A few poems that have been taste-tested

Last week, I was part of a poetry reading at the East Lansing Public Library. I was encouraged by the audience’s reaction to a few of my new poems. I offer them here, as a April-is-Poetry-Month salute. The audience laughed all the right places (thank you to every single one of you) and that reaction was a wake up call to me to write more funny stuff. I’m not sure that you’ll see me doing stand up comedy in the future, but I have started reading Comedy Writing Secrets and aiming toward a more humorous tone in my poems. We’ll see where it leads.

A few, unrelated Haiku

Nuthatch speeds from branch
To feeder to branch and back —
Life’s rat race displayed

Life isn’t five-seven-five
Life rhymes sometimes
Nearly

Most of my exercise
Is pulling myself out of bed
To write this

— — —
FYI: A dancing madrone (below)

How You Know You’re in the Northwest

First of all, you and your car
Are in line for a ferry.
You’ve been on an island
Where time is inconsequential
And you are temporarily
Giving up all that
To make the ferry
At a certain time

The air is crisp
Even early in the afternoon sun.
A Madrone’s sensuous bar
Catches your eye
As it dances out through the wood

A sporty, older couple
Sips coffee
In their matching caps,
Chuckling at secret jokes

A human beauty
Madrone-like in her mystery
Walks by, not really
Noticing you.

In your sideview mirror,
You watch her stop
Suddenly
Putting her hand in the window
Of a stranger’s car
To pet a dog
She doesn’t know.

This goes on for a time.
You can’t keep your eyes
Off her enjoyment.

As she walks on,
You realize
That you
Are jealous
Of
The
Dog.

— — —

Apologies

I intended

To be

A better person —
The dad we wish
We had,
The one who stops
The car
To help the stranger
And does actually help.

One of the
Pure of heart
24/7, 365

One of the
Type A organizers,
As least where
My desk is concerned

One of the
People who never
Need to apologize

But I do.

And so

I apologize

To everyone

For all of it.

There.
That does feel better.
Was it good for you?
Let’s get on with
Life!

— — —

Anonymous Incognito

I can’t tell you
How many times
I’ve been enjoying
A poem, only to look down
Or flip the page
And the great Anonymous
Was the poet

Flying under the radar
With immense humility
Anon nearly always
Satisfies.

And Anon’s versatility —
One minute rhyming
Like a master,
The next a short
Free verse picture of life.

And timeless, my goodness,
Anon never dies.
Anonymous has a self-appointed
Androgynous immortality.

So my dear Anonymous
Who could be listening now,
Probably is,
I salute you.

On so many levels —
You are classy
In your stealth.
I am in awe of
your prolific volumes.
Maybe it’s your humble
Nature that’s kept you
Alive so long,
Albeit incognito.

Good Things Come in Threes

I get a lot of junk mail everyday. Both the snail mail and email variety. I don’t even see the really terrible stuff because the good people at gmail collect it all in my Spam folder so I don’t have to look at it. On the other hand, Garrison Keillor sends me mail electronically every day via The Writer’s Almanac and weekly via the column he writes on his website. Those personal messages from GK not only far outweigh all the crap I get, they also keep me turning on my computer every morning.

His recent column called “So that’s over, and what’s next?” is a fine blend of old man humor and spicy politics with a dash of musical fun. In the column, Garrison explains that he attended three amazing musical events in a week. He notes that “…all three had moments that threw me out of the plane and opened my parachute.”

After reading the column, I realized that I, also, had three parachute-opening experiences (though not musical) this past week. Here are my recent top three OMG, felt-like-I-was-flying moments:

#1 — The MSU Spartan men’s basketball team made it to the NCAA Sweet 16. I really hate to agree with Jay Bilas, but “the Spartans should not be this good.” We have had so many injuries to key players that we should just be mediocre this year. Once the team’s health started unraveling, so did my expectations. But we found a way to beat Michigan THREE times and win the Big Ten title and tournament. Starters and bench players alike have stepped up their game; who knows what tonight holds in the Sweet 16 game against LSU? It’s been an amazing run for a gritty team. I’d like to see Winston score and pass like crazy. McQuaid and Goins hit three-pointers with ease. Tillman block shots and disrupt passes. Nick Ward step back into his mid-season shooting proficiency. And Henry and Loyer could shine also. I’m just proud of their effort to get to this point. Go Green and White!

#2 — I read Michelle Obama’s memoir, finishing it this week. Reading her book, Becoming, it felt like she was sitting in the room talking with me. I enjoyed her direct, frank writing style. Michelle’s unique perspective on motherhood, friendships with Jesse Jackson’s family, Barack’s Presidency, the Secret Service, and service in general, were very engaging. She’s a classy, intelligent person. And her humor is refreshing, even encouraging, in the midst of her place in history. With every page, the book got better and better, bringing me to tears at times, laughing out loud others. Mostly, I was just sitting there listening intently, soaking up her story.

Though I felt like starting the book over again when I finished, I gave it to Judy to read. It is true that I’m writing a poem based on the book…partially so I can keep it on my mind.

Here are a couple quotes that stood out to me. “Time, as far as my father was concerned, was a gift you gave to people.” And later, when she was campaigning for Barack, the more she met with small groups the more she “learned it’s harder to hate up close” — though she did feel hated at times.

Her book is really a call for optimism in the midst of these crazy times.

#3 — I experienced Arizona in March. I realize that Arizona in March happens every year. It’s just that I’m usually in Michigan when it happens.

I soaked up every moment of sun, getting up at 6:30 and writing while sitting amidst their ‘chilly’ 48 degree morning — I saw a road runner dart across the road — And Judy saw a skittering salamander — We took several hikes (in shorts), appreciating the exercise as much as the remarkable views — We had time to talk with family and friends that we don’t see often — We enjoyed Gilbert’s diverse Farmer’s Market with fresh fruits and veggies — I checked out the A’s Spring Training camp last game (from the road)…they don’t seem ready to me — The Desert Botanical Garden was spectacular; then, at night they cranked it all up a notch with lights and music…with a bonus sunset in-between — Rob and I fit in 9+ holes of desert golf and I didn’t do half bad…

It’s all a blur now. Here are a few photos to help bring it into focus for you (more on my Facebook page).

The backdrop to these joys is that “a man is tweeting on his phone and primping his hairdo while at the wheel of our national government careening down the highway.” Garrison suggests that we “get off at the next exit.“ For me, reading 45’s tweets (and listening to him talk) is like opening my SPAM emails and trying to take it all seriously. And there are too many joys in life for that.

Poetry Month Prep

As April approaches, I’m going to be focusing my poetry on haiku. One helpful thing about writing haiku is that it requires me to include many of the key elements of poetry: brevity, emotion, nature, and a celebration of the moment.

Recently, I rediscovered one of my favorite collections of haiku poetry. Haiku Mind: 108 Poems to Cultivate Awareness & Open Your Heart by Patricia Donegan had fallen behind some other books and I had thought I lost it. Having it back and reading it nearly daily is one way I try to stay centered. And the haikus are inspiring. Both as a poet and as a human. Here are a few examples…

no flower can stay
yet humans grieve at dying —
the red peony

— by Edith Shiffert

the warbler poops
on the slender
plum branch

— by Onitsura Uejima

the shell i take
the shell it takes
ebb tide

— by Vincent Tripi

Such beauty in capturing a moment and seeing into the moment with wisdom, humor, perspective, or whatever the poet wants to share. Only the first haiku follows the 5-7-5 syllable rule; relatively few in the book do. I like the structure but others experiment with sharing moments not bound to syllable lengths.

I entered a haiku contest today at the Washington Post. Follow the link if you have one that has something to do with life in Washington D.C.

Here’s one I wrote years ago that had enough of a Washington D.C. theme to it in order to enter.

pink teardrops fall from
magnolia limbs — helplessly
form cemetery

And another I wrote today…

distant train whistle
calls to nearby fire siren —
a chat of warnings

Write On!

P.S. Here are a couple public service announcements. First, if you know of a young person who is looking for a chance to write over the summer, follow this link to the Red Cedar Writing Project website. The Spartan Writing Camp has several options for students in grades 1-8 and Greenrock Writers Retreat has two options for students in grades 9-12. Also, if you are looking for a great read, I suggest Michelle Obama’s Becoming book; I’m entranced by her writing style and by her telling of the story of her upbringing and rise to the White House.

Literary Nonsense

I look forward to reading the daily Writer’s Almanac post in my email. Everyday, I learn something new and practically everyday I am intrigued by much of what I read, which often leads me to read related poems, biographies, or other texts.

Today, I enjoyed it so, that I’m re-posting the whole entry below (to use the links, you’ll have to go to the actual website). I’ll comment on it more, under the entry.

——————
Friday, February 22, 2019
The Writer’s Almanac
with Garrison Keillor

“Be Careful Darkness”
by Erica Jong

Whitman wrote.
He knew
the claws & paws
of darkness,
how they capture
light & try
to blind
our eyes to hope.

Darkness
at the edges
of our being.
We ourselves are light
pushing aside
the darkness
as we move.

Standing still
lets the darkness
in.

“‘Be Careful Darkness’” by Erica Jong from The World Began with Yes. © Red Hen Press, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

__

It’s the birthday of George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, which caused him great pain, which he tried to alleviate with opium.

He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. His inaugural address was the shortest in history: 133 words long, and it took him just 90 seconds to deliver.

After two terms, he retired to Mt. Vernon in 1797. He died two years later after inspecting his plantation on horseback in snow and freezing rain.
__
On this date in 1632, Galileo published Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems in which he argued against the belief of the church. He argued that the Earth was not the center of the Universe, and that in fact the Sun is the center of the solar system, with the Earth circling around it.

The book was placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Forbidden Books the following year, and Galileo was tried and convicted for heresy. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest, and none of his later books were permitted to be published in his lifetime.
__

It’s the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She went to Vassar and then moved to Greenwich Village where she lived a Bohemian life involving poetry and love affairs. She was beautiful and alluring and many men and women fell in love with her. She was one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she went on tour, she drew huge crowds, and she recited her poetry from memory, very dramatically.

Millay wrote, “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends — / It gives a lovely light!”

__
On this day in 1980, in one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympics history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of collegians and second-tier professional players, defeated the defending champion Soviet team, 4-3, at the Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

__
It’s the birthday of Seán Ó Faoláin (books by this author), the Irish author, born in County Cork, in 1900. He is best known for his unflattering but sympathetic portraits of modern Irish life, his criticisms of church-inspired censorship, the narrowness of the Irish clergy, and restrictive family traditions. Thus, he was controversial but also a hero to other writers including Patrick Kavanaugh, Flann O’Brien, Frank O’Connor, and Brendan Behan.

__
It’s the birthday of the author and illustrator Edward Gorey (books by this author), born in Chicago, 1925. He was well known for creating drawings for the animated title sequence to the PBS series Mystery!, and he produced picture books such as The Beastly Baby (1962) and The Ghastlycrumb Tinies (1963), which begins:

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs
B is for Basil assaulted by bears
C is for Clara who wasted away
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh

A new biography just came out about him this past November; it’s called Born to Be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey.

__
Frank Woolworth opened the first of his dime stores on this date in 1878 in Utica, New York; his innovation was to put the merchandise out where the customer could pick it up and look at it. By 1919, there were more than a thousand Woolworth stores worldwide.

——————–

Garrison surprises me with little-known facts about people I thought I knew (I assume they are facts…though he is a fiction writer, so…). The father of our country had a speech impediment and loved cream of peanut soup? Edna St. Vincent Millay was an icon of the Jazz Age? Investigating Edward Gorey a bit on my own, I saw that he was part of the Literary Nonsense movement, according to Wikipedia. That Wikipedia page listed many writers who also have written in this genre that “balances elements that make sense with some that do not, with the effect of subverting language conventions or logical reasoning.” I was surprised at how many from the list I considered my favorite authors: Lewis Carroll, Woody Allen, Dave Eggers, Eric Idle, John Lennon, Jack Pretlusky, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, T.S. Eliot, and even John Flansburgh (from They Might Be Giants); I would add e.e. cummings to the list. And Bob Rentschler. I began to realize that literary nonsense and I had been courting for years without being introduced. The fact that “Jabberwocky” is the only poem I have completely memorized (not counting song lyrics) should have clued me into knowing that I am drawn to literary works of a nonsensical nature. The looks on my students’ faces when I played “Impossible” by They Might Be Giants also might have been evidence worth noting. In addition, I enjoy the Borowitz Report and the Onion more than most things I read. David Byrne is my musical choice of late (Musical Nonsense). And lately I’m writing limericks of all things. I feel like I’m ‘coming out’ as a lover of Literary Nonsense.

A few recent attempts at limericks:

Some say the times are depressin’
And that we can’t learn our lesson
Think before you vote
For God’s sake don’t gloat
Mistakes are always worth confessin.


There once was a lass from Kent
Taken with an artsy gent
Shacked up for fun
When it was all done
Neither one could afford the rent.


The Electoral College is quite bent
The people is does not represent
Elected a crook
A real Donnybrook
Let’s say it together: “impeachment!”

I mentioned my interest in Literary Nonsense to Aaron and he pulled a book out of his library for me to read: A Nonsense Anthology, collected by Carolyn Wells and published in 1902. “Jabberwocky” was on the first page. I found another gem by Rudyard Kipling which seems to fit the day —

There was a small boy of Quebec,
Who was buried in snow to his neck;
When they said, “Are you friz?”
He replied, “Yes, I is —
But we don’t call this cold in Quebec.”

A Tribute

Every so often, Bob Hubbard would remind me that I have the choice to get grumpy or get silly as I journey through life. He always suggested I choose silly. It was more than a reminder to have a positive attitude; it was a call to find the humor in life. To go out of my way to be funny and promote funny with others. He (like Bob Rentschler before him who preached making a fool of myself daily) advocated for that narrow band of humor called silliness. I’ve done my best to ask the silly question, make the silly observation, and do the silliest thing I can think of at any given moment. It hasn’t been easy in certain contexts, but I survived over 25 years in education without getting fired and 58 years in church environments so I must have learned something along the way.

Bob’s body succumbed to the ravages of a Parkinsons-like illness yesterday. I was honored to be with him moments before he died. Jim Coty, Allan Martling, and I sat with Bob and sang songs for him, not knowing it would for the last time. JoAnn, Bob’s wife and another of my mentors, was with us at times also. Here’s an impromptu set list from that time:

“It’s in Every One of Us”
“Joy to the World”
“Secret of Life”
“How Can I Keep from Singing?”
“Walk Together Children”

I first met Bob in the bass section of the Edgewood United Church of Christ choir in 1983 or so. He began his silliness training during those choir practices. We would make each other laugh and ask far-out questions of Paul Schultz, the director.

I didn’t know him as an MSU professor or really grasp the importance of his work on the HANS Device (His work inventing the HANS device was highlighted in his obituary published on Autosport,. Check out the video on that link) Over the years, my wife, Judy and I, were blest to live with Bob and JoAnn two different times (once JUST before children…nudge, nudge, you know what I mean…in the basement and once with two children as I completed my Masters Degree in Special Education at MSU). Both generous invitations were catalysts to most of the success I have enjoyed in my life. I was fortunate to work with JoAnn for years, worked as the youth leader at Edgewood when his children, Matt and Cristin, were in the group; we went on an epic mission trip working on the Appalachian Trail that I’ll never forget. They invited us to their amazing cottage up north and we saw Cristin marry Billy in a fairy tale of a wedding. Matt gifted me with juggling lessons that I used as a teacher and for my own enjoyment for years. Bob was my third father and he made me feel a part of his family.

Our families traveled together to Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York City, and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (more than once). The last destination was to work with Re-Member, attempting to mend relationships with the Lakota people. His dedication to that cause inspired and challenged me regularly. We shared a love of James Taylor’s music (and the wide variety of musical types) and attended a JT concert together years ago.

I was blessed again to sing with Bob a few years ago with the Earl Nelson Singers choir. We were a subdued version of our earlier silliness, but still found ways to have fun while singing the tragic and joyful story of the Negro spirituals.

His relationship with JoAnn has always intrigued me. They have been models of the most independent, yet loving, couple I’ve known. He and JoAnn taught me the Personal Property rule (clean up after yourself…though I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it), the kids-should-know-how-to-play-the-piano-and-swim-if-nothing-else rule, and about acceptance and generosity as a way of life. Here are a few photos from all of those memories living life together (you may need to log in to icloud).

Gone, but not forgotten. Love you, Bob.

This is not the greatest blog entry in the world, it’s just a tribute.

Memoirs & Memory

I’m reading Donald Hall’s last book, A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety. His poetry and essays have impressed me for years and his recollections and insights in this memoir are surprising. (Sidenote: I didn’t know he died last year until after I had started the book.) Page after page, he recalls incidents from much earlier in his life when he knew Steinbeck, Faulkner, Roethke, Wright (who he called Jim), and many other famous authors. He is frank and specific in his recollections. I’ve heard that long-term memory is sharper later in life; that could be how he remembers things so clearly or maybe he was like that all along. Or, I suppose, he could be using poetic license to fill in the blanks. Whatever the cause, I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the lives of literary figures from the last century.

Biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs have always been a curiosity of mine. On one level, I am fascinated to learn about the lives of people, famous or ordinary, just because our life experiences are so amazingly varied. The more I read about the particular contexts in which people grew up, the more I appreciate the complexity of being human. And (hopefully) the less my default reaction is to jump to certain conclusions (stereotypes) when reading the news or Facebook. There’s almost always more to the story than we initially realize. The more we read (and travel) the more our minds are open and informed.

Beyond that fascination, though, I am constantly wondering if what I’m reading is true. Just because it’s in print (or online), just because someone “remembers” it, does not make it factual. While it is the best representation of what the person remembers, as I read a memoir like Hall’s, I am aware that the mind plays tricks on us and our memories distort what truly happened years ago. I have been journaling for over 30 years and looking back at my words, I sometimes don’t remember events the way I wrote about them. Listening to my wife or my mother talk about events from 10 years ago, I begin to wonder if I was really there…the differences in our memories of the same event are quite pronounced.

Here’s an example of me writing about a particular time from early in my life:

In seventh grade, my mom suggested I make new friends. I was hesistant, but started hanging out with a guy named Chris who lived about a quarter mile from our house. Between our houses was a grassy field with little pockets of trees and bushes. When Chris and I hung out, I usually went to his house because I enjoyed walking through the field and he wasn’t much of an outdoor person. We would play cards (War and Go Fish mostly), watch Batman and Columbo (when his mom was in a good mood), and annoy his older sister, Madonna. I had never met anyone named Madonna and, being Catholic, felt that maybe we should be nice to her. Instead, we would kick her bedroom door open as we passed and yell random things into her space. She would always scream back at us and turn up her music (often “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves” by Cher), as if that would keep us out. Years later, after Chris and I stopped spending time together, Madonna became almost as big of a household name as her namesake.

That’s the sort of thing I would write if I had exceptional recall. It holds a person’s attention and seems plausible.

Some of it is even true.
Chris and I hung out. We bugged Madonna (yes, THAT Madonna). We were over at his house more often than my house. Madonna did play her music loudly.

Besides that, it’s all a blur. But isn’t my first rendition more interesting than ‘just the facts’? And all the detail that Hall puts in his memoir makes me wonder about how much and what parts are poetic license (otherwise known as fiction or pretend).

I enjoy a telling story. I think we all do. Maybe it’s true, maybe not, but if there are colorful characters, intriguing elements, and a genuine point or lesson, I want to hear it. Yes, I read Hall’s work and other memoirs critically — wondering about truth — part of the enjoyment, though, is in the remembered anecdotes, the individual moments that give life pizzazz and flavor. It’s a gift I wish my memory granted more often than it does…and so I read memoirs and other people’s memories to fill the void.


Suggested Memoirs, Biographies, and Autobiographies

* A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall

* Black Dog of Fate by Peter Balakian (an Armenian-American’s memoir…I have an extra copy if you want it)

* dreams in the mirror by Richard Kennedy (about E.E. Cummings)

* Born Standing Steve Martin’s autobiography

* The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic by Sheryl James

* Kiss Me Like a Stranger Gene Wilder’s autobiography

* It’s Always Something Gilda Radner’s autobiography (includes much about Gene Wilder)

* I Wonder As I Wander Lansgston Hughes’ autobiography

* The Love of Many Things: A Life of Vincent Van Gogh by David Sweetman

* A Memoir by John Hannah (former president of MSU)

Thoughts

Just because I haven’t been posting on this blog lately, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything on my mind. The cause is more related to having so much to say that I can’t get it all into one, concise article. I actually write quite often — in my personal journal, for a book I’m writing, on Facebook, in text messages, for tasks on committees at church, and even blog entries that I never finish. What I’m finding difficult is choosing which things to share in this space; these entries need to balance being honest with being relevant and topical with being clear and meaningful. I feel the need to add a bit of edginess too.

I.
For example, I recently read an article, written last year, called “Are You Ready to Consider that Capitalism is the Problem?” I appreciate how it points out how Capitalism works against many things that are important to me: the environment, sharing resources, animal rights, living life in balance, and respecting each person’s rights, for example. I think, as the article states, that when things aren’t going the way we think they should, we have the responsibility to consider other ways of living. That doesn’t mean I support Socialism necessarily — it means, “Let’s look at our options and how our actions affect the world instead of living our lives like sheep bent on one goal, ignoring the rest of the world.” Change is threatening to many people but I would hope the world doesn’t have to get to the brink of destruction before we consider alternative lifestyles.

II.
I’ve been giving some thought to how I can help make the Lansing area more community-focused. I have noticed that young people and older citizens often feel left out of conversations that affect change. These two groups often have much to contribute — insights from wisdom or options from open-minded connection-making, seeing humor in the routine or commonplace, stories from real or imagined situations — but are under-valued or ignored. Too often, also, the ideas of other groups like people of color, the LGBTQ community, the deaf community, and people with disabilities are not seen and heard in widely distributed media. One organization that has had success at breaking this cycle is Dave Egger’s 826 movement.

Their national programs focus mainly on two ideas: “that every student has the potential to succeed with the right opportunities and support; and that celebrating creativity is key to engaging and assisting youth.” They offer “free and engaging writing programs” and work to “help students become proficient writers and confident thinkers.” That’s really what I was about as an English teacher and I’ve been wondering if such a place might be able to blossom in our community (as it is in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, as well as several other cities). Each person has a story to tell and a program like this would give more young people a chance to share their voices; I believe, also, that the stories of the older generation can be lifted up in a space like this — maybe with the young people being the catalysts.

The problem is that no one that I’ve talked with about this has jumped aboard with enthusiasm. I am realistic enough to know that I could never do this alone. I haven’t given up yet, but I’m beginning to feel that there isn’t enough interest or need for this type of a program here. Most people I talk with are already pulled in so many directions that adding one sizeable commitment to the mix must seem too much. However, if we were able to assemble a few dedicated (paid) folks and a large group of volunteers, as well as some generous sponsors and get a few grants, I’m sure this type of program could work in the greater Lansing area.

If you are interested and able to help in someway, please contact me. I’m at akabodian@gmail.com or you can comment at the bottom of this post.

III.
Another issue that’s been on my mind is when the hell is President Trump going to be impeached? How many times can one public official put his foot in his mouth, use the moral compass of an evil toddler, and poison the culture before his sorry ass is kicked out of office? I appreciated former FBI Director James Comey’s comments recently that reminded us again that the emperor is naked and challenged someone in Congress to stand up and do something about it. Another promising development is New York’s Attorney General recently announcing that the Trump Foundation will dissolve due to being accused of a ‘shocking pattern of illegality.’ Defense Secretary James Mattis and special presidential envoy Brett McGurk both resigned due to his ill-advised withdrawal from Syria. More and more people are not letting Trump’s evasion of the law and bizarre decision-making go unchecked. And then, recently, he throws a temper tantrum to get his ridiculous wall and forces a partial shutdown of the government.


Thanks to Jon, a friend of a friend, for the doodle.

When will it end? His presidency is like a choose-your-own-adventure book’s wacky adventure combined with a Russian roulette wheel for decision-making. He’s made life so unpredictable and disturbing.

Thanks for listening. I needed to vent.

IV.
Books I’m reading now
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
When by Daniel Pink
Diary of an Early American Boy by Eric Sloane
A Sense of Wonder: the world’s best writers on the sacred, the profane, and the ordinary edited by Brian Doyle

Books I plan to read soon
Listen to the Marriage by John Jay Osborn
Two poetry books by local poets that I bought recently:
By the Time You Read This by Mark Ritzenhein and
Fall Ball by Alan Harris
Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone, (the ninth Outlander book scheduled for publication probably in 2019) by Diana Gabaldon

Here are some promising lists of books if you are on the hunt for a good read
30 Best Young Adult Novels of 2018
Black Male Writers for Our Time

NY Times 100 Notable Books of 2018

New York Times current bestsellers list

A Mighty Girl’s 2018 Best Books of the Year list

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!

We Are Done With the LSJ

Getting the morning paper delivered to our doorstep has been part of our routine for many years. Starting Monday, though, we will be finding other things to do while drinking our first cup of coffee. This decision has been in the works for months, but an upcoming increase of $7 a month (to $41) helped push us over the edge. Over the years, the paper has become mostly advertisements and the few articles are written mostly by outsourced writers. While the actual delivery of the paper has been quite good (only a few missing or late papers), the customer service has been ridiculous, bordering on non-existent. Though I could go into depth about our reasons for cancelling our subscription, my most pressing issue is how hard it was to actually cancel the paper.

I first called the Lansing State Journal’s (LSJ) Customer Service phone line over a week ago. Within a few moments, the recorded message let me know that my wait time would be one hour and thirty minutes. As I recovered from the shock of that statement, I listened to the recorded message’s reassuring, upbeat communications: if I didn’t want to wait, I could “simply” head over to their website and chat with someone about my concerns; it was “easy” to access my account online; and emailing the office was an option too.

I took their advice. No one ever responded to the chat. I tried it many times over the course of the last week. I received messages similar to this one.

Then, I tried to access my account on their website. It looked promising but upon clicking on every imaginable link, I was not able to cancel my account or find/change my automatic withdrawal option. I always got this message in red at the top of the page ——

I tried the poorly-named Customer Service phone line again. I waited for awhile this time. NOTE: When I wait on the phone, I always have a cold beverage, a snack of some kind, often my own music playing in the background, and I usually have a book to read…for sanity’s sake. Even all of those passing-time distraction methods didn’t work, however, and I hung up after a time.

Next was an attempt at email communication. I shared the following email and received no response (it’s been more than a week). No “Thanks for the email…we’ll get right back to you.” No confirmation that my account had been canceled. Not even a “Hey, we want you to stick with the paper so we are going to offer you 25 cents off a week.” Nothing.

About this time, I was considering just stopping payment on our automatic withdrawal. Instead, I decided to go the Lansing State Journal office and talk with someone. Surely, the old-fashioned route — face-to-face human contact — would be the best remedy. Like some sort of 20th century robot, I went to the only place I associated with the Lansing State Journal — the building that says their name on it on Lenawee Street in Lansing across from the CATA bus station. As I stood outside the building I noticed how dark it was inside and then that the door was padlocked. I checked my phone, but didn’t see the new address that was on the contact page (maybe subconsciously I didn’t want to see it…I don’t know). I walked across the street to an office building and asked the first secretary I met where the LSJ had moved to. She said she heard that they were in the old Knapp’s Department Store building on Washington Avenue.

(photo from http://www.grangerconstruction.com/project/knapps-centre-historic-rehabilitation/ )

It’s a beautiful, retro space and I found them on the third floor. (if you ever want to cancel your subscription, here’s the address: 300 S. Washington Square, Suite #300)

The woman I spoke with at the desk was quite polite and friendly. Within two minutes, she canceled my account. It was quick and not-so dirty. I felt a great weight lift from my life. She asked why I wanted to cancel.

Pausing, I came up with “The cost…and we get our news other places.” But I could have gone on for an hour. I did, though, ask to share a complaint. I told her this story of trying to cancel but being thwarted at every turn. She said she would pass it on.

I celebrated with a delicious sausage, egg, and cheese bagel at the New Daily Bagel across the street. I recommend the Everfresh Pineapple juice too. When you get around to ending your relationship with the LSJ, I hope you skip right to the end of this blog and avoid all the frustration, time, and customer disservice. Go see Penny at the front desk. I hope your experience is both easy and simple.

P.S. Here’s where I will be getting my news:
* the New York Times app on my phone (I purchased their digital service)
* East Lansing Info (we have financially supported this online, local news source for awhile)
* CNN online And occasionally on TV
* Fox News online And occasionally on TV (though admittedly quite infrequently)
* listening to what my friends are talking about and then checking other news sources or blogs of varying credibility
* once in a great while, we’ll get the Sunday Lansing State Journal (heck, the coupons are good, Judy needs to check the obituaries, and I like to do the Sudoku).

Potpourri

This collection of thoughts is what’s on my mind these days. I could have called it ‘hodgepodge’ instead. It was going to be several posts (at some future date), but here they all are in a sort of fruit salad potpourri.

Either I’ve been preoccupied by death lately or death has been preoccupied with me. I’m not sure which. In July, I was reading They Said She Was Crazy, about how a mother deals with the suicide of her son. It was a fiction, but based on the life of the author, Kristine Brickey, a teacher friend of mine — a gripping, challenging read. Then, I felt the loss of the recent death of Judy’s Aunt Betty and my friend, Scott’s brother, David; the tragic death of a family friend, Corrina Van Hamlin Also hit me hard. In August, it occured to me that another friend, Nancy, had recommended the Joan Didion book, The Year of Magical Thinking, which deals with the author’s ongoing reaction to her husband’s death; Nancy’s husband, Jim, died a year ago and his loss is still on my mind and on my heart.

Then, there are so many car-related deaths in the paper. And weather related deaths across the world. And then a few celebrities died in the past weeks (see below). It’s just so pervasive. Death won’t go away. I can’t seem to get used to its presence. The Armenian Church has a tradition of commemorating the deaths of loved ones, so earlier this month I attended that ceremony where I felt close to my father and the many other beautiful family members we have lost over the years.

I was saddened by the news of Neil Simon’s death. I admired his writing for its wit and insight. Here’s an article about him if you didn’t see it already — I recommend the video on this link, too (a tad long, but a fine tribute).


Here’s one of the best tributes to Aretha Franklin out there. It’s Fantasia singing “Rock Steady” with Aretha looking on.

Senator John McCain stood up for what he believed in and I admired that also. Though I didn’t often share his beliefs, he was a man of integrity. I especially appreciated this photo (below) from the last page of his last book, The Restless Wave.

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Alton Road Update

East Lansing residents who are getting tired of the city being under construction may be interested in an update of one of the construction projects. We live on Alton Road. It connects Saginaw Road and Burcham Road. Bus line 24 has a couple stops on Alton and it’s getting re-paved with new pipes and sidewalks. This is good news of course. The road was lousy. This project is also a pain in the butt in many ways.

Here are some photos from the tiresome part of the project, which may last for another month. I’ll try to remember to post a photo of the finished product.

This is Saginaw under construction, but our road is connected to it on the right.

Sometimes we can’t get out of our driveway for hours. Arrgg.

Check out the City of East Lansing’s construction update page for more information.

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“I’m going to 8th grade today”

It was fun to say that to Gabi when I bought my ticket to the movie, 8th Grade, recently. Especially since she’s a former student of mine. It made her smile.

This movie portrays what one 8th grade girl is feeling during the last weeks of 8th grade. I was reminded how difficult it is to be a teen these days. Her constant use (addiction?) of her phone leads her to several emotional and social tests including a ramped up disconnect with her father. This movie could be a perfect conversation starter in families and schools.

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Some articles I’ve read recently that I enjoyed:

* “My Armenia” in the New York Times by Peter Balakian

* “Why Trump Supporters Think He Is Not Corrupt” in the Atlantic by Peter Beinart

* “What If Trump Actually Did Shoot Someone On Fifth Avenue?” in the New York Times by Thomas L. Friedman

Joys, Challenges, & Revelations from Traveling

I grew up traveling. Our family went places together. Sometimes my Baboo and Grandma Godoshian came along (I can still hear Baboo cracking jokes on that trip to Syracuse; Grandma didn’t think he was funny, but she laughed under her breath anyway). My mom had our Green-Go (green & gold, paneled station wagon) tooling down one highway or another toward Walt Disney World or Gettysburg or Boston relatives most summers. I have to say it was mostly about the destination and less about the journey…but then again, I was a pre-teen and then a teen.

This recent vacation started off focused on a wedding at a distant destination (for us. More later about how fantastic that turned out to be.) Our first day in Stockholm, we realized that each day would bring surprising, enjoyable moments. Arriving at Central Station on the train from the airport, we bought a T-ban transportation pass that would be good for a week. Though it seemed pricey at the time, that investment opened up the city to us. We felt comfortable getting on any subway, bus, tram, or ferry that we needed because of the ease of access the pass card gave us. And that, in turn, ended up making the trips relatively freeing and inexpensive. We used it within 15 minutes of purchasing it to take a ferry across the bay to our hotel (and I didn’t ‘drive’ anything for two weeks).


The boat hotel where we stayed a couple days is in this photo on the left. I didn’t know it was in the photo when I took the shot.


“Self portrait after days of travel on planes, trains, and automobiles. Adventure wins over checking the mirror, every time.” CVH, RIP

Rick Steves had prepared us well. We watched his video about the areas we would travel. We perused his book on the city. He mentioned a floating youth hostel as a possibility and, though we didn’t find the exact one, Rygerfjord Hotel and Hostel had comfortable rooms and priceless views for affordable prices. Soaking this place in was one of our first joys. It is true, though, that it was one of our first challenges, too; I had it in my mind that it was docked to our right when we got off the ferry and we pulled our luggage a couple hundred yards out of the way before we realized it had been 50 feet to our left off the ferry. A sobering laugh at ourselves to start. While we were staying there, Sweden played in the World Cup. We experienced the popularity of soccer/football firsthand: every time Sweden scored, we could hear the fans cheer from the outside viewing venues around the city —— we were on the boat and could hear the cheers across the water in the downtown area a mile away.

Weddings exude joy and hope regardless of location, but being in such a bustling, novel place with friends did ratchet up the excitement. As a matter of fact, we had a small herd of people carrying flowers on the subway to the wedding, which was fun. Hallie Reed, formerly of East Lansing but now teaching and residing in Stockholm, Sweden, married Joakim Slettengren in an ornate church; they then had us transported (via bus and ferry) to an island for the reception. I kid you not. Swedish custom involves sharing many toasts at the reception. I bet there were over a dozen toasts (Rachel gave a very sweet one) sprinkled throughout the night. It didn’t seem like too much —— we all felt closer to the couple after hearing from a diverse group of familiy and friends. Another Swedish custom was to split up parties at the reception; we sat next to people we didn’t know and thus made new friends. One more way Hallie and Joakim personalized the experience: Each person at the wedding had a few sentences written up about him or her in the program explaining his or her relationship to the couple. Pretty damn cool. A friend asked what they served and not until I was writing this did I notice that they had the menu at the front of the program.

The second place we stayed was the same as the myriad American guests: Hellstens Malmgard. It was Queen Christina’s Hunting Palace back in the 18th century. Our room was carved out of the attic space but was still plenty of room for the three of us (though the bathroom was hard to stand up in and a bit of an obstacle course). The breakfasts were buffet of deliciousness: soft & hard-boiled eggs, cheeses, yogurts, salami and other meats, croissants and other breads/crackers, jellies, at least one fish (usually herring or salmon), and always coffee and tea.

Our third spot (and first airbnb of the trip) was in Hagersten-Liljeholmen, right outside of downtown Stockholm. Since Rachel (and later Courtney) would be staying with us for part of the time, this space was larger. And just grand. On two floors and with a gorgeous view from the balcony, this was my favorite of all the places we stayed.

It was very helpful that most everyone we met knew how to speak English. It’s so accomodating that it could make one feel inadequate. We did have a couple incidents, though, where language issues made life interesting. At a Thai restaurant, since the menu was just in Swedish, our waiter/cook asked us (in English) what we liked and made each of our meals to order. The food was so delicious (especially the spring rolls), that we went back a couple days later to order more spring rolls. The previous waiter wasn’t there and the woman who helped us didn’t know much English. Judy pointed to the spot on the menu and asked for two orders of spring rolls. We clarified with her and she seemed to understand. However, when she brought out the spring rolls, there were 14 of them. She brought us two large orders instead of the small. We decided that it was a happy accident and ate as many as we could and saved the rest for the next day at the train station.

One of our frustrations was that our train to Oslo had been canceled and the train company had neglected to email us. Many people were in the same holding pattern as we waited four hours for a train traveling the five hours to Oslo.
Our Oslo airbnb was minimalistic, but just enough. It was in the Grunerlokka neighborhood, which had a hip, international feel to it. We heard many languages spoken as we searched for coffee in the mornings and slept with the windows open (no screens) each night; it was only semi-dark from 11:30 PM to 3:30 AM and blackout curtains were a must. We visited the Nobel Peace Center and it was enlightening (follow the link for a quick look). From Oslo, we took trains, a bus, and a boat on our Norway in a Nutshell fjord cruise. Basically, breath-taking views in every direction for most of a full day.


This bathroom was extremely efficient use of space —— the shower walls folded in to give just enough room to stretch out when you brushed your teeth.

The one night we were in Bergen, Norway, our airbnb turned out to be somewhat hard to find, despite being very close to the train station. We passed it once and then circled back, partly because the “street” it was on was more like an alley. It was very clean and comfortable though, and within walking distance to everything we needed (coffee, Indian food, the funicular up the mountain, a salad & wraps place for lunch & ice cream).

On past trips overseas, we have exchanged some of our American dollars for the country’s monetary unit (in this case, krona). This time, though, both Sweden and Norway seemed virtually cashless. A few places actually had signs that read “cashless.” We didn’t need krona on us. It helped to know the exchange rate, so that we had a general idea of how much we were spending; I had it written down for awhile, then moved to just dividing (in Sweden by 9, in Norway by 8). Though it seems a long way from happening here, one thing did occur to me: if the American business community could be shown that people spend more money when it’s digital, then it may happen sooner (as a tourist, especially, the amount sometimes doesn’t “matter” as much when it’s not tangible).

We struck up conversations with many delightful people on trains and in restaurants. We met Janne from Bergen on her way to her cottage; Kenneth from Oslo who worked for a tech company; we met Eesa from Stockholm while we all watched a World Cup game (Eesa asked me point blank what I thought of our President and the first word that came to mind was an “embarassment” and he agreed saying that our other recent Presidents had at least been gentlemen); I talked with a lawyer named John from Oslo getting away to the mountains to hike for the weekend (he was exceedingly taken with puns, idioms, and sayings from the English language and how understanding them could help him in his job); and we met Lorne and Audra from the San Francisco, CA, area — as a matter of fact, we kept running into them so much that we hung out with them several times after that, enjoying their company enough to exchange contact information. So many wonderful memories that the fact that Aaron, Judy, and I were starting to get on each other’s nerves by the end of the trip seems almost insignificant.

Each person had their own story. Traveling does that for me. It reminds me of the diversity of the human experience and that I should never try to make someone’s lived experience smaller by stereotyping them based on one attribute. We are all so much more than we seem. If you need a song that supports that notion, check out May Erlewine’s “Never One Thing” from her new Mother Lion CD.

Peace and joy on your journey,
Aram