The Soapbox Papers

The Soapbox Papers is my two-cents worth.

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Location: Beloit, Wisconsin, United States

I am a cross between Tinkerbell and Calamity Jane.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Dumb and Dumber?

When I get bored, I go to one of my favorite sites, -- they of Urban Legend fame. Here you can not only check on the mailings your friends send you ("I swear this is true -- send it on to all your friends!") but, if you choose the RANDOM option, you can learn all sorts of interesting things apropos to nothing.

I sometimes watch The Tonight Show with Jay Leno before going to sleep, and upon occasion, I see him traipsing around the street asking random people questions about this or that -- things I remember learning when I was quite young. Things I feel like I have always known, things I somehow figure everyone knows, get the strangest answers from those Jay asks. First reaction, of course, is that which Jay is going for -- the laughter. But upon reflection, it is very sad how little folks know about things they really should know. So when doing my RANDOM at this morning, I came across this, and immediately knew it was something I had to share.

Much of what is on the test is no longer important to us, but some things – like writing a bank check, writing a receipt, writing a promissory note – are things that not everyone who passes the eighth grade these days can do. Some noteven when they complete the 12th grade and receive their high school diplpmas. Scary numbers of high school graduates can balance a checkbook and keep a running balance. We do have Excel or other spreadsheets, which can be set up to do this for us, but knowing how to manually take care of our financial matters is something that isn’t covered in most schools. Budgeting isn't covered. How to write a complaint letter isn't taught.

I marvel at the depth of subject matter that this test covers. Are teachers still teaching actual geography – and the folks we see on the street on Leno just managed to sleep through those lessons? We laugh when one man-on-the-street says Colorado is the capital of Nevada, but how many people around us can actually find Iraq on the map? Does anyone know the attributes of the parts of speech anymore? Can anyone diagram a sentence?

Have we really become dumber? Don’t know. I know that budget cuts have all but removed the arts from the classroom. Music appreciation and art basics are gone most everywhere I look. Somewhere in the middle of the last century someone thought PE (Physical Education) was a good idea, and for a chosen few who are offered scholarships for their participation in intramural team sports, it really is, if the attitude of the school is well defined and the focus is still on book-learning.

It seems to me that, while there is much more to learn than there was one hundred ten years ago, we actually know less history, fewer language skills, less practical mathematics. And there seems to be less learned at home, too.

Makes me cranky when I think about it. Makes me worry when I watch Leno. These people on the street he finds to talk to will be running the country.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

On Poets and Poetics

I was visiting the other day and was directed to a great article in the Washington Post about poet Abdul Rahim Muslim Dost -- fascinating! But not at all surprising. I understood completely.

I have long held that poets are not made, they are born. There is something genetic, I believe, that predisposes a person to survive on words, to sweat and breathe and leave a trail of words behind. There is a different viewpoint among poets (though not the same view, by any means) than the viewpoint of those who are not poets. Somewhat skewed, perhaps - but poets have an insight unmatched by others. The goal of poets is to speak of that insight, to be heard, to touch others, to be understood. Poets have a bit of vanity in their veins. They care for their work with parental concern, they grieve when it is taken, abused by misconceptors, and destroyed.

Any idiot can read the books and write a "poem," indeed, some don't even read the books and write a singular poem. But to BE A POET does not mean one has written a poem. In fact, there are poets who have never, ever written a poem as we know it, but who have expressed themselves in other ways that leave no mistake as to their poetic genetic identity.

The captive poet in the above article is a real honest-to-god poet. While it is a shame all his work was not returned to him, he goes about his freedom to write more and more - in fact, it is as much a need for him to do so as it is to eat and sleep and breathe the air. What works were not returned to him are there, somewhere. All words committed to paper and shared are there, somewhere. Even if they have been destroyed, they exist in the mind of he who condemned the papers to burn. The poet has been successful. He has expressed himself and been understood, just as surely as his work reached his fellow captives. He can write again what he feels has been lost -- or he can maintain that he has reached someone with words, and that someone has reacted, and go on to write about other things.

That is what a poet does.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Pound Cake

The very best cake I make is very simple. It calls for a pound of butter, a pound of flour, a pound of sugar and a pound of eggs. Simple? If you just throw it all together, it's nothing special.

But if you separate the eggs and beat the yolks until they are very light, if you first beat the butter and slowly, slowly add the sugar, and when the all the sugar is added, slowly, slowly, add the flour and then slowly, slowly the beaten- stiff egg whites, and then add the personal touch (if I have not used vanilla sugar - sugar stored in a jar with a vanilla bean in the center - I add some vanilla. Someone else might add almond oil) - or, if the butter is especially fine, don't add another thing, but put the batter in the biggest pan you own and bake it in a very slow oven for an hour and a half. It doesn't need frosting. If you must, you can sprinkle it with confectioner's sugar - but it is magnificent in its simplicity, and stands well completely unadorned. (For anyone thinking about making this cake -- it requires a punch bowl sized container to mix in, and at least a 12 cup pan for baking. I use a 10" high antique angel food pan to bake it. A very slow oven is 275 degrees f.)

It's the humanity that makes this cake such a winner. I regret I discovered it after all my kids grew up and left -- but it is something I make upon occasion, and it never fails to wow its eaters. For someone to try and commercialize it -- well, for one thing, it would not be economically feasible. Yet I make it for parties where the host has no problem with money. What I add to the simplicity of the ingredients cannot be bought or sold. It's me, my heart, and my spirit.

That is what I gathered from reading one of Taran's recent entries to his blog
. I loved reading the left-brain article and the account of Taran's artist friend. I love the idea of abandoning 'good enough' as well. Ask any of my kids. When they were small and were sent to clean their rooms, they would come and get me and ask, wanting to be done, wanting to go out and play, "Is it good enough, Mom?" My reasoning was, if they have to ask, it isn't good enough. Those kids knew darn well what they hadn't done -- and were hoping to get by without having to do it. And depending on my mood, sometimes I would let them. After all, 'good enough' for WHAT was a major concern, especially for them. I don't believe I raised one single neurotic perfectionist in the bunch.

But when it comes to our work, our chosen profession, our output for others, our art -- then "good enough" takes on a different meaning. Even more so in a Conceptual Age, what we leave behind us as we go through this life becomes more important. The contacts and friends we make, the sharing we do, the human-ness of ourselves. As an added bonus, we can rest easy that there is no competition. No one can be a better me than I can - no one can be a better you than you can. Our work is our best, when we are at our best. Our decisions are the best we can make with the information at hand. In time, of course, we have to forgive ourselves that our information may not have been complete, our decisions and our creations may not be the best we can do today -- but when they were made, when they were our projects -- we did the best we could with what we had.

I'm getting hungry. For no good reason, I think I will go make a cake.

Thursday, June 16, 2005


There comes a time when there is no escaping it. The personal living space must be straightened out, dusted off, wiped down and made presentable to the outside world. For some it is easier than for others. Some folks just dust off the top of the refrigerator, run the vacuum around the room long enough to scare the cat, spray and wipe down the bathroom porcelain, and empty the trash. They are ready for visitors. For the rest of us -- well, we have more stuff than we have places to put that stuff, and not all of that stuff should be seen by visiting eyes. Underwear and personal enrichment cassettes aside, there are things we own that we just don't need others to know about us.

Nobody needs to know I own an iron and an ironing board. Like my thirty year old sewing machine and vintage sewing supplies, this says things about me I would prefer to keep to myself: I do not sew well, (nor often) and I iron every ten months or so. These things must be out of the visitor's line of vision. No one needs to see the wonderful grapevine basket full of purple yarn and a 3/4 finished crib blanket that I started 'way back when my second-to-the last grandson was born. Since him, there has been another grandson, a great grandson, three great granddaughters, and several friends with babies that have entered my life and the purple crib blanket is still unfinished. No one needs to see it, no matter how good, how domestic, how 'designer placed' it looks in its grapevine basket next to the book case.

No one needs to know I have a table fountain and some wonderful stones upon which the water tumbles in what my cat believes is surely her own personal water fountain. Where I live, the water is extremely limey -- and a deposit forms almost immediately on the stones. I''ve tried diluting the water with vinegar, but Liberty the Cat is totally opposed to this, and besides, the aroma of vinegar counteracts the tranquillity of such a fountain in the first place. I should probably give it away -- the fountain, I mean -- and be done with it. But you know, I have wanted one of those things for years and years, and when I bought it, several years ago on e-bay, I got such a deal! I could buy bottled water specifically for the fountain, but I suspect some of the stones are limey, because when I tried it (once, a long time ago) the lime deposit was delayed only a day or two. No one needs to see this decrepit fountain. And if I put it in the closet, I have to take something else OUT of the closet, and I can't figure out what that item should be.

I suppose I could take the old stereo I bought, complete with speakers, at the flea market some ten years (or more) ago out of the closet. I bought it because it had a turntable, and I have (why does this not surprise you?) a collection of vinyl records. All that is wrong with the stereo is that the belt that goes on the turntable needs to be put back in place. I mean, the belt is THERE, it just needs to be put in place. But even if I find someone to put the belt in place and I can actually listen to my vinyl records - even record some of them to cassette! -- I will have a problem. All the vinyl records I have stashed in cupboards and cabinets and in the bottom of the closet will have to move out where I can get to them. That means anyone who comes to call will notice that I own such vinyl as Rod McKuen, Mystic Moods Orchestra, Gershwin -- as well as jazz and rock classics, a smattering of classical music, and a Robert Frost reading Robert Frost record. I am not sure I want others to know that much about me.

Besides, if I take the vinyl out of the cabinets and cupboards and from the bottom of the closet, I will have to put something else in those places. Not a problem. I have boxes, dishpans full (hey, it is a fine filing method) and plastic storage containers full of poems, parts of poems, copies and re-writes of poems, and Other People's Poems that I am fond of. But if I put all these scraps and semi-finished chapbooks and poems-on-napkins and such in the cupboards and cabinets, how will I get to them when I have a few minutes and want to work with them? Most likely I would just start another pile of them somewhere...

There are other things, of course, that I wish to keep to myself. Correspondence (often in the same or adjacent dishpan as poems and poem parts) and family pictures, the scrapbook my daughter thinks I should be keeping, the journals (ditto) and notebooks scattered about which speak volumes about me without a sound; the strings I hang from lamps and doorknobs to amuse my cat; the tarnish on the silver plated platter upon which I feed my cat; the assortment of books I have begun and left about the place (who needs to know I actually skimmed "Growing Up Brady" by Whatsisname, who played Greg on the show?) and read in bits and pieces? Or the cuttings I acquired from the courtyard downstairs that are beginning to root in cute little pots my window?

Anyway, it is a challenge -- and I have until 2 PM Friday to make my little apartment 'inspection ready.' Because this here is an efficiency apartment ina Public Housing building, I am supposed to be inspected at least annually. I have been certified to begin my third year here, and no one yet has inspected my apartment. Ever. But there is a new management staff, and these folks seem more efficient than their predecessors, so I feel I am doomed, this time.

I am still writing from the computer lab, not my apartment, and I look forward to the weekend. My apartment, having been made inspection ready (by then) will host a techie inclined friend (who built my computer for me in the first place) to install an (are you ready?) updated version of XP on my machine, and track down the connection problems I have been having. My friend has recently had his heart broken (again) and I think I will do something creative with a chicken and listen to him weep over dinner. It's the least I can do!

I hope to continue this no later than Monday (June 20) from the comfort of my own chair in front of my own computer in my own apartment, which, having been made visitor ready, somehow, will have a semi- open door policy. I still intend to keep at least one day a week to myself -- no visitors, no anything. But I will be able to write and blog as I choose again.

It may well be worth the trouble.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Forsooth and stuff!

Hark! I see an end to my not-able-to-get-online-with-any regularity- misery, lo, somewhere between here and the horizon. I have been occupied recently with other matters -- including the survival of a friend, Thomas Bruce Reese, he of Beaux Arts Gallery and Coffeehouse fame (see ), and since the benefit held downtown St. Petersburg to help him out a bit yesterday, I can move on to other things in my head -- but not without a few words about the benefit itself. Tom's claim to have the Oldest Continuous Coffeehouse in the area -- indeed, possibly in the country, perhaps even the planet -- means that when there is a benefit held for him, the oldest hippies and folk singers known to man will emerge from the dens of their present lives and wander in, play music or recite poems, tell stories, and mingle with their comtemporaries. It was held at a small and yet wonderful location, The Globe Coffee House on First Avenue North and Fifth Street North, St. Petersburg -- a place normally closed on Sundays, and, when open, a place of comfort for many young folk - some arriving on skateboard and others afoot, and some with laptops tucked under their arms. Makers of fine coffee and coffee drinks, a wonderful raspberry tea, and sweet things that appeared to be lovingly baked by the proprietoress herself, The Globe heard the need -- and opened its doors to the old hippies and folkies and poets who crammed into the place yesterday. Some performed -- many chose to not perform but to 'audience' -- a role some play better than others, but which is necessary to make any such gathering a success. And I don't know the figures, but I think the gathering was a success. Funds were raised, memories were jostled, and friendships renewed. Coffee was consumed in many forms and flavorings, and nowhere was there the ugly head of commercialism or blatant headline success -- although many of the participants had had their own successes, and though some with the blatant headline successes who had passed through the various Beaux Arts doors who are now deceased (Marilyn Monroe bought art from Tom Reese. Jim Morrison (of the Doors) passed through while going to college and staying with his (I believe) grandmother; while Kerouac and others had visited ("Go write something new!" Tom is reported to have told Kerouac) -- there was no one who had 'sold out' or who had not given themselves over to making the best of whatever talent they had been given -- and the skills Mr. Thomas Bruce Reese helped them to hone.

I am hoping there will be another one of these soon. There are a lot of old hippies and folkies and poets around, and with young folks taking over all the good places these days, it is nice to have a gathering where the artists and audiences combine with one purpose in mind -- having some fun and taking care of an old friend/mentor/legend.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Well, that was interesting.....

Ach! I had a real surprise yesterday (Sunday) at home. I was running upkeep on my computer (even if it won't get me on line, the silly thing still gets visited from outside sources -- so I run Ad-Aware every day, regardess, and AVG Virus Protection. After both were updated (don't ask me how -- the updates can often get on-line when I cannot. Yesterday morning they both did) I noticed that the internet connection was still open -- so I used it to visit here and my mailbox. Then I gave it the ultimate test -- I went to my on-line playground and played a game or two. It let me. I came back here, made comments to my comments, and decided to have lunch. By the time I had eaten and straightened up the kitchen, I could no longer get on line. All that had happened in the interim is that AVG notified me of two virus attempts -- and both were, I was notified, successfully healed. Both had come in, according to the notifications, on my updates.

This gets curiouser and curiouser. Any time now I expect my home computer to sprout hair and a face and look like the cantankerous child it has been lo, these weeks. I imagine it would be a tech's nightmare -- it appears to be running clearly and quickly, so techie would leave. No sooner would the poor tech get home than my computer will dissolve into error messages. Tech will swear it is something I did -- but I did nothing.

Go figure. And if anyone has an idea I can try (she with ten thumbs and a literal, not a technical, mindset) -- by all means, let me know here. I get two hours a day -- if my students let me -- in the computer lab when I can check my e-mail and this spot.

Please and thank you --