Monday, March 13, 2006

Varan Prost

by Gustaf Froeding (1860-1911):

Our Dean
is round as a cheese
and learned as the devil himself,
but sociable anyway
and a kind soul
and is not ashamed that his father was a farmer.
He lives like we do
and "spikes" his coffee
as we do
and does not reject the bottle,
loves food
as we do
--but on holidays, that's something else.

As soon as he dons the clerical robe
the rest of us feel miserably small,
but the Dean seems to grow
because then he is Dean from top to toe
and a magnificent Dean at that
in a large parish with accessions.
I shall never forget in all my days,
how imposing he was
recently, in his robe and his collar,
how he put the worldly humans through the mill
and laid down the law to us!
And the Dean wept, no wonder,
he spoke of the Judgment Day!

And all of us wept profusely, too,
because it stung the flesh
and the soul was under pressure.
And the church council members sneaked out
with stooped backs
behind the Dean
because they were called to a meeting.
But of course
we recovered
when the Dean finally cleared his throat
and said: "Welcome
to the smorgasbord and the schnapps!"

From Of Swedish Ways by Lilly Lorenzen, illustrated by Dick Sutphen, Gilbert Publishing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1964.

Hype & Melancholy

Sonia assures us (at her weblog) that she does not take medications even for misanthropy. I like her entry on misanthropy. It reads like a description of melancholy -- on not liking the enjoyable things one usually likes -- and that feeling of not liking enjoyable things lasting for a period of time, of days or weeks then it passing, and her interest in things returning. My former boyfriend spent three days each month in perfect retreat. He went to his mother’s house, where he sometimes lived, avoided calls and callers, and got in his bed. Those days he let me come with him, and I got in bed with him and paid attention to his supple, vibrant skin and petted his body. He said it was a “male period” and that he didn’t want anyone except me to come near him during that time. He rode out a month’s worth of energy and hype that way. He was in a rock band. He didn’t take medications, either.

You may think: No one locks someone up for no reason, but I thought: no doctor diagnoses something serious for no reason. As someone who was there, I knew what hidden things we might or might not have been accepting. Sonia banks on hidden things in the minds of other people, whereas I bank on what I know. She drove around one spring with her eye peeled for Missouri license plates -- due to a crush she had on a man from Missouri. Where did the license plates take her? Did she follow the cars or just notice them? I once got out of a ghetto neighborhood in Chicago by following a Volvo out. I had taken a wrong turn to get into that neighborhood in the first place and was lost and afraid until I saw the Volvo and got behind it as if I had located a telephone booth.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday landed on March 1st this year. I went to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time since childhood. As kids, Ash Wednesday was more for grown-ups and was not really meant for us. I suppose we wore black if we went, something black, not necessarily all black. It was for repenting sin in preparation for Easter and Palm Sunday. I went once or twice. I was sorry I had ... would not do that again ... would do better next time. Could hardly think of something adult enough to feel sorry for, maybe something I was, like tardy or rushed or fussy or driven or not athletic enough or sometimes jealous, though not very jealous anymore since my mother had told me what jealousy leads to: finding out that other people had problems, too, not a pleasing discovery. Live without that, then, jealousy of lucky girls. I wasn't ever jealous of boys.

This year at Ash Wednesday I gave up procrastination for Lent. I postpone solving problems. I assume some problems have no solution. I assume tough problems are for no one to solve, to live with them. This year I asked God to put a problem-solver in my way, to introduce me to someone who thinks like a problem-solver. God next showed me to my own door. I solve problems. I am a problem-solver. True, I am not a lover who solves problems nor do I love solving problems. But I do solve problems. I am a problem-solver. A problem is the next thing. A problem contains its own solution.

I have a friend who might have told someone that I am "criminally insane"; my problem is in finding her out and correcting her bad mouth. The word for her bad behavior would be slander. When someone tries to bad-mouth someone with me, I try to find out if there is a good reason for it -- is the badmouthing deserved? Is so-and-so really "a snake," and what does "snake" mean and why is he "a snake"? There might be a reason for badmouthing, but there might not be a good one. If my friend believes that her thoughts precede her actions, then what actions does she believe my thoughts might precede? I have had two violent fantasies against her. In one of the fantasies, she is in hell, and the gatekeeper of hell has got her famous hair on a spear. She is forced to wear crooked black hair, which looks stupid and horrible against her pale skin. Her whole goal is to get her hair back. She doesn't care that she is in hell; she cares that the ogre guarding hell has her hair. My pleasure in that fantasy comes from imagining the crooked black hair and its bangs and in her having to wait to be popular. She doesn't actually get hurt in the fantasy. I think she gets her hair back then starts to flirt with the men in hell.

If I were an animal, I would be a giraffe, not a molecule.

People at the Ash Wednesday service said in their childhoods, Lent was the longest and hardest time of all, a long period until Easter without TV or candy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Celebrate March 8th

Rule Out Euthymia, short story

My sister is stuck in a physical passion. She describes it as an aura that lasts longer than the time it takes to watch a film, but after a real film, the credits roll, the illusion breaks, and the color of life seeps back in, one reminder at a time, until one is who one is again, even when the film is about sick passion.

The man Juni calls Bing hurts her feelings compulsively then screws her so completely that her wish to talk about it is drummed from her forever—forever, that is, until the next time. We come to her rescue (by now it is less often than she would like), but we cannot rescue her; no one can. She turns on us, on him, on everyone. I have seen her snap at a bank teller, and my sister is hardly ever rude. That, too, must be part of the high or demon or whatever it is that costs the pretty penny. "How would you know?" she says. "You're not a guy."

As a sinner who has bowed devoutly to four years of psychotherapy myself, I see what she is up to, and I care, to a point. To care any more than I do would keep it my problem.

Bing is just a trucker. That is what I tell our mother. I say, "Mom, all it is is, Juni has a thing for men with guts," but our mother did not raise her daughters to have "things" for anything, let alone for men "with guts." She raised them to help those who need help, not to ask for help, and to live in married certitude with men without guts.

Men like her dead husband, our dead lawyer father, who folded over his desk at ten of one evening. What husband? I used to say in the days before his death, before my own therapy, where I was reminded that every situation in life is of my own making. He left behind a wife, six daughters—all of us named after trees or shrubs—and an ungodly insurance policy. No one carries that much insurance.

Bing's father died standing up doing shift work. I should say, he fell over. Bing was twenty-one. I tell our mother that that is not why.

Juni's counselor, salesperson for higher powers who serve addictive personalities here on earth, has told us that only twelve steps and fifteen thousand dollars can save Juni: Juni is a co-sex addict.

When Juni is not threatening extreme unction to hotline volunteers (she calls hotlines in other cities when the hotline number in our city is busy), she tells us that Bing is the smartest man she has ever known—witness his survival as a teenager at a juvenile detention center and his finesse on the Interstate Highway System. Leave it to me to imagine what they do on it when Juni is with him and not barely at her job for the state.

Our youngest sister, Jade, wants to know what the deal is; although she wouldn't say it to me, she wants to be, as her sister is, in love. Jade is seventeen. As far as I know Jade is still a virgin, although I think that Mr. Biebel molested her when she was nine. She can't remember, but she hates her stomach and thighs. I believe that Mr. Biebel had a crack at all of us, except for maybe Holly, the third born. None of us really remembers what happened, but we all have improper relations with food. Holly has never had one disordered thought about food in all her life, and she never fell in love so badly that she failed to graduate from college, or, like me, to leave it. As a nutritionist, I hope to ban Biebels from the refrigerator, at least from refrigerators in Milwaukee, but it leaves me feeling marooned after French philosophy, where I first learned to play a field.

In her belief that Juni is lucky, Jade eases the horrors our mother suffers at night, not because Juni is stuck in a physical passion, but because the whole family and whole groups of strangers know what Juni is doing for sex. Juni does not have sex, I tell Jade. Juni is sex.

Lately, Juni is thin. Her breasts are small. She may not obviously resemble a man, but it saves everyone the trouble of self-differentiation. It bothers me that no one in her support group has even mentioned it. They mention humiliating moments, but apparently not the humiliating belief that one does not have the right to eat. Bing certainly does not suffer that humiliation. He eats her, like a hamburger or a donut. "I'm not thin, Laurel," she says. "I'm not even normal size. Look at these!" she cries, clutching at the flimsy sides of her hips and legs.

She needs exercise, but if I say it, she will feel condemned. She will worry that she doesn't fuck right. It will be like a man upping the ante all over again from the cover of a women's magazine.

Sometimes I think that if Juni knew women in more wholesome circumstances than in their own decrepitude that she would be all right. All she has in the way of women are support groups and her family. And what is family, really?

She has the prayer that Jesus brought her, but, as she told her group, she does not pray while Bing is hovering over her. She prays later, to his sleeping corpse, when it's over, and she's done, first to us, then to him, then alone.

Our mother, Geraldine—as she likes to remind us—is hip. She goes catalog shopping, not because she couldn't spend whole days in ceremony in department stores if she wanted to nor because she wouldn't do that if her lifestyle depended on it, but because cranberry-ale cardigans and pewter-puff pullovers communicate her optimism. She hopes that by her example her daughters will stop wearing only black. Her friends call her Geri, a name with a tweeter to it, a flip, as if Geri were someone who couldn't help but be her own person (men's names on women always serve that way), but our mother is Mom first and Mrs. Reeve Baumgaard second, even though Mr. Baumgaard has been dead for almost twelve years.

Since Juni met Bing, she wears torn blue jeans and men's white v-necks, and because she is as thin as a boy, people say she looks great in them. She wears what she finds on Bing's floor, where he lives with his father's half-brother, or she gives up afternoons tugging through racks at the Salvation Army.

Jade and I like the real thing: We go real shopping with Mom's credit card. Jade is in high school and doesn't have a job, and my stipend as a research assistant barely covers my efficiency apartment and the food I buy, which is expensive—raw nuts and seeds, yogurt farmed in small batches, organic apricot juice. Jade and I both wear size 12, which I sense has been a deep disappointment to Mr. Biebel—all the more reason to buy the most flattering, extravagant clothing we can find. Sometimes we shop sales; other times we just grab the car keys and head for Rome. We buy the new fall line before it hits the racks. We buy make-up, too, especially lipstick, my favorite way to kiss off a Biebel, but I admit, it's a little compulsive.

The middle three—Holly, Heather, and Lily (her real name is Lilac)—are all married and living elsewhere—Holly in Denver, Heather in Coon Rapids, and Lily in Waco. We mainly see them at Christmas, when we all tend to wear what our mother has bought us.

Bing is 34, and like a lot of men just over thirty, he bloats on beer. If Juni were not a co-sex addict, she would be a co-alcoholic. His work gives him a good ass and good legs—all that climbing in and climbing out, loading and unloading. I can see the attraction on that level, and that is the level we are talking about. Since as a family we are opposed to Bing, it would be hypocritical to ask Juni what sort of torso he has. Bing is too polite or too self-conscious to take off his shirt in our presence, so we don't know how strong or hairy he is there. We are just left wondering.


Lucretia, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, 1666

Monday, March 06, 2006

Diatribe (def.)

di'-a-tribe, n. [Gr. diatribe, a wearing away, waste of time, pastime, from diatribein, to rub away, waste.] a discourse or dispute; specifically, one of bitter, malicious criticism and abuse.

-- from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, deluxe 2nd edition

Sunday, March 05, 2006


My real list of things I have done that were wrong:

I mocked my baby sister. I sang a song that claimed she was "born in Asia."

The night we watched Sybil on TV I was babysitting her. After the show, which didn't seem to scare us that much, I went into the hallway where there was a full-length mirror and imitated all of Sybil's personalities. My sister started screaming, and for a full three minutes, I kept up what I was doing.

Once I slapped her then immediately embraced her.

Once I took her on a bike ride and offered her a cigarette. She was in third grade. She said no and called me a "moker."

It sounds like I didn't love her, but even as a child, I loved her more than I loved any friend.

I ordered the declawing of my beloved cat, Lucy. This was to appease, not a landlord, but a future roommate who moved out to live with her boyfriend as soon as I had moved in.

I have done some really stupid things at the bidding of women. There was that, Lucy's declawing, a virtual nightmare for us, and one I didn't repeat with the other cats, Francis and now Walter. I also went on someone's diet for her in eleventh grade. I lost 20 precious pounds and three years to a mental obsession with dieting. I had an abortion at 22 when the other women -- two lesbians who had cheated me -- said I really ought to do that for them and the cause. One of the causes was that I was to go to graduate school; they believed I was already in danger of not going since I lived with an "oppressor," a man. I didn't live with just any man, however; he was not some man, any man; he was a life partner. He had nothing against my going to graduate school. It's stupid for the women just to pack up and go to graduate school, I think now. Graduate school is like a cruise that lasts four years or six. You work the deck. At the end, you owe a lot of money and there are no jobs. Then people say there had been no point in doing it in the first place, since you're in personal and financial ruin.

My aunt was a rocket scientist. Her name was Frances Alsmiller, and she worked as a physicist on the Apollo Project. I always had thought she was a doctor. We never met due to a 1930s adoption.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Letters, notes, conversations, partings

Dates: November 1996 to August 2000, 4 years
Setting: Living with my mother at 34-38 years of age
Contexts: Reconciling my past as present-tense delays, i.e., AQ's stmt., "authority over one's own story & fictions"


How to tell jokes apart
Meeting metaphors
Metaphors for meeting
Metaphors for meaning
Matching metaphors
Writing as parallel form
Writing a parallel line
Seeing stealing
Stealing seeing
Stealing as seeing
Embarrassing commitments
Death or metaphor
Scenes at birth
Fertility: early births, sentient beings, gray couplets
Real Estate
Reassigning blame
Exemplifying shame
Blaming naming
Work or money
Love, sex, and money
Arranged affairs
Babies as status
Babies as inheritance
Woman as disease
ISMS as routing mechanisms
Medical modes
Medical models and journey to self-assessment
Wedding or gathering
Mirror is for them
Mirror is more for me
Enne is in Hennepin
Enne is in Kennedy
N. is for ant
V. is for variety
Z. is for zix
A. is for ana
B. is for book
C. is for call cat
D. is for door
E. is for renaissance
F. is for frank
G. is for God
H. is for hilarious
I. is for desire
J. is for Jesus
K. is for Kennebunk
L. is for Love
M. is for Man
N. is for Harvest
O. is for open
P. is for pianissimo
Q. is for Queen
R. is for return
S. is for sex
S. is for money
T. is for tip
U. is for most likely you
V. is for woman
W. is for war
X. is for kiss
Y. is for six
Z. is for sleep

1. is for create it
2. is for receive it
3. is for difficulty at the beginning
4. is for warfools
5. is for waiting
6. is for conflict
7. is for heaven
8. is for Scots law
8. is for unity
9. is for desire
10. is for ten
11. is for peace
12. is for tribal consciousness
13. is for gathering

14. is for harvest
15. is for modesty
16. is for enthusiasm
17. is for chase
18. is for recovery
19. is for prevail
20. is for inner view
21. is for decide
22. is for grace
23. is for losing
24. is for return
25. is for propriety
26. is for big animal
27. is for Jesus
28. is for smart, sexy, unmarried, single, childless, childlike, mothery, mature, vaginally orgasmic, servile, nature lover, artist
29. is for crossing the water
30. is for fire or conclusion
31. is for woo
32. is for endurance
33. is for Jesus
34. is for the first next thing
35. is for progress
36. is for dark goodness
37. is for family
38. is for the next first thing
39. is for warning
40. is for deliverance
41. is for decrease
42. is for increase
43. is for resolution
44. is for meeting
45. is for gathering or illness
46. is for transcendence or flight
47. is for exhaustion
48. is for the well
49. is for revolution
49. is for change
49. is for re-sister
49. is for re-volition
50. is for ting
51. is for shock
52. is for mountain
53. is for gentle progress
54. is for marrying maiden
54. is never for infernal bridegroom
55. is for abundance
56. is for traveler
57. is for wind
58. is for joy
59. is for dissolution
60. is for Ron's age
61. is for inner truth
62. is for little issuings
63. is for completion
64. is for pre-completion

Everywhere words:

tuning fork
Christa wants a baby each time
Gage is a friend
Ann is defined
Alexis is a writer
Eric is a father
mIEKAL, Michael, and Mike are fathers
Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary
Debbie O., Debbie Y.
Jack is Jack
Jack is John Joseph
Peter is Pete
Peter is Peter
Beth is Soeur
Florence is a master technician of sacred Latin horticultures
Mom is a fight
Dad is definitely dead
Neil Young said Daddy was clinging
Clarinet is muscle tone
"Sandy" is a fright
Clare de la Zeitung
Clarice Lispector is cronicas
Ann is ana
The short story is the most important literary form of the 20th c.
Ana is a recycling choice
Experimentalism is recycling
Memoir is mer-memory
Fiction is a right

I'll Never Look Black

Morning pages from December 4, 1998

Wanted to go over and do Quicken but found myself here in wordpad writing a morning page. I would like not to write a morning page but am too obedient not to do it. In The Artist's Way the day will come when I read the pp. and see my fucking problems more clearly. What a horrible reading again last night. The State Arts Board likes me more. Maybe they are against me for bipolar white femininity.

I heard some good stuff last night but I am tired of being a connoseur (sp.) of bad poetry and song and ick. Want some rigid good quality to follow my fall. Want an agent, an editor, a publicist, a scout to find me readings. Want really to be the best writer and person I can be, and the universe dishes discouragement occasionally, and I face it rather bravely.

Good will to Gage and her endeavors. I'm very pleased for her and her recent breaks.

Trouble with M. He will not see the day as a time focus thing. People much dumber than we have made their way through recovery programs. He doesn't really mean it, again. He wants what he wants. He is probably doing a good job in new areas nonetheless.

Jack contact back to strong, though no sex.

Tired of my circles. God, let me off the circle ride. God, speak to me in my daily driving rituals. Tell me how I am doing. Tell me when I deserve it all, love.

Forgive me for being impetuous and ungrateful and not serene. Forgive the others for their potential judgments. Forgive me for not forgiving Holly her opinion. Forgive me for not forgiving her her superficiality. Forgive me for having drifted from my homebase at the University. Forgive me for missing smart people trained as I am trained. Forgive me for my disruptive politics.

Give me a mission such as the one that Toni Morrison has or Maya Angelou. I'll never look black. I'll never know my roots. I'm here as a here person. Let me be here now.

Let the precancer not bloom in my mouth, the stains not form, the drink not happen. Let me be colder and older than I am. Let me smile for myself and not wait to be told. Let me be a thinker not a looker. Let me look good as a matter of course. Let me look as I do, good when good. Let me not fall into disease. Let me keep up my boundaries, limits, standards. Let me think on Bruce. Let me recover. Let me pray for all who need my prayers. Let me remember the power of prayer. Let me release. Let me have faith and belief. Let me be useful. Let me come out on the bottom if it will help anyone or the top if the top needs me.

Let me find my writing pick ax and shovel. Let me craft each word with pure lovingness. Let me tell stories again. Let me not walk as if this were my personal Viet Nam War. Let me find shelter and peace and my God-given talents. Let me come out as a believer. Let me follow my first start.


September 7, 2005

In 1996, I left Texas to return to Minnesota, after having also lived in Wisconsin and New York -- sixteen years later, an adult, or so I believed, and why wouldn't I? Except for working merely part-time at good assistant jobs in college, I had also worked full-time, had supported myself entirely without the benefit of shared income and other amenities, such as salary, whilst in pursuit of a ten-year training that would certainly bring in a real job again one day. When I got here, I learned that I was currently among the "homeless," though I lived in a beautiful, secure wooded place called home. I learned that I had been homeless, because I had lived in apartments. A good one of those the people from home might not have heard of nor could they imagine really liking. Further, I had probably charged for sex as a prostitute -- maybe even been in porn -- as all of those who were not married and living in cities probably had. It took three, even four years, to find out that they had thought all those things about me, generically. I then wanted to retreat, without ever getting over my terrific Houston garage apartment on its good block of Kipling -- or my loss in ability to pay for it. I had had no chance to correct the suburbans' misimpressions because they had kept them hid or passed them only amongst one another.

Men bought meals eaten together. Otherwise, we covered ourselves. If both were meager on funds, chances are you ate alone -- however you did that -- eating $20 takeout with the TV on or perhaps over a book or magazine or by opening a can of soup. Rarely did people even want to eat together unless they were combined, either living together or hooked up or thought to be getting involved, even in passing, worse, like here, like the suburbs. The suburban imagination goes wild in its open spaces, leaps across country miles and rooftops -- travels by wish and telephone -- with dark tales of city life!

All of that reminds me of Barbara Bush's comment that the poor of New Orleans were better off camping 300 miles from home in a sports arena than they were in their own city, houses, and apartments. Only the very game and healthy would feel caught up as if in adventure in their newly dislocated positions -- as if all of Houston were rich and offering itself just ahead of them, lying at the feet of the poor!

Wealth of Friends

September 2, 2005

Several years ago, friends I had followed over the course of serious travails and career moves and changes and relationship decisions and bouts of family disharmony and even cancer, old age, and death, suddenly decided, independently of one another, ready for the next great move, to cut ties they no longer cherished as active. I am a double Taurus, Leo rising, which means I am loyal to the way things are and have been and to improving what needs improving, to try. One friend, exiting, even blurted that it was my always trying that had finally irritated her.

Imagine where I would be if I had moved to New Orleans -- which I could have done -- to "start over" (instead of loyally insisting on moving to my hometown in MN). I might have been crowded into the sports dome, awaiting evacuation, not off with the other poets in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. My only friend in Lafayette is a photographer -- and not one of the cut-'er-off-'ers.

When I had first met Betty in Houston, she spent ten days driving me to used car dealerships, concerned that I not end up with a lemon. She made the salesmen nervous when she climbed under the cars after asking lots of questions -- she had been an Air Force mechanic. I heard that years ago that she had had to go to a hospital for depression, and I wasn't there, I was here, not hearing of it until later, not knowing her address -- who was there? That friend, Betty, was gold.

With prices on their way up and the war on, Americans do not want to contemplate what it will cost to pull up New Orleans -- the government did not want to fix its levees ahead of time, either. I have visited the city many times, and it's true, I think it's one of the rosiest places I have ever been, with best food, strolling, and music. I wish a talented batch of oysters would collect stories, vignettes, write portraits -- better than the trite ones we get in the news -- not short stories or poems, but thumbprints of the real people who are waiting for help in the city, so we could know who they are.

[Story-gathering projects did start up following the hurricane; evacuees to Houston gave accounts to writers in W.I.T.S.]

Ruth Duckworth, "The Creation"

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Journal Entry, March 1, 2006

I suppose I ought to mention how good it feels to have a job. I feel more like an American, whereas while I did not have a job, I felt like not a citizen. Having a job takes away some of my concerns about citizenship, which were so overpowering that I wanted to write a new amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee appropriate work for all. The International Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that, but who listens to the UN? I do. It was like being a member of the UN but a citizen of no country to experience the type of unemployment I have experienced for ten years. Freelance is so difficult because men think it means "prostitute." There is considerable evidence that Magdalene was not a prostitute; the Pope himself said so in the 1960s. Religion is not the source of people's obsession with prostitution. For my part, I am glad I have not been a prostitute, as poor as I have been. To be a prostitute is to separate the envelope from the letter, the onion from its skin, the apple from its peel. The letter is not deliverable; the onion turns to rubber in the refrigerator; the apple turns brown.