Treasure: pirate’s booty, artifacts from an ancient tomb, shiny objects stashed in your nest, things you collect and wrap carefully.
I do not think of myself as a materialistic person because I don’t like shopping and buying, but I do have a collection of stuff that I have found or been given. These semi-precious items are housed in special places like shelves, curio cabinets, and glass-fronted cupboards in my home. It’s rather like a museum, which is perfectly appropriate to my interests and personality. (I work at 2 museums.) When I think of my collecting behavior, it probably started with rocks and “glassies” (beach glass) as a kid. As an adult, I collected eggs…a symbol of the Trinity, of life, and nature to me. Now, most of my egg collection is in storage, and I have begun accumulating elephants (mostly from Steve’s Aunt Rosie, who, having a habit as a flea market addict and having identified my taste, seems to present me with additions every time I see her!). Elephants are a symbol of matriarchal wisdom and compassion to me. My first beloved stuffed animal was Babar. I treasure the idea of elephants in the wild and feel great pain at their destruction. I would like to see some in their natural habitat some day.
But there is something that I collect and value even more, I think. I keep them close to me in places where I see them every day: on my computer screen, on my phone screen, on my living room shelves and in great boxes under my bed. They are photographs of my family. I’m guessing this is something that most people on the planet treasure…maybe hidden in a chest, tucked into a scrap of cloth, hanging on a chipping plaster wall or stashed in a suitcase in less technologically developed cultures. In fact, in our “museum inventory”, we have quite a few photographs of complete strangers, gleaned from estates sales – black and white faces in various poses, symbols of human connection. One day I’d like to give them new life in some art form so they might be treasured once again.
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
Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm
Happy Winter Solstice, everybody in the Northern Hemisphere! As the sun hits the lowest spot on the southern horizon, it seems to stop in a lyric caesura for a moment. Now the earth begins to doe-Si-doe around its stellar partner, coyly tilting the top of her head toward him. The night is long, and the dance goes on. Passion builds towards the summer solstice when the sun will caress the earth with daylight for 24 hours at the North Pole. Humans have celebrated these celestial events with festivals for centuries, and we still do. As I write this, Strauss polkas punctuated with small, percussive explosions and various train whistles play in the background. It is riotously fitting. (Steve is cleaning, stacking and re-stacking his books. We are expecting company for the weekend.)
The door marked 21 bangs open, and the gift unveiled is Passion. Enthusiasm! Energy! I contend that this is another Universal endowment. The word ‘enthusiasm’ has at its root the Greek ‘theos’, meaning God. To be enthused is to be filled with God. “In the throes of passion.” See Bernini’s sculpture of “The Ecstasy of St. Theresa” for a marvelous visual example. (We watched a video on this narrated by Simon Schama: “The Power of Art”. Highly recommended!) Is this kind of experience available to all or just the sainted few?
I believe that if you are open to the energy of passion, you will receive it. And I believe this fact scares a lot of people, especially those in authority who are working to gain and maintain control. Do you want to live in a passionless world? Do you want to live in a tempest of energy? Do you seek some Middle Way, a quiet infusion of God? How have you marshaled and channeled energy by your own choices? Have you felt someone else’s hand tempering your energy?
Excited to be back in Massachusetts (Photo by my oldest)
I think I was a pretty enthusiastic kid. I was often told that I was loud. My facial expressions were pretty dramatic. I loved theater and the chance to “act out”. My third grade teacher wrote in her notes to my mother that “the play’s the thing for your youngest daughter”. I did feel that my parents were always asserting a more reasonable response. They were intellectual and Anglican and well-mannered. I wanted to please them, so I didn’t allow myself to be wild. When I began voice lessons in college, one of the first things my teacher said to me was, “You sing as if you’d been told all your life to modulate your voice.” How did she know? So I had become outwardly prim and proper and covertly silly and animated. My passion for my husband was greeted initially by my parents with the same kind of circumspection. After all, I was only 15 when we met and 20 when we became engaged. Gushing about how I “knew” he was the right one for me was unconvincing. I prepared logical and practical reasons why I should marry before I graduated from college and while we were both unemployed. His father was not at all persuaded. My father had seen us courting and knew more intuitively that our determination was real, fueled by much more than reason, and that in a marriage, that is a definite harbinger of success.
I am still hesitant to show emotion and passion. Steve is always delighted to see my enthusiasm about something, and frankly wary because it doesn’t assert itself in important decisions. I was brought up to be very serious about decision-making, and to mistrust my enthusiasms. Steve seems to approach the issues from the opposite direction. He feels that the best reason for doing something is because you REALLY WANT TO! In some ways, that seems like a no-brainer. Problem is, I have esteemed The Brain far too much, I think. So, I am learning to try to listen to those exuberant voices without shushing them so much. And I am learning to be more open to the zeal of others. My children, especially. My parents modeled the “voice of reason”. I can’t deny that I play that role in my parenting, but I want to model the fervent voice of encouragement, too. (This goes along with the ongoing safety/adventure discussion that I have with Danger Mommy.) I keep trying to get away from dualism and embrace the dynamic whole. “Don’t be so worried about ‘supposed to’,” says Judy Dench’s character in the movie “Chocolate”.
Is it possible to be both wise and passionate? Is it possible for me to be both wise and passionate? I’m hoping so.
The countdown of free gifts continues – Imagine!
Do animals have imagination? Do they think in concepts or toss ideas around? Or is that strictly a human thing?
Animals have some pretty incredible artistic skills. I think of weaver birds or bower birds, birds that display their expertise in foiling predators and attracting mates. Does that indicate imagination? Cats, chimps, elephants and others have created art with paintbrushes or paws dipped in colors. Is that imagination? Maybe.
What good is imagination? Why is it a useful skill or a precious gift?
It keeps us from getting bored. It motivates us to engage in possibility. It fuels hope. But I suppose it could also be said that it fuels depression or despair. So, it’s a tool that we have in our skull-shaped kit box. We can use it however we want. We get to be creators. And it’s free. You don’t need electricity to run it; you don’t have to have an account or a password. This is one of the greatest gadgets ever! Do we celebrate it? Encourage it? Teach it? Or do we try to corral it, censor it, mold it, sterilize it? Well, historically we have done all of these, to be truthful. What have you done with yours lately? Do you have a secret place where you put the workings of your imagination? A journal, a sketchbook, a doodle pad, a workbench, a tape recorder, a music staff, a photo album? Do you unwrap these presents for yourself sometimes?
When I was in college, I worked summers at a Christian camp. I was in charge of the arts & crafts area. It was called “Imagination”. Over the doorway in blue paint and gold glitter, the name hung like a talisman. Each day, I wondered which kid was going to come in and blow my mind with something s/he created. I remember one tall, skinny, shy kid with a speech disorder, named Devin. He was 14. He would come in and look bored. I gave him some clay and googly eyes. He joked around, embarrassed, and then made a pretty good likeness of E.T. from that summer’s most popular movie. The next day, five campers came into the shop asking if they could make an E.T. head. Not that the art was original, it was completely derivative. But the idea to create something started a fad, like the kids were just waiting for someone to allow them to explore their own imaginations.
Steve came up with a book from his bookstore collection called Artful Jesters by Nicholas Roukes. “Innovators of Visual Wit and Humor” it says. Here’s the cover:
The artwork is by Willie Cole; it’s called “Burning Hot I – Sunbeam iron with yellow and red feathers”. I would love to raid all the recycling containers on my block, set up a workshop in my garage, and make “Imagination” come to life again. I’d invite all those shy, awkward kids and the ones who pay too much for entertainment, and see if they’d engage in this wonderful ability we humans seem to have inherited from somewhere. We are co-creators in this world. It’s a pretty nifty gig. I appreciate all my blogging friends, my musician friends, artists, knitters, chefs, actors, gardeners, sculptors, photographers, architects, designers…thanks for opening up your shops and showing us it can be done.
In the Christian Church calendar, today is the sixth day of Advent and St. Nicholas Day. In my Advent countdown, today is the day to celebrate the gift of Movement. We live on a moving planet. Impermanence surrounds us in increments from nanoseconds to evolutionary ages. Steve’s revelatory phrase about his identity is “I am the joy in change and movement.” If this is reality, why fight it? I am re-blogging a post from two years ago that illustrates the grace and artistry and discipline of movement – ballet. Watching movement can be magical and mesmerizing and put us into a “dream mind.” But waking up to the present moment puts movement back into the realm of consciousness. Our hearts are beating, our lungs are breathing, we pulse and move and live. It’s not a miracle, but it sure is something to celebrate!
Fairy Princess Dreams
Last night we went to see the Bolshoi production of Sleeping Beauty on the cinema screen. The newly restored Moscow theater features gilded woodwork and royal red upholstery, a royal box and no “cheap” balcony seats. It is Old World magnificence and romance in itself. Add Tchaikovsky’s lush orchestral score (which includes not one, but two harps!) and the lavish beaded, satin costumes and tutus of classic ballet and you have a Spectacle of epic proportion. We sat in the 5th row and felt like we were actually on the proscenium during the close up camera shots. It was breath-taking. Princess Aurora showcases all her most difficult moves in Act I at her 16th birthday party, partnered by 4 elaborately dressed foreign suitors. Cymbals accentuate each technically challenging pose, and she becomes the prima ballerina superstar of all my girlhood dreams. Suddenly, I am 10 years old and sitting next to my father at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. The ballet is so beautiful and I am so lucky and so loved and I miss my dad so much that I can’t hold back the tears. My heart is too full.
My dad proudly attended to the cultural education of his 4 charming daughters. We had classes at the Art Institute and ballet lessons at a studio on Michigan Avenue every Saturday. He had season tickets to the ballet for the whole family and to the opera for my mother. I was absolutely stage-struck as a kid and couldn’t resist trying on poses and gestures in the lobby during intermissions. I was the youngest of his daughters and probably tried the hardest to please him. I suppose I felt like a princess in many ways. I counted on my father’s kingly protection and generosity. I sometimes slept through life, waiting for Prince Charming to appear and carry me off to a dream of happiness. I met my prince when I was 15, married him when I was 21, and almost lived the whole freakin’ fairy tale. But no, I lived a real life. And I’m glad of it.
I found out that grace takes a lot of hard work, that fathers are imperfect people, and that love is stronger than death and more powerful than beauty. And it also requires a lot of hard work. Discipline and commitment can be more lovely than romance. Facing reality is more invigorating than dreaming. Pinch me when the spectacle seems overwhelming; I want to know I’m alive.
And David Hallberg is my new fascination. Not only is he a supremely graceful human being, he blogs, too. Yup, he’s real.
Reblogged from 2 years ago:
Today I had an opportunity to get into the holiday spirit by doing some arts & crafts with kids at the Nature Center. Unfortunately for fundraising but fortunately for me, not too many people showed up this morning. That meant that I got to play with the materials myself. I was at the wrapping paper station with an array of washable paint colors and objects to dip into them. Leaves, cedar boughs, fir needles, spruce branches, feathers, pine cones, sponges and whatnot.
Years ago, I went into the prairie with scissors, came back with leaves and seed pods, spray painted my treasures in gold, silver, and clear varnish, and decorated a mask with them. That hung on the wall of the den for ages. I’m always looking for ways to decorate indoors with pieces of the outdoors. And all for free, essentially. (Cheap & Weird – my kids’ nickname for me) That reminds me of the dried macaroni gifts I gave the Christmas I was, what, 9? Too funny. Spray paint macaroni, glue it to a box, call it a gift. I suppose I could get away with it as a kid, but what is it called when I’m almost 50 and still messing around like that? Okay, call it messing around. I have fun. Here are a few examples:
Imagine me gleefully slapping a piece of butcher paper with a paint-soaked cedar branch ala Jackson Pollack! I tell you, kindergarteners should not be having all the fun.
The best things in life are free. So far on my December countdown, I’ve received Sunshine (Dec. 1), Fresh Air (Dec. 2), and Water (Rain – today). Each day I go outside to receive some miraculous gift, and there’s always something. No need to wrap it or trap it. Martha Stewart or Andy Goldsworthy, I’m not. Just a kid in a fabulous universe, trying to stay happy with what there is.
Focus. Concentrate. What is important? Who decides? And what about the other stuff? Again, photography acts as a metaphor for life. How do you get the experience of your own powers of creation? Make decisions, make art, and you know that you are making a universe. Then, unmake it, and you’ll know what you can control and change.
Is the glass half empty? Half full? Is the glass solid or as liquid as its contents but moving at a different speed? Am I half done with my life or beginning a new day? Are the things that exist only in my memory real or not? If they exist in my memory, have I lost them?
I had a birthday on Wednesday, and a good cry on Thursday. The quiet, summer afternoon transported me to another time and place. My husband was alive, snoring in the Lazy Boy in my living room. I had a living room – a full house with 4 bedrooms. My oldest daughter was in her room, reading children’s books. My son was in the yard playing with a next door neighbor. My two youngest daughters were entwined on a bed, thumbs in their mouths, damp curls encircling their sleepy heads. It seemed so palpable…and so untouchable. Never again; though, yes, it was. Once. LOSS loomed in my brain. A word I envisioned; I’d conjured it like the scene of that composite day. When I focused on it, I was awash in gut pain. It was powerful. Over moments, the focus softened. Its power faded. It became a muted background of warmth, of subtle longing, a wistful smile. There are other things in my life. Some embryonic, some ripening. That previous life is like the green light of a summer day. It is there, all around. It is not in focus, though. It is enough.