Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Fimo is a form of clay that is used by architects to build models. In art supply stores it is sold in brightly colored squares. Fimo is very pliable and can be baked in home ovens. It is perfect for making miniatures. In 1976, at McGraw-Hill, none of us had heard of Fimo until one day Helen walked into the employees lounge wearing large fruit basket earrings that were the most remarkable items most of us had ever seen hanging from a human ear, except in illustrations in National Geographic. They were perfectly made and shiny. With these earrings you could get a job in the chorus line of South Pacific. Helen announced that she had made these earrings herself. That was pretty hard to believe. Helen spent her spare time going through catalogues and ordering Stale Cracker Refreshers and soap dishes that play Edeilweiss. If she could do this!

That weekend found most of us at the art supply store buying Fimo. Fimo turned into an obsession. It even reached the point that an informal support group of Fimo widowers formed - men who had been living on TV dinners and spending lonely evenings watching TV with Mr. Hand, for months and months. I would overhear them in the lounge,

"She comes home from work and walks straight to the Fimo table."

"I woke up at 4 a.m. and she was at the Fimo table."

I began to moonlight for a dollhouse store, I made little plates of bacon and eggs or hamburger and fries and fruit bowls, mainly. Then I got an order to make 45 dogs, each one a recognizable breed. I had minus zero qualifications for this task. I sweated like a pregnant wart hog trying to make a banana that actually looked like a banana. So of course I said, "Yes,no problem, when do you want them?"

I had a month. I checked dog books out of the library and spent every waking moment I wasn't at work - unto the wee small hours of the morning - on this project. Dalmations. Russian Wolf Hounds, Jack Russell Terriors... Every moment I had to be outside I studied each passing dog. Months after the dog order was completed, I'd see a dog and my first thought would be, "He's scratching his ear at a 45 degree angle."

A week or two into this dog project I began to feel poorly. I was living on crackers and getting 4 hours of sleep a night. So I devised a special diet that could be prepared in advance and that would include an item from each category in the Food Pyramid.

FIMO DIP: Sour cream (dairy), bacon bits (meat), canned peas (green vegetable), dried onion soup mix (salad?)served with potato chips (starch), and peanut M&Ms (nut).

I actually finished this order, to the satisfaction of the shop owner and got my five cents an hour. It was, for me, what alcoholics call, "Hitting bottom." My Fimo obsession tapered off, as it did for my fellow addicts. To this day I have a few squares of Fimo in my scrap box, and once in a blue moon I make a hot dog or an apple.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The Occupy Wall Street Movement and the plight of those who are watching their 401Ks (whatever they are) disppear into the maw of the one percent, have brought to mind my own memories of participation in capitalist America. They began early.

My mother gave birth to me nine months and one day after her 18th birthday. My father, whatever his sins may have been, did not engage in conception with an underage female. My mother was not prepared to be a parent. My parents had me call them Edith and Bill, and that is what they were, an Edith and a Bill. Edith struggled with parenthood, with a spectacular lack of success (that is another story) until Bill dumped us. I was three at the time. She left me in Vermont where I ended up living with my grandmother. My grandmother was less than thrilled. Nevertheless, she took up this role of caretaker with a grim and Vermontish determination to do it right.

For my sixth birthday I received several greeting cards, from friends of the family, that each contained a dollar bill. Visions of ice cream cones and barrettes danced in my head, until my grandmother announced that it was time for me to learn thrift and the value of money. She took me to the local bank and opened a savings account for me, with these dollar bills. She was the co-signer on the account, due to my extreme youth. I stood in the cavernous, Dickensian lobby of the bank and watched my birthday money disppear, to be replaced by a small ledger book, with my deposit recorded by hand. The bank manager came out from behind the massive mahogany counter and shook my hand. He welcomed me to the family of depositors at the First National Bank of North Bennington, Vermont and gave me a short lecture on the importance of saving money for one's future.

On a happier note, she also opened a Christmas Club for me, which I was to pay into at the rate of fifty cents a month, money that I could earn by doing extra chores. The following November I would receive $12 to spend on buying Christmas presents. I thought this was cool. The happiest day of the year at our house was the day we went to the nearby metropolis of Bennington and did our Christmas shopping, at Woolworths, which had a vast array - a Sultan's treasury - of fabulous gifts that could be purchased for five and ten cents apiece. Twelve dollars was a fortune and I was able to amaze my friends and relatives with little glass animals, a ceramic rooster, hair bands, and once some very cute little glasses with people dancing on them, that I bought for my grandmother. They were shot glasses. My teetolling grandmother had years and years of fun telling the story of how she received a set of shot glasses from me when I was in the third grade. Christmas shopping day was also the one day of the year that we ate at a restaurant, always the same one - The Green Mountain Diner - where we would have a hot turkey sandwich and a piece of apple pie. This was our yearly glimpse into lifestyles of the rich and famous, and we both savored every moment of it.

As the years rolled by, she continued to deposit my Christmas and birthday money into the savings account, and to show me the little book that slowly grew until, when I was a senior in high school, I had almost three-hundred dollars. It was in April of my senior year that my personal 1K (as opposed to 401K) bit the dust. I came home from school and walked in to find my grandmother smiling from ear to ear as she gazed down on a long-held dream come true - a brand new vacuum cleaner. She had closed out my account and bought a vacuum cleaner and a few other incidentals. She was ecstatic!

My reaction at the time was a kind of weary, "whatever." The money had never seemed like mine anyhow. In retrospect, I am able to be even more forgiving. My grandmother had known very little in her life but hard work and deprivation. She grew up working on her father's farm. When she was 16 her father sold her to a French Canadian logger who walked down to Vermont looking for a wife. When she was 17 she had her first baby. Her husband turned out to be a hopeless alcoholic and she spent the rest of her life working and raising children. She really wanted that vaccuum cleaner and by God she saw a chance to get it and got it she did! Good for you, Gramma, wherever you are. You were right - I was young and I had a better shot at life than you ever did. I didn't need the three hundred dollars.

The day after I graduated from high school she put me on a plane bound for Oklahoma City, where Edith had been living all those years. She had re-married and produced two more children. I was to spend the summer with her and then start life at the University of Oklahoma. Despite the demise of my savings account, I had money with me, $400 I had earned writing the best essay on "Why I Want to Be a Vermont Tree Farmer." This essay contest was sponsored by the Vermont Tree Farmers Association and was open to all Vermont high school seniors. I had no desire whatsover to become a tree farmer but I did know that I had a talent for writing and to heck with the poor sods that actually wanted to become tree farmers.

I graduated from high school on a Saturday night, boarded the plane on Sunday morning, and arrived in Oklahoma City Sunday night. Edith, who was the manager of Manpower Inc., a temp agency, gave me the glad tidings that I had a job, beginning at 8 a.m. the following morning, as a file clerk at the Oklahoma Department of Motor Vehicles. I had a pretty good case of whiplash that might be called Solomon Grundy Syndrome. Remember him?

Solomon Grundy,
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Grew worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday.
This is the end
Of Solomon Grundy.

When Edith helped me unpack she discovered the money order for $400 and suggested that I let her deposit it into her account, where it would be safe until I left for college in the fall. Here we go again....(my private thoughts), but I was a compliant child and I signed the money order over to her. The Department of Motor Vehicles paid me $35 a week. Edith gave me an allowance for busfare and nylons and that sort of thing and put the rest of my princely income into her account.

In the fall - surprise! - she told me that she had borrowed my money to cope with unforeseen expenses. I asked when she was going to pay me back and she snapped, "I've provided you with free room and board all summer and you have the nerve to ask me when I'm going to pay you back?" I concluded that the answer was "never," and indeed it was. When she and her husband dropped me off at the dorm her husband slipped me ten dollars and I began life on my own in capitalist America.

I did have a job, however. I was enrolled in the University's Work Study Program. There was one hitch. The University had a Student Minimum Wage of 60 cents an hour. The program was actually a form of indentured servitude whereby students bussed tables, scrubbed pots and pans, reshelved library books, cleaned the football stadium, raked leaves, pulled weeds - etc. etc. - for sixty cents an hour. Banking was not a problem. Even in the fall of 1963 sixty cents an hour disappeared so fast, I even had to shop lift an occasional tube of toothpaste, just to get by.

When I got real jobs, later in life, and had a little real money, I still never put much away into banks. The way I saw it, you could spend your life working at the Widget Factory and saving for your old age, or you could spend your money going places and having experiences and doing whatever it was you really wanted to do. So I opted for that. Let the ants have a safe old age. I would be a grasshopper (or as James Joyce so wonderfully said, "A Gracehoper.")

That was my heritage from Edith and my grandmother - don't spend your life working and banking - you may lose it all anyhow. Follow your dreams. Thank you, oh my distant progenitors, for this wonderful lesson. Even if I wind up spending my old age living under a bridge, I will be grateful for the wonderful life I've had.

Friday, October 21, 2011


The best apartment I ever lived in as a single person was on Debarr Street in Norman, Oklahoma, when I was a college student at OU. It was a clunky two-story brick building, the front porch held up by square black columns, two apartments on each floor. I lived on the second floor where I had a two-bedroom apartment with a big living room, fire place, and small kitchen, for $80 a month all bills paid. I rented out the second bedroom to a young woman who needed an address so her parents wouldn't know she was living with her boyfriend, and lived there in splendor, for $40 a month. You could step out of the kitchen window on to a flat roof, where I kept plants and a couple of lawn chairs.

Football Saturdays were the best. Fans, big fat guys in red three-piece suits and red cowboy hats, with wives in red dresses, would flock into town. Me and my friends would be running up and down the street selling parking places we didn't own for $5 a piece. Then we would take our ill-gotten gains and buy a bag of pot for ten dollars and a whole bunch of junk food and lie out on my roof garden. None of us cared a rat's rear end about football but we deeply relished the prayer - a nasal intonation - broad cast for miles - asking the Lord to look out for our brave boys on the field and bring them victory. At some point there would be the best moment of all - still one of the musical highlights of my life - ten thousand people all singing "The Nose of Oklahoma Smells You, All the Livelong Day." Boy howdy, it just doesn't get any better than that. We ate and smoked and giggled our way through many a long fall afternoon.

When did I lose all that - when did I turn into a workaholic who feels guilty if she is not always doing something useful - whether it be cleaning the refrigerator or meditating, writing a poem or weeding the garden - when did I decide that I needed to move my life forward 18 hours a day seven days a week? I think it happened somewhere along the 25-year trail of raising two teenagers, caring for an aging parent, earning a living, running a community theater and, for the past nine years, managing a mobile soup kitchen - all while trying to redeem my soul and achieve self-actualization. What a load of baloney!

Maybe its also my Vermont childhood still haunting me. Every Saturday I had to memorize a psalm or a poem, chosen by my grandmother, and then declaim it for her Ladies Aid Society. This, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, was her favorite:

TELL me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real ! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o'erhead !

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.


I spent today on the couch reading Huckleberry Finn and listening to old Irish music and eating raisin toast and grapes. There is hope for me!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Her name was Mrs. Whitaker. She lived in a two story white house, surrounded by green lawns and a formal rose garden. She had floor to ceiling windows, lace curtains, plum velvet drapes, silver bowls and Aubusson carpets. An invitation to her house put one, however temporarily, in the upper echelon of Prunewhip, Vermont's social register. When I was four Mrs. Whitaker gave a formal tea for the women of the Ladies Aid Society and my grandmother was invited. She took me along, scrubbed until I was raw, tortured into a state of sausage curls, strangled by a high-collared white blouse - as W.C. Fields said on his deathbed, "All in all, I would rather [have been] in Philadelphia."

Before my grandmother rang Mrs. Whitaker's doorbell (she had a doorbell!), she lined me up against the side of the house and said, "When we are inside, if you see anything unusual, don't talk about it unless someone else talks about it first!" She said it in her, "Disobey this and you will be found floating face down in the Walloomsac River" tone of voice.

We were ushered into Mrs. Whitaker's drawing room and immediately I saw something most unusual. In fact, I had the best view in the house of this most unusual sight, since I was several feet closer to the floor than the other guests. Scattered around the drawing room floor were small irregular lumps, each one covered by a lace doily.

I was so mesmerized by this display (oh so many years later this would become Installation Art...), I barely noticed the single-breasted (blue serge stretched over girdles that turned two breasts into one formidable rampart), mustached women cooing over me and passing me cookies. I waited until they were deep in conversation and pulled up a doily. Sure enough, just as I suspected, a petrified cat turd white with age.

Now this was unusual! In my limited experience, people did talk about unusual events. I sat in corners for hours on end listening to women talk about the antics of drunken husbands, newly weds who gave birth to extremely large premature babies, the idiots from California who tapped the elm trees in their front yard, etc. etc. This was more unusual than any of that, as far as I was concerned. I waited avidly for someone else to talk about the petrified cat turds cum doilies so that I could talk about them also. No one ever said a word.

I left this grand social event with the renewed conviction that grownups were part of some strange species I would never understand.

Friday, September 23, 2011


The 1970s was the era of affirmations and prosperity consciousness. Groups of people danced in circles chanting "I AM HEALTHY, I AM PERFECT, ALL THE LOVE AND ABUNDANCE OF THE UNIVERSE IS FLOWING UNTO ME." I never made it very long at one of these sessions, to which I had been dragged by an enthusiastic friend, because my bullshitometer would be clanging so loudly, I had to escape the pain.

Nevertheless, in my own way, I have sought happiness and self-improvement. Today I realized that I am a STARCOW. That stands for Sick, Tired, Anxiety-Ridden, Crazy Old Woman. I accepted it. I started to like it. I could see myself, in a field in Vermont, bathed by light of moon and stars. My udders are withered and they hang low, my mottled hide is baggy, my future most uncertain - but oh, I am so beautiful - I am such an exquisite bit of mosaic in the body of Eternal, Universal Isness.

Once I embraced myself, once I accepted that I am a STARCOW, the negative judgments and conflicts I have been feeling with other people and with life itself, began to fall away. Maybe he is not a STARCOW. Maybe he is a SUDBARP (Scared, Uptight, Denial-Based, Angst-Ridden Politician). Maybe she is a DOPE (Defensive, Opinionated, Pretentious, Egomaniac). We are all something. Very few of us are Buddhas. But we are part of the mosaic-of-is. We are perfect. We don't have to become perfect to be perfect. LIfe does not have to be perfect to be perfect.

Friday, July 1, 2011

O Blessed World of Oatmeal

grits gesthemane
blue baboons balloons moons
behind the world
above the fallen stars
of Ferlinghetti's
muddy boots
of cumming's Spring
we love
no caring
death may come
with Wordsworth's

Saturday, May 28, 2011



dear einstein,

no time,

all life death earth air fire water
beds toilets ravioli
simul-heinous salvation

we are
anunciated starvelated, inebriacious ballerinas
Bibles barking door-to-door

wholly holy guacamole hooked and hooking
nookie-selling neon smokey town down corners,
beans to home and dominoes.

fumbling, tumbling lenten-lentil cheering
all the teams from here to here.

caucus, bacchus, pontiff, sacradental
wholly holy colostocomical donations.

grateful stately succulent jumping from a cake
this evening Year’s New Moose Lodge goosing,

stumbling down the garbonzo chain gang
garbage road of grace.

hanging by the neck until alive!

ambiguously ever after,

sincerely you,

*In an age where irrationality, materialism, and militarism have taken over – is it not time for a Nouveau DaDa movement? Let’s all Dadadadadada up and down the streets – in our golden slippers.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Poems du Jour

The Least of These


you got the shakes
picking up butts
on 13th Street,
some of them are long,
God is good.

Tennessee splits a
6-pack with you along
the banks of
Sweetwater Branch,
it’s all good.

Except Keesha’s on a rampage
wants your butt hanging from
a rusty tent pole
you head up stream,
fill a water bottle at the bus depot
for JC so he can boil his
colostomy bag,
out here
where You live.


Jane 6:13
stringbean hub
of the wheeled universe
comfort me..
long and green and cool
straight out of the can
or hanging on a dusty vine
in somebody’s grandmother’s garden.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011


This week our nation honored the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I remembered an elderly woman I met at a bus stop some thirty years ago. We began to exchange pleasantries. She then introduced herself, first telling me her name and then telling me that she was a survivor of the Triangle fire. She told me the story. She cut her thumb on a piece of machinery and was sent downstairs to get bandaged. While she was gone the fire broke out. This woman had children and grandchildren. She was retired from owning her own dress shop. She had traveled the world with her husband. Still, 65 years later, she defined herself as a survivor of that fire.

I began to think about why certain events become how we define ourselves. In my case, I define myself as a person who survived growing up in a violent family. All that I have done - all the therapies I experienced , all the spiritual journeys I have gone on, the works of art and writing I have created, and even my current occupation as a provider of homeless services are and have been a response to my childhood and part of my healing journey.

In my case you will never hear me say, "It was worth it." I would cheerfully refund everything I have gained as an artist and a human being to have spared my family the horrors we experienced. It was not worth it. Still, it is so important to honor and to make use of painful legacies. Otherwise, all that pain becomes useless and meaningless. It is wasted.

So, my friends, do not waste your pain regarding yourself as unfortunate or seeking solace at the bottom of a bottle. And when you do, turn the experience into a play, a song, a poem, or a foundation for helping other troubled souls.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Summer 1962, at the music theater in Nyack, I shared a six-bedroom house with many other theater employees. One of them was George Finkel, the cello professor at Bennington College. One Wednesday night the household decided to go across the river into New York City for a night of drinking. I was not invited because I was deemed to be too young for this event. George had to stay home also because his wife said he had already had too much to drink.

After the revelers left George went upstairs. I turned off the lights and sat in a corner of the livingroom, staring out an open window at the full moon and smelling the scent of honeysuckles. Then I heard George coming down the stairs. He was carrying his cello and a glass of whiskey. He didn't see me. He sat down in a straight backed chair in front of the fire place, set the glass down on the floor and positioned his cello.

There, in the darkness and the moonlight, he sat and played by heart all the Bach cello concertos - with such feeling and such virtuosity - I left time and was in Eternity. I can still be there.


A few years later I was sharing an apartment with a tiny blonde student named Charlene. She grew up in a town with a name like 'Fred, Oklahoma,' where her father was the pastor of an extreme right fundamentalist church. She spent her childhood dressed like a character from "Little House on the Prairie," living in a house that had no radio, no television and no secular literature. The main form of recreation was nightly prayers and Bible study. Charlene celebrated her liberation from this environment by entering a passionate love affair with a 6' 2" graduate student from Ethiopia.

One day Charlene was off with her lover and I was home recovering from a bout of the flu. I was wearing an old flannel nightgown with orange juice dribbles down the front and a long tear under one sleeve. There was a knock on the door. I walked out of my room and discovered that my dog Moses had gotten into the trash, carried it into the living room and sorted it at his leisure, doing such a thorough job that the entire living floor was covered with an even layer of eggshells, coffee grounds, banana peels, unmentionable items recovered from a wastebasket in the bathroom....

I still answered the door, assuming it was just one of the other
student degenerates who lived down the hall. I opened the door and there stood Charlene's parents. Something clicked inside my head and I passed into a whole new, expanded state of consciousness. I became the Zen Observer standing on the bridge watching the scene unfold.

"Come in," I said. "Charlene isn't here but you are welcome to wait for her. Would you like a cup of coffee?" I spoke while leading them across the carpet of garbage, to the couch, as grandly as Queen Victoria leading guests into her private sitting room at Buckingham Palace. They collapsed onto the sofa, their eyeballs fixed at the ceiling. Sweat was breaking out on her father's forehead and her mother was breathing in little asthmatic puffs. After about two minutes they jumped up babbling about remembering another place they had to be - out of town - far out of town - and scrambled for the door, with me waving graciously and saying, "Charlene will be so sorry she missed you. Have a good trip!"




Summer 1962 I got a job playing my viola in the pit of a summer stock theater in Nyack, New York. I wasn't much of a musician, but violists were hard to come by, and I also agreed to babysit for the directors 4 kids every other weekend. On the last day of the theater season I woke up with bronchial pneumonia - lungs rattling, 104 degree temperature - the full drama. I ended up in an oxygen tank in a Catholic hospital in Suffern, New York. After a few hasty visits from other theater employees, exspressing their extreme grief at leaving me in this unfortunate situation, I was alone. No books, no cards, no visitors.

At one point a priest walked into the room and stared down at me. I couldn't talk but my mind began babbling: "Father, I am heartily sorry for I have sinned. I have taken the name of the Lord in vain on several occasions, I lied to get served alcohol at a bar, and then I let Fred Lindsey feel my..." Oh, he's leaving. I'm not dying! Yahoo!

After I got out of the oxygen tank, I noticed an old cleaning woman who came in my room every day, pushed the broom around, emptied the wastebaskets, made a few passes with a dustcloth and left. She was a classic - fat with wisps of gray hair pinned into a bun at the nape of her neck, wearing a shapeless cotton housedress that was permanently hiked up just a little in the back, to accommodate her world-class caboose, ankle socks and old tennis shoes cut open at the sides to accommodate bunions. Of course I, age 17, saw her as a visitor from another planet.

I still couldn't talk above a whisper, but my eyes followed her around the room. She came over to my bed, stared down at me, and started talking. "You're young. There's still hope for you. Spend your life being alive. Most people spend their whole lives eating, drinking, sleeping, going to work, and watching TV. If you have a chance to go on an adventure - go! To hell with the consequences. I'm just an old fat woman but last year I visited my cousin in Florida and rode a surf board. the year before I jumped out of an airplane with a parachute. Be alive!"

Sometimes angels come in the form of old fat ladies with bad feet. She changed my life forever.