Paul read his poetry naked.

He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.

Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.

I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.

My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.

Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.

The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.

eating.jpg
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.

It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.

something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
moist heated
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
nibbling, gnawing–
lip-licking
fine night dining,
giving
thanks

And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:

IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A.   autographing pens
      strapped to hips
B.   rakish hat
      festooned with
      panty hose
C.   boots tooled
      with female in-
      initials, cellular
      calling codes
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT

My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.

Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”

I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.

This is why I blog….

Here on this weblog, I write about whatever interests me at the moment, even though, at the time, I recognize that it might not interest anyone else.

But every once in a while, out of nowhere, it does.

I just received an email from a man in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada regarding a blog post I did back in 2003 about friends of mine leaving to join a group in Edmonton that I consider a cult.

You can read the post here — and be sure to read the comments as well.

Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.

I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.

That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.

Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.

Whatever. It all works for me.

A Day of Memories

aweddingSix years ago today, my friend and once-husband died of lung cancer. This is the only existing photo of the day we eloped in 1962.

We were kind of a fire and ice mixture. Made some fascinating patterns and two great kids, but we were destined to destroy each other if we didn’t separate.

Our son published some of his writings, which are available on Kindle. In the early days, we were very competitive with each other regarding our writing/achievements. Back then, I kind of viewed us as an “F. Scott and Zelda” situation.

Only I didn’t jump into a fountain and wind up in a loony bin. I jumped out into the life I was destined to have.

We eventually were able to become good friends, and I was with him on his last day.

I often think about how much he would be enjoying the paths that our two kids have taken and the way his grandson is blossoming.

Who is Jake Trussell and why…..

Why do I have him listed with Kerouac and Kafka in a poem that I wrote when I was twenty years old?

jake TrussellEven the information about him in the last available copy of his chapbook that I just bought for $10 doesn’t tell me anything about how I might have come to know anything about him more than a half-century ago.

Apparently, he wrote back in the late 30s and 40s, and this chapbook is his only collection. The inside cover says

Only a limited edition of 1000 is being printed, and none of them will ever be available except as a personal gift from the writer.

The copy I bought is inscribed to “Doc Chandler: who appreciates cheesecake and football predictions — all the good things in life. Jack Trussell, 10-15-57.”

I was a freshman in college in 1957. Might I have heard him read his poetry on campus? Did one of my fellow pseudo-beatniks tell me about him? Did I share a beer with him one night in the tiny bar on Central Avenue in Albany where we gathered around a table in front of a bizarre mural of Buddha, Shiva, and various other inspirational myths? I don’t know why his name would appear in my poem.I don’t remember. Have no idea. “Doc Chandler” certainly doesn’t ring a bell.

About the poems in this collectin Jake says “To me, poetry was always a personal thing, written for the pure joy of writing and for no other consideration whatsoever. These poems were written at very odd moments ….and on the strangest assortments of materials (napkins, the backs of old football programs, and scraps of typing paper crammed into a beat up portable late at night on a kitchen table).”

I guess that sounds pretty much like what we were all doing back then.

Most of his poems have end line rhymes, which I rarely like. I might never know why his name found its way into one of my very early efforts. Maybe I had read this one of his; I know I would have liked this one, which he wrote in 1938:

trussell exit

NaPoWriMo #4

70

I had planned, for my 70th spring,
to blog my way down the East Coast,
searching out the names of those
I knew along the way,
planting new memories
that would grow old even
more slowly than I.

I would take my time,
sleep in my little SUV
if necessary, charge my laptop
as I drive, stop where
hot spots showed strongest,
keep my story going to no end.

That time had come. And gone.
And I no longer dream of
long distance running, taking
that last flight from anonymity.

Instead, I wander garden hot spots,
searching for the solitude
to rock instead of run,
to stop in time and
contemplate the passing
of Roger Ebert,
who was 70.

maybe old friends are still the best friends

I have had the urge to get in touch with people with whom I was close but haven’t been in touch with for more than 30 years — former colleagues with whom I shared both professional and personal adventures.

Maybe it’s because I really haven’t made any new friends since I moved out here to Massachusetts almost four years ago. It isn’t that I haven’t made an effort; I just haven’t connected with anyone with whom I’d like to hang out.

So, that’s just another reason to love the Internet, where I am able to track down folks even if they have a very low cyber-profile.

We are all elders, now — retired and involved in both the tribulations and the pleasures of being where and when we are now. And most find it fun to reconnect at this point — each sharing the stories of our past 30 years, as well as sharing, again, memories of younger and more vitally engaging times. This is a time for opening memories.

OK. I’ve got to face it. I’m ready for the rocking chair — well, really I’m ready for Spring and the awning-shaded yard swing where I like to laze away the days, reading, knitting, and, often dozing. And catching up with old friends via my iPhone.

my latest yarn improvisation

front


back


hexagon motif

I layered it over a long sleeved shirt for photo contrast, but it looks much better layered over a white camisole — which is how I’m going to wear it when I go to Saratoga this weekend. No, I’m not going to the racetrack, although this is the season for that. I’m going to see the production of an original script performed by a new company with whose founder I worked and whom I’ve known since college.

After Saratoga, I’ll be spending a few days in Lake Luzerne with my long-time group of women friends. And, if all goes well, I will motor one afternoon over to Northville to visit another former colleague and still friend with whom I play Zynga on FaceBook.

I’ll be taking along my latest plarn market bag project to work on as we sit around in the evening drinking Comsos and getting therapeutically giggly.

But back to my latest improvisation, for which I had no pattern and no plan. I found a pattern for the hexagon and I wanted to try it with a lighter yarn that I had purchased ages ago on sale. I’m not even sure they sell it any more, so I’m glad I bought as much as I did, because I used every ball I had.

I started with one hexagon and just kept adding others, figuring out the shape as I went along. I wound up with it being too wide at the bottom. Hmm. I had to figure out what to do to make it work.

My mother had a saying in Polish that translated into something like “a dumb person will not even notice, and a smart person will think that’s how you intended it to be.” She used that saying a lot with me, since I’ve always embarked on projects by the seat of my pants and then had to improvise to figure out how to make them work.

So, I made a pleat in the back of the sweater to take up the slack. It looks like it was actually designed that way. Works for me!

On a whim, I tried to search for the exact saying in Polish, and, while I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did come across this wonderfully outrageous Polish crocheter whose work is on exhibit now until February at the the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC. Be sure to watch her short video.

I could learn a lot from her, on lots of levels.

I know that there are women who continue to be outrageous right up until the end. The extent of my outrageousness these days is wearing my latest improvisation with matching orange sandals and white cropped pants.

Oh, and I I’ve had my hair cut sort of like Andy Warhol. Well, maybe more like Sharon Gless on “Burn Notice.” But a little longer.

I’ll get around to a photo eventually.

If you want it but it doesn’t exist,
create it.

I moved into this town two years ago after a decade of taking care of my mom. It took me about a year to get over the stress and tension of living with my (demented) mother and (set-in-his-ways) brother for several years. And then my mother passed away.

For a year after that, until now, I have been trying to find a place for myself in this larger community. I joined a gym but found it all very depressing (and expensive). I joined a quilting group, figuring that I like to sew and might enjoy it. But I didn’t for all kinds of reasons, including that I have neither the space where I live nor the design talent and experience to get into quilting. And I find it boring to quilt from a kit.

So, I did more knitting to keep me busy, but that didn’t fill my need for community connection. I tried a couple of book clubs, but they never talked about the books and I didn’t quite fit in with the memberships.

So, I joined the Jewish Community Center, mostly for the Zumba and aerobics and gym facilities, and that helped to get me out of the house. But it still wasn’t what I was hoping to find. The JCC offers some other programs that I might have taken, but they were all at night (and I don’t drive at night) and cost more than I can afford.

So, I joined up to be a Hospice volunteer, got trained, and just met my first assignment. That was a start, but not exactly to the point.

What I miss from my old life are the people with whom I worked and the groups to which I belonged in which I took some leadership. Some were peer discussion groups; some were expressive arts therapy groups. They were groups that dealt with substantive personal issues and opened doors to creative and spiritual exploration (even though I am an atheist). I always made friends with people in those groups because we had those interests in common.

So, I went on a search for a group — preferably a therapeutic group dealing with elder issues or major life transitions.

Uh uh. No such thing. Not even within a 25 mile drive.

So, I drafted a proposal to start such a group under the auspices of the Jewish Community Center, and, since I am a trained study circle facilitator, I volunteered to lead such a group.

I’ve done that before — started a group to which I wanted to belong. It has worked in the past for me, and I’m hoping it will work again.

If it doesn’t, with the SAD season starting, I’m going to find it tough to muddle on through.

Oh well, I’ll think of something……

on reading a friend’s short stories

While I eat lunch, I am reading an anthology of short stories written by a friend. I usually read while I eat and while I’m waiting for sleep to come. I go through several books a month. I guess that means I eat frequently or suffer from insomnia. Actually, each is true to some extent.

Even back in college, I was intimidated by this writer-friend’s erudition. “Erudition.” That really is the perfect word for just how broad and deep his learning is. And it’s reflected in the narration of many of his stories, which assumes that the reader has at least heard of the great philosophers and writers whose works populate a good liberal education. The characters in these tales, however, run the gamut — from auto mechanics and health care workers to college students and professors. They are stories that are inclusive of age, race, marital status, and economic realities. They are stories about life as experienced by a narrator (and it is not always the same one) who is attuned to the nuances of the moment.

For me, in every story, it is the voice of the narrator that catches and guides my attention.

And that is the very reason why I feel compelled to muse about reading short stories written by a friend whose path periodically keeps crossing mine. He uses names and characters that are familiar to us both, events that coincide with what I know of his life. He is the writer; but is he always the narrator?

While, as his friend, I am enticed to wonder about the origins of these details, the truth is that it doesn’t matter to me, the reader. He is writing from his own experiences, recreating and rearranging them to suit his fiction. It’s what good writers do.

Despite knowing that, I can’t help wondering which details really happened. Did his young family really get evicted out of their apartment the day before one Christmas (as happens in one of my favorite stories in his last anthology)? I guess I can always ask him, and I probably will. (I tend to think that, while the characters in the story are drawn from his life, the situation probably isn’t.) His answer will not change my enjoyment of the story, but it will satisfy my “friendly” curiosity.

Finally, his stories bring to my mind lyrics from “Circles,” one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums by now-gone Mary Travers:

There’s no straight lines make up my life,
and all my roads have bends.
There’s no clear-cut beginning,
and, so far, no dead ends.

(Just like this blog — which, I assure you — is totally non-fiction.)

treadmill meditation

I don’t run. I walk with my eyes closed, holding onto the bar that measures my heart rate. I up the incline a little. Up the speed. Little by little.

I like walking with my eyes closed, but I can’t do that out in the street, where I would probably fall and break a hip. But it works here, in the exercise room at the Jewish Community Center, where it’s never crowded and the mirrors never reflect any hot young and toned females reminding me that’s it’s been a half-century since I was one of those.

I am meditating on my new gravatar, and I know that if I were a half-century younger, I would have my own mythic Avatar. She would probably look at lot like Xena.

I would be a player. Or, more accurately, a gamer. I actually don’t know much at all about gaming, but I “know” some interesting gamers because I follow them on Twitter — because my son follows them on Twitter.

There’s a whole subculture out there of gamers — of bright, creative younger people who Tweet and FB and blog and tumblr and instagram and flickr and all of those oddly spelled connective mechanisms that people my age usually have to look up on Wikipedia.

I’ve become a real fan of Felicia Day, a young woman of so many talents and creative projects that she takes my breath away. There’s no point in trying to describe her here, since her website has all the relevant information. You really should check out her funky youtube video of her song “Don’t You Want to Date My Avatar.” I’ve even gotten sucked into watching her , The Guild. It’s like I live on another planet from these creatives.

So, I’m on the treadmill, meditating, sort of, on being who I am. Not a gamer. Not even a player. Just a little old lady whose heart rate is up to 135 and I do, indeed, need to take a breath.

I open my eyes and look straight into the mirror into the mirrored eyes of a really good looking gray haired guy, who is working out at one of the machines in front of my treadmill. He smiles. He can’t be smiling at me, I think, but I smile back anyway.

Later, as I get up from the ab-crunching machine, he’s standing nearby, cooling off. He obviously takes this exercise thing a lot more seriously than I do. At least I get that impression from his trim physique and the gym shorts and fingerless gloves he is wearing. “This is a good time to come here,” he says to me. (It’s just a little after noon on a Sunday, and the place is almost empty.)

“Yes,” I say, smiling back. “Except it’s such a nice day out there. It’s a good day to be outside.” (Duh! What kind of a response is that??) For a minute we talk about the weather. I move on to the recumbent bike. He moves onto the the free weights.

Now I’m pedaling and thinking about the fact that I have no makeup on and barely ran a comb through my hair before I left home. I don’t come to the gym to meet men; I come to try and get my cholesterol under control and increase my stamina.

I might have to rethink all of that.

I’ll meditate on it.