to becoming a “kept” woman: one that would marry a husband that had a great career, have children, live in the house with the white picket fence, and on and on. But isn’t that just a fantasy anyway?

The quest for self-education took me away from love. This quest, coupled with working full time, left me nothing else in the tank to nurture love. School was stressful, shortening an already miniscule fuse in my psyche which before labeled me feisty, but now just labels me on the edge. I am patient, I can see the eventual payoff: patience is a virtue that one cultivates with time. I didn’t have the patience to do this at an earlier point in my life, so it is happening now. And once I commit, I follow through, so this is my path, my shackles for a little while longer. I cannot, nor should not have expected anyone to go down this path with me, it is a grueling one to navigate.

So in the days that compressed together and are now a blurry memory, that love set wing. Another came along, another who gave water, gave light, and gave warmth to my love and the wings set flight. I was blind, content within the false sense of commitment of love that in reality slipped through my fingers. And in the space of a few weeks it was gone. I guess you didn’t have it in you – it is way too difficult to put in the work needed to salvage what we had instead of fleeing to the fresh, new, exciting and unknown. I was in denial, anxious with the mundane tasks of the path I chose, and now there is a vast emptiness which no amount of tasks I take on can fill. There is no one there to share, no one there to hold my hand and say its going to be OK, no one to put their arm around me and fill me with the pleasure that only the touch of a loved one can bestow.

A tequila fueled conversation with a dear friend has given me new insight. In vino veritas was the beacon towards my enlightenment. I had been so hurt, so betrayed, so angry, my heart broken and could not see clearly until our discourse. And that is what good friends are for, to shine the light on our faults, on our hurt and help us find another way to move forward. After our conversation, I came to the realization that I have loved and lost, but I have known love. And in the comfort of that knowledge, I am secure, because I know there are many who never know true love. This will be what gets me through this day.

So on Valentine’s, bring close to you the one that you love, nurture that love by feeding it and caressing it and placing it in the sunlight like the flower, making sure the vulnerable petals of love feels safe and secure. Because it may not be there tomorrow.