Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Efficacy of Industry: Whatever Works

As a rule, I hate jokes. Perhaps it's because I'm not a good joke teller, or perhaps I'm not a good joke teller because I hate jokes. I don't know which. In any case, I'm about to break the rule.

Two friends who worked on the assembly line for a car parts plant in Tuscaloosa died. One went straight to heaven; the other, straight to hell. After a few weeks the one in heaven telephoned the one in hell and said, "Hey, buddy. Howya doin down there?"

"Oh, purty good, I guess," replied the one in hell.

"Purty good? Whaddaya mean?" said the one in heaven.

"Well, we have to work all the time, but it's not bad. We get breaks any time we need 'em, smoke breaks, long lunch breaks, you the way, I've always wondered, what's it like up there?"

"Not good. Not good at all. We work long days and nights and can't even get a single break. It's just work, work, work," said the guy in heaven.

The guy in hell was very puzzled. "Why do you think that is?"

"Not enough help," said the guy in heaven.

Probably the real reason I remember this joke and not the other two my nephew, Gary (who BTW works on an assembly line), told this past weekend is that I like the underlying metaphor of  this one, that the afterlife may not be too different from our lives on earth.

Without getting into a diatribe on my religious views, I will simply say that during this Thanksgiving week, one of my blessings is work. Not all work, mind you. Don't put me on an assembly line, for that would be sheer hell on earth. But the work I love: being in the kitchen with my sisters making cornbread dressing or Cranberry Conserve; ironing in the early morning when no one in the house is awake but me;
writing a poem or essay about my work, blogging...

(See yesterday's prep work for Thanksgiving below.)

The ironing takes me back to the late fifties when it was my after-school job to iron for my sister all the starched cottons she had. The starch was not from a can, but the stiff kind, the kind that you mixed with water, dipped the clothes in it, wrung them out, hung them on the clothes line to dry, and sprinkled and kept in the refrigerator until ironing day. (Ann Taylor in Prattville held the record for this: she declared that once she left a sprinkled tablecloth in the refrigerator for two years.) I devoured the repetition of the nuances in "Guiding Light" and "As the World Turns" as I smoothed the wrinkles away and imagined what I might be doing in my own kitchen someday. The great difference is that I no longer watch soaps at the ironing board, but relish the quiet for just the imagining, or for remembering the days that are no more. Or philosophizing on the greater issues of life as I did this morning ironing Tommy's khakis.

I remembered when the sister six years older than I am, Gary's mother, told jokes. She still loves to hear a good one even though she can't walk from failed knee surgeries. She used to sing  incessantly as a teenager; too bad she was born too soon for American Idol. My oldest sister taught us both a lot about cooking. Now she can't remember the ingredients that comprise her red velvet cake. My only living brother loves to plant and grow things. Two bouts with pneumonia last winter have stripped him of most gardening.

Given the choice, I think I would take fingers and hands and arms and legs over wings. Streets of gold are not necessary. Just a plain house. With an ironing board and iron, of course. And grandchildren--that goes without saying. I know a lot of my friends hate ironing, so my choices wouldn't work for them. But I'll leave those little details up to God.
Equipment Ready

Cranberry Conserve Cooking

Cranberry Conserve Canned

Strawberry Salad, Ready to freeze

Friday, November 4, 2011

What's in a name?

I'm always interested in how an artistic rendering comes to be named. When I interviewed master weaver Clare Matthews for a profile in WELD, I asked her  about the naming of her rugs/wall hangings.“I only name my pieces if they’re going to be in an exhibition or gallery. They insist on a title,  not Rug 40 or Rug 41. So sometimes I ask myself what does this remind me of?”

Clare and I met at a poetry reading in Leeds. The pattern of her published piece in Birmingham Arts Journal reminded her of the game Tiddledywinks; thus, its name.  “The way the little round pieces flip up in kind of half circles, and then they’re moving, and they come back down again. Always nice bright colors in shiny plastic.”

"Desert Dazzler" is easily recognizable at the WELD web site. It dances right before your eyes. "Rhythm and Blues" is also pictured there. Some of the out takes of the article I thought I'd post here for those who want to see more of the fun visit I had in Clare's home.
She is pictured in front of both her cool and warm colors. A portion of her wall of collected cards, the passementerie, the creel, and a circular table mat she freehanded after seeing a similar one in the American west are shown here.

The picture of Clare seated at her loom on the web site is much better than one I could take. See it at

Message in a Blog

  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...