Sunday, April 3, 2016

Red Pen, Brown Paper: A New Poem

Red Pen, Brown Paper

A writer without her notebook
is a coffee drinker
with a cup of tea
               a rummaged red pen
               and a recycled napkin
outside the tire shop
waiting in the winter sun

to erase the evidence
of that day          when she jumped the curb
in a slow hurry.

How easy it would be
to ignore the gash—
tires don’t bleed, after all—
and to deny that the sun’s rays
               warm on her neck
do not irradiate skin
and that no one she knows
is close to dying.
Only love in the world today
please, scratched in red ink
only love
in the clerk’s eyes
only patience
waiting in the winter sun
for two new tires
to keep her safe
and balanced
at seventy-five on the freeway

when the sun is in her eyes.

by Andi Penner, 2016

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Headed North: A Poem

Headed North

Driving home tonight
in the dark, in the rain
north on Tramway
paralleling the city's backbone
Listening to Prudy's CD
the one he signed for my 55th birthday―
I’m a worried wonder
I worry ‘round in circles―
his lyrics lulling me into a state of grace
that place where life fractures
like a broken femur
and it's still okay
And lightning chooses that
moment
to flash inside the clouds
behind Rincon Ridge
silhouetting ​jagged blackness
against a yellow sky
for a split second
reminding me that you're home
waiting for me
and I am headed
in the right direction.




Saturday, January 11, 2014

Spaghetti for Breakfast

This is the third and final  in a series of posts related to essays I wrote originally in Spanish during fall 1997 for a Spanish class. Each essay responded to a particular assignment (e.g. narrative, description, etc.). For the "definition" essay, I chose to define "adolescence," probably because my daughter was 13 at the time. Most of the essay is a simple definition, of little interest or consequence except as an exercise in Spanish vocabulary and verb conjugation. But the essay's first sentences, below, recall certain details my my life with a teenage daughter than now make me smile as I recall the context. I had forgotten these particulars:
When my daughter turned thirteen, she would get hysterical over misplaced homework. She also decided to dye her hair black, and to eat spaghetti with ice cream for breakfast. That's when I knew she was a teenager. 
Later in the essay, I base my definition of adolescence on personal experience as a parent of a teen.
Although young people want to be independent, they must also trust their parents for basic necessities and for emotional support. My daughter likened herself in this internal conflict to a rubber-band that is stretched so far until it either has to snap back or break.
In reality, my articulate child had used that metaphor not as a teenager, but as a nine-year-old when she tried to explain to me how she felt while in France on a school trip, living with a French family for 3 weeks, without her own parents or brother. As a Spanish student, I used some poetic license to ascribe the idea to her teenage brain.

Finally, I concluded my definition of adolescence this way: "Parents have a huge responsibility for assuring that the children can become autonomous, healthy adults. They must realize that the period of adolescence will not last forever." In fact, it disappears all too quickly.

Today, my daughter and her husband are Peace Corps volunteers in Thailand. She is probably eating noodles for breakfast and stretching herself in cultural, linguistic, and emotional ways few of us can imagine.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Why Ballet?

As explained in my previous blog post, I am translating back into English some essays I originally wrote many years ago for a Spanish class. Before the sheets of paper on which these short essays were written go into the recycle bin, I've decided to recover the ideas from the dust of my rusty Spanish. My Spanish-class essay is followed by current reflections.

Why Ballet?
Some people are surprised when they find out I still take weekly ballet classes. They don't understand why a woman my age would study ballet. But I am not alone. Many adults like dance, particularly ballet, because it is a form of exercise that is good for the body, the mind, and the soul. 
In ballet, one learns correct posture for standing, walking, and running like a dancer. The barre exercises are necessary for stretching and toning one's muscles. Ballet dancers use muscles that runners, for example, don't even know they have. But the muscles do not suffer terribly because the movements are slow and deliberate in preparation for quicker, more demanding moves. 
Each movement corresponds to music (played live, if we're lucky), usually classical piano, but sometimes we dance to the songs of Cole Porter, or even Patsy Cline. The ballet student must listen carefully to both the music and to the instructor. If the dancer is going to understand the movements, it is necessary to concentrate. It is not possible to follow the music if the mind is preoccupied.... Sometimes the dancer must follow a repeated pattern of four steps in each direction: four front, four side, four back, four side. But other times, the teacher choreographs many variations; each instructor has her favorite sets of steps, some of them quite complex. The ballet student must think only about the dance, otherwise she will miss the pattern. During ballet class is not the time for thinking about other things. 
Because the mind and body are occupied in a healthy way, the soul is also fed. Together, the music, the movement, the balance and the elegance are all spiritual as well as physical. The complete experience is an inspiration. Where else can one spin and leap with complete abandon? In the library? In the middle of the grocery store? Of course not! But in ballet class, the soul is permitted to express itself. When the class begins, the dancer may be tense, but at the end of the hour, there is peace. 
Ballet is a deceptive art. Good ballet dancers make it look so easy, and the traditional costumes seem like something out of the past. But in reality, ballet is contemporary and challenging. Finally, whoever has the patience and the discipline (and the money, unfortunately) to take classes is rewarded with satisfaction for the body, mind, and soul.
My mother first sent me to dance classes to correct my gait when I was a pigeon-toed toddler. She enrolled me first in tap dancing classes, probably because she thought that with my mop of curly hair I had a chance to rival child-star Shirley Temple. But I didn't like tap (probably wasn't very good at it). Instead, I preferred ballet, and it remained part of my life through my early teens, and then sporadically as an adult. During grad school, ballet gave me one precious hour a week to focus on balance, to stand with a strong spine, and to move gracefully through space without thinking about anything but the dance. About 5 years ago,one of my teaching colleagues introduced me to a new adult ballet class that I had begun attending regularly when my mother died after a long illness. I missed a couple of classes during the immediate aftermath of losing her, and kept telling myself I would return to the studio. But I never have. I became the one asking, "why ballet?"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Las Cien Velas: 100 Candles

My file cabinet at home, an ugly metal 4-drawer unit, contains much recycle-worthy paper and shreddable, outdated documents. Slowly, I've been making my way through the green hanging folders, into the depths of carefully labeled manila folders, down into the stapled bank statements, course syllabi, and graduate essays. The other night I unearthed some musty papers that made the Scientist sneeze when I began sorting through them. It's good to read, remember, and let go.

I discovered some papers worth saving, like the journal of writing from my first graduate school course (Women Writers and Feminist Theory), affirming letters of recommendation from professors, and peer feedback on some short stories that just may become publishable someday when I have time to edit them. Compositions written for Spanish 302, however, are destined for the recycle bin....after I translate them back into English first, giving them new life as blog posts. Here is the first, Las Cien Velas, written in my simple Spanish in 1997, translated today back into English:

Las Cien Velas: One Hundred Candles

In January 1996 I was in Denver, Colorado for a grand party. The invitation called it the Celebration of a Century--my paternal grandmother's one hundredth birthday celebration. Her nieces and nephews invited the whole family--cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren, aunts and uncles--and all her friends to celebrate the event.

My grandmother, Rose, was a short, formidable woman who had earned enormous respect from many in her family and community. Though strong and independent, she needed help from her family members because she had never learned to drive a car. All her life, other people had driven her to the store, to the homes of her sons, and to her friends' apartments so she could play cards. When she had no one to take her places, Rose stayed home and cooked. She loved to make desserts for her family and friends. On the night of her party, however, she was not permitted to do anything but be the center of attention.

We arrived for the dinner at a grand hotel, Loews Giorgio, on Saturday night. There were many guests whom I did not know, but Rose knew them all. When we entered, we saw her talking with several children. She told stories and shared memories. We greeted her and then found our seats at a round table on the other side of the ballroom. 

Grandma Rose was seated at the center table with my father, her only remaining living son, and with her favorite nephews and their wives. Of all the people in the room, she was the most radiant. She wore an aquamarine dress and was adorned with the articles of jewelry she always wore: diamond earrings and a gold necklace with a small gold charm. She wore only a little makeup to bring color to her lips and cheeks.

After we finished eating dinner, the waiters brought out the birthday cake which was colorfully decorated with 100 tall thin candles. Rose's eyes sparkled in the candlelight. She closed her eyes, made a wish, and then blew out all the candles (with a little help). Afterwards, her oldest nephew, himself 85 years old, stood up to present her with a gift. But first he asked,
"Which would you rather have, Rosie, a kiss from your favorite nephew, or a check for five hundred dollars?"
She did not hesitate, but held our her hand and responded:
"Give me the money."
Even at 100 years old, she still retained her sense of humor and made us all laugh!

Ten months after that trip, I returned to Denver another time, but not for a party. This time, the family gathered for Rose's funeral. There were fewer people at the funeral than had attended her birthday party. She left the world with little fanfare, having already given away most of her possessions and said her goodbyes.

[There is, of course, much more to the Grandma Rose story than I could communicate in my baby-Spanish. Before I forget any more Spanish, I will try to translate the other essays for future blog posts. Little stories are worth remembering and sharing. I hope you enjoy them. ]





Saturday, November 16, 2013

...and I am that someone

I haven’t written a blog-post (or “blogged”) for a long time, but that doesn't mean I haven’t been thinking about it. Every few days, a blog-worthy idea occurs to me, but I am either out walking or hiking, or reading a book, or watching a movie, or talking with the Scientist, and the last thing I want to do is come in from the porch swing or the foothills trail to record my random thoughts. I’m not very good at maintaining a “social media” presence, particularly when it involves firing up the computer. I work at my computer almost all of my 9-hour work days—excepting the occasional meeting, class, or assignment in the mechanical assembly lab—so I rarely head for the laptop when I am at home. I created the blog last year while I was unemployed and searching for a creative outlet for my writing, but since that time I have found full-time work and have been exploring other venues for my craft. Still, I have things to say....

I recently finished reading a book that was recommended to me by someone at work. By Chip and Dean Heath, it’s called Switch, and is subtitled “How to change things when change is hard.” The premise is surprisingly simple: “For anything to change, someone has to start acting differently.” The book is full of practical ideas backed up by theory and science, but that one simple sentence stands out, for me, as the provocative central argument for personal action, particularly when I add the phrase, “and I am that someone.”

Too often, when I observe a situation that presents as a problem, my brain goes into overdrive, devising solutions that dictate how other people could do things differently. But when I read the Heath’s simple statement, I realized that I am the one who can and must act differently for anything within my realm of influence to change, and if what I want changed is not within reach, then I need either to stop worrying about it, or get a ladder!

The changes I’ve made recently have been primarily personal. For example, despite my aversion to the public gym space, I decided to add a weekly 30-minute gym workout to my exercise regimen (which consists of yoga and walking), and I haven’t missed a week in 4 months. A series of small decisions and actions have made the switch possible. First, I had to decide to meet with a trainer to learn a 30-minute workout routine. Then I had to pack a gym bag and leave it in the car. Then I had to put a calendar/reminder item in Outlook so that I am reminded each week not to schedule anything else on Mondays after work. Then I had to be sure to pack the right kind of lunch and snack so that I have enough energy to go to the gym after working all day. Thirty minutes may not sound like much, but it’s a big deal for me—someone much more comfortable in a yoga or dance studio than among weight machines—and I am reaping the physical and mental health benefits of acting differently.


The Heath brothers also talk about corporate, societal, and systemic changes—not just personal ones—and provide some amazing examples. At every level, however, the same idea holds: someone has to do something differently or nothing will change. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Meditation for a Friday....

I awoke this morning thinking about meditation. What it is, what it means to practice it, what it means to do it, and how someone who thinks he or she “should” meditate would begin.

Begin now. This morning.

What is meditation? What does it mean to you? How do you practice it?

For me, it is the practice of clearing my mind, slowing my breath, and paying attention to ….. what exactly? To the breath? To thoughts that appear, vie for my attention, and must be let go (of).  5 minutes? Is that enough? 10 min.? An hour.....

I was envisioning a little booklet about meditation for the un- what? Uninitiated? Does meditation require initiation? Or Meditation for the Uninformed. Does meditation require information? Or for the novice? Does that sound too religious? For the…. Person who desires to learn to meditate. But I am not a teacher of meditation…so writing such a piece would not help anyone.

These were my first thoughts. Now I need to stop writing and meditate.