Saturday, March 3, 2012

A New Entry into the Blogster Grand Prix

Well, so much for high hopes and even higher expectations.

I admit: From the beginning I planned to write regular entries on this blog in addition to maintaining my once-a-day posts on Rooted in Earth, Suspended from Sky (my daily T'ai Chi Chih practice blog). Then reality inched its way into my life. I simply didn't have the time or energy to maintain both blogs on a regular basis.

Under the Forest Canopy (UTFC) suffered the ramifications of this high hopes endeavor. Though I didn't exactly throw UTFC into the waste bin, it did languish, unattended, in the far reaches of my mind for--now--well over a year. Yes, I had occasional ideas for blog entries, and yes, I had Great Expectations that I'd eventually get back to writing posts here since these blogs reach a wider and more diverse audience than my entries about a specific form of moving meditation.

And then . . . I watched a documentary last night that revved my engines and got my (mental) wheels turning. My true loves are the arts (theater, dance, music, film, books, language, ideas, and information). Suddenly, I'm at the starting line of the Blogster Grand Prix and 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... I'm off!

It's shocking, really, to return to this blog and realize how much has changed in the past year: Frances and I no longer operate Same Spirit Healing Arts LLC; I now work part-time at the Bayfield Carnegie Library; our goose, Ander, died; we now have a chicken, Rosie, who keeps Lucy the Goosey company; we also had--and lost--two additional chickens; and Frances is currently running for a town board supervisor position.

Now back to last night's documentary.

For a former journalism student and wannabe reporter Page One: Inside The New York Times was a fascinating look at the tumultuous, fast-changing media landscape. It raised many compelling and difficult questions about the role of media in a democratic society (particularly if and when media owners are out to make megabucks while writers and editors are committed to tell well-researched, thoroughly-documented stories).

Page One's DVD case raised this question: "What will happen if the fast-moving future of media leaves behind the fact-based, original reporting that helps to define our society?" I'd rephrase: "What happens if the watchdogs of democracy are slain by the egotistical, hero-worshipping, star-chasing, and money-grubbing media mogels (and readers!?) of today?"

Is this new breed of publishers truly interested in enlightening and informing its readers or is its true intent to dumb down the American public with Wag the Dog (1997) showmanship and manufactured, misleading, and misappropriated blasts of glitz and shell game antics?

Wag the Dog, by the way, shined a light on the uncomfortable reality that it doesn't take much effort to distract the American public from what's really happening behind the scenes in politics. Simply orchestrate a war (in Wag the Dog the filmmakers staged a fictional war in the basement of the White House to distract the public from the president's sexual misadventures) and we're all off and running after the resultant traumatic reports of death and destruction.

A soon-to-be decade-old documentary about the media, Orwell Rolls in His Grave (2003), also portrayed the all-too-powerful role that the media hold in shaping our experiences, our worldviews, our opinions, and, ultimately, our lives. In this film we discover that media organizations are the largest lobbyists in Washington, DC, that politicians are beholden to the media empire in order to receive coverage during their campaigns, and that conservative media barons "choose" the news. Ultimately, Orwell reveals that we, the consumers, are consistently served up entertainment and propaganda disguised as information in our daily doses of newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and the internet.

I have seen the media landscape turned upside down in the 35 years since I graduated J-school. Thankfully, there are still reporters like David Carr who believe that strong democracy requires thoughtful questioning and in-depth reporting. Carr, The New York Times columnist for the Monday Business section who writes on media issues including print, digital, film, radio and television, also served as editor at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities Reader (1993-95) and was a former contributing writer for The Atlantic Monthly and New York Magazine. (I read some of Carr's Reader articles while I lived in the Twin Cities and highly valued his and other writers' out-of-the-box explorations of often unusual and contentious subjects.)

Page One tracks Carr as he investigates the Tribune Company, one of the largest media companies in the world. On April 2, 2007, Chicago-based investor Sam Zell bought out the the Tribune, which he turned private on December 20, 2007. Less than one year later, on December 8, 2008, faced with high debts related to the company going private, the Tribune Company filed for bankruptcy. It was the largest bankruptcy in the history of the American media industry. See David Carr (October 5, 2010). "At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture". The New York Times.

In October 2010, Randy Michaels, who was made CEO after Zell's purchase of the company in 2007, was removed and replaced by an executive council. The New York Times had earlier reported about his "outlandish, often sexual behavior" that he also displayed in his previous job at Clear Channel Communications.

How do we, the readers and consumers of information, find out about these and other significant events? This is where high-quality investigative journalism comes into the picture. Good research and good writing take time, which is in short supply in the current culture of instant messages, chats, twitters, blogs, in-your-face radio shows, and the like.

As we have come to realize from the current state of politics, our economy, and the environment, there are no quick and easy answers to solving the world's problems, much less our own. It's our personal responsibility to be informed citizens. What might we gain from shutting off the talking heads and finding our own path to trusted, respected news organizations that include integrity as a part of their bottom line?

That's my rant.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Blessed Compulsion

It's Packer Bowl Sunday. Whoops. I mean Super Bowl Sunday. I imagine I'm one of a mere handful of people in the state of Wisconsin and most likely around the entire United States who won't be tuning into the Big Game this afternoon.

I was a huge football follower in my teens and early 20s. It offered a way to connect with my father, a loyal Minnesota Vikings' fan. He never missed an opportunity on a fall or winter weekend to watch--and cheer on--his favorite team as well as every other professional and collegiate ball toss aired on television.

Today I'm more interested in engaging in the sport of words. Since I'm the coach, receiver, and quarterback--the whole team really--in this game, I ask myself when I begin a writing project: What game plan should I use? If I toss these words into the air, is there anyone down field to catch them? How might it feel to carry one pigskin-wrapped metaphor into the end zone?

I debate whether to fall back and lob a pass or grasp the ball tightly under one arm and run for it. Is it possible for me to make a touchdown? A field goal? Or should I simply settle for first and ten? Then do it again.

I've thought about the power--and entertainment value--of words a lot lately. I spent the past two evenings, along with 28 other writers, reading my piece from Love Stories of the Bay at Stagenorth. It was a fascinating, terrifying, and exhilarating experience. These intense, captivating, and highly personal evenings caused me to wonder what causes each of us to write. And also, what draws over 250 people to a theater over the course of two cold winter evenings to hear what we have to say? Moreover, what motivates writers to write even if every single one of those theater seats remained empty?

I realize that, for me, just as well-prepared food nourishes my body, a well-written story feeds my heart and expands and lightens my spirit. Language, words, and metaphors have the power to ignite a fire in the soul. But, just like football, the written and spoken word is not for everyone. It pains me a bit to recognize this fact. I'd like to think that because I'm captivated by turns of phrase and word pictures others would be too.

In my January 24, 2011 blog entry under Rooted in Earth, Suspended from Sky ("The Soul that hears loving words becomes more loving") I wrote:
Yes, I have a passion for words. Why? Because words have the power to express feelings, unravel confusion, draw people into a web of community and connection, and bring deeper meaning to our lives.

I just turned the page in my journal and discovered this quote, 'The soul that beholds beauty becomes more beautiful.' I believe, in a similar vein, that the soul that hears loving words becomes more loving.
I continue on in that blog to quote Wisconsin Public Radio Here on Earth host, Jean Feraca. In her book, I Hear Voices, Feraca recalls a creative writing teacher who told Feraca's class that there were only two subjects worth writing about: love and death. (p. 122). Perhaps that's why our Love Stories of the Bay seem so potent. These stories of love--and death--describe our passionate connection to our dogs, wild animals, spouses, lovers, friends, parents, land, water, and our shared home here on the Chequamegon Bay.

After the past two nights on stage I feel freshly inspired to continue along my path as a writer. It's not easy. Writing is a lonely, solitary, and seemingly thankless business. And, possibly because this is so, writers long for loving support and encouraging words from their family and friends, audience, and readers.  

Thankfully, I was blessed with a father who not only watched football, basketball, and baseball most weekends. He read ... and also wrote. Perhaps because he so enjoyed the power and potency of language he passed some of his passion for words on to me where it lodged itself deep in my bones and DNA.

Perhaps, as Jean Feraca writes in her book, I write simply because I have no choice. Maybe I, too, suffer from what, per Feraca, "Denise Levertov once called the blessed compulsion of art." It's true that I can't not write. How's that for a double negative?

Whatever the inspiration for putting pen to paper or fingertips to computer keyboard, I believe Feraca illustrated one significant benefit to the writer's life with this quote from poet Louise Bogan: You cannot change your language without changing your life. (p. 133)

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Wonderful! It's Frantastic! It's Animalistic!

OMG! Today marks three full months since I last posted an entry on this blog. What happened? Life. Work. Travel. An unyielding commitment to Rooted in Earth, Suspended from Sky and innumerable hours spent writing posts to that blog instead of this one.

Today I'm breaking my silence. I absolutely, positively have no choice. I must rave about Stagenorth's production of Animal Farm that Frances and I attended yesterday afternoon. Wonderful! 'Smarvelous! And I'll use another recently coined term here (created by my sister's partner, Frank, but also equally applicable to my partner, Frances) ... Frantastic!

Animal Farm is a visual spectacle indeed. Its directors and producers call it "a dark comedy ... a REVOLUTION." It is all that and so much more.... Written by George Orwell, the well-known author of 1984, this "dystopian allegorical novella" (per Wikipedia) was published in England in 1945. Time magazine later chose it as one of the 100 best English language novels (1923-2005).

Orwell intended to critique the Russian Revolution and its leader, Joseph Stalin, who was corrupted by greed, ignorance, indifference and wickedness. Orwell's vehicle for this fantasy tale was a barnyard of animals who grow tired of the abuses and neglect of their farmer-owner. They unite, rebel, and drive the farmer off Manor Farm. Renamed Animal Farm the barnyard begins to function under an entirely new set of rules, the seven commandments of Animalism, not the least of which is Commandment #7: All animals are equal.

All too quickly the pigs (Stalin and associates) begin their takeover of farm operations using the labor of the other animals to increase their wealth and privilege and advance their political agenda. By play's end we see that there's no difference, really, between the political maneuverings of men and the barnyard machinations of pigs. Ultimately, the audience's hope lies in the words of one character who reminds us that there are other farms ... and other revolutions.

The directors of this production, Kellie Pederson and Scott Griffiths, write in their director's note that they were drawn to Orwell's tale because of "its timelessness and poignancy that supercedes any specific political climate." Or simply put, once a human, always a human or, perhaps more accurately, once an animal, always an animal. Aren't we all?

Pederson and Griffiths created a cast of humans, puppets, and musicians that was a wonder to behold. Costumes/puppets were intricately detailed to the point that actors could move their puppets' mouths as they spoke and tap their own feet along with the two additional feet of their puppets as they walked, pranced, and circled around the stage.

The three musicians offstage helped ease audience members through the between-scene setups and an excellent wooden flutist (Michael "Scooter" Charette who played the Fox) wowed us from the stage. Though the entire cast joined in one Animalistic song there were several songsters who stood out from the herd: 17-year-old Grant Hasse who played the role of Boxer, the workhorse, had a fabulous voice and Kelsey Rothe as Mollie, the horse who longed for sugar treats and ribbons in her mane, was also entertaining. During intermission Mollie crooned to audience members in the lobby which ultimately foreshadowed her departure from the animal barnyard.

Frances and I knew one of the chickens and and one of the pigs which allowed us to view the performance with even more interest and awe. Sarah Garner, a massage therapist in the area and a former(?) member of Bedlam Theatre in Minneapolis, cawed and clucked, bobbed her head, and magically transformed her face into chickenesque expressions throughout the performance.

During curtain call, Sarah and her fellow hen, Leslie Wilson, received the loudest audience response. At the grocery store following the performance an acquaintance from Madeline Island who'd just seen the show said, "Oh, the chickens were the best part of the show."

Kristen Sandstrom, in her acting debut at Stagenorth, played Squealer, Napolean, the pig's (Stalin's) minister of propaganda. I know Kristen from my previous role as assistant innkeeper at Pinehurst Inn in Bayfield. Her parents, Nancy and Steve, own the Inn and Kristen assists in its operation. She played a powerful and convincing role as the marketeer (similar to her real-life job as marketing consultant?) for Napolean/Stalin. There were other shining moments when director Scott Griffiths mounted the stage to play roles as Napoleon's dog and Whymper, a man hired by Napolean as the go-between to trade with human society.

I could go on and on but I'll conclude with these famous last words: Don't miss the production of Animal Farm at Stagenorth (four remaining shows this weekend, Jan. 20-23). My hope? That it will claw, cluck, honk, moo, baa, and oink its way into your life and, ultimately, alter your world view.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let 'em Roll....

The Bay Area Film Society's (BAFS) movie season is begun! Thus far we've seen two interesting, entertaining, and thought-provoking films that, left to our own devices, we would never have viewed or, for that matter, even heard about.

The BAFS was formed in winter 1997 by a group of dedicated film lovers. It continues due to the efforts of volunteers committed to bringing alternative and foreign films to the Chequamegon Bay area. Films show fall through early spring because summer in the Northland is too beautiful, busy, and short for potential viewers to take time out from hiking, kayaking, boating, picnicing, farming, gardening, wood gathering, and tourist-serving to sit inside.

Several years ago BAFS initiated the annual Big Water Film Festival which shows popular and unknown films alongside presentation and discussion sessions with writers and directors. This year's Big Water runs November 5-7 and highlights Airplane! (30 years after its initial release), Into Temptation (sold out shows in Minneapolis) and Feed the Fish (sold out shows at Milwaukee's Film Fest), and much more....

This year's season began with documentaries: No Impact Man and last night's The Parking Lot Movie. No Impact Man follows the sustainable, low carbon adventures of Colin Beavan and his wife and young daughter. Beavan decided to produce no trash for one year and adopted a "green" lifestyle: no TV, no cars, buses or subway travel, no eating out, no coffee, no meat, no food from more than 150 miles away, no using the elevator, no electricity, no toilet paper.

Here in the North Woods of Wisconsin these endeavors are commonplace. Nearby neighbors live: 1) in a tent in the middle of the woods, 2) in a yurt in the middle of the woods, 3) in a straw bale house with a cistern to collect rain water, 4) in a log house with a solar panel for electricity, a pump outside for water, a wood stove for heat, and an outhouse for a bathroom, and 5) in a house without running water (which the owners determined they don't need).

But Beavan did it the hard(er) way ... while living in a ninth floor apartment in Manhattan! See his website ( and blog ( for more information.

It's clear from the movie that 43-year-old Beavan had a core group of supportive friends and that he and his family learned a tremendous amount about living sustainably and sharing a closer connection with each other and their environment. Still, Beavan received many derogatory, critical comments on his blog as he detailed his efforts and the film showed the frustration and desperation of his wife as she tried to adopt her husband's temporary choice of lifestyle.

By the end of the film the question on the jacket of the DVD remains: Can you save the planet without driving your family crazy? Which raises yet another question ... Are we--the American public as well as the citizens of the world--willing to change our lifestyles in order to put less stress upon our Earth and her limited resources? Obviously, as demonstrated by Beavan and his family, it will not be easy but it may also be incredibly satisfying and rewarding.

Last night's Parking Lot Movie ( was yet another insightful commentary on our society. It dives deeply into the attitudes and beliefs of a group of men employed as parking lot attendants at a surface lot in Charlottesville, Virginia. Filled with interviews of current and former employees and the parking lot owner as well as footage of the day-to-day antics and conundrums of this interesting and eclectic group of men, the viewers soon witness evidence of the underlying theme of this film as articulated in its subtitle: It's not just a parking lot. It's a battle with humanity.

The most blatent and appalling aspect of this film was the inherent classism that underlies American society. As one parking lot attendant acknowledged, We're lower than taxidermists (an interesting comment as I'm currently reading a book about taxidermists, Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy by Melissa Milgrom which challenges the attitude that taxidermy is a reviled and freakish profession).

Other insights and philosophies are readily expressed by these men who have all the time in the world to think about and consider their lot while they wait for cars and the people who drive them to exit and pay their fee. The attendants soon discover that they can easily peg (though hopefully, not always correctly) the personality and behaviors of the drivers of particular models of cars. All attendants seem to hold disdain for SUVs and their inhabitants and agree (I'm using literary license here), The bigger the car, the bigger the asshole.

Again and again, we see drivers who abuse their gatekeepers. Either the drivers refuse to pay out right, drive away without paying, decide they should pay less than required, or simply ignore or disregard the person who stands at their window waiting for money. The attendants are the first to say that the overwhelming attitude of people using parking lots is this: These guys are ignorant; they don't deserve any respect. Sadly, that's often the manner in which they are treated.

Thankfully, this film provides a more holistic view of parking lot attendants and many of these men freely admit that their time working as an attendant was an important part of their growth and human development. They begin to realize that no matter how disrespectfully they're treated it does no good to respond in like manner. Eventually attendants either leave the job or determine that they have to be the bigger man and take the abuse while responding with kindness, humor, and the recognition that it isn't up to them to mete out punishment for bad behavior ... their disrespectful patrons will earn their just desserts in the Universe's own good time.

The final scene of this film is priceless. The attendants dress in costume and perform a rap music video-style conclusion that illustrates the importance of humor, creativity, play, and plain old fun when one lives on the edge of a money and appearance is everything mainstream culture. The humanness and humaneness of these documentary stars is extraordinary, inspiring, and affirming.

That you, BAFS, for your charming, eclectic, and life-affirming selection of movies that inspire me to be a better, more thoughtful human being. That's what I'd call great art!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Persistence Extraordinaire

Stubbornly persist, and you will find that the limits of your stubbornness go well beyond the stubbornness of your limits. -- Robert Brault
These inspirational words arrived in my morning email from DailyGood. Good went on to highlight the story of Brian Smith, a California college student majoring in music. Smith lost financial aid and student loans then subsequently became homeless. The committed songster (he performs opera, gospel, and jazz, among other genres) didn't give up. He slept in the practice rooms of his music department while he maintained a 3.65 GPA!

Remember that old saw "life is hard and then you die"? Too often too many of us get caught up in our own seeming struggles and hardships. I say seeming here because our minds can convince us of limitations and build imaginary barriers even where none exist. Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius discuss this phenomenon in their book, Buddha's Brain (p. 41):

Negative events generally have more impact that positive ones. For example, it's easy to acquire feelings of learned helplessness from a few failures, but hard to undo those feelings, even with many successes (Seligman, 2006).
I can easily identify innumerable examples of personal persistence and perseverance by others. In the 2006 movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner, a San Francisco salesman dreamed of becoming a stockbroker on Wall Street. As he moved toward--and achieved!--career success he and his young son often lived on the edge and were sometimes homeless. (This movie was based on a true story.)

Several nights back Frances and I watched another real life story set to film: Temple Grandin. This 2010 HBO movie highlights Grandin's commitment to make a difference in the world even though she herself struggles with autism. Thanks to the support of her mother who refused to institutionalize her despite a doctor's recommendation, and an aunt, science teacher, and college roommate who appreciated and encouraged her unusual talents, Grandin singlehandedly changed the institutionalized norms of the cattle industry.

Grandin's unique sensitivities and skills prompted her to earn bachelor, master, and Ph.D. degrees. She turned her understanding of animal behavior (which was amazingly similar to her own) into the design for a more compassionate and efficient system of corrals that reduced the stress of cattle being led to slaughter. Significantly, she pursued these accomplishments despite suffering incredible discrimination and harassment due to this mental condition that reduced her ability to respond to or communicate with the world of humans around her.

Here on the Bayfield Pennisula I am surrounded by neighbors who challenge the status quo and live in close communion with the earth. They live off the electric grid in log cabins with solar panels, straw bale houses with cisterns, and even yurts and tents with wood stoves. Some people, I suppose, would call them crazy for surviving long, cold, and snowy northern Wisconsin winters with one sheet of canvas between their bodies and the elements. But, to me, they are members of a unique breed: those who subbornly persist. As a result, they bestow upon our community a richness and diversity that is a rare and precious gift.

Over the past ten months I've learned tremendous lessons about the advantages of persistence because of a demanding task I took upon myself: Practice T'ai Chi Chih moving meditation daily and write a daily blog about my experiences (see Rooted in Earth, Suspended from Sky at Here's what I discovered: I'm happier and more joyful, better able to shift my moods and thoughts to a positive vein, more cognizant of decisions I make day to day, and finely tuned to the changing phases of the woods that surround me.

Sometimes my partner asks me why I practice TCC when I'm exhausted or why I choose to write my blog when I could join her to watch a movie or engage in some other project or adventure. I persist because I feel better but that isn't the only reason. I feel an obligation to my readers and, beyond that, I sense that this TCC practice/blogging experiment is what I need to do even though I do not yet fully understand why.

Stubborn persistence. Yep, I guess I have some of that special character trait running through my blood and calcifying in my bones too. It's a highly prized quality here in Wisconsin's northern woods that keeps us brightly burning through the darkest days and cozily warm during the longest nights.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Healing Power of Stories

Why does telling stories, listening to stories, and sharing stories bring hope and meaning to human experience? I ask that question after falling under the spell of storytelling several times over the past few weeks.

On August 20th Frances and I attended a reading at Big Waters Cafe in Bayfield that featured writers published in the Love Stories of the Bay collection. About eight or ten of us--out of the 43 writers included in the book--read that night. And, though I'd previously read the stories in the book, this opportunity to hear each author read their own story using their personal vocabulary, intonation, and nonverbal cues made each story come alive in a new and exciting way.

I wasn't the only person who enjoyed the evening. Plans are now in the works for Love Stories' authors to appear at Stage North this winter. Not only will we read our stories, but our tales will be enhanced with lights, music, action.... More on that event later when details are finalized.

Several Saturdays back during my weekly cooking extravaganza I listened to one of my favorite weekend radio shows, This American Life. I heard the re-broadcast of "American Limbo" (originally aired 2/9/01), a segment about people who felt separated from the world, as if they were living on the outside of American culture looking in. I was captivated by a story about a family of eight that spent seven years evading police and the FBI. Entitled "The Family that Flees Together Trees Together," it described their experiences living in a treehouse and a leaky boat.

Ira Glass, the host, emphasized that, although the family was pursued by authorities because the father grew marijuana, both parents knew the importance of keeping their family together rather than submitting their kids to the foster care system while they served a jail term. And, said Ira, these kids seemed to turn out great.

The perspectives of the youngest son, now 21, were a sad commentary on the effects of TV and radio on the American psyche. He described people as "beasts" and "primitive thinkers" and went on to say that many people didn't understand the difference between right and wrong. He described how mean people can be to one another and explained further: They don't mind eatin' meat, smokin' cigarettes, spillin' motor oil in the water....

I heard and understood this young man's concerns because I, like him, don't watch network television. Being ignorant of the current state of broadcast news and entertainment I'm usually taken aback when I travel to where I have access to television programming. The evening news, for instance, is no longer news but entertainment. And the mainstream fare that fills the evening airwaves teaches, inculcates, and programs its viewers into a false sense of what's normal and acceptable. What's interesting is that these cultural teachings flood the subconscious ... no thought required.

And then ... I heard Kevin Kling tell stories on Minnesota Public Radio. Kevin, a playwright, humorist, author, and storyteller, is a favorite annual performer in Washburn, WI. I feel that I know Kevin even though I've only seen him perform twice at Stage North. Many years ago I attended Kevin's one-man show, 21A, based on his experiences riding the bus between Minneapolis and St. Paul. It was a hilarious portrait of eight or so idiosyncractic characters who shared the same bus ride.

I know Kevin's mother, Dora, who attends my t'ai chi chih classes. Let's just say that Kevin's storytelling abilities have a genetic component because, as Dora tells me when I comment on the similarities between mother and son, This nut does not lie far from the tree. Dora is a funny and entertaining storyteller in her own right and it's obvious that Kevin's skills have been developed and honed over many, many years of writing and performing, performing and writing.

Kevin's stories are autobiographical and describe situations from child- and adulthood that are both humorous and poignant. Anything can serve as subject matter for Kevin's performances from his experience running Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, to the time he and his brother helped Dad paint the house black and orange, to the night he and brother, Steve, stood on the rooftop in the midst of severe weather in search of tornadoes touching down.

Kling ascribes his profession to a conversation with an Ojibway medicine man who told him, You can survive anything if you have a sense of humor and a sense of self. That, my friends, says it all. When we tell each other our stories, we claim our place in this life. And when we hear the stories of others, we discover that our trials and tribulations, our successes, and our frailties are part of a shared human experience. Once again we reclaim our humanity and rediscover that we are all one....

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Birthday Wishes

August 31, 2010. Today would have been my mother's 84th birthday. Though she's been dead for over five years I continue to celebrate her day of birth each year because finally, belatedly, I realize the vast impact she had--and continues to have--upon my life. With each passing year I become more like my mother or, at least, I'm more willing to acknowledge our similarities.

In honor of Mother's birthday I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen making a huge batch of spaghetti sauce. I couldn't let those freshly harvested tomatoes go to waste. Those words, I'm sure, came from Mother because she spent hours-days-months-years in the kitchen cooking, baking, canning, and preserving food for her beloved husband and children. I, too, relish my time in the kitchen because--just as she did--I enjoy preparing and eating healthy, delicious, love-infused food.

Tonight, in honor of Mother's birthday and Frances's father's birthday on August 21st, we decided we'll drive to Maggie's restaurant in downtown Bayfield and order dessert. We are our mothers' and our fathers' daughters, after all, and coffee (Frances's and my dad's favorite) and fresh-baked goodies (favorites, perhaps, of both of our parents) will provide the perfect setting with which to honor the memories that linger.

Several nights ago, Frances and I watched The Last Station, a movie about Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. Prior to his death Tolstoy's wife waged a one-woman battle with her husband, his trusted pupil Chertkov, and their children to prevent Tolstoy from donating royalties from his books to the Russian people. She had no choice, she felt, but to challenge her husband's outrageous act of idealism.

Mrs. Tolstoy, as played by Helen Mirren, expressed herself with words and behaviors that reminded me of another outraged woman in my life ... Mother. Though my mother was never nominated for an academy award, her performances were equally dramatic and memorable.

I'm sure Mother thought that my father's idealistic notions were so far removed from reality that she had no choice but to challenge him. Still, it wasn't until I watched Tolstoy's wife struggle for what she believed was right that I began to wonder whether these two very different women could have been motivated by a similar underlying passion and love.

Happy birthday, Mother ... wherever you are.