Posted in Film, Green & Pleasant Land, Uncategorized

In the parking lot of Ralph’s

I went to see The Queen yesterday, and afterwards I was feeling all nostalgic about England. It was the first evening after the time change, so it’s just about 5 pm we’re on the way to darkness. From somewhere, from nowhere, it got cooler and the breeze whispered, “This is as close as it gets to autumn in southern California, so you’d better enjoy it.”

I took a detour on my way back to the car and stepped into Book Alley, a fine used-book establishment. I leafed through a volume of George Herbert, found a book with a lot of poet’s pictures in it, and wondered how I would pose if I were ever being photographed as “poet.” Everyone in the book looks wizened, or scholarly, or both. I decided that crossed-eyes, or a balloon creation on the head, would be the way to go.

So I’m in the car, and I decide to stop at Ralph’s on the way home. Not one of my favorite stops, but my husband is having dinner with a friend so it’s a chance for me to make pasta for dinner (he’s a potato guy), and I need parmesan cheese. I pull into the parking lot and wow–I see a friend of mine…a new friend who is English and who’s just returned from a trip home to promote her one-woman show (she’s in the midst of writing it and had a good nibble from the folks at Really Useful Group.)

She doesn’t live in my town…just happened to be here for a meal and shopping. It was so fun and affirming and great to bump into her…what are the chances?

Happy autumn, everyone.

Posted in Travel

Do Terrorists Wear Lip Gloss?

Air travel. Since 9/11, the friendly skies have become cloudy…with a chance of firestorm. Making air travel safe is not easy. It’s one of those things in which the very few have ruined it for the very many, so the very many must be subjected to rules designed to ensnare the very few.

I just took my first travel-by-air trip since August. I was most surprised to discover that my lip gloss, which I keep zippered up in a small cloth bag in my purse, was unacceptable. Yes, it was less than 3 oz…a mere 0.2 in fact. How did my lip gloss offend? It was not in a plastic bag.

I was told that my lip gloss had to be in a plastic bag, or I would not be able to take it on the flight. I had no other toiletries on me that required special treatment (no lotion, no liquid makeup, no perfume). The only questionable item was my lip gloss. And the current regulation is that it must be in a quart-size plastic bag. This regulation was enforced even though I was already through the x-ray machine, and it had been established that my only offending item was my 0.2 of lip gloss. I could not leave the security area without putting my lip gloss in a plastic bag…even though I was through security and was on my way to my gate.

There’s more to the story. This was actually my second time through security. I had completely forgotten about the liquid ban and had packed a couple of bottles of wine to share with my in-laws. Silly moi. The good folks at TSA made jokes about how we could all share the wine, but made it clear I couldn’t carry it on the plane (I could have checked it in, though). I called my son, who had dropped us off at the airport, and he came back and retrieved the bottles.

The thing is…no one mentioned my lip gloss the first time through. So I was a bit surprised when it became an issue the second time around.

But second time’s a charm, and the guy reading the x-ray machine saw it. What seems silly to me is to make me put the lip gloss in a plastic bag after the fact…My belongings have been scanned, I’ve been screened…but I can’t leave the security area without putting my lip gloss in a plastic bag.

One tries to be patient with these regulations, and how they are enforced, yet I had great difficulty disguising my disgust. The TSA rep holding my lip gloss captive had no better attitude–she was annoyed but held fast as I called my travelling companion (already through security) to return to security with the plastic bag I had packed…just in case.

These regulations come and go, ebb and flow like the tide. During most of the time since 9/11/01, it has been possible to bring all manner of liquid through security. The recent threat of explosives necessitated an immediate ban on all liquid, but since September 26 that has loosened somewhat. The deal now is that you can bring certain items, but they must be in a zippered plastic bag, a fact which must delight the good people at the SC Johnson Company (they make Ziploc bags).

Unlike LAX, the good folks at XNA (Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport) had boxes of Ziploc bags at the ready for travellers like me who understand the concept of putting all of one’s liquid/lotion/gel items in one plastic bag for quick review, but struggle to understand why even one item, far less than 3 oz and contained in a cloth pouch, must be transferred to a plastic bag after it has gone through the x-ray machine.

Posted in Film, Poesy, Writing

This Day in Literary History

I am a huge fan of Garrison Keillor, something for which I sometimes feel the need to apologize. I’m not sure why. Too white, middle-class, mid-Western? Not hip enough? Hey, if Robert Altman makes a film based on your long-running radio show, that’s about as cool as it gets.

I’m also a huge fan of The Writer’s Almanac. Here’s a bit of today’s edition (14 October 2006):

It’s the birthday of poet E. E. Cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings), born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894). He was a man who wrote joyful, almost childlike poems about the beauty of nature and love, even though he was actually a conservative, irritable man who hated noisy modern inventions like vacuum cleaners and radios. He spent most of his life unhappy, struggling to pay the bills, ostracized for his unpopular political views.

He had published several books of poetry, including Tulips and Chimneys (1923), when he traveled to Russia in 1931, hoping to write about the superior society under the rule of communism. He was horrified at what he found. He saw no lovers, no one laughing, no one enjoying themselves. The theaters and museums were full of propaganda, and the people were scared to talk to each other in the street. Everyone was miserable.

When he got home, he wrote about the experience, comparing Russia to Dante’s Inferno. Most of the publishers at the time were communists themselves, and they turned their backs on Cummings for criticizing communist Russia. Many magazines refused to publish his poetry or review his books. But the attacks only made him more stubborn. He said, “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

He tried to write a script for a ballet, but it was never performed. He tried writing for the movies in Hollywood, but found that he spent all his time painting humming birds and sunsets instead of working on screenplays. He had to borrow money from his parents and his friends. He said, “I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.” A few years later, he decided to make some extra money by giving a series of lectures at Harvard University. Most lecturers spoke from behind a lectern, but he sat on the stage, read his poetry aloud, and talked about what it meant to him.

The faculty members were embarrassed by his earnestness, but the undergraduates adored him and came to his lectures in droves. Even though he suffered from terrible back pains, and had to wear a metal brace that he called an “iron maiden,” he began traveling and giving readings at universities across the country. By the end of the 1950s he had become the most popular poet in America. He loved performing and loved the applause, and the last few years of his life were the happiest. He died on September 2, 1962.
In the first edition of his Collected Poems, he wrote in the preface, “The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for most people—it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. … You and I are human beings; most people are snobs.”
It’s the birthday of short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, born Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp in Wellington, New Zealand (1888). She’s the author of short-story collections such as Bliss and Other Stories (1920) and The Garden Party, and Other Stories (1922); and she is known as one of the originators of the modern short story in English.

Her father was an incredibly successful businessman in the growing economy of New Zealand, and he sent her away to school in England. After her 18 birthday, when her parents came to pick her up from her English school and bring her back to New Zealand, she found that she no longer had anything in common with them or their values. She wrote in her journal on the boat ride home, “They are worse than I had even expected. They are prying and curious, they are watchful and they discuss only the food. … For more than a quarter of an hour they are quite unbearable, and so absolutely my mental inferiors.”

As soon as she got back to New Zealand, she became one of the wildest members of the small artistic community there. She had affairs with men and women; she traveled deep into the countryside and lived with the indigenous people; and she published a series of occasionally scandalous stories under a variety of pseudonyms. In a letter to an editor, asking for money, she wrote, “[I have] a rapacious appetite for everything and principles as light as my purse.” Eventually, her parents gave her an allowance so she could move to London, and she never returned to New Zealand.

Mansfield lived so freely in the London bohemian scene that she eventually had to destroy her own diaries for fear of incriminating evidence. At one point, she married a man she barely knew, but left him before the wedding night was over, because she couldn’t stand the pink bedspread and the lampshade with pink tassels in the hotel room. She had to settle down a bit when her mother came to London and threatened to put her in a convent. She said, “How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?”

She wrote sketches and essays for various newspapers and journals, but she didn’t begin to write the stories that made her famous until her younger brother came to visit her in 1915. They had long talks over the course of the summer, reminiscing about growing up in New Zealand. She hadn’t seen him in years and found that she had more in common with him than any other member of the family. He left that fall to start military duty as a soldier in World War I. She learned two months later that he had been killed while demonstrating how to throw a grenade. She was devastated, and she dealt with her grief by writing a series of short stories about her childhood, including “The Garden Party,” which many consider her masterpiece. She died of tuberculosis a few years later in January 1923, at the age of 34. She wrote, “How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you—you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences—little rags and shreds of your very life.”

Rock on, all you writers out there.

Posted in Current Events, Food & Drink, Uncategorized

Justice at Smithfield

Workers’ rights. Health care. Safety in the workplace. No, I’m not talking about China, I’m talking about the good ole US of A.

I offer you, dear reader, just one link today. Smithfield Foods in the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, with revenues of over $11 billion in fiscal year 2006. Don’t gag, some of us dig on swine from time to time. And for those of us who do, wouldn’t you like assurance that the place is clean and that the workers are treated well?

Someone’s living high on the hog, but it ain’t the workers. Seems the folks who run the Smithfield can’t tell the difference between the hogs and the people…both are expendable in the name of profit. Here’s the link to the main page for Justice at Smithfield. Check it out. Have a look around. Sign-up for their e-mails.

Yes, I know you already get too many e-mail newsletters…so do I. But these folks need to feel the love of their Internet supporters, and signing up let’s them know you care. The Internet is one of the best tools for the 5,500 Smithfield workers to let the rest of us know what’s going on. I participated in the 29 September ‘virtual protest’ that went along with the real live people-on-the-street protest in New York City. There were over 6,000 of us virtual protestors…how cool is that? Yes, you too can be an activist while sitting on your butt in front of your computer.

Okay–one more link: The United Food and Commercial Workers. 1.3 million workers in a variety of professions (and sponsor of Justice at Smithfield).

And another: Change to Win.  They really sound like threatening revolutionaries, don’t they?  (Oh dear, does sarcasm work in a blog?)

Our mission is to unite the 50 million workers in Change to Win affiliate industries whose jobs cannot be outsourced and who are vital to the global economy.  We seek to secure the American Dream for them, and for all working people, including:

  • A paycheck that supports a family
  • Universal health care
  • A secure retirement
  • The freedom to form a union to give workers a voice on the job
Posted in Green & Pleasant Land, Travel, Uncategorized


October is my favorite month. I love autumn, and this month is its centrepiece. (Just had to spell that the British way.) We don’t have a riot of color in the west like they do in the east, but we get a little autumn color action here and there.

I went to a college reunion this past weekend. It wasn’t exactly my college reunion–well, it was and it wasn’t. Lemme ‘splain.

My career as an undergraduate was varied and wonderful–it just turned out that way. I went to three different undergraduate institutions. I started at Homerton College, Cambridge–did a whole year there. (Click on the link…great photo of the place.) I was studying to be a religious studies teacher (religious studies was compulsory in English schools at the time…don’t know if it still is or not). I knew that I didn’t want to stay in England and teach young kids. I was 18 and hadn’t lived in the States since I was 12. I wanted to come “home.”

So I went to Seattle Pacific University. I had never been to Seattle.  I picked it because it looked like a good Christian liberal arts college and it wasn’t too far from Salem, Oregon, where my mom was living at the time.

Then in the fall semester of my senior year, I went on an exchange program from SPU to Westmont College. I went there because I was involved with a guy (who later became my first husband, but that’s not what this is about). Westmont is located in Montecito, a swanky, mansion-laden ‘suburb’ of Santa Barbara. The Kerr family (of Kerr jars fame) donated their estate to help found the college, and the neighbors have been complaining ever since.

I didn’t graduate from Westmont, but they treat me like an alum anyway. I guess when you’re a small school that’s only been around since 1940 and you don’t have a big endowment, alumni is defined in the most expansive way possible.

One of my themes this year has been reunion. I had a family reunion with my mother’s family in June, my high school reunion (also in June), and a family reunion with my dad’s side in August. I decided to help plan my 30th high school reunion which will be next August. So I really wanted to go to this reunion, even though I was sure that no one would remember me. 

Susan and I hit the road on Saturday morning in her boyfriend’s Audi A4 (thank you, Doc Rockit) and rolled up to the campus in time for lunch. We sat ourselves on the steps leading down to the soccer field, and over the next several hours a parade of old classmates came by. Some people did remember me (whew!). I love reconnecting with people and hearing about how their lives have unfolded. I’m sometimes surprised by the high expectations I had for people and finding out they aren’t the super CEO I thought they would be. It amazes me after years of not seeing someone how intimate details of life are spilled out and held like precious pearls.

I find that I make new friends at reunions, too. People that I only knew from afar, or even people I didn’t know at all, become friends.

I’m an advocate of the reunion. It’s a benchmark of life. You can look back if you want to–look back a little, look back a lot. It’s your choice.

Besides catching up with other people, a reunion is a great time to check in with yourself. How do you sum up two or three decades about your life in a paragraph or two? What details are shared? What’s left out?

Other questions that a reunion brings up: Where am I now? Is this where I wanted to be? Want to be? What do I need to change NOW to get where I really want to go?