Thursday, July 16, 2009

Poems about art

July 16, 2009

To the left is Wotan, a sketch I made after seeing a homeless man on the west side of Balboa Park about a decade ago. Of course he's named for The Wanderer in Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle.

He reminds me of Robert, the homeless man in my story "The Sudden Unexpected Sweetness of the Orange," which was recently read at the Avo Playhouse by Veronica Murphy of Write Out Loud.

I promised readers of my Theatrescene column, Curtain Calls, that I would post an example of the poetic form known as a conceit. Mine follows

Address to an Artisan

Crocheter, weaver of cloth,

you sometimes fashion words as well.

Fashioner of words and phrases,

of tangibles and intangibles,

how does one fashion life?

You, often maker of knobbied stuff,

you weave a lifetime’s threads.

Weaver at the inner loom,

the warp and woof of what you weave

by far surpass your intricate words.

The woven cloth and mitered phrase —

you do create a thousand arts.

Creator of intangibles, your textured life —

the row-by-row — fails still to show

what master thread interlaces all.

And while we're speaking of form, here's my award-winning sonnet:

For a Young Poet

You ask my words to move like weighted boughs

luxuriant with summer’s fecund blooms;

to give you shade sometimes and to avow

that autumn’s words more wisdom bear than June’s.

My words invoked crawl slowly forth like snails

that overnight have journeyed on my wood,

in darkness leaving me a mucous trail

crisscrossing truths I thought I understood.

To pull my leaves apart in search for truth

would be to find them bloodless as your own;

their rending would not wisdom give your youth,

nor knowledge of the summers I have known.

Our roots for now commingle, each in each,

and I learn more from you than I can teach.

Poems about art

Friday, July 3, 2009

New New Older Woman

July 3, 2009

Hello now

I've decided to post a New New Older Woman column occasionally, along with the old New Older Woman posts from long ago issues of the former Uptown News. There is now a new San Diego Uptown News as well, so things could not be more complicated. We won't go into that other than to say I am writing for it and you may access it on the Web.

Summer Camp, Hillcrest 2009

By Charlene Baldridge

Young people with laden backpacks

and tawny dogs walk the streets of Hillcrest.

Why, I do not know.

Perhaps it is almost July.

They camp by Washington Mutual, now called Chase,

across the street from the Crest Café.

Late Saturday night, when the moon was a thumbnail,

and I was feeling unrest as well as hunger,

I came out to find my car surrounded by black

and white and flashing lights.

Leaning against the wall outside the Brass Rail—

nothing like it on a Saturday night in Hillcrest—

I asked a man who leaned there too

what it was all about.

We’ve been tryin’ to figure that out, he said.

His breath was a story unto itself but he said

You be safe, ma’am, as I moved away.

The cops began to leave, and I eased over to my car.

Soon everyone was gone, and as I cut through

the Chase lot towards home, I saw them,

the young men with laden backpacks and tawny dogs,

walking north, along the narrow alley towards University

and perhaps another campground.

Hello then: June 1996 Uptown Newsmagazine

For my own transition to independence in 1992 I moved into a charming Craftsman four-plex in what was then called Golden Hill. It was what I could afford, and I loved the idiosyncratic layout of the apartment, on the second floor, up a long flight of darkly stained stairs. I loved the eclectic, creative, thriving mix of the neighborhood, and made friends with the homeless couple who slept on the church porch down the block.

For a house-warming gift my children gave me a solid-core door and a dead-bolt lock. On the other hand, one of my friends gave me a session with a psychic healer. Which provided the greater protection, I may not know; however I have since learned that there had been a murder in my apartment, and that's why it remained empty for so long a time before I moved in.

I choose to believe that it remained vacant while it waited for me and that somehow my presence dispelled any lingering evil.

"Didn't you know?" my informant asked/

"No," I said. "I sensed that bad things had happened here, but I always felt safe and embraced."

A year ago, when I quit the security of my paying job and announced I intended to write full time, my children really became alarmed. Like my accountant, they fail to understand this leap of faith. They haven't read the line from Adrienne Rich's Transcendental Etude that inspires me daily: "...there comes a time--perhaps this is one of them--when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die..."

There came a time in my life when I had to become my unvarnished self or die. When this time arrives, we must do what pleases us, what brings us joy. It is time for our soul work. We must write and speak the truth without fear. Further, we must no longer be affected by our children's worry or disapproval. We strove to understand them in their transitions, allowed them their cross-dressing, drug experimentation, their dubious friends, their testing of our limits and their unaccountably late hours. Now it is time for them to do the same for us, to seek to understand us and allow us to become more our selves.

How can they possibly understand the urgency of age? The need to do, to taste, to see, to fulfill all that was suppressed so long in caring for them and in setting a good example.

At some level, their tacit and spoken disapproval still hurts: the forgotten birthday, the silent phone. but I wouldn't trade this life on my own for the approval that would have been mine had I stayed in my emotionally sterile marriage, settled into my comfy recliner anesthetized by booze and the television and awaited death.

As a new older woman I own my right to do what my soul dictates, to lead the life it demands of me now as I am finding the courage to become more and more myself. I am learning not to depend on the approval of others. It is I who must approve of and care for me, emotionally and physically.

Quote of the month: "I always take the darker path. Not because it's dark but because there's a secret there that you can share when you get out."--Amanda Plummer, The New York Times, April 29, 1996.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Long Distance Calling

LONG DISTANCE, or a half hour with Jesus

March 1996, Uptown Newsmagazine

Ursula’s letter laments that our friend Joe died alone while traveling in New York. In response, I write that Joseph’s ICU nurse, knowing death was imminent, was with him all night and held his hands as he let go of life. In truth, we all face that moment alone, even though someone’s arms may be around us, and someone’s hands may hold ours.

Ursula also writes she envies my freedom to do what I want; and then in the same paragraph she writes she’s put her retirement off till the year 2000 because she wants the security of her job and its medical plan as well as the financial remuneration that allows her to continue traveling to exotic places. I tell her to stop beating herself up. If travel makes her happy she should continue working so long as the company allows her to do so.

“What are you going to do?” asked my tax accountant when she toted up 1995’s income and outgo.

“You must understand,” I replied, “that this is a leap of artistic and creative faith.”

“I’m an accountant,” she said. “I don’t understand ‘leap of faith.’” Then she added wistfully, “I almost wish I did.”

   If security were more important than fulfillment, I’d still be working for someone else and making ten times what I earned during the past year. If security were more important than freedom, I’d have remained in a long-term relationship with a man who was absent emotionally.

Friends are my most precious gifts these days. Erik lies on the floor, propped up by pillows, while we watch the video of “Moonstruck” he’s brought over. He reaches out several times during the film and squeezes my ankle affectionately. I realize suddenly that there is more intimacy and love in his touch than I received during the final ten years of my marriage.

Do you address fear in your work,” asks my friend Tom, “admit to it?”

Perhaps not. Perhaps I paint my life and myself too brave, too resilient. In many ways I am frightened. I do worry over the future, but I have to put up that brave front; it is all I have to protect myself against the possibility of failure.

What is failure? Isn’t it the time for expression that matters?

I admit that in the middle of the night and I am alone, fear sometimes assails me. I waken and murmur prayers of thanksgiving—for friends, a warm apartment and for the beauty that surrounds me. Surely something that feels so right, that brings such happiness will eventually sustain me.

I face uncertainty. Who doesn’t? What could be more exhilarating? I weigh each opportunity as it is presented, then choose to pursue the prospect or not. My decision is influenced less and less by how much money I’ll earn and more and more by what will satisfy me creatively and feed my soul.

   This morning in Balboa Park, a man stood near the Moreton Bay fig tree across from Old Globe Way. His attitude was that of a man talking on a cellular phone; his attire told me otherwise.

After I’d passed I could hear his voice. “So, you say I’ve got a half hour with Jesus? Put him on.”




Thursday, May 28, 2009

About New Older Woman

November 1995

I was suddenly single at 60
I just ended a love affair with a man 20 years my junior
I'm exploring the Internet and making connections with others young in spirit, several of them victorious over illness and adversity
I'm coming to my own place of desperate confrontation and acceptance
Yes, I have been to an Elderhostel. It was a grand experience, but certainly not a place to meet a man. (Photo by Ken Howard)

That was then, this is now
I've been on my own for 15 years, and I love it. My publications currently include, La Jolla Village News, Performances Magazine and occasional publications elsewhere, including Downtown News and North County Times. In addition, I am a much published poet with a chapbook titled Winter Roses, the title poem and others set to music by composer Jake Heggie. They are frequently performed and one has been recorded by two prime-time opera singers, Frederica Von Stade and Susan Graham. 

The first New Older Woman column, February 1996

Sharing 'Ria'

When you go through life with an open countenance, interesting things happen. It was a full-moon morning, and quite obviously the tide had drawn me to the surf, which crashed close to the shore.

At the foot of Grand Avenue I followed my nose south along the boardwalk, toward Mission Beach, watching the myriad shades of green and blue as the waves curled to meet the sand, whitecaps and foam illuminated by the early morning sun.

On the other side of the wall, a huge yellow Caterpillar piled up the seaweed deposited by the foment of high tide.

Also on the sand side of the wall, bundled up against the bluster of early morning, an older man saluted my smile with a wave of his cane.

"Break any of your New Year's resolutions yet?" he asked merrily.

Upon closer inspection the head of his cane was that of a serpent, studded with inlays of darker wood that looked to me like chocolate chips.

"All of them!" I replied. "Did you find any treasure this morning?"

"I'm not out for treasure," he said, "just sharing 'Ria' with others."

"What's Ria?" I asked. He pronounced the first syllable as if it were "rye."
Just then some passersby turned, raised their arms and jubilantly shouted, "Ria!"

"Well, at least they know what 'ria' is," I said.

"It's 'air' spelled backwards," said my new friend. "By the way, everyone calls me Bamboo Ben."

"Okay, Bamboo Ben."

"I was walking alone here one morning, kind of lethargic in the legs, when the idea occurred to me. I said it a few times and it made me feel better. Ever since I've been sharing it with others. Want to try it?"

"Sure," I said.

"It works best if you raise your hands over your head," he said, demonstrating. "Then, inhale deeply and say it."

"Ria!" I shouted at the morning. "Ria!"

"My goodness, you do that well," he said. "You even raised your palms upward."

Ben told me he lives on Beryl Street and was born the year Woodrow Wilson was inaugurated. That would make him 83 by my reckoning.

"I used to be a house painter," Ben said, "but now I just share 'ria' with everyone. Air is the first thing we take in and the last thing we let go of. I'm also the sole member of the SSS."

"The SSS?"

"The Soft Sand Shuffle," he said, smiling. "But you have to come over on this side of the wall to do that. It's hard at first, but there's no hurry."

"I've got all the time in the world," said I, swinging my legs over the wall.

What with the waves, the "ria" Bamboo Ben and the SSS, I realized I felt better than I had in a long time.