Persistence, Personified

After months of struggle, The Little Essay That Could finally started its engines, cut loose the string of cars that had been carrying the freight of an idea that didn’t belong and began chugging its way up the hill toward publication. It had been left on a siding, bereft and forlorn, condemned to idleness by my own obstinancy, my stubborn insistence that two thematic strands should remain entwined in a single essay.   Only after I pulled them apart, discarding one, was the storyline able to get going and pick up a little steam.

Ironically, just as I began working again on my simplified piece, sighing and moaning to myself that things ought to be progressing more quickly, I came across news of Harper Lee and her former literary agent, Samuel Pinkus. Lee recently filed suit in Manhattan federal court seeking to recover royalties from from the sale of her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.  According to Associated Press reports, Lee was contending that Pinkus had tricked her into signing over the copyright to her novel while she was recovering from a stroke.  (more…)

Published in: on May 10, 2013 at 7:41 pm  Comments (111)  
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A Coincidence of Chickens

I hadn’t penciled in much time during this past week for chickenology, but when artist and blogger Gary Myers posted this Portrait of Henri Groulx and a Rooster on his site, my schedule changed. 

Myers found the photograph at an ecletic, almost indescribable photography site called Luminous Lint.  Taken at a Parisian photo studio around 1920, the portrait is at once humorous, arresting and puzzling. As Gary says, “In these all so politically correct times, it’s kind of refreshing to see this French kid with his cigarette dangling.  That world-weary look on his face and the confidence of his stance as he sits with legs crossed say that he’s six years old and he’s seen it all.”

Entranced though I was by Henri Groulx and his rooster, the image brought to mind another chicken-loving child – Miss MaryFlannery O’Connor.  Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, Flannery eventually gained fame as a writer. But at the age of five (or six, depending on the source you choose) she taught a chicken to walk backward and achieved a different sort of fame. Word spread, and it wasn’t long before the Pathé Newsreel Service was on her doorstep, eager to record the feat for the admiration of the world. (more…)

Habits of Being


Closing the door on the dryer, happy to be finishing the last household chore in time to watch slivers of afternoon sunlight ride up over the east-banked clouds, I thought about the turning of the year and what an unusual day it had been.   New Year’s traditions once considered  inviolable had been forgotten or set aside. No one watched the Rose Parade, or football.  Generally weary of houseguests, bored by corporate socializing and constant activity, no friends gathered for barbeque or buffet, preferring to stay home with their leftovers. My own visiting kinfolk were on their way toward home. With no obligations for the evening, supper, I thought, could be a bit of that nice chicken casserole…

Until I remembered.  It was New Year’s Day and I hadn’t eaten a single black-eyed pea.  Walking into the kitchen, I opened the pantry and surveyed my stash. Corn. Butternut squash soup. Fire-roasted tomatoes. Oats. Cannellini. Sour cherries in brilliant ruby syrup. Coffee. Kidney beans. But not a single can of black-eyed peas. For 35 years I’d eaten black-eyed peas for luck on New Year’s – first because new Texas neighbors put them on my plate and insisted, later because of habit, eventually by compulsion.  This year I’d had none, the cupboard was bare and even the small bag of fresh peas I’d tucked into the freezer was gone, consumed as part of an unremarkable and forgotten meal. (more…)

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 10:37 pm  Comments (24)  
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Message in a Blog-Bottle


Mothers can be difficult to impress, even among the literati.  In an April, 1959 letter written to author Cecil Dawkins, Flannery O’Connor wryly remarks the wonderful news that Cecil has been paid $1,000 for a story.  Noting  her own top payment of $425, Flannery goes on to say,

Your sale to the Post ought to impress your mother greatly.  It sure has impressed my mother, who brought the post card home.  The other day she asked me why I didn’t try to write something that people liked instead of the kind of thing I do write.  Do you think, she said, that you are really using the talent God gave you when you don’t write something that a lot, A LOT of people like?  This always leaves me shaking and speechless, raises my blood pressure 140 degrees, etc.  All I can ever say is, if you have to ask, you’ll never know.

I’m no Flannery O’Connor, but I’ve been rendered equally speechless by my own mother.  When she found my first computer happily ensconced on its desk, Mom nosed around it like a wary dog circling a snake.   “What are you going to do with it?” she asked.   I didn’t know, and said so.   “Well, how much did it cost?”  I did know that, and despite reservations born of experience I told her.  The disapproving silence thickened until she could stand it no longer.  “You spent all that money for something and don’t even know how you’re going to use it?”  Her perspective on the situation was clear. My computer was the latest version of  hula-hoops or Mr. Potato Head and I was her idiot child, consumed with a child’s breathless longing to possess the same toys as her friends. (more…)

Blog-Warming: An Old Tradition for a New Time


 When readers of my previous posts left an assortment of comments related to a “blogwarming”, I was utterly charmed.  I never had thought of transferring the concept of housewarming to a blog, but I liked it immediately.   It seemed appropriate, and fun.   Even though pieces and paragraphs are still fighting for the best placement and a few boxes of snippets and images refuse to let themselves be unpacked, I didn’t mind surprise guests.  Their greetings nudged some surprising memories into consciousness, and the memories are all pleasant. 

I experienced my first housewarming when my parents built a new home for us on the edge of town, just three blocks from the football stadium and a short stroll to the Iowa cornfields.   I may be mistaken in my recollection that someone wandered away from the party into the cornfields that night and had to be fetched back, but it certainly was quite a party.  The fellows from my Dad’s engineering department were always ready to share a libation or two, and the fact that there was an “occasion” helped get the ladies in the mood.  There was food, drink, gifts and more drink, and great good cheer.

In those days, building a new house was an accomplishment.  For my father, raised in an Iowa coal mining family, surviving the depression and becoming an Industrial Engineer at the Maytag Company on the basis of knowledge and skill rather than degrees, the experience was especially sweet.  He was rightfully proud of his accomplishments, and when the house was built, the community gathered around he and Mom for a night of affectionate celebration.

As the years passed, housewarmings (or dorm room-warmings, or apartment-warmings) became more common.  To one degree or another, each occasion was touched by joy and gratitude, a sense of adventure and the sheer pleasure of new surroundings.

When I think about my parents’ housewarming, I also realize how important the sense of community was for them.  After everything involved in building a house, after so many hours spent in the process – meeting  architects, pulling permits, revising plans, dealing with cost overruns – it was unbelievably meaningful for them to have friends stop by with their gift and their presence and say, “It looks wonderful”.

And now, I am sharing in that experience.  After all the solitary hours at my computer, after all of the revisions and unworkable plans and mysterious obstacles encountered while trying to create something pleasing – it has been wonderful to have someone stop by and say, “I’ll bring the covered dish, a bottle of wine, the cofffee, the cinnamon pinwheels…”

Traditional housewarming or modern blogwarming, the point is the same: life is better in community.  Blogwarmings aren’t likely to overtake housewarmings in popularity  any time soon.   Google shows only 1,230 entries for blogwarmings, but 8,410,000 for housewarmings, so it will be a while  before Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray pick up on the trend and publish recipes or lists of appropriate gifts.

But those who are part of this new world, folks who have seen old traditions revived in new and creative ways and who have helped to sustain the rituals themselves, know the truth.   Human beings are meant to   connect,  laughter and good wishes are an appropriate response to new adventures, and gratitude for what has been  walks hand in hand with joy in new possibilties.  

In the old days, a familiar Irish blessing for housewarmings  was:

May the roof above us never fall in
And may we good companions beneath it never fall out.

For our new day, the old blessing still applies, even for people who have yet to meet.: 

May the hard drive that connects us never crash,
And may we good companions around it never clash.

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Published in: on April 25, 2008 at 8:03 pm  Comments (4)  
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