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Queer Eye

One vestige of my darker days, the framed photo of James Van Der Zee’s Prohibition Era poster, top left. But see how she is surrounded by light?

I’m going to tell you a horrible story, about a young man who sings on the subway to supplement his income. I know it’s true because I heard it from the relative he told it to. He makes a meager wage at a day job, and he’s talented. So he’s been singing on the subway for a few years. He tested positive for Covid the other day, and he kept on singing on the train.

“On the platform?” I asked, “or on the train?” As if one were better. Which it might be.

On the train–in the cars!” she shrieked. My first thought was, You should turn him in! She went on to say that she told him, “That’s unconscionable! You should be arrested!”

And I went on to think, with snap judgment and barely a shred of equanimity (but notably, with some compassion): No wonder New York City cases have exploded. Because that one naive young man, pursuing his dreams oblivious to the stark reality of this ongoing pandemic, probably infected dozens if not hundreds of innocent subway riders, many of whom may have infected 3 or more others. Our busker was a super-spreader event all by himself. Like potentially thousands, or millions, of other people across the country, either oblivious to the truth or arrogantly “done with Covid,” as my cousin proclaimed he would be once ski season started.

Ski season started, and a week later he found himself symptomatic, awaiting results of a PCR test. Did he have it, or was it just a cold? (That’s another thorny existential worry these days, for another day.) I’ll probably never know; I doubt he’d admit it. And there’s fuckall I can do about any of this ignorance.

This came in a text just now, synchronistically articulating my perspective. See more satire from Brittlestar.

So that’s my rant for the day. Sleazeweasel wants me to give outrage and gratitude “equal consideration.” He worried when I seemed stuck in gratitude for a whole year. I don’t think he’s been paying attention! Brilliant though he is, he seems to have missed the essence of my personal gratitude challenge: I was mired in outrage and despair for most of my adult life. My personal gratitude epiphany saved me, gave me back the joy and meaning of my youth, when everything that happened was a new gift. Now I understand what Brother Steindl-Rast was talking about. Having practiced focusing on gratitude instead of humanity’s dark side, immersing myself in gratitude for an entire year, I brought some balance to my perceptions, gaining the capacity to hold light as well as dark, to see reality through a less distorted lens. Gratitude has helped me achieve the equanimity I’ve been seeking for decades.

Meanwhile, I’m grateful for SNOW! More than we’ve seen at one time in a couple of years, I think. I was grateful to wake up alive, and find deep snow at last; grateful to see sweet does bedded down under the junipers just beyond the patio. Grateful for good neighbors of any species, and greeting one gliding by on skis in the drifted driveway.

Grateful for cheesos, a simple, delicious hot lunch after arduous maintenance shoveling and brushing…

And finally, I’m grateful today for Queer Eye, a ‘season interrupted,’ now back on Netflix. The first episode was shot in March 2020, and lockdown prevented the final act, so that was filmed in May 2021. The featured mother’s father had died, as well as her daughter’s husband. (In a weird way, the pandemic has presented a global ‘Compassion Challenge’–let that take off on social media!)

The transformation of Terri was profound and complete. The Fab 5 had given the family tools to heal relationships and weather their own brutal challenges just in the nick of time. Yet another feel-good series from the loving heart of gay culture to lift everyone’s spirits. I’m grateful for satire, laughter, gay men, snow, compassion, equanimity, and seeing truth clearly, among many other things in this new year.

Satire

Amy and I opened our Christmas boxes to each other after our zoom happy hour this evening. A RuPaul children’s book?! Come ON! I can’t wait to read myself a bedtime story tonight. It’s one in a series called “Little People, Big Dreams,” diverse biographies for children. Beautiful!

I watched the new Netflix film “Don’t Look Up” this evening, knowing nothing about it. I laughed, I cried. It reminded me of “Melancholia,” except that almost everything about it was different. It’s truly comedic and also a scathing indictment of our human capacity for ignorance and denial. Imagine the US president (Meryl Streep) in a ball cap leading her followers in chanting “Don’t Look Up! Don’t Look Up!” The cadence of that phrase has a familiar ring… To say anything more would be a spoiler, but I’ll add only that it has a delightful ending: don’t turn it off early. I’m grateful for skillful satire.

Speaking of the cosmos, R. Hubbell included a link in Today’s Edition to an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot, which is worth a second read, or a first if you haven’t ever. And a third, fourth, and so on. Hubbell suggests it “is an appropriate reflection on our place in the universe and deserves to be read out loud at family gatherings as we close the chapter on a challenging year.”

Merry Christmas!

Grapefruit

I’m grateful today for grapefruit! I’m grateful for Kathy for so many reasons, for so many years, but today especially that she sent me a bag of grapefruit from the tree in her yard. Citrus trees in your yard are certainly one good reason to live in Florida. These days, between fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and the governor, I can’t imagine ever moving back there; but I’m sure grateful for the years I lived there, and the lifelong friends I made there, a couple of lifetimes ago.

Salty Dog cocktail: 1.5 oz gin or vodka, 3 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, shaken on ice and poured into a glass whose rim has been pressed into the grapefruit and then into a dish of flaky sea salt. Yum!

I know she sent them with some misguided sense that they would provide me a healthy breakfast. Instead, I squeezed the first one into a salty dog for this evening’s cocktail. I finished the bird puzzle, and then watched the Kennedy Center Honors when other Florida friends texted to remind me they were coming on. I’m grateful for this annual televised celebration of the arts, that our president was once again in attendance after they were boycotted by the previous administration, that JFK was a staunch believer in the importance of the performing arts, and that I grew up down the road from the Kennedy Center (50 this year) and enjoyed many events there during its early years. I’m grateful for the moving performances in tribute to Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, operatic bass-baritone Justino Díaz, Motown founder Berry Gordy, and Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels; and grateful for these five sublime artists. Grateful to have a TV, grateful for internet so I could stream the show, grateful, grateful… I don’t wish to break this habit.

Poetry

Poetry on a plate: I’m grateful for gingerbread biscotti turning out so beautifully!

Thanks

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin, “Thanks” from Migration: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by W.S. Merwin. 

I’ve fallen in love with poetry all over again after years of ignoring it. I’ve fallen in love with a dead poet. I am a poet at heart, have always been, I see the world through a poet’s eyes; not a musician’s, a grocer’s, a farmer’s, a politician’s. I’m grateful for my poet friends Christine, Gary, Diane, Marion, Tara, Jane… and all the poets I’ll never know. Grateful for sonnets, sestinas, odes and lyrics; for free verse and form, for the particular sensitivity of the poetic soul. I’m grateful that my mentors introduced me to the soul of W. S. Merwin, 17th poet laureate of the US in 2010, with this quote:

“On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree” 

― W. S. Merwin

Why? Why would I want to plant a tree on the day the world is ending, when it will never grow big, when no one will sit in its shade or eat of its fruit? Why would I choose to do that, rather than run around like Chicken Little or try to satisfy every hedonic desire in the short time left? Well…

… Why would I not?

I’m grateful for poetry: for inspiration, consolation, validation, affirmation, transformation…

Artists

I’m grateful to have known many artists. Yesterday I finally reframed two dear artworks, a project I’ve been eager to accomplish for a year, and hung them on the living room wall. I realized with some sadness that most of the artists represented on that wall now are deceased. Dick Higgins was a friend of Auntie’s, and after she died her daughter sent me the small watercolor above. (Dick’s daughter Wendy is a phenomenal oil painter in Santa Fe, specializing in light.) I pirated an old frame and mat that had had a Japanese print in it for fifty years to reframe this one, which is not only a lovely image but also carries the breeze off the Rappahannock River at happy hour.

“Cats on the Furniture” is a print by one of the loves of my life, Daryl Harrison, who died of breast cancer in 2006. She was scientific illustrator for the University of Florida biology department when we lived next door in the 80s, and was staff artist at the Albuquerque Zoo for years before she died. This print perfectly captures her skill and her whimsy. It came in a silver metal frame, and the mat had faded, so I stole the frame and mat from an old pastel my mother made of me and Knobbydog, which always bugged me because she got his head wrong. I’m grateful I know my way around a picture frame.

When I owned a gallery in the 90s, I supported the artists by purchasing a lot of their works. One of my favorites is this fox by an artist still living, Daniel Logé. Another, below, is this lovely spring alpine scene by Richard Van Reyper. I became friends with his daughter when she brought some of his paintings to enter in a show. I was immediately enchanted with his work, and also with his daughter who became a friend. They’re both gone now. Gretchen succumbed with grace to cancer ten years ago, and I just learned that Dick died last year.

My mother painted a couple of versions of this vase with lilies of the valley, her favorite flower. Amy has the more abstract version of it, while I got to keep this one. She died in 2004. Sometimes it seems like yesterday. She loved the art of Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858), and this print below, Fudo Falls, from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, was made the year before he died. Oh wait! That’s a Liberty puzzle!

And it’s not on my wall, but it was on my table for the past few days. Liberty carries a number of Hiroshige prints made into puzzles. I’m grateful to Sarah for sharing her puzzle collection with us here in Colorado, and thoroughly delighted in assembling this first of three. More on that, perhaps tomorrow. I’m grateful for artists and the infinite worlds they bring to life.

Shifting Perspectives

Speaking of dogs, I’m grateful for a visit from tiny dogs today.

I’m grateful for the ability to stretch enough to shift a perspective now and then. “The Power of the Dog” turned out to be more fascinating than fearful. Based on the horse punching, and a few reviews that seemed to emphasize intimidation and manipulation (all three emotional triggers for me) I was turned off. If it had been promoted differently, I’d have probably not resisted as much. If, say, it had been advertised as a sensitive LGBTQ period New Zealand western with a twist, I’d have been all over it. I’m grateful that Michele’s analysis and Deborah’s reassurance gave me the resolve to finish watching it, and it turns out the horse punching was actually the hardest scene for me. Yeah, he drove poor Rose to drink, but he didn’t really torment her all that much. Who among us hasn’t been bullied? Why did the buzz focus on his mean behavior instead of his vulnerability? The film was so much more than that.

We get entrenched in our views about things, people, points of view, and often it’s hard to let go: of preconceptions, resentments, grudges, judgements, personal emotional wounds. I’m grateful my heart cracked open a little more today, though it wasn’t easy to face my own intransigence. I’m grateful for shifting perspectives.

I’m also grateful for homemade sweet and sour sauce. The only thing missing with the egg rolls the other day was sweet and sour sauce. Hoisin was good, but no substitute. The mustard was really a bust with the particular brand of powder I had. So I picked the easiest, quickest S&S recipe that came up, with five ingredients on hand, and was delighted with the result. In ten minutes I had the perfect sauce to balance the rich Hoisin and salty filling.

30 Rock

Take Joe Biden, for example…

I’ve recommended this show to several friends recently. I’m winding up my second time watching the series, neither of which occurred when the show was live from 2006 to 2013. A few years ago before I shot my DISH, I watched the whole series in reruns, and really enjoyed it then. I’m even more grateful for this scathing, hilarious socio-political satire this second time around.

For one thing, most of the societal ills this brilliant show highlights have not changed much in fifteen years. For another, the spotlights that the show trains on issues including racism, sexism, capitalism, climate chaos, corruption, power and influence, and ways these all interrelate, are more necessary now than ever. I’m grateful for Tina Fey’s creative genius, which tackles our assumptions, judgments, and biases about virtually everything at every turn.

Tracy Morgan plays Romney’s running mate, blowhard Governor Bob Dunston, here debating VP candidate Joe Biden, in Season 7 Episode 2.

And, it’s fascinating to compare certain characters in that time–I mean actual people–with their roles in our current political and cultural spheres. Take Joe Biden, for example. In the episode I just watched from October 12, 2012, appearances include Biden, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan. Matthew Broderick, Bryan Cranston, Jimmy Fallon, and Catherine O’Hara also play cameo roles. The stellar ensemble cast share comedic and affectionate chemistry so there’s no anxiety sparked by the show; it’s comforting to watch, and makes me laugh out loud, as well as think and stretch my mind. I’m grateful for 30 Rock.

How Many Things

I’m grateful for learning new things about familiar technology. This video shows up like it should, in a horizontal format, but in this rare instance I shot it vertically. Frustrated at its abbreviated appearance, I clicked around on the icons at the bottom, and discovered if you click the open box in the lower right it will play the video full screen and you can see it as shot. If you click on 1x, you can speed it up or slow it down, which is kind of fun. Escape key will bring you back to this page. Most of all, I’m grateful that my kitty is back to normal!

How many things am I grateful for today? Waking up alive to a mild sunny day: though I pine for moisture like all living things in this high desert, it gave me an opportunity to do more outdoor chores, like digging some baby bull thistles I discovered beyond the pond, and cutting back spent rabbitbrush blooms by the laundry line, so I could hang sheets without them collecting seeds. Grateful for sheets! And a bed, and a washing machine, and water.

I’m grateful for Garden Buddy bringing sweet ‘permanent’ flowers, and a tender moment with her setting them on Stellar’s grave; grateful all over again for her kindness on the day he died exactly one month ago. I’m grateful that the pain abates a little bit more each day. I’m grateful for a relatively painless body, too, these past few days after a rough few months. Grateful for meditation, Telesangha, mindfulness, friends, laughter, and good food.

For lunch I used the last of Stellar’s ground turkey from the freezer, cabbage, a shallot, ginger, and a garden carrot to make filling for egg rolls, then deep fried them, and served them to myself with Hoisin sauce and mustard. I’m grateful they held together and tasted pretty good for my first attempt. For dinner I roasted a garden butternut squash, opened a can of last year’s tomatoes, chopped an onion and some mushrooms, threw in garlic, ginger, spices, and a jar of stock I froze after cooking the last chicken, to make a hearty one-of-a-kind soup.

And finally, I’m grateful for an astonishing assortment of movies available to stream right into my living room. I’m grateful that after reading a friend’s review of “The Power of the Dog,” I tried the movie and had the good sense to quit watching when Benedict Cumberbatch started punching a horse in the face. I’m grateful I was encouraged to watch “The Starling” last night, and that tonight I took time to explore several previews until I settled upon this adorable Swedish gem, “Dancing Queens.”

Art

Before I returned Sarah’s puzzle, “Matisse’s Studio” (from artwork by Damian Elwes), I wanted to do it again. My strategy on this round was to pull all the pieces easily identified as the paintings on the studio walls and quickly assemble as much as I could of those little gems.

Having only looked at the box lid once, using Seymour’s Rule, I couldn’t recall which paintings went where in the scheme of things. The flat edges of most of them are designed to trick the puzzler into sorting out more edge pieces than are really puzzle edges.

Having wrapped up the paintings and determined that they did include actual puzzle edges and two corners, I then assembled the sea, with its near beach and far city shore, followed by the balcony. These steps were pretty easy, with the distinctive color of the sea and two key whimsy pieces including a mermaid, and the balcony’s definitive railing.

Assembling the remaining components took more time. Colors and shapes are key, but in true Matisse fashion, Elwes splashed mixed up colors all over the place. Then the brilliant puzzle designer created intricate cuts with flimsy connections.

I persevered, soaking up the bright colors on a couple of grey days, delighting in the details that emerged as each little section revealed itself. So many separate little scenes!

And the precious edges, the flat-edged pieces providing only a skeletal framework, sitting in place awaiting the filler pieces which don’t look like edges at all. Then finally, the delight of completion. I like to save a special piece for last; in this case, a special multi-piece.

Naturally, after finishing the puzzle again, I had to explore more Matisse. He was one of my mom’s favorites, along with Cézanne, and I’m just beginning to understand why. It was fun to see where Elwes got his inspiration. And then to ponder how art evolves over time, from one artist finding inspiration in others, and whole trends, movements, schools, developing through time and space. I loved Art History in college. I’m grateful to have grown up with Art as a value and activity in our home; grateful to have lived near and frequently visited the world-class art museums of downtown Washington, DC, including the Smithsonian galleries; grateful to have seen, felt, absorbed in real life the magnificent works of Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Rubens, Rembrandt, Munch–I’m kind of hating in this moment that the names which come readily to mind are all males, and am grateful to be learning recently of equally talented female artists who were shamefully underrepresented in the art lessons of my youth.

But setting aside that can of worms, here are some random paintings chosen from the many Matisse images available online, which may have been among those which influenced Elwes’ delightful rendering of “Matisse’s Studio.”

Then there was this absolutely irresistible cat, which I’d gladly hang on my wall.
Wallowing in all this Matisse reminded me that I have another Matisse puzzle to immerse myself in again, “Red Room.” It’s been a few years since I’ve done it. Perhaps I’ll pull it out on the next rainy day.

Solitude

Tableau: Resilience

I pay a lot of lip service to solitude. But it hasn’t really been solitude all these years, it’s been the absence of live-in human companionship. There has always been a strong dog presence in my home, for 38 of the past 40 years, and those two dogless years were back in my 20s. Now I am without a dog again, and living alone, truly alone, because you can’t really count an aloof cat and a hibernating tortoise. It is cold comfort that I have no regrets about euthanizing Stellar when I finally chose to: I’m still alone. But, the truth is, I am always alone, no matter what connections I recognize; we are all always, ultimately, alone. So I’m grateful for the capacity for solitude, and for the opportunity to explore it in more depth than I have for the past forty years, with gentle curiosity and self-compassion.

Grateful for whimsy and imagination

Here I am doing a beautiful Liberty Puzzle, and thinking of Auntie, who introduced me to the joy of these remarkable functional artworks; very aware of her absence. Listening to Eva Cassidy crooning Songbird, keenly aware of her premature death. Hearing the absence of Stellar’s every breath. So much loss! It’s only human. And it’s human also to continue to find joy, delight, and contentment in the unutterable beauty of this fragile life, and to feel gratitude for each and every day.

Progress this morning…
…delight in the whimsy pieces…
…and after a full day of connecting with friends and family, working in the yard, tending the house, and self-care, the puzzle at bedtime. Each piece placed a tiny moment of satisfaction, the unfolding process of puzzling a meditation in its own right.