Friday, January 30, 2009

Readers and Writers

Look how hard it is to follow through with this one simple task. I mean to tell you the title and author of every book I read this year. How tough is that? Pretty tough, apparently, because I finished The Used World last Sunday and here it is Friday and haven't even mentioned it yet. Anyway, it's by Haven Kimmel, who wrote A Girl Named Zippy. This one's better. I liked it a lot. Besides Christian fundamentalists and compassionate but illegal abortionists, there are also Hoosier lesbians and alcoholism. Yep. Something for everyone!

And yesterday I finished The Reader by Bernard Schlink. Apparently it's a Major Motion Picture. I can't imagine why. This was annoyingly boring, but I kept at it because Mike's mom lent it to me and I want to be able to talk to her about it. I kept hoping that it would perk up at some point. Its only saving grace is that it's short.

Ruth told me the book was depressing. I think the writing is depressing, not the topic. Schlink writes in a monotone. His chapters are all almost exactly the same length, as are his sentences. The blurb -- admittedly not the best source of truth -- says it's "A novel of emotional awakening that you'll never forget." Well, I guess I can't forget something I never knew ...

Or maybe I'm just a clod.

In any case, I don't recommend the book. If you want to see Kate Winslet and presumably Ralph Fiennes in the bathtub, then go see the movie. Or do movies still have naked women but not naked men?

Have you noticed that people are smoking cigarettes in movies again? I'm sorry for that. I wonder what I think I'm talking about here. It's been so long since I've seen a current movie, since I've been to a theater, that I can't even remember which movie it was.

Here's the trouble. Both Mittens and I spent all of Thursday just laid up in the house against the rain. Benji was with us for some of the time, but he didn't have any ideas, either. We were like criminals waiting at the hideout for the bag man. Or cops at a stakeout. We tried playing euchre but the overwhelming lack of opposable thumbs in the group was just too much. We threw the cards on the floor and looked for peanut butter.

This dejection -- and the rain -- has continued into this Friday morning. It's only five o'clock. Mittens is out on the cold screened porch looking for pieces of the lizard she separated yesterday, albeit listlessly.

Today there'll be some action, though. I have a massage at one and then I'll bring mini-flyers to Jan The Book Lady at Small Adventures, Gulfport's bookshop. Our writers' group will have its first meeting on Sunday, February 8. Mark that on your calendars.

My thanks to Angie for Following me unto the point of another robe. I wonder if we could get Nola Flamingo to add another picture. This one refuses to show. I believe Satch and Jetoff are still waffling. Mister Google doesn't make it easy, does he?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Number Ten

Since Liz is almost in the air at this very moment, it's okay for me to show you her car. If anyone can give me tips on photographing shiny cars, bring them forth, please. I do apologize for these lousy shots. Still, the car is recognizable. When you see Liz driving down the street, give her the Secret Blog Hand Symbol and she'll do the same. You'll be instant sisters. Yes. Even you brothers.
With the surprising and satisfying addition of the famous Bill Double-U as a Follower, you'll see that just one more Follower and I will fill in the row AND get the other robe. I'm beggin' ya'!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mind Games

I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a classic by Betty Smith) when I was in high school, I think. I don't much remember what the story was about, but I very much remember the mother's technique for dealing with her poverty: She dismissed it. She always tossed out the dregs of the coffee, telling herself that she's plenty wealthy enough to eschew the thick, bitter remains of the pot.

I do that, too. When I'm making chili, chopping the celery, I refuse to use those skinny -- and yes: bitter -- mini-stalks at the top. I always tell myself, When I'm poor enough to need them, I'll eat them. But not till then. If I'm especially panicky about money, I'll buy something I shouldn't. Picture me putting those annoying air quotes around "shouldn't." Oh wait. I just used real quotes ... well, inch marks anyhow. My point is that I'll use Retail Therapy to emphasize that I have nothing to worry about. I won't buy a trip to Africa, mind, but I will order a pizza or buy a book. New. Hardcover.

Well, I do the same thing with time. Here it is Monday and Liz's car must be done by Tuesday night. She'll be home Wednesday, but I'm going to spend that day with Michele at the St. Petersburg College campus in Clearwater, so I can't count on Wednesday.

I changed my massage from Friday to Thursday because Steve From Minnesota (which seems so much friendlier than My Ex-Husband, doesn't it?) and I are having lunch on Friday.

But wait! He called and said he may come tomorrow and Liz called and said she will be home tomorrow and then Andrea called and confirmed the writers' club start-date and the next thing I knew, there was Sonny calling and we both were doing other things while we were on the phone -- I was cleaning up Sunny emissions with one hand and painting Liz's car with another and holding my cell phone with my knees while Sonny was yelling at somebody about something.

In short, which is not my style, it suddenly seemed that chaos was reining with a ten-fingered fist, and so, in the manner of Ms. Smith, I stopped working and sat down here in Blogtown with a peanut butter-and-apple sandwich, and am ambling through my thoughts as if I have all the time in the world.

Which I do not.

So yes, the writers' club will have its inaugural meeting on Sunday, February 8, at The Longhouse (, 2301 49th Street South (33707), from four to six. Anyone who even thinks he or she wants to write should show up. The big requirement is that you actually write. Complete novices and published writers and everyone in between are welcome. BYOBeverage, too, if you can't get by without it for two hours. We'll supply the table and chairs. The cost is two bucks apiece for the use of the room. Call me (727 347-4786) or ee me ( if you're interested, please. We'll meet every other Sunday.

Too bad you can't come, Pi-Dave-ke, but you're way up there in snowy Pike, New York.

Buddy Helm (dot com) is having a drumming intensive from ten-fifteen till three that day, so you are going to be very busy. Don't forget your vitamins! He's also giving his two-hour session on Friday, February 13.

Today is Melanie's fifty-sixth birthday. It's true that the picture shown here is a couple of years old, but it doesn't matter. She neither looks nor acts her age. I mean, look at her fish hat, for pete's sake! (Although she does look good in it, doesn't she?)

Today is also the thirty-first anniversary of my mentor, Jan. I'm sorry I don't have a picture of her, but I'd be willing to bet that I'll have a picture of her painted car before this year is up.

Celebrations abound!

Someone actually bought the little chair I painted for AVP. Yay! This was at Studio @ 620 yesterday. Patrons were asked to buy the chairs but leave them at the Studio until the show is over in a couple of weeks. Apparently my patron wanted to get started on the bonfire right away because s/he took it and left. I never even saw it. The show and sale benefited Alternative Visions of Peace, an organization that gives conflict-resolving workshops in prisons.

I walked in as Abasi Ote was playing the conch. I'm sorry I only got to hear part of his music. A couple of sullen teen girls played their violins, and played them well. While their introduction was being read by a very perky woman, the girls were leaning against the wall, looking like really bored, like totally rolling their eyes and everything. But I suppose that's part of being a teen, isn't it? Sullenness is the law.

And now I can no longer pretend that I have enough time to do everything, so I'm going to race back out there and paint that car. This is only the tenth car I've painted, so I'm not sure if that's enough to have established a pattern, but it certainly seems that there's a pattern. I paint for a day or two and then suddenly realize that the thing is going to look awful and the owner is going to hate it and so am I. And then something happens and suddenly everything's okay and I just know they're going to love it. Let me go look at it again. Just wait. Talk amongst yourselves.

Oh yeah. I'm smiling!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

President Obama's Inauguration

Don't you think it's odd that I never even mentioned Martin Luther King Day? Me, too. And how about my new Followers? Wouldn't you think that I'd've tipped a hat to them, or at least swished the hem of my new robe? And look: It's two days after the inauguration, and you haven't heard from me yet.

I really have no defense at all.

I loved the quartet at the inauguration: black, Jewish, Chinese, Catholic, white, male, Israeli, Venezuelan, Hoosier, female, yellow. All we needed was some blonde hair and an Indian of some sort, and it would have been Jesus Loves The Little Children all over again. That's as American as processed cheese spread on a Philly Cheesesteak.

While I love Aretha Franklin, I confess that I've about had enough of singers trying to out-sing a song. God knows I love free-form and scat. I just don't think patriotic tunes -- or any other folk tunes, for that matter -- are suitable for improvisation. I also think that the people gathered at The Capitol would have been in the mood to join in a couple of verses of My Country, 'Tis of Thee. I know I would have been. And how wonderful that My Country was chosen, instead of The Star-Spangled Banner.

Just the other day, I had one of those emails we've talked about, the one with fifty-seven (for real) questions about My Favorite TV Show. Well, I filled it out but only sent it back to the guy who started it. I did not send it to any of you. You're welcome. One of the questions was, "When is the last time you cried?" My answer was, "Not recently enough." Well, if I'd filled out that questionnaire on January 20, my answer would have been, "At Obama's inauguration."

I watched it on my computer, thanks to I'm glad I did. I only caught a few moments of the inaugural ball, but I intend to check it out later. I wonder if the Bushes actually slept in their bed in the White House on January 19, and then the Obamas slept in the same bed on the twentieth. I'm sorry that my brain works that way.

I kept covering up Bush's face when it was shown. I riles me to see it by itself, but it's an affront to see it alongside Obama's.

I was as glued to the television at JFK's death as any other thirteen-year-old, but that was the last time (if also first time) I cared about big news. The night that O.J. Simpson led the car chase, I was at work on the second shift. A vagrant proofreader was listening with a headset to a radio account of the chase. As I walked by carrying a box of my desk stuff, she yelled out bits and pieces. I thought she was reporting on a late-night TV show. When I found out otherwise, I actually made a point to avoid all news about it. I don't even know why. I know I was disgusted by everyone else paying so much attention to it. I suppose it's just part of my Rebel Without A Cause personality.

I saw almost nothing of the 911 attack, either. At that time, I was working days, and a co-worker who'd been sneaking a look at internet news said, "Barbara, something strange is going on ..." so I got up to look. That's nearly all I saw, even though I had a TV in those days. I just refuse to join in on Group Panic.

It's probably not rebellion at all. It's probably some sort of ostrich effect, a self-protective action. I wouldn't go see Jaws, either. When I finally saw it years later, it wasn't even scary. I probably would have fainted if I'd seen it in theaters at the time. I didn't see E.T. when it opened, either, but I wish I had. Ditto Planet of the Apes. Interesting that I'm talking about movies and politics/Big Stories as if they're the same thing ...

I remember being grateful that I'd never have kids, because I knew I'd feel stupid when my grandchildren asked about Watergate and I wouldn't know anything about it. I only heard about Clinton's sex scandal peripherally. I certainly didn't "follow" it. A man came up to me in a big market in Ghana in 1998 and demanded, "You leave Mister Clinton alone!" I assured him I would. I hardly knew what we were talking about.

So I sort of wondered if I'd watch the inauguration. I don't know my motives for avoiding Big News. I just know that I do it.

It turns out, though, that I did want to watch the inauguration, and so I did. I found myself listening to NPR as I drove around today, thinking that maybe I'd even like to keep track of, oh, who's the secretary of state, for instance. Or even the vice-president. I've hardly ever let myself know those things. Maybe now I'll see what's happening in Afghanistan. Maybe I'll quit being culturally deprived.

Or not.

* * * * *
In the meantime, I finished Ken Follett's World Without End on January 20. I loved it, of course.

Don't forget I'll be at the Ybor City Saturday Market from nine till three on -- you guessed it! -- Saturday. And Sunday is that Studio @ 620 thang. Tomorrow's a massage at noon, but -- sorry! -- no one's invited except Andrea (

And tomorrow I also start painting Liz's Nissan X-terra. I'd like to show you pictures as I progress, but she's up with her boyfriend in Massachusetts and I want it to be a surprise. Well, she knows the car's getting painted, of course. I just want her to see the actual car when it's done, not a photo of it. I know she'll see this blog, so I can't show you without showing her. I will give you a hint, though: I'm using colors #104, #114, and #162.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Here are a couple addresses to pay attention to.

First is another blog: If you like Nattering Chatter, you'll like this, I think. I confess my feathers twitched a bit when I realized that jerbeck23 has nothing to do with the actual name of the blog, which is The Un-aimed Arrow (and I'm not even going to think about that lower-cased "aimed") ... until it came to my abashed attention that, ah, bien50 is completely unrelated to Nattering Chatter. The thing is, hypocrisy is a gift and, like any other gift ... use it or lose it.

Another important address is: This is where fellow car artist Paulette Perlman, owner of The MermaidMobile, tells us that she's going to the inauguration. I don't have any details, except that she was told about it Saturday and has to be in Washington, at a gathering of artists, by Tuesday from the Florida Panhandle. She didn't have a chance to save up money for that -- and you know she's a starving artist -- so she's asking for donations, in return for which, you'll get an original Artist Trading Card (ATC). Send donations to her at 839 Oak Avenue, Panama City, FL 32401.

Find out about ATCs at

I didn't know what they are but now I do, and they sound very interesting indeed.

While I'm at it, is anyone out there interesting in starting a writers' group with Liz and me? I want to improve my writing, which means (at the very least) I'll want some knowledgeable critique from people who also read and write. Let me know. Hey! let's add another address -- my email address -- on the exceedingly off-chance you don't have it:

It turns out that you can view my Profile and go to all the blogs I follow.

The Wednesday Midday Market has taken down its banner and skulked off into defunctation, but tomorrow I'll be sending out my application to be at the Ybor City Saturday Market. My instinct is to write the fat check for the entire quarter, which puts the price at $7.50 per week instead of $20. Even I can see the discount in that, even with three weeks already missed. But she who learns not from her mistakes is bound by unseen forces to repeat them, so I'll send them a check for twenty bucks. It sounds as if I can't even park my car close to my canopy for unloading and loading ... and I don't have a hand truck ... so I want to see what it's really like before I write the big check.

See? The Wagon Wheel experience wasn't a total loss!

I'm still turning the 1014 pages of Ken Follet's World Without End. I got it for Christmas 2007 and just finally started reading it last week. It's a page-turner, which is wonderful. It's an historical novel. Our hero is returning to England after seven years in Florence: He had a small notebook made of paper, a new writing material popular in Italy. I love that stuff!

Well, I love paper. Always have. That was one of many thrills of September: starting school with fresh notebooks. Yay! I have no doubt that I'll own a Kindle sooner or later -- one a them there eelektronic book-readin' machines -- but I'll still always have books to fondle. Follet's book is so heavy, especially since I'm usually nearly prone while I read, but the pages are really smooth and lovely, so it's worth it.

An historical novel is supposed to be correct in its details of circumstances if not actual conversations and characters. This way, we can learn while we are entertained. But it's still fiction, and that's tough. One of my very favorite books (not an historical novel) is The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. In it, he mentions -- four or five times -- a book our hero is reading. I google the title. Nothing. The author. Nothing. I finally write to McLarty himself, to praise him, beg for a photo (which he sent me!), and ask where I can get the book his character was reading. The character gained a lot by reading the book, you see, and it sounded so interesting.

Yah, well ... it's fiction. The author made it up. That seems incredibly ballsy to me, and almost illegal, and certainly admirable.

What else? Oh. The book report. On January 12, I finished Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. Yes. I confess. It's the third of four Young Adult vampire werewolf human (?) romances. There are, in fact, heaving breasts and smoldering glances, and I'm eating it right up. These are hefty books, too: 639 pages of pouting and longing. I put the query up there at human because I suspect Bella, the heroine, is a bit more than human. I won't know till I finish #4.

Bella is only eighteen, yet her breasts heave. I believe I was older before there was any heaving going on, and now I may have hove my last.

Meyer has written an adult book, which I also own. I suppose it'll be a romance, too, only instead of merely panting and longing, there'll be some consummating going on. I'll let you know.

I painted a chair which will be sold (won't it?) to help support Alternative Visions of Peace at the Studio @ 620 this Sunday, January 25, from three to six. Really, check out the site. There are a lot of free things going on, and each chair is only twenty-five bucks, whether it was made by a Real Artist or not, and some of these people are famous.

Look! My chair even has decorations underneath, so if you want to hang it from the ceiling, you CAN!

Okay. That's a lot of homework, isn't it, checking out all those sites? Sorry, but this blog doesn't write itself, you know.

Friday, January 16, 2009

True Love

My mother used to say that husbands were for the warm bellies, upon which one put one's icy feet in bed in the dead of winter. My dad would grin when she said that, and that's as far as I want to go with that scenario. However, my current version of True Love is letting Benji sit on my lap and stick his head out the window while we drive around doing errands, even though it's only fifty-eight degrees out there with a windchill factor of sub-twelve. Ouch!

I hereby issue a Plea for Followers. Well, at least one. I want one other Follower so that I can switch robes and have two full rows of pictures. A Follower is merely someone who publicly acknowledges that s/he shows up at this blog now and then. It's apparently a prestige thing -- for me, not you. Odd, huh? It's a vote of confidence or an act of friendship. It's better than a chain letter, in any case, as is a sharp stick in the eye.

I see I haven't written in over a week. You can judge my mood by how often I write. Good = Write. Bad = Don't Write. By the end of a year, we'll have my biorhythm chart.

I went to the Wagon Wheel Flea Market last Saturday with the intention of sizing up the situation and seeing if it would be a good venue for me. Next time, I'll send someone who knows something. The Wheel is Florida's largest indoor flea market, possibly the largest altogether. Consider this: I checked out the African American Heritage Festival in Tampa this month, thinking I might sell some tee shirts there. The booth fee in November, the deadline, would have been $440, but since I'd clearly missed it, it was $550. The Wagon Wheel -- which gets thousands of visitors each weekend -- is $6.50 for an outdoor site and $10.50 for an indoor site. And it's cheaper if you do it in groups of a whole weekend or a whole month of weekends.

Those prices alone should have tipped me off.

But I skipped merrily over to Pinellas Park early Saturday morning, and set up my 10x10 space inside. I sold nothing, but that's not the worst part. The worst part is that I paid in advance for this weekend (which starts tomorrow) and I don't want to go.

I don't know what got into me.

The Wheel is actually shaped like a comb, not a wheel. When I scouted it, I just quickly marched through the spine of the comb, not the tines. Uh, teeth. Certainly not spokes. It was like driving into any small city in the Eastern United States, but instead of Denny's, Wendy's, Wal-Mart, Pizza Hut, McDonald's, Taco Bell, Tire Kingdom, Denny's, it was cheap-ass, generic sunglasses, socks, belts, sunglasses, sheets, magnetic jewelry, sunglasses, tee shirts (a sailboat with FLORIDA on it ... or MICHIGAN or KANSAS), sunglasses.

During my exploration, I ran into my friend Kofi, the first Ghanaian I'd ever met, the man responsible for my having gone there (whether he knows it or not). He was selling sneakers and tee shirts. His nine-year-old daughter was there, pouting, wishing she were home. Somewhere else among the hundreds of other vendors was his wife and small son at their own booth. They also have full-time jobs during the week (well, not the son). And Kofi silk-screens tee shirts in his garage.

He told me that establishing a presence is the important thing at a flea market: just show up, week after week after week.

Out of the hundreds of spots there, only about ten were available, so I took I-41 for the next day, for Sunday. It's in one of the tines. I was the only one within sight who was ready at eight, when the flea market opens. The others were drinking coffee and chatting and slowly removing tarps from their goods. You can pay extra to keep your socks, belts, Denny's, and sunglasses at your booth during the week, when The Wheel is closed.

I sat there like the new kid that I was, hoping the morbidly obese, toothless vendor next to me wouldn't smoke. She did, though. Among other things, she was selling Avon products, some of which she was modeling on her eyes. She also sold crocheted items that her mother, unable to attend, makes, including but not, alas, limited to, fly swatters. Yes. It's done somewhat like needlepoint, using the tiny plastic squares of the swatter. The smacking side has just a bit of yarn on it, to hold onto the other side, which is thick with it. I'd like to think that these are decorative only.

The thirtysomething Filipina across from me sold Asian clothing. I say Asian because I don't know if it's Chinese or Japanese or Malaysian or -- hey! maybe Filipino! I do know that there's no XL and that their L is our XXXS. This woman had a little (of course) girl who spent the day quietly playing with the whole Flea Market Community.

I noticed that Kofi didn't let his daughter run around, but other people seemed to. There was an absolutely gorgeous set of Mexican brothers, maybe twelve and three, who rode a single bicycle through my area, over and over. I'm sure their parents were there somewhere -- probably in two different booths like Kofi and his wife. When I started noticing the kids, I could see that this flea market probably replicates the weekly markets in Third World countries, where it's a family affair and where people feel safe enough to let their kids roam.

I went to Africa and to Panama and Colombia because of people I met in the lunch room at Valpak, so I really missed the immigrants when the production department moved to that fancy new building out by I-275. Well, I got the slightest taste of it at the flea market. There was a Mexican family next to me, asking prices for the love birds (!) and a cage. The teenage daughter was translating. When the Filipina across from me got her husband's attention by calling out, "Hey, Papi!" the whole Mexican family turned around. Home! they're thinking.

The whole experience was a mix of pleasure with the foreigners and -- I confess it with shame -- disgust at the fat, unhealthy Americans. Here I sit, forty pounds overweight, a former three-packs-a-day smoker, a reformed lush, and I'm judging -- harshly -- the Americans with stringy hair and bad teeth and terrible posture.

I'm chuckling at the Young Goths with their all-black clothes and their metal-filled body holes, at their lank dark hair and rivets and chains on their pants ... and their brand-new baby in a mega-stroller padded and belled and whistled like a pair of two-hundred-dollar basketball shoes, wearing the completely traditional pink or blue. I think they're cool, but I don't want them to grow up into the next couple to saunter by, a middle-aged couple with matching guts hanging over their too-low pants. One's limping because she stands all day at some factory job and, despite the accompanying health insurance, can't really afford all the chiropractic work she'd need, not to mention the orthotics. So she limps and eases her pain and anger and disappointment with Big Macs. He ended up having all his teeth pulled rather than deal with the ongoing dental appointments since her insurance doesn't cover it anyhow.

Then a trim couple from Montreal strolls by, murmuring quietly in French, wearing well-designed and -fitting clothes totally devoid of corporate signage. Isn't that unAmerican?

Here comes a huge couple: tall and muscular, fit and ready. They're speaking German. They're exactly the examples of the Aryan Race that what's-his-name was talking about. I give their small boy -- surely not more than three -- a postcard with a picture of my car on it and he says, "Thank you" in perfect English. When I respond, "You're very welcome, sir," his parents laugh and move off.

Does anyone know what I'm getting at here? Me neither.

Do I have a prejudice against poor people? I think I might. Shite.

I had a friend who said, years ago, that rich people seem cleaner than poor people. I instantly got indignant about that, but then he made a few points. Rich people can, in fact, afford the twice-yearly cleanings at the dentist. If their teeth fall out, they can be replaced. Not so for poor folks. If you're recycling the six shirts in your wardrobe, they're bound to get raggedy a lot sooner than the dozens of shirts in the rich man's closet. Someone with money wouldn't dream of walking around with that stupid hair cut, and if his hair were that thin and ugly, he wouldn't let it grow long. He just wouldn't.

See? I think Gary was right.

I'm cool with The Homeless -- with the truly down-and-out. I don't care if it's because of untreated mental illness or untreated alcoholism, I don't look down on The Homeless. They're in a whole separate category from me, see. I'll never be homeless. (Are some of you gasping out there, fearing that I'll bring homelessness onto my head because I was bold enough to make that statement? Or am I the superstitious one?) Anyway, it's apples and oranges with The Homeless and me.

But the working poor? The ones who have to buy those ten-dollar sheets because the forty-dollar ones at Wal-Mart are too expensive? Those people? The ones who buy the three-dollar magnetic bracelet and have the blind faith that it'll work because their wrists really hurt and there's no other recourse? I think they scare me. I think I'm going to become them. I won't be able to afford Moose Tracks anymore, so I'll have to settle for McDonald's. And why bother with the McSalad when the Big Mac fills me up more?

Yeah. That's it. Fear. I turned my fear into disgust and superiority like an alchemist changing ... gold into lead ...

But wait! I said working poor, didn't I? Yay! I haven't worked in over a year! I'm safe!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Nag, Nag, NAG

I hate to harp, but if you haven't ever been drumming with Buddy Helm (, then you're really missing something. I sure wish I could be more articulate than that, but it's probably impossible. I can at least describe the physical part, though, right?

Pretend you've come to The Longhouse ( with me this Friday night just before seven. We pay our twenty-five dollars to Andrea and go into the main room. There are a handful of people there and about as many African drums. Pick one. Someone will help you put it on a stand if one's available. If not, they'll show you how to hold it, tipped, with your feet and knees. Tap on it. Tap again. Huh. Tap tap tap hey!

Buddy will sit down and adjust his mike, which I simply cannot type as mic, not yet. Maybe in a couple of years. He's already been talking and smiling, things he does in abundance. He'll start patting out a beat and a pattern, telling us how to hit the downbeat in the center and how to hit the rim, listening to the different tones. You'll find yourself doing the same. Before you know it, we'll all be doing the same thing -- people who've done this before; people who've been dragged, wincing, by their husbands; people who claim to have no rhythm; people who played drums in high school.

This is not a do-your-own-thing hippie drum circle. I've been to those twice and they're horrendous, in my never-humble opinion. No. This is real drumming with specific beats and tempos, with a leader. You'll find yourself following along without even knowing the rules. We'll all end at the exact same moment because somehow -- because Buddy's a great teacher? because there's something innate in drumming? -- somehow, we all know what to do. There are certainly times when we can -- and do -- wing it. It's a ball either way. There's great satisfaction for me in all of us doing the same thing at the same time. It's a little scary -- but more exciting than scary -- to play a solo, not that that's ever required. The only requirement seems to be a respect for the drum.

Well, what do I know about respecting drums? That's a bit Out There even for me. But I just listen to Buddy and do what he does. Last time, there was a handsome young schizophrenic man amongst us. He started right off pounding the head of the drum with his fist. I was aghast. Buddy gently, calmly, easily soon got the kid to hit the head properly, and he, too, became calm and easy. It was great.

At the beginning of 2000, I think, I went to an African drumming session with Fishbone. It turned out that we (!) drummers were accompanying an amateur troupe of West African dancers. They sat me down and gave me a drum. They gave me a pattern to play. When I played it wrong, one little kid corrected me. The drummers drummed and the dancers danced. I tranced right out. Time passed and I never knew it. When the rehearsal was over, the dancers came and knelt before each drum and drummer, paying his or her respects. As they honored me in this way -- not Barbara, but The Drummer -- I actually felt honored. And grateful.

Because of that wonderful experience, I checked in on those free-form drum circles and was sorely disappointed. It's only with the formal style of drumming that I find ... whatever it is I find.

I was in Ghana ten years ago -- two weeks with Habitat for Humanity and three weeks on my own. Habitat had arranged for some drummers to come play for us one night in a village of three thousand (without running water or electricity). I wasn't especially looking forward to it, being a non-drum person, but of course I attended. To my surprise, I ended up dancing for two solid hours. Usually when I dance, I'm singing or at least humming with the song, but there's no tune in drumming, no song. So I didn't hum but I sure did dance! "Oh, Auntie Barbara! You are a surprise!" one local Habitater shouted to me. I danced for two hours with an eleven-year-old girl.

I've never been a fan of the drum. When people go wild at a drum solo, I sit back and wait for the good part -- the music -- to show back up. When I hear drum, I think snare. I imagine I'm ripe for learning to appreciate the snare and other drums, but for now, I'm completely entranced by the African drums, played by hand -- played by my hand, your hand. It's invigorating and soothing at the same time, like shiatsu. Sometimes I seem to zone out, and then I'll hear something new. Maybe it's a chime sound or some fancy handwork someone popped into the mix. I'll look up smiling and find people grinning all around the circle. Sometimes only I seem to think something's funny.

Yeah. I can't describe it, but I sure can experience it, and I encourage you all to give it a shot. Friday night. Seven to nine.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Pox on Chain Letters!

Okay. These pictures have nothing to do with the headline. I don't HAVE a picture of the pox, although that could be a worthy project ... No. These are pictures of Jean's chairs, which she'll pick up tonight, along with the table which is seriously flawed. I went outside to check on it this morning, and the clear-coat didn't set and apparently never will. It sat on the table in bluish-white streaks that I scraped off with a Dobie. It's very sad. Well, Jean's picking these things up around eight tonight. It'll be too dark to see! She'll never know! I'll just change my phone and move to another state and --

I owe some of you -- twenty of you -- an apology for sending you the chain letter. It was simple enough: Send a recipe to ONE person, whose email address is linked right there. How tough is that? Then all you had to do was delete that name and insert the name below it and add your own name and copy and paste the whole thing to another email window and mail it to twenty of your closest friends. Or enemies, depending.

It's true I haven't heard from all twenty (although I believe I can feel the hate), but I shouldn't have heard from any of them. They were supposed to send the recipe to someone else. One of my favorite recipes was from a man who basically said, "1. Get in your car. 2. Drive to a restaurant." I wish he'd sent it to the proper person.

Well, the chain had instructions for the naysayers amongst us ... er, amongst you. It said if you didn't want to participate, you should contact me (!) so that I could find some other buddy to misuse, and that's why I got so many responses. People didn't want to play.

My tasteful Southern friend Liz sweetly wrote, "I will not be participating, but thanks for asking."

Thanks for asking, my ass.

Eunice sent an entire post-graduate-level treatise on the thing. Here's part of it:

Why do people think chain letters could work? The reason people are even tempted by these schemes is that the human mind does not have an intuitive view of geometrical progressions. Suppose we presume the chain letter to have a list of five people. You are asked to send one postcard to the person on top of the list, and remail the letter to five friends. You are promised thousands of postcards from all over the world if everyone participates. Your cost: a postcard, five photocopies and envelopes, and six stamps. Not much to risk to see what comes back.

I disagree with the basic premise of this fellow. I don't think people are "tempted" by these "schemes." I think people are "attempting" to be "polite."

Really, it's a part of friendship, of courtesy. I don't want another recipe. I hardly cook. Even if I did, dear god! how many recipes can one have? With the interweb, I can find anything I want. I have, for instance, a recipe for Pine Nut Rosemary Scones in my Favorites right now. I don't want your goulash recipe. Really.

What I do want, though, is your continued friendship. So when a friend sends me a chain letter, I want to pass it on only to please my friend. I don't do it because of my innate inability to envision geometric progressions. I want Jeanne to think I'm a good friend (because I am). I have no doubt that she passed it on to me because someone she likes did it to her. Chain letters, then, are simply evidence of people who want to please each other.

Well, I say let's find a better way. Pray for me. Bring me flowers. Sing me love songs. Just don't send me chain letters.

When I first got email, I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of it all. I'd wade through all the forwards, looking at the cute kittens and the terrible jokes and the stale jokes (I saw that three weeks ago! where were you?) and the offensive jokes and the cute puppies. The War Between the Sexes has died down for me, now that my hormones have faded away, but it would stay stoked if I read all the forwards I used to get.

Used to get. When I moved to gmail, there were people I didn't even tell! Now if I find someone cluttering up my inbox with forwarded crap, I usually politely ask them to refrain. Man, I'm always up for personal news, but recycled jokes? Nope. I've got that covered.

I have a handful of friends (and you know who you are) who send me art- and animal-related things and I'm so grateful. The truth is, they do know who they are. I can count on them to only forward the kinds of things I like. That has developed over time and I'm happy for it.

Some of The Twenty (not to be confused with that boring movie, The 300) said they didn't want to play because they never get anything back. I've never received anything, either, but I've never actually wanted what was offered. I have the vague memory of getting a chain letter in the real mail that wanted me to send along a pair of panties. Is that possible? I know I didn't do it. How do I know the size of the recipient? I know I sent a pair of socks to someone, and some kitchen towels. I got nothing back, of course. Even so, I'll choose my own socks and my own towels. No. The motive for continuing the madness is friendship, not greed.

Here's an eThang that I find annoying (sorry, Joyce!). It's the one that's progressive. Today's was about birthdays -- appropriate enough for the front of a year. All the days of the year are listed, and you're supposed to put your name (NO LAST NAME, it screams, although: why not?) next to your birthday. Put your city, too. Then pass it on, and also send it to the one who sent it to you. Fine. Now, when all three hundred and sixtysomething days are filled, how will we ever know that?

And don't get me wrong. It's not the waste of time that bothers me. Heck, I write a blog. You, too, have amazing ways of wasting time. You do. I know you do. The thing is, I want to be in charge of how I waste it, and responding to idiotic forwards isn't one of them.

Like those FAVORITES emails. What's your favorite movie? book? color? Well, okay. I am my favorite topic, but still, they're only interesting if the question is interesting. I love, for instance -- really love -- to know what's under people's beds. That's a question worth asking. And answering. I also love the immediacy of questions like: What are you smelling right now? Hmm ... maybe What do you smell like right now? would also be an interesting question ...

The ChemDryGuy is coming tomorrow at noon, just about twenty-four hours from now. Everything that can be lifted off the floor had better be lifted off the floor. Sunny has been confined to the kitchen by a gate. She doesn't seem to mind. I sort of lost her yesterday. She was shivering, so I put a thick towel over her, even though I don't know if she was shivering in anticipation of leaving this vale of tears or if she was cold. I puttered around. Suddenly, I realized that Sunny wasn't in the kitchen anymore! Where could she be? The gate was still up, the door still closed! Ah. She had moved to the corner, but it just looked like a pile of towels on the floor ...

Friday, January 2, 2009

I Knew Better ...

I had a chiropractor once who said that so many people's lives would be made better if they'd just drink more water each day. Well, I was thinking about all the little things I could do for better health, since this is after all, the time for making New Year's Resolutions.

I myself have always preferred New Year's Vague Intentions. They're friendlier, less likely to hurt when broken. But a resolution by any other name would still pave the road, so let's get on with it.

Okay. Drink more water. A nutritionist recently told me that I should take my weight and divide it in half. The resulting number is the number of ounces of water I should drink per day. I've been trying that for the last three days. I usually manage to do a little under two-thirds of that number ...

I think using my body brush is a great daily activity. It feels good. I've done it for over a month and I think I see or feel or, um, intuit a difference. You just get a brush with natural bristles and brush it up and down your body in the proper sequence and direction and poof! better skin, improved circulation, drained lymphatic system, increased cell renewal, detoxified body ...

I have a friend who recommends jumping three times as soon as you get out of the bed in the morning. That should be easy enough. I could do that just before or just after the body-brushing.

I have a membership to Curves, so adding a thrice-weekly visit there isn't that big a deal.

Eating breakfast every day is something I really need to do. Every study everywhere shows that people who eat breakfast are healthier in every way. Okay. Got it. What else?

Oh, meditation. TM suggests twice a day for twenty minutes each. That's not bad. I can do that. Yeah. See, I can do it, I suppose. I just never have done it.

And that brings me to something else. Liz got me Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine. That's a pretty wordy title for a work that's requiring a mere six words per memoir. I'll just quote one page so you'll get the idea, but I'm not naming the writers. They were all obscure to me.
  • The day just kept getting longer.
  • Met lots of crazy famous people.
  • Waited too long to get it.
  • Took up photography. Got the shot.
  • Strange like a cat. Smart like a rat.

Here's possibly my favorite -- by Kate Hamill. Is she famous?

  • EDITOR. Get it?

Anyway, here's mine:

  • Knew better but didn't do better.

And that's why this list of things to do, this list of resolutions or intentions, this list of ways to be better -- healthier, happier, sweeter ... well, it's just not going to work. Why? Because that's the story of my life -- Knew better but didn't do better.

Taking a vitamin ought to be easy enough, yes?


You know why? It's the dailiness of resolutions -- of doing better -- that's just too difficult. It, in fact, requires too much will power, of which I have little. I may even have less than the average American. That's it! I am will power-deprived. Giving myself tiny tasks -- eat more vegetables, breathe more deeply -- may seem like a small thing, but it's not, not when it's every single day of my life, not when it's twenty small things to do every single frapping day.

I read Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo a couple months ago. The Buddha (in this book anyhow) said that we always have small choices to make, all the time, all day long. Do I go this way, or that way? (Of course, if you're a Lassie in that children's song, you get to go this way and that way and this way and that, without having to choose, you see. Okay. I'll stop. Really.) Anyway, you can choose to have the whole wheat toast or the white toast. You can choose to sit and read the paper or get up and take a walk. And all the little simple choices turn into ... well, your life, I guess.

Well. I don't know where to go from here, so let me just remind you that tomorrow, January 3, 2009, is another All's Faire at the Longhouse ( and you ought to show up and drink tea and chat. Eleven to four. I'm bringing my tee shirts over there to sell. The only ones with pockets at this time are size XXL, so you may as well stay home, Lee. You, clearly, have been making many of the right little daily choices all along.
  • Lee knew better and did it!

Glass and Vegetables

My Christmas was disappeared (I'm reading a novel about Guatemala) by a cold, and my New Year's by an attitude. In an effort to disappear said 'tude, I've been scrubbing out the cupboards. I figure if I'm miserable anyhow, I may as well engage in some nasty chore.

And nasty it is. I believe I've established that I'm no housekeeper, right? Well, I was squeezing my eyes shut as I tried to scoop up a dead bug on the top shelf when I heard the tiniest of shifts from the dish-drainer followed by a large, tinkling crash. WTF (What's That Fuss)?

It was a drinking glass that lost its life in a freak accident, not that you'd know it from the photo. The thing just collapsed on the spot. It was a fairly chunky glass, made in Italy, a set of four I've had for years. It holds twenty ounces. Held.

I knew, of course, that I was in for seven years' bad luck, but then I remembered that was the penalty for broken mirrors -- looking glasses, not drinking glasses. Whew.

But it was good luck because, look -- right next to it, surely keeping a stiff upper lip, is a beautiful bone china mug from Liz for Christmas, from the Victoria & Albert Museum. It's untouched.

As long as we're in the kitchen -- which, in most places, means food rather than bugs and broken glass -- look at the pictures I took on the street in front of Yummy's yesterday. That was two days after the Tuesday Market in Gulfport. I think the potato is quite lovely, but that Brussels sprout is clearly having a bad day.

We were trying to find a meal in Gulfport on New Year's Day, a Thursday, but it was not to be. Yummy's was closed. Pia's was open, right up until we parked in front of it. Then two o'clock had a stroke, and it was closed. We could've tried the Peninsula and that new French place and, well, quite a handful of others, but some of us were just too cranky. Instead, we -- and now it's the Royal We, not the previous Editorial We -- called Pizza Hut on the way home and got a medium Veggie Lovers with Pepperoni. Who needs Brussels sprouts?