In the opening scene of the Marriage of Figaro, Figaro happily sings out numbers.. he is measuring the floor for his nuptial bed. Before the scene ends, however, his bride has revealed that the Count is plotting to seduce her, and Figaro has vowed revenge. The measure of his happiness hasn’t lasted a day. Most […]
Category Archives: Guest Blogs
Some time after I was old enough to read our Reader’s Digest magazines, at night I started to have dreams that made it impossible to sleep. The dreams involved chess pieces. No chess set was in our house and no one I knew played chess. The pawns or rooks in my dreams would slowly grow thinner until their sides rubbed together, like two curved pieces of paper, or they grew progressively larger until their sides bulged to bursting. These motions repeated so randomly and ceaselessly and viscerally that I could not sleep and sometimes tipped over into a type of terror.
Nor could I find ways to stop the dream from happening once I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
In a Reader’s Digest I read about a meditation relaxation technique. One would talk silently to parts of the body and ask them to relax, starting with the toes and moving up. I don’t remember if this was identified as yoga or any other discipline.
That night I tried it with my eyes closed when the chess pieces dream began happening. Only by doing it very slowly with concentration would the chess pieces slow down their motions. Eventually, after moving up my body and telling different parts to relax, sleep would come.
Artists and Art Make You Smarter
During my freshman fall term in my first college, Western Washington State, I financed my weekend party life by playing poker in the dorms. At one game there was a skinny geek named DB in rimless granny glasses, who dressed in clothes about two and a half years out of fashion.
DB was dealing draw poker. DB was dealing the last card to himself when I looked down to pick up my cards. I heard a certain click—the sound a card makes when dealt off the bottom of the deck—the same difference when a guitar string is plucked up rather than down. I shoved my hand away without looking at my cards and then announced that I was quitting the game. DB knew that I knew he cheated, but I left quietly.
Later, after the game was over, I came back and talked to DB. I told him he didn’t have to do that, those dorm guys would lose, but he said he had to do it to survive. DB was a real starving art student who bunked in a YMCA room and lived on protein powder mixes he shoplifted in health food outlets. His clothes were bought at a thrift store in Seattle’s University district, hence their retro fashions. He cheated at poker to insure that he could afford some cheap meals on the weekdays when he had gym class. I struck a deal with him. I’d give him my athletic scholarship meal ticket for the jock buffet to use in exchange for lessons on painters and art.
It turned out that DB had a brilliant eye and was ruthlessly committed to his own genius and, by extension, to his own survival.
While talking to DB one afternoon, I returned to my childhood chess piece nightmares. I don’t remember what artist or book we had been viewing, or even if we were talking about art.
Just telling this story to DB with his keen visual sense and his laser attention somehow suddenly made me see that this dream of the expanding and contracting chess pieces was a memory of my own birth.
But neither DB nor I could come up with an explanation for why I re-experienced leaving my mother’s body by seeing endlessly warping and woofing chess pieces.
* From “Soft Touches: A Pacific Zen Institute Talk May 22 2006 Keith Kumasen Abbott”
Keith Kamasen Abbot teaches writing and art at Naropa University. Publications include the novels Gush, Rino Ritz and Mordecai of Monterey; the short story collections, Harum Scarum, The First Thing Coming, and The French Girl. His memoir of Richard Brautigan, “Downstream from Trout Fishing in America, was reissued by Astrophil Press in 2009 with updates and revisions. His work has been translated into five languages and his novel Racer was short-listed for the Berlinale Film Conference 2007. His poems appeared in anthologies Saints of Hysteria (Soft Skull, 2006) and Rimbaud Apres Rimbaud (Except Collection Textual, 2004). His art/calligraphy appear in shows in San Francisco, Denver, Shanghai, Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong, and San Antonio.
My husband has been a painter, an ad man, a bike messenger, a brewer, a product designer, a contractor and a sculptor. I’m probably forgetting a few. But beneath all the guises he has worn, one seed of potential has lain unsown..until now. My husband, the farmer.
It started with plants. Increasingly each season, our garden has grown and our yard has shrunk. What started as two narrow planters has become six queen-bed-sized boxes. It is still possible to traverse the path without using a machete, but space for humans in our yard has been relegated to a shady, cramped corner where nothing much will grow. We’ve got vegetables for miles come every August.
Then came the little live things, first on only a small, slimy scale. I admit I enjoyed cheerfully announcing in mixed company: “We have worms!” Millions of em, actually, their healthy pink goo contained in a tiered bucket into which we scattered our kitchen scraps. The bottom tier, equipped with a tap, released a muddy brown “tea” the plants loved. Everybody won.
Next, a leap. Two frogs, and six baby chicks. The frogs, which we raised from tadpoles, graduated to a rocky and watery landscape in a fish tank which sat in our kitchen. Frogs are boring pets, grumpy looking and frustratingly placid, if you can see them at all. The only highlight of the frog adventure was when one of them ate the other.
One night, I happened to glance into the frog tank. One adult leopard frog sat on his rocky plateau, with the legs of his tank-mate sticking out of his mouth. He looked somewhat put out, as if the possibility of his pal being more than a mouthful hadn’t occurred to him. Presently, he spit him out, and we were able to give the gummed green carcass a proper burial.
The chickens’ arrival was a major event. Husband farmer built the world’s most luxurious chicken coop, in the other shady corner of the yard. To defend against earth-bound predators, he dug a six foot foundation and poured concrete. Against raccoons and the like, he chose cross hatched fencing too small for a paw to reach through. He found salvaged doors and even windows, so the birds could have natural light. He even fashioned roosts from dropped branches, securing them to the corners inside the coop. In the dramatic light of the heat lamp, it looked like an art installation.
The stagey lighting was appropriate, because the chickens became instant local celebrities. We somehow found time to spend hours sitting with the little fuzzy yellow and black chicks on our laps, delighted with their impossibly soft feathers and their scaly dinosaur feet. Droves of friends and even strangers stopped by, peeking their heads shyly in the gate, so many we built a chicken observation bench and strung up a bottle of hand sanitizer. They loved to fly up and sit, blinking their reptilian eyes, on your shoulder.
Soon we were up to six eggs per day, and the once-fluffy chicks were tall beefy chickens with bustles of glossy feathers and distinctly superior expressions. The cats, who had once sat entranced and salivating outside the coop as the babies scratched and pecked, now slunk away from the sharp beaks and clawed feet of their proud yard mates.
Farm animals are a little like tattoos: once you start, it’s hard to stop. Any initial reticence I had felt, based on the thought of adding to our already-overwhelming list of chores, was gone the minute a chick fell asleep in my hand.
A murderous frog and six healthy chickens, as well as millions of worms, might have been enough for some husbands. But the reading had begun..he devoured every book of the Urban-Farm-Sustainability-Do-It Yourself-Backyard-Organic-Everything genre, and soon he was contemplating how to up the farm ante.
Back in his ad man days in Manhattan, my husband had a menagerie of roommates: a dread-locked stripper-cum-law student, an obsessive road biker who trained on an indoor bike treadmill through the snowy winters, and a body builder with a pet duck. The duck lived in a cardboard box in the kitchen, made a terrible smell, and watched television to stave off loneliness. The lesson being, obviously, that what we needed was ducks; not one, but two.
However wrong it may seem, baby ducks travel in the mail. Ours came from a duck farm in Southern California, and our local postmistress was not impressed. “Pick them up immediately,” she said in her message, “that is our policy.” Her voice was edgy. But if she had only seen them, she would have melted. Baby ducks are the Platonic Ideal of cuteness. We put them in a dog kennel in our bathroom.
Again we sat for hours watching them and holding them, delighting in their tiny parts. But not for long: ducks grow at an alarming rate. Our wee ones seem to double in size each night, and their “leavings” grew in volume too. They learned to swim in our bathtub, at first noisily paddling around, then dunking their heads with a snakelike movement to bathe, then finally shooting beneath the water like arrows.
This week, sleek feathers appeared next to the messy fuzz of their down, giving them the awkward look of adolescents. On their wings, bright blue shafts of wing feathers. It was time the ducks moved outside, to live with the chickens.
According to one of our many farm books, ducks are sensitive and dislike change. They can even be disturbed by an unfamiliar shovel or rake appearing in their vicinity. So we moved them in their dog kennel into the coop. The chickens seemed interested only in the duck food, and hustled over in a hungry mob to sample it. The ducks, who we had named Nina (Simone) and Jane (Grey), cowered together in the corner. When we took them out to get some air and sun, they hurried back inside.
Apart from the sudden cannibalism of the frog, the duck problem was our first animal challenge. We read everything we could on integrating them into a coop, and lay awake wondering if they were laying awake afraid of their new home.
Finally, we took a two-pronged approach. Every morning, we take our cups of coffee down to the yard and hold the ducks on our laps in the sunshine, talking to them and petting them. They settle down like a cat on your lap, and even tuck their heads into the corner of your elbow. Nina doesn’t go in for such intimacies, but Jane will set her beak on my hand and allow me to stroke it.
Husband farmer has also built Nina and Jane a house, with a doorway too narrow for our beefy chickens to squeeze through, and a removable roof for easy access to the ducks and eventually, their eggs. The whole thing stands about two feet off the ground, and is accessed by a slatted ramp, another discouragement for the portly hens. They seem happier, and less freaked out. We feel like good duck parents.
What new species this spring will bring I can’t say, but I’m hoping for bees. A life full of life, bursting with growth, is worth a few stings.
*Kaitlyn Gallagher is the author of Point Me in the Right Direction (Rodent Press). Fiction and poetry have appeared in Framelines, The New Censorship, Bombay Gin, 13th Moon, Hyena, The Rose & Thorn and elsewhere. Her poem “Letter to Steven from a Blizzard” was shortlisted for the Best of Web. Essays have appeared in the Pacific Sun. She is the founder of the B Street Writers, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors, and of Writing Mamas. She writes and teaches in Northern California
For Valentine’s Day I asked Allison Anderson, the Bar Manager at Frasca Food and Wine–Boulder’s premier eatery–about romantic drinks, elixirs to please the pallet of Aphrodite and set Cupid’s bow a-quiver…. These are her saporous suggestions….
The Corpse Reviver No. 2
A drink meant to revive the spirit, especially after a long night of lust and romance. A smart blend of gin, lillet blanc, orange liqueur, and lemon juice as well as a little tickle of absinthe. Take a nip first thing after you kiss your Valentine good morning and start the day anew with a jump in your step and a twinkle in your eye. Your lover will be so tempted by your rousing vitality that you may need a daily dose!
St. Germain Cocktail
On the day you celebrate your special someone, share with them something as precious and sweet as they are to you! Wildly delicious and luxurious, the St. Germain cocktail seems to perfectly accompany romance. Champagne and the elegant and rare elderflower liqueur join like long-lost lovers to tantalize and provoke your desires. Sip to your hearts content with the one who has your heart and fall in love each and every time!
Nothing quite does the trick like a shot of the fiery and intense nectar of the ancient Mexican Gods! Your Valentine will see a side of you that has never been seen before! Passion and attraction will find their way to you through a little orange liqueur, fresh lime juice, your favorite tequila, and perhaps a nudge of agave. This blend will certainly prepare you for a night of tawdry and tempting fun, one the Gods would surely approve of.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Allison Anderson is the Bar Manager at Frasca Food and Wine
Visit a private kindergarten, love the stone work, hoping to save my marriage or to save myself but the admission process lacks windhorse or the spirit of the place was tired. The other way out, inner city magnet schools. I was categorically out-voted by everyone I know. Liberals do not put their stock in the diversity poverty allows where a little girl is concerned. Not cool. It is now certain Juliette will have to learn French par hasard another dream dissolved. I get to embrace my innerclassywhite housewifeness, a dakini I have long dismissed and thus…and so forth it is off to the public school at the end of the road the oath of serendipity in hand.
* by Katie Yates
Arnoldo sings Mexican love ballads as we navigate the sweeping curves above Putla’s rugged mountains on our way back to Oaxaca City. Arnoldo is from Huatulco, which is a tourist coastal town about 7 hours from Oaxaca City. He has been our driver for the past three days and has been quite animated in his story telling and information about Mexico and the region. Emma, a young intern from a local exporter company laughs at Isabela’s quick one-liners. They both work for one of the newer and more interesting coffee importers in the world. We have been working with them since the late ‘90s. Our suburban, now named Fletcha or “arrow” cuts through and pounds down the backside of the pass that splits our drive in half. The mountains here are dry, with dark grey rock formations, pine forests and numerous paddle cactus and other high elevation, dry plants suited to this craggy environment. Another trip wraps up, another coffee origins visit-now guessing somewhere in the 40s or 50s since my first in 2003. Ironic in that my first was to Oaxaca and now 8 years later I am back where I started.
This trip began on January 5th starting in Denver and leading me down to Colombia. There I worked in Cauca, visiting small producers of organic coffee near the town of Popoyan. I had not been to Colombia to see coffee farms since 2008 and it was yet another trip full of intrigue and fascination with all of the challenges coffee producers face in a world that is less and less interested handcrafted agriculture and more possesses by the industrialized and the new wave of obsession with technology. The world is clearly split in two: those who do not want to get their hands dirty living in the earth and the have-nots who muster a life of poverty and day to day survival. Colombia, though very advanced and sophisticated in its coffee production and industry is still dominated by coffee farmers who produce on less than a hectare (4.2 acres) and who subsist on beans, rice, plantain and their only cash crop- coffee. Most of the countryside is riddled with farmers who have just newly acquired electricity and running water. Most kitchens and toilets are still outside of the house and are of the most basic design.
As an American I am both fascinated and in love with the old world- the world of making something out of your own hands, of growing something from a seed and being able to thrive from its flowering gift. Yet, it seems the circle is tightening, the stomachs of the children less full, the gap widening. What is now apparent in both Colombia and Mexico is that the generation has hit a wall. Most farmers that I met in both countries at cooperative meetings were either elderly men or elderly women who husbands’ and children had left for the US to make money and fulfill a dream of leaving the fincas and the toil of hand labor for something better; even leaving the Pueblos of Mexico for the big city to work in textile mills or industrial parks that have been shipped to China, Vietnam or other areas of Asia where there is cheaper labor. Wider gaps between wealth and the severely impoverished. The big money of the world has found a new way to better serve the stockholders while passing over the have-nots for even more profit, even more destabilization. Now we wonder why Latin America has played towards the left. Colombia and Mexico are textbook examples of dream gone sour. America has sold its soul due its demand to no longer get its hands dirty. Our farmers are relics of the past and now we are a nation of demand and not of production and innovation. Our innovation is all about a thirst we will never quench and potentially create further consequence that will spin many other nations out of control for want of what they rightly believe to be the path of just means.
Am I helping by buying organic coffee and trying to help create a new market that is focused on creating programs for women at risk in these communities, pay well above fair trade minimums. Are we part of the on-going problem or are we a solution? I feel torn after many meetings (some lasting over 3 hours) and hearing from countless farmers that they are forced to sell to multi-nationals who are intent on busting their cooperatives at any price to then later beat them up on price once the coffee cooperative is fragmented and the community loses its central focus. The coffee cooperative was a beacon of change in these communities that were fighting the coyotes (those who pay cash in hand for fresh cherry or parchment, coffee that has been milled and dried). In many cases the coyotes truly prey in a market that fluctuates due to forces around a commodities market that has no interest in stability of farmers at risk and instead is focused on hedging option contracts in a world of electronic money being moved for the interest of index funds, money markets, mutual funds and coyotes in suits that prey in the cyber world of pennies made and lost. The financial crisis showed us many things; we can all lose if we let go of what matters most. Sure, many of us lost value in our homes, our IRAs, even our jobs-but in Latin America, Africa and Indonesia-those who produce coffee have endured generations of loss and hardship. Now, we are at a finite point, a critical point where the loss maybe more than many can bare. And I have t ask myself, am I having an impact, can we help to make change with our dollars in the communities and Pueblos of Mexico and in the villages of Cauca? I’d like to think so, but the vote has not been cast, the dice not thrown down quite yet.