A scrapbook of whatever I'm making, collecting, or just obsessing about
at the moment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guntram G. Bischoff, 1927-1988

Because when you search for this man's name on the Internet, there should be at least one picture of him to find.

Dr. Guntram G. Bischoff

A professor of religion at Western Michigan University, Dr. Bischoff was a brilliant scholar, wonderful teacher, kind man, and a much-loved friend.

This photograph appeared in the front matter of his book, Letters to America: Translated, Edited, and Retold, published posthumously in 2001.

(Slightly altered from and so with apologies to e e cummings)

out of the mountain of his soul comes
a keen pure silence)such hands can
build a(who are like ocean patient)dream's

eternity(you feel behind this man
earth's first sunrise)and his voice
is green like growing(is miraculous like
tomorrow)all around the self of this

being are growing stones(neither awake
are goddesses nor sleeping)since he's young
with mysteries(each truly his more than
some sixty years through which that memory strolls)
and every ours for the mere worshipping

(as calmly as if guntram bischoffs
occurred with any ticking of a clock

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Present Ruth meets Past Ruth for lunch at the Dairy Queen

Today I was out shopping and I stopped at the Dairy Queen on Cork Street for lunch. It was starting to rain hard. Part of me wanted to drive straight home--I'm 60 and my knee was hurting--but my 23-year-old self was calling me inside.

I used to eat at this Dairy Queen once in a while for a treat, in 1980 when I worked as a bank teller in one of those little glass and brick kiosks for drive-through check-cashing. (The same glass and brick kiosk that my branch manager told me I was not allowed to leave the day the tornado went by it, but that's another story.) There were many businesses nearby, some very large ones, and on a triple-pay day with Social Security checks hitting, we might go through a quarter of a million dollars in one day.

It was hectic at the bank. You worked hard and you could not be back late from lunch--even if someone made you late leaving for it. But if I could leave my window exactly on time, if I could turn left on Sprinkle Road without much delay, if I could safely run any yellow lights, and if the service was prompt.... I could eat an almost-tranquil lunch at the Dairy Queen.

So I went on in and sat down with myself there. 1980 Ruth had ordered a hot dog with catsup and mustard and French fries--and a beautiful large frosty Tab, which I was jealous of. I stopped drinking cola ten years ago but still crave it sometimes. I ordered a chili dog and fries--hers were thicker than mine--and a glass of water. I slopped some catsup on my sweatshirt; she was wearing a white silk shirt and pale grey Levi Bendovers and was being careful of them. She had on pretty earrings, very pretty shoes. So I casually got out my Kindle and enjoyed her perplexity at how easily I carry one thousand books with me everywhere I go.

But it wasn't really a competition. She knew, silk blouse notwithstanding, I was feeling very sorry for her. I know she hates her job and that she never has much spending money. I know she misses college, she misses learning things that aren't accounting-related. I know she has seven more years before she finally gets to leave that soul-destroying bank, though she won't spend much more time in the teller window.  It will be a long while before she finds her dream job at the library--a library! I know she's jealous of that.

But she has advantages too. She's a newlywed. She gets to spend Christmas with our parents--her mom and dad are still alive. They come and visit her and our husband; they play poker and pedro; they go on vacations to the U.P. together. All that has sadly vanished for Present Ruth.

She asked me, trying not to be in too obvious a hurry, if I had any advice for her. I could see in her face she hoped I did, that she hoped I'd learned something.  And I have. I've learned everything I need to know. And one thing I know is, she doesn't need advice--she is doing everything exactly right, even though she doesn't know it. She is learning all the things I draw on every day, all the things I need her to learn so that I can be who I am right now, more comfortable with myself than she is with herself, but absolutely dependent on her. I smiled my most encouraging smile, hoping she hadn't noticed that our two front teeth have grown a little apart again after she was so proud that they had grown together.

She had to rush back to work. She ducked through the rain to her blue sedan as I strolled unperturbedly though the rain to my blue sedan. I saw her laughing at how deliberately I was taking my sweet time. She knew I was doing it for her.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Vignettes from my sewing room

Today I had to tear my sewing room up a bit so that my husband could install a new light fixture over the cutting table. That gave me a chance to clean up some obscure areas and enjoy all over again, as if they were new, some fun things I've acquired over the years and the memories that come with them.

Pretty to look at...
While the cutting table was away from the wall, I hung up this 60s vintage Junior Girl Scout uniform, complete with belt, tie, pins, socks (in the pocket), patrol leader cords, and a rattling good sash.

I have a pretty respectable GS collection, focusing mainly on badges and sashes. I started it around the time my mother was dying; she had been my Girl Scout leader when I was little and being immersed in that world was a comfort to me at that time.

My sash has been lost: this is a fuller one from ebay. I bought the dress at an antique store for 35 cents--one of my best deals ever!

A memory I can hold...
Here is one of the first kinds of "needlework" I ever learned to do. My mom started me on embroidery when I was six, and this came some time afterward.

You just wind yarn back and forth around those little pins sticking out around the edge, then sew up the middle with a blunt yarn needle. The magic part is when you turn the dial in the middle, the pins retract, and off pops your daisy!

You can join them together to make whatever seems good, but I never did--I just liked making the daisies.

I call this thing a "Thing Basket."
You know how in antique stores and flea markets you find little doo-dads that don't amount to anything on their own, but they're cute and cheap and you like them? Well, I buy them and I put them in Thing Baskets.

This of course is the sewing notions Thing Basket. The plastic thing sticking out of the spool of blue variegated thread is an ivory bodkin. Next to that is a rustic wooden spool, hand carved. Ray found it under the roof of our house when he was up there re-shingling.

The cameo studs, tatting shuttle, green metal gauge, and the tape measure that cranks up into a gold metal case (you can see a little bit of it next to the pin cushion) were all gifts from my mother-in-law, Sharyn. She has given me many little treasures for my other Thing Baskets too: I have ones of kitchen items, children's toys, paper dolls, Dutch items, Girl Scout items. My favorite Thing Basket is the one filled with "pretty lady" things--kid gloves, perfume bottles, a tiny lady doll, and so on.  I keep it on the cedar chest in my bedroom.

Here are two kinds of antiques joined together
to make a new thing: they are "rubber" stamps made with old buttons stuck on to old wooden thread spools for handles.

My daughter liked to play with the button tins when she was little, so they always make me happy.

If you want to make some, be sure to use a fresh, juicy ink pad to get the best impressions. Also, put something a little squishy (like a magazine) underneath your paper to pad it a bit.

Buttons are often convex--bowing out--so you have to kind of roll the stamp around on the paper to get the whole design--takes some practice.

Scissors Obsession
Finally, here is a look at my scissors collection. Kind of an accidental collection, actually--most collections I set out to acquire but this one just happened.

There are paper scissors at the bottom--and yes, it really is true you should never cut paper with your fabric shears, odd as it seems. I read the scientific explanation of it once but I don't remember it. I just remember not to do it.

How do you like those long-bladed ones? Those are editor's scissors, designed to cut across a whole page of paper so you can re-organize paragraphs by cutting and pasting them. Can you believe I own two pairs of these?  A pair was given to me by a librarian who worked until she was 85, and taught me a great deal about reference work.

The Belding-Corticellis in the upper left are very special to me: they were the first fabric scissors I ever bought for myself, way back in high school--after a certain event happened and I started to like sewing after all.

Because I certainly didn't like it at first, back in 9th grade Home Ec class, which all of us girls took back then. Cooking and baking were fun, but I was really struggling in the sewing part of it and quickly learning to hate it. Then my friend Mary V. gave me a gift that turned me right around.

It happened one Saturday morning when I walked along with her on her Grit route in town. Her brother had had the business first, then she took it over. I don't remember being of much help with collecting the subscription money, but it was a nice morning for a nice walk together and I enjoyed it.

After we finished up, we strolled back through downtown on our way back to her house. There was a store there called Northern Apparel, and it had a book in the window--a Simplicity "How to Sew" book. I can't remember if I said something about failing Home Ec--maybe Mary just knew it already--but anyway she went right in, bought it, and gave it to me. She told me, "I always buy a present for anyone who goes on my route with me, and I wanted to buy a present for you. And I don't want you to fail sewing class."

Well! That book was the text-book I needed: it made sense of flat-fell seams and welt pockets and plackets and side-lap zipper applications and everything else that had been bogging me down. I firmly believe that if it weren't for Mary's gift, I'd have left 9th grade permanently disgruntled with sewing machines and everything that might go into, onto, over, around, underneath, or through them. As it is, I feel my love for sewing is another gift Mary gave me that day. But her greatest gift was caring.

Memories like this one make my sewing room a special place for me--without the memories attached to things, they would all just be so much "stuff." But they're not stuff to me--they're reminders of good people and good times.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Another happy happy birthday

I love to post about my birthday while it's still May 7 and I can enjoy seeing the date up at the top of the post forever and ever. May 7 is such an excellent date. If I could have chosen a birthdate myself, that's the one I would have picked.

So! I woke up early in the pleasant knowledge that with the day off I could always go back to sleep again. But at 6 am I wanted to know if the Library millage had passed, so I reached for my iPod touch and poked up Facebook. The first thing I saw was not the millage news (though it did pass--hooray!) but this lovely post from my lovely daughter, far and away in France:

And to preserve the record, this is what I answered her:
Ruth Wilson Thank you for the lovely greeting, Sister Bear--it was the first thing I saw this morning. Those lilacs are gorgeous! The bush here has just barely got leaves on it. Quite a while ago I revised my purpose in accompanying you anywhere--it's to have the best time ever! Looking forward to having you home from your travels again so I can hear all about them first hand. And if you feel like baking or cooking, I'm willing to sit up at the table to be served. 

Then I got out of bed and commenced practicing on the piano. First thing in the morning is the best time to practice because Ben is still in bed then. When he's awake, he likes to pound on the bass keys and bug me. This week my teacher gave me my first polyphonic piece, "Fairest Lord Jesus," to work on, and it was tricky but very pretty and nice. After while Betsy came nosing up to me to be petted and perhaps to intimate that I had played the piece about a thousand times too many. 

After Ben got up I desisted, and switched to cleaning and organizing my sewing room--always more work to be done on it, but pleasant work. Around noon I knocked off and drove into town for groceries and a pizza for Benny. (Heaven send he never gets sick of pizza and chicken fingers, the child will starve.) Included in the groceries were some cookies that you would identify as Girl Scout thin mints and Samoas if you hadn't seen the box. These I reserved for a special purpose, as you will see.

The rest of the afternoon I spent in equal parts running about outside with Betsy, hassling Benjamin, and puttering around the sewing room. And so lucky am I that the birthday presents we ordered from Amazon actually arrived via US Mail on the precise right date. So exciting--we got a piano lamp! It's just exactly what we needed. See, you can adjust it to shine right down on your sheet music. I just love it. 

Also I got "100 Snowflakes to Crochet" so that I can participate in the Crochet-A-Long that Martine is hosting on her "iMake" podcast and blog, which seemed like such a fun thing to do that it needed doing immediately. Also a journaling work book. And that's not counting the seven dolls I bought at the Allegan Antique Fair last week, all of which I count as birthday dolls. Buying dolls for a girl's birthday was not a tradition in my family, so I'm filling in those missing years myself.  

This evening was our church's weekly "Challengers" program for first and second grade kids, at which I have the privilege of leading one of the tables--five marvelous eight-year-olds who were all seven when we started out together last fall. They've all had birthdays too. 

The highlight of my day came during the evening when my kiddos and their 35 or so fellow Challengers, all precious and beautiful, sang a good loud rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday to You" for me. They were all grinning at me and I grinned right back all the way through, plus I got two hugs. ("How old are you, Mrs. Ruth?" "Fifty-seven!" "Wow!")  At the end of the evening, that's when the cookies came in--cookies plus a 40-pack of Tim Bits I'd picked up on the way in. There was enough for seconds and thirds for everybody, too.    

My official birthday dinner is postponed until May 8, but that is a good thing because May 8 has always been kind of a blah day, after the exhilaration of May 7. If Ben will go with us, it will take place at Bilbo's Pizza, but if he won't then maybe Friday's or Red Robin. 

And do I have an official birthday cake? Yes I do! Ray brought me a Boonzaaijer Bavarian cream-filled birthday cake--the best cake ever. And there were birthday cards, and many lovely wishes on Facebook for me.

Now I will finish up this lovely May 7 and this happy recap by reading another chapter of "The Hobbit" to Benjamin as he settles down for bed. Betsy will settle down with him. She used to sleep in a doggie bed on the floor, but when she discovered that the bottom-bunk in Ben's room was untenanted she established occupancy there for herself. Her mama didn't raise no dummy puppies. 

And then when his prayers are said and lights are out and the fan is on and his iPod is lulling him to sleep with "Just So Stories," I will happily settle down into bed myself, so content with the pretty way our room turned out, and especially with the new mattress that is so-ooo-o comfortable you barely have to try to sleep. And I'll listen for a happy while to a knitting podcast, or Don Quixote, or some iTunes radio, and be soothed, be composed and quieted, so that when this May 7 slips away the last glimpse of its going will be unknown.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Flashback: A Scent Can Break Your Heart

September, 2009

I breathed in a most evocative scent today. For a moment I didn't know where I was.

I'd been walking back up the mall toward the library at lunchtime when I passed a young woman going the other way. While she was still in view I noticed that her nonchalant air was being undermined by one's sense of its being assumed. That set me reflecting about whether it is possible ever to be nonchalant, if trying doesn't work.

But then all that was forgotten as she passed me and I breathed, in her wake, the exact, long-forgotten scent of the powder hand soap that was used, in the 1960s, in the ladies' bathrooms at White Cloud State Park. I recognized it immediately, as if forty years were nothing. Oh, it wafted me back to that park and to my childhood, to the playground and the foot-trail and the log fences, and it made me want to laugh and cry, because I used to own that smell, I used to carry it away with me on freshly washed hands, and it was part of me. It was a nonchalant part of my world, uncherished and almost unnoticed, because we camped there so often, summer after long summer as I grew taller, and how can something that was a part of me be so gone? So gone.

And what was that smell? Is it really gone forever again, so soon after rushing back to me out of nowhere? Should I have run after the girl crying, "Wait, Wait!"?

Happy happy update, spring 2016:  We took a vacation South this year to look at Civil War battlefields and see some Presidential homes. Waiting for the tour of Benjamin Harrison's house to begin, we looked around in the gift shop for a while. I was interested in the different varieties of artisan soaps they had there, and to my amazement, one was the long-lost scent I wrote about here! Of course I bought it immediately, and now it lives as a sachet in my sock drawer! Every few days I lift it out and travel back to White Cloud State Park again.... 

Flashback: Summer of 2009

Saving some of my old blogposts from Vox...It was such a nice community--still have a good friend I met there. But alas, it went away, and my posts migrated to WordPress but I never liked it. So now I'm bringing them back here.

Verbal Snapshots from our Vacation


Overheard: On a trail at Hartwick Pines forest, a young boy and girl rushing down a hill together: 
     Girl: "I don't want to run, but I'm running! I don't want to run, but I'm running!"
     Boy: "I know!  Our feet are running automatically!"

Overheard: At a craft store, examining t-shirts with Husky dogs on them :
    Woman: "Gawd, I'd love t'git Butch one o'them."
    (Me, unspoken: "Is Butch a boy, a teen, or your husband? Your brother? Does he own a husky dog? Would he really like a t-shirt with a husky on it or is it only part of your illusion of Butch that he would like a t-shirt with a husky on it? How well do you know Butch, really? Would you like a husky dog t-shirt yourself? Or are you actually saying that you wish Butch were the kind of person you could give a husky dog t-shirt to?"  My brain contains an extra nosiness nodule or two, apparently.)[Although now, five years later, what I notice about this utterance is the wistfulness of it. The impossibility of giving even so modest a gift to someone dear, a world of regret over many such chances gone.]

Observed: From a picnic table by a parking lot at the UP's "Mystery Spot," as I elected to sit quietly and knit in the sunshine instead of going inside.
     A sea gull walking along the road. He glanced about with rapid eye, like Emily Dickinson's bird, but he did not hop sideways nor hop anywhere. Nor did he fly, which you'd think would be his best option for travel. He just walked straight on and on, with no visible emotion, the whole length of the parking lot, at least five car lengths. Then he stopped, looked both ways--and walked across the road!
     Well! I guess that's why it's called the Mystery Spot.

And now, a real snapshot from my vacation, of an activity which prompted this essential question: When digging in beach sand, do fingernails get dirty or clean?

Ben at Lake Huron
Answer: Clean!  I can't help with the eternal mysteries of jaywalking sea gulls, legs that run of their own accord, or the true nature of Butch, but I'm glad we could clear up one question, anyway.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Why Frank O'Hara Wasn't a Painter

Below is another of the essays I wrote for my online "Modpo" (Contemporary and Modern Poetry) class I took from the Unversity of Pennsylvania through Coursera.org.  I've been putting these essays on my blog as a way to preserve them after the course content disappears.

Assignment: In a close reading of the following poem, explain in approximately 500 words why O'Hara is not a painter.

Why I Am Not a Painter

by Frank O'Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is 
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a 
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

Sardines? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Sardines!

Frank O'Hara is not a painter because he is incapable of abstraction, or at least very averse to it. He can't just tell us so because that itself would be abstract; instead, he gives us his I-do-this-I-do-that "Why I Am Not a Painter" poem, and we must abstract it for ourselves. The poem is not an explanation but a demonstration.

He begins with a three-line introduction re-stating and emphasizing the title. He tucks the interjection "Well," at the end perhaps to give the impression that he is writing extemporaneously, but also to pull the reader into the next, long verse, which begins, appealingly, with "For instance." This drops us in front of Michael Goldberg at his easel, where we watch how "The painting / is going on, and I go, and the days / go by."

O'Hara devotes a thirteen-lined stanza to Goldberg's painting process, then another one to his own writing process, during which the same days are going by. Giving the same number of lines to each suggests balance and fairness of consideration and also the equal weight of the finished works of art: O'Hara considers his poem to be equal, in terms of artistic importance, to the abstract painting.

Of the painting, O'Hara observes, "You have SARDINES in it." The capitalization of SARDINES indicates he is referring to the word only, not to pictures of sardines. Goldberg answers, "Yes, it needed something there." Later he will partly obliterate it because "It was too much." O'Hara understands that neither word nor object relates to the aboutness of the painting; it is merely using the shape of the word and perhaps a touch of its dadaist shock value.

Contrast what O'Hara says of his "Oranges" poem. At one point it is "a page of words" which he adds to just as Goldberg adds letters to his painting. But his poem is at all stages representational; it is thoroughly about orange, even though the word itself never appears in it. While Goldberg's expression must be curtailed, ("It was too much"), O'Hara goes on adding to his until he has twelve poems about orange, and still feels that "There should be so much more." He may even take a gleeful pride in that he has produced twelve poems in the time it took Goldberg to produce one painting.

At the end, we discover that both works of art have been titled with that one key word which they do not contain, "Oranges" and "Sardines." In this concuding irony O'Hara's demonstration is complete: Goldberg's painting bears a label which signals no aboutness; O'Hara's poem bears a label which signals absolute aboutness.

O'Hara writes this poem to tell us metapoetically that he prefers poetry, where words have meanings that create pictures and interesting for-instances, over abstract paintings that tell no story. His point is confined to the fashions of his day, however: O'Hara might, in a different lifetime, have become a realistic painter whose works did tell a story; instead, to be a "real" poet he must not use rhyme or meter, just as Goldberg, in his day, must never paint a "real" sardine.