So Long Marianne: An Elegy for my Country through Leonard Cohen Lyrics

“Your letters they all say that you’re beside me now. / Then why do I feel alone?

I’m standing on a ledge and your fine spider web / is fastening my ankle to a stone.”

–So Long Marianne, Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967

leonard-cohen

I have spent most of the last 48 hours in bed crying. Like many people in America, I have felt isolated and scared and alone.

I cried for people of color who face an imminent threat from emboldened racism.  I have mourned with my friends who have been battling cancer, who will no longer be insured if Obamacare gets repealed. I cried for my gay friends and for LGBTQ youth whose equality is uncertain. I cried for Latinos who are suddenly suspect and whose families may be in danger of forced divide. I have cried with young women fearful about family planning and a lack of options.

I have spent that last two days sobbing for one reason or another.

Then Leonard Cohen died today. Just two days after my country elected a racist, misogynist, megalomaniac.

Leonard Cohen was my soul. He was my solace. He was my wise man. He was my reason for living on so many, many dark nights. Leonard Cohen has helped me through moments of my life that I never thought I could get though. He has helped me these last few days as I’ve watched my country dissolve into a mess of racism, bigotry, and fear.

I have spent my life fighting for justice, for women’s rights, for LGBTQ equality.  In these past few days I have watched my friends crumble. I have sent letters and text messages apologizing and I have gotten letters and text messages hearing apologies. So many of us have held each other for so long.  And so many of us are faltering, falling, dying.

 

“I saw some people starving / There was murder, there was rape

Their villages were burning / They were trying to escape

I couldn’t meet their glances / I was staring at my shoes

It was acid, it was tragic / It was almost like the blues”

–Almost Like The Blues, Popular Problems 2014

 

In a strange and terrible parallel to my country, in a very real and utter desolation, an angel ascended; Leonard Cohen, the poet I had loved so much, the poet who had given me so many moments of peace, left this earth. He was too good for it. But I will miss him just the same.

2016 has been a complete and utter shit show. Many of us can count the ways: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Harper Lee, Prince, Muhammed Ali, Ralph Stanley, Elie Wiesel, Gene Wilder, Janet Reno and, today, Leonard Cohen.

But, in addition to the incredible loss in the artistic community and sphere of wisdom, America seems to have lost its way.

 

“Your servant here, he has been told / to say it clear, to say it cold:

It’s over, it ain’t going any further

And now the wheels of heaven stop / you feel the devil’s riding crop

Get ready for the future.”

–The Future, The Future, 1992

 

The 2016 American presidential election was not about the candidates. The election was about the issues, morality, human rights, and justice. It was never about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. The people who voted against Donald Trump, the majority of Americans, voted against misogyny, racism, elitism, and bigotry. A slim majority, but a majority nonetheless, voted for healthcare, human rights, and progress.  But sadly, it wasn’t enough. And now we are facing some very dark times.

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed

Everybody knows the war is over

Everybody knows the good guys lost

Everybody knows the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich

That’s how it goes / Everybody knows”

–Everybody Knows, I’m Your Man, 1988

 

I am crying for my nieces and for the children in my life.  I’m crying for the people who came before me who believed they would see change in their lifetime.

I am terrified for the young women and for the people of color in my life.  I’m terrified for people whom I deeply, deeply I love. I want to make them safe.  I want to take them in my arms and protect them.  I want to shield them from all of this.

And I want the promises that we were given. I want that promises that were made to us.  I want the promises that were whispered to us to be upheld. “In America, you can be anything you want.”

I hold America’s broken promises in front of the people I love the most and I want to hide and shout and scream and cry.

“And I wish there was a treaty we could sign

I do not care who takes this bloody hill

I’m angry and I’m tired all the time.”

–Treaty, You Want It Darker, 2016

 

As someone who has been fighting my whole life, I’m tired and I’m scared. I hardly know what I could possibly have left to offer. But I’m still going to fight. I’m still going to give what I have to offer. I’m still going to put everything I have on the line.

 

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

–Anthem, The Future, 1992

 

Thank you my sweet friend.  I will miss you for the rest of my life.  But I will never, ever, ever forget you. And I will continue to give whatever I have.

 

But You Won’t Keep Falling For Me

A Sestina

mother-earth

1.

So many of us are relying on change.

But not one of us can leave.

Not one of us can hide.

We have to find peace

When not one of us can take the fall

It is us.  Not I.  Not them.  But you.

2.

Our Earth, my dear, I love you.

I’m afraid we cannot change.

Please go ahead for when we fall.

I will take that when we leave.

I will hold you for my peace

When humans go into hiding.

3.

What we’ve done we cannot hide.

We’ve nothing left to say to you.

The only thing that brings me peace

Is the fact we cannot change.

I know that when we have to leave

We will leave to break your fall.

4.

I hate that we are falling

I know we cannot hide.

I know we cannot leave,

This mother earth, this you,

I have worked for change.

I have prayed for peace.

5.

You will see no peace.

You will take the fall.

You will see no change.

You cannot hide.

I will always love you.

I will never leave.

6.

In truth I cannot leave,

This is me and my prayer for peace

It is for me and for equally you

It is in the rise and the fall

Where we testify and where we hide

And where we will never change.

 

I once had hope in the changing leaves.

I wanted to hide in their peace.

I know that I’ll keep falling for you.

The Art Of Candy Making

Today is my wedding anniversary. Despite the fact that my partner and I are both a bit stressed, short on money, and have several deadlines in front of us, we made today a really special day. We decided to take the day off and go out for a fancy lunch near our home town.

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A fancy lunch is much less expensive than a fancy dinner. It’s also quieter.

My partner and I got to spend some much needed time gazing into each others’ eyes and setting goals for the next year. We brought our wedding photo album with us to lunch. We waited for our food to arrive and we reviewed our wedding day and reaffirmed our vows. We laughed at the pictures of our friends and family and gave thanks for the incredible support that we have in our lives. We made a pact to always review our album and vows each year on our anniversary.

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Lunch was delicious. It was filling and it was plentiful, so much so that we boxed it up and ate it for dinner this evening.

This afternoon, after lunch at the restaurant, our server asked us about dessert. We requested the dessert menu and perused it. After a few moments of mutual ambivalence I looked up at my partner and said, “Why don’t we just go get truffles?”

“Yes!”

We walked a few blocks from the restaurant. I went to get us some chocolate and my partner ducked into a coffee shop to order us some coffee. We met at the coffee shop to eat our chocolate and have a cup of coffee. It was quiet and romantic and wonderful. Afterward, we walked around town. We didn’t finish all the candy I had bought. (I might have overdone it.)

This evening, my partner and I sat outside on our porch with our cats and tried to address some of our stress and looming deadlines. I sent a few emails. My partner worked on a paper for a class. We both drank more coffee.

At 8pm, I got out our leftover candy and set out our remaining truffles. I joked about the fact that I had probably eaten more truffles in the past year than I had in all the years prior.

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We have two favorite candy stores nearby, the Lazy Dog Chocolateria in Grass Valley and The Nevada City Chocolate Shoppe. Both stores are unique and offer an assortment of traditional and gourmet candies. Both shops specialize in artisan chocolate. Both shops possess an amazing talent for crafting delicious chocolates and candies. Both shops are less than five miles from our house.

I have never thought of myself as a “candy person.” I don’t eat regular candy bars. I was never much of a trick-or-treater as a kid. But now that I have become accustomed to fine candy, I’m learning that I enjoy it.

My marriage is similar. My partner and I make every effort to only put the fine ingredients into our marriage. No additives, no artificial sugar, no artificial coloring. We work at our marriage and make every attempt to add only the finest elements.

This is not to say that we are not without argument. For example, I prefer toffee and she enjoys marzipan. I like maple crisp and she would rather have a coconut cream. Similarly, I prefer to do the cooking and she prefers to drive.

In our marriage, we allow each other to add our finer qualities to the relationship. We give the best of ourselves each day and we allow each other the freedom to contribute the best of what we have to offer. It’s not always perfect. Neither of us like sugared marshmallows. And we both hate having to do the dishes. But we do our best.

The best is all anyone can do.

With chocolate and with my marriage, I have found that when a person puts in fine ingredients the result is a sweetness that couldn’t have been predicted.

For Every Poet

“You tell me that silence

is nearer to peace than poems

but if for my gift

I brought you silence

(for I know silence)

you would say

This is not silence

this is another poem

and you would hand it back to me” -Leonard Cohen

 me at mondo

I wrote another poem today, another meaningless poem that will go unnoticed. I won’t post it here. I won’t bore you. We all know that poetry is futile.

Today’s unpublished poem was good. It was beyond good. It was amazing and pertinent and perfect. It dripped of rhymed couplets. It held its subject with beauty and grandeur. It made a legend into a simple man and turned him back again. It was one of the best poems I have ever written.

 But it doesn’t matter. It might have been silence.

 For this is the work of a poet.

We walk lines that no one can see. We write lines that no one can acknowledge. It’s just what we do. Our commas are a smudge on paper. Our commas are the moments that no one can hear. Our commas are a lost art.

I’m still hoping. I’m still wishing that someone will notice my poem.

But that is the gift of silence.

And someone will hand it back to me.

Masterpiece

I never once peered down at the crayon in my hand and thought to myself, “I want to be an artist when I grow up.”  I have never wished I were an artist.  I had other things in mind.

postcard fancy

I’ve been in a rut lately. My work is bantam. Everything I write is trite. My relationships are trivial. I haven’t watered my plants in weeks. I’m a mess. Even my cats look at me like, “Wtf?”

I own several books that I haven’t read. Still, I visit my local library on a fairly regular basis. (If you haven’t been to a library lately, I highly recommend it.) On a recent visit, I found myself in the “new books” section and picked up a copy of Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist. I am easily wooed by a snappy title. The book contains advice on being creative. I read it in one sitting.

The last book I read in one sitting was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. Before that I think it was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

Obviously I was inspired by this one-sitting read because here I am. Writing.

I like Kleon’s point of advice #4: Use your hands. He argues for an “analog” work space, a space free of computers and electronic clutter. He shows a picture of his desks. He has one space that looks like a typical business office and another space that looks like a Kindergarten teacher’s desk. Using the wonders of a computer and the internet, I found a picture of Austin Kleon’s desk on his tumblr.

Austin Kleon. « from the desk of… If you have… – Austin Kleon

If you have any relationship with creativity, get a copy of Steal Like an Artist. Buy it. It won’t collect dust and go unread.

I spent time in my friend’s backyard this weekend doing “analog” stuff. We made post cards. We mostly spray-painted scrap paper and cut out stuff from magazines. It was the happiest I’ve been in weeks.

Art is really fun for me because I never wanted to be an artist. I don’t approach paint and construction paper and think to myself, “this is going to be a masterpiece.” If I’m getting out the art supplies it is for fun. I don’t worry about process, thesis or product. I don’t worry about consistency and flow. I don’t pour glitter on glue doodles and worry if it will come together or make sense at the end. I don’t worry what anyone thinks. I don’t worry if it will pay the bills.

postcard dual purpose

And every time I create a masterpiece.

On the Bus, Off the Wagon

We spent the weekend in the city, in San Francisco.  We had the pleasure of visiting my partner’s best friend, a bartender, and his boyfriend, also a bartender.  Like all bartenders, they are aspiring to other titles but find the trade very lucrative.  It was a weekend of indulgence.

As a writer in the city, I couldn’t help but see the romance of the Beat Generation all around me.  As I watched Muni buses and cable cars pass, I thought about the honorary-Beatnik Tom Wolfe’s “Electric Kool-aid Acid Test” and considered his observations about what it means to be “on the bus,” a kind of commentary about living a purposed and held existence.  (As a San Francisco aside, the book is also the defining reference for the band-name “Furthur,” the Grateful Dead continuation band.)

Our friends live in an apartment with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge that most people only get to see in movies.  They live on the top floor and have roof access.  Getting to stay there was like being royalty, or, at the very least, like having a ton of money on prom night.

It was a stark contrast to my day to day.  My life aspires to a zero carbon footprint, or even higher.  My partner and I reuse almost everything we can, recycle what we can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference.  Like so many like us, we think about where our purchases come from, how many petroleum miles it took to get to us, and we forego a number of things due to its costly impact on the environment and future generations.  Coffee and chocolate always present a moral dilemma.

My partner and I adhered to almost none of it this weekend.  For one thing, we drove to the city.  We ate Thai food, with its off-season vegetables and imported delicacies.  We shopped, deciding on Spanish wine, even though we have some of the most esteemed wines nearby in the Sonoma and Napa Valleys, many of them organic and/or biodynamic.  We did, however, buy local cheese because the Cowgirl Creamery kicks ass, but we cancelled that out with a chunk of Spanish Manchego as well.  We had coffee and chocolate.  Our hosts spoiled us, insisting on paying for things we in no way could afford.  We obliged at every opportunity.

We did touristy things, even though our proximate upbringing didn’t warrant the need for it.  We had fallen completely off the conservation wagon.  We visited the Walt Disney Family Museum, a tribute to the life and art of Walt Disney—an amazingly beautiful tribute to both.  Every art aficionado should witness its splendor.   For me, the treasure of the museum is a letter from Diego Rivera to Walt Disney about the art and craft of cartoon drawings.  Not known to most people, Walt Disney was highly esteemed by his artist colleagues.  There is even a picture of him and Salvador Dali out boating together.  But whether for high-brow art experience or just for a day of childish fun, it is a museum not to be missed.  We also visited the Japanese Tea Gardens, which has one of the most amazing catalogues of bonsai and ornamental tree-crafting anywhere in the world.  The care and attention to detail that has gone into the maintenance of such wonder is without a single lack of detail.  The grounds make me want to aspire to a more meticulous gardener in my own doings.  I can’t say enough good things about both locations.  We took pictures in Golden Gate Park and sang in a tunnel near the Academy of Sciences.  We even found ourselves at a few bars, a couple of times at the Pilsner Inn.  What fun!  It was pure guilty-pleasure.

As a sustainability writer, I feel I should find a way to make an excuse for myself.  The liberal guilt should kick in at any second.  But I will be honest: I have no excuse and it was really, really fun.

I recently started reading “The Dirty Life” by Kristin Kimball.  At one point, the author, a New Yorker and self-proclaimed “city girl,” laments to her almost-husband about their state of “poverty.”  He aptly replies that, “We’re smart and capable people. We [Americans] live in the richest country in the world. There is food and shelter and kindness to spare. What in the world is there to be afraid of?”  If I ever needed a reminder of that, this weekend was it.

Due to unforeseen circumstance, my partner and I have lived on $16 for the past 3 weeks.  We dipped into our “apocalypse food supply,” eating canned food and dried beans and rice.  We recently moved so, having no vegetables planted in our own garden, have had to settle for the already-planted Swiss Chard for nearly every green vegetable at any meal.  High in iron though it may be, chard gets boring.  We recently branched out and foraged for Miner’s Lettuce for a green salad. Unforeseen poverty begs necessity.  Still, was a very nice salad.  And it was a good test of our foraging ability and food-storage choices.  We got bored but we didn’t go hungry.  We are truly blessed to live in the country of one of the greatest experiments of man and womankind.

This weekend’s adventure was the polar opposite to our sense of scarcity.  Our dear friends aren’t exactly the San Francisco Nuevo Riche.  They aren’t programmers or financiers.  The glorious apartment that they inhabit comes from a number of years working as the building manager, and a few moves as different apartments became available.  Our dear friends are very much “working class.”  But they are working class in a different sense of the term than I have recently come to know it.  What I understand now, that I maybe didn’t understand before, is that the working class in urban American, is much, much different than their counterparts in rural America.  Again from the book, “The Dirty Life,” Kristin Kimball notes that people in cities, even internationally, have more in common with each other than they do with their own rural countrymen.  I have to agree.

I worry about whether or not my just-planted lettuce made it through last week’s snow; our city friends worry about whether or not their cab driver is charging them a fair fare.

If I could file a single complaint about the view from their balcony, it would be the serious lack of foliage.  Aside from the trees along the sidewalks and a few parks in the distance, the color green was all but lost.  There were empty roof tops as far as the eye could see.

On Sunday, when we were reluctantly ending our stay with them, we had a lot to discuss.  I told them about the New York City transit that has started to maintain bus-top gardens, a project of New York City designer Marco Antonio Castro Cosio’s graduate thesis at the NYU.  The project and its foresight is, indeed, “on the bus” and (just for the fun of another literary cliché), pushing the envelope furthur.

For a city that is consistently ahead of the curve when it comes to progressive issues, I was very surprised to see the significant lack of edible or roof-top gardens, especially because the surrounding areas are so gung-ho about food security.  There was a glaring amount of unused space that could easily be put to productive food-growing, or, at the very least, made out to be a wonderful space for flowering plants and ferns.  Organizations like the Friends of The Urban Forest are working to bring San Francisco up to speed on the part of the “green revolution” that actually includes things that are green, but efforts towards growing have to involve the entire community and cannot fall on one organization or another.  We all have to take stock in “greening” our communities.

I will be glad to return to my rural home, a place of community involvement in all senses of the term, a place where so many things grow green that it has to be a part of everyday life.

By the end of our trip, I think I had convinced our hosts to work out a plan for a roof-top vegetable garden.  We had already pointed out several edible plants at the park where they held soft ball practice.  It may take some effort, but I have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head…or at least a few tomatoes.  For all the art that the city of San Francisco has to offer, there is a host of empty canvases on the roof tops of many buildings.  The possibilities for gardens are endless.

An American Farmer’s Lament:

It’s hard to open up, to display my sad depression.

But indulge me for a while, as I share this history lesson:

During the birth of this fair nation, in 1790, just for measure

90% of us were farmers, a new-born nation’s treasure,

And when someone went to congress then, it was a deal of sacrifice,

They had to leave their stock behind, say goodbye to beans and rice,

But now our system’s shifted: the cause for my lament,

By 1950 in this nation, we were only 10 percent,

Today we stand together, but quite alone we stand,

Today 1% are farmers across this dusty land,

As we work to give this nation, the nurture they deserve,

We are sadly undermined by the people that we serve,

There’s more paperwork than acres, more hoops than there are plants,

We fear our public policy more than aphids, more than ants,

We used to cringe at thoughts of gophers, we used to shutter at thoughts of blight,

Now it’s fear of regulations that keeps us up at night,

We pander to our buyers, tally daily what’s been spent,

We fear the strangers at our door are from the government,

We keep faith that one day congress might value things that grow,

And find a way to value farmers even much more so,

Where once we all were central, we now sit down in the back,

We hope that we can conquer, picking up the slack,

Yet they wage wars in troubled nations due to scarcity of oil,

And wash pollutants into waters from our agri-business soil,

While we give to local systems, and are stewards of the earth,

They undermine our efforts and undermine our worth,

They take our money for Monsanto through tax austerity,

But true homeland protection needs food security,

Farmers have enough to fight with, the truth of climate change,

We’ve yet to see a winter here, this weather’s very strange,

Last June our dear tomatoes were underneath the snow,

We can’t hire willing workers, who want to learn and grow,

We live in fear that regulators will come knocking at our door,

We have had to tell our neighbors we can sell them eggs no more,

Front-yard gardens on our streets, face the fear of fines,

Money’s being siphoned from our farms into our mines,

Our seeds are all but tainted with GMO contamination,

Our trees struggle to bear fruit from a lack of pollination,

Our bees are disappearing; our birds have all flown south,

And millions in this country have no food to feed their mouth,

The amber waves of grain, are all but gone and lost,

And it’s happened all so quickly, we can’t tally up the cost,

We give to warring nations, weapons that serve ourselves,

And we import berries for our grocers to line their winter shelves,

And we subsequently wonder why resources are gone,

Looking for new ways to pick up and carry on,

We have taken mass production to the standard of our trade,

Small farmers stand and watch, saddened and dismayed,

Our officials wonder why there are problems they can’t manage,

Are they too busy playing golf to see the awful damage?

I have a message for our nation: I’m not trying to be rude:

But when you destroy your farmers, you destroy your food.

We can no longer plant our seeds and just hope that they will grow,

Putting our last dream into the vegetables we sow,

We are facing great demise, perhaps a mass starvation,

But we care enough about our people and enough about this nation,

That we put into each gesture a prayer that it might spout,

We are a group of faith: That’s what farming is about,

And it’s not about religion but it begs a higher power,

That we’ve committed all our lives to wish upon each hour,

To put seeds into the soil, and keep our fingers crossed,

To keep growing year by year, witnessing what’s lost,

We continue planting pumpkins in a world of chocolate bars,

We see a light that shines before us, under a sky devoid of stars,

We have dirt beneath our nails and a problem on our hands,

But we are working towards solutions for the providence of lands,

And when we hold each other up, we hold the world as well,

We have come to wage our peace with the produce that we sell,

We are still the sacred backbone, it’s not broken, but it’s bent,

We are our nation’s farmers, we are the one percent.

 

farmer me