Monday, February 28, 2011

Military Families Need Libraries

Liz, I'm a bit late to your Librarian Love challenge, but here it is!

Librarian Sondy Eklund has sent an open letter to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, asking that they restore funding to our libraries, reversing the deep cuts that have hit the system over the last two years.

I don't always comment on such posts, but I did today, on behalf of military families. Here's what I said:

I’m a Fairfax County resident, but I’m also part of a military family. We’ve moved many, many times as part of my husband’s service, but the library is one of the first places we go when we arrive in a new community. We scan the bulletin boards for jobs and classes and summer camps, we talk to librarians about what’s unique in the local area, we take our kids—who know no one yet— to story hours and library activities, we check out books that comfort and inform and sustain us. The truth is that every move involves stress and disruption and uncertainty. We might be in temporary housing. We might be facing an immediate deployment. But the library is, and always has been, part of how a new place, ever so slowly, comes to feel like “home.”
I challenge the Board of Supervisors to imagine that THEY are new to this area of Virginia, and to go to the smallest local branch of the library nearest them for one afternoon. What will they find? Who will welcome them? Will the library even be open?
I can’t think of any defensible reason why libraries—which are wildly successful at carrying out their mission—should not be saluted and honored and yes, financially supported, for the outstanding service they give to the people of Fairfax County. They’ve always been there for us.

Please, if you have something to add, Sondy's open letter and blog post are here. And Liz, thanks for the Librarian Love challenge---it isn't over! 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Poetry Friday: Exchange Student

Happy Poetry Friday! The roundup is here today, so Mr. Linky is on duty at the end of this post, ready to collect your links.

Rebecca investigates a double-helix sculpture
 near the genetics department on the Trinity Campus, Dublin, Ireland

In May, my daughter, Rebecca, graduates from college with her degree in physics and a minor in creative writing. It's been exciting as her mom to follow her explorations in both particles and poetry---especially when she emails to say more of her work has been accepted by her school's literary magazine, The Cellar Door.  (I'll try to link when "On the Way to Mars" is published later this spring. It's a favorite of mine.)

Many of her poems are about science, and I've shared them here and here.  The one I'm sharing today isn't. In the fall of her junior year, Rebecca spent a semester as an exchange student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. As an Air Force kid, she'd lived all over the world, and was well-practiced at adapting to new people and places, so much so that I didn't worry much about her heading to Dublin alone to find a room to rent.

I guess I should have, because the room she found, while close to campus, was in a flat with clearly unwelcoming landlords. Ones who left her ugly notes if she left a scrap of lettuce on the kitchen counter. She did get to travel throughout Ireland, sing Mozart's Requiem with a local choir, read James Joyce and eat pub food. But when she shared this poem with me, I was reminded of how isolated a strange place can make you feel, no matter how seasoned a world traveler you are. And how much the small kindnesses exchanged between people---or lack thereof---can cure or wound.

I told her that her words made me sad because not everything about her time in Ireland was rosy, and she said: Oh, Mom, it's a poem. I had to make it more dramatic.

In Northern Ireland

Exchange Student
by Rebecca Holmes

In the last two weeks after I left the rented room
and came to stay with a classmate’s family, it was
the icy inherited house, the high ceiling,
the apples drying over the stove that cured me,
the mince pies. It was the kindness, it was—
it was sleeping the whole night warm like a little sister
on a mattress on the floor, the cold scuttle to the shower,
the steam flooding from a plate of eggs
and potatoes, carols on the radio, dry toast
with butter and jam. It was the antidote
to a frozen grocery store aisle where I stood
between the American-style chocolate chip cookies
and bags of Christmas candy, to walking
back to the room alone past all the bridges
over the Liffey—each early DART ride to school
together was a piece of it, as we ran between the cars
to the front of the train while snow fell over the bay,
slipped the turnstiles at Pearse Street Station,
ran until the flakes melted in the waves.

Homemade mince pie

Friday, February 18, 2011

Poetry Friday: Poison and Wine

Once a long time ago, my husband convinced me a date to see Jason and the Scorchers was a charming idea. You'd think the name of the band would've clued me in, but decades later, we only have to allude to that night in passing before we're both tossing salt over our shoulders to prevent another disastrous "You Have No Idea Who I am as a Person" pothole in our relationship.

Even though he led me astray years ago, I accepted his invitation last weekend to see another act unknown to me for Valentine's Day, and squelched any fear that after twenty-six years of marriage, we might be due for another What Were You Thinking? moment.

Not so. The Civil Wars were everything I love in music----raw, lovely, equally sad and funny, dramatic, exquisitely and emotionally performed.

You only know what I want you to
I know everything you don't want me to
Oh your mouth is poison, your mouth is wine
Oh you think your dreams are the same as mine
Oh I don't love you but I always will
Oh I don't love you but I always will
Oh I don't love you but I always will
I always will

I don't suppose that's the most romantic song. But here's what its creators, Joy Williams and John Paul White, say about it:

"Poison & Wine" fits the paradigm of subject matter too true to be spoken, as opposed to sung. "That song probably does sum us up—The Civil Wars, the name of the band—as well as any song that we've written," White says. It's the one song on the album written with an outside collaborator, their friend Chris Lindsey. "We're all married, and we were all talking about the good, the bad and the ugly, and just felt like: What would you say to someone if you were actually brutally honest—the things that you could never say because it would turn them away or let the cat out of the bag or reveal yourself to be weaker? What would you actually say if you had this invisible curtain around you and could just scream it in somebody's face and they'd actually never hear it? We were all being very painfully honest, because we're all very comfortable around each other and know that things like that never leave the room, except in a song. I'm pretty proud of that song, to be honest."

I admit that during our dating years, I regularly questioned (tortured) my husband with an inquisition designed to determine What Love Is. And if I loved him. And if I did, What That Meant.

The only better answer I have now is this: Love can live through a Jason and the Scorchers hellfest.  You can slowly become more known to the one you love, even as the unknown is a current taking you further out, together, to the end of the world.

P.S. Joy wore the most gorgeous velvet dress with a blue bow that made me instantly crush on her for not defaulting to jeans and a glitzy top.

P.P. S. My husband was worried about not providing me with a traditional Valentine's Day dinner pre-concert. I'm here to say the two chili dogs and beer I consumed at Jammin' Java were heavenly.

For a glimpse of Joy's dress, the Washington Post reviewed the concert in a much more musically focused manner here.

More about The Civil Wars, including some free downloads, tour dates, and a link to their recently released album, Barton Hollow, is here.

Mary Ann at Great Kid Books has the Poetry Friday roundup today.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Poetry Friday: The Last Word of a Blue Bird

Last week, I was on retreat in an old Vermont house (circa 1840) where I fell in love with this wooden bluebird adorning the front fence.  The day before, the blizzard that socked Chicago and other parts of the Midwest had swept across us too, leaving fresh snow and shockingly bright sunshine in its wake.  

This bird reminds me of how lovely it is to focus on one beautiful thing; it's what poetry does so well, and why it can be the counterpoint to the endless browsing of modern life. I love the Frost poem I found, too, because of the line "do everything!" One thing/every thing. Poetry gives us both.  

The Last Word of a Blue Bird
by Robert Frost

As I went out a Crow
In a low voice said, "Oh,
I was looking for you.
How do you do?
I just came to tell you
To tell Lesley (will you?)
That her little Bluebird
Wanted me to bring word
That the north wind last night
That made the stars bright
And made ice on the trough
Almost made him cough
His tail feathers off.
He just had to fly!
But he sent her Good-by,
And said to be good,
And wear her red hood,
And look for the skunk tracks
In the snow with an ax-
And do everything!
And perhaps in the spring
He would come back and sing.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Carol at Rasco from RIF.