Monday, March 29, 2010

Oh Library!

The recent debate over the plight of our elementary school libraries has me reminiscing about childhood at my hometown public library. I have my mother to thank for taking me there every week. She let me check out 10 books, and I can always remember scrambling to find them all before it was time to return them again.

The library became a place of comfort for me. The smell of the books was kind of peppery in my mind. It had a strange salty sweetness and the quiet of the library wrapped around the smell to make it a kind of cocoon. I can still picture the broad flat tables of my youth, the high tall shelves pressed close together so that the library stacks became sort of hiding places dark and comforting. I would sit down in a corner and read book jackets to choose my week’s reading. I knew exact places on the shelf where I could find my favorite books and would return to the spots again and again touching the shelf as if a talisman.

In those days the book had a pocket in the back and the librarian would slip in a numbered card with a date stamped on it, which let me know when it was due. She took a card out of the pocket and stamped it with a machine that went ka-thunk. I loved the steady thunk of the machine stamping my number on their card. It has been replaced now by the beep of the scanner, beeping books into people’s book bags.

When I started elementary school, the school librarians dutifully taught us the Dewey decimal system: an ingenious method of classfying and storing books. I loved it for its elegance and precision. I was honored when in the third grade the librarian, Miss Weiss, let me and several of my friends stay in for recess and help her shelve books. Miss Weiss was usually at lunch and my girlfriends and I had our run of the library. From third grade on I rarely went outside for recess. A fact that now seems odd to me, but at the time I did not miss it at all. Recess for me was in the shelves of my elementary library. I was not alone either. My best friends ran alongside of me, shelving books and putting books on shelves in order – a term known as reading shelves. I loved to read shelves, but more, I loved to see what all the possibilities were for me to read. I would frequently get side tracked while shelving books to admire a new book. From the age of 8 until I left Dale Rice Elementary School, I spent virtually every recess in the school library.

When I went onto the junior high I sought refuge in the library as a way to duck out of study hall. Within minutes of entering the cafeteria at some off hour for my first study hall, I knew I would not be spending much time in the stinky café. I asked for a library pass and met the librarian Mr. Dreifort. Mr. Dreifort wanted no part of me shelving books. They were precious to him and order was not something to be trusted to a 7th grader, but he did allow me the coveted seat behind the desk and showed me how to check out books. There I sat every day during 7th period reigning queen of the library. I never darkened a study hall doorstep again.

When I got to high school it was now second nature for me. The librarian at the high school was only too glad to have me. Mrs. McIntyre allowed me to do whatever I wanted which eventually turned out to be having a bit of a social life in the library. My friends and I all hung out at the library. Every morning we gathered at tables where we would do homework, talk and chatter about the day. Ms McIntyre would watch and smile, glad to have me come by and chat, but somehow the books took second place while I was finding my footing in the world.

But the love of books, the comfort that surrounds me when I am in a library, certain that the answer to any problem is in a book, is what I have carried with me all these years.

I need to give a shout out to the sweet librarians who over the years have guided me and nurtured me and let me run amok in their stacks. Sweet home library. For all the librarians of the MCCSC, I salute you, somewhere out there, the kids like me who found a home in your spaces will be missing out. I hope we can see our way clear to reinstate this very valuable resource to our schools.

--Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I was raised with unrealistic expectations for birthday celebrations. My mother made sure that each family member felt special on his or her day, offering favorite foods, thoughtfully chosen, if not extravagant, presents, and an embarrassment of attention.

I came into adulthood with a strong desire to make birthdays special for those around me, yet uncertain how best to accomplish that. As one who is terrible at imagining the perfect gift (for myself or others) and highly ambivalent about adding more stuff to anyone’s material life, I have, over the years, arrived at a labor-intensive gift I bestow upon friends and family to mark their 50th birthdays.

This tradition began in my adolescence; I would fold the number of cranes corresponding to my closest friends’ birthdays, and mount them on their bedroom wall, flying in V-formation. I remember most vividly doing this for my best friend’s 18th (while living in her home to finish my senior year in high school after my family moved), and for my now-husband’s 19th (he responded by creating a treasure hunt for me the next year, with clues slipped into fortune cookies and hidden throughout my apartment building, even in the apartments of people we didn’t really know!).

In recent years, I have been stringing 50 origami paper cranes on gold thread, punctuated by beads marking groups of 10, ending with a hand-made golden tassel at the bottom. My closest friends and siblings started turning 50 a few years ago, but in the past year all my peers have turned 50, and production has been, shall we say, intense. In addition, my mother-in-law turned 80 last year, so I strung 80 for her, and my parents received a string of 50 for their golden anniversary a few years ago. I haven’t kept track, but have probably strung at least 20 strands.

I welcome the chance to think of the recipient I am stringing cranes for as I fold the bright papers, choose beads, thread the needle and then string the cranes, adding finishing touches to each strand. It is a genuine labor of love to ponder what this relationship means, allowing memories to surface, to be relived and relished anew while I work.

I turned 50 last spring (and my oldest daughter strung the tiny strand of miniature cranes you see beside my latest creations, to mark my milestone). Women friends, many from this writing community, gathered for a truly memorable evening hosted by a spectacularly gracious and generous member of our tribe. We all left with the glow I dream of inspiring in others on their special days, feeling ourselves part of a remarkable community of women. This week, the founder of Women Writing for a Change-Bloomington marks this passage as well. We all wish her the best of days and many more years of friendship and creativity, offering up our profound gratitude for the community she has created among us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

For Browsing and Being Inspired

I'm feeling a little low on the writing scale today, so instead I’ll share a few sites that I visit when I want to give my brain a creative or inspiration boost.

Ordinary Courage
“Adventures in truth-telling, soul-making, and twinkle-lighting.”
“No matter what gets done and how much is left undone; I am enough.”

Read the I’m pretty. Pissed. post

Daily Affirmations by Louise Hay

Kelly Rae Roberts
I’ve followed Kelly’s blog from its early days and watched her manifest her dreams of being a full-time artist and “possibilitarian.” I’m a fan of her whimsical and yet deeply touching style of collage art and painting.

Shutter Sisters
A website that highlights the power of images. And images + words.

Angry Chicken General crafty stuff and a wicked sense of humor!

Colette Patterns
If you like to sew and enjoy vintage styling and patterns.

Mondo Beyondo
“An online class about dreaming big.”
I wasn’t able to take the WWF(a)C class this semester, but I find myself at a transition point and in need of some guided creative/processing time. One week into the class and I’m enjoying it. We’re focusing on naming our passions and dreams, no matter how big or small.

Your turn! I’m hoping you’ll share your favorite sites that inspire your creativity! Leave us a comment if you have one (or two or three...) for us to check out.

Steph W, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Waning Crescent Moon

The waning crescent moon is a sliver, getting smaller as we speak. She can be seen to rise just a few hours before sunrise if you catch her. Once the sun comes up, it is just about impossible to see such a faint thing as the waning crescent moon in a daylit sky. None of us can see the moon in this phase and in this part of the world before midnight. This moon is for night owls and early risers.

According to folk and many wisdom traditions, this is a time to clear away clutter, break bad habits, release negativity, end bad relationships. Time to plough the soil for the winter crops, build houses, build fireplaces (discourage vermin from entering!) - air the wardrobe (repels moths)- and to take a bath. The last Friday of the period, something I found in a Lithuanian Folklore piece, is considered the best time for cleaning a place of parasites.

I wonder if the people at Oprah Magazine are up on moon cycles? If you read the latest edition, you'll get all kinds of modern day tips to address all of the above.

Ok. So I'm on it. The warming weather was my signal and I can say with some pride that my pantry and bathroom closet are cleared of all excess clutter and evidence of vermin. This done BEFORE I read the latest Oprah Magazine, or looked up moon cycles.

Oprah and Wikipedia simply affirm for me the collective consciousness about cycles and right times for doing certain things. I see affirmations everywhere to tend to what drags me down. Clean up. Clear out. Free up my energies to do the things I want to do and love. I feel the energy of renewal in the letting go of what does not serve me anymore. This season, it's empty cereal boxes, layers of dust, and a facial scrub I've had laying around for 10 years in my medicine cabinet. For you it might be relationships, jobs, roles you no longer care to continue in. If you're feeling it's time for a big change, chances are, it is! The lessons I've learned from the German Haus Frau I have decended from is that it is difficult to start anything new and fresh from underneath a pile of rubbish of your own making.

I want to work with the moon some more. Right now, a miniature version, sharp, crescent-silver, could make a great implement for cleaning dirt from under my fingernails. But seriously, I want to intuit and then respond to what her cycles invite me to pay attention to. Just thought I'd say it out loud. Stating the intention generally makes something real for me.

I found the poem below --written by a 14th century Kashmiri Mystic. It evokes a more romantic and ...well...mystic connection. In her current phase, the moon in the window will be elusive for most of us. But perhaps if we un-encumber ouselves as Waning Crescent is inviting us to do, it'll be possible to feel her kiss and her spirit upon us in all they ways she moves in us throughout the seasons.

Some Kiss We Want

There is some kiss we want with our whole lives—

the touch of spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl to break its shell—

the touch of spirit on the body.

And the lily, how passionately it needs some wild dawn—

the touch of spirit on the body

At night, I open the window and ask the moon to come—

come press your face against mine.

Breathe into me. Breathe into me—

the touch of spirit on the body

Close the language-door and open the love window.

Close the language door and open the love window.

The moon will not use the door, only the window.

The moon will not use the door, only the window.

--Lalla Yogeshwari
14th century Kashmiri mystic poet and saint

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

There are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

There are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden

Monday, March 1, 2010

Persephone, we await your return.

Ohhh, Persephone. What were you thinking when you disappeared into the underworld for 6 whole months leaving us mere mortals up here on Earth grappling with short days, cold weather and the absence of green and color? I, like your mother, am up here on earth weeping waiting for your return: the blush of green as it passes over glades of lawn, the tiny buds of lilac and flowering cherry trees, the bright red tulips carpeting the front walk of the university, and, most importantly, the warm sun on my bare arms and head.

Last night, I heard a rumor that it was March, and I hesitate a bit before I wonder if spring is close by. This past weary winter month has seemed to me like winters of my youth on the North shore of Lake Erie where once the snow hit in November it did not melt again until March. It feels more bleak as an adult than it ever did as a child.

My friend and fellow blogger Steph posted a few days ago that she has seen signs of spring, but I have seen none. Only snow (dirty, muddy snow), bare branches and cold as far as time or mind can see. I think many are sharing this SAD feeling. I feel it in my friends and co-workers. We are listless, anxious and generally blue. All the news seems unhappy: local school cuts on arts and libraries, earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, the Hoosiers sucking at basketball, snow days, work upsets, and recessions all keep us in this rather stuporous mood. It is hard to remember to count our blessings. We wait with baited breath for the fog to lift and the sunshine to return. We are feeling wistful and weepy for you Persephone, Goddess of the spring. Time for the underworld to let you've been gone way too long.

What signs of spring have you seen outside? Even a break in the clouds would feel hopeful. Send pictures of baby birds or postings of daffodils.

--Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse