Hear My (Swan) Song

Yes, I’m closing down the website. It’s time. I’ll be dismantling it between now and the end of May when the bill comes due. I hope you’ll search the archives; there’s some decent stuff there. I will be starting up a new website sometime this year, I hope: new name, definitely a more modern template, more streamlined use. An upgrade and a makeover is well overdue.

This will be my last posting, and as I reflect on our songs — individually and collectively — I see that this body of work represents my song during the nearly seven year period that I “sang”(?) it. There’s a new one to sing now, or perhaps a fresh verse.

I’ll post some things on the various pages: Ex Libris, Celluoid Dreams, etc. so have a look in a few days or so.

I don’t know what I will be calling the new website or what it will be about, but I will try to mention it…somewhere.

I bid you adieu!

Glamourous Decay

Hey sports fans! I posted tidbits on the Celluoid Dreams, Ex Libris, Fashion is Spinach, and Dead Blondes pages so have a gander. Will be posting my recipes and cooking things on Larousse Gastronomique in the next days so come back perhaps after the weekend and it should be up. Included will be what I’m planning on cooking during the holiday season

PS I hope you like the new collage. I call it “My Content.”

I’m trying to keep track of these…the last collage was, “Let’s Get Lost.”

Starved for Technicolor

I know! My absence! I’ve been busy. I did indeed start two fiction pieces and then abandoned them. Not for good. I don’t have the time I would like to give them the attention I feel is required. One day. While out in the wilds this weekend I found myself writing in my head which usually means I’m getting the in mood. Something’s coming!

The title of this brief post is from a wonderful old movie A Matter of Life and Death. I wrote about this film and the director/writer pair, Powell & Pressburger, ages ago for another publication. There’s a wonderful line: “One is starved for Technicolor up there.” I won’t explain, but I would recommend watching this charming and gorgeous film. I’ll put a few other P&P films on the Celluoid Dreams page, and I’ll add to the other pages as well in the next few days. Time to get back into the saddle!

In the meantime, there’s no shortage of technicolor this time of year, so go out and be seduced by and wrap yourself in the glory of it.

Six Year Milestone

Six years ago today I began writing here! I have enjoyed every minute of it. Again, many thanks for coming to visit, and welcome to new readers around the globe. I hope you will find something here to enjoy.

Since the sixth year anniversary “gift” is iron — yes, we’re in the Iron Age I suppose…here are some photos from Chatsworth House of metal sculptures. Immerse yourself.

Oh yes! And coming soon (I hope) a new member of the family!

The Nature of Things

Strange days. Per usual in the event of impending…whatever, I ignore. Shut it out and down and turn to nature who is always generous in her giving. In the last month, a male cardinal has come a courting. Seemingly out of nowhere he has made friends. He comes when I call him, he calls to me and he lets me get really close to him. He hangs out and eats his sunflower seeds while I work in my garden. He’s of course stunning in all his glorious red self. His missus comes too and she is beautiful with her gorgeous blush of pale red on her faun feathers. Sometimes they have an argument over seed territory. My male can be a bit feisty, but he’s my darling so I let him get away with bad behavior.

I supposed I could try and train him to eat from my hand, but the word train bothers me and I think to myself: who would that be for? Not him, I mean he doesn’t care on what surface he has his favorite treat. I think it would be for me and that in the end is unnecessary. So we remain enjoying each other’s company and he comes and visits many times a day. If I’m working he gets quite impatient and starts — his version — shouting to get my attention. I like how we’re tuned into each other. He knows when I get up in the morning and he hears me come home after being out. How good is his hearing. I too can sense him when I’m out in the garden; if he’s quiet I feel him in the trees and when I look up he presents himself. It’s a beautiful relationship.

A new friend of mine, when I told him about the cardinal, said: “your] little visitor isn’t just asking you for seeds; He is offering you his seeds. He is evidence of your team of Unseens! This is awesome and an acknowledgement from them that they are with you. Cardinals carry a primary energy of the Divine Feminine, and they are characterized with the energy of ‘renewed vitality through recognizing self-importance.’

This is from my “bible” of reading animal energies: Animal Speak by Ted Andrews. I would ask that fine fellow filled with Divine Feminine energy what magic and message he wants to share with you. Then, even if you hear nothing, just be still and in his presence and receive his energy. He adds color to life and calls to people to sing, to fear not to stand out, and remind us that everything we do is of significance. It is exciting to me to see that Cardinal’s unseen energies want to come to aid you in your journey.”

How great is that? Another friend of mine said to me, “You love Nature and Nature loves you back.” What a complement! Though I am not always sure about that since I am once again in a battle with the grandson of the squirrel I wrote about several years ago*. What lengths I must go to to keep him out of my garden! Nothing deters him! He’s truly impudent. But perhaps more of that later.

In the meanwhile, listen to and enjoy the earth song. And, get lost in her.

*Links to squirrel stories: https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2017/09/24/clare-versus-the-squirrel-and-the-cat/ and: https://phantomnoiseinordinarytime.com/2017/10/15/the-squirrel-raises-the-stakes/

Sailing photo and some photos in header image courtesy of Danish photographer Flemming Madsen.

Requiem: Angle of Repose

There is a first photograph and a last. The first hung in his office: a lair stuffed with books and objects which begged the visitor to hear their stories. Despite the usual distractions of youth, she noticed him. Hard not to. Physically and in personality he had presence. Tall, dark and vital he was the most attractive man she had seen.

The connection to each other spanned years: from teenage days to adulthood and its attending obligations. In recent times they lost touch and a year to the day that he died she discovered he was gone. Prior to this knowing she had a dream; the details are lost but she was in his cabin in Vermont.

A cabin deep in the woods — not even on a dirt road. Took some finding. The back land held a vista of fields, forest and rolling mountains. The cabin was handbuilt by his great-grandfather and its interior was a oaken harmony of striated wood from ceiling to walls to floor. A beauty. Not much else did she remember of the dream, but it was the dream that prompted her to look him up and learn his end.

But was it an end? Not really. The end of the era to reach out to him and he would be there, yet during her grief she knew it was the burgeoning of the legacy he left her. Not things — not at all, rather the beauty of soul, what is true and good, what is elemental. Such treasured gifts of magnitude.

The last photograph she saw in a tribute to him. He is older, reading a book. Reclined between the Maine Coast’s beach rocks, he holds the book Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. How perfect she thought. She too likes Stegner though they had never discussed his work. She always misread this title as Angel in Repose. How apt. Books, nature, joy, the forest, solitude, heart — that was he. He too was social, witty, slightly dangerous, and just underneath the skin, definitely male and fulsome Eros.

It was a heady feeling being the focus of his attention and it was also baffling. He was talking with her and as he finished he said, “Now consider yourself intellectually seduced.” It was a season of elegant ardent words and fantasies, and that time — especially at an impressionable age — he changed her. For good she now understood.

She loved him. She carried him with her over miles and people. The tributes to him were legion; it was stunning how many people he had touched and how beloved by all. He gave from the heart and was not depleted for doing so. He remained intact.

One rainy afternoon he told her of a scene he imagined: both of them racing through a woodland of birch trees. Then he said, “I come back to the moment and see I’m washing the dishes or something like that.”

He folded her into himself and she sustained that within her. Now as she washes dishes and looks out her window onto the early spring sunset, she thinks that the not knowing where she ended and he began had not changed; it shifted. She sensed in the days after learning he died that she was immersed in him completely, swimming in the deep temperature-less soft liquid of primeval waters.

Now he has entered her again but more completely — the membrane is thinner — to live her own measure of that which he entrusted to her. He is everywhere.

Someone once said he was foppish. She remembered that remark, intrigued by the antique word and the observation. Not readily dismissed since there was a hint of precision to it — it leaned into his lynx anima.

That was during the time that they existed in a snow globe where within their perfect stillness all sundry matter whirled around them. One spring she wore her hair in braids wrapped around her head.

The first photograph is of a train station house on a summer day. He gave her a print of it which she held onto. She can see that moment in time through his eyes: an old fashioned country depot stop. The photo is taken from the opposite track looking onto the people waiting outside the station house. She feels the heat of the August day, hears the cicadas, smells the industry of the railroad tracks. The windows and doors are open and there are three people on the bench: a man who is turned away from the camera, and a young couple in love. They are two teenagers laughing over a private joke. The girl is in profile kissing the boy’s temple and smiling. His head is down, buried in her neck and shoulder but she can tell he is smiling too. Barefoot they are. Where are those two people now, she wonders.

“On a certain day in the blue-moon month of September

Beneath a young plum tree, quietly

I held her there, my quiet, pale beloved

In my arms just like a graceful dream.

And over us in the beautiful summer sky

There was a cloud on which my gaze rested

It was very white and so immensely high

And when I looked up, it had disappeared.”

Bertolt Brecht, Poems 1913-1956

Requiem: Angle of Repose, Clare Irwin, 18 March 2022

This is the city, I work here. I carry a badge.

New coming soon! Sorry video couldn’t kill the radio star. Instead, fiction on deck! & I’m back!

To keep you warm: “That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.” Tim O’Brien

“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.” Doris May Lessing

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” Albert Camus

That’s when I go to work. I carry a badge.

See you soon.

Reaching into The Divine Feminine — Other Voices III

From Chihuahua to Connecticut, by M.A.M., Guest Contributor

Growing up in Latin America is an underrated life-hack. Nothing is easy, nothing is given. Latin American people, like me, grow up in places where challenges force them to wake up every morning wishing things were different. I come from a place where a history of submission has been transformed into kindness and hospitality. I consider being born and raised in Mexico a blessing like no other. It is a land that sustains itself thanks to the thousands of hands of honest hard-working people who give their all for their families every single day. A country that demands people to reinvent themselves because of instability and creates kind and solid communities that are willing to unify to keep each other afloat. After all, we need to learn how to jump into the obstacle course of life.

I learned that I had to constantly reinvent myself at a very young age. Since I was a little girl, I knew what it was like to look for an anchor to sustain me. I was born and raised in Chihuahua, a small city in the north of Mexico, with my parents and my two younger siblings. For many years we tried to survive the economic limitations that were more difficult for a family as dysfunctional as ours. During my elementary school years, waking up in the middle of the night and running to my sibling’s room was almost a daily routine. I remember cuddling with Ernesto and Cesar to shield them from my parents’ loud arguing across the hall. Ernesto was seven when he started having, what I did not know then, was anxiety, which I tried to appease by rubbing his back and keeping his head close to my chest.

At some point, we went from hiding under the covers to being the only physical barrier that would stop my fathers’ arm from beating my mother. It was heartbreaking to see my mother brought to her knees, and a terrified expression on her face trying to fake a smile and saying: “I am OK,” to calm our fear.

Fortunately, the three of us found positive ways to build our emotional protective armor. My siblings found their refuge in music and sports, and my grandmother’s love sheltered me everyday.

Despite the adversities of my childhood, I also had great experiences. At sixteen I had a full-time job at a coffee shop after school. During the time I worked there, I learned some important lessons. I learned to connect with people, to listen, to observe and to be patient.

I liked memorizing the orders of regular customers to try to make their day a bit better. I knew Rogelio did not like to wait and that Julia was allergic to cinnamon. Seeing their appreciative faces when I made them feel memorable was my way of making a difference. I learned that we always get something in return for the good things we do, even if it is not monetary. 

What I enjoyed most about working there was getting to know myself. My job taught me that there is always room for improvement. The coffee shop showed me that even by doing small things we can achieve great things. It also taught me how to deal with frustration and disappointment.

My skin thickened just in time and prepared me for the day my father decided to leave. Without a warning and without a goodbye, my father had decided that the family he had formed with us was not what he wanted for his life anymore. Coming home to my mother crying in front of the closet my father had emptied changed the perspective I always had. The day my father left was the day I realized that my upbringing had prepared me for that moment.

I understood that I didn’t want situations like that to define me and that I wanted to do something remarkable with my life. I focused on school, my job, and being my mother’s greatest emotional support. I put on my shoulders a responsibility that I could not carry, but had to assume for my family’s well-being. My mom and I always say that we formed a team of two without realizing it. We made an unspoken agreement to build a new foundation to support a family that was falling apart.

Sometimes I look back to those times and I cannot believe that the woman I once saw lamenting the loss of her marriage became the strong and determined mother I so admire. A woman who raised three children by herself and who used everything in her power to make them good people. After my father left, my mother not only knew how to deal wisely with the anguish of an uncertain future for her now single parent family, but also she knew how to anticipate all of our needs. 

After graduating high school I intended to apply to medical school, however, I ended up enrolling in dentistry school at my local public university. It was my mother who motivated me to continue learning, growing and working on myself, but coming from a conservative culture, she suggested dentistry, not medicine, would be the career that allowed me to have time for a family.

During my studies, I began to learn how fascinating the human body is and everything that we still need to learn from it. Nonetheless, the fatigue caught up with me. I needed more hours in the day to be able to work full-time while attending a school as demanding as dentistry. Even though I was passionate about my studies, I understood that what I was doing was not sustainable. 

I ventured to enroll in the Au Pair program. It was the perfect way to combine my love for children and my desire to travel. In less time than I thought possible, I had filled out the necessary paperwork and was being interviewed by families from all over the United States. The Stevens family opened their home to me, and they trusted me to take care of what is most precious to them: their children.

I moved to a different country by myself, to live with a family that I only knew through a screen. Moving abroad brought out the brave woman that I didn’t know I had inside me. I moved to a place where English was not, at least then, my dominant language and the traditions and customs were considerably different. The moment I stepped off the plane and heard people speaking English, I realized what a huge step I had taken. I adjusted to living with three wonderful kids, and eating frozen food for dinner. I grew to enjoy the tranquility of the suburbs and realized how much I liked eating bagels with cream cheese on the weekends. 

Living in the US sparked my ambition and reignited the desire to move forward. Coming from Mexico where there are so many shortcomings made me appreciate how the US offers opportunity everywhere. I never dreamed of moving to the United States, however my time here transformed me. Being away from everything I knew helped me to see that although many of the events in my past were not up to me, there was a point where I could decide where I wanted to go. My experience here also demonstrated to me how fortunate I am, after I volunteered at Person-to-Person. I had the chance to help P2P organize clothing donations. Many people who went there were Spanish-speaking immigrants who did not know a word of English.

It was gratifying to allow them to feel heard in their own language while having someone guide them through the process of acquiring items. I could see myself in the eyes of the people I helped, because I always thought that it could be me who needed a hand. I saw the relief on their faces when they heard me speaking Spanish, because that meant that at least for a moment they would not have to feel so vulnerable being in an unknown place. What they did not know is that they also made me feel closer to home.

At the end of my au pair program, after a year and a half in the United States, I returned to Mexico with the intention of finishing dentistry school. Returning to Chihuahua after having traveled to many big cities and towns in America had altered me. One Mary Ann left but a new Mary Ann, who now lived day-to-day much more consciously, had returned. After living in a place where children read, enjoy art and play tons of sports, where people respect traffic signals and do not try to bribe the police, my vision evolved. It was heartbreaking to return and realize that although I will always love Mexico, what I am looking for is not there. Although I felt renewed, full of life, and ready to continue with my journey, neither my school, nor my family, nor any situation around me had changed. I was different but the circumstances that welcomed me home were the same.

I never expected to return to find a closed door. I ran into barriers in obtaining an education. I tried a thousand ways to secure aid from my educational institution, the government, and private funds, but nothing was available. In Mexico, not enough funds are allocated to students. Mexico does not invest in the education of its inhabitants and that is why people who believe they have potential seek support in other countries. I also ran into the barrier of the customs and traditions of a conservative country, where it is thought that there is a certain age you are too old to go back to school, and where as a woman you should be focusing on finding a husband and starting a family. I decided to fight against the social pressure of following a traditional path, and did not hesitate when the Stevens family offered to sponsor me to return to the United States as a student.

I enrolled in community college and registered for classes in the Allied Health Department. There, I have had an enriching experience which continued feeding my interest in the health sciences.  An undergraduate degree will pave the way to broaden my knowledge in areas inside and outside of my major, and prepare me for my next academic steps. I wish to enter Smith College to continue my pursuit of scholarship and realize my ambition of forging a career in medicine. I am particularly interested in the summer research programs Smith offers, where I will improve upon my skills obtained assisting research in the microbiology laboratory the few years I attended dentistry school.

Smith will give me the opportunity to be part of a diverse community that values knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I wish to be part of Smith College because of its challenging academic standards and the sense of community that it promotes. It excites me that the Ada Comstock program will allow me to be fully immersed in a scholarly environment, and where I will meet students from other colleges and universities. I want to attend Smith because it will establish a solid foundation as I advance in my career. 

The course I charted transformed the girl who once hid under the covers with her brothers into a better version of herself, which then led her to choose her life’s path. Growing up in Mexico and moving to the United States in my 20’s showed me that determination and resilience, along with kindness and honesty, ease the way through life’s uncertainties. The underrated life hack of a Latin American childhood has served me well, and I know that my will to move myself forward, my desire for knowledge and my community-based engagement will contribute to Smith College.

M.A.M. herself

Yet another beautiful journey begins.

UPDATE!!!! M.A.M. informed us last week that she was accepted to both Smith College and Mt. Holyoke on a full ride! M.A.M. has decided on Smith. How great is that?

Some images courtesy of Flemming Madsen, fashion photographs by Louise Dahl-Wolfe.