Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Put Your Stamp On It

I am a philatelist.

Philatelist: n. a person who practices philately; stamp collector.
Philately: n. the collection and study of postage stamps, postmarks, stamped envelopes, etc., usually as a hobby.

I'm not a great one. My father-in-law is. He has an incredible stamp collection. I became interested when I was a kid. I would get letters from my aunts or my grandparents and I would always stare at the little square of artwork in the corner. My mom would let me cut them off the envelopes sometimes. In 7th grade, my best friend moved to Germany for a year. There was no email. There was only mail. We sent each other pages and pages and pages of letters. I loved getting hers. They were airmail envelopes with interesting German stamps on them. I saved every letter.

For Christmas that year, my friend in Germany sent me a stamp collector's book. It was large and long and burgundy with gold trim. Every page had little rows of onion-skin pockets to slide stamps into. And between each page was a thin page of onion-skin, to preserve the stamps in the rows of pockets. It was so elegant to me. I always handled it with the greatest of care. I was a rather rash and impulsive person, even then, and I would have to move more slowly and breathe more slowly just to handle that book. My friend had even put some stamps in the book for me, to get me started. I still have the book, and all of the stamps she sent me, as well as numerous others that my mother let me cut off of envelopes after.

My "stamp collecting," if you want to call it that, isn't a money-making hobby, as some people may practice. It's not about the age of the stamp, necessarily, although old stamps are terrific. It's not about the worth of the stamp, i.e. a rare stamp with no postmark. For me, it's only about beauty, meaning, and time. That's what I love about them. I don't care if they have a postmark. Most times, I like them more when they have a postmark. It places the stamp in history. It tells where it was and when it was used. It lends the stamp a story beyond the stamp itself. It gives the stamp a human element.

A stamp is a tiny artwork that connects two people. Both the sender and the recipient see the stamp. The sender chose the stamp, bought the stamp. The recipient is the reason the stamp was bought. The sender writes the words that the stamp delivers. The recipient reads the words that the stamp delivers. The stamp is the great connector of people, words, places and time. It's a little, sticky miracle.

My stamp interest has waxed and waned over the years. It goes up and down. I forgot about it for years. In 2005, I visited Virginia, one of the greatest places in the U.S. in my opinion. A lovely place, with so much history. It oozes out of the countryside. I visited Appomattox, where the final battle of the Civil War took place. In a little gift shop there, I purchased some Civil War bullets found at the site...and a confederate stamp. I couldn't believe that I had a stamp in my hands that was 150 years old.

In 2007, I was dating my soon-to-be husband, and he told me that his dad liked stamps, and collected American stamps. I went to the little box where I kept tiny items that I love, and I pulled out my confederate stamp. I gave it to his father.

The stamp is always more than it appears to be: it is a gift. It is the great connector.

And now, very recently, I signed up with the site USA Philatelic/Beyond the Perf. They send me email updates about stamps and stamp releases. Sneak-peeks of the 2012 releases. I signed up for the USA Philatelic catalog and they sent it to me, free, in the mail. I perused and perused, and found some really exciting stamps.

When I forget my stamp-love, I am guilty of being one of those people who goes to the post office and says "I would like to buy a book of stamps." The post office clerk then slaps down a book of the Liberty Bell Forever stamps, and I buy them and walk away. But they don't make my heart swoon, those stamps. Looking at the Philatelic catalog, I remembered that the stamp you send says something about YOU.

A few days ago, I was going through my drawer of stamps and realized that most of mine are out of date. I have quite a few 37 cent snowman stamps. I have a few 41 cent stamps, etc. I had three panes of 28 cent postcard stamps, but now they're 29 cents. The only current stamps I had were Christmas stamps from last year. I decided it was time that I bought some new stamps.

I went to usps.com, to their online store and I purchased the following exciting stamps:

American Scientists (Forever)--Pane of 20

These stamps are lovely. I adore the fact that there is a woman physicist among them.

Pioneers of American Industrial Desgin (Forever)--Pane of 12

These are modern and bright. A perfect stamp for your mod friends.

Jazz (Forever)--Block of 10

What is more American than Jazz? A lovely piece of artwork. It looks like it sounds.

Herbs (.29 postcard stamp)--Pane of 20

Sweet herbs for your sweet little postcard. Imagine that you're Elizabeth Bennett.

Angel with Lute (.44 stamp)--Pane of 20

A lovely stamp for your Christmas cards.

Latin Music Legends (Forever)--Strip of 5

These I will send to my sister, who is a salsa dancer extraordinaire and loves Latin music.

Edward Hopper (Forever)--Block of 10

I would've loved his painting of the Nighthawks, but this lovely sailboat channels New England and a scene I can imagine Sylvia Plath seeing in the summers of her youth.

Tiffany Lamp (.01 stamp)--Pane of 20

A darling little "make-up" postage stamp for all those 28 cent postcard stamps I still have.

Chippendale Chair (.04 stamp)--Pane of 20

Another lovely design for a "make-up" postage stamp.

Today, I looked at the 2012 stamp releases on the USA Philatelic website, and there are some real knock-outs. I practically leapt out of my chair and shrieked when I saw that they will be releasing a "20th Century Poets" pane of stamps! Oh my goodness, oh my goodness! Sylvia Plath! A stamp with Sylvia Plath! Oh, she is my Elvis, my Beatles. And not only her, but Elizabeth Bishop and Theodore Roethke and E.E. Cummings and William Carlos Williams! Oh, I can't wait, I can't wait. The second they are released, I shall buy panes and panes of them, in droves. They are Forever stamps, so they will never expire. Oh, to put the faces of American poets on my letters to my poet friends in Virginia! Oh, to put the faces of poets on my letters to anyone! To the bank or the student loan or the gas company! Poets on stamps!

The stamp is a poem.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wheat Pennies

     At my work, we have an inordinate amount of wheat pennies. Every time I close and I'm counting the drawer, there are tons of them. How they all ended up in one place, I have no idea, but my father has always collected them and taught me an appreciation for them from a young age. I see a wheat penny and I think of my dad as a child.

     Now when I close, I bring along some dimes, nickels and quarters, and I buy the wheat pennies. The other day I walked away with about 20. I got home and stared at them, holding them up to the light to see what years they were from. Who held this penny? How far has it traveled? Among quite a few 1950's wheat pennies, I also discovered a 1912 penny, a 1913 penny, some from 1920, 1926, 1934. The history of the penny, the things that were happening in the world at the time, the children buying gumballs, my father--all of these things collide and assemble themselves into small coins in my hand.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

To Grandmother's House He Goes

     My husband is currently in Orem, Utah, visiting his 94-year-old grandmother, Kay. This marks the first time I have been home alone without him. In February of 2010, I went home to Colorado for four days to see my sister and paint some paintings for her friend. But I was with family, and he was home alone that time. Other than that, from the time we've been married, Vern and I haven't been apart.

     I must say, I don't like it one bit. But I do like the reason behind it.

     Vern is not what some may guess. And if you try to guess, you may guess wrongly. If you think you know him, you may very well be wrong. Or right. Depending. He is not the kind of man you can put your finger on. He is the sort of man that remains mysterious to those who do not know him well...or well enough.

     Indeed, when I first knew him, long before we were ever married, I did not--in fact--know him. I didn't get his sense of humor. Things I liked, he didn't. Or so I thought. We had little fights about movies, the fate of stray cats, whether or not women rock in music, that sort of thing. I thought I had him pegged. He thought he had me pegged. We were both wrong.

     Years later, with quite a bit of heartbreak under both of our sleeves, we somehow managed to find the proverbial diamond in the rough. Once we were finally alone in a room together, we had time to talk. And with that talk came the realization that 1) he was sensitive, highly intelligent, very funny and incredibly talented. (It might sound like I'd never known that before, but truly, I always knew he was smart, but not HOW smart he was; I didn't know his sensitive side; I had never seen his silly, goofy side; and I didn't know how important music was to him, nor had I ever heard a song he had written.) And he realized that though I always appeared to be fully capable of taking care of myself, completely confident in my abilities and intelligence, and a busy, social butterfly type of person, I was actually 2) highly sensitive, wrote poetry, composed songs without instruments, had a burned-out headlight on my truck that had not been fixed, was a home-body, and that I was, indeed, much more vulnerable than I appeared at first glance.

     The first gift he ever gave me was a new headlight for my truck. He bought it and installed it. I learned that he was what I like to call "a doer." He gets things done. And when he doesn't know how to do them, he figures it out. He is a genius.

     Which brings us to the present. He is visiting his grandmother.

     When we first started dating, Vern played me a recording. This was no ordinary recording, mind you. When he was in his early twenties, he had the foresight to interview his grandparents on both sides of his family and ask them about their lives. It is an audio recording and it is truly one of the most amazing things I've ever heard in my life. The questions he asked were brilliant and thoughtful. He discovered so much. And what impressed me most was how young he was and how incredibly aware he was of the value of their stories. They are beautiful stories. When his grandmother on his father's side died, he played her recording at her funeral. When his grandfather on his father's side died, at 93, he played the audio interview he had conducted ten years before. I was privileged enough to be there for that. It was miraculous.

     Which again brings us to the present. I had to work this weekend. There was no getting out of it, as two other girls are off this weekend and we are short-staffed. But Vern has been wanting to see his Grandma Kay for a long time now. I told him that he should go. He can afford to this weekend, since it's a long weekend. And life is unpredictable. Who is to say that any of us will be here tomorrow? We must take advantage of the time we have, when we have it. That is the essence of happiness.

     So, tonight, Vern is in Utah, sleeping in a hotel after a ten-hour drive. And I am at home, missing him. If I had my way, I would never be apart from him. But sometimes, life requires it. And this weekend, he is the man I discovered when I first met him: the sensitive man, thirty-five years old, who takes time off from work to hang out with his grandma.

     That's what I call the marrying kind. I love him for it.
Vern and I visiting Kay on the way back from our wedding. September 2008.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Keeping a Commonplace: A Silva Rerum ("a forest of things")

"Commonplacing is the practice of entering literary excerpts and personal comments into a private journal, that is, into a commonplace book or, to use a 17th century synonym, a silva rerum ("a forest of things"). Typically the excerpts were regarded as exceptionally insightful or beautiful or as applicable to a variety of situations, and so as such they are often especially quotable. . . . The practice of commonplacing can be traced back in the European tradition to the 5th century B.C.E. and the Sophist, Protagoras." --Norman Elliott Anderson, Commonplacing in the Spiritual Traditions

     A man came into my store the other day. A very interesting fellow. He looked like a weathered rock star from the 70's. He was smiley and his face crinkled. He bought a lined journal refill for a Scully (a really nice line of leather products that we sell). He had a battered leather cover that the refill would slide into. I commented that it looked loved.
     He proceeded to take it out and flip through the pages. They were marked all through, with lists, numbers, small sketches, words in margins. He said it was a commonplace.
     "I'm sorry, I don't know what that is," I said.
     He proceeded to explain.
     Apparently, a "commonplace" is similar to a journal, but is not precisely a journal. It's a place where you write down things that you come across in your everyday life. But you don't write them down as you would in a journal. Instead, you just write them down: perhaps that little tidbit you heard on NPR that you want to remember, or want to go back to and think about. Perhaps a list of plants you want to plant in your garden. Perhaps a quote from a book you are reading. You number the pages and create an index at the beginning. Then when you are done, you go back to the index and write what information is mentioned on what page. It's an ingenious way to keep track of the day to day, and to find where you wrote that little snippet down. It's extraordinary.
     Having not forgotten this exchange with this gentleman (he shook my hand and said his name was James, who I now refer to in my mind as Commonplace James), I looked it up online today, to see what else I could discover about commonplaces. And boy is there a lot!
     It looks like the Greeks first developed it, and it was quite prominent in 13th century Italy. In fact, it was quite...ahem...commonplace...for Italian writers and learned people to keep them. It fell away for awhile, only to rise up again in Early Modern England. Francis Bacon, John Milton and John Locke all kept commonplaces. So did Thomas Jefferson. They are referred to throughout a variety of literature as well. For example, this excerpt of Virginia Woolf's from the mid-20th century:

"[L]et us take down one of those old notebooks which we have all, at one time or another, had a passion for beginning. Most of the pages are blank, it is true; but at the beginning we shall find a certain number very beautifully covered with a strikingly legible hand-writing. Here we have written down the names of great writers in their order of merit; here we have copied out fine passages from the classics; here are lists of books to be read; and here, most interesting of all, lists of books that have actually been read, as the reader testifies with some youthful vanity by a dash of red ink." Virginia Woolf, “Hours in a Library,” Granite and Rainbow: Essays by Virginia Woolf (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1958), p. 25.

Or this one:

Bronson Alcott, 1877: “The habit of journalizing becomes a life-long lesson in the art of composition, an informal schooling for authorship. And were the process of preparing their works for publication faithfully detailed by distinguished writers, it would appear how large were their indebtedness to their diary and commonplaces. How carefully should we peruse Shakespeare’s notes used in compiling his plays—what was his, what another’s—showing how these were fashioned into the shapely whole we read, how Milton composed, Montaigne, Goethe: by what happy strokes of thought, flashes of wit, apt figures, fit quotations snatched from vast fields of learning, their rich pages were wrought forth! This were to give the keys of great authorship!” Amos Bronson Alcott, Table-Talk of A. Bronson Alcott (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1877), p. 12.

     This is a very exciting discovery for me, as I am an incessant journaler. My mom bought me my first diary when I was ten years old. It was pink with an ice cream cone on the front, and it had a lock. I loved that journal, and continued with the practice since then. I have books and books full of observations and day to day life. I am currently a mere 12 pages away from being finished with my current journal, and am aching to move on to my next, a lovely leather-bound handmade journal with a Celtic Tree of Life tooled onto the cover. The pages are handmade as well, and feel like cloth. Vern got it for me for my birthday.
     Despite me being a journal keeper, the idea of a commonplace is a new and welcome one. My journals sometimes contain a list, or a quote from a book. But most often they are ramblings on my day or on a specific event. A commonplace, however, gives me a common place to collect all of my other ideas, lists, notions, etc. Things that I want to think about, but only have time to jot down at the moment. Generally speaking, I write these things on scraps of paper that lay around the house on desks or in a drawer. But this is the opportunity to compile a book specifically geared toward these small exchanges, or quotes, or overheards. It is really quite exciting. It is the creation, not of a book or any chronological account of happenings, but of random, seemingly unrelated and perhaps contradictory ideas. Here is what the New York Review of Books says:

"Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life. Erasmus instructed them how to do it . . .The practice spread everywhere in early modern England, among ordinary readers as well as famous writers like Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Milton, and John Locke. It involved a special way of taking in the printed word. Unlike modern readers, who follow the flow of a narrative from beginning to end, early modern Englishmen read in fits and starts and jumped from book to book. They broke texts into fragments and assembled them into new patterns by transcribing them in different sections of their notebooks. Then they reread the copies and rearranged the patterns while adding more excerpts. Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality. . . . The era of the commonplace book reached its peak in the late Renaissance, although commonplacing as a practice probably began in the twelfth century and remained widespread among the Victorians. It disappeared long before the advent of the sound bite." -- Robert Darnton, "Extraordinary Commonplaces," The New York Review of Books, December 21, 2000

     Another exciting feature of the commonplace is what it ends up looking like. Looking at Commonplace James' commonplace, it was overflowing with little things and big things. Sections overlapped. Some things were written sideways. Others were categorized and looked scientific. It is a way to index and go back to all of the little things we see, hear and read everyday and to keep track of them. Each person's interests dictate what their commonplace will be about. And in the end, the commonplace you keep is as unique as you are. Every one is different.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Our First Band Rehearsal!

As many of you know, Vern and I started a band called Jet City Crawl. We began writing and recording songs in July of 2009 and completed our first album in July of 2010. We have now been working on our second album, hopefully to be released in late 2011. Thus far, three new songs have been written and we have about five more in the pipelines. It's very exciting.

However, one of the drawbacks of our band is that there is no band per se. The majority of the instruments on our first album are played by Vern. Since he can't be a one-man-band, there was no hope, necessarily, of us performing live. I write most of the lyrics and I sing the songs; I occasionally come in on the harmonica, or melodica, or piano. But how can Vern play bass, drums, guitar, banjo, mandolin, horns, etc. live onstage? Well, it's just not possible.

But there is now hope for live Jet City Crawl gigs! John Hartman, from Vise Virsa, and Kris Hartman, also from Vise Virsa, are joining us: John on drums and Kris on guitar. Vern's friend, the awesome musician Jose Franco, is joining us on bass. Vern plays lead guitar, I sing (and will possibly contribute the odd piano, melodica and harmonica additions) and WHAMMO! We've got ourselves a full-fledged band! Yessirree, things are looking up.

We rehearse in our studio, Vskills Studio, located in Covina, CA and built by my awesome husband. It's pretty nice to be able to just walk out into the backyard and rehearse with all the great studio accoutrements. Great mics, great drums, great guitars and amps, and for recording, great pre-amps. It's a dream come true.

I am currently learning guitar. I have gotten a lot better and I hope to keep gaining knowledge in this arena. It's difficult. Multiply that by the fact that I'm in my 30's and am learning an entirely new instrument, and it gets pretty hairy. It's hard to be an adult and learn new things. We are so used to knowing things by now, that we forget what it's like to learn. But I'm learning anyway. It's hard, but it's worth it. I don't just want to be the "girl singer." I want to earn some respect as being a singer AND musician. We'll see how that pans out, but I have high hopes and high drive, so it will work out, I'm sure.

We rehearsed four songs on Sunday, the 1st: Back to Colorado, What You Make It, Lazy Stone, and Oh, California. For a first rehearsal, we did remarkably well. I'm looking forward to the next.

If you want to hear our first album, Colorfornia, or listen to our newest three songs, go here. Enjoy!


Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Fresh Start

Now feels like the time to start afresh. So I started a new blog and I intend to write all sorts of things on here.

Speaking of starting anew, I recently quit facebook. This may seem drastic to some, but ultimately, I became disillusioned. My ideal facebook experience would be one where I keep in contact with my main friends. Tops, I would imagine that would be about 30 people. But, for awhile there, I was pushing 200 friends on my list. It started to seem like some alternate reality to me, and not one that coincided with my real life. This is not to say that I didn't like all those people. In fact, I knew every one. I just didn't like the fact that most of the people on my list are not people that ever communicated with me. Which got me thinking--if I wasn't on facebook, would people keep in touch? I know that many would--mainly the 30 or so (tops) friends that I have in real life. But the others? Something tells me that would be unlikely. And despite what facebook was telling me, I knew that it wasn't true. Yes, I have 200 people that I know. But I don't have 200 friends. Nor would I want 200 friends, not really. I have always been the type of person that craves close relationships, not casual acquaintances. All through grade school and high school, I had one best friend, and a couple more close friends. That number expanded in college as I was exposed to more and more people, but it never expanded past five close friends. It still hasn't.

But my disillusionment with facebook was not wholly founded on my "friends in real life" number vs. my "friends on facebook" number: it was also founded on a disappointment in myself. Maybe disappointment is too strong a word, but suffice it to say I became rather surprised at myself. Every day, the first thing I did when I got up in the morning was check my email and check my facebook. When I got home from work, I did the same thing again. I would look around on FB, see what people were up to, look at pictures of their trips or their pets, comment on the occasional status update, write one of my own. Before I knew it a half hour had elapsed. Or an hour. Recently,  I started thinking of this habit that I had formed, and I questioned what else I could be doing with my time if I weren't ensconced in the facebook world so regularly. Could I have written a song, perhaps? Certainly. Could I have begun work on the painting I want to do for my friend? Most definitely. Could I have written in my journal, begun a new book, written a letter to my family? Yes, yes, yes. But no. I was whiling away my time on facebook.

So I took things into my own two hands, which, it turns out, is where things have always been. And I changed my ways. Cold turkey. I deactivated my account, and at this point, I have no intention of going back. I have too much I want to do with my life, and now is the time. Now is the time. Our time on earth is short, and as Theodore Roosevelt said, I want to "spend myself in a worthy cause."

Perhaps you think that I am taking this all too seriously, and if you do, you are certainly welcome to your opinion. I do take my life seriously and I do take my time seriously, and it comes down to the fact that I want real, true, in-person friendships and I want time to make music, write poems, read books, act in films, and generally be an artist. That is what I'm here for: friends, family, love and art. I by no means begrudge anyone facebook--I think it can be a miraculous site, full of life details and fun photos, great friends and things to do. I just want to discover my friendships in a different way, it turns out. And I want to keep working toward my goals, which is easy to forget when we get sucked into the day-to-day.

This morning, I got up and checked my email. Today is my day off and I was looking forward to a day of relaxation. No one had emailed. My mind went directly to facebook, and then I smiled. I'm not on it anymore! So what to do? Well, let's see. I watched an NPR live performance of Josh Ritter's. I read Josh Ritter's entire blog, which, by the way, has some great advice and insight for musicians to take a look at. I made a list of goals: tomorrow, one month, six month, one year, two year, five year, and ten year goals. Ritter had recommended this, as well as working backwards, so that you begin with your ten year goals, and thus what do you need to do in five years to get to your ten year goals? ...and on down the line. It was refreshing and exciting, and he's right. When you do the list backward, the tomorrow and one month goals seem much more manageable. I am gearing up for my future.

I intended to write lyrics for a song Vern and I have been working on. I couldn't locate the living room recording we had done just to keep the melody in mind, so writing lyrics might be difficult. But I did locate the recording of one section, and I think that's enough to start with. That's what I'm going to do now.

Oh! And I began a blog! Stay tuned for the nitty and the gritty.