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Journeys Notes from the Road

For love of carpet

I am waking up at 4 a.m. to try to catch a standby flight to Chicago. “Why?” you may ask. For carpeting. See the last tradeshow we went to accidentally received our carpet squares, though they weren’t on the packing list. Said carpet squares never made it back in time to ship in the crates to this next show, but for some reason we didn’t talk through this well enough apparently. And so, right now, a slab of concrete awaits me in Chicago. They won’t accept my pleas for carpeting on the phone. Nope, I have to be on premises and walk up to the order desk.

And so, I wake up at 4 a.m. to hopefully get on a much earlier flight. Major shout out to Katy for agreeing to take me to the airport… You rock, dude!

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Recipes

Some Shakespeare to tuck you in

Ah Will, you were ever the romantic! Except for when you were the tragic prophetic voice beaming out of Stratford on Avon. From my readings tonight, I give you this fine nugget, reader, culled from Sonnet 76:

“O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument.
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.”

I find that what pricks my pen seems to be a convergence of the same thing, but viewed from another angle of its prism-like shape. If you leave me a comment with email address, I will send you my latest poem inspired by Jonah. Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite- they’re nasty little critters!

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Journeys Notes from the Road

France: A Lesson in Faith, part trois

france balcony

The concert helped spread the word about the new church through a sign mounted on an easel and also mentioned by J. as he talked after the songs, describing what they meant / the author / the spiritual connotation. He was approached by people during the intermission applauding him for contributing art to the city’s rich heritage of art. Others wanted to help chip in and pay for the concert. And yet others told him that they sensed that we believed what we were singing and appreciated his comments after the songs.

Saturday night’s first meeting was held at the local presbytery, graciously opened to J and G by the local reformed church. When we arrived on foot, seven people were waiting to get in… Seven. Let me put this in a proper framework for you, reader: in two years, they had one person interested while living in Marseille. Tonight, after 5 months, seven people had shown up. One woman even drove 45 minutes to attend and paid a $5 bridge toll both ways. The topic of the evening consisted of Love: Is it an Illusion or Real? J. used the outline presented by C.S. Lewis and lively debate ensued over cups of wine and appetizers. We were asked to contribute our thoughts later on into the conversation, which was fun to contribute.

This evening we said goodbye to J and G, spending a long while praying over them, parked at the concert site, all of us crying at how we had visibly seen God work miracles in such a short time. All we have to do is give Him our yes and then stand back.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

France: A Lesson in Faith, part deux

st. raphael

The airplane climbed through the clouds, ushering me to Saint Raphael, where I would meet up with my two teammates, Katy and Cheryl to prayerwalk and prepare for a concert in the Cote d’Azur. The week started with some bumps, namely, rain. It rained the first morning and then was chased away that afternoon as we explored and prayerwalked specific areas of town. The next few days commenced our preparation for the concert to be held if all went well on the boardwalk of the town at the Espace Delayen. Day one I prayed that the rain would cease. This morphed into speaking back to God that just as He held the lion’s mouths when Daniel was in the den, He could close up the clouds from spilling their rain onto the earth.

The mayor had okayed the concert and included it in the calendar posted on the town’s website, posted on billboards in town and even mentioned in an article in Thursday’s newspaper. We had three days to become gospel singers.

Thursday afternoon, we hopped on a bus, heading for the rehearsal, located in a recording studio. As things would go, the rain was not abating and we got lost, thus wandering around for an hour, wet and chilly- not great conditions for staying well. Once we arrived at the site, we rehearsed for 5 and a half hours with some worship leaders of the surrounding area. This was probably the most fun part of the trip- jamming with local musicians, whose musical skills were tight! The band consisted of: Julien on piano, Philippe on drums and leading sound, Stephane on acoustic, Jean-Michel on bass, Freddi on electric. We grooved “More Love, More Power” to a disco rhythm and sank into it. Once practice was over, we headed outside as the musicians put their instruments away. Under a tent of umbrellas, slices of quiche and cups of juice were passed around in the dark. This was a fun time of team building with the band.

st raphael windows

Friday morning, when I awoke, the sky was a bleak San Francisco grey, dripping down upon the earth. How easily I gave up on my quest to prayerblock the rain… We ventured out and labeled French Gospels of John to be passed out at the concert. I finessed the powerpoint that G. had worked so diligently on putting together (that in the end we couldn’t use because her computer refused to turn on at the concert site). A few hours before the concert, Cheryl and I were sent out to promote it. I usually hate passing things out with a spiritual bent, but since this was a concert, put on my best concert-promoting smile and whipped out my phrases in French. The key is to purse your lips- your French sounds infinitely better when spoken through a pouting mouth. But I digress, passing out fliers was fun and allowed me a few lively conversations. The French love gospel music. We made sure to include one of their all-time favorites, “Oh Happy Day” as part of the selection. I meandered back to the hotel and got ready for the concert.

Katy announced that we would be meeting at the outdoor concert site and not the backup church site. The skies roiled with ominous grey clouds, but in spite of this I loved the gutsy move and continued praying for them to clear. The dichotomy of sky: the West revealed bright blue sky and sunshine, the East brooded with gloomy grey clouds. The apex of the rainclouds was perched straight above our concert site. As the musicians set up, I walked around praying that God would give St. Tropez a vacation from the sunshine… Christopher Cross’s “Sailing” began the background music during set-up. I had found a karaoke buddy in France.

st raphael aqueduct

By the time of the concert, all the rain clouds had moved toward St. Tropez. Praise God! Katy and I sang a smattering of spiritual songs- worship choruses and gospel ditties. The concert went well and it was exciting during Katy’s solo of “Amazing Grace” when her voice swelled in the seaside evening air. There were moments when this felt so surreal. Instead of people not wanting to receive the gospels, Cheryl and G. were each followed by people wanting to get their own copy.

After the concert, we hung out with several of G’s friends from her jazz choir that we meshed with quickly. L. is wanting to make her dent as a makeup artist and if I had been there longer, I told her she could play with makeup on my face. M. later invited us to hear her sing jazz at a local restaurant. If there was only more time… tant pis. We headed over to the brasserie for warming chocolat chaud and the band members joined us after they finished loading their cars. Once the last instrument was stowed away in the car, rain started falling from the sky. Wild stuff, this faith.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

France: A Lesson in Faith, part un

frejus

We returned from a week-long trip to France to catch a vision of what God is doing and wants to do in a small town located on the Cote d’Azur. From the beginning, this trip was an exercise in faith-building 101. Mike had challenged us to consider the yes stowed away in our hearts that we were not yet giving to God and France was the last place in my mind that I would have perceived God’s call in my life right now. But I prayed and wrestled with the socketing void in which He and I were dwelling. Boldly, I asked for the time off, knowing school is coming up soon and thinking they wouldn’t give me the time off, and my boss didn’t flinch when she said, “yes.”

Work was the biggest obstacle I could foresee with going on the trip. Intrinsically, I knew He would supply the provision to go. And then, I started talking to people about the trip. The overarching responses received was that other people decided not to go because “they would enjoy it too much; they needed to go someplace hard; remember you’re not going on vacation…” things of that strain. These responses baffled me a little but I felt strongly enough about going that if I couldn’t raise support because people thought I was going on “vacation,” I would take care of the end result.

sainte raphael france

God had other plans. One Monday, I checked in with the church to find out how much had been donated, so I could begin thank you notes and found out that in addition to two supporters I was already grateful for, an anonymous donor in Texas supplied the entire amount. I felt so excited for the generosity of spirit of the anonymous donor and that they chose to not herald with trumpets that grandiose beautiful gift they were giving back to God. Very cool.

In the end, our team raised more than the support needed and we will be able to supply the church planters in France with a check to help with ministry expenses. Blessed to be a blessing indeed…

sainte raphael france

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Journeys When in

Chicago: Green Zebra Restaurant Review

I had been anticipating this dinner for several years now. Green Zebra is known as one of the most innovative vegetarian restaurant’s in the country. And I have come to recognize that some of the most innovative cooking is coming out of Chicago. We shared a booth at the Green Festival with one of our vendors and he made reservations at this restaurant for all of us working the booth to enjoy post-show.

Chef Shawn McClain is the mastermind behind GZ and is also well-known for restaurant Spring in Chicago. Last year, he received the James Beard award for Best Chef Midwest. With such recommendations, we anticipated seeing how the evening would shape up.

Upon entering the restaurant the colors are cool as a cucumber, pale green with dark wood and chilewich accents. Classy. The decor is spartan, everything from palm fronds lighted to cast their zebra-esque shadows on the walls to a resin panel behind the small bar area.

Recently GZ was written about in a national newspaper for their interesting take on non-alcoholic beverages. Like most people, I enjoy a great glass of wine occasionally but really have to be in the mood. So, non-alcoholic drinks are more my speed. The list was impressive in its brevity. Rich and Romena ordered cilantro limeades, akin to a mock-mojito. I settled on a pink peppercorn thyme soda. Delish.

Eating at Green Zebra is progressive. Our server recommended ordering three plates per person and the menu moves from lighter, more delicate flavors to bold, rich ones. With four people dining, we enjoyed a smattering of the menu, listed below with brief commentary and asterisks by our favorite dishes. (Note: The menu changes rather often, since it incorporates fresh seasonal produce.)

FIRSTS
Fresh Burrata Cheese, Meyer Lemon Gelee, Grilled Onion Relish
— Salty and similar to a buffalo mozzarella textured cheese, the relish resembles the flavors of a mediterranean tapenade. *

Roasted Beet Panna Cotta, Pecans, Rhubarb and Puff Pastry
— The panna cotta’s creaminess combined with the slightly sweet notes of the beet and the mildly tart edge of the rhubarb paired well with the deep, rich crunch of pecans.

Celery Root & Kohlrabi, Pickled Cucumber, Currants and Dill Vinaigrette
— Reminiscent of the flavors associated with a cole slaw, this app. had good crunch and the dill vinaigrette included a somewhat spicy French mustard with seeds, complemented well by the sweetness of the currants. Hands down, my favorite starter. *

Shaved Artichoke Salad, Parmesan, Preserved Lemons and Red Pepper Foam
— Of all the starters, this dish was ho hum. I did like the shaved raw artichoke with its crunch and the lemon made it fresh like a better version of a caesar salad.

SECONDS
Blue Cheese Beignets, Whole Roasted Pear, Bearnaise, Port Wine
The shape of hush puppies, these beignets are filled with blue cheese with a crispy coating similar to panko. The pear offset the tang of the cheese well. Tasty. *

Slow Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms in Crispy Potato with Savoy Cabbage
I woke up the morning after our dinner still thinking about these rolls. The mushrooms has an amazing flavor, somewhat buttery with the right amount of saltiness. Their chewiness contrasted well with the crisp potato coating. Outstanding. *

Special Pasta
This was okay. Everyone liked this one a lot and I can’t really describe it well. It didn’t stand out.

Crisp Chickpea Pancake, Pinenuts, Basil and Marinated Black Radish
— There was nothing exciting about this. I could have made it at home (and maybe I will…)

Spiced Eggplant Dumpling, Baby Carrots, Coconut, Lemongrass
— It was just okay.

THIRDS
Turnip Risotto Cake, Foraged Mushrooms, Spinach Puree, Baby Turnips
— Yum, yum, yum. We were fork-fighting over the foraged mushrooms- they were rich and offset the creamy, grilled risotto cakes. The baby turnips had a good earthy flavor and bite.*

Roasted Squash & Apple Tart, Aged Blue Cheese, Shallot Compote, Black Pepper Syrah

— This was our favorite of the third course. The butternut squash (or it could be kabocha) gave a creamy sweetness that paired well with the slight crunch of the apples accompanied by bits of blue cheese. The syrah rounded out the flavors perfectly. *

Parmesan Gnocchi, Ramps, English Peas, Mustard, Morels
— The gnocchi was feathery and light with a slight parmesan sensibility. The sweetness and snap of the peas worked well with the ramps and the chewy morels.

——————————-
Green Zebra is worth the time and expense. As Rich said, he didn’t realize he hadn’t had meat during the meal and didn’t miss it. Agnes commented if vegetarian food always tasted this good there would be no need for meat. We left full and happy.

KID-FRIENDLY: no
GROUPS: small or intimate settings (one-on-ones)
NOISE: The music is kind of loud, but we didn’t have to shout at each other to be heard.
AMBIENCE: Intimate, romantic (dinner only)

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Chicago: Shuttling about

chicago

I woke this morning at 4 a.m. and my little eyes are crescent moons right now, squeezed so the necessary amount of light filters in so I can type. And get in bed I will, but first, I wanted to say a few things:
— Chicago is in the 60s and tomorrow it will be in the 70’s. Yum.
— Our booth at the Green Festival is in the “Eco-Fashion” area. (Read: danger, danger, look the other way)
— I rode with the nicest shuttle driver for about two hours today in rush-hour traffic, through the loop, dropping people off. Waiting for my stop, we chatted about the city and he mentioned he’d never been to San Francisco before. I amazed myself a little as I began rattling off all the things a person can do for free or on the cheap in SF if playing the part of the rogue tourista, as he kept saying “ok” after everything I said, almost like a tic.
— We set up the booth tonight and what I thought would be an in / out job turned into a multiple hour job. So dinner happened around 10 p.m. meaning no venturing out into the fair city. Tant pis.
— Perhaps the whole reason of this entry other than a “hey there from the windy city” is to say that I wrote a paper tonight. And what this means in the long-run is that I am an on-the-go kind of gal and am going to make the school / career meshing together thing work. Or die trying. (hey that’s a joke. why aren’t you laughing?)
— Lastly, I am sporting a new ‘do that I can happily attribute and thank my good friend Joel for doing on the fly last night. Risk is fun…

And now the marshmallow bed is summoning and who am I to smirk at its call?

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Journeys Tales from the MFA

Not quite the bedfellows you had in mind

chihuly umbrellas

I finished reading “The Nakedness of the Fathers” by Alicia Ostriker tonight. Since she’s my mentor this semester, it was good to delve into some of her writings to see how she approaches craft and spirituality. Below I share with you one of the images I found most striking and profound from her book:

“Some balloons cling tenderly to the ceiling, pale pink, lobelia and daffodil, sent by cripples, political prisoners, leaders of military regimes. Sent by pornographers and schoolchildren, gamblers and gunmen. They are among the many who entreat him to stay alive and want him to know they are praying for him, the balloons nuzzling each other electrostatically upon the ceiling signifying the celestial ascent of their desires. They send their prayers upward- like the balloons- for him, to him.” (p. 249)

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Journeys Tales from the MFA

Leaving the desert

chihuly

I have been roaming in the desert longer than forty days and forty nights. What is to become of me, of them?

James Wright’s poem “To the Saguaro Cactus…” really got me thinking in a new way of this usually barren plot of land associated with hardness of earth and heart. Moses and I convene almost every night, listening to God laying out His plan for separation. It’s been coming all along and points back to a tree and a self-possessed decision. And yet. Moses sits, face beaming, taking down the measurements of the dedication of the priests, of the Holy of Holies. The separation begins anew. Even as a golden calf is being shaped and liquid gold is being forged into its parts, there is a part of me that wants this time to be different. Maybe this time they will decide that hoop earrings are stylish and the women will stage an uprising against any sort of calf nonsense. But it’s like any story you become interconnected with- you know what’s coming and you grimace, you brace for the long journey ahead. It’s as if I have as much to lose as Moses once he steps foot off that mountain of Sinai. Can’t he just stay up there longer? Can’t there be another way?

Tonight for assignment packet three I begin reading “The Nakedness of the Fathers” a midrashic feast into the Torah/Old Testament’s integral stories and I am pulled back into what it will take for me to make my way into my own Exodus. The Jacob in me wrestles with the man in the night, but my Jacob is tired and not as prone to tenacity, not tonight. The Abraham in me easily invents safeguards to protect from disaster and perceived malice. The Joseph in me asks that his bones be moved in anticipation that this desert life will not be all that is savored after death. The Isaac in me waits to see what kind of exhortation might well up and pronounce itself. Tonight’s offering presented itself in poetic form, bleak with a well watered spiritual bed, that maybe this time there might at least be a peek at the promised land. If you’re in SF and if I have the cajones to read it, go to the Rock Saturday night and for a spell, enter the desert’s solace with me.

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Journeys Tales from the MFA

Good Friday

chicago

I avoided Allen Ginsberg tonight. Usually I take Good Friday off and spend it hiking, silent, in contemplation reading the four accounts of Jesus’ last moments before the gruesome death at 3 p.m. Earlier this week, I could see that we would have a press check today bringing one of my most recent projects to a close. So with an action-packed day like this one, I figured Allen would be okay with me waiting to dive into his exposition on “holiness” tomorrow morning. Tonight centered on reflection.

The Good Friday service I usually attend is all liturgy in darkness (something my catholic heart warms to) but tonight’s service struck a different more artistic chord. The reader described how God created the earth and how at the end He perceived it to be good, that He perceives us to be good ideas. He then referenced how the Word (logos) was with God in the beginning and invited us to take up a marker and draw a symbol of ourselves on one of the six canvasses lining the walls. Outlining my hand with a grape-scented marker, I filled in the hand with symbols that I think define me.

Next though, he spoke over us a litany of poor decisions to which we are inclined. He cited the Israelites in their impatience as Moses met with God on the mountain to craft a golden bull to worship. We are disposed to going our own way, it’s the sheep in us. I am a proficient sinner. It comes easily to me. Perhaps on the outside everything looks neat and tidy, but I know the truth. I can see the bowels of my heart. The reader then told us to go back to our drawings and mar them, to mar other peoples, symbolic of our turning our own way. I drew red flames licking the bottom of my palm, over and over until I could write in my own personal leanings to sin. I sat down next to Lola and her fiance Shawn as she predicted the next part.

He then encouraged us to go and make the drawing beautiful again and as she guessed, for most people it was impossible. I grabbed the blueberry-scented marker and drew a gigantic hand reaching down to pull me up.

At this point in the service, it was obvious that more needed to be done than our mere fixing blemished self-portraits. With box cutters in hand, the reader went and slashed the canvasses so the middle fell to the ground in a heap. He then took a roll of duct tape and began wrapping it around the fallen canvas until it appeared to be an effigy and he duct taped it to the cross.

I loved the symbolism, but the effigy weirded me out as did the slashing. The violence and associations were gruesome. During communion I sat in my chair listening to the classical minor keyed music. Sat in my chair until almost no one was left in the room, wondering when I would get up and go partake of the body (bread) and blood (wine). Wondering if I was full, is it gluttony to eat the Lord’s Supper? Mad at God for several things that He can’t change and buggered that of all nights to be openly mad, it had to be tonight. But I guess that’s the thing with relationships, it’s not always black and white. And I can be mad this evening and leave it at the altar, make a clean start.

The curves of the fingers on my left hand show traces of purple marker. I think Allen would be interested in large canvasses, self symbols and transformation in the artistic contemplative. Holy! Holy! Holy!

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Journeys Tales from the MFA

A poet’s celebration

javits new york

Culminating a marathon week of back to back tradeshows, I found myself in New York righteously upsetting several union workers. Amidst their yells and screams of “lady, you can’t move that” my 5’2 stature heaved and shoved the largest of our crates waiting at the back of the Javits Center, the last vestige of our seven hours of waiting in plain sight. I yelled back as I pushed, “What, are you going to fine me?!” And then promptly came to my senses seeing our aisle blocked, running back to the booth, to my colleague Charlie and telling him the union workers were on yet another break. He and I scurried back to the crate, and as he waved at the foreman, he pushed and I guided the crate back to our booth space, giggling as I ran backwards.

The cause of this kerfuffle: Galway Kinnell’s 80th Birthday Celebration at Cooper Union. It started at 7 p.m. and I was now pushing 7:20, so as much as I respected the union workers’ rights to a 15 minute break, not on this leg of my watch… so we decidedly installed the bookcases, table and components into the crate and I sped off, haling a taxi in this great race against the clock.

My friend Sherry had called and recommended sneaking in straight through the basement since they had begun turning people away, which went off without a hitch. I walked quietly into the packed auditorium, seeing at least fifty standing in the back, reminiscent of the San Francisco opera. I walked in as Komunyakaa was reading. Kinnell, both a National Book Award recipient and Pulitzer Prize winner sat in the front row, as scores of poet friends read selected poems. The impressive list of readers included: E.L. Doctorow, Mark Doty, Cornelius Eady, Marie Howe, Yusef Komunyakaa, Anne Marie Macari (NEC prof), Sharon Olds, Grace Paley, Gerald Stern (NEC prof) and C.K. Williams.

C.K. Williams described Kinnell as not only one of the great poets of our time, but one of the great readers, as well. His poetry had people laughing and then just as quickly, cut off all noise, dousing it in silence. When Kinnell read some of his own work, I quickly warmed to Williams’ description of the great reader in Kinnell. Macari said she had been sick and stashed away with some of Kinnell’s poems finding in them great company and expressing honor to have them.

After the reading, we saw Anne Waldman walking in the throngs of people toward the front. Even after only a few weeks, it was like seeing a friend. She leaves for India soon to read some of her energetic poems at a festival. Sherry asked if we were working together this semester, and she said no, but that there was a connection between us (we both incorporate spirituality into our work and have an appreciation for South Asia). Afterwards, Sherry, her husband Sam and I wormed our way down to where Gerry and Anne-Marie were standing. She is on sabbatical from NEC right now, so we didn’t really know each other, but I hope I get to work with her during my time in school. Jan Heller-Levi was standing with them and broke out into a big grin when she saw us. They all wished us their best on our first semester’s homework. Sherry and I talked about our struggle of getting it all in, doing all the homework, so their best wishes we took with us. I also commented that in the U.S. where it seems most elderly people are not respected or appreciated as in Asian contexts, in poetry there is such a sense of homage and honor paid to these poets. They still have much to teach us before moving on toward Styx’s shore.

Later, in the lobby, Sherry and I stood in line waiting to have Galway Kinnell sign our books. Just in front of us, Michelle Williams, that’s right of “Brokeback Mountain / Dawson’s Creek” fame stood also waiting for his signature. I loved that she who gives autographs often (was approached while in line by a girl asking for her signature, gushing about what a great performance she gave in BM), was now in the position of getting one. When Kinnell was signing her book, he mentioned to her that he had accidentally left a card inside the theater and asked her to retrieve it, which she did without any air of inconvenience.

Gerry and Anne-Marie were leaving and as they passed by, he looked at us. In his sonorous voice, he told Sherry, “Remember you’re a poet.” Then almost as an afterthought, he looked at me and said, “And you too.” The thumped my nose with his index finger in an endearing way. He makes me laugh… Sam and Sherry drove me back to my hotel and I was so glad for this evening reading and time spent with friends in a city that one day could be lovely to call my own.

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Journeys Tales from the MFA

overcome

tales from the mfa

After a day of being back at work, I decided to stop off at Borders for a moment to look around the poetry section for the one “text”book I couldn’t order that must be hidden underneath a rock somewhere. I’m not giving up.

Have you ever been overcome with a voracious desire to want to read everything?

There on the Borders floor, I had such a sense of wishing I could, feeling like this was the bread that could feed me. I was overcome and pulled into poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Larry Levis, Anna Akhmatova, and Philip Levine. Almost unscathed, I left with just one new book tucked into my purse.