Dark Sky Magic

Aurora Borealis, the Milky Way, and my own North Star.

The US at night — NASA

I love this map of the lights from space, but I have to look really hard to make out the outline of my particular neighborhood. That’s because it’s dark up here.

Look just above Michigan’s mitten. See that white dot? That’s Sault Ste. Marie. It’s 60 road-miles to the northwest of us. See that dark area just to the southeast of it, right above Lake Huron? We’re in there somewhere.

I live on an island off of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, above the 45th Parallel. We’re not exactly in the wilderness, but just far enough off the beaten path where city folk think we’re kind of quaint for wanting to live way out here where there’s a whole lot of nothing.

We live here precisely because it’s peaceful and quiet, and, while I like more daylight than darkness (when the days grow short, with more dark hours than daylight, we’re outta here), I would gladly pay good money for every cloudless night, when the moon is a silver sliver. On those nights it’s pitch dark. On those nights magic happens.

If you pull into my driveway after dark a motion sensor will find you and light your path. When you step out of the car and head toward the house, another motion sensor will turn on a spotlight leading you to the next spotlight. And the next. If I know you’re coming, I’ll leave the light on for you. But when there’s nothing moving, it’s black as night out there. It’s the way it should be in the deep woods.

Deer and coyote and even rabbits will turn on the motion detectors, but, oddly, when the lights go on, they’re not startled. They go on feeding at the compost heap as if nothing had happened. They don’t even look up. I want vision like that. I want to see what they see when the sun goes down and the woods go black on black.

I wonder if, on those nights, they ever think to look up at the sky?

On those quiet, clear, often cold nights, I bundle up and sit at the edge of the shore, where, when I face north, two tiny lights, barely visible, let me know there is another inhabited island out there, far across the bay.

To the Northwest the sky is lighter at the horizon. The glow comes from the the lights of The Twin Soos (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, separated by the Soo Locks). There are no other towns in my vision large enough to light up the sky.

The summer people are gone and most of the cottages and cabins are closed and shuttered. There are a few dim lights along the shore, but the only other gleam I see is above me. The sky is filled with tiny glistening pin pricks. Every dot in that magical sky is light years away. I couldn’t get to any of them with the years I have left, but on these nights they seem so close I want to reach out and touch them.

On rare occasions, if I’m still awake in the early morning hours, I might see Northern Lights. But we’ve lived here for more than two decades and I can count on two hands the number of times we’ve seen them. Our TV station alerts us to possible sightings but cloud cover likes to play tricks on us. Sometimes I see a bright green glow on the horizon and I know they’re out there, under those damned clouds.

On the clearest of nights, I see the meandering path of the Milky Way. I see the Big and Little Dipper, and Polaris. The North Star.

The North Star is the anchor, the guiding light. Because it’s always where it should be, for millennia those at sea have used it to find their way.

I thought of all of this when Rep. Elijah Cummings died last week, leaving so many of us bereft and feeling adrift. It came to me when Nancy Pelosi said of him,

In the House, Elijah was our North Star. He was a leader of towering character and integrity, who pushed the Congress and country always to rise to a higher purpose, reminding us why we are here. As he said whenever he saw that we were not living up to our Founders’ vision for America and meeting the needs of our children for the future: “We are better than this.”

I live far away from the lights of Washington D.C but it doesn’t mean I’m far removed. I can live in relative darkness and still see the light. I live in a country where the citizens are still ultimately in charge and I fight every day to keep it that way.

I look up at the sky and I’m humbled by the enormity of the universe. I’m grateful that I’m alive, still a part of it, still aware of it, still in awe of it, and I know this is a fight worth fighting. I know this is a life worth living. And I’m thankful for yet another day.

 

(Cross-posted at Medium/Indelible Ink)

Posted in Beauty and joy, Inspiration, Nature, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Movies I’ll Want to Watch as the World Ends

Or just any old time.

                          Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash

 

I love movies. Sometimes I call them “films”, but only if they have subtitles. Otherwise, they’re movies — short for “moving pictures” —the emphasis on “moving”.

I love movies that move me. I love movies that make me cry. I love movies that make me laugh and cry and do it all over again, until I’m reduced to a soggy but satisfying mess. (Looking at you, Terms of Endearment. Bring it on, The Color Purple. Steel Magnolias! Yes! You’re killing me, Dreamgirls.)

I love movies that speak to me; that share my sense of honor and duty and don’t talk down to me. (Gandhi. A Few Good Men. Silkwood. Matewan. The China Syndrome. Norma Rae. Erin Brockovich. All The President’s Men. )

I love movies that build up to scenes so amazing they take my breath away. They don’t have to do it with pyrotechnics or special effects. Memorable dialogue and spectacular cinematography will take me there. (The Life of Pi. The Black Stallion. Out of Africa. )

Although there’s nothing wrong with special effects. Avatar and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are spectacular. (That battle scene with the ludicrous general nearly spoiled Avatar, but the special effects redeemed it.)

I love movies that make me laugh out loud. (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World — still the funniest movie ever made. But What’s Up, Doc? is right up there. So is Elf. Oh, and My Favorite Year. Because Peter O’Toole!)

I love quiet movies. Movies that tell a story without beating me over the head. Movies that immerse me and make me care about the flawed and the vulnerable. (Tender Mercies. The Yearling, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, The King’s Speech. On Golden Pond. Educating Rita. Field of Dreams, Cinema Paradiso.)

I love movies with many characters, many stories, all coming together in the end, as they should. (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Added attractions: Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel). Love, Actually (I mean, Colin Firth? Emma Thompson? Alan Rickman? Pure heaven.) A Passage to India. (Judy Davis is insanely superb. Peggy Ashcroft, Victor Banerjee, and Alec Guinness — unforgettable.)

I avoid most violence in movies — I don’t find it entertaining at all — but I admit there are some epic movies that I can’t get enough of. I can’t explain it, I just go with it: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Never-Ending Story.

Edited to Add: OMG, I can’t believe I almost left out Princess Bride! INCONCEIVABLE! (Don’t even TRY to do a remake. You hear me??)

Credit: 20th Century Fox

I own an almost complete DVD library of Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki anime films. Spirited Away hooked me first. Weird and amazing and like nothing I had ever seen before. And they only got better. Miyazaki was a genius. He’s gone now and Disney owns the franchise, but the stories will live on. (Spirited Away is having a resurgence this week, showing in theaters across the country.)

I love some movies that everyone else either hated or ignored or are so obscure nobody ever heard of them. I’m okay with that. I love everything about The Color Purple, but it was snubbed badly at the Oscars. Stephen Spielberg’s 1941 was panned, but I like it. Ned Beatty is amazing in Hear My Song. I love Peter Reigert in Local Hero and in Crossing Delancy. Strictly Ballroom was one of Baz Luhrmann’s first as a director and it’s quirky and mesmerizing. Peter Dinklage is hilarious and heartbreaking in The Station Agent. Bagdad Cafe is weird and wonderful. I’ll never stop watching Educating Rita.

So that’s just some of them. You’ll notice that most of my favorites are old now. I’ve tried to think of more current movies that might stick with me and I haven’t come up with any. Yet. It could be them, it could be me. But I love that I can go back and watch almost any of my favorites any time I want to.

This was fun. Maybe next time I’ll talk about the movies I hate. I have a long list of those, too, and many of them were highly successful.

But for now, tell me some of your favorites. I promise I won’t judge if you won’t, either.

Posted in Art and Artists, creativity, Just for Fun | Leave a comment

What We Talk About When We Talk About Being Old

Don’t Worry, Dearies, this won’t bore you

old hands sepia

 

Everyone who isn’t old yet seems to think being old is all we old people talk about. If we’re old we’re supposed to spend our last days griping about toenail fungus or bowel movements or ungrateful children. Eventually, if you hang around long enough, we’ll get to the hard stuff: joint replacement, Alzheimer’s, and the dread cancer.

We’re losing our hearing and our eyesight, so all of us need hearing aids and have had cataract surgery. You’re sure we’ll want to tell you all about it.

If we were vain when we were younger, we’re supposed to complain about putting on pounds and losing our looks. (There are 100 words for flab, including cellulite, beer belly, blubber, and cottage cheese. Or at least it seems that way.)

We have wattles and arm flaps and dark patches all over our skin.

Our dentures don’t fit and sometimes we spit.

We’re really kind of disgusting.

But here’s the thing: We’ve lived such a long time we can’t help but have stories to tell. Some of them are even interesting. Don’t ask us about our health. We might feel forced to tell you. Ask us, instead, what it was like when we were growing up without TV remotes or phones we could carry with us. Ask us how we ever learned to drive a stick shift. Ask us how we lived through the disruptions caused by World Wars and atom bomb scares and women’s lib and the hippie generation.

Ask us about carbuncles. (Oh, wait, that was the generation before us. Never mind.)

We want desperately to be interesting. (It’s why some old men tell the same stories over and over again. They got a rise out of someone once and they figure it’s worth another try. Also, it beats having to reach into the vaults for something new.) We know, long before you yawn and make excuses to leave, when we’ve failed to grab you and keep you. Not all of us are good at it. Some of us have to be drawn out in order to get the gold out of our life stories, but sometimes it’s worth it.

When I was much younger I taught creative writing in our school system’s Adult Ed program. I didn’t require anyone to show their work if they didn’t want to, but in every class there were several who read out loud every week. Several students were there to learn about publishing, and I warned them I would be tougher on them; that I would probably red-pen their purple prose to death. But I didn’t set a lot of class rules, preferring to get these newbies comfortable with their writing. It was pretty free-wheeling. Lots of laughs.

An older woman — I’ll call her Dorothy — came every week and left without saying much of anything. At first I wondered why she was there, since she never showed her writing and didn’t engage in any way. But finally, toward the end, she turned in a story she’d written about growing up in Appalachia during the Great Depression. While the depression was in full force her neighbors and kin were so used to subsistence living, she said they barely noticed. She wrote about the food they grew or foraged or hunted for, about making lye soap, about how they kept going without electricity or machinery.

It was wonderful. It needed some editing but I left it pretty much as it was. I asked her if she would read it to the class. She said she couldn’t do that. I asked her if I could read it to them, and she agreed. When I was finished, the classroom erupted. She was in the dreaded spotlight and at first she just smiled and nodded. But the questions came hard and fast and before long she let herself go, and she was into it.

She apologized for the way she talked, as someone from deep within the Appalachian “hollers” would, but explained in charming detail how they made use of almost everything they could get their hands on. She talked about poke salads and rabbit stew and moonshine and how you could turn a 50 pound flour sack into a serviceable dress. She talked about herbs and roots used for holistic healing. It turned out that Dorothy was a born storyteller, and I’d like to think my class opened her up to doing more of the same.

All old people have a lifetime of stories to tell but most of us are shy about telling them. We think they’re not worth telling, that nobody would be interested, but it’s not that hard to draw us out. It’s all in how you relate to us. If all you see is aging skin and bones, if all you hear is a kind of melancholy wistfulness, if all you say is, “How are you doing?” (and hope we don’t tell you), you’re missing out on the best parts of your elders. The stories.

When we talk among ourselves we tend to crack ourselves up. We turn even our most horrific ailments into black humor. We sometimes laugh at you guys. (We used to be you.) But mainly we talk about the old days. Not just the good old days, the “Happy Days” days, but sometimes about the bad old days — those days we would sooner forget.

Our best days are behind us and in our circles “nostalgia” is always trending. Our stories get better with age — especially when everyone who could dispute them is dead already. We might make up some of the details we’ve forgotten now, but our stories define our generation. Every generation needs to understand what came before.

A lot of the stories written by old people today are written for the express purpose of showing how someone in an old body can keep up with you young ones. I think they miss the point of writing while old — that they’ve witnessed periods no young person can even imagine.

We’ve lived without things that now seem essential. Everything electrical was tethered to a plug. Long distance telephoning was expensive and intimidating. Our main forms of communication were letters written with ink pens, and, later, with those marvelous but leaky ball points. We lived through our entire childhoods without pizza or MacDonald’s. Or TV.

We read books and listened to the radio. We listened to soap operas and mysteries and detective shows and had to imagine in vivid color everything that was happening, from settings to movements to murders — all with special effects that clicked and clanged and whooshed and whizzed.

We lived our lives differently and now we’re living our lives as you do. The transition from then to now is amazing. So much had to happen and we had to grow along with it. But the most amazing part is that we’re still here — still alive — still interested and interesting.

You ought to check us out.

______________________________

(Cross-posted at Medium/Indelible Ink)

 


Posted in aging, Beauty and joy, Humor, Inspiration, Memoir | Leave a comment

That Time I Made it Into Huffington Post

Ed and Mona – Together for more than 63 years

I know it’s awful to stay away for so long, only to come back to brag. But here I am and I came back to brag.

I sold a piece to Huffington Post Personals! (Key word: sold) This is how it happened, for those of you who are writers and are wondering how these things happen, and for those of you who are just curious, or for those of you who think my writing stinks and you want to get over there to see what the hell they saw in it.

My husband and I celebrated our 63rd anniversary this year, and it seemed like a pretty big deal, at least to us. (Nobody else seemed to notice, but I chalk it up to having had so many they’re getting bored with that whole rah rah thing.) So I wrote a story about what it’s like to share our lives together for such a long, long, long, long time. It was a kind of a fluff story with just a touch of conflict, just so no one would think it was a little bit of heaven all the time–or that I must have been lying.

But once it was finished I didn’t know what to do with it, until someone on a private Facebook writing group mentioned this great editor over at Huffington Post who was a dream to work with. (Who knew HuffPo took personal stories?) I wrote his name down–Noah Michelson–but when I went to send it I forgot to address it to him. So mad at myself! But wonder of wonders, he got it and he liked it and he asked me to wait a while until he could get back to it. He said he’d have some edits.

So a couple of weeks later he sent my draft back to me with a boat load of “suggestions”. He wanted names, he wanted pictures, he wanted a better feel for what it’s like to live with the same person for 63 years, growing from young to old. He wanted conflict. He wanted a complete rewrite.

I admit I balked at first. This wasn’t what I had in mind. I just wanted to throw something out there and call it an anniversary remembrance. But when I began to work on it, so much of what made up our lives over those sixty-plus years now seemed important. We lived through some of the most tumultuous times in recent history. We were married in the mid-fifties and matured during the crazy 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

It changed us. We raised a family. We grew apart. We grew together. But mainly we grew. And as our careers moved in different directions, we became more interesting to each other. We became more interested.

I loved writing the new story and I think it came out well. Much better than the original story. So I have to thank Noah for pushing me to dig deeper. I need to do this more often.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/married-for-63-years-lessons_n_5d6fd025e4b0110804585f04

Posted in aging, Memoir, On Writing and Media | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

So Now I’m a Publisher/Editor. Sort of.

Our Words Take Flight

I’ve been spending a lot of time over at Medium learning the ropes, and I have to say–it ain’t all pretty. Lots of learning curves; mainly, I suspect, because the powers-that-be at that behemoth website are still tweaking, still trying to make it a publishing company full of professional writers, good writers, bad writers, beginner writers, unsure writers, and non-writers. It’s quite literally a mess–but a fine mess.

I won’t go into great detail here. It’s too much. Exhausting. It’s been months now and I still don’t know how to do a whole lot of things that have nothing to do with my writing.

The good thing is, I’m writing more than I have in a long time. The bad thing is, I’m not making much money. But the obvious thing is, I was making NO money writing my blogs. So there’s that.

But the best part of Medium is the other writers. I’m involved in several communities on and off Facebook and I’m in my element. I’m happy there and that counts for something. Maybe everything when it comes to the things you love to do.

So, as if it’s not crazy enough trying to figure that world out, I’ve started something new. Medium is a website made up of hundreds of publications. They’re like magazines, each with its own stamp, its own style, its own feel. I decided I needed to have one, too.

Mine is called Indelible Ink. I thought I made up that title but when I went to buy the domain name it was already taken. And for sale for $7000. Really. Then, when I added it to Linkedin it turns out it’s the name of a tattoo company. So I’m trying to think of a name I like as well, but DAMN! That one is perfect!

I called it Indelible Ink because I envisioned a pub filled with strong writing that resonates, that’s memorable, that’s entertaining, that stands the test of time. I want pieces that can be read years from now and still reverberate.

I invited several writers whose work I admire and all but one has accepted so far. I’m getting submissions by email, too, and some are great but some just don’t fit. I hate having to reject anyone but I have a vision for this publication and I want to keep it. I know how rejection feels, but I know, too, that “not a good fit” isn’t the same as “you suck”. (Not that any editor would say that. No way.)

I picture myself writing alongside the writers who come there, feeling pretty inadequate. I like that. It means I might just have to sharpen my own skills. I call that a perk.

Anyway, that’s where I am now. Come on over! And stay a while. I miss you.

This is where I am:
https://medium.com/indelible-ink

Posted in Art and Artists, Beauty and joy, Humor, Inspiration, On Writing and Media, Social Justice, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Guess What I’ve Been Doing? Writing. I’ve Been Writing

Sorry I’ve been among the missing here. Again! I’ve been writing at Medium.com almost exclusively since early March, trying to see if I can build a readership outside of my blogs. And I did. I also added publications willing to take my work, which energizes me no end.

I’ve joined three Facebook groups dedicated either to Medium or to the kind of writing I do, which gives me the sense of belonging once again to a writer’s community. I didn’t realize how much I needed that until I got involved with Medium and found those other writers.

Medium is a strange enterprise and I’m not sure I understand it even now. Anyone can write there and the formatting is a dream to work with, but it’s grown by leaps and bounds and draws thousands more each week–which means it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Big names and publications, like The Atlantic, for example, publish there, but most are writers like me–barely making a blip on the writing scene.

Some get published in places I can only dream of, but when we’re on the Medium site we’re all of a kind, looking for readers like everyone else. I could write there for free but if I want payment for my stories I have to pay $5/month. Then that money is split between all the writers in a system that I still don’t understand.

A few writers there make thousands per month but they publish 3 or 4 times a day and have built up a strong readership. Their stories appear on the front page and are promoted in ways I don’t understand, either.

I’ll be happy just to get my five dollars back every month, and if there’s any more, it’s gravy. Lol. The stories, for the most part, are behind a paywall. New readers get three stories a month (I think) and then have to pay their $5/month in order to read more.

They have a clapping system I find silly, and even demeaning, but the oldtimers say it works, so who am I to question it? At first I was telling all of my friends to clap the full 50 allowed claps for my stories, begging them to do the thing I hate most about Medium, and then I found it was all for nought, since only paying members’ claps mean anything.

There are publications within Medium that require application and acceptance, and thus are considered prestigious. I’ve applied for and been accepted into three of them, two of which are considered at the top. (The Writing Cooperative and Writers Guild)

Then there is their curating system. If our stories are chosen by a group of around 25 Medium editors to go into their specific pages (For example, “Writing” or “Creativity” or “Politics”), the chances at being read go up exponentially. Everyone hopes for a curate but that’s arbitrary and not always given. I’ve had many of my stories either curated or accepted by publications but so far I haven’t noticed a rise in my payments. So we’ll see.

But the best part of Medium, for me, is the community. I’m meeting writers whose work I deeply admire–and some who have a long way to go. But we congratulate and commiserate and read each other’s works. And, okay, clap.

Since most of the stories I’ve written there are behind a paywall, I’m going to start cross-posting some of them here. I hope they interest you. Many of them are about the writing trade, so it could be you’ll just pass those by, but I want to keep this blog going and this is how I’ll do it.

I think what draws me most to Medium is the immediate interaction. People comment there. They highlight parts of the stories that interest them. They let me know they’re there and reading. I don’t get that here. Not to that extent. But I still love my blog and don’t want it to get lonely. And the best part is that, if you’re interested, you can read those same Medium stories for free! That’s something, right?

Here’s the link to Medium, so you can look around and see where I’m hanging out.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for supporting me. Thanks for being you!


Posted in Humor, Inspiration, On Writing and Media, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

An Album of Unlikely Beauty

I was sifting through my pictures yesterday, looking for specific photos for a project (always a daunting task, since I’m terrible at making folders and keeping track of the thousands of pics I keep online), when I realized how, in many of them, I found beauty in the most unlikely places.

These, for instance, are pictures of our old dock wheel and footing, taken one miserable, icy morning.  It may have been the only bright moment that day, when I saw these from our window and bundled up, slipping and sliding to capture these icicles.

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An icy chandelier 

A spider web, nearly invisible any other time, suddenly becomes lace when a soft snow falls.

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Charlotte’s lacy web

All of the pictures here were taken in Michigan’s upper peninsula except this one. This is a fountain across the street from our winter digs near Myrtle Beach. It was taken last year in early January, and it duplicated again this January.  So much for Southern comfort!

icy fountain GCB

Ice fountain near Myrtle Beach

 

This is the spiral staircase at Pt. Iroquois Lighthouse, west of Brimley, Michigan.  The peeling paint makes it eerie and mysterious and, I think, beautiful.  I reversed and darkened the second one, making it even more eerie.

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Spiral staircase, Pt. Iroquois Lighthouse

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Haunted staircase, Pt. Iroquois Lighthouse

Way up in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula the old Cliff Mine Cemetery is nearly hidden, but near enough to US 41 to hear the sounds of cars going by.  A narrow foot path leading down into the trees is the only evidence that something might be there. The path leads through a large patch of myrtle to a few remaining headstones, untouched for over a century.

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Path through Myrtle at Cliff Cemetery

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Iron grave marker at Cliff Cemetery

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Celtic grave marker at Cliff Cemetery

There are only a few sandy places along our stony shore. Most of it looks like this. But I love to see how readily nature adapts to its surroundings. Nothing stops those little seeds from popping up, even among the rocks.

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Where there’s a will there’s a way

I found this beautiful fungus bouquet along one of the island’s hiking trails. I was using my kindergarten Android phone camera at the time so the quality isn’t  good, but I  still  love that I found it.

fungus bouquet

There’s a fungus among us and it’s lovely!

 

There were a pair of these moths on the mossy boulder behind our house several years ago, and I’ve never seen anything  like them again.  They’re a kind of sphinx moth, I think, with ludicrously fat bodies, but this one posed beautifully.

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Sphinx Moth

One Fall day a few years ago Ed and I took a photo op trip around Chippewa County looking for old barns and remnants of old homesteads.  This one has since fallen down, sadly.

old barn in Chippewa Co

Seen better days in Chippewa County

But this old homestead is still standing. For well over a century it’s endured Northern Michigan winters. It’s far tougher than I am.

old homestead Chippewa County

Old farm house, Chippewa County

the old farmhouse pump

The old farmhouse pump. A remnant, like a sculpture, of times past.

Look around,  look around and see what you can see. Sometimes it’s right under our noses! Enjoy.  I’ll do this again some time.

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