Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Under My Thumb"

I am listening to the Rolling Stones today. At the moment I have “Sympathy For the Devil” blasting way too loud. I am wishing beyond hope that I could dance to this, but even before it was discovered I have issues with disintegrating discs in my lower back, I wasn’t much of a dancer. I’m singing along though, although some might have issue with my definition of “singing” if they could hear my screeching.

I’m reminded of a friend of my first husband’s, the only one of his friends I actually liked, whose name was Mike. Mike and I shared a love of music. He had an extensive collection, similar to mine. However, I had very little music of the Rolling Stones and he offered to record some for my listening pleasure.

“There’s just one condition,” he said. “I refuse to record ‘Under My Thumb’ for you.”
I could not imagine why. It was definitely one of the songs I’d scratched onto the list he had been scrutinizing. I imagined myself dancing around to it once the kids had gone to sleep and my then husband had driven off to the bars and I had the house to myself.

Typically I am drawn to songs with interesting lyrics. The Stones don’t really fill that criteria for me; they are much more about the sound and the rhythm. I remember at that time NOT wanting to listen songs with lyrics about how people were dealing with love gone wrong….I just wanted to dance when no one was looking, work out some of the anger I was hiding, some of the excess energy I had in those days. I wanted to wear myself out so I could go to sleep and not think about all the steps I had to start taking to get out of my lousy marriage and on with my life.

I remember pleading with Mike to add that song. “No way,” he said. “It degrades women. I hate that song. I just won’t do it. Especially for you.” I think that his words somehow spurred me onto taking the first steps I needed to find my way out of that marriage and I’m so glad I’m where I am today.

He warmed my heart that day, made me hope that someday I’d find someone just like him (and I did) and consequently, every time I hear that song now, I’m reminded that good men do exist. It’s the next song on the LP I’m playing. I’m going to turn it up loud and dance and sing. Yeah, the lyrics suck….but I know I’ll never be under anyone’s thumb ever in my life. And I’ll always thank Mike for not putting that song on the tape he made for me way back then.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sweet Music at Sugarpearl Espresso Bar and Lounge

This blasted back pain has kept me from doing so many of the things I love lately. It’s about all I can do to walk Rupert and tend to my “housewife” chores. One of the things I’ve missed most has been going to Sugarpearl to listen to musicians I know perform during the lunch hour.

Sugarpearl Espresso Bar and Lounge is a funky little cafĂ© owned by one of my neighbors a few blocks away. They serve primarily vegan food that even a meat lover like moi can appreciate, along with a gigantic cup of tea perfect for warming my hands after my walk over there. I often read poetry there, sometimes hosting their Poet Provocateurs evening of spoken word, recently moved to the second Wednesday of the month. I’ve been fortunate enough to make new friends here, run into old friends, catch up on my knitting while resting on the sofa in the back room, listen to friends play music or simply find a haven from my everyday life.

For several Wednesdays from 11:30 until 2:00 p.m., Mark Zane played while he was taking a break from his teaching job. How spoiled I was to settle down on the sofa and just shout out whatever it was I wanted him to play for me!

Today, after almost a two-month absence, I journeyed down there to hear Joanne Perry play so many of her originals that I’ve come to love. When she asked for requests, I had a difficult time limiting it to only two or three, not wishing to be greedy. “From Here Ever After” is a song of Joanne’s I never seem to tire of, but I was so pleased that she played “I Dream In You” again for me, too. And, of course, her “One Moon Away” and “Shaky Ground” and “Memorial Day” would already be huge hits if the music world was a fair one. I loved her version of “The Dimming of the Day”, a favorite Richard Thompson tune, also. And then Wendy Ramsay played a cover of a Lori McKenna tune and did “Rebound”, one of her originals she can never sing often enough, plus others I’ve forgotten now because my brain is too tired to remember it all. But I loved each and every note played and sung, especially the harmonies of these two singer-songwriters. Ah, it was simply a lovely way to spend a wintry afternoon, and I was so happy I’d ventured out!

So, my neighborhood buddies, you’re missing some amazing music at lunchtime if you’re not dropping by Sugarpearl! Tuesdays, Thursdays and Friday. And Sunday jazz brunch, of course. You already know Phyllis and Deb know how to cook! Why not come join me for lunch next Thursday, when Wendy Ramsay will be the featured artist? I guarantee you’ll love her quirky originals. I’ll save you a seat. And then come back another Thursday to hear Joanne, or a Friday to hear Brian Francis, Barley Wine on Tuesday or whoever they get to take Mark’s place on Wednesday. Just come on down…’ll leave smiling, I promise! Where else can you get live entertainment, tasty food that’s good for you, and that wonderful neighborhood atmosphere? Sugarpearl.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I realized today that’s what I am: an orphan.

My mother, granted not much of a mother, passed away in 1999. I’d be telling lies if I didn’t say that I still long to tell you we had a typical mother/daughter relationship, that her lessons were many, that I miss her and wish I could talk with her every day. I certainly miss the thought of her, wish we could push a “reboot” button and try again.

My biological father, a ghost from the surface of my childhood, is long gone, vanished into a pool of resentment that I have surfaced from because, had it not been for him, my love of books might not have blossomed, and for that I owe him thanks.

My real father, the man who raised me through thick and thin, has been gone for six years now. His illness lasted a very long thirteen years. As I listened recently to friends dealing with parents going into nursing homes, etc., I recalled planning weekend events around when we’d visit with Dad. Today I wish visiting with Dad meant anything other than pulling the weeds around the plaque in the ground at the cemetery in Owasco.

And two years ago I lost my Aunt Gretchen, my mother substitute. She knew when it was time to give me a call, usually at the very moment when my hand was on the phone to call her. And she usually knew what words to say to mend whatever was falling apart. I still need to talk to her every day and there’s no one else to take her place. If there was some huge disaster, her husband would come to my side, but he wouldn’t “be there” as she was. No one else ever could be.

I’m the oldest sister, the oldest cousin, the one others come to for direction. Often I am a good listener, and I’ve been through the woods a few times, even coming out the other side with only a few bumps and bruises, so my advice can be worthy at times.

But I’m feeling those old orphan blues today. No one to talk to. No one who really understands. That’s why I like listening to music so much….and today I put in Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Last Man on Earth’” CD. And listened to his song “Homeless”. He must have felt the same way the day he wrote these lyrics:

“When you were alive I was never alone
Somewhere in the world there was something called home
Now I feel like I’m homeless
But I will be alright
I’ll get through the days
I’ll get through the nights.”

It's what we orphans do.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Words and Laughter

The writing group had a life-enforced hiatus then met again yesterday....all of us attending for the first time since November.

I am always stunned by how quickly the hours pass. We critique each other's work, argue politics, discuss deeply personal situations we discover ourselves in and pass along ridiculously funny conversations we've had. We share our lives with each other at all levels, with our writers' ears and eyes and hearts.

Their critique of my work is the treasure I carry home with me, inspiring me to think again, hear what I really wish to say, push the words around until the message is what I meant it to be. And they do so in such an amazing way. The only way I could ever thank them properly is to try to do the same when it's my turn to speak about their magical writing.

I've come to cherish our lunches, especially the stares -- and sometimes glares -- from folks at neighboring tables when we burst into laughter and start howling at one another, often not acting our age. I am often more comfortable in the midst of these folks than I am with any other family or friends, and I imagine the others feel the same, so we tend to let down our hair and anything goes. Others out for business lunches tend to cast us jealous looks occasionally. We don't bother to quiet down; we've paid our dues.

It's how we are. Happy to be writers who have found like souls to discuss our work with, to agonize over the snail-paced journey to publication, to rant and rave about where we fit in the world, to toss ideas about and catch the ones that explode. On Tuesdays with these writers who are more than friends and even more than family, I can be absolutely me and they love me all the same. As I do each of them.

And we'll meet again soon. I am a lucky lady.

Friday, January 22, 2010


verb: to yield to governance or authority; to subject to a condition, treatment or operation; to present or propose to another for review, consideration or decision; to surrender.

It’s what we have to do as poets if we want anyone to read our work. No one comes knocking on our door to ask us if we’ve written any good poems lately. We have to send poems out into the ether and hope someone reads one and considers it worthy of publication in their magazine or journal. It’s a daunting process, to say the least. However, after looking at the notebooks stacked in my office and having a vision of my daughter tossing them all in a dumpster after my funeral (after she’s quickly skimmed through each searching for any hidden twenty dollar bills that is), I decided that I had to work harder to make that not happen.

The birth of a new granddaughter and the arrival of a teenaged granddaughter into my life may have been the fuel behind this decision….I’d love to have their Nana’s words in print to keep them company when I’m merely a memory…and so I’ve been hunkered down researching my best options and preparing manuscripts and writing cover letters and such. It’s way too much like having a real job to please me.

This certainly isn’t much like writing at all. It’s draining and difficult, frustrating, exciting and dreadfully time consuming. I try not to imagine a flutter of rejection letters coming my way, although that possibility is all too real.

Most of these poems are not new. As I told my friend and fellow poet Mary Ellen at lunch yesterday, “I have a more difficult time writing poetry when I’m happy.” And I’m just too darn happy these days.

I recently re-read a Carol Shields novel, I’ve forgotten the title, and the main character is a poet going through a mid-life crisis. While I’m past mid-life crisis time, there were a couple of lines that I hoped did not describe me now: “…though I still dabble a little, poetry is part of my past now. What I don’t bother to explain is that having written away the well of myself, there is nowhere to go.”

I’m hoping that now I have submitted so much of my former self in my older poems, perhaps the art of accepting rejection will stir my muse into refilling that well I feel I may have emptied.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Playlist For the Month

I know...3 posts in one day....a new record for me. But I'm making up for all the time I've lost dealing with this pain in my back. Anyway, we're transferring our LPs onto CDs and these are the LPs I am listening this month as I's such a strange collection, I thought I'd share it:

These are the names of LPs, not individual songs:

American Beauty....................... Grateful Dead
Tumbleweed Connection..........Elton John
Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town....Waylon Jennings (he looks about 18 on the LP cover)
Born in the USA.........................Bruce Springsteen
Very Young and Early Songs...............Cat Stevens
Tunnel of Love..........................Bruce Springsteen
Delta Momma Blues................Townes VanZandt
Brothers in Arms....................Dire Straits
Buffalo Springfield Again.......Buffalo Springfield (someone listed as Steve Stills here)
Vanilla Fudge...........................Vanilla Fudge
It's My Way.............................Buffy Sainte-Marie
Stephen Stills..........................Stephen Stills...duh
Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful....Lovin' Spoonful
Redeye.......................................Redeye...............haven't a clue who they are...anyone????
High Tide and Green Grass....Rolling Stones
Bruised Orange.........................John Prine
Santa Ana Winds......................Steve Goodman
Poet in My Window..................Nancy Griffith
Hank Wilson's Back..................Hank Wilson (Leon Russell)
From Every Stage....................Joan Baez
Best of Ian and Sylvia..............Ian and Sylvia Tyson
Shine on Brightly......................Procol Harum
Ladies of the Canyon...............Joni Mitchell
Wear Your Love Like Heaven..Donovan
Stagefright................................The Band
Nantucket Sleighride...............Mountain
Wednesday Morning 3AM......Simon and and and and his backup singer
Sweet Baby James...................James Taylor
The Pilgrim..............................Larry Gatlin (where did THAT come from?)
Maid of Constant Sorrow......Judy Collins

P.S. Hubby and I have discovered that we probably own between us every LP, cassette and CD Neil Diamond ever made and neither of us has yet to hum "Sweet Caroline" while showering.

Oriana Babysitting Gwendolynn

Newsflash II....
Remember Oriana? You would have had to have been a reader of mine from my AOL Journal days. She stayed with us for a few months when my son and Kate lived in an apartment that only allowed one dog (they have two...Kyuss, was older, calmer). You'd know all about the operation that saved her life that caused us so much worry and the days she and Rupert romped through the halls of our second floor Green Street apartment...playing and then not playing. Rupert and Ori tolerate one another for short periods of time, neither one willing to let the other be in control for very long. But they do love one another, always happy to see each other again when they've been apart. They love to play. Kyuss, the old man of the three of the dogs, usually lets them have their fun and just finds a quiet corner.
We admit....we wondered how Oriana would adjust to having little Gwen around. But we knew Oriana is totally devoted to Kate and Darek, as she is to us, too.
And, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Metal Man Meltdown

Newsflash....heavy metal guitar playing dudes make good dads, too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I’m saddened, but not surprised, by recent news of severe cuts in staff at the medical practice where I once worked. My rule of thumb has been not to talk about work to friends I still see that I made during my tenure as Director of Human Resources there. I’ve been retired now for five years.

Today I break that rule.

I worked for eight years to help that practice become the “best”. One of the reasons I chose to leave was because my definition varied from others in management. Basically, my belief was simply that we became the best by making the practice better: better staff, better services, better everything possible, focusing on quality of patient care. Others felt becoming best meant growing bigger. My theory of embracing competition and not worrying about younger doctors moving in because being the best would always mean maintaining patients was frowned upon, jeered at, considered old-fashioned and harmful to the practice. The “right” way of thinking, I was informed, was to gobble up other practices and become one giant conglomerate of services so there would only be one place for people to go.

And so buildings were built or acquired. Staff was added. I interviewed until I could no longer tell one candidate from another, could no longer remember who had been hired for what position. That was not why I had wanted to work in Human Resources. I’d wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. I’d wanted to help people learn to make differences in other people’s lives, specifically help this staff learn to provide topnotch services to patients as a coherent team. How could I do that when I couldn’t even keep up with the number of staff needed to service the growing number of doctors and clinicians and technicians and administrative staff needed to keep this huge machine operating? Oh yeah, they did finally provide me with an assistant….and she was absolutely marvelous, kept me sane and did the work of eight people…..but every day I realized I was fighting a battle that was going against my grain. I wasn’t making anything better. I was a glorified recruiter. There was no time for staff development -- my forte. There was no real interest for it, either. Staff was just the cogs that made the wheels turn. It had become a factory. That was what really turned me away. To me staff was the bread and butter, the individuals who became the heart of a practice, who connected with each patient and brought something special to that practice.

This practice is laying off staff now…..and not staff that can’t perform their jobs. What is worse, and makes my stomach turn, is that they are demoting staff, too. Staff who have given their all and performed well are being asked to take pay cuts and do jobs they used to do plus those of the ones that have been let go. I know, they should be grateful they still have jobs. I’d be saying that too, if I didn’t know some of the choices that have been made in past years that led them to this path.

My message? It’s simple. In all walks of life, it’s always quality that’s better than quantity. I’ll take one pair of green Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers that never make my feet hurt and that I wear almost every day over a closet full of fashionable shoes any day.

We can find the best, keep the best, maintain the best. In business and in our personal lives. It’s not that difficult. It comes down to making better choices, to remembering that every choice has a ripple effect and considering how hard that ripple might be lapping back at us in ten minutes, ten months or ten years.

I’m reminded of the words of one of my mentors, a physician who passed away a few years ago. He was once associated with the medical practice now forced to lay off staff. He would often remind his partners, “It’s not about the Bentley parked in the driveway.” I can almost hear him sobbing today.