On Baltimore and Book Launches

On Baltimore and Book Launches

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Yes, it happened, and I am delighted and humbled. Echoes of the Alum Chine, officially launched in the city of its setting, if not the period. Baltimore in the early 20th Century. Not a time without problems, without societal ills, to be sure, yet a time that I view through a sepia lens.

Aware of that as I drove through the neighborhoods cited in the book – Hollins Street, Union Square – well past its prime, though struggling to maintain some semblance of urban pioneer moments. I read that the local market and adjacent properties had been bought by a relative of Under Armour’s CEO, but, to my untrained eye, I could see no evidence to transformation – yet, at least.

And I ponder my reaction to any such transformation – when I big spender comes in to “revitalize” an area – to my mind, significantly different than the grass roots struggles of individuals who come to save a neighborhood from a sense of loyalty and love, rather than as an investment. I was part of such a merry band many years ago, when the area of Seton Hill began to take shape. A labor of love and money, to be sure – and I am hoping for a resurgence for this lovely area of alley houses.

And now, back to me!  It was such an enchantment to read passages of both Echoes from the Alum Chine and Another Sunday to groups who understood the historical context, who understood exactly what it meant when Celeste, the heroine of Another Sunday, ends her days at the Congress Hotel, a Baltimore landmark that at one time signified the height of sophistication and prosperity, but, by the time Celeste lived there, had devolved into what could only be called a flea-bag hotel for transients. I felt their tears and sadness for her. And they came right along with me as I recounted her 1967 cab ride through Mt. Vernon Place, North Avenue, Baltimore Cemetery and Green Mount Cemetery, with a final stop at Stewart’s Department Store at Howard and Lexington Streets. A visit remembering what had been, and the sadness of facing what was and is.

Going back to Baltimore always fills me with mixed emotions – I love seeing old friends, this time from high school and from my Roland Park days. But I am always struck by a sense of sadness, for the tone of the city has changed, so many of the landmarks that were and remain meaningful to me derelict and forgotten. I’m not so impressed with the tarted-up, pseudo-chic, multi-million-dollar condos that have replaced those earthy, drunken sailors on Pratt Street.

I know I’m in the minority – it doesn’t bother me. Someone asked me if I remembered the movie Avalon. I sure do – and salute Barry Levinson – another Baltimorean who remembers the substance of Baltimore. I think there are a lot of us out there.

http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

Despair is Not an Option, Part II

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I wanted this week’s post to be about my new book — almost ready to be born, almost ready to come into the world. I wanted this week’s post to be about joy, about creativity, about seeing one’s work come into being. And I am happy, almost joyful about it. Echoes from the Alum Chine, almost here, really.

But this week’s news has just been too disheartening. Tax cuts for the rich, a massacre of the EPA, destruction of arts’ advocacy groups. I won’t go on – I’m sure you know more than I what is at stake. What a statement of values from our elected-by-the-electoral-college president.

My wonderful German-American cousin sent me this poem, a blessing, in these days when we need a blessing, or whatever word we’d use for help in not despairing. John O’Donohue says it better than I ever could, for in poetry lies our soul. Would that our leaders realized that.

Beannacht (“Blessing”)

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

~ John O’Donohue ~

And next week will be better.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

 

 

On My Facebook Anniversary

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On My Facebook Anniversary –

Earlier this week I was notified by Facebook, who obviously keeps track of such things, that I had been a member for eight years, and that, indeed, it was time to celebrate an anniversary.

I’ll bite, I thought, and remembered the time when I, ever so reluctantly, signed up. I did it to please a friend, who posted daily, or hourly so it seemed, pictures of her grandchild. Not, mind you, that I was against seeing the progress of this incredible infant as she smiled, cried, slept for the camera.

And then, over time, I connected with friends, honest-to-goodness friends and that was lovely – keeping in touch, painlessly, as well as being able to see pictures of their restaurant meals. I learned a lot, because, of course, I had never seen a picture of rare steak before.

Gradually I found acquaintances – friends of friends, artists, other writers, and it was interesting to see what was going on in their lives, their experiences, travails. It made me feel connected. It felt good.

Then the interest groups – hurrah! Historic Baltimore groups, history groups, writing groups, Zentangle groups, and, these last months, political action groups. What a difference this has made, to me, to my work. The idea for my latest historical novel, Echoes from the Alum Chine, was born when someone posted an article from the Baltimore Sun about ship being loaded with dynamite that blew up in the harbor. I had not heard of it before, and it stayed in my mind. I knew I would one day write about it, and more than two years after I first saw the article, I put pen to paper. Now it is finished. All because of a Facebook post.

When I follow poets and novelists, including poet- and novelist-wannabes, I receive affirmation and encouragement to continue, even through those dark days and nights.

And in recent times, I have taken solace in postings from like-minded, wounded, troubled, wondering souls like myself who still can’t quite believe the outcome of the November election. Pantsuit Nation, Wall-of-Us – just two of the groups that helped keep me sane, told me that I was not alone in my feelings, my disbelief, my grief. And so it was strangers, as well as friends, who helped my through, although I don’t believe that we are through by any means.

So, Facebook, I am celebrating this anniversary. Joyeux anniversaire, Facebook. I know you can be a blessing and a course, but, for this time, at least, you’ve been a blessing.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

Memento Mori

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Memento Mori

According to my Grandiloquent Wall Calendar, Memento Mori Day was January 3rd. A good time, I think – the New Year’s hangover eased, a few days into January for those resolutions to have weakened, and life almost back to normal.

Memento Mori – “Remember, you must die.”

Well, yes, I do, most of the time, though I don’t think it’s wise to keep it top of mind.  Is it a serious thought? Yes. Is it depressing? It can be. BUT, it can serve as a wakeup call to live, to appreciate each day that we have, especially for those of us who have more yesterdays than tomorrows.

This week I made a New Year’s Resolution call to an old friend, a dear friend. She and I have known each other for many decades, experienced highs and lows together that will most likely, at least I hope, not return. We knew each other as few, if any did. And I use the past tense purposely. For, yes, it is that we knew each other. Oh, I still know her. And she remembers me, sort of. She knows my name, my voice, most likely not my face. But her memories of our times together, our experiences, have gone into that nether world of dementia. And so, a part of my past has vanished as well.

She is happily demented, I would say, a layperson’s assessment of her life. She laughs, and tells me that she has many friends. I hope she is right. Only once, several years ago now, when she was first diagnosed, when her lucid moments outpaced her clouded ones, did she talk about what it meant to say goodbye. Goodbye to me, to her memories, to her past. “I can’t remember shit, Cyn,” she said, laughing and crying at the same time. And I was silent. She knew me then. No longer does she remember that she can’t remember.

And so, dear reader, as we begin this new year, let us “remember, you must die,” and pay attention, appreciate every hour that we have. Let’s seize the day, as the posters say. Let’s figure out exactly what that means, for each of us. Use the good silver, the china that was our great-great grandmother’s. Wear that velvet cape that lays in the attic wrapped in tissue paper. Figure out what’s important and hold on to it. Call the friend who knew you when. Make peace with some of your demons. But keep others around to remind you that you’re real.

Memento mori – I’ll drink to that – the good bourbon this time.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Permission to Do Nothing

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On Permission to Do Nothing

Week two of sabbatical – and I’ve done nothing but read. Nothing! And I must say that it’s delightful, and a bit alarming, how quickly, how easily, I have slipped into self-awarded, self-induced indolence – if you call lying on the sofa reading indolence. (At one time I had hoped that it would be named an Olympic sport.) And, surely, there must have been a time where I did not have a book in my hand, though I don’t remember it.

I read with the World Series playing in the distance. These games make me nervous, so sad always am I  for the losers. And, as happy as this former Chicagoan is for the Cubs, my heart goes out to Indian fans, and Cleveland, a city that could certainly use a break.

I’m staying away from TV as much as I can these days – no news and no talking heads – and I will not deign to comment on the political ads polluting the airways. How many millions of dollars wasted, flying into the pockets of media outlets and political opportunists, while bridges and schools crumble, and ordinary people worry about the future of our country.

There must be a better way. Can we not look to Europe, where politics, though as vicious, plays for less cost, in so many ways? Norway, now my ideal of campaign reason, has banned TV and radio political ads. Can you imagine such a return to sanity here? And their voter turnout is 81%.

I voted early this election. I had always relished going to the polls on election day, loved that sense of this one day that was set aside to play our role in maintaining our democracy. But this year, the stakes are too high to take a risk – a flat tire, a broken toe, who knows?

We’ll have a new president when I post my next blog. Would that our wounds could heal.

www.cynthiastrauff.com  Another Sunday

 

On Procrastination

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On Procrastination —

Once again I failed to heed my own advice: “Just sit down and write it. A shitty-first-draft, that’s all you need to knock out. It will take much less time and effort than you are using to put it off.”

I know that. I mean I really know that. But, once again, I stewed, I cleaned the sunporch, even tackled ironing that has sat for so many months that the design of the basket that holds it had become part of the cloth’s design. I’d written in my head, at night before I fell asleep, always promising to get up at 4:50 a.m. the next morning and get to it as soon as the coffee kicks in. What I wrote, in my head, was lyrical. I made it even better, again, in my head, as I sat for my morning meditation. But to actually put words to paper? Not a chance. I obviously hadn’t suffered enough.

Well, this morning, waiting in the doctor’s office, that sweet spot arrived. I pulled out pen, found a few scraps of paper, and wrote away. Now it’s not as good as my midnight musings, it falls far short of my meditational rewrite, but it’s a start.

I feel relieved, happy, brighter. Now if only I can manage to take my own advice the next time. And maybe rent a small space in the doctor’s waiting room….

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On Books of Poetry

On Books of Poetry–

I came late to poetry, so in a rush was I. A rush to accomplish, to do, always to have more to do. And although we can’t change our basic personalitites, I am now at a time in my life where I am more interested in being, and thinking – mainly thinking.

A few years ago, I found myself in a poetry class, and soon everything I saw, everything I thought about, became a poem. I started writing, sometimes only in my head, sometimes getting out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure that a line, a phrase, was written in a scrawl just legible enough to be deciphered the next morning. And, thus, my love affair with poetry began.

Last month I lost a good friend, an accomplished poet. She too left the world of paid work, of wins and losses, to concentrate on looking at, and writing about, the world – hers and that of others. In her last weeks we spent some time together, not talking, just being quiet, together. Since her death I thought about contacting her family, to ask if I could have one of her books. I just wanted one that she had held, perhaps read, perhaps loved. Then I learned that she had left her entire collection to her poetry group, and they were kind enough to make the books available to anyone who might be interested. I went with the intention of taking one, just one, to remember her by.

In fact, I came home with a treasure trove of poetry, works by poets whom I had meant to read, when I had time. So now I live with Fred Chappell, Randall Jarrell, William Carolos Williams, Adrienne Rich, Theodore Roethke. And more. And more. They wait, on a special bookshelf, where I can see her sardonic raised eyebrow, smiling, and hoping that I will get to them one day.

And I will. A Saturday morning with black coffee and Charles Bukowski, a Sunday afternoon with bourbon over ice and Alan Shapiro.

I’ll get to them. Really. I promise.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com