Saturday, February 25, 2006

My Jane Austen Action Figure

So I open my front door, step onto the green outdoor carpet that covers my front porch--sorta like a mini putt golf course, with a few wrinkles and badly in need of a manicure. I’m gonna get the mail when I almost trip over a small box on the porch floor. I haven’t ordered anything and the box doesn’t have a return address. It’s small and light enough that I can pick it up with one hand. It’s addressed to Beth’s Front Porch.

When I open the box and brush away some of the white packing peanuts, I see the words with writing desk & quill pen! I pull out the clear package and can see a six inch high woman dressed in a regency white and green dress, complete with curly brown hair under a cap, Pride and Prejudice in left hand, quill in right. At the top, in large white letters on a black background: Jane Austen Action Figure: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

I flip over the box, and on the back of the package are some interesting facts about my new action figure. For example, her Weapon of Choice: Character Study. There are these quotes:

I do not want people to be agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking

People always live forever when there is an annuity to be paid
them. (Sense and Sensibility)

There are people who the more you do for them, the less they will do for themselves. (Emma)

If there is anything disagreeable going on, men are always sure to get out of it.

The packaging tells me, in case I don’t know it, Jane Austen was an enduring and much loved English author who wrote novels which reflect universal and timeless truths about humanity. It also tells me there are small parts not suitable for children under 36 months.

In fact Jane has figured tangentially in my work. There is, for example, this paragraph: Frizzy asks if Jane Austen is ok. I say she is, as far as I know. It’s a touchy subject. Jane is Frizzy’s dog, the one she got after Emily Dickinson passed on. Frizzy says when she was in high school she didn’t like Emily’s poetry much, so when she got her first dog she named her Emily. In that way Frizzy hoped she’d some to appreciate Emily’s poetry in a better fashion. I figure Jane got her name in the same way. Later, Frizzy calls and says she has to move because the family she’s living with is allergic to Jane Austen.

But that’s another story.

There’s a small card buried in the original box that was on my front porch. It says:
With Love for Beth’s Front Porch. And won’t the green outfit
go well with the orange carpet? Love you, Dan.

(For those of you following my blog, you may recall that the orange carpet is in my magic carpet-ride writing space.) So whoever would send me such a thing, eh?

This is from the guy who went to Parris Island with me to see his nephew--my son-- graduate from the USMC boot camp. (If you’re reading Beth’s Front Porch, you know about this, and Jarhead, and you deserve to graduate from boot camp, too, for sticking with me.) It’s early in the morning, and he and I are in the stands, and the ceremony is taking place on the parade ground, and the unpredicted rain begins. It’s relentless, torrential. Most of us are unprepared: no hat, no umbrella, no jacket. But I have mascara. Evidently it is not waterproof. It burns when it gets in the eyes. It leaves football player like smudges on the skin. So Dan turns to me and with a compassionate look, pulls out a handkerchief—a real handkerchief—and gives it to me. But it’s the look that gets me. He looks compassionately at a woman whose mascara is running and whose son has become a jarhead. She needs that moment. She remembers what it feels like.

Well, that’s just a little aside. For me it’s the best moment in the trip.

Oh, and he’s the same person who when I'm a senior in high school gives me a poster of a woman on a beach, which at the top, in script, says
I long for what might be.

This is my brother. As a child, I used to imagine I was adopted. Maybe, after all, I am not. Maybe, after all, my tribe is my tribe.

I want to thank my Jane Austen Action Figure for serving as a catalyst for this epiphany. This is much more than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ever accomplished. At my house, anyway. And, although I don't much like talking to someone through a blog entry...thanks in all ways, Dan. Love, Beth

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The face in the blog

Image hosting by Photobucket Dear Friends,
Today I link my face to my blog in the "profile." It’s a slightly younger face than the one I’m currently sporting, since the photo was taken in November 2004. And thanks to the miracle of sun and chemicals, I’m blonder now.

On either side of me, cropped from the photo, are awesome friends. It’s a pre-Thanksgiving shot, and there was another person with us whom I had never met who took the photo. We were at a restaurant, and somehow the subject of the Iraq war and the understanding and feeling of students about the war on college campuses arose. I sat, not saying anything. Maybe I looked at my comrades. Maybe I looked down at my plate.

The other people at the table were not aware my beloved younger son had enlisted in the Marines and at that moment was preparing for deployment to Iraq. I could not have said anything if I wanted to. I was anguished by what was happening with regards to my son and what he had chosen. I was afraid. I would expound at length, but this isn't a political column. I'll only say that at the dinner I retreated into the well of myself until the subject changed.

This was what was happening when the photo was snapped.

So I was puzzled when someone said to me about the photo: very cute. To me, it’s a troubled face. This face, this mask I wear to the world, to people who don’t know me: I’m fine! I’m marvelous! Wonderful! Fabulous! I can use a lot of exclamation points. Maybe it helps me bridge the gap of alienation I sometimes feel. I look normal: therefore, I am normal. Maybe it’s how I thumb my nose at the world: I was a homely child, taunted. Hurrah for this face, poetic justice! I could slip on a banana peel tomorrow.

Those particular troubled personal times are over now: the younger son is no longer on active duty. Still, the photo represents the start of a metamorphosis. It is troubled before becoming relaxed. It looks smiling but it has a well of sadness: dip down, sweet down with your bucket. It reminds me of Anne Sexton: poetry is my kitchen, my face. ~Beth

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Various and Sundry

In the middle of the night I woke up and knew I was looking for my tribe. I’m a little worried that it consists of a lot of dead people – Brautigan, Faulkner, Forster. (For a little more on finding your tribe, check out Theresa’s blog entry on this subject.) It could be that I’m destined to be a nomad, going from thought to thought, the thread of my path being writing and the creative process, to wit:

The hypnagogic state. A little googling after my last entry, I see the hypnagogic state of consciousness is recognized throughout history as the source of creative thought by distinguished philosophers, artists and scientists including Aristotle, Brahms, Puccini, Wagner, Goethe, Keats, Coleridge, Neitzsche, Poe, Dickens, Dali, Ford, and Einstein.

In fact, when Thomas Edison would reach a ‘sticking point’ he would take a ‘cat nap.’ He dozed off in his favorite chair, holding steel balls in the palms of his hands. As he fell asleep—in the hynagogic state—his arms would relax, the steel would fall into pans on the floor, and he would wake, usually with an idea to continue his project.

The United States of Hypnagogia: a place of relaxed consciousness between wakefulness and sleep, during which flashes of inspiration and creative insight often appear. The mind is open and totally free to new ideas. I try to drink from this well as much as I can. I'm very thirsty.

Molly Ivins. I commute, and currently I’m listening to Molly Ivins read her own liberal political newspaper columns. Besides the loud laughs and guffaws coming from my auto, for some odd reason the phrase she used that stuck in my mind is “national laboratory for bad government, Texas.” I like her columns best—and this is a personal preference only—when she writes about a person she likes, such as Jessica Mitford or Ben Bradley. Still, it’s hard not to forget phrases like “if his IQ went any lower we’d have to water him two times a day,” or “his brain’s so small if we put it in a bumblebee it’d fly backwards.” I get energy from Ivins’ writing. I love what she says: keep fighting for freedom and justice, and don’t forget to have fun doing it.

Sometimes I wonder if I said what I think, would I be fired from humanity? Thank the universe for fiction. Writing: it’s like a blood test; it shows what’s going on inside of you. Meek, mild mannered Clark Kent enters a phone booth, bedecks himself with spandex and voila! Meek mild mannered BethsFrontPorch puts on her Olympia typewriter and voila! (For those of you trying to visualize what this might look like, the typewriter would be something like an accordian.)

Harper Lee. Much ado was made of Harper Lee this week in our beloved NYTimes. The headline called her “Gregarious for a Day.” It seems there was an awards ceremony in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for an essay contest on the subject of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and Lee put in an appearance. Lee is “one of the most reclusive writers in the history of American letters,” says the Times. She has an “outsized reputation for shyness.” Lee is a shining light for those of us trying to create our own incubators, where our seeds of creativity might germinate.

(It may be that gregariousness is good, but I am of a mind that it is good only in small, sincere doses, if it's given through an eyedropper on a piece of skin that is unscathed and won’t absorb too much. To date, there is no known antidote for an overdose of gregariousness. It is certain death.)

It’s a good thing I’m having company for dinner! It’ll be chicken pesto pasta. Say it 10 times, fast. I’ll be listening, authorized under the National Homeland Wiretapping Act, soon to be passed in a theater near you!