Lawrence, Kansas: Center of the Universe: Everyday Magic, Day 805

A standing still (and surprised) artist on Mass. and 9th St.

A standing still (and surprised) artist on Mass. and 9th St.

As I always say, there are two rules to Lawrence: 1) Don’t leave; and 2) If you leave, come back. The last 24 hours echoed the value of those rules, starting and ending with the pistachio.

It began for me at 5:30 p.m. at Limestone Pizza, one of the best, where-have-you-been-all-my-life new restaurants in town. Waiting for a table, the generous Anne Patterson, finishing her dessert nearby, offered me a spoonful of pistachio gelato. How good is life and how true is pure pleasure? Very! Dinner included dear and old friends, husband and grown child; the cure-all-ails Kansas-style pizza (thanks to a big limestone oven named, for our sweet and departed friend, Maggie); astonishing salad with

Darrell Lea at the Phoenix Gallery

Darrell Lea at the Phoenix Gallery

micro-whatevers; slivered of fried zucchini; and dessert: I have just discovered something called a budino, a thick Italian custard obviously created to end wars.

Then it was off to the blurred joys of Final Fridays (our monthly arts extravaganza) and the Free State Arts Festival. One gallery featured cut-up old books, the pages folded and fanned to evoke spinning tops. Just outside, a bunch of high school kids playing wicked wood guitar. The Phoenix gallery included one of our town’s musical gems: Darrell Lea, and a bunch of us belting out “Strawberry Fields Forever” as we perused crayons shaped like features. More walking, and we found ourselves sipping Free State beer, chatting with friends or strangers, and wandering into an East Lawrence lawn concert before crossing small parking lots

Stan Herd, I love this painting!

Stan Herd, I love this painting!

or pocket parks loaded with singing and listening. We went into Cider Gallery, where I was dazzled by Stan Herd’s paintings, and Ken by Clare Doveton’s, before an attack fly drove us outside again.

Exhausted, we collapsed into a small red couch at Marty Olson’s Do’s Deluxe, which sported a tattoo show. The Argentinean tattoo artist, Martin del Camino, inspired by traditional and contemporary Japanese designs (lots of spiraling ocean waves) was kind enough to give us a world tour of his arms and legs, featuring tattoos from famous and upcoming artists from his travels (he even tattooed part of his calf himself).

Rejuvenated, we stepped outside to find Nicholas Ward’s inspired short film

Art on the spot, Gospel choir-inspired

Art on the spot, Gospel choir-inspired

about East Lawrence, threaded with the music of Ardys Ramberg and other locals, being projected on the side of a building while a small crowd filled folding chairs. It turns out most of the crowd was also i the film, so we had occasion to meet and greet the stars.

Across the street to the east, we were beckoned to the St. Luke’s AME Church by friends who said there was about to be improv art in concert with a gospel choir and jazz band. We ran up the steps to get our seat, and soon it began: Michael Arthur, a live visual artist, did spectacularly moving and surprising pen and ink drawings to the jubilant uplift of the church’s righteous gospel choir, and then to the Matt Otto quartet.

The photo doesn't do this artist justice, but you get the idea.We were mesmerized, but more mesmerization was yet to come: stepping outside and walking back to Mass. St., we passed amazingly-blue-lit windows in the huge Turnhall building. Then we realized what filled the windows was a backlit cityscape of many layers of streets that quickly morphed into seven flowing rivers from around the world, piled up in strips of blue, brown and gray flowing water. A man on the street explained to us that he had just met the artist, Tiffany Carbonneau, who travels the world, filming what he encounters, and then projects the images from inside buildings, such as this one. We marveled at the rushing rivers, including the Yangtze from China.

Back out this morning, I found myself sitting next to Denise Skeeba from Homestead Ranch at the Farmer’s Market, delighting in the breezy shade, and eating a pistachio creme brulee, torched a minute beforehand by the vendor next to her stand, which all goes to show that you would be nuts to leave the center of the universe.

Oh Give Me a Poem Where the Buffalo Roam: Everyday Magic, Day 804

IMG_0806It started a year ago in the pool when during my long, slow parade of laps, I paused at the end of the pool. A speed-swimming man popped out of the lane beside me, and asked, in the kind of polite, British accent that it’s hard to refuse, if I ever considered writing a memoir about my poet laureate years. That man was Brian Daldorph, who runs Coal City Press, and a few days later, not to mention many laps thinking about it, I said yes to the book that would become Poem on the Range: A Poet Laureate’s Love Song to Kansas.

Like all book projects to the easily-optimistic, this one seemed kind of easy and fun. Fun it was, but “easy” quickly became a complicated term. I had many blog posts about my poet laureate time, but there was the work of transforming them into chapters, finessing words and paragraphs, and “killing darlings” (the writerly term for letting go of passages we’re attached to). I also thought the book wouldn’t be nearly so interesting without greater context, so I brought in some travelogue writing to give readers a sense of some of the communities I traversed, and best of all, poems from many gracious writers near and far. In the end, the book’s fishing expedition for Kansas poems (with excursions for poet laureate poems from other states) brought over 40 poems to bunk down in various chapters.

Then, of course, there are all the necessary tasks to turn a manuscript into a book, including finding a good cover image (thanks, Stephen Locke, for your IMG_0809wonderful photo!), design (thanks to the wildly-talented Leah Sewell), collecting blurbs from other writers, excessive proofreading (thank you, Brian!), and printing proofs and reading them repeatedly and then printing more proofs.

Yesterday, all eased into the book in Brian’s and my hands, with gratitude and poetry for all.

Upcoming readings:
3 p.m., July 10 – Astra Arts Festival, Independence, KS

7 p.m., July 29 (with Roy Beckemeyer and his new book, Music I Could Once Dance To, The Raven bookstore, Lawrence, KS

Get your book at The Raven or through Coal City Press


Traveling By Train: Everyday Magic, Day 803

From whence I come

From whence I come

I had this illusion that train travel would be serene, a rollicking cradle of comfort up and down the tracks as I dozed off and dreamt of unfurling horizons. So when I booked my ticket to go to Michigan — two trains, three hours between them tooling around Chicago — I was thrilled at the sauna-like travel experience I was sure would follow. Having done a whole lot of driving and a whole lot of flying, train travel always seems to me to be a vacation to get to the vacation.

Amusing and intriguing? Maybe. Scenic and rhythmic? Definitely. But this is not the spa version of any kind of self-propelling through time and space. Exhibit A: the hour the first train comes to fetch me is long before dark’o’thirty. I wake at 4:30 a.m. into a universe I barely know. Once onboard, the swaying back and forth I imagined is more like being flung from one side of the world to another. As I leave my seat to check out the bathroom or find the cafe, I have to lunge at other seats to keep my balance while everyone around me is doing the same. Have trains always been like this, and I just forgot?

Then there are all the first-world-problems: food okay but not as good as I IMG_0650remembered, bathrooms that seem to not have been cleaned since 2011, overcrowding to the point that some people boarding have to wait in the lounge car, and in the lounge car, someone narrating historical and geographical features in a booming voice. My favorite moment: when he pointed us all toward a bald eagle in the field before introducing the dirt road we were riding over.

Chicago, a place I haven’t really been since 1981, is bigger, faster and louder than I remembered. While I made my way to Greek Town for Linner (dinner + lunch at 4 p.m.), my back and arms strained a bit with all the luggage, but the fresh air, after 9 hours on the train, was luscious.


The Great Hall isn’t green

Back in Union Station, my train fantasy burst. Maybe taking a train at 6 p.m. on a Friday, in retrospect, wasn’t the calmest way to go, but as I walked up and long long slanted floors toward wherever I was supposed to be (or thought I was supposed to be), rushing people slammed into me or halted abruptly, looking at me as if I had landed in front of them from Mars. Once at “D,” the place I was supposed to go, I joined a long line as someone ordered her to go to “the Green Hall.” We scurried away, confused. “What is this Green Hall?” a woman asked me. I told her I didn’t know, but let’s go find it, and in no time, facilitator that I am, I was leading six of us through a maze of shops and turns, escorted part of the time by a kind security officer, to the “Great Hall” (no green in sight) where, in the vast emptiness, we saw a sign with our train number on it, and a long line of people waiting.

30 minutes later, many of us confused and asking each other why we were here in between speculating about whether we were going to be put on a bus instead of a train (the horrors!), someone came, yelled at us to follow, and the rushing forth of the lemmings began. We went a long way back until we got to the train platform, occasional Amtrak personnel herding us with sticks (well, not sticks, but plenty of yelling). Then it was onto an kindly but old train to sit in full sun without the a.c. not kicking on yet. I know, more first world problems, and not really problems at all.

Now we’re moving north, we’ve cleared downtown Chicago, and out my sun-blasted window, I see old houses and new baseball fields, hear the long and lonely whistle of this train, and in the distance, glimpse a vast stretch of refineries. Nothing is what we think it is most times, and while this has not been a day to rest and replenish, it is a day with its own gifts, like this gorgeous cottonwood we just passed, eeking out its life between a cement wall and broken sidewalk while the blue of the sky sails back.

Can’t Get There From Here: The Outrageous Traffic Catch-22 of Lawrence, KS: Everyday Magic, Day 802

eeeWe live just south of Lawrence on N. 1000 Road which, just a few months ago, meant we had several options to get to town. Oh, how sweet those days of old look now! Louisiana Street, our main way into town, is closed down for months because of the incoming South Lawrence Trafficway. Haskell St., our alternative a mile to the east, is mostly closely: down to one lane, alternating directions thanks to the poor souls who have to hold the “Slow” or “Stop” signs in the hot sun with frequent punctuations and interruptions by massive trucks stopping all traffic to dump massive amounts of gravel.

This is kind of understandable although not a happy thing: we still have, or at least had, Iowa St. to the west of us only now Iowa is narrowed to a crawl at its intersection with the very busy 23rd Street because of road repairs. To the west of Iowa, via Clinton Parkway, there’s Wakarusa Road, which we could, in a pinch and if we didn’t mind going five miles or so west, use to get to the town, but I just read construction is happening there too.

Which means we, and anyone who lives in the southern half of Lawrence, are not a happy or accessible lot. The make-a-way-out-of-no-way routes includes treating the morning or evening drive like a maze, only one in which the open pathways shift or get more complicated at the drop of a hat when there’s extra traffic, more construction (also on 23rd and Louisiana), or just bad luck.

A few days ago, I explored a series of intersecting dirt roads to the east of town, almost making it over the hump and into the city until bridge construction and then a dead end sent me back to Haskell to wait for 10 minutes while a truck unloaded its long line of gravel. Ken showed me yesterday his complicated and seemingly counter-intuitive way to get to the town via the dirt roads, and it worked, but I have no idea how we actually broke through the time-space continuum to get to 23rd street.

I tend not to be a person who bitches about construction too much: I expect long waits here, there yonder to repave roads, fill potholes, or widen the margins of the street. But what if the total effect of all these improvements or new roads chokes out any simple and constant ways to get from here to there? Welcome to our summer and perhaps fall.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remind myself to leave 10 minutes earlier than usual, bring along a cold drink, some antacid and perhaps a good magazine for long waits, and chill out. It’s a headache, a confusion, a hassle, and a convergence of what happens when planners don’t look at the whole picture and consider the likes of me and my kind (all of us south-of-the-Wakarusans). Yet it’s also a first world problem, so as we do with such problems, a chance to bitch in chorus, roll our eyes, and then ferret out new ways through and into our town.

Back in the Swim of Things: Everyday Magic, Day 801

Today it was back to the city pool for the first time since late last August. I paid my money, drank my water, took off my cover-up and glasses, slipped out of my sandals, and went to the water. It was cool but not too cool as I slid down to my shoulders. Then the laps began.

Last year, I fell back in love with swimming after a many-decade hiatus. The rhythm of breast stroke or side stroke, really the only ones I can do (along with a mean doggie paddle) took over, and my body craved full immersion many times a week, sometimes everyday and usually at least four times each week. Once in the water, I would do my 20 laps at a sped-up turtle speed, meaning I was in the water a long time. No matter, the meditative aspects of simply moving back and forth on water caught my cravings, and I found myself structuring my days around when next I could get into a lap lane and swim.

This afternoon, the water welcomed me back with open arms as I stretched open my own arms and laid my face in the cooling water. Water to air, air to water, the clouds building up in the west and the sun occasionally blaring through drew me up to breath and down to take the next stroke.

Of course, I also was quickly reminded of the others around me, the people who don’t do lap lanes according to the rules of Caryn, such as young parents who gingerly step in, holding a baby, and just stand there. Or the little kids who leap frog and walk on their hands underwater, messing around until a life guard edges them out of the lap lanes. There’s the non-swimming movers: the power-walking women, usually my age or so, who pace back and forth, usually in pairs, talking to each other as they exercise, or the singular people just testing their ability to move across water and feel their bodies come to life. There’s the speed-racer swimmers who splash excessively and the fast fish who soar across the pool underwater, popping up half-way across the lap to take a breath. It gets noisy. The hard splashes pummel water across the surface and up my nose when I’m inhaling the serenity of the moment, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, herds of kids (or adults) crossing my lane in front of me. Water gets in my ears and chlorine in my eyes, and my new(again)-to-the-water arms get sore and tired.

But none of this matters because swimming is heavenly. Again.

Where Am I Now?: Everyday Magic, Day 800

IMG_0372I started this blog to practice writing for balance and sanity out loud, and to build a larger audience for my books as they rolled down the hill of paper and into, with luck, the arms of readers. 800 posts later, I pause for a post behind the posts.

My initial plan was to write everyday, which I did for a long time. The practice helped me aim my perception toward something to question, ponder, celebrate, or co-habitate with writing on a regular basis. Eventually, the everyday morphed into every few days although it seems the more I return to typing letters into this box on my screen, the more I want to return, yet when I’m in the throes of writing something else, especially and particularly poetry, I don’t have much to say blog-wise, and I’ve never believed in pushing the writing river.

So if you don’t hear from me for a week or so, it’s not because I don’t love writing to you. It’s simply because the writing has gone underground: into new poems or, far below that, a silent pond, waiting for the wind to work itself up again. I don’t believe in – and please, writers, don’t hate me for this — writer’s block, only writer’s-not-ready spaces. To that end, I tend to work on multiple writing projects at once, going where the energy of the words take me: sometimes into the workaday-life of revisionland, where we live as old marrieds with our prose or poetry, steadily applying letters to the page or screen, copying things over, reading things aloud, ready to catch whatever music comes through the grind. Other times, it’s that heady and breathless romance of first drafts, fishing for  possibilities well beyond our frontal-lobe, pre-selected and old-dog-trick thoughts so that something alive, and surprising can come through. Sometimes it’s just writing shit, knowing it’s shit, but being okay with that because compost is golden, especially when it comes to making something new and nourishing.

IMG_0369Wherever I am, I try to begin with the obvious markers of time and place. I write this now to you, trying to make out what I’m typing from the dozens of tiny oval-shaped insects in love with the light of my computer screen. It’s night, I’m on the front porch, the wind roars and settles, the dog stares at the dive-bombing June bugs, and the cats sleep almost back to the back. The temperature is perfect for most of human life doing most anything. Like talking through this post to you at the moment, and thanking you for reading this and reading others posts (if you have) over the years. The intimacy and immediacy of writing a blog is as sweet as a spring night when everything, for a moment at least, quiets to wind through the cedars and crickets and the squeaking of old branches.

A Big Gay Wedding For Kansas: Everyday Magic, Day 799

IMG_0081The grooms walked Michael’s mom down the aisle between them. When they arrived at the front of the church, led by a wide line of children, friends and family ringing small bells, they each turned to hug Michael’s mom with all their heart. Thus began one of the most joyful and meaningful weddings in my life and surely in the life of Kansas.

Michael and Charles were joined together in holy marriage on May 3 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Manhattan, authorized by all of us there, the authority of their love and 30+ years together, and surely by the blossoming trees and sweet wind of this spring day. While the state of Kansas wasn’t in on the authorization of this marriage YET (and that’s a big YET), the rest of the known and unknown universe sure seemed in complete alignment. The guys were legally married some months earlier in California, but now in Kansas — where Michael is a minister, Charles a retired attorney, and both writers andrabble-rousers — this wedding lands on home ground.

This will be the new billboard in Manhattan, KS

This will be the new billboard in Manhattan, KS

The ceremony itself was stunning. One groom could hardly stop crying, the other kept making us laugh so hard that we would cry ourselves into tears, and the music, readings, silence and vows were as beautiful as sunlight. Throughout the ceremony, in what was said and what didn’t need to be said, it was clear that we had all arrived at a new time: one in which gay and lesbian marriage had arrived, IMG_0074even in a state that had already gone to great lengths to slam the door against it. Many of my friends and I joke as to whether Kansas will be the 48th or 49th state to recognize gay marriage (I tend to think we’ll do it before Mississippi and Alabama, but who knows?), but thanks to my dear friends Charles and Michael, recognition may come sooner rather than later. These good men are one of two couples suing the state of Kansas to file taxes as married, and in lieu of wedding gifts, Michael and Charles asked for contributions to All’s Fair Kansas, the organization fighting for marriage equality here in the land lately known as Brownbackistan.

Thea Nietfeld reading a beautiful piece she wrote

Thea Nietfeld reading a beautiful piece she wrote

Having known Michael and Charles for over 20 years, I have no doubt that all of us in Kansas or who have Kansas states of mind are very fortunate to have such committed, loving, wise and kind men putting themselves out there on our behalf. While it might be presumptuous for a straight woman like myself to say this, I believe so much that marriage equality lifts all of us up. It breaks the cycle of silencing and choking shame that forces some to swallow their pride, identity and truth, which cannot help but diminish the health and strength of individuals, communities, cultures, even a whole state. Freedom is truly only complete when it isn’t tarnished by giving privilege to some at the expense of others. Love too is more complete out in the open.IMG_0119

As I watched Michael and Charles marry, like most everyone else crying, laughing and cheering in that church, I felt such awe and love for these men: for their courage, their beauty, their truth. For their love of flowers and adventure and each other. For their vision of community here in the heartland. For their art and heart, and willingness to very soon after the ceremony, sing together with many of us on the dance floor, “Going to the chapel, and I’m going to get married.” And for doing just that on this day.