Sunday, July 05, 2015

The ineffable beauty of sport.

The first time I saw Abby Wambach play was at a friendly game between the U.S. women's national team and a team from Ireland.  We went because it was an exhibition game, played at the University of Utah, and Mia Hamm would be there. She was splendid. She was nearing the end of her career but she was deft and canny and really just altogether estimable. A champion in every sense of that word.

Abby Wambach was near the beginning of her career on the U.S. national team. You could see how excellent she was simply as a physical being--long, strong, with her great ability to head the ball. But no one, I think, could have predicted how truly superb she would become as a player, over a long and storied career.

The second time I saw Abby Wambach, she came to speak at our commencement at SLCC. Because the commencement speech is a tricky genre, and so many commencement speeches feel platitudinous, but treating the genre and its occasion as anything but square and sincere is terribly risky (witness Morgan Spurlock, insulting mathematics to all in attendance at a previous commencement), I was on the one hand thrilled to be in the same room as a sports hero, and on the other hand, a little trepidatious. But she did not disappoint. She began by telling us facts about herself--how tall she was, how much she weighed--which I loved, because these are, in fact, important facts for an athlete, but more, these told us how entirely comfortable she was with who she was. She talked about the time she faced a crushing disappointment--she broke her tibia and fibula in an exhibition match against Brazil, which meant she'd miss the Olympics in Beijing. Her message was clear: your failures and disappointments don't define you: it's the way you respond to those failures and disappointments that ultimately defines you and the kind of life you'll live. It might have been cliche-adjacent, but I found it inspiring even so. She knew whereof she spoke.

I just think she is magnificent.

Tonight, like millions, I saw Abby Wambach on television in the final match of the FIFA Women's World Cup. She subbed in in the 79th minute, she didn't score. But it was such a joy to see her again, moving swiftly, playing her part. The team was ahead by three, so the strategy had to be to play a defensive game. It would have been magnificent to see her score in that game, but the game--the whole tournament--had already been magnificent.

I grew up in a time when the world of sports for girls was only beginning to open up. I remember my freshman year in college, when people were talking about Title IX, which has made such an incredible difference for girls. All my daughters and all my sons played sports. For years, soccer was an enormous part of my life because of this. I feel so glad that my daughters and sons had the chance, as they were growing up, to see the beautiful game played so beautifully by such magnificent athletes. And tonight, I found myself exhilarated again and again by this team, playing a wonderful, thrilling game.

Saturday, July 04, 2015


I have feelings about the fourth of July. I have shared them before, so I won't re-elucidate them, except to say: crowds, parades, 'I'm Proud to Be An American.' And so on. Annoying. However, when I saw this:

a flag! made out of cupcakes! so patriotic!
I was all, what the hell? How is it that Scotland does a better job with fourth of July stuff than me, who lives in America and grew up freaking pledging allegiance multiple times a day, and who knows how to sing all the service hymns because she learned them in an Air Force elementary school? I ask you.

Well, and how about this?

gwen and deacon light sparklers--so celebratory!

Well, we basically had not one shred of red, white, or blue, and no sparkly business whatsoever. BUT: we did

  • go to the farmer's market and buy pounds and pounds of cherries, along with
  • some phlox and some coneflowers to plant, and
  • a huuuge croissant. America!
Also, I
  • worked on my poem (nothing more patriotic than working on a poem), and
  • wiped down the cabinets in my kitchen, and
  • mopped the floor. Clean kitchen--land of the free, home of the brave, am I right?
And we went to see Dope (interesting) and ate tacos (above the fruited plains!).

Currently, we're keeping company with a dog who is a little nervous about the fireworks. Since they're almost finished (as I write this, there's still a regular amount of audible explosions), we'll go out for a walk, the smell of smoke, heat and gunpowder in the air in the sweet land of liberty of our neighborhood, of thee I sing.

(for your reference: fourth of july 2013 2012 2011 2009 2008)

Friday, July 03, 2015

The way, way back.

Tonight, we saw A Poem is a Naked Person, Les Blank's long lost film about (sort of) Leon Russell, made back in the heyday, in 1974, which was when I loved Leon Russell. Lots of people did. He was a session musician in Los Angeles, working with the famous Wrecking Crew and playing sessions with an amazing array of people (George Harrison, J.J. Cale, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra). He had a pretty great solo career for about ten years, after which it slowed down quite a bit.

Apparently Blank and Russell had some creative--and personal--differences, which meant that this film never was released until now. It was a gift tonight, to listen to the music again, in filmed studio sessions and in concert. A reminder of what a powerful performer he was. I saw him once in the 80s, with Edgar Winter (remember, RH?), in a small club in the mid valley. He was still great at the piano and in good voice.

A boy in my Mormon ward gave me a copy of Carney because it was his favorite album, and we were flirting a little bit, and maybe kind of were together for about a half an hour or a month. I listened to it constantly. I still have it in my limited collection of LPs from that era.

Nothing, nothing like music to bring back everything you felt, everything you were, when you were young and you knew nothing, and a boy gave you music as a gift, and forty years later you are still that girl, listening to an album in the dark.

Here's Rita Coolidge singing 'Superstar,' written by Russell and Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett (that's Russell's piano):

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Megastore recommends (summer food edition).

We haven't yet made it to the farmer's market this summer (this Saturday, we've promised ourselves), but I have been to Trader Joe's, which means that I have things to recommend to you for dinner:

1. Side dishes as main dishes. I stole this recipe list from a blog I read, and I immediately fell
see? side by side by side by side.
upon it as if upon the face of a long lost loved one. It's all sorts of vegetables that are supposed to be served on the side of something. What, I wonder? ( < rhetorical question) Well, around here, we like our vegetables in the middle of things. Or vegetables side by side. So, side dishes on the side of other side dishes? Anyway, let me recommend some other things related to this recommendation:

this guy is so, so healthy.
2. Raw, not cooked. This recipe, for summer squash, mandolined into ribbons and marinated briefly in the simplest vinaigrette, then adorned with basil and toasted pine nuts and goat cheese? So good. If you have ever eaten a rather chunky slice of zucchini in a crudités platter and thought, well., I urge you to try this. It tastes so fresh, so light, so exactly what you need when the day has been hot and you have schlepped yourself to Trader Joe's and back, and worked out, and so forth. You don't have to cook one thing. Well, I guess you have to toast the pine nuts.

pro tip: you really, really have to cook
potatoes before eating them.
3. Cooked, don't be ridiculous. This potato salad, you guys. It is the ne plus ultra of potato salad. First: loads of fresh dill. Second: loads of thinly sliced green onions. Thirdly: capers, which--sometimes capers seem kind of ridiculous, but they add a little salty, slightly pickle-ish je ne sais quoi to this, and it is good. But the dressing! It has tahini in it, which adds a slightly smoky, seedy element, which, combined with the French mustard lemon juice and some more dill, is just the best. People tend to be a little doctrinaire about potato salad, but this--this is worth changing sides for.

pretty, and good, and more than
pretty good, let's be honest.
5. Strawberries. When they are good, they are good, and by good, I mean there is nothing better. So have them, already, sliced into a bowl with a few blueberries and--hear me out, now--some kiwi. This makes a very refreshing finish to your dinner out of side dishes, and refreshment, the people, is what dinner is all about in the summertime. You know I'm right.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

In a recurring wave of arrival.

That's a line from the first part of "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror." As I was working on my poem the other day, I made a note to myself:

notes to myself.

So today, since I had an entire day at home, I went to my newly reordered shelves, and in a test of the efficacy of the reordering, I went to

  • the poetry section, 
  • to the As,
  • to Ashbery,
  • to the eponymous Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror.
It's a skinny little paperback, with the young Ashbery looking serious, knowing, and sexy on the cover. 
I thought you might like to see Bruiser.

I got this book in the fall of 1989. 

I love when I've made this note in the books of
yore--the date I read/bought the book.

I was TAing for a professor--helping to teach a course in contemporary American poetry--and we read this book, along with stuff from Ashbery's selected poems. It was my first experience with Ashbery, I think.

In looking at this poem today, I was startled yet again by how much of the poem I had forgotten, but in a curious way also remembered, just not consciously. Yet again, I find a poem has become a part of my cells. Its locutions and turns inhabit my own. If you don't know the poem, it's about a painting by Parmigianino titled 'Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror'; in the painting, because of the convexity of the mirror in which the painter sees himself, the face and head appear to be receding, but a forward-held arm appears large and imposing.

It's a long poem, but moments of it lift out of it and surprise me, moments like
The time of day or the density of the light
Adhering to the face keeps it
Lively and intact in a recurring wave
Of arrival. The soul establishes itself.
or like
You feel then like one of those
Hoffmann characters who have been deprived
Of a reflection, except that the whole of me
Is seen to be supplanted by the strict
Otherness of the painter in his
Other room. We have surprised him
At work, but no   he has surprised us
As he works.
A breeze like the turning of a page
Brings back your face:
Today has no margins, the event arrives
Flush with its edges, is of the same substance,
or this (this most of all):
...the 'it was all a dream'
Syndrome, though the 'all' tells tersely
Enough how it wasn't.
At the moment, I'm feeling lonely, and out of sorts. I had the day to myself and I worked away on this poem of which, if I'm truthful, the direction is fairly uncertain. I was glad to be able to work on it for such a long stretch, the only interruptions my distractible brain. I love this Ashbery poem, it's brilliant and challenging and it was a useful intuition, that the poem would speak to my new poem's predicaments. I plan to consult its transitions very carefully tomorrow as I think about the moves my draft is taking. It's a poem with a chilly, cerebral side, though. As is, evidently, the poem I'm writing. Maybe. I really can't say. Ashbery's swerves and feints, his give-and-take-away argument, are probably good mentors for me right now.

big long daunting poem.


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