Milwaukee can be a rather uninspiring place in the dead of winter. Not that the light, feathery, cotton candy snow that piled up overnight wasn’t beautiful. As we walked to the breakfast cafe to meet Steve’s mother, we came up with an alphabetical list of adjectives for this particular day’s precipitation. I don’t want to complain about the temperature hovering around zero degrees Fahrenheit, although it is a favorite local custom. There are much better ways to engage the imagination, and I live in a house which reminds me of this every day.
Scholar & Poet Books is the name of our other roommate. The drafty, old duplex we share rises over 4 levels: basement, first floor, second floor, and attic. She occupies every level and every staircase. She completely fills “my” closet while some of my clothes have languished in suitcases under the bed for 3 years. I am learning to appreciate her presence instead of begrudging her seeming dominance. In fact, I think I am coming around to choosing her company.
After Sunday breakfast with Mom, we returned to her, eager to taste her bounty. Samplings for the day included Irish, French, Argentine, Tibetan and Yiddish. She expands our consciousness, delights our senses and supports our livelihood and our dreams. Her body is an amalgam of tens of thousands of books and CDs with a few hundred other artifacts thrown in. She is library, concert hall and museum. She is introvert heaven.
We started by reading aloud a poem by W. B. Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”, the howling North Atlantic wind of the Irish verses being matched by the Wisconsin bluster that rattled our windows. After delving a bit into Yeats’ biography, Steve then began his daily business of listing our friend’s appendages for sale while I went downstairs to do the dishes and make bread. After lunch, while the loaves baked, we began to discuss our plans to travel to Tibet. Internet research prompted a search through our stacks to find more information on that side of the planet. Steve came down with 6 books of varying relevance. When the bread was safely out of the oven, we went upstairs to watch a DVD, Manon of the Spring, having watched Jean de Florette just weeks before. This emotional tale of French village life transported us visually and linguistically to another world in a simpler century. I tried, unsuccessfully, to pick out the movie’s musical theme on my harmonica before returning to the kitchen to make dinner.
When we’d finished our meal and our wine, we retired to the bedroom to peruse the wall of jewel cases. We settled on a CD of Argentinian folk songs and dances by Suni Paz. In contrast to the Irish ballads we lit upon at first, these undulating rhythms drew us deeper into the sultry passions beneath our awakened senses…
Fueled by a solid Monday morning breakfast, we dove into the business of packaging our sales, accompanied by Moishe Oysher singing Yiddish, bluesy, vaudeville, Hollywood-like tunes. I have no idea what they were about, but his passages of improvised “scatting” made me think of Tevye stomping and shaking around in his barn, pouring out his desires to be a rich man. One of the books we packaged was sent to a Jewish community center in New York; it was a children’s book called Klutzy Boy. It made me laugh.
The anthem of my Alma Mater, Scripps College, starts: “Strong in the strength of all, venturing together, searching, exploring the life of the mind…” In the midst of a Milwaukee winter, this is the antidote to cabin fever. I’m grateful to be shacking up with Scholar & Poet Books.
(author’s note: to browse our inventory listed on A.B.E. Books, click HERE. To visit our eBay Store, click HERE.)
© 2014, essay and photographs, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved
I love this word: Juxtaposition. I remember that my sister had an art book by this title when we were in High School. It held a special intrigue (maybe also because it contained nudity?). Contrasts are not the same as conflicts. There is a certain harmony or peace about them, like the yin/yang. I like that.
The “veil-ociraptor” on the wedding cake topper represents my daughter Susan, who is celebrating her 29th birthday today. Appropriately, The Bardo Group posted an essay of mine on the subject of “Joy” today as well. I invite you to read it here. Joy in the midst of suffering is the juxtaposition of real lives, I think.
The Bardo Group, a blogazine that counts me as one of its core contributors, has invited me to participate in a writing exercise. The prompt explains that God is a Verb and so are we and encourages me to consider the use of verbs in my work. I am thrilled by this idea! Let me tell you why: I love the philosophy that action is our essence. We are not concepts, we are acting, living creatures. I am not Priscilla; I am Priscilla-ing. I first heard this idea from Alan Watts. Here is a charming animated video in which he explains how the Earth is People-ing.
Victoria Slotto, our writing prompt author, notes how the Judeo-Christian story gives words the power of creation and life. God spake and the Universe came into being; the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. I remember listening with fascination to a Biblical scholar, Vickie Garvey, explain the Hebrew verb for God’s love for us. ‘Chesed’ is often translated as loving-kindness. (n.b. Victoria Slotto has corrected me: without looking up my notes, I cited the wrong word. The word ‘rachamim’, compassion, is related to ‘rechem’, womb.) However, she discovered that it is closely related to the word for womb. God ‘wombs’ us. When I show compassion, I am ‘womb-ing’. My mind and body both leaped for joy. I know just what this means! I have felt it!
As co-creators — living, sentient beings (amid many others) — we know the joy of sending ripples of action skimming across the universe. May our lives be, beget, generate, produce, compose, fashion, formulate, perform and work wonders!
This photo challenge is one of those too-easy ones. What photographer doesn’t have a picture of his/her family? So, how do I do it uniquely? Well, the simple answer is that every family is unique, so any photo of my particular family will be unique. Having already stretched my little gray cells in composing another post this morning (Model Behavior), I’m going to take a pretty direct route on this one. “My family” could be my family of origin or the one that I built and raised. In this case, though, I’m going to show you 3 generations of my family. Three women, to be more specific. Three brown-eyed eldest daughters. Three highly intelligent, brown-eyed eldest daughters. Three creative, well-educated, highly intelligent, brown-eyed eldest daughters…who can cook and knit and make music and converse about practically anything under the sun. Their accomplishments and credentials are staggering. I am in awe of them. And very proud. May I present: my sister Sarah, my mother, and my daughter Susan. Sarah’s got a Master’s degree in Anthropology and Museum studies. My mother has an undergrad degree in English from Radcliffe (now merged with Harvard) and a Master’s in church music (or nearly…not sure if she completed that). My daughter has a Master’s degree in Linguistics. They are voracious readers and always have been. I listen to threads of shared knowledge dance and weave through their conversations, and I marvel at the connections that bridge the generations. And I realize that even if they weren’t related by blood, they would be related by the experience and consciousness of their humanity. And THAT is something that makes us all…..FAMILY.
I don’t have a television, so I don’t see a lot of commercials. Still, I find NBA games on the internet and catch a few ads in the process. There’s one for a fried chicken franchise that particularly bothers me. Here’s the set-up: two teenaged kids have made a rare venture out of their rooms to join their parents for dinner. They are still plugged into their media devices and never speak or make eye contact with the camera or their parents. The African-American family sits in the living room with a bucket of chicken on the coffee table. Mom & Dad tell the camera that the chicken is the occasion for them to have this special “family” experience. Dad jokes that if the batteries run down, they might actually have a conversation.
Sigh. Is this an accurate snapshot of our current culture? Rewind about 100 years.
I’m reading a book called Nothing To Do But Stay: My Pioneer Mother by Carrie Young. The author describes her life in North Dakota during the Great Depression. Her mother had acquired land as a homesteader, married and raised 6 kids on the farm. Her sisters struggled to become educated and get jobs as school teachers in local one-room schoolhouses. One particularly brutal winter, their parents found it more sensible to drop off the 18-year-old daughter, the teacher, with the two younger sisters at school and let them stay there during the week instead of transporting them back and forth through the snow drifts by horse-drawn wagon. The week turned into months. Fresh supplies were delivered every week, but these 3 young ladies spent that winter relying on their own resourcefulness for their daily life — with no electricity, simply a coal-burning furnace in the basement and a woodstove with one burner in the classroom. How is that possible? I’m sure that life was one that their parents had modeled for years.
Compare these two snapshots and imagine the changes that have swept through our country. What has “adult living” become? What do we model for our children these days? What skills are being delegated to machines or service companies or ‘experts’ that used to be more universal and personal? Besides modeling tasking skills, how do we model social and moral skills in this decade?
When more families were farming, children grew up alongside their parents and were incorporated into communal activities. They helped milk the cows, tend the garden, and make the food and clothing they all needed to live. In the 50s, when more families lived in cities and suburbs, Dad would drive off in the morning and work out of sight of his kids all day while Mom would turn on appliances to do the chores around home. The kids learned consumerism. Then the Moms left the house and went into the workforce leaving the kids in daycare. In 1992, someone came up with “Take Your Daughters To Work Day”. That was expanded to include boys a decade later. What was first perceived as a Feminist issue of role modeling was recognized as a parenting void: children had no clue how adults spent their work days.
Musing about these changes made me consider what my own children had learned from my husband and me. My daughter made a calligraphy sign when she was in High School: “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence B. Kelland) She was 23 when her father died. What we intended to model and what she actually learned are most likely two different things. One thing I do know. She did learn to cook her own chicken.
© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved
Another school shooting hit the news yesterday. The impact seems dull. Repetition has begun to numb my response. The predictable media storm continues, but just as raindrops seem less penetrating after your clothes are soaked, I simply can’t absorb this horror. And that is rather shocking.
I Googled “List of school shootings in the U.S.” The Wikipedia article’s chronology goes by decade, starting with the 1760s. There is one entry there. The next listing is 9 decades later. Two items there. The narration continues to list shootings for every decade. When we get to this millennium, the bullet points are replaced by a chart. From 2000 – 2010, there are 46 different shooting events chronicled. From 2010 – 2014 (n.b. Not even half a decade!) there are 65, including yesterday’s. And I may have lost count of one while scrolling down through the list.
Obviously, this storm is escalating. This is a flood. Our country is awash in violence being perpetrated against school children. School children! What can that be about? What madness has overtaken our culture that young people at their studies have become targets? I’m pretty sure it’s not so much about the targets as it is about target practice.
Our culture has target practice deeply embedded in its psyche and readily available in its entertainment, military and politics. Angry? Take aim. Proud? Take aim. Patriotic? Take aim. Need security? Take aim. Impoverished? Needy? Insulted? Invisible? Defiant? Miffed? Whatever the uncomfortable feeling you have, you can get relief by pulling out a weapon and taking aim at some target. Children in school apparently make a pretty easy gallery.
This approach is like using the same tool for every situation, no matter what it is. Would you use a hammer to wind your watch or play your piano or punch down your bread dough or crochet a sweater? No. And how did you learn to lay your hands on the appropriate tool for each of these situations? Most likely, at a very young age, you watched someone do it. A role model. Perhaps a parent or grandparent. Someone you trusted, who spent time with you, doing everyday kinds of things.
Let’s look around. Where are the role models that are pulling out weapons for every crisis? Where are the role models who are negotiating, discussing, creatively engaging, brainstorming and experimenting with different non-violent approaches? Who are the role models who have multiple tools in their belts and use the appropriate ones for the situation? And violence, what is it good for? Is it ever the best tool for the job?
And, c’mon, let’s be creative. Why does our entertainment have to follow this unimaginative formula of violence? There are a million other options. There are a million other roles to play. Playing something different will make us smarter, wiser, more flexible, more open, more like children. School children….our vanishing resource.
© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved
Steve brought me a book we’d sold. “There are a few light pencil marks in the quiz section. Could you please erase them before we ship this out?” I glanced at the cover. Getting To “I Do”: The Secret to Doing Relationships ‘Right’ by Dr. Patricia Allen.
I breathe a sympathetic sigh. I grieve for our culture, for social creatures with neuroses fueled by the media, insecurities about whether or not we will be loved, cared for, valued, mated and saved from personal extinction. Our fears are inflamed, and then ‘experts’ step in to tell us the magic or the scientific formula that will save us. Just take a look at the Yahoo! “Dating Tips & Advice” section: How to Stop Falling for Ms./Mr. Maybe, Happiest Couples, Tips to Get the Love You Want Instead of Settling, Traits Unhappy Couples Have in Common, etc. I imagine it’s big media business. How many of these articles simply recycle the ‘statistics’ from identical studies which probably report varying results? We are in a research culture that strives to control and predict, a desperate attempt to apply a balm to those neuroses that we irritate with obsessive attention.
Let’s take a step out of that arena, shall we? Let’s take the relationship out of the Petri dish and place it back into the organic garden. How do you learn about a growing organism? Attention, observation, action and response. Over time, the bloom becomes less a ‘specimen’ than a personality. It is unique. It is dynamic. It is not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. It IS. And the more honest you are in your interactions with it, the more you trust it…to be itself.
And where do we find guidance in this garden of real relationships? In stories. There are billions and billions of relationship stories out there. Some are fact, some are fiction. Many of the fictions center around the magical or formulaic as well, but the ones that really inspire are the ones that are singular and sincere. They give us the hope that our own inimitable story may be just as satisfying.
I have relationship stories of my own, and they are very important to me. I have a yearning to share them, with my children and with anyone else who may be listening. Why? Because I hope that my practice of observing and appreciating the slow unfolding of a delicate bloom will spark the same in someone else, that our posture in relationships will become less that of a victim on the couch, more that of a poet in the garden.
© 2014, essay and photograph, Priscilla Galasso, All rights reserved