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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bloom where you're planted (Fresh ink and yahrtzeit for my mother)

"I don't understand tattoos," Gary said yesterday. "I don't get what it is or why people feel the need to do it." Anyone who contemplates getting a tattoo should probably think that question through, in addition to contemplating the pain and money and huge risk that it could go awry.

The best explanation I could come up with: A tattoo is the karmic counterpart of a scar. A scar is (usually) an involuntary statement of the skin: "I was in this place and this thing happened, and I healed, but I am changed." A tattoo is elective, but it makes a similar statement. For whatever reason, the person feels the need to express: "I went to this place in life, and I am changed."

Even a stupid little Tweety Bird or ill-chosen tramp stamp is the branding of a moment, a scar left by rebellion. Not all scars are beautiful or worth the misadventure, but every one of them marks a lesson learned. Same is true for tattoos.

The topic came up because Jerusha and I had an appointment with artist Christina Sparrow (who also did my Shakespeare tattoo) to get inked in memory of my mom, author/historian Lois Lonnquist, who died March 27, 2014 of Alzheimer's.

In my quest to invent a religion that works for me (I call it Jewbuddhistianity), I've observed that Jews really do death right. You sit shiva to calm the chaotic moment and acknowledge how we're humbled by loss, and then you observe yahrtzeit one year later to honor the power of love that far surpasses the power of loss.

Yesterday was yahrtzeit for my mom. Her downward spiral was an exhausting trek, but for 75 years before that, she lived a vibrantly creative life of the mind. "Bloom where you're planted" was a keystone Momism she repeated many times while I was growing up. Even as a kid I knew it meant more than "pack your stuff, we're moving again," though that was frequently the context.

My mom embodied the greater meaning of that folksy little saw. She was a resilient survivor of a hardscrabble childhood, and time after time, throughout my life, I watched her make something extraordinary out of circumstances and opportunities that ranged from vaguely disappointing to downright punishing. She had the fortitude to till whatever earth she was given. She had the patience and wisdom to cultivate something better. She taught her six children the importance of being grounded and productive, not just in where you are, but in who you are. My tiger lily is a perfect avatar for Mom: graceful and determined with a just hint of volatile.

Jerusha opted for wild flowers. When I checked in with her this morning to see how her fresh ink was settling in, she texted back:

"I'm really happy. And I see Montana when I look at it. It's grandma's flowers and the coyote pillow and the couch/chair and saying goodnight to the Sleeping Giant. It's the spirit of all the time I spent with grandma and all the stories she told me about her life. I think that's why I like that it's a tattoo as well. It's so delicate and pretty and feminine, but to get that, I had to go through something painful that takes strength and endurance. It's a microcosm for the things I learned about grandma's life as I got older and could understand more about how she went from Fort Peck Dam to Humbolt Loop."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Novel gets falsely reported dead more frequently than Willie Nelson

Had to laugh this morning when I saw this Vox list of 30 times the novel has been declared dead, from 1902, when Jules Verne declared the novel had been replaced by newspapers, to 2014, when the death of the novel got its own Twitter.

Seems fishy to me that the novel sort of gelled into the form as we know it during the same era that literary criticism became a thing, and now, as literary criticism loses ground, critics are stepping up the novel death watch.

My humble opinion: it's literary criticism that's on the brink of extinction. The novel just has a severe case of gout brought on by a spavined publishing industry business model that just came into being within the past 75 to 100 years. Storytelling was around thousands of years before that, and it will be around as long as human beings cling to the planet.

To me, the most baffling thing about the "novel is dead" debate is how little is ever said about life support for authors.


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