Uplift

nelson

Blog went on hiatus because I’m struggling with depression – seasonal and post-election – and an overload of work.

In the midst of this miasma I had an experience that brought me to a world at once known and mysterious, beautiful and brutal, oppressing and uplifting.

A friend had invited me to a poetry reading for Marilyn Nelson’s The Meeting House. It is a collection that celebrates the three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Old Lyme Congregational Church.

I’ve heard Marilyn read her magical verse before and was anticipating an intense experience. Sadly, a health problem kept her home, but “the show must go on,” and so it did. Members of the congregation did their star turns.

Through their expert readings, we experienced fires (more than one), a “marriage” of enslaved people, wars, religious awakenings, gossip. Each reader conveyed the poems’ intensity and perception and grace, along with Marilyn’s biting humor.

We began in 1666, before Lyme and Old Lyme became separate towns, with the first strike of metal on metal – hammer and nails invading the world of butterflies and Native Americans — to create the first meeting house, which we learn was segregated men from women, young from old, and sort of black from white.

The church’s charismatic young minister, the Rev. Dr. Steven R. Jungkeit (the nineteenth in the line), read the concluding poem, “Ruminations Down Lyme Street.” I was proud to note that Marilyn’s litany included “the Negro pharmacist.” That pharmacist was my Granduncle Fritz M. James, who operated the other James Pharmacy just up the road from the church.

It was thoroughly appropriate that Steve read the concluding lines: “A pastor might feel it’s a privilege/to serve and guide this faith community/that is trying to be the change we need to see.” For him, it is indeed a privilege.

Veterans on the Radio

Christy Billings, seated. Standing from left, Vance Fisher, Jim Masso, and Harvey Goldstein.
Christy Billings, seated. Standing from left, Vance Fisher, Jim Masso, and Harvey Goldstein.

The veterans’ writing group journeyed down the Valley to iCRVradio.com.

Harvey Goldstein, Jim Masso, and Vance Fisher, along with my partner in crime, Christy Billings, spent an engaging late Thursday afternoon with Dave Williams and Ibby Carothers. After Christy gave a brief introduction explaining how the group started, Dave and Ibby drew the men – all Vietnam War veterans – out about their experiences during the war and about their writing process and its benefits.

The questions ranged from how each man came to join the group to their experience of community, to what’s next for us.

During the interview, Harv dubbed me “Sgt. Liz.” Christy, though, is a colonel! Love it!

The show aired live at 5 p.m., but listeners can hear rebroadcasts at noon, 3, and 6 p.m. on Friday, 11/11 at iCRVradio.

Everyone had an amazing time, and we’ve been invited back. We have a great surprise in store and hope that we have other members of the group join us.

Thank you, Ibby and Dave!

Please Vote

vote

For those you who have not yet voted, I’m posting this again with the reminder that one of the candidates for president wants to repeal the Nineteenth Amendment.

I always vote for myself and on behalf of family members who couldn’t. Until 1920 my grandmother and my great aunts had to watch from the sidelines. Reports are that Aunt Anna Louise James was one of the first women to register in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. And she voted. Always.

Once the law allowed, they were never denied the opportunity to participate. All I could see after that comment about the Nineteenth Amendment was my mother, my grandmother, and all those women rising up in horror.

And then I thought, if he wants to repeal the Nineteenth, what about  the Fifteenth? It passed after the Civil War, enfranchising black men. It’s been on the books for 150 years but was violated everywhere south of the Mason Dixon Line for years. And it is still is in great jeopardy in many places, North and South.

The victims included my grandfather, Walter Elijah Petry. He was born a slave in Louisiana. As a young man, he was able to serve on juries and participate in government. By the time he moved to New Iberia in 1900, the state of Louisiana had disenfranchised black men.  I remember my dad saying with great bitterness that even though Grandfather Walter owned property and paid taxes, he wasn’t allowed to vote.

At that moment I decided I will vote at every opportunity. When I do,  I think of the ancestors: Bertha, Helen, Anna Louise, Walter, and all the others denied their rights.

Please vote, if not for yourself, then for your relatives who couldn’t.

Tea Heaven

macha

Blog has been on hiatus because of various and sundry. The occasion for this entry is the arrival of my macha tea set.

The saga began when I bought a canister of macha from my friend Peggi at Tea Roses Tea Room. This version was powdered so I needed the accessories: a whisk and the suitable bowl.

They arrived this afternoon, and I rushed through chores and work so I could enjoy a cup.

The preparation involves pouring hot, not boiling water over a teaspoon of the powder. Then you whisk until it froths and the powder dissolves. Then you smile and sigh at that first warming bitter/astringent sip.

Sublime!

Update?

 

antiApple has launched a massive update, probably in response to the hacking Friday, even though the event seemed to use fridges and thermostats.

I clicked the update icon just before four p.m. Nothing happened for about twenty minutes. I logged out of iTunes, Safari, Word, etc. Still nothing. Came back to find the little lecture about security update, so I hit “update.” Got one hour and something. Went away and came back and it said two days and change. Clicked on something and it dropped back to two hours. I had to run out and when I came back the download had stopped. I exited and relaunched. For the past hour it has said “249 MB of 489 MB” calculating.

Can’t wait to see what it says in the morning. …

Election Cake

electioncake

As I made up the mince pie filling yesterday for its month of aging, a story about Election Cake was airing on NPR.  The guests said the cake predated the country and bore the name Muster Cake. In colonial times the men gathered to march and shoot. The cakes became a meal in one – fruit, nuts, dairy, flour, and of course booze. All in all, enough it sustained hungry men (all men) after they traveled, sometimes long distances, in the days before drive-up burgers.

I remembered that my mother had at one point talked about making Election Cake but do not remember eating it. I could find only one reference in her journals, written when I was living in Philadelphia: “want to make a Hartford Election Cake [her emphasis] – therefore the little list of pecans and yeast and raisins.” A note on the day after Election Day indicates she never baked it.

So I wondered, was there a difference between the standard version and the Hartford version?

The recipe in the NPR link dates from 1796. It must have made about thirty cakes as it starts with thirty quarts of flour. The author omitted instructions for how long to bake it or at what temperature.

An old recipe for Hartford Election Cake resembles the dreaded fruitcake with the addition of icing. It has much less in the way of spices and booze than the 1796 version. And neither recipe has the pecans Mother planned to include.

What’s Cooking America declares Election Cake (Election Day Cake) fruitcake, “Also known as Oak Cake, Hartford Election Cake, and Training Cakes, because another name for Election Day was Training Day.” Training Day equals Muster Day. Connecticut gets the credit for the earliest reference. It apparently became Hartford Election Cake when it was used as a bribe in 1830. Interesting that this recipe subs currants for raisins and does contain nuts.

Regardless of size and ingredients, I will not be baking it no matter its name.

Please Vote

vote

It’s not yet Election Day, but early voting has started in many places. One of the candidates for president wants to repeal the Nineteenth Amendment.

I always vote for myself and on behalf of family members who couldn’t. Until 1920 my grandmother and my great aunts had to watch from the sidelines. Reports are that Aunt Anna Louise James was one of the first women to register in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.

Once the law allowed, they were never denied the opportunity to participate. All I could see after that comment about the Nineteenth Amendment was my mother, my grandmother, and all those women rising up in horror.

And then I thought, if he wants to repeal the Nineteenth, what about  the Fifteenth? It passed after the Civil War, enfranchising black men. It’s been on the books for 150 years but was violated everywhere south of the Mason Dixon Line for years. And it is still is in a great many places, North and South.

The victims included my grandfather, Walter Elijah Petry. He was born a slave in Louisiana. As a young man, he was able to serve on juries and participate in government. By the time he moved to New Iberia in 1900, the state of Louisiana had disenfranchised black men.  I remember my dad saying with great bitterness that even though Grandfather Walter owned property and paid taxes, he wasn’t allowed to vote.

At that moment I decided I will vote at every opportunity. When I do,  I think of the ancestors: Bertha, Helen, Anna Louise, Walter, and all the others denied their rights.

Please vote, if not for yourself, then for your relatives who couldn’t.

Email Hell

inbox

At one point the main inbox was up to 980 something. I began serious winnowing and am now down to 714 – it was below 700 when I went to bed last night. And that’s just one email. The others have 130-ish, 60-ish, and 18 in another. Also not including sent email, drafts, etc. And trash, all that trash, which has to be deleted again.

It was with a sense of relief that I turned to in Slate’s “The Key to Ending Inbox Anxiety Is One Simple Word: Delete.” Abby McIntyre suggests giving each a five-second test and then choosing delete, archive, reply. She does it immediately, which I don’t because it interrupts the workflow. Guess I’m one of the people she’s doffing her cap to while saying that I “hack my productivity” because I only read emails twice a day (late morning and mid- to late- afternoon) unless someone asks me to look for something right away.

Many contain information that I use in my work or share with the veterans, etc. These are the ones that pile up along with paper issues of magazines and the NYTimes do.

One thing I don’t do is reread emails unless I get a response indicating that I’ve missed something, and then I can usually find it in the string, which I try to avoid. Also hated: people who hit “reply all” unless everyone else really needs to know the answer. Please. Don’t.

None of the options in the poll really applied to me, so I chose “circle each one like a hawk” because it was closest. I don’t know if it’s good that I’m part of 23 percent of the Slate-reading public who chose to answer the survey.

Anyway, I’ve resolved to winnow by deleting at least ten emails a day—starting tomorrow.

On the Radio

icrv

 

In advance of my lecture at Chester Village West on Tuesday, I spent a delightful half hour with Dave Williams and Ibby Carothers at iCRV.com.

The motto of iCRV (internet Connecticut River Valley)  is “The Stream Feeding the River Valley,” and indeed it does. Gardening and farming (that includes “horse talk”), music, festivals and fairs, fundraisers and plays, it’s all in the stream.

My time there passed in a flash as I previewed the lecture “An African American Family in Connecticut: From Slavery to Triumph.” This was my second appearance, as I had appeared with Cynthia Clegg at the Community Foundation of Middlesex County’s program, “Feel Good Fridays.”

Dave and Ibby keep things lively with insightful questions. They are the best sort of interviewers because they listen to the responses and can engage in follow up. Many folks are too busy worrying about their next structured question to pay attention when something deserves more information.

So we covered the landscape: the ancestors, my mom whose birthday is today, a couple of teasers about the lecture. Plus I did a brief plug for the veterans’ writing project. We’re invited to conduct a session at the radio station.

“Stay tuned” for announcements about rebroadcasts of the interview.

Invest in Writing

No image because Blue won’t let me frame without cropping. 

BookBaby showed up in my email inbox some time ago – courtesy, I think, of one of the guys in the veterans’ writing group. A blog post about rules for developing character that originated with Pixar is  geared to novelists but many of those rules can apply to any type of writing. The original list had 22 items. Here’s Liz’s shorter version, applied to writing in general. Grammar appears as in the original. My comments are in italics.

  • You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different. Always step outside of yourself. It will draw the reader in to your world.
  • Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite and rewrite. Repeat.
  • Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front. Sometimes it’s obvious. Often you’ll have to rewrite the whole book once the ending becomes obvious.
  • Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time. Before you let it go, let it sit for a week, a month, six months. Take one more look. Then if it still doesn’t feel good, move on.
  • Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it. Apply this to whatever genre you are writing. Read and re-read them. Make notes.
  • Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone. And never, ever talk about it before you put it on paper. Note that in this tech age, Pixar said “paper.”
  • Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it. That’s the passion. It allows you to keep going in the face of unspeakable sadness, anxiety, and pain.
  • No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later. I haven’t learned that one yet.
  • What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there. I can hear a man I worked for in Philadelphia who was a genius theater person saying, “Clarity.” That’s what it’s all about.