Gimme smore

(Be advised: The crumbly/gluey quotient of today’s Food Porn entry practically pleads for enjoyment al fresco— so get on out to that back deck while the weather’s still fine. I can see smores making a big retro comeback at this year’s Labor Day barbecues. Just saying.)

This here little slice of childlike heaven ranks among the three or four all-time top reasons to love a campfire, as this cowgirl well knows: packable, stackable treat for assembly under the stars above that dusty trail.

Even hiked ‘way up over the speedy traffic of a big hoss town like Chicago a gal might work up the craving for some toasty marshmallow from time to time and crank up a flickering blue ring of fire on that ole gas range.

I prefer mine all golden and gooey, while my cowpoke feller likes ’em singed to carbon and uncomplicated by augmentation. I’ll slap that oozing badboy inside a combo wedge of Hershey’s/Graham, and we’re in business for a sweet tooth fiesta.

side note: be careful when you’re grabbing the marshmallow off the skewer that it’s not still actually flaming… else you can give yourself a small searing molten sugar burn.

not that I’d know anything about that, personally.


The blessing of work

So today is Monday, and in honor of the outset of the workweek and the national holiday around the corner– some thoughts on labor.

There are all sorts of reasons one might hate one’s work or at least seriously resent its gouging intrusions on personal creative resources (energy, time, etc.). Here from the privileged shade of my current personal time oasis (not a mirage but also eventually evaporating) a fresh breeze perspective: work is good.

For awhile there I was deeply displeased with my working life–for, you know, various reasons (always there, ready as rain and stray electrons). In the midst of my then-particularities I was sufficiently irked to make a rather sudden and unprepared leap of jumbo dimensions out of the paid workforce in pursuit of… what exactly? Here I am many months later, striving daily to define and realize what constitutes good employment (in, you know, both practical and existential senses).

My current course of work ethic exercise contains a calm dose of self-discipline applied with practical orderliness. The tangible daily environment plays its role in a round robin of creative puttering and fiddling: I arrange and re-arrange the surrounding stage with objects and projects and books and ideas, concocting impromptu still-lifes in micro stopmotion movie sequence, directing miniature dramas in collaged and fantastically peopled dioramas… So the creative morass comes to a rolling boil.

But it can feel unhinged and off the handle without the grounding of external concrete goals most days. This week I feel securely tethered by a sense of purpose and drive, having recently come off a job of work I had to finish, just a little something-something worked up for a friend, which got my noggin back in gear. The momentum and conductive energy generated seem to have shifted around the bits and oddments and jarred my sticky stuckness loose. At least momentarily; time to knock together the next outline of completion targets.

Here’s today’s occasional truth: A concrete project with defined external goals can be a real energetic jolt for us malingerers. Olé!

Train babies

This is a frequent view from my worktable window.

Living overlooking the park has its distinctive moments, not all of them prone to transpiring at 3 a.m.

People like to bring kids to sit at the tip of the park and watch the train go ding-ding-dinging and rumbling by.

My favorite is the daycare down the street that rolls up its giant-size multi-baby strollers to set for a spell and egg the toddlers on to waving and clappping.

Look, look, look! Here comes the train! There’s the traaaiin! Yaaaaayyyyy!!!

Sometimes, just before lunchtime, there’s a baby stroller convention.

Overheard today: Do you want to stay all day and watch the trains?

Yes, please.

tough questions

It’s that little three-letter word that sets the context, really:

“What are you doing now?”

Elsewhere, in daily life, I encounter its sibling, the simpler “What do you do?”– itself a query fraught with occasional complication and anxiety potential, but in this particular place implicit evaluation rings with stunning resonance.

“What are you doing now?” carries with it echoes of both what I’ve done and what I haven’t done up to this point in time (typically educational achievement like go to the University of Michigan versus an Ivy League school for undergrad, complete an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and abandon ABD a PhD in Language, Literacy & Culture on writing through media; more and more these days it entails a meticulously scaled range of employment categorization and hierarchy: not-lawyer, not-doctor, not-financial-industrialist, not-business-owner, not-heiress-of-gigantic-multigenerational-fortune, etc.)

I’m standing in the big dining room, and I haven’t had my coffee yet, eyeing the big urns as I chide myself: never should’ve stopped to to say good morning to P. that old family-friend/sort-of-cousin, with cold reflexes and an uncaffeinated brain.

at the old family club with its generations of up-and-comers, which I’ve made brief occasional visits to my entire life, all the way back to babyhood in my grandmother’s “cabin” (which had been another family’s before it was hers), a looming split log edifice with two three staircases raised in the early days of the 20th century.

“Where are you living?”

“Where are you from?”

Typically, I tend to answer elliptically: “Outside Detroit.”

Too often they’ll respond, “Where, exactly?”

At this point I’m inevitably thrown back a bit on my heels, forced to confront once again the question of what the places we’ve been say to people about us. For me, all those addresses we’ve been before and left, moving onward into years and identities and responsibilities, what does the particular geography of our past ? to what extent we’re measured, for good or ill, by lines of latitude and longitude.

Queried past a generalized urban descriptor, I’ll proceed into a certain rigamarole addressing the certain suburb where I was born and lived through the 8th grade– the words have gradually wedded themselves to my tongue in the years since being bodily on a daily basis in that green and affluent place, its private schools and pool and tennis clubs, yearround lakeside stately homes on narrow lots just north of Detroit proper, once a summer destination for certain folks well-paid enough to flee to the cooling breezes from downtown’s automotive and industrial stench– away from those with fewer resources, ill luck, ethnicity, community– to a place that bred a certain perspectives, boxy, attentive to insides and outsides, upper and lower. definitive and, to some of us, claustrophobic.

I might, if the person inquiring how I never really felt at home there, fled young to boarding school, and only really go back for quick visits to family members who remain there. How my real home, the home of my heart, is farther north in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, up among the wild blueberry bushes and ferns that line the sandy southern shore of Lake Superior. It’s where I’ve spent time every summer of my life swimming and hiking and camping under a wide-open sky far from the noises of civilization. It’s the place that feeds my inner being with cold lake water and pine needle scent and insect buzz.

But the truth is not so simple.

The fact of the matter is that the private reserve of land I think of as my most intimate and natural “home” is constituted in a


“What are you doing now?”

it’s a question that comes with a certain degree of discomfort.

so, yeah, let’s just acknowledge right here and now that anxiety is a general factor– we’ve established this assumption sufficiently, I think, right? all the backing-and-forthing about what I think, yadda yadda, the engine that seldom quits examining and reexamining– perhaps re-turning that starter key, as he puts it.

what am I doing now? what am I doing at all, ever, for that matter?

yeah, yeah. so the questioner doesn’t mean it so existentially– or does he?

in the place where it’s asked there are certain expected or acceptable responses, a landmine field of unacceptable answers. I actually think on this particular occasion I unwound into a blathering dismissal amounting to, “it’s hard to explain.”

so, inarticulate. feeling the same here and elsewhere lately with words. words failing, I resort to erasures and conglomerations of collaged imagery– which doesn’t really further the conversation substantially. too much time alone, likely, out of practice with live discourse, surely rusty joints present a factor.

as well it must be said, straight out, just like this, that very effing question– what am I doing now? what indeed. weeeeeelllllllllll…

I’m writing too many things that consistently fail to cohere or congeal sufficiently sufficiently to call a thing, a this-or-that but something. am midway through the assemblage of too many boxes of tiny stoppered jars replete with green herbs, bones, and flashcard animals. I fear I’ve stalled out on bookbinding and am currently in the throws of some dissatisfaction and distress on the subject of letterpress printing. I’ve been avidly losing myself in iphone snapshottery, recording miniature videos, the composition and recording of small still lives, listening to wind and neighborhood sounds and watching weather develop, watering my garden, going from one thing to the next like some avid pollinator…

but really: where’s the fruit?

am I kidding myself that this process is yielding… at all or sufficiently or… clearcut options:

snap to and get a job.


construct some concrete personal priorities, goals, and checklists– then take the steps to realize them.



Holy guacamole

Not long ago I discovered that I can once again eat avocados, as for many years I had quit because of a peculiar but apparently not uncommon stomach sensitivity which is interestingly documented here. I can’t explain why I haven’t recently been experiencing adverse reactions where once I did excruciatingly, but, heck, I welcome this twist of fate or chemistry or fickle mother nature with wide open mouth.

Indeed I’m not quite sure how to adequately express just how much this means to me– just how dearly I adore that array of flavors: avocado, lime, garlic, salt and crunch!

I really think you need to taste it to understand:

holiest of guacamoles

3 ripe avocados, mash-o-la’d
juice of 1 juicy lime
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1 small onion chopped fine
1 red tomato chopped small
small bunch fresh cilantro chopped roughly

scoop with crisp corn chip rounds.

savor flavor heaven.


Arguments for a deeply textured life

catnip bee

Lately, amidst swirling considerations of fertility, foster care/adoption, and shared family resources, I’ve been giving some extended thought to demonstrated value systems.


In the process I’ve been considering, from my own particular perch, a treetop view of what’s important–what ranks, what rankles, and whither each of us chooses to invest time/money/energy with purpose.

garden angel

Even wellspring imagination, temperamental & capricious mount, is prone to divagation, in want of muscular drive.


I feel greatly honored to have known some really talented and principled people in my round of days. Among near friends as well as the brushing digital variety I count heroic creatives and witness their regular contributions to the collective good, aquifer of inspiration.

Of Lamb by Matthea Harvey and Amy Jean Porter

(Of Lamb by Matthea Harvey and Amy Jean Porter – an utterly exquisite delight)

Sometimes after reading PR-oriented bits and blips, I can come away feeling rather humble and humanly erring in reflection.

Reeling from intensively engineered rhetoric, I’ll order lists and resolutions.

Fresh basil pesto

summertime means…

… lots and lots of basil! and, consequently, time to make some yummy pesto.

Basil & Walnut Pesto

  • 5-6 cups fresh basil leaves (basil is traditional– also try interesting and nutritious variations using other leafy greens like arugula, spinach, chard, etc.)
  • 1 cup walnuts (pine nuts are traditional– vary using other nuts like pecans, cashews, macadamia nuts, etc.)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic (optional– I love garlic. not everyone does.)
  • 1/2 cup pecorino romano or parmesan
  • enough good olive oil to reach desired consistency

Blend in food processor.


Visions of piracy and profiteering

Let’s say you grow up in an affluent, White suburb of Detroit (let’s not bother to pointe it out by name), yourself a nannied babe in the bad summer race riots right down the road of ’67. You’re weaned thereafter on some beast of fiscal/racial paranoia from your situation in that place of brutal contrasts between the haves and distinctly have-nots, in which you distinctly have and have lived right up and down one side of the very dichotomy, bumped up uncomfortably close to unfathomable neighbor next door, Detroit. Ensconced in green and boxy suburbs, you feel something like a weird egg and inevitably develop/inherit over the course of some years a complicated perspective on those blocks and blocks of dilapidated and burnt-out festering once magisterial houses where no one you know now lives– or, well, rather, yes, except for the maid.

So then you get the hell out– off you go away to a preppy, East Coast-scale affluent boarding school poised on a green and tended hilltop– away for a bit and back again, sort-of: to Michigan, nearby, an hour west and a world apart: thriving liberal college town Ann Arbor, fondly referred to in inaccurate geometric geekery as “A-squared”; then westward-ho! and  la-di-da driving an American-made hatchback across the continent to pre-boom San Francisco with its succulents and steep dropoffs for a frolic with the software industry; down to the new-old South on a culinary/domestic Disney version of purgatory; up over rolly windy Grant Wood furrowed fields of Iowa for writing, porch-sitting, and getting square with the intellectual ego; and then, at last, into this other big and bigger, alive and kicking, steel-hard Midwest city…

Some days I’m appalled by my position of unrooted third floor ease, sit gazing backward, just spitting distance, really, just splitting the distance toward the old family ground– back there where a sister and a brother raise up families of an altogether other generation; where a desiccated and spindling matched set Mom and Dad trace vertical geologies up and down the staircases of that same prewar brick colonial, staking a claim despite age and rainwater cascading through the house’s porous foundation and down the basement wall.

I sit here just… something– amazed, appalled by the range of perspective contained in adjacent email messages– provoked into a fantasy of broken and resprouted urban acreage while reading this gorgeous GQ piece written by Howie Kahn (and including photos by the late Tim Hetherington) on the monumental demolition work in wasting, cancerous Detroit:

In 1950, with nearly 2 million people living within its boundaries, Detroit was the fifth-largest city in America. Over a forty-year period, the auto industry had boomed in a way that changed the country, and Detroit’s population more than sextupled. But starting in the ’50s, the city fell into decline. Factories closed. Jobs vanished. In the wake of the 1967 riots, race relations collapsed and the city became increasingly segregated. By 1980 the population had dwindled to 1.2 million. With far fewer Detroiters to shelter, many of the city’s houses were orphaned, threatening the existence and safety of everything around them. Blight metastasized across town, leaving much of the housing stock better suited for crackheads and squatters than for legitimate investors, possible gentrifiers, or working-class families with any remaining desire to stay. Today only 700,000 souls call Detroit home, and nearly a fourth of the city’s houses—a number approaching 72,000 units—are empty…

Wreckers in Detroit are like human Google Maps: They track all the physical changes—the torn-down houses, the fires, the new vacancies—practically in real time. They’ve also developed a finely tuned sense of protection that the city at large greatly lacks. Ask a wrecker here what he does and you won’t hear him talking about demolishing anything. When wreckers get talking, they talk primarily about making things safe.

“Before we can put a hole in a house,” explains Mike Farrow, owner of Farrow Demolition, “we have to make sure it’s clear. The city doesn’t clear it. If there’s squatters, dealers, crackheads in there, we’ve gotta get ’em out… One time I was clearing a house,” says Farrow, “and I got cut. The guy thought I was a cop. He was all doped up and slashed me with a knife.” Wreckers and inspectors enter these houses never knowing who or what lurks inside. They could be empty but could just as easily provide cover for the impulsively violent, the mentally unstable, or some solo junkie intent on protecting his daily ritual of dissolving into the ruins.

And then, just like that, with the abrupt unceremony of the whole digital media information delivery-receipt transaction, I find myself confronting a detailed description of the intensive workout routine of lean/mean and “tactical” “new Rahm” Emanuel as envisioned in the pages of Businessweek:

“I’ll give it to you if you are really that interested,” the 51-year-old mayor of Chicago says, sitting in a City Hall conference room one day in late June. “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I swim a mile in a 50-meter pool. I do a short chest exercise. Then I run two miles home. Tuesday and Thursday, I do 25 miles on the bike on random level 15, 15 minutes on the elliptical. You don’t want to know this, but I do 100 sit-ups, 50 push-ups, and a weight routine. Saturday, I bike 20 miles outdoors.” On Sundays, Emanuel attends a yoga class, to undo the side effects of his running and biking…

The stakes are immense. Emanuel’s success or failure could well determine whether Chicago remains a premier American city or suffers the kind of decline seen in Cleveland or even Detroit. If he can restore the city’s fiscal health with the participation of its workforce, he’d be able to portray himself as a new kind of Democrat able to work with labor unions to avoid mass layoffs, as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo did in June.

To my reading there’s a palpable implicit suggestion throughout this piece that a smart political operator in Emanuel’s shoes would beat a fast political course elsewhere.

There is, also, for me, an implicit and all-too-frequently encountered kneejerk disdain of these here “flyover states” in which we reside. Many the quick Californian I’ve “known” in one RL/digital arrangement and another who’s drawled that phrase before me like so much pocket lint. The same prejudice was present in elsewhere transplants to Iowa, onhand to partake of its famed writing milieu and accreditation gained away, dismissive of the daily pace and perspective of life beside a midwest river. There were as well those Westchester friends of boarding school days, the dyed in the wool New Yorkers, who queried closely and not at all ironically about the unimaginably savage lands westward, out in a mess of god-knows-what-all troubled with a pernicious lack of delis.

Here, for me, however, although brown-winter land littered with remnants of failed industry and Bunyanesque ferris wheel turned automobile tire, narrow expressway lanes past looming hulks of graffiti and char, is home.

I’m reminded again of just how marvelously and profoundly local reality is.

Since we returned from this summer’s grand adventure Up North, Chris has been kept busy with Downtown Civic concerns, minding the poor wounded Frankenthumb, which unswells and begins to show off its spiffy set of laces today to a city legal team bent on wrangling yet another labor union hairball.

Some days, the prospect of busting out strong-handled, sharpened implements, and rehabilitating a scourged plot of ground in New Detroit makes me feel weirdly optimistic and giddy, despite all traces of postapocalyptic gloom.

Here, today, refreshed by the recent change of scenery, I’m feeling around for moorings, taking snapshots of graffiti on neighborhood walks, shifting some pieces both psychic and physical that have needed rearranging or evaluation for scrap, and attempting to accomplish concrete somethings– fending off echoes of that “daily ritual of dissolving into the ruins”–shaking and ruffling my own distinct predisposition toward dereliction of a fluffy and bourgeois variety.

Today I feel I resorted somewhat to pilfering from notes composed to friends in, perhaps, more intimate arrangements of association, and transcribed here, a bit, into a wholly other arrangement of communication.

This action causes me to wonder yet again about the compulsion to communicate in this way as well as about the ever unknowable relationship between writer and ostensible reader here: an arrangement which bears the unique intimacy of thought inscribed in language and shared blind. These are, it feels to me and I suppose I hope, potentially potent and intimate experiences of writing, of reading. 

For you, who are here in my imagination, I offer thanks and the invitation to write back and be read in turn.


Away and back again

several festering bugbites later, we’re back– returned from a honeyed moon like fat ham hung chilling in northern skies, radiant and happysweet. back we are from cool blueblond southern shore of that greatest lake, that lake superior, swallower of shipwrecks, tempestuous, deepy and chill dame of a lake.

back to city swelter, glass and steel upon brick and mortar, underlayment of concrete over wood over sand. the downtown morning haze glimpsed from lakeshore drive drapes heights of the civic fortress toward whose girdered and winding heart I ferry my one and only. lake michigan tosses bluegrey pony mane waves over my left shoulder as onward we funnel into streets darting with taxicabs, meticulously attired legs stepping heedless– equivalent superimposed vision: skating crowds of waterwalkers riveting liquid skin of the river, great-bodied deer leaping startled through long grass and alder saplings–here I brake to a stop before city hall and deposit him with a kiss and wish for fortitude and steer my craft onward through the stream of jittering motion.

yesterday we swam submerged and gazed upward at sun rays slanting through eyeball-freezing sweetocean water, burst to emergence shaking spray, rose up, walked out, lay down on grilling sand, sifting it, shifting its heat in ripples through fingers, baking our bodies along a shore lined with pungent pine needles, all roasting under that glorious sky-riding star that woke each day from the liquid tip of the eastern peninsula and bedded down in wet west of evening.

back am I for my part to train clatter, playground hollers, deciduous whispers of home– hauling armloads of green plant friends up a narrow back staircase (not granite, not lichen-grown) from apartment building courtyard where a neighbor has tended them, relining back deck with foliage and fragrance of herbs, city flag wafting in waves of rosemary and basil. I’ve returned to the wires and connections, to timetables and gameplans and resolve, am prompted by evidentiary beach snapshots to call a halt to ten days’ diet of snack foods and picnic fare, much as I disincline to rote gymnastic motion, as decided the determination to own my mainly capable body as fine for just what it is, glossy ladies’ mags and racketing media be damned, and shift a lifetime of staid one-piece costumes toward thrift store bikini top/jogging shorts combinations brimming with patchwork glee–still, I admit: time to lose weight– so heavy some days I would speak of it, british, in stones.

let’s call it midyear wedded resolution for best health and wellbeing– may I be so blessed with decades of dancing our temperamental tango in concert with this delicious mister. may we all be so blessed.