Joan and Mimi

Speaking of Joan Baez, here she is in that American Masters documentary from 2009, reflecting on her early family life and her relationship to her sister Mimi, seen on the left.

Mimi too was a folk singer, who married fellow folkie Richard Fariňa at 19 and lived happily with him until his death at age 29 (He and Jim Croce, boy. Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Richie Valens, Patsy Cline, Aaliyah, John Denver, Ricky Nelson: all lost in crashes both on land and in the air.)

Joan just loved little Mimi. The images of them as little girls are so tender as to break your heart. In the footage below she talks about her dad’s work for the military in the early years, work that eventually caused him to feel conflicted. He became a Quaker; they all became Quakers and he went to work for Unesco and lived in Iraq where they witnessed extreme poverty. And yet as Joan says, she has memories from her time in Baghdad that are inexpressible beautiful. Watch just a little if not all:

And here is another tender bit of video while we are at it, of Joan and Mimi signing “I Shall Be Released” in a prison. At one point during this concert she says to the audience how happy they are to be there. “Some prisons don’t let us in even.”

”The don’t let us OUT!” calls an inmate from the audience and everyone cracks up. That’s kind of a high point here. Another one occurs at around three minutes in, when she brings on the darling blue-eyed Mimi to join her on a song in Spanish and the prisoners explode in unfeigned delighted applause.

You look at their faces, mostly brown and black, and you have to ask yourselves some questions about our justice system. Where’s the white kid busted for distribution of cocaine, or the one that killed his parents? Where is that Fortunate Son? Well I’m taking a turn down a long road here so let me back up and just show you this:


I feel like I went to high school with Elton John; that’s how connected to him I feel. When I first heard “Your Song” on the radio I felt this shudder of familiarity. Was I thinking I knew that voice? Or was it those lovely understated words, penned by the great Bernie Taupin? Maybe anyone who was around in the 70s gets that twinge of nostalgia at the thought of a pair of platform shoes. Elton took the fashions of that decade and just kind of magnified them.

But really my topic today is how everyone thinks he’s an expert on the celebrities. Back in the 60s people around here would say “Oh sure Joan Baez, she really slept around.” That that casual piece of slander made me furious and kept me that even after I saw the 2009 American Masters documentary about her where she says basically ‘I was pretty promiscuous for a while there, whatever that was all about.” (Ah what a great human being she really is. In my book she took that sliver-of-mercury voice God gave her and wrapped a whole lot of goodness around it.)

Here’s what I’m sayin’:  Just because someone who supposedly knows someone swears that story about Richard Gere, say, is really true doesn’t mean a thing . To that I say “Eh.” My kid was in Mark Zuckerberg’s class at Harvard and though he ‘knew’ him and saw him around he doesn’t pretend to know a thing worth mentioning about him. I was in Julie Nixon’s class at Smith  but I too feel I can say nothing at all about what she was like except to mention that she had a rapid blink, probably arising from the fact that her dad was the president – and that in an age when most men looked like the Twelve Apostle she was shadowed wherever she went by a couple of  buzzcut Secret Service agents straight out of Central Casting.

I did ride down in the elevator of the Hotel Northampton with her mother Pat Nixon when we were both overnight guests there. She had stayed there because she was visiting Julie and her new husband David Eisenhower. I was there because by the time I got drinking those 25-cent beers at the City Cafe it was too late to get back into the dorm. I called in the overnight as you had to do in those days and the local boy I was with gallantly got me a room that I hasten to add he never set foot in. He pressed the Up button on the elevator, gave me a peck on the cheek and went back to the bar to meet up with his buds.

Ancient history you say? Nah, it was only yesterday. My hero Thoreau said it: “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.”  (My mom went to high school with him I think.) 

Now let’s bow our heads and listen to Elton when he was but lad in his early 20s.

Mark ‘n Me

If you have a naked lady, lead with her; if I learned nothing else from 30 years in the news business I learned that ha ha.

I was saying here yesterday that my house was like the Mark Twain House in Hartford Connecticut but then the only photo I showed by way of proof was of a couch that’s like another couch in my childhood home! Stupid girl straying from the point! So anyway here are the similarities:

Both the Mark Twain House and this house have statues of a naked lady nude by the window. This is theirs below here, and this is ours on the left.

My wonderful artist-cousin Tebby George sculpted our Blue Lady as we call her and I have to say we all love her. Whenever a baby is in the house getting carried around the place like a tiny God the way babies manage to do, it always reaches out a little starfish of a hand and pats one of her breasts. Very sweet.

Both houses also have a big billiard room on the third floor. His is super-fancy with pictures of pool cues painted onto the wall. Ours is less fancy but that’s what they called it all the same, I guess since the place was built in the 1890s. They always  called the big room at the top of the third floor stairs the ‘billiard room’, anyway that’s the term I’ve heard all my life, though I myself didn’t come into contact with billiards ‘til that night at the Twist ‘n Shout when I was 21 and everyone in the place was drunk including the bartender.

So this is the Mark Twain’s billiard room… 

….and this is ours. The dress-up closet is also in this room, which though it gets heavy use when little ones are around we mostly use it for guests. And for the treadmill. And for hanging articles of clothing on the treadmill before lying disown on the bed for a nice nap ha ha.

Oh and for keeping the ghost from the attic up in the attic (but that another story. This small person got used to the ghost in the attic crawl space when he was only three. (As you can see, it turned his hair white.)  

Finally both houses have a boatload of potted palms and I am here to tell you that our palms get better care from me then David does. I should say that this is Abraham among the palm fronds just two years before he went to Heaven in search of his sister Charlotte. (How we miss them!)

So there it is: how my place is like Mark Twain’s place. Now I’d LIKE to tell you that I’M actually like the great man himself but it wouldn’t be true  – except when it comes to our two mustaches of course, and I have to say mine is really starting to come in good now . 🙂


Hoarder Here?

The last time my mom came to my house, she placed her cane in the umbrella stand where she could reach for it when it was time to leave again. Only she  never did leave, as I know I have said here before. She died that afternoon in the wing chair by our fireplace. But this quarter-of-century after her death that cane still rests where she set it.

I’ve often wondered if I was crazy, holding on to things this way. Then one day I walked into the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut (seen here on the left) and it was all I could do not to throw my arms in the air and yell, “I’m home!”

The big old steamboat of a place that Sam Clemens built for his family just knocked me out so much did it remind me of the house where David and I have lived all these years, raising our children and mourning our old folks. 

We don’t have Persian rugs draped over everything the way they did but still: Here were the same potted palms! The same ceiling-high bookcases! Even a similar sculpture of a standing nude! But really it was the feeling emanating  from every object that did it for me. You simply can’t find anything there that didn’t have great meaning for Mark Twain and his wife Livy, as the docents there will eagerly tell you.

I loved their house because it said so much about their journey, just as I guess this house must say about ours.

Even now I am thinking of  that closet in the back bedroom containing two baby dresses stitched in the 1860s. Of that wall in our dining room holding a framed sampler made by one of David’s Yankee ancestors in the 1840s. Of our living room, which has as its focus a sofa my grandfather bought second-hand in 1890. 1890 and we’re still sitting on it! 

This old horsehair sofa  slept for decades in the basement of one family home after another, until, in the early 1980s, I taught myself how to upholster and did it over in a dark red satin. When I touch it now I can almost see the past.

I have no idea what makes me look back and hold on in this way. But imagine my surprise when, 20 years after redecorating the living room in this house, I came upon a crinkled snapshot of that first childhood home, whose interior I can barely picture because we moved when I was eight: It’s almost exactly like my present living room: 

Same pale-pink wallpaper, same white paint on the bookcases and the trim, and the exact same soft blue on both couches, the one from my childhood home and the old 1890s one now done over again, thank God by a professional upholsterer this time.  

So did I remember that room  on some level? Did I see it in a dream?  I have no idea.

Much of the time we humans are living forward and looking forward, I realize. But lots of times I think we are also looking back, as if perhaps to see if those absent others aren’t following after us, hurrying even now to catch up and tell us all their news.

Holding Back

The high school reunion I talked about yesterday was so great I’ve decided to throw the whole topic in the pot for a few days and kind of let the flavors blend together. In a week or so I’ll know what I should tell here I bet.

I find it’s best to do that with your experiences – let them settle a bit before talking about them I mean. Otherwise you get all wound up, telling things in the wrong order, and generally babbling on till people’s eyes glaze clear over.

It’s a real tightrope if you’re a teacher, like I was back in the day. I knew better than to go on and on but I couldn’t just let them sit there either during those unpredictable times when the P.A system would crackle into life to announce that for reasons none of us needed to know the period would be extended indefinitely. Then there you’d be with 30 antsy captives in front of you and the day’s lesson almost done. You had to keep them engaged, keep them discussing, I always thought. You’d be crazy to let them just descend into jabbering chaos, right?

What about the shy girl who had no one to jabber with?

Or the new kid from Holland with his weird sweaters?

What about those twosomes of whispering girls who could make even God feel bad, so sure He’d be that they were talking about Him?

Or the boys itching to clobber each other with their books?

No, you HAD to keep them talking – and listening – to each other. What a waste of those extra minutes together if you didn’t.

Enough. I seem to be the one babbling now! Suffice to say the ability to Keep it Going with questions back and forth is a handy skill to have wherever you land in adult life, even just to help you pass the time in line at the DMV.

High School Reunion

my sister Nan, lucky David and I in 1974 (in the great age of tanning)

I went to see Ronaldo Friday in hopes that my super-curly hair might look at least a little normal for my big class reunion, which took place last night. But then mere hours out of the salon I was out moving a dining room set in the pouring rain and my hair just went crazy.

With 98% humidity again yesterday I knew it wasn’t likely to look much different by reunion time no matter how much I blow-dried it; no matter how hard I squeezed it between the searing ceramic plates of the flatiron. It was curly back then; why would my classmates expect any different now?

This picture above shows David in his John Denver stage flanked by my blond sister Nan and me, both of us in the kind of dress our cohort of women would wear to say a 5th reunion. (Halter tops were huge in the 70s.)

Dressing for last night’s affair all these years later, I knew I wouldn’t go the plunging neckline route.

Or the spike heel route (and really when did that ever seem a good idea for a woman?)

Would I even wear a skirt, or would I panic-buy some kind of glitzy slacks-and-a-tunic-with-shoulder-pads getup like the Golden Girls?

At 3pm I still didn’t know.

When I went to David’s class reunion last spring I wore a warm autumn-brown ensemble and could hardly breathe inside its tourniquet of a bustier, so the Ace bandage around the thoracic region was out.

In the end I was leaning toward my one good pair of slacks and a top handed down to me (handed up to me?) by one of my daughters, the more clothes-conscious one.

Anyway I wasn’t that worried. I knew that unless we all showed up looking like Crusty the Clown nobody was going to be paying that much attention, because the action is all on the inside by the time people get to be our age. Exterior things just don’t matter that much, and isn’t THAT a blessing and a relief. You know it is!

Thank God It’s the Weekend

Whew! End of the week and boy am I bushed but why? Could’ve been those 5 houseguests we had last weekend, though they were easy, as houseguests go. I mean nobody woke up crying  or spilled his milk or fell down the stairs which happens routinely when the little people stay over. Still, I was dead by the time they left.

Hmmm. Maybe it was washing all their linens afterward, or setting out six meals – though our girl Annie made the best meal FOR  us ahead of time to spare her poor parents the work: two giant glass casseroles of Baked Ziti as only Annie can make that dish with homemade everything; she practically made the Pyrex dishes the ziti sat in. (This is Annie peeking around in front of her man. She’s actually 5’ 9’’ but he’s Paul Bunyan sized enough so she looks small in comparison.)

Or maybe it was getting the news Tuesday that Annie’s big sister Carrie is carrying an actual baby girl, as the 19-week ultrasound revealed. (And here we were thinking it would be all boys all the time in that house! I was so emotional learning that the child was perfect and calm and even seemed to be doing the Sunday crossword in there, I just leaked tears all day.)  Or was it when Carrie grew so sick Wednesday with a hellish unstoppable cough? I ended up dropping everything to bring her to the Urgent Care people where they loaded her up with no fewer than three pregnancy-approved meds, including a sort of hookah every bit as fancy as the one the caterpillar had in the Alice in Wonderland.

I guess it could have been attending Parents Night at the high school Thursday night in place of Hazees’s mom who couldn’t get to the big ABC Family Weekend ’til the following day. More on that another time but this is Hazees a year ago now when he was a brand-new scholar with this Program that means so much to me. The big guy holding him was just making a point about his size. (He’s much bigger now!) 

It could also be the fact that when David and I and our 5 houseguests went hiking high in the mountains last Saturday, the One Who Knows All About Mushrooms departed the trail, billygoated down a super-steep incline at the bottom of which lay a dry riverbed spiky with rocks, all in order to get to a giant rare mushroom. He went to lean his weight against the 50 foot tree beside the mushroom only to see the thing just plain fall over – the tree fell over, pitching him forward into the ravine.

“J-o-o-o-o-h-n!” we all yelled.

Everyone but his wife, that is. She’s well accustomed to his fungal mania. Her remark: “Let’s just pray he’s not the one holding the car keys.” In case he we couldn’t get him back up, see

Major Calm I call that. Maybe I’ll have it in my next life.

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Make a List

“She got a lot done.” That’s what it will say on my headstone when I die and the reason I got a lot done is that I made To Do lists all my life.

This is today’s list on the left. I made it at 2am perched on the bathtub’s edge when sleep once again eluded me.

A person’s list can be puzzling to others: My list sometimes says “Remove nails” which sounds like a terrible sort of torture, pulling someones toenails out of their nailbeds I know but actually refers to taking off the polish.

The personal care items appear at the top of most day’s lists but soon give way to the larger projects, like this lofty goal penciled in on list for the weekend. “Edit book,” it could have said because I’ve decided to take one of my audio books and release it as a black-and-white-hold-it-right-there-in-your-hands document that people can read and look back . I’ve already picked out my assistant editor who will watch the most glaring errors from the script that I used in recording the thing. Though just 17, this person is only one I know under 75 who uses the words “shall” and “will” correctly. Plus the young have good eyes, and their bottoms don’t get as tired from sitting as the bottoms of us old folks. Never mind that a young person practically has a laptop sewn to his thighs most of the time. Easy money!

Here’s what Annie Dillard wrote on the subject of lists and they schedules they give rise to:

“A schedule is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order…. a haven set into the wreck of time. It is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living…”

I love that idea, that a schedule makes the scaffolding that holds us aloft even when we think we might tumble from the great heights at which we balance in this precarious life.

Remember that so when trouble does come you will have your list: “Bathe, 7am” it will say. “Fold wash 8:00” and on as you make your way through even the hardest days, when you file for unemployment, say, or wake to remember your diagnosis. My young grandfather wrote this in his journal just hours after his wife and unborn daughter died of a raging infection:

This morning I will go to Undertaker Feeney’s and choose my darling’s narrow room. Now I will lie down on the couch now and watch the blackest day of my life dawn, though the sun comes up brightly and the birds sing in the window. How will I keep sane?

He kept sane the way we all do: by drawing up a little plan and putting one foot in front of the other. And savoring the sweet moments, and laughing as much as you can.

Go to Bed!

I slept until 8:30 these last two days. 8:30! It scared me to death.

I know John Updike preferred getting up later than everyone else – he liked to let others arrange the world before he stepped down into it he used to say – but you sure won’t catch us nervous types doing that. WE want to arrange the world, thanks very much. Aren’t we the ones responsible for making the sun rise every day? You know we are.

I was only able to sleep so late because at 4am both days I got up and worked for an hour; just woke up at 4:00 on my own, wrote madly for a spell and fell back in the bed at 5:00, there to sleep like the dead.

I’m doing too much, I know, but I’ve always done too much. Tonight I have to go to Parents Night at the high school, even though my own last kid graduated back in’ 02, but the second I get home I’m hitting the hay.

Because tomorrow I’m taking 12 strangers to lunch.

After bringing them on a walking tour of my town.

In the pouring rain, poor lambs.

Then I’m helping out at a dinner for 60 at 5:00, and after that, at around 9:00, I’m picking up a dining room table from a house in one town and delivering it to a house in another town.

Being my kind of person really can wear you down, and I’ve noticed I look pretty wrecked along about now. Me and this poor guy, who looks so much older than he did in the year 2000, whew! Remind me never to become President.

Enough with the ‘Old’ Talk

myself am not old; just my insides are ha ha. The day my mother died, I was walking her to the car to bring her to the big birthday party arranged in her honor, when she turned to me and said, “I feel like a bride!”

Go figure huh? You just never know. I could die today or I could live another 40 years. People born in 2012 could reach the age of 150 I read last week – by which time they WILL have pantyhose for the upper arms! 

I’ve done a kind of Theme-of-theiWeek thing  from time to time here on this blog, like when I had that Name That Celebrity contest back in March, or with last week’s talk of Fashion, or now with the subject of Aging two days in a row.

It happens this way: You get rolling and the ideas pop and the yarn spools out and you get thinking ‘Snip it off now and you’ll have yarn for tomorrow!’ Or, to use another domestic art, “Keep back a bit of yeast today and you’ll have bread for another day!’ It’s comforting  to have someplace to start the next day. It is for me especially, because I’m determined to make good on my promise to write here every day no matter what. It’s my gift, this ability to write with  honesty. I just want to give it and not worry about who might be there to receive it.

I can tell you there’s peace in that outlook. It’s very calming to just be able to love the world without worrying whether the world will love you back. I probably learned this when I realized what a big chunk of the audience at any author talk I gave was just there trying to get in out of the cold; just trying to get off their feet awhile. It was OK by me. They made great audience members.

So really I don’t worry much about what I will write here next. Annie Dillard said it about doing any first draft: the problem is how to set yourself spinning. But once you do, you can keep on spinning for a good long time I have come to see, since really, spinning is just talking, freely and unselfconsciously. Ask a question of the guy next to you in line at the Post Office and you’ll see: He’ll spin like a top. We all will, given the chance.