Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We've Moved!

I just moved this blog to CarynMirriamGoldberg.wordpress.com, which gives me the capability to have multiple blog pages. This is an important feature since I'll soon be posting podcasts and links to High Plains Public Radio on "Write From Your Life," with the new feature of inviting readers and listeners to respond to the writing exercises on this site.

So come on over to www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.wordpress.com!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Press Release for Book Launch and Poet Laureati Party

Come to the Lawrence Arts Center at 7:30 p.m., July 1 for the following event. Denise moves out of the poet's mansion that night, and I move in (I hear it has a hot tub, but then again, I hear it's an outhouse). Drop on by for a wonderful time.

The Committee on Imagination & Place announces the first publication of the Imagination & Place Press, Imagination & Place: An Anthology. This eclectic collection features poems, essays, and fiction by writers from coast to coast, broadening the conversation about place and its relation to the natural world and human culture.

Also, July 1, 2009, is the first day of the two-year term of the recently named third Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and represents the conclusion of the term of the second Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low. Both Mirriam-Goldberg and Low are members of the Committee on Imagination & Place and from Lawrence.

Consequently, the public is warmly invited to attend a combined celebration taking place on July 1, launching the anthology and paying tribute to Mirriam-Goldberg and Low. The event will occur at 7:30 p.m. at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire, Lawrence, Kansas.

Admission to the event is the purchase of a copy of Imagination & Place: An Anthology per household. The books will be available at the door for $12.95 each plus tax.

A booksigning and readings by area contributors to the anthology, as well as readings by Mirriam-Goldberg and Low will make up the July 1 program. A poem by Mirriam-Goldberg is included in the anthology; Low serves on the Imagination & Place Press editorial team. Books by Mirriam-Goldberg and Low will be offered for sale as well. A reception will follow.

About her position as 2007-2009 Kansas Poet Laureate, Low said, "As a new poet laureate, I planned to make appearances and to create a series of electronic poetry broadsides to disseminate to poets, arts organizations, libraries, and publications. I did not expect to take on such a broad role as an ambassador for poetry to colleges, arts centers, libraries, social service organizations, and churches. I spoke on radio and television shows. I judged contests and ran my own series of contests for Poetry Month. In this time I discovered the profound hunger Kansans have for high-level communication. Poetry is not an easy art form, as it requires concentration, skill, logic, and heart. It is the most intense form of literacy. I appreciate the chance to be part of the Kansas Arts Commission-sponsored effort to bring arts into daily lives of my fellow citizens."

On becoming the 2009-2011 Kansas Poet Laureate, Mirriam-Goldberg said, "Over many years teaching and leading writing workshops in communities throughout Kansas and the U.S. and Mexico, I've continually witnessed how powerful our stories and writing can be when we speak in our own words and tell our own truths. My Poet Laureate project -- "Poetry Across Kansas: Reading and Writing Our Way Home" -- offers communities opportunities for not just readings and writing workshops, but support for ongoing writing circles facilitated by local writers, teachers, artists and community members. Building on the good work of our first two Poets Laureate, Denise Low and Jonathan Holden, I'm also bringing communities writing prompts based on the poetry of Kansas writers featured on the website Holden started and Low's Ad Astra project, which also, in turn, helps the people of our state get to know the poetry of our state, and how such poetry can help us see where we live and how to live with new eyes."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Who Knew? I Enjoy Being a Girl!

If you saw me at this moment, you might have a hard time reconciling my black satin with silver rhinestone high heels, silver sparkly jacket, silky black dress, make-up, hair piled on top of my head and jewelry with the uniform I wore for most of my adulthood: black jeans, oversized t-shirt, sturdy sneakers, short hair I never glanced at let alone comb.

Something happened in the last few years, something I made happen as a way to bring back to the surface who I always was: a femme in hiding. "But you would make a great diesel dyke," a friend of mine used to say me. Fair enough, but not who I am.

When I was a kid, I used to draw for hours each day, and what did I draw? Women in dresses, skirts, evening gowns. I had secret ambitions to be a fashion designer. Put a catalogue in front of me in 1969 or a clothing website today, and what I look at first are the dresses, especially the frillier ones that feature black lace, gold silk or hot pink ruffles. As I got older, I tended toward dresses and skirts whenever possible, even going so far as to camp regularly in denim dresses or corduroy skirts.

But then something happened: I gained weight, and decided I didn't look thin enough in anything that flared from the waist. I hunted down princess cuts with that v-shape waist that gives the center of the torso the illusion of narrow girth. Yet it became increasingly difficult to find things that fit well, flattered and were comfortable, and so I succumbed to jeans. Black jeans, with a hidden elastic waistband or stretch fabric, and over them, t-shirts large enough to give coverage. Three pregnancies, two graduate degrees, many teaching jobs and thousands of dishes later, I didn't pay my appearance any mind, to the extent that a former rabbi once told me it was great that I didn't ever think about how I looked. Or was it really?

Eventually, and fairly recently, after living through cancer and then with low-grade chronic illness for three years, I realized that there was a direct line between health and beauty, and following it led me back to who I am. I've gone through various passions since then, all of them sticking: first exercise and especially yoga, then clothes cut to fit and full of colors and textures I loved, jewelry -- which I started making myself, make-up even (right before a show with Kelley Hunt, when I saw her applying bare minerals on her face and asked me to put some on me too), shoes, and lately, even comfortable heels, and of course, dresses.

While I wouldn't doll myself up this way too often, tonight, right before I give a joint poetry and song performance with Kelley, I put on the dog, and this dog likes being walked, groomed and aiming itself toward what flows, shines and delights.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bar Mitzvahed!

The weekend was a wheel of people and joy turning through our time. We began with a pie-making party Thursday night -- the Weedle Caviness Memorial Pie-Making Party -- to try to replace what can't be replaced: Weedle's amazing pies she made for Daniel's and Natalie's Bar Mitzvahs. The joy, however, and humor were there in full-force as about a dozen friends and family came over to mix and roll dough, cut fruit, and gingerly lift the pie crusts into the pans.

On Friday night, we had regular Friday night services at the Lawrence Jewish Community Center with a twist. Instead of just doing the normal candle-lighting prayer, Ken called up six other men important in Forest's life -- his uncles, Mark and Brian; family friends, Jerry, Jack, Herb; and his brother Daniel -- to join Ken in honoring Forest's crossing over into adulthood. Each man lit a dark green candle in a blue glass candle holder and said his wish for Forest as a man. It was moving, gentle, strong and beautiful.

Saturday was Bar Mitzvah central -- the actual event began at 10 a.m. at the LJCC, filled with over 130 of our friends and family. So much was moving about the ceremony, but what stands out for me and what others told me they loved include the blessings of both his Grandmothers, Alice and Barbara; our family carrying around the torah while all of us singing; Forest's wonderful speech about the importance of kindness and listening when it comes to living a holy life; Ken and my talks (mine is below); the gorgeous duet sung by Susan Elkins and Natalie, our daughter; the throwing of the candy and how, just beforehand, Daniel and the torah scooted off to one side of the Bema and the rabbi to the other side to miss the onslaught of Tootsie Rolls.

In the evening, about 80 friends and family came out here for a pie party -- 15 pizza pies and 16 fruit pies, plus all the other dishes people brought. People spilled out onto the newly-finished front porch, and the back deck, in the drive and throughout the house, visiting, laughing, eating, telling stories. About 9ish I got suddenly tired and actually took a 10 minute nap, then found myself rejuvenated until 11 when the last people, dear friends we had a blast visiting with, left.

Now it's quiet and peaceful as I type this on the front porch, all the cats and the dog out here with me, focused on the singing of a bird nearby.
Dear Forest,

Here it is the night before your Bar Mitzvah, and I can't help thinking of the night before your birth. It was a windy, rainy May night as I sat in your grandfather's heated car at 2 a.m. while your dad ran back and forth from house to car to load up everything, including the other kids. Throughout contractions and the all-too-short-space between, I was held in the most beautiful choral music playing on the radio, women's voices entwined in multiple harmonies that poured through me like the wind poured through the trees I watched in the dark.

The next afternoon, you were born, and the first look on your face – just like the first look of total intensity on Daniel's face and total joy on Natalie's – conveyed your temperament. You simply looked around casually and seemed to shrug. If you could have talked, I think you would have said, “So this is life? Oh, well.” You were present, accepting and interested in all your encountered.

Since that time, you've brought the most amazing enthusiasm and whimsical curiosity to whatever you find – whether it's basketball follies, the economic crisis' latest flurry of bankruptcies, or the cat sleeping in a basket. When I pick you up from school or downtown, you always both ask me about the news – “Mom, what happened with the Dow today?” and your trademark question, “What's the plan?” You follow music, film, news, sports, and all manner of quirky information widely and deeply, telling me something you found on The Washington Post site or Rotten Tomatoes. You listen to radio, television, read papers and magazines, updating your acute sense of where we are as a country. This world is interesting to you, and you bring to it a wonderful ability to take it all in, apply critical thinking to evaluate and integrate what you really believe, and then tell us about it.

You've also brought your big heart, always present and always accepting, to all you encounter, which over your life, has been full of fierce challenges – the car accident you survived, in part due to the love and support of this community; my cancer; and some difficult-to-shake illnesses you're enduring – and heartbreaking losses, mostly in the last year, of both your grandfathers, your namesake, and a good friend. In all of this, you've shown up – in all senses of that term – to learn, mourn, find, and carry on as well as to share your wide pool of kindness with whoever else is hurting. You know well what it is to just be with someone going through a hard time, how to listen, and how to listen for what would really help. It's no suprise that the words you wrote in your speech about how to live a holy life came so easy to you – they are words you live everyday.

What's the plan? The plan – I hope and believe – is for you to simply keep being who you are. For all of us who know you, you're a shining light of all these qualities: kindness, presence, curiousity, enthusiam, patience, earnestness, and many times, joy. For a long time, I've believed we become more of who we always were as we grow older, but you were born that way, and already, you live guided by your desire – besides to play the wii and watch countless episodes of “The Simpsons” – to help others and celebrate the amazing gift of life.

That night, nearly 14 years ago, before your birth, I was about to receive one of the greatest gifts of my life. Of course I'm proud of you for all you've done at this Bar Mitzvah, but I'm even more proud of you everyday for how you live. I love you with all my heart forever.
Love, Mom

Monday, April 27, 2009

Spring and the Bar Mitzvah Express

Spring has sprung wildly in the last few days thanks to several days of fast, hot wind and the several more days of intense rain. Meanwhile, we're working in the yard continuously, riding the Bar Mitzvah express which is high-speed, expensive and has frequent breakdowns.

What this translates into is a lot of yard work, including putting in some shade gardens, spray-painting rusting folding chairs, making pots of mixed flowers for table center pieces for the actual event, and outrageous amounts of weeding and mulching.

The great part of this is how much time we have outside. The not-so-great part is how the chiggers have sent out a few scouts, way before they should be out in force. There's also some poison ivy, seed ticks, and large startled snake (plus many nests of baby ringnecks).

Meanwhile one of the most lush times of the year unfolds quickly and vividly -- irises ready to break open, leaves unfurling at the speed of sound on the Cottonwood, and lilac in full bundles of blossom. I keep reminding myself to step off the train and take this in.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Prairie Fire!

Saturday around 4 p.m. when we were at the hardware store, Ken said, "You know, I think the only window to burn is about right now." He was right: it had rained for days beforehand, the morning was barely dry enough, but the winds were too high, and more rain was coming. Considering it was April 11, and we were supposed to have the fields burned the first week in April, it was time for action.

Luckily for us and maybe not so fortunate for him, I ran into Mike Caron in the check-out line at the hardware store. "Want to burn some prairie in an hour?" I asked him, and after juggling his schedule a bit, he said yes, and he even brought a friend. We called the guys who lived on the other side of our hill -- Monte and Brent, and they also showed up along with Brent's girlfriend Amy. Ken's pal Dave came out, and within an hour, we were lighting matches, dragging pitchforks of fire (it works best to wrap up the loose grass like spaghetti on a fork and then drag it), and hauling water in case things got out of hand.

They didn't, and the wet ground made for a good safety valve although we did see a few cedars go up like, well, Christmas trees (but that always happens). The burn was also very fast -- we burned over 15 acres, broken up into about five fields, in less than two hours.

Why do we burn? Prairies need to be burned to bring more nutrients to the soil, clear out the invader trees, and make way for new growth. The history of the prairies shows us that lightning was a great fire-starter, especially during a time when prairies weren't 99% replaced by farms and concrete. There's also evidence that many plains tribes regularly burned the prairies. We also burn because we're required to by the law -- it's a condition of the USDA program the farm is enrolled in to restore and maintain these native grasses.

But there are other reasons to burn: it's outrageous fun, a great way to get to know fellow-burners, and for me, always a ritual of spring -- clearing away the falling over remnants of an old season, preparing the ground of this land and my own heart for what's next to come.

Pictures: All from the burn, plus Ken afterwards, catching up on some sleep.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Live In Big Wind Country

Kansas is windy, often, and not just a little. When spring comes, the big wind comes with it, and yesterday was a vivid illustration with gusts up to 90 mph in some parts of the state and ordinary old 45 mph gusts regularly around it. It's hard not to tilt a little when you walk, and when we did balance poses in yoga -- in a room in the country, second story, windows all around -- it was hard not to fall over (but then it's often hard not for me to fall over).

Yesterday, semi-trucks overturned on the turnpike, mailboxes left home, our bird feeder flew the coop, and the top of a hard-plastic child playhouse unfurled itself. It was the kind of wind that made me and everyone around me feel a little crazy, off-balance, agitated, confused and overwhelmed.

It reminds me of a good wind story too -- and in Kansas, many of the good weather stories (and most of the good stories do involve weather) are obviously wind-related. When Ken, my husband, was but a lad, his family had a mean attack rooster named Chip-Chip, who attacked (using his nasty spurs) everyone but Ken's grandpa, who had basically trained him to be a the rooster equivalent of Cruella DeVille. One day a tornado, with accompanying big winds, came to the area, and Chip-Chip mysteriously disappeared. Days later, his wasted body was found a few miles away. When humans didn't, out of decency, exact revenge from Chip-Chip, the wind did.

So now the wind has settled down, and it's good to be back in the saddle, crossed over to spring with the grasses seeminly scribbled bright green and the trees budding. Yesterday's big wind is today's sky all bright baby blue and pristine white clouds, all the debris blasted free from our minds.