Juxtapositions Make Life Interesting: Everyday Magic, Day 1074

With the Four Winds chapter of the DAR, lovely people who even came me a certificate.

Juxtapositions — putting like with non-like — add zip, surprise, sometimes anxiety, and often uncertainty to our lives. They’re also at the heart of what makes poetry poetry: images and language you don’t expect together that pop open new ways to see the world. So let’s just say it’s more a more-than-poetic weekend (or life).

Friday our small but loving Jewish community gathered in the cold wind to bury our beloved friend, Shirley. Although the temperatures were in the high 40s, we talked afterwards, at her home over dolmas and brownies, about how much colder it felt, but part of that was surely because Shirley’s bright, glittery, funny, and loving life was gone. It seemed wrong for us to be so alive in her home, looking at her photos and eating cookies without her.

Saturday, Ken and I drove south to the small town of Garnett, Kansas, where I did my first presentation for the DAR (yes, that DAR). In a beautiful library, in a room next to the astonishing Walker collection (an original John Steuart Curry! A Édouard Manet! — so much more in this town of just over 3,000 people), In doing a Humanities Kansas program on the Holocaust, especially focusing on the lives of Lou Frydman and Jarek Piekalkiewicz, I discovered that the DAR chapter was deeply attuned to history and its lessons, and also to the weight of anti-Semitism and other ways humans diminish each other.

From there, there was apple pie in a German Baptist Brethren restaurant, a late-night film with Ken about art, Norway, and some lost New Yorkers finding their way, and typing this now with blue and fuschia-stained fingers because I’m in the middle of parfait-dyeing a load of socks and shirts for my kids.

I realize, in this juxtaposition of weather (dark, cold, sharp rain yesterday, and big, bright road-trip weather today) and time, that most moments of our lives are juxtapositions. We expect one thing, do one task, read about another thing, look at the window, and the kaleidoscope of like and not-like, the expected and so much of the unexpected keeps turning its wheel through our minutes and weeks.

Trying to fall asleep late last night, I felt the weight of that wheel, especially with several people I love dying in the last month juxtaposed with the twinkle-lights of the holidays everywhere, and now here we are stepping, sleeping, and waking into another time. May we continue to find meaning in what shows up, making a new pattern out of what’s already here.

Love and Death in February: Everyday Magic, Day 1050

“Maybe since January lasted for seven and a half years, February will be easy,” I said to my friend Kris. She was doubtful since February, for us and many others we know, tends to be the longest and hardest month. Never mind the 28 days of it, February is notorious for slipping the bonds of time dragging us into a morass of sadness and fatigue, dying and death.

So far so good, I told myself a week ago, but I rationalized too soon. In recent days, we got the news that one of our dearest friends is going on hospice, and the anticipatory grief and very current despair about the rapid meanness of his cancer trips me from laughing to crying on a dime, especially for wife who loves him so utterly. An old friend I haven’t seen in over a decade died suddenly two days ago. Ken’s wonderful dad died on Feb. 10th in 2009, and a year early, our good friend expert pie maker Weedle died on Feb. 12th.

That’s just us, and I know many close ones who have their own string of February impossible losses and big swaths of grief. It makes me wonder, if we have some say over when we give up the ghost, whether the bitter dregs of winter have anything to do with it. February also tends to be when the worst ice storms or blizzards hit, seemingly out of the blue, but maybe it just feels like that by this time of the year. It’s been cold too long, even with global warming and some surprise 60-degree days, yet spring seems far off.

February is the squeaky door that doesn’t close properly between love and grief in real time. It’s a time of year when I see up close how much deep and unconditional love we’re capable of, despite what we believe of ourselves. A friend just posted on Facebook how caring for her dying husband is stretching her to her seeming limit only to realize she can stretch further. Another friend texted me, “How do we bear the unbearable?” and then a photo of her beloved’s face full of joy as his childhood friend kissed him on the forehead.

We get through the unbearable together. We stretch ourselves in inconceivable ways. We stand on the threshold of February looking back and looking forward but mostly just looking at what we can see here. Like yesterday, while taking out the compost in the hard chill of the air, when I noticed the first crocus, papery and white, blowing hard in the wind but staying intact low to the ground. Like February, especially this year.

In Praise of Goody: Everyday Magic, Day 1032

Goody and Shirley with Steve at the Blintz Brunch one year

“The world will never be the same,” Ken told me right after Goody Garfield’s burial service. “We were witness to one of a kind, and that’s true of everyone, but not to the same level.” Anyone who knew and loved Goody — and if you knew him, how could you not love him? — would agree. There was something about Goody that filled any conversation with marvel, humor, delight, no small stash of wisdom, and no end of winding and illuminating stories.

When I ran into Goody at the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation, like just about all of us, he treated me — sometimes while holding my face in both his hands — with wonder and adoration. On birthdays, he would email me show tunes with revised lyrics, like “What a day this has been/ What a carin’ mood has swept in/ Why it’s almost like falling in love.” He sent sweet missives to Ken if he saw an article on prairie plants or poetry to me mused about his latest thoughts and delights while he drank coffee in what he called the wee hours.

Goody with his daughter Debbie at another Blintz Brunch.

To say Goody was exuberant about life doesn’t begin to name his dazzling smile. When he entered a room, we might as well have blasted “76 Trombones” from the rafters. But his way of seeing and being with us was also poignantly intimate. Likewise, Shirley — his partner in crime for so many decades — also carries a depth and a glow at once. Together, they shone with enthusiasm, tenderness, wit, and they knew their way around a good story to get at some out-of-the-way but essential meaning.

If Goody was weather, he would be a windy, sunny, warm April day that charmed all the lilacs and lily-of-the-valley into maximum blooming and made strangers fall in love. No wonder then that we buried Goody in driving cold rain, the wind cutting right through our jackets, the storm soaking through our clothes. Even standing under the awning over the burial site where Shirley and their three loving children — Michael, David, and Debbie — sat near their daughter-in-law and grandson, the weather of heartbreak stormed through. The big hole in the ground mirrored the hole in our hearts.

“Goody was an inspiration. Inspiration means the spirit that he placed in other people. He wasn’t an inspiration because of what he taught; he was an inspiration because of who he was. To my mind, that’s the greatest thing you can say about anyone. ….he brings people to the good,” Rabbi Mark Levin, who led the graveside service, told us. From his bounding and boundless humor (on his Facebook page, he says he’s a retired point guard from the University of Kansas, where he was a life-changing professor of Social Welfare for years) to his fixed attention on what matters in life, he modeled inspiration as well as love.

Goody ready to lead us in lighting the Hanukkah candles one night. Long may his light shine!

Maya Angelou writes, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Although I hold tight to what Goody said and did, my life — as well as many of our lives — is changed by how he made me feel so loved and so alive. Although his memory is already a blessing, may it always continue to be.

Poetry Playhouse

An Online Adventure Without Leaving Home Jan. 9 - Feb. 26, 2023

Enter your house of poetry to  explore, experiment, play, rest, unearth, and renovate your writing. By drawing on memories, experiences, and dreams of where and how you've lived, you will craft a whole new body of poems in a welcoming and encouraging community. We'll use innovative writing prompts (including poems, questions, videos and guidance for creating your own bag of tricks all life long) to access poetic material from the interior rooms and external spaces of your life.

Note: This Poetry Playhouse has been renovated! Please feel free to join us again for new prompts and guidance and also because we all have so much much to write about in our house of poetry.

Each week we will:

  • Write about a different room in the poetry playhouse (and from a different pocket in your psyche), from the family room (writing childhood), through the bedroom (writing about dreams and the dark), to the front porch (writing in community) and up to the attic (writing ancestors and generational stories)
  • Explore new poetic forms, such as pantoums, or a group renga
  • Learn more about the craft of writing and revising poetry, including powerful imagery, engaging rhythms, effective line breaks and spacing, powerful beginnings and endings, and the romance of revision.
  • Read and watch a featured poet to to glean more opportunities for our own poems.
  • Contemplate the challenges and miracles of being a workaday writer.

Additionally, we have some wonderful ways to further connect:

  • Generous and positive feedback on your new and evolving poetry each week from me, plus supportive responses from peers.
  • Mini coaching session at your convenience to work with me on your poetry or talk over any aspect of the writing life.
  • Three Zoom sessions -- 7-8 CT/ 8-9 ET/ 6-7 MT/ 5-6 PT -- on Thursday evenings January 12 (to get to know each other), February 2 (to share our ongoing writing and discoveries), and February 23 (for a celebratory readings).

Format: This online class will be friendly and easy to navigate, hosted on a platform called Wet Ink, starting Monday, Jan. 9. A new lesson will start each subsequent Monday. Our three Zooms will offer you warm interactions with other writers and opportunities to share your writing, questions, and discoveries.

Who Is This Class For?: I've designed this class to meet you where are you, whether you just dipped your toe into the waters or have been swimming laps through poetry for decades. All the writing prompts, lessons, and resources embrace you unearthing more of your voice, refresh or shine a new light on ways you can work and play with language, and encourage you to write with guidance and abandon. 

Fees: $320. You can register via Venmo (please drop me an email with your name, email, and phone number, and send payment to Caryn-Goldberg-2), or by check (email me for address), or on Square.

Week By Week

Each week, we explore another room in the Poetry Playhouse, each one designed to inspire your poetry. 

Week One -- The Playroom: Creating With Abandon: Find your creative magic and mojo through a more playful relationship with your poetry. The playroom helps us warm up for our writing, break out of old habits or mindsets that lead us away from experimenting with language, and take creative risks for fresh, alive, and original poetry.

Week Two -- The Living Room: Drawing From Real Life: By leaning into our life's experiences, we can find ample material for poetry. This week, we focus on what we've lived and are currently living as source material in the warm embrace of the living room.

Week Three -- The Family Room: Writing About Families of Origin, of Choice, and of Your Own Creation: "Anyone who survived a childhood has enough material to last him the rest of his days," says Flannery O'Connor. This week we'll turn to childhood experiences and perceptions as well as what we're called to write about the families we've created or chosen.

Week Four -- The Kitchen: The Nourishment of Intimate Exchanges: The kitchen is often the center of any party for a good reason: food, and the making and keeping of it, draws us together. This week, we'll be exploring intimacy and nourishment with those we connect with over food, drink and the kitchen table.

Week Five -- The Bedroom: Dreams, Sex, and Other Adventures in the Dark: By exploring what makes us wild and takes us beyond daytime stories about who we are, we can access new ways into our poems. Our bedrooms are the hotbeds, so to speak, of our dreams, sensuality, and unconscious meanderings.

Week Six -- The Basement, Attic, and Porch: Poetic Roots and Wings: The basements and attics are where we store a lot of stuff: what comes out seasonally or not at all, what we're inherited from our ancestors, and what possibilities we may use one day. The porch looks out toward what's in flight, including our own poetry. Altogether, we celebrate where we're come from and where we're going.

New York City Wander Week: Everyday Magic, Day 988

Veniero’s: destiny for the gods (and goddesses)

I stood in the East Village Friday morning, marveling at a Langston Hughes quote I’ve never seen about falling in love with the energy of New York City each time he returned here. The quote was on an electronic kiosk, and while I got my phone out quickly, it wasn’t quick enough, so I waited for it to re-appear. After over 15 minutes, during which time I calculated that each ad, factoid about the Yankees, or weather update, displayed for 12 seconds, I gave up, figuring I could Google it later.

Things tend to happen fast and vibrantly in NYC, and sometimes a flash of truth vanishes without a trace only to surface again at a time beyond our control. Such is one of the charms of the city of my childhood. While I grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey, my  dad and grandpa had a stamp store in the Nassau and Fulton Street subway arcade, a place I spent hours dreaming of where I’d go and what I’d do while drawing endless pictures of trees, skies, and for some reason, very long snakes wound in crazy patterns. Then I would go above ground and walk.

The view from our balcony

Which is what I keep doing although the drawing turned to writing (without much mention of snakes but plenty of twisted and wound-up meandering).  Walking still takes me above ground, although in Kansas, that’s more metaphorical. In the city, such walking is interspersed with eating (bagels, knishes, Italian pastries, street pizza, and other NYC wonders), and the more I walk, the more I want to walk.

I just got to share all that walking and eating with two long-time friends — Judy, a fellow New-York-to-Kansas transplant, and Denise, a tried and true Kansan who ended up recently moving to California.  We wandered extensively through the East Village,  often ending up at Veselka (Ukrainian soul food — even if you don’t know what it is, you want it) , sang in the rain while dancing our way to the fabled Veniero’s bakery (greatest Italian bakery on the planet, at least that I know of), subway-ed ourselves to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden (oh, the marvelous Shakespeare garden!), and taxied our tired bodies to a great Italian restaurant and a Broadway Show (go see Come From Away!). 

Got to tour Google and hang out with Glen

Back home, I’m tired after a long travel day, but I’m also vibrantly refreshed, as if a quote to lift up my life flashed across my heart just long enough for me to fall back in love not just with the city but the gift of being able to wander it so freely with such beloved friends.

P.S. Never did find the Langston Hughes quote on Google, but something better happened: we got to tour Google and visit Glen, a wonderful young man we’ve known most of his life.

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