Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016


Dear America,
How are you? I am well. How’s our president? I hope he is well.  His family, too. I know it’s been a long while since we wrote letters to each other, but maybe that will change soon. My hope is that instead of going the way of the dinosaur, letter-writing will catch on again. What do you think?
Remember when we learned how to write a letter in school? I think my first time was in the third grade. I forget my teacher’s name, but I remember how important I felt to writing a letter. I'd watched my parents do it since I could remember. Used to be when my mom wrote letters to her family back home, she always asked my sister Betty and me if we wanted to say anything. Of course we always dictated the same thing, “Say hello to grandmother, to Aunt Pauline, to Aunt Annie Pearl, and to Aunt Gloria.”  They sent their return regards in a one-letter reply by way of Grandmother’s letter to Mama. I used to ask for the pretty stamps on those letters. I have no idea why, seeing how I lost them before the day was over. 
Watching Mama writing made my mouth water. I didn’t think I could wait until I was big enough to write like her. I just knew that when I knew how, I’d write long chatty letters to everyone I knew. And, I’d use a fountain pen too, just like Mama. I loved her black fountain pen. Watching her fill the bladder with blacker-than-night ink convinced me magic was at work! 
When it ran dry, all she had to do was gently dip the shiny tip, called a nib, into the squat bottle of blue-black that bore a blue and gold label, lift a tiny brass colored lever in its side, and “slurp!” It sucked up ink until it was as full as my stomach got after I drank a whole glass of chocolate milk!
Once, when Betty was still napping and it was just the two of us, Mama said I could lift the lever to fill her pen. Oh, Little Girl Heaven was at hand! I tried. She held the pen. All I had to do was make the pen slurp. It wasn't as easy as it looked. My fingers were too little. My finger nails weren't long enough to slip below the dip the lever rested in. The disappointment was more bitter/sour than the alum I’d once sampled on the sneak. To this day my mouth still fills when I think back on that day. And although I own eight fountain pens, and none of them have bladders or shiny levers, I drag the emptiness of an unfulfilled promise across each page I write on. I have never owned a fountain pen with a bladder. Pen companies stopped making them long before I could own one. I used to haunt estate sales, Good Wills, antique stores . . . Always searching for the one thing I want more than an iPad. Feels like the mere memory of that particular failure holds onto the memory of puckering like it's a sidekick. I don't even have to close my eyes to see the bottle of ink or the label. It was Sheaffer's
Failure hurt but Mama made it better with a sweet promise of “Wait until you get to be a big girl, okay?” Like I’d be a big girl before her pen needed a refill. Still, I held onto those words until fountain pens were made obsolete by the ball point pen. That grossly inferior writing tool! Not a writing instrument but a writing tool. I held on until long after I was on a first name basis with the flavor and smell of envy every time I saw my teachers writing. They all used fountain pens. They filled out our report cards with fountain pens! Notes sent home were written with fountain pens! And, they all wrote the same beautiful cursive hand. I learned the coveted art I would spend years trying to master actually had a name. It wasn't just cursive. It was Spencerian. American Cursive was okay--just not on a par with Spencerian Script.
Spencerian Script. Rich, and elegant, and a thing worth coveting mastery of. Every classroom in every school I attended had thSpencerian alphabet printed on a green background. Surely the letters were permanently adhered to those walls, because they never slipped out of place or fell. The entire alphabet, and numbers one through ten hung there, so far above my head, nearer the ceiling, and closer to heaven than were my dreams of ever making them  flow from my own pen, or across my school girl paper--or yes Lord--them spell my name! Oh, the agony of being a first, second and third grader cursed with merely printing! 

Hope to hear from you soon.
Yours truly,
This Limner

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Still Woke

Still woke, or waiting to exhale? Sometimes I laugh. Sometimes I cry. Life never tells me the whens or whys. As long as I have friends to wish me well, I'll still find the point when I can exhale. Right? It feels right anyway. I read a post that reminded me how artists have an antidote to life's let-downs and falters. We create. I tend to draw when I'm in need of consolation. Thumbing through my journal reveals how I unconsciously work out my unspoken unrest through pencil and color. We have built-in release valves. How clever-cool is this? And, I read. 

This really is one of the greatest times to be alive. I remember my silly lamentations over having missed out on being a hippie, a bra burner, (the sexual revolution ?) a pot smoker, and a Black Panther, due to having been born at what I saw as the wrong time. Well, I was wrong. I got to go without a bra, and now wish that I hadn't ever worn one .  . . Okay, maybe not. But I've learned to love my itty bitties; I used to have a tee shirt with "They might be little but they're all mine," silk screened on the front. That tee was my way of sticking it to all the friends and family who teased me for being less than endowed with fluffy mammaries. They tried to make me feel less than because of my small cups. So, I missed out on the sexual revolution. Big deal. I missed out on contracting a host of STDs, and birthing a small tribe of young 'uns born out of wedlock, back when such things mattered. My life has been grand and stellar in its own right though. When I think on the things I've seen and done so far . . . the places I've gone . . . Well, hear me now when I say "I wouldn't give nothing for my journey."

My journey isn't over either. Neither is America's. I am my own final frontier, and goodness, but the horizon looks spectacular! I cannot "science the hell" out of anything, but I can sure create some good stuff, love some great people, learn, and read/write some pretty amazing mail. And, yes, I do have friends to wish me well. There's no need to exhale just yet either, since I'm not holding my breath. I breathe. In and out. In and out. In and out. I'm still woke. My yoke grows lighter with each passing day. I am on my way. See? I wrote some good letters. I wrote a short stack of mail. I've gotten some good written words in return, as the world turns. 

Stay woke.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Stay Woke, Write

What if you slept
And what if 
In your sleep 
You dreamed 
And what if 
In your dream 
You went to heaven 
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower 
And what if 
When you awoke 
You had that flower in you hand 
Ah, what then?     (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

Stay woke. I heard it, saw it in print, but didn't have a clue to what it meant. Yes, sometimes I'm lazy; I think I'll get the meaning by osmosis if I just be still long enough. When curiosity outweighs . . . not complacency, the proper word escapes me due to a sudden bout of CRS . . . The only cure is continued action. Just do it. Keep writing 'cause the word will come. So now I believe that I know what "stay woke" means. In order to stay woke, one has to awaken, or wake up first. Right? 

The best, easiest, most leisurely way to wake up is to learn about what's gone on, and is going on in the world around you. "Pay attention, dang it" works too, but it's been said too many times, in so many trite ways that it hardly registers now. The natural first step is to learn about what affects you and yours, then expand to include others. Sometimes you learn well beyond your cultural scope without knowing who it might affect. No matter. Learn. It'll help you wake up and stay awake. Curiosity takes the task of deciding what's a priority from the mantle on your shoulders. Or maybe life is the school master. We learn what we need to get through this lifetime a little better while helping those who need awakening too. Or not. 

Two books convinced me . . . No. I feel pressured to write two letters to two authors of two separate genres about their eye-opening books and their effects on me. I must write two thank-you notes. I recently re-read The Color Purple in less than twenty-four hours. Such life-altering prose is a great antidote to what ails a lot of us. A second book, Hillbilly Elegy keeps me from nodding off into racial complacency . . . See? There's that word again. But am I truly complacent? I still haven't come up with that other word that means what I'm trying to say, but if I stop to diligently search for it I'll lose my train of thought. So. Hillbilly Elegy woke the other  half (for now) of my human consciousness, the white people side. Or quarter? Okay, it's half since it's part of the previously unsolved equation. J. D. Vance has done what no one else (author on race) has managed to do before. He explained a culture that mystified me in the face of . . . Hold on. I'm on page 214. I'll be back after I've read the last page.

Until then, this says it better than I could ever hope to:

Human Family

By Maya Angelou

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I've sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I've seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I've not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England's moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we're the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

. . . to be continued