Friday, December 5, 2014

Ah, but you don’t have the poems….

“The poems make it special. That’s what we have that you don’t have.” This was stated to me years ago by a solid Dutchwoman.  By a solid Dutchwoman, I mean a no nonsense, count the pennies, buy cheap and reasonable, don’t expect much from your purchases type of woman who often wears unflattering horizontal stripped sweaters and somehow they seem slightly sexy spread across her broad chest and shoulders.  Those garments happen to remind me of the old fashioned chore of milking cows. People, I’ve heard say, work for weeks on the poems, sweating out the days up to December 5. Every present must come with a poem, one that rhymes. The presents don’t have to be worth a lot of money, just well presented themselves with a thoughtful poem. Imagine it, a cozy family evening where everyone gathers round and listens to little poems, funny, touching, clever, mundane about the mysterious gift under the wrapping, adding a little extra special sparkle to a pair of socks.

Long ago I too had my share of these evenings, except they were not particularly warm and cozy.  My hostess, the godmother to my now ex, was an alpha female type of woman. Mother of three sons, she ruled the roost and didn’t like any female competition. Her three sons got around this problem by 1. refusing to marry all together and live with his long term girlfriend who was brutally honest to the point of painful and therefore didn’t get along with his mother but didn’t mind or notice, 2. marry a foreigner who didn’t get the culture or speak Dutch 3. sleep with a series of potted plants and settle on the fern type.  As the godson’s wife, I was classified in category 2.

All women who entered the house suffered on December 5, like the one time our hostess went to a sex shop or perhaps it was a naughty kitchen shop and bought us all tasteless aprons representing us as sex objects in a variety of diminutive underwear bits strewn on the naked body printed on the large plastic covering.  We had to line up in them and get our picture taken. Oh how she laughed…..and we didn’t.

It was Son Number Two who was the most fun to watch during these evenings. He had a slight problem with substances, and holding his rum and Coke, the fourth of the evening, swaying in a corner, he’d surreptitiously tear off the poem and throw it behind the couch.  He didn’t want to hear another rhyming poem about crashing his mother’s car total loss, having to pay for a replacement tree, getting out of jail, another failed business plan, and how many of those water filters remained unsold in his parents' garage, etc. Usually his mother, doting but feeling it her duty to try to curb him, ended the poem on a hopeful note.

That’s a nice touch, the hopeful note. Recently an idea was brought to my attention, one in which at the beginning of the New Year you fill a jar with notes of events or ideas you’d appreciate in the coming year and after 12 months you open it up and make little piles depending on the results.  I’ve been thinking about this a bit, a kind of positive projection. I think it would be wise to take in consideration careful wording, like when making up a magic spell.  For instance, when it needs to rhyme:

Wisps of lost association

Make for a better location


Or perhaps no rhyme necessary:


A new tea pot,

One that doesn’t leak


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Re-orientation in the Big City

It runs deep, the soul moving forward without seeing. At times this year of thorns and roses, I’d step out one door and not know where I was headed. Where was I living, for instance, was I to turn right or left? Which side, over whose floor?

It was a long story about an accident, the speaker asked the audience many questions. When could she work again? When could she walk again? The annual conference of the national day of remembrance for victims of traffic accidents was recently held and, along with my duo partner, I performed a few songs for the occasion. Memory, the experienced speaker, said, is captive to trauma. I believe her.

What did I mean to write about this week for this blog? I had a juicy topic and I can’t remember it. Now I walk not yet out of blind routine to my apartment from my work, but with some consciousness that the path I am walking is one I have tread before, and I watch the passing gables not with astonishment but greet them as friends, the swan, the cherub, the two clocks. It amuses me walking to work in the morning moving towards both the Westerkerk tower clock and the clock on the Eerstes Hollands Levensverzekering Building.  The payout on the Insurance building’s clock is a near ten minutes slower than that of the protestant prompting.

It’s time to slow down a bit and re-sort priorities. This year has provided many, and I mean to take the next steps towards the…mindfulness is what they call it. I hadn’t much faith in the concept as a whole. I started using the office calendar function to prioritize issues that were still up in the air. This is not my genius, I stole it from a colleague. The calendar is filled with phantom appointments for ideas that might have flapped in or are still circulating someplace out there in the wide world.  Let’s check and color coordinate all those notions!

I decided to learn to read again, tired of misunderstanding the texts that swam before my eyes these past eleven months.  Usually on the third time I got the message. In order to avoid miscalculations, I’ve taken up the habit of waiting to react, allowing the branding iron to cool.

It’s a bit like a family, the riding stables. After a months of waiting for a spot, I got the call telling me that I would get on the Tuesday morning roll call for lessons. I could barely decipher the Amsterdam accent on the phone, but the message reached me. The rule of thumb to be accepted and ride is: Do not be wishy-washy. Do not cancel lessons, make sure you call to tell them that you will or will not be there, etc. They take you to task. “She has to come and discuss her decision with us face to face.” Stated the riding instructor this week to the group. You’re not allowed to leave the group without an explanation in the flesh. It’s a basic here and now situation. “She’s autistic as a car door.” Threw in one rider. Doesn’t matter, she’s going to have to show up, even one large horse bite, two tee-shirts and a few antibiotic tablets later, and stand her ground.

Seems reasonable in the long term. 

Seems reasonable in the long term to start thinking of other situations in which I can explore creative writing more. I will be writing less blogs and more Other Things. I am aiming for two blogs per month now, instead of four, giving me a bit more time to read and reflect, and space to compose longer thoughts.  I’m feeling just about up to the task at hand, although no accident has occurred.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

And then.....It's That Time of the Year Again

She was holding the knob bit on my nose to turn my face to one side and then the other.  I was being inspected for faults, looking for the ones, black heads in particular, that the beautician felt she could fix. It’s that time of the year again. The discussion is raging and I so far I have refused to post image of the culprit, Zwarte Piet or Black Peter on my FB in the form of an article or commentary. (However, I've just been informed by Vinita that she's taken the initiative with our upcoming mid-November post on AngloINFO South Holland by choosing a photograph of what looks like a prison cell but is supposedly a representation of Saint Nicolas' bedroom taken last year during Gouda's holiday festivities in the city hall. "Don't they understand this is racism?" She fumed over a coffee the other day, and, yes, we are used to being called "outsiders who don't get Dutch culture," our comments most unwelcome.) I've noticed many acquaintances who used to show their outrage at the blackface Dutch holiday character via this or that media platform have also been worn down a bit. Or maybe they’re waiting for the right moment to pounce. Not that I have changed my mind about the issue and since a few Dutch large retail concerns have decided to ban the image from their stores, I feel that progress slowly has made its way into the public arena. The controversy is staged and is well lit.  The gladiators are having a go at winning redemption in yet another case of man versus man.
“What to do?” I think, wondering about our lost manuscript. It was supposed to be published last year and it won’t make this year.  I haven’t set eyes on it in a while, do I still like it? Maybe I’ve moved on by now, in terms of writing. Maybe not. I’ve been reading a book about Amsterdam written by a well-heeled expat.  It reminds me of writing “The Bee’s Tour of Godua, Buzzing through Vinita’s Lens” – yes an obtuse mouthful isn’t it? While reading “Amsterdam, The World’s Most Liberal City” (a long and uncomplicated title that clarifies the point reiterated so well, perhaps too well, in the text) I watch the pages turn over swiftly and reflect on the choices made by the author, Russell Shorto, pausing every once in a while to consider whether I will ever write another guide book, or historical summation. It was, all in all, a really good exercise, and I have no regrets. What do I want to write?  Well, then I must stand by our "lost" manuscript. That’s a start in the right direction. In the meantime I’ve written a novella and have reviewed with both a terrified  and critical eye as potential for being published in a year or two.  Or not. Loss of courage then. Do you feel my waffling on the matter? Where’s north? Am I letting myself be intimidated? Oh dear.
While puttering around worrying about the short stories ever getting printed, I’ve gotten someone to look at my poetry and he’s made suggestions. Also a step in the right direction. Guidance and orientation are never bad ideas in general. Plenty of projects to work on for 2015. Oh wait, we’re not there yet. First we have to get through another month and half, the holiday work out that tests our patience and good taste.  If only a fabulous ultra-beautician of great wisdom could lay her soothing hands on all our brows and make us look instantly a little fresher, rejuvenated and raise our self-esteems by pointing our combined noses in the right direction. Yes, here we may all agree on the wording of that last sentence while thinking opposite intentions and muddle bravely on, n'est-ce pas?