Saturday, April 23, 2016

Rainbow Springs, a Florida Natural Treasure

Canoes and kayaks waiting to be rented. Stand-up paddleboarders can also
be seen gliding over the water. 
Rainbow Springs almost disappeared into development. In 1974, despite being the 4th largest spring in Florida with 490 million gallons of water pouring out each day, the faltering attraction closed. While benefiting from being close to Route 41 when the area first opened an amusement park in the 30s, by the 70s it was located too far off the new tourist routes on Interstate 75 to stay afloat.

Not until 1990 did the state of Florida, under pressure from locals, buy the land to add to the state park system. But given budget crunches, the state couldn't afford to do more, so the park sat for a couple of more years until volunteers gathered together to form a nonprofit to help to run the park. In 1992, the park opened for weekends and by 1995, daily access, allowing the springs to be preserved and enjoyed by all again.
Hiking trail  

A few days ago, I spent the day driving up to Dunnellon to visit Rainbow Springs, dangle my feet off the dock into the cool water, and explore the hiking trails through tall trees as well as take several zillion pictures. I can't tell you how delighted I am that public access remains, that Rainbow Springs wasn't swallowed up by condos, and that the state is now committed to returning the springs to its natural state -- with a few nods to its history. The man-made waterfalls still run, but the zoo enclosures are being allowed to crumble and only a sign marks the area near the butterfly garden that used to be a rodeo ring. The monorail has since long disappeared.  The timeless and startlingly clear turquoise water continues to enchant generations of swimmers, canoers, kayakers and lovers of nature.

Support your state park system!

Clouds reflecting in the blue green waters. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mindful Writing

Pondering life's mysteries
Keep St. Pete Lit offers free (yes, free!) writing classes (, so on Saturday, I hustled down to the Morean and spent a couple of hours on the 2nd floor in the library talking about writing and doing a few exercises. Anda Peterson did a lovely job of being both encouraging and practical, and I was reminded of some good advice, from Annie Lamott's instruction from Bird by Bird to write a "shitty first draft"  to Faulkner's counsel to "kill your darlings" in writing (that is, to edit out those bits that are overly precious to you because they are, well, precious in an annoying, eye-crossing way to your readers).  Largely, however, we talked about writing as it relates to paying attention. Being mindful of the details and the senses, employing that specificity, and withholding judgment can and often does lead to richer work.  As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones (and as read to us in class),
We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn't matter. . . Recording the details of our lives is a stance against bombs with their mass ability to kill, against too much speed and efficiency. A writer must say yes to life, to all of life: the water glasses, the Kemp's half-and-half, the ketchup on the counter. It is not a writer's task to say, "It is dumb to live in a small town or to eat in a cafĂ© when you can eat macrobiotic at home." Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.
It felt good to do a little writing, easy throw-away exercises simply for the fun of it.  For the prompt to describe my morning (a semi-dangerous prompt, as it can lend itself to pointless list-iness - but that can lead to good insight on editing down), I focused on the morning cat feeding ritual.  There wasn't anything earth shattering, but I ended with, "I drink my water and look at my favorite carnivores with bleary and affection-laden eyes" because you know, I'm a cat lady.  My description of the ceiling fixture while mostly dull did have, "the thin, flat metal bars covering the bulb are tooth-like, reminiscent of a small farming combine about the plow the ceiling."

Perhaps most illuminating was the exercise in writing down what, exactly, my nasty little inner critic says to me.  That crabby little voice sounds something like this: "Other people will read these things! How can you talk about these things in public? It will embarrass us. What will the neighbors say? Polite people don't talk about those things. You're wrong - that's not how it happened at all. You're too sensitive and you are the crazy one, not us. Never us. Certainly not me. We won't love you if you tell."  My inner critic is about as sophisticated as an eight year old on a playground, but is still surprisingly effective in shutting me up.  To which I say: fuck that.  That reminds me of one of my favorite Alice Walker poem that starts saying:

Because women are expected to keep silent about
their close escapes I will not keep silent
and if I am destroyed (naked tree!) someone will
mark the spot
where I fall and know I could not live
silent in my own lies
hearing their 'how nice she is!'
whose adoration of the retouched image
I so despise.

Read the rest here:

Write on, people.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Welcome Wonder Words: Poetry at the Dali

Peter Meinke and Denise Duhamel answering questions
after their poetry reading at the Dali Museum
Helen Pruitt Wallace (Poet Laureate of St. Petersburg) hosted a poetry reading of Denise Duhamel and Peter Meinke (Poet Laureate of Florida) at the Dali last Thursday.  I'm happy to report wonderful moments of remembering for me such as: Oh yeah! Feminism isn't dead! And poets are often really freaking funny! And words can be hysterical or heartbreaking or both.  In short, although I didn't know it, I needed a poetry infusion.

Denise Duhamel started out reading some collaborative pieces she wrote with Maureen Seaton. Since Maureen was one of my favorite professors in graduate school - not only a phenomenal poet, but also a unbelievably kind, supportive and insightful teacher - it felt like a literary reunion for a minute there.  Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton have been writing collaborative pieces for decades.  As Denise noted, they started out in a time before texting, cell phones, before email really; they would call each other and leave lines on each other's answering machines. This is what I'd loved about the poets I knew in graduate school - the playfulness, the humor, the just-messing-around that can sometimes end up being gorgeous (and sometimes not - I'm not any of our exquisite corpse poetry exercises featuring chicken testicles ever evolved into high art, although they did inspire some snorting laughter and a running joke).  One poem of Duhamel and Seaton's poems took on gender by adding it into pop culture references, e.g., "The hills are alive with the sound of gender," which ended up creating one of the funniest list poems I've heard in a while. You can find gender in the darnedest places.

Denise moved on to reading some poems from Blowout, her latest collection.  Many of them centered around life post divorce, and the awkwardness of reentering the dating world after a long absence.  As someone long single, the piece about the guy who worked on her kitchen asking her out hit some familiar mental acrobatics.  You know it's a totally bad idea - and yet, hey, he would be handy around the house, at least during those moments when he was sober.  Many of her poems had a funny-but-ill-fated theme running underneath -- for instance, the poem that featured the narrator and her (at the time) husband watching a young couple at the beach argue.  The older couple add in lines for the young couple, circling around their own marital discord, only to become disconcerted in the end as the distant young lovers reconcile, something clearly not in the cards for those who were providing them with dialogue.

The other poet of the evening, Peter Meinke, won my heart over early by starting by saying, "Well, after that, I'm sure hearing from an old white guy is just what you want." The theme of the evening was Memory & Desire, and he too wrote about yearning.  The poem of his that particularly stuck for me was about long married tennis players, and the empty space when one players is no longer there to send the ball over the net. He also read a section about children disappearing into the fog while sledding, a haunting image. His later book is a children's book, with illustrations by his wife Jeanne Clark.  Jeanne was in the audience, and when after the reading, the poets took questions, including on collaboration given Duhamel's long experience with it, Meinke noted that he did not collaborate; Jeanne piped in with "We collaborate in different rooms."  Each is in charge of their own art in their own way, which was perhaps the theme overall.  Collaborative or not, the words find voice through sharp and dedicated minds.

I left the theater with that good glow knowing that there are people out there creating, laughing, and transforming the painful into the sublime.  I love what words used well can do, the access they give to our messy little souls.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring Bling

Wizard at Springfest
Spring in Florida explodes less obviously than elsewhere, but we locals have noticed that at last the crepe myrtles are leafing up, and we too rejoice (although perhaps with less manic fervor than those snowed-in up north for months). Spring in St. Petersburg also means high season for festivals and events. I managed to hit two this weekend: Springfest in Gulfport, where faeries and lawn art abounded; and, Art in Bloom at my former place of employ, the Museum of Fine Arts - St. Petersburg.  

Springfest involves a lot of wings and glitter and is great for creatures large and small, particularly those that like costumes. I attended with friends, including a toddler, who was thrilled by all the shiny stuff.  Bubbles and beads and friendly dogs went over big, even if a few of the (very kind and friendly) faeries were a wee bit overwhelming for a sometimes shy small person.  As for the grownups, we enjoyed the costumed crowd, music in the bandstand, the costume contest, and variety of stalls selling everything from plants and wings to floating clothing and geranium oil. We missed the Maypole dance, alas. But there was a wizard that was, as a friend said, straight out of central casting, a Gandalf doppelganger.

Faeries chatting
On an only vaguely related note, I was happy to see sidewalk chalk available; Saturday was the anniversary of Brendan's death, and sidewalk chalk (of all things) continues to remind me of him, since the day we met, we played with chalk on the back patio of a bar. So I got to scribble out his name and a trademark sun under the sculpture by Tom Pitzen of a winged woman  named "Nec mortem effugere quisquam nec amorem potest," which, I found out when I googled the Latin back home, means "No one is able to flee from death or love." Sometimes the universe conspires with you to find perspective. On Saturday, mostly I was happy to spend a sunny day in good company watching a child explore with delight.

On Sunday, I caught one of the last days of Art in Bloom, where floral artists find inspiration from
Art in Bloom floral response to Theo Wujcik's Canto II
pieces in the MFA collection.  The yearly event is beloved by museum regulars with good reason, as the floral art alongside sturdier artworks provides a lovely intersection of types of creation, those more wilting and ephemeral and those ebbing away at a much slower rate. I'm always impressed by the vision of the floral designers and the way shape and/or color are echoed and transformed from the original painting to the floral response. Floral designers often bring in inorganic elements to go with the flowers, and I am often struck by the incorporated sculptural elements, particularly those that evolve from a 2D painting to a 3D floral arrangement.  

Shiva as Lord of the Dance and floral response
While motivated to be there for the more substantially time-limited flowers, I did also finally get around to exploring the Contemplating Character: Drawings and Oil Sketches from Jacques-Louis David to Lucian Freud exhibit. Given my particular interest in portraiture and the endless expressions of human complexity they can express, I suspected it would be an involving exhibit for me, and indeed it was.  Not every piece spoke to me, but I was delighted by the breadth of pieces, from 18th century sketches to R. Crumb's work on place mats. As usual, I gravitated more toward more modern work, but not exclusively. Portraiture, as the exhibit makes clear, is so much about the relationship between the artist and subject (even when the piece is a self-portrait), and that emotion is what brings pieces to life. Happily, I also ran into a few former coworkers, which always makes the MFA feel like my special and personal museum; I know the folks working behind the curtain that bring the magic together. I look forward to returning for future exhibits, and other adventures out in my adopted hometown.