Goodbye, Britain! I’m waving a hanky in your direction. It was nice knowing you. Thank you for your music, literature, comedy, films, tv shows, art, science, museums, beer, tea, gardens and eccentrics. I’m glad I got a chance to study in your Cambridge.
I’m glad I got to get to know many of your own, to the point of marrying one, even. Glad I got to live in your London and learn to navigate your Tube. Glad I got to experience your delightful pubs and walk through your sweet countryside. Oh, and I must not forget that I am one of you. British blood courses through my veins. There’s even a town somewhere in you that bears the name of my ancestors, Wiggington.
Venturesome. It’s a mouthful and a trait that’s served me well. Today I was remembering how, when I was around 11 years old, one sunny, Saturday afternoon, I called out to my mom in the other room that I was going to go ride my bike to the park. In my hometown of Huntington Beach, California, there is a 343 acre natural oasis called Central Park. Lush with foliage, towering trees, ponds and lakes, it serves to break up the monotony of concrete beige walls that surround tract after tract of suburban housing in the area. Once at the park, I idly cycled down the asphalt path. After a few minutes, I spotted a group of people ranging in age playing volleyball. They appeared settled in for the day, with a full spread on the picnic table and blankets laid out for lolling on. A family outing, presumably. Not knowing any better, I leapt off my bike, dumped it on the grass, ran up to them and said, “can I play?” I was a lanky, agile tomboy at that age and athletic, had won ribbons and trophies in track and field, basketball, softball, etc. Bemused, they shrugged, said, “sure.” My new friends soon realized I was good at volleyball and made me feel welcomed.
Hours passed and I played with vigor, slurping down the soda and chips they offered me, laughing, joking, getting sunburned. When I realized the sun was low in the sky and a chill had crept into the breeze, I told them I’d better get going. We said cheery goodbyes and I biked home. I strolled through the front door to the sight of my waiting parents. “Where have you been all this time?!” my mom cried out. I said that I’d been playing volleyball. “With who?!” they asked. I explained that it was a bunch of random people I didn’t know. They looked aghast but I didn’t see what the fuss was all about. I told them I had a great time and that they gave me snacks. My folks shook their heads and looked at each other. “She’s your kid,” Mom said to Dad. “No, she’s your kid,” Dad deadpanned.
It was this same streak that compelled me to drive up Pacific Coast highway with my then-boyfriend when I was 18, from Huntington Beach all the way to Seattle. To hop a train and travel solo cross country when I was 21; that lead me to relocate to Ireland temporarily when I was 26; that moved me to lease a rustic, hundred-year old cabin at 7000 feet in the San Bernardino mountains and live the life of a mountain woman for a year. It lead me to seek new vistas, to peek behind walls and hills, to drive lonely back roads all around the U.S. It also emboldened me to take dozens and dozens of solo hikes in the Mojave desert during the five years that I lived in Henderson, Nevada.
One day in April earlier this year, I drove deep into the Mojave within the boundaries of Lake Mead Recreation Area, parked my Chevy and made my way up a steep, rubbly path towards a summit that I’d read would provide a beautiful view. As I neared the top, I veered off the trail, curious to see what was over to my left. I gingerly inched along a narrow ledge, my trusty Canon in my left hand and my right hand bracing me against a wall of rock. I paused and looked out over a surreal, awe-inspiring landscape, of Navajo sandstone crevasses, one after another, reaching towards the jagged peaks of the Muddy mountains. I took a picture. I’m honored to say that this photo now graces the cover of the 2017 state of Nevada geology calendar, published by the NV Bureau of Mines and Geology.
In an ancient lakebed in southern Australia some 42,000 years ago, the body of one very tall man was carefully placed in what anthropologists believe is the oldest intentional Homo sapiens burial site. Although it is now known that even our ancestral kin, the neanderthals, also buried their dead with care, laying personal artifacts such as stone tools beside them in their graves.
Along with our big brain cases and opposable thumbs, another characteristic of Homo sapiens that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom is the ritualized mourning of the deceased. The behavior humans exhibit when grieving for their dead, behavior that is commonplace in just about every culture around the globe, is illustrative of conscience and sympathy, sensitivity and depth of feeling.
We humans take our dead, encase them and lower their boxed body into the ground. We pray or chant, lay flowers on their grave. Or, alternately, the deceased is placed in a kiln, reduced to ash then set adrift on a breeze or enveloped in porcelain and placed on a mantle. But the soul of the dead cannot be contained and evaporates, squelched by a lack of electrical pulses.
I believe we lose two people with each person’s death: The outer self and the inner one. We lose the fleshy person we hugged, loved and laughed with in life. And we lose the secret, internal person, who existed with private fears, loves unrequited, dreams yet attained-their unshared stories, real and imagined, forever lost.
We Homo sapiens demonstrate respect for life by respecting our dead. Conversely, we demonstrate respect for the dead when we respect the living. And we do this in the wake of the loss of a loved one by bringing together family and community to mourn and share their grief. This is what separates man from beasts. This lay at the very heart of culture and civilization.
Natural disaster is on a lot of people’s minds these days, or at least mine. Climate change, drought, earthquakes…there are myriad potential disasters that can strike any region, any time. The prospect is unsettling, terrifying, even. The Las Vegas valley, where I make my home, is susceptible to a variety of natural catastrophes, including prolonged dust/wind storms, flooding and earthquakes. I trained in disaster preparedness when I volunteered for the Red Cross while living in Virginia and learned that a little preparedness can go a long way. This is why I keep a disaster survival kit at the ready, which I’ve lovingly dubbed the Big Pink, since the majority of my supplies reside in a huge pink plastic container.
Survival experts recommend keeping a kit that contains supplies to last for approximately 72 hours. How they arrived at that time frame, I don’t know, but who am I to question the experts! In the aftermath of, say, a large earthquake, it’s a safe bet your home will be without power, water and gas–if it has even remained standing–for a period of time. Your home will be plunged into the pre-industrial age until services are restored. Or you may find that you have to camp outside, as the structure may be too unstable to reside in.
My kit is relatively small since it’s just for me and my two cats, Harold and Mod. So what’s in the Big Pink? I’ve divvied up items so that all first aid/emergency supplies live in one shoebox, and foodstuffs are in another shoebox. Those boxes are tucked into the Big Pink.
Let’s take inventory:
Food Box – Energy gel packets, 1 jar of peanut butter, cans of tuna/cat food, 1 pound of trail mix, ramen noodles, 1 can opener, plastic forks/knives.
First Aid/Emergency/Toiletries Box – Coleman poncho, waterproof matches, toothpaste/brush, baggie with 1st aid supplies such as antibiotic ointment, bandaids, fem sups, Tylenol/Ibuprofen, shampoo, multitool, Ace bandage, deodorant, soap, comb, sling.
Rest of the Big Pink – A bucket and plastic trash bags, change of clothes, shoes, sweater, towel, plastic cups/bowl, Coleman lamp, flashlight, handi-wipes, rolls of toilet paper, 1 purple blanket, dry kitty kibble, a backpack in the event I have to evacuate and lastly, a copy of Les Stroud’s excellent survival guide, so I’ll be able to figure out what the hell I’m doing if the need arises to break out the Big Pink in an emergency.
The Big Pink – my kit, not the album! – is not perfect but it’ll do for a few days. I plan to add some more food stuffs, like protein bars. Some things that would be worthwhile to add include water purification tablets and cash, since any stores open may not be able to take cards during that time. Also, I keep my important documents stashed in a portable safe, and I have several days worth of water stored in jugs beneath my kitchen sink.
Me, Harold and Mod are ready for the apocalypse. So long as it only lasts 72 hours!
***My thoughts are with the victims of the Nepal quake today***
I wrote my first song when I was 11 and not long afterwards, my first poem. I can’t recall the name or subject of the poem but I’m sure it was completely narcissistic and terrible. But, then as now, I enjoyed the process of writing poetry – choosing words to paint a scene or mood. It’s like creating a word mosaic. So I kept at it. I was first published in my high school newspaper when I was 15. I remember the gleeful, and yet exposed, feeling I had opening up the pages and seeing those 3 poems there in print. I was a minor celebrity in Ocean View High School’s corridors, at least among those who bothered to glance at the paper. In other words, I became my English teacher’s pet.
Jump ahead to age 24 me, when I started publishing Burnt Toast (which I talk about in more detail in this previous post: https://angellacanfora.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/iphonus-interruptus/). Burnt Toast was my poetry zine serving the local community of Huntington Beach, CA. In BT, I published not only my own poems but those of other emerging poets. It was an exciting and fulfilling year and a half made possible by the lack of an internet.
While I continued penning the odd poem here and there through my 20s, it largely took a back seat to songwriting in the late 90s/early 2000s. My musical life at that time was very active, chock full of gigs and recording sessions. Poetry writing became a special occasion desert, a now and again savory crème brûlée as opposed to my regular, meatier musical entrees.
2007, I was married, living in Charlottesville, Virginia. I’d heard about a yearly writing competition sponsored by Writer’s Digest and so, for kicks, decided to enter a batch of song lyrics in the poetry category. I tidied them up first, reorganized them, fluffed them up then tamped them down again to read more like poems and less like dumb rock songs. A few months later, I received a package in the mail. Five certificates – suitable for framing! – with the titles of 5 of my song/poems and the words “honorable mention” beneath them. Oh, how I laughed…
Divorce a few years later freed up more of my time, so I was able to devote more of it to writing poetry. Though I was also still engaged in the making of music, the playing of the odd gig along with making/exhibiting/selling mosaic art AND a newfound love of landscape photography (whoa, slow down there, Angel! Do you got something to prove? Yeah. Whaddya got?)
And here we are now. 2015. So far this year, I’ve got 2 poems slated for publication in literary magazines. Last year, my poem “Borrego Quiet” placed 5th in the annual Grey Sparrow Press writing contest and was subsequently published in Snow Jewel journal. My poem “Venice Beach Array” was published in Poetry Quarterly last spring. And, psst… you want in on a little secret? Both of them started life as songs! In fact, here’s the song version of “Borrego Quiet”-
Writing poetry is like a game to me – can I say a lot with a minimum of words? Can I move someone in a few short stanzas? I feel like I’m getting away with something, like I’ve entered the poetry world through the back door, by way of music. I enjoy seeing if I can get a particular poem published in a particular journal, get the editors to fall in love with it. And I have nothing riding on it! This isn’t my career, I can have fun! If a poem gets rejected a few times, I can tweak it and submit again. Why not?
While most poets have gone though rigorous MFA programs, I’ve studied the lyrics of Bob Dylan, Captain Beefheart, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, etc. I do read and love actual poetry. My favorite poets tend to be those who have a lightness to their touch… a twinkle, a sparkle. I read everyone from Emily Dickinson to Shel Silverstein, to Elizabeth Bishop to Rimbaud to Corso to Dorothy Parker to David Gascoyne to obscure, contemporary poets like myself. I’ll admit there’s a lot of poetry I haven’t been exposed to, especially the classical stuff. But it’s hard to find time when you’re also engaged in a dozen other artistic pursuits and activities and working by day, to boot. But this just gives me something to look forward to exploring.
I tend to steer clear of the formal, the pretentious, the erotic, the horror, the political, the experimental. When I’m at the point where I’m researching magazines to shop a poem around and come across one that says, in regard to what they’re looking for – and this is an actual quote from an actual lit mag’s requirements – “…the aesthetic shrapnel is a common attitude of visceral humanism. We want to provide a megaphone to howling assertions of human subjectivity,” I have to cover my mouth and suppress a little sick before quickly clicking off the page.
Above all, though, I just don’t want to be bored! And I am terrified of writing boring poetry! Or of writing boring anything! Or being bored! Am I boring you now? Oh God, say it ain’t so!!