I don’t know when we’ll see each other again or what the world will be like when we do. We may both have seen many horrible things. But I will think of you every time I need to be reminded that there is beauty and goodness in the world.
―Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
I wish this for you: to find the people you belong with, the ones who will see your pain, companion you, hold you close, even as the heavy lifting of grief is yours alone. As hard as they may seem to find at times, your community is out there. Look for them. Collect them. Knit them into a vast flotilla of light that can hold you.
―Megan Devine, It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand
We sit and talk,
quietly, with long lapses of silence
and I am aware of the stream
that has no language, coursing
beneath the quiet heaven of
which has no speech
―William Carlos Williams, Paterson
The soul grows into lovely habits as easily as into ugly ones, and the moment a life begins to blossom into beautiful words and deeds, that moment a new standard of conduct is established, and your eager neighbors look to you for a continuous manifestation of the good cheer, the sympathy, the ready wit, the comradeship, or the inspiration, you once showed yourself capable of. Bear figs for a season or two, and the world outside the orchard is very unwilling you should bear thistles.
Family is family, and is not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, and adoption documents. Families are made in the heart. The only time family becomes null is when those ties in the heart are cut. If you cut those ties, those people are not your family. If you make those ties, those people are your family. And if you hate those ties, those people will still be your family because whatever you hate will always be with you.
Last Saturday, April 9th, synkroniciti hosted In the Garden. This time we moved away from prepared pieces to build Faerie Houses.
We drifted together slowly. Anticipating that it might be a light night for poetry and art, I asked folks to bring along small natural items, the kind of things you might find beside the pathway while on a walk, the kind of things laying discarded in the yard. Some of us went out of our way, asking the neighbors for rogue bits of plant material and digging beads and feathers out of our closets.
We began inside, sharing a few stories of gardens and plants that were special to us. There was a grandmother’s bird of paradise plants, which didn’t bloom until she died, and native Texas bamboo and Japanese persimmons that failed to thrive after a grandfather’s death. There were gardenias planted at the four sides of a childhood home and a mother’s bed of violets in a country garden. Recalling these memories was, at least for me, calming and refreshing. Then we stepped outside into the cool late afternoon/early evening to construct our offerings for the toads, fairies and small creatures of my newly planted garden.
We brought out a card table and chairs and piled the table high with treasures: bits of bark, pine cones, spent bougainvillea blossoms, beads, shells, a feather boa, acorn cups, fuzzy pieces and leaves from a magnolia tree, Spanish moss, stones… these were just a few things we had collected and now shared freely. There were clay pots, scissors and twine to make things go together more easily. We didn’t have any glue, and I am thankful for this, because there is something very special about twining and stringing things together, like fitting together a puzzle. We didn’t necessarily know where we were going with our ideas when we started, but soon we produced our creations, rich in color and variety and surprisingly different in structure. It was a luscious, playful, Zen-like experience.
As it grew dark, we each placed our offering into the garden. As the structures arrived in place, small communities formed. It was magical. All week I have been taking care of them, setting them back up after strong winds and covering them when the rain looked to be fierce. They won’t last forever, but they are precious in their own time. Yuri the cat loves Susan’s feathered pot and a lizard has moved into Louie’s bark house.
Part two of this post consists of galleries of our work, which I have taken the liberty to write up in the form of house listings. Thanks to Neil, André, Shanáy, Kelly, Susan and Louis. Each of you is an original and I am so moved by what you made! Can’t wait to do this again next year… or maybe even in the fall. The wee creatures will be wanting new digs.
Until every soul is freely permitted to investigate every book, and creed, and dogma for itself, the world cannot be free. Mankind will be enslaved until there is mental grandeur enough to allow each man to have his thought and say. This earth will be a paradise when men can, upon all these questions differ, and yet grasp each other’s hands as friends. It is amazing to me that a difference of opinion upon subjects that we know nothing with certainty about, should make us hate, persecute, and despise each other.
There’s something profoundly intense and intoxicating about friendship found en route. It’s the bond that arises from being thrust into uncomfortable circumstances, and the vulnerability of trusting others to navigate those situations. It’s the exhilaration of meeting someone when we are our most alive selves, breathing new air, high on life-altering moments. It’s the discovery of the commonality of the world’s people and the attendant rejection of prejudices. It’s the humbling experience of being suspicious of a stranger who then extends a great kindness. It’s the astonishment of learning from those we set out to teach. It’s the intimacy of sharing small spaces, the recognition of a kindred spirit across the globe.
It’s the travel relationship, and it can only call itself family.
―Lavinia Spalding, The Best Women’s Travel Writing, Volume 8: True Stories from Around the World
Have you ever wondered what novels Charles Dickens might have written if he possessed a sunnier disposition? Meet Wobbly Barstool.
Jane Lowy‘s Wobbly Barstool puts a clever spin on the Victorian novel. The plot shares common elements with Dicken’s classic Great Expectations, including hidden and mistaken identities, adults scheming over the lives of their children, thwarted lives and passion, rough changes of fortune and jaw dropping revelations. Wobbly, Lowy’s hero, lives in the same world as Pip, but, due to his happy rural upbringing, he interprets that world far differently.
He’s a solid, simple lad, far from stupid, but not at all brilliant, raised by two solid and dependable parents, Horace and Nelly, in the pleasant hamlet of Restinstump. Some of you townies might find it dull, but Restinstump provides a calm and relatively idyllic alternative to London, which remains as Dickens painted it. The most heartbreaking moments of the novel concern a trip to London in which Wobbly’s father, Horace, has to work hard not to let the rough conditions of city life, especially that of poor children, drag him into depression.
Seven Dials, by Gustave Dore, 1872, depicts a busy London street full of shoe shops and swarming with children.
The Barstool family is ebullient, taking on whatever life gives them with laughter and twinkle in the eye. When Wobbly makes friends with an unfortunate orphan, Tobias, who is residing in the woods with a band of dogs, they take in the newcomer (and dogs) with open arms, as we know they will. This happy friendship and familial closeness will shape the bulk of the novel even as it is tried and tested.
Life gets most interesting for Wobbly, and for us readers, when the attractive and intelligent Prunella Baddonschilde appears in Restinstump, along with her best friend, Marigold. Wobbly is smitten with Prunella from the beginning, and he doesn’t waste much time in telling her so. She’s been raised in London and her mother has groomed her to marry into the moneyed class. Pru, as she calls herself, is far from thrilled at that prospect, but she’s not ready to rush into anything with an awkward coutry boy a few years younger than herself either. Echoing the desire of Pip for Estella in Great Expectations, Wobbly vows he will make something of himself so that he may win Prunella’s hand. A great many twists and turns ensue. There is even a sea voyage that culminates in several folks plunging overboard. Between unexpected events and extremely lovable characters, Wobbly Barstool is quite a page turner. I guarantee that there is at least one revelation you won’t see coming. Not everything is as clean and tidy as it seems.
The charm of the novel lies in its humor. Wobbly’s employment woes are hilarious, especially when a lonely older woman comes on to him, encouraging him to practice kissing her so that he’ll be an expert by the time he kisses Prunella. Unfortunately, her husband comes home unexpectedly and Wobbly is forced to escape, aided by a disgruntled goat. Humor can be very difficult to put down on the page and often falls flat, but not Lowy’s. Her dialogue positively sparkles. It is the comic qualities of the protagonists that are most endearing, from Wobbly’s almost empty-headed good humor and naiveté to Prunella’s terrible attempts at writing poetry. Many of the character names are worth a chuckle, including the Irishman Fewan Farbetween and, my personal favorite, the loathsome Harry Backanall. This is a book you read with a smile on your face.
While humor is the hook that kept me reading, the strength of the book lies in its characters, particularly Prunella, Wobbly, Marigold and Tobias. They suffer disappointments and betrayals, but are able, ultimately, to hold on to their faith in one another and make decisions that keep them from disaster. They do something that Dickens was loathe to let his characters do–succeed through self determination. Their definition of success is different from what many people of their era, or ours, for that matter, might espouse, having little to do with the grasping for social status or cash that so often motivates Victorian characters and leads them to their ruin. Turning their back on London and the Industrial Revolution, our heroes choose the farm life of Restinstump, where they feel a connection to the community, a cast of wonderful supporting personalities, people who inspire faith in the human race. It is the hint that we can make the same choice that gives the novel its power.
The naiveté of the young residents of Restinstump, as they seek a balance between their dreams, many of which are quite modern, and their love for their traditional community and peaceful existence, makes their choice possible. How many dreams do we deny daily out of a sense of practicality, out of a jaded view of the world? Life is a combination of our projections meeting reality. Sometimes we short change ourselves by expecting too little. That being said, if anyone else had tied the knot during the course of the novel I think I would have been overcome by the immense rosiness of outlook. But what a sweet way to be overcome!
If hot were cold and cold were hot
And time ran backwards too-o-o
I’d give a shrug and say, “So wot?”
For I’m head over heels for you.
If cats should bark and dogs meow
And horses start to moo-o-o
I’d think it just their usual row
For I”m head over heels for you.
from Wobbly’s Song
Wobbly Barstool, a winner of the BRAG Medallion for outstanding self published books,is a splendid first novel, one that makes you ponder human nature without realizing it. Houstonians, Jane Lowy is a local talent. You can catch her and her husband reading around town and, of course, at Synkroniciti Open Mics. For the rest of you, Wobbly is available as e-book or in hardcover.