Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘musings’

branches

I’ve only done one art installation. It revolved around the childhood food memories of former slaves living in the deep south. It was an installation that was visual and tactile with hanging branches and shells. Thankfully, people found it thought provoking. A new installation comes to mind based on the experiences of children enslaved in New England. The concept is based on the content of advertisements in newspapers from the 18th century. With regard to slavery, you can divide the ads into at least two categories: “to be sold” and “runaway.” And then there were a few ads I came across that one might almost categorize as “giveaway.” These ads most often involve young children.

“A negro infant girl about six weeks old to be given for the bringing up. Inquire of John Campbell Post-Master to know further …” (1706)

Imagine walking into a room lit by flickering lamplight. Against the wall there would be a simple desk and chair and on the desk accessories strewn about appropriate to the times including a ledger book. Nearby stands a period printing press. In the air are sounds one might hear to give a sense of place, perhaps the scratch of a quill pen on stationery, the shuffling of papers, the machinations of the printing press, and maybe someone whistling or playing a bone flute with some ditty of the day. And in the background, steadily becoming louder, is the sound of a child crying. And that building sound might draw the viewer’s attention to a different part of the room where there is a big wooden block, not unlike an auction block, and upon the block is a straw basket. The cries emanate from it. Hanging, or projected onto the wall, is that ad: “A negro infant girl about six weeks old to be given for the bringing up.”

Then one might enter a different room, a small room, dimly lit. Scattered about would be household items appropriate to the times including clothing for young children. The sound in the air this time? Perhaps the babble of young children, the gurgle of a baby and then a mother’s voice, frantic yet calm, as she tries to rush them, to shush them, and get them moving out a door. That door slams shut, “Wham!” and then the ad is projected on the wall:

“Ran away from their Master … a Negro woman with four small children, three of them mulattos, the youngest a Negro that sucks or is lately weaned …”

In a later newspaper advertisement I would find that that same woman would runaway from that same man this time with just her now two year old Negro child. What was this woman’s story? What was her name? What happened to the other children? What choices had to be made?

The following ad particularly struck me because it helps bring to life in a different way the economic linkages between north and south long before this land was ever one nation.

“Any person with a Negro man slave or slaves to sell or to be transported to Virginia for a market may repair to John Cambpell Post-Master of Boston … transport will be free …”

For this ad the viewer would be directed to walk into a room that is a carpenter’s shop or a blacksmith’s shop or even a distillery. You’d hear the sounds of men at work, orders being placed. Then as the din dies down you hear a man with a British accent call out a list of names to come to him … Cato, Scipio, Jupiter, Prince. Maybe he’ll say, “Gentlemen, you’ve done fine work but I have need to send you away.”

Why revisit the past?

So that the past will not be repeated. But also so that we better understand what actually happened. Just these few ads paint a different picture of colonial New England for me. The historic landscape is deeper, richer and darker. It gives further credence to how the contagion of slavery is part of the very foundations of this country. We cannot move past something if we do not understand what it is that we are trying to move past.

Read Full Post »

More flowers bloom on the bell pepper plant, and I see about dozen new blooms forming. Its neighbor the shishito plant is nearing its end I think with perhaps a few more peppers to grow large but no more blooms and its once dark leaves are now light lime. In a neighboring raised bed hot peppers form and what a spicy bounty they are turning out to be. I am imagining how beautiful their red crescent shapes will be as we indulge in them throughout the winter. Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes … they weigh down might thick stalks, a beautiful, brilliant green … but, oh, when will they turn red?! Bushels of basil. Not a bad problem. Can you ever have too much caprese salad or garlicky pesto on toasted bread? As for the Swiss chard … just two plants purchased on sale to please the neighborhood bunnies but they must have enough food elsewhere … nary a bite has been taken and the leaves are growing large … so now Steve will have to cook us a dish with that Swiss chard. All recipes welcome. 🙂

Read Full Post »

raisedbed

The backstory is that Steve and I moved just as the pandemic struck the U.S. and everything began to shut down around us. Given that he is a cancer survivor and over a certain age that put him at high risk. But we still had to daily get from point A to point B, continue (luckily) to work from home, pack a mammoth amount of stuff (mostly books), navigate in a necessarily socially distant world … and try not to confuse shortness of breath due to anxiety with shortness of breath due to the virus.

lemonverbena

lemon verbena

We made our way into our new home where I immediately began ordering bookcases because neither of us realized that between our two book collections we could probably start our own bookstore. The previous owner had built out the interior of the home wonderfully but the back yard … hmmm … three plus months later we’re still waiting on a contractor to come in with a caterpillar to remove debris and put down loam and on and on … and all of that stuff takes time!

thyme

thyme

Now I tend to come across as a rather calm person but I can be as anxious as any other human and one of the coping mechanisms I have found in my life is gardening. Probably goes back to childhood in Virginia being in the vegetable garden with my dad and helping my mother plant the flowers. Anyway in a time of such great chaos on so many fronts I was determined to have a garden. Steve’s only request was to plant tomatoes and basil.

tomatoes

lemonbasil

lemon basil

mints

spearmint and orange mint

We’ve managed to do that and a bit more. The neighbors must think I’m crazy because I’m outside almost everyday to peek at the garden and take photos, and even Steve has gotten into the habit of asking me each morning, “How’s the garden doing?” I’ve forced him … I mean invited him … to put so much hard work into it that even now he owns it.

sidegarden3

DSCN0486

There is no rhyme or reason to the garden though I tried to be thoughtful at first. Keeping in mind pollinators. Keeping in mind bee-friendly. Keeping in mind full-sun, part-shade. Keeping in mind natural pest control. It became too much in this time. I just planted what would fit and tried to err on the side of edibility. The contractor is supposed to come next week. We’ll see … Chaos is still all around … in our personal lives, in the global realm … but for now there feels like space to breathe and to think and to consider planning. DSCN0515

I don’t feel like planning into the distant future right now but I can think about the seasons and what we might plant now to harvest in the fall and what we might plant now that will pop up in the spring. I think that’s good enough for now. 🙂

 

 

Read Full Post »

DSCN0284

And so what I have I been up to besides photographing Spiderwort like crazy?

I’ve been enjoying delving into the past to research the people who may have worked and/or worshipped at Trinity Church in the City of Boston. You can check out recent Facebook posts here: https://www.facebook.com/TrinityBostonShop/

I’m having a lot of fun with instagram. I know I’m late to the game but I don’t mind: https://www.instagram.com/cynthiaestaples/

I’ve also been trying to be more disciplined about redefining for myself what exactly does it mean to be a part-time freelancer in today’s world. A number of places I would have done work for won’t be reopening for quite awhile and certainly not reopening in the same way as in the before Covid-times. AND even as I have the luxury to take time to ponder such a thing with a roof firmly over my head and the refrigerator full of food, I cannot help but weep at what’s happening across the U.S. right now. The saying comes to mind, this too shall pass, but pass into what?

Read Full Post »

me, Keith and Donald, late 1970s

I was looking for the flash fiction story, The Blackest Sheep, that I wrote almost eighteen years ago. It was published in a small online zine and I think I made $5 for it as part of a writing contest. The zine doesn’t exist anymore and the only hard copy I have of the story is in a box at the bottom of a lot of other boxes. In short, it was a story based on truth of a black sheep of the family who, justifiably so, could be judged for all of the bad things he’d done and would likely do … and yet there was so much good that was there too. I wrote the story out of a sense that so many people might never know or remember that goodness once he was gone. And so through the lens of fiction I recounted how my older brother taught me how to bare my fist so that no one would pick on me (or at least never do it again), how, even though I was the “smart one” in the family, he patiently helped me make my way through homework or at least convinced me to keep my behind in the chair and finish what I needed to do.

William and Donald, late 1960s (maybe)

My favorite remembrance was how he, when asked by my mom, to walk my younger brother and I to school in the snow, he had us walk with our backs to the wind so that we would be shielded as he led us forward. And later in life, long after I’d written that story, he still did good things. He would come across archaic tomes of English literature left behind in a rooming house and keep it for me. Knowing my interest in photography, he would find frames at the flea market and other places and keep them for me. Keep in mind he was in Virginia and I am in Massachusetts. I did collect the books and the frames when I visited. He always called on my birthday and every holiday. As his body failed on him, he loved to just sit and watch the cooking channel … he had loved to cook especially for large groups of people … even though he could no longer eat most of what was being prepared. He found great childlike joy in little things. He was quick to laugh … and he could be quick to anger (especially when drinking too much) and quick to feel depressed because eventually even he could look back and see the different forks in the road of his life and the paths taken that perhaps should not have been.

DonaldWayneStaples

My brother Donald died just a few days ago with our oldest brother William by his side. He leaves no children but he leaves many friends and family behind who loved him and cherish the memories of his smile and laughter.  It is near incomprehensible to think of him and our youngest brother Keith passing away so closely together. For better and for worse, they tried to look out for each other, and I guess that is all that any of us can do.

-7785157256726719072

Donald and Keith in later years

P.S. Several years ago, while pondering what more to do, I wrote the following post called tea. The unnamed soul of the drama was Donald. https://wordsandimagesbycynthia.com/2015/08/18/tea/

Read Full Post »

This is a ramble with no meaning except I felt a need to put fingers to the keyboard and share an experience from this day.  I’ve been saving watermelon rind trying to decide if I will try to make some watermelon pickles. Now, I have never eaten such a pickle in my life though when I was little I used to admire their beauty in big jars on store counters. As a child I ate plenty of the fruit itself. My oldest brother still reminisces about the big ones with the big black seeds. I think I remember watermelons so big I could sit on them. Those are hard to find. Small, round, seedless (and in my humble opinion oftentimes tasteless) has become the store norm. I’ve lost my taste for watermelon flesh though I’ve been buying watermelon slices of late. Not for me but for a certain person in my life who needs to drink more water but doesn’t and so I simply place saucers of sliced cold watermelon in front of him. Hydration is hydration.

But now I have these rinds … and I’m in a creative place in my life right now … and so I told him I might try my hand at pickles. And when this person heard my intentions, he remembered words from a poem. “Reflections on a gift of watermelon pickles,” he said. We looked it up, a poem by John Tobias.  As I began to read it out loud, Steve, who has a wicked memory for poetry, stopped me to say, “I don’t think I’ve ever actually read the poem. I just know those few words.” And so I finished reading the poem and he was silent and when I looked up I saw that he had been moved to tears.

I think my big brother who is near Steve’s age would cry too. Not so my 12-year old friend. Her response to reflections on a life lived would be quite different than people five decades older. This is a rambling post with no photographs because there is no photograph that can compare to the rich imagery embedded throughout the poem … except maybe one day I’ll come across one of those big ol’ watermelons and split it open and let the sun shine on the pink flesh, black seeds and white rind … and maybe that would be an appropriate pairing of image with the following words. We’ll see …

 

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
Fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer–
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;

And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite:
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

by John Tobias

Read Full Post »

dscn6720

Not too far from my home there is a man. This is his book on the ground in his part-time residence by the Mystic River. I found the book while hiking and venturing into areas I normally don’t go. But it is winter and there are paths revealed I had not seen before. One of those paths led me to a little camp where lay the odds and ends you’d find in a home. Like books. I’d seen such places before around the region’s urban rivers. Temporary shelters. As winter approaches and the foliage thins the resident moves on from a now too visible place. But with spring’s return and with it the leaves on the trees, and the thick grasses that obscure paths from curious eyes, he resumes residence or someone else will take his place. This man, a bibliophile based on his pile of books, lives near me. Is that person my neighbor? And if I do consider him so, how does that affect how I treat him, how I regard him, what I might do for him even if we were never to exchange words? It is a weird question for a weird and complicated situation but we are living in the weirdest and most complicated of times.

dscn6732

The concept of neighbors is on my mind because I read a Washington Post Q&A with Jerry Falwell Jr, President of Liberty University, and the son of the televangelist Reverend Jerry Falwell. He’s a major financial backer of Trump and from his pulpit of sorts he espouses conservative right-wing ideology. In the interview, Falwell states, “It’s such a distortion of the teachings of Jesus to say that what he taught us to do personally — to love our neighbors as ourselves, help the poor — can somehow be imputed on a nation. ”

When I read that comment (and actually the whole interview) to a friend expecting his blood to boil as much as mine, he said quite calmly, “You might ask him who is his neighbor? Is it the people next door to his house? The students who attend his school? Is Trump his neighbor? How about the children at the border? Does he even care who his neighbors are?”

Now people more well-versed than I in theology and biblical text and all that good stuff have commented quite widely on the web about Falwell’s words so I don’t need to go there and I can let my blood pressure drop but the concept of neighbors is sticking with me. How do we get to know people? How do we come to love them? I said love not like. There are plenty of people I love but don’t necessarily like. You see I’m assuming if we love someone we may treat them differently than if we were to hate someone or perhaps even worse yet to “not see” someone because they are a non-entity. They are invisible like the man in the woods.

dscn6712

My mom comes to mind. She could be very good to her neighbors even the ones she didn’t like, and my mom didn’t like a whole lot of people. She was feisty that way. My dad helped neighbors all the time too but you could see the struggle on my mom’s face. Once she invited the elderly next door neighbor over for a plate of food and the gentleman sat in the living room and sat and sat and sat and … finally my mom left my dad in the room with him and sat on her bed resting her head in her hand. My younger brother and I kept peeking into the living room and finally we said to her, “Ma, when’s he going to leave?!” She shushed us right away. “You two be quiet. You know better than that. Be kind to your neighbors.” And then she sighed and put her head back in her hand. The man eventually left well-sated and with a smile on his face. My brother and I learned that we need to be kind to our neighbors but first we have to see them and recognize them as such. As our neighbors.

Who is your neighbor?

Read Full Post »

Over sixteen years ago, I made one of those haphazard, following one’s desires versus common sense, maneuvers. I walked away from the world of full-time employment, full-benefits, great office, etc and wandered with rose-colored glasses into a world of mostly self-employment, cobbling together different gigs, and sometimes having no benefits at all, done so that I could indulge in the world of creativity. I’d grown up in a family of storytellers and for a variety of reasons I reached a point in my life where I wanted to spend time writing. I thought I would write a great fantasy masterpiece but what flowed most naturally were stories of the people around me, and occasionally, stories about myself. This was long before I picked up a camera but I have always been visual and so I wielded the pen like a paintbrush, sketching the world around me. I had no idea what I was doing and so every little bit of encouragement was pivotal in keeping me from giving up. As I began to submit my work, one of the first magazines to accept a short piece was the New York-based magazine African Voices. The editors were so encouraging and so supportive, and as I watched videos on its current GoFundMe page, I hear writers and artists expressing that same sentiment today. As Giving Tuesday approaches, please consider giving to an organization like African Voices. You don’t have to wait until tomorrow morning. As you can see on the GoFundMe page, every little bit helps. And meanwhile … it’s dusty … could use some revision perhaps … but here is a variation of what I wrote so long ago …

Staples1950s

my parents in the 1950s

Wait Until Morning

She sits on the edge of the bed, gazing into a large bureau mirror.  She smokes a Pall Mall or perhaps a Winston Salem.  She’s not sure.  She can’t remember if she pulled the cigarette from her purse or his coat pocket.  She can usually taste the difference but not tonight. In her mind’s eye, she sees her youngest son frowning and wrinkling his nose at the smoke.  She shakes her head at his face, then sighs as the image fades to be replaced by the items on the bureau top.  Pictures mostly and pill bottles and knick knacks from her children.  Most of the pictures and their frames are fuzzy with dust.  She is too tired to clean proper.  Only one picture shines clear in the dim light of the lamp – her  mother.

The woman looks at the picture and then at herself in the mirror.  She glances quickly away – she never liked her face – but the image remains.  Hair gray like her mother’s now, wide-rimmed glasses, skin weathered and dry no matter how much lotion she rubs on.  The bed is also reflected.  She stares at the crisp clean covers.  For the first time in 40 years, only on one side are they folded back.  She squeezes her eyes shut and clutches her stomach.  He is gone.

He bought her the scanner that sits near the bed. Fifteen years ago?  Maybe more. She saw it on “Let’s Make a Deal.”  She wanted one and he bought it for her birthday.  He always did his best to get her what she wanted.  A female police dispatcher’s voice barks from the scanner.  Somewhere downtown a tall black male is being chased by the police.  Her stomach knots and the breath catches in her thin chest.  All her sons are tall black males.  She breaths again as she remembers that her sons are at work or with their girlfriends.

Wind blows and the old house creaks.  A draft kisses her bare ankles.  “A small wood frame house” was how the reporter from the local paper described the house in his article about her daughter, on her way to college, the first one.  Her stomach clenches again at the thought of her daughter so many miles away, unreachable if she gets into trouble.

She sighs and puffs more deeply on the cigarette.  The house creaks again, and she smiles.  A junk heap, yes it was.  Their junk heap for 45 years.  Raised four children in it.  Would’ve been five if times had been better.  Two girls instead of the one.

More creaking.  She thinks of grabbing the iron poker by her chair in the living room.  The poker went with the coal stove they had in the 1950’s.  Back then, it was only used to nudge glowing coals.  Now … the neighborhood’s getting bad.  But, as she always told her children, a person might get in, but he sure wouldn’t leave in the same condition.  Hands clench at that thought, hands that have wrung chicken necks on the farm, picked tobacco, cradled babies and caressed the skin of just one man.

She glances at the phone and then the digital clock on the bureau.  Twelve hours until the hospital allows phone calls.  Then she can hear his voice.  Patient, calming, distracted if the TV is on.  She rises briefly from the bed, unaware of the hollow that she’s worn into the mattress over the years.  She turns down the light to a warm glow and then puts out the cigarette.  Sliding into bed, she draws the covers up to her chin and closes her eyes to wait for morning.

###

 

Read Full Post »

DSCN4681.JPG

I don’t think the landlord’s landscaper purposefully planted the cosmos in the frontyard garden so that from the second floor I could stand at the kitchen window and find comfort in their pale purple color and swaying form down below. In the light of an overcast morning they appear pastel-like, soft and dreamy. I sometimes want to ask my landlord, can I please cut them so that I may place them in a vase and sit that vase on a desk just for me to see? But even if he allowed such a thing, those cosmos would no longer sway in the breeze. They would no longer offer sustenance to the creatures that feed upon their pollen. They would no longer be available to view by the landlord and his family who live on the first floor and from whose kitchen window they too can see the garden, though from a different perspective. They would no longer be available to view by the people on the street who pass by, on foot and by car, or who wait at the bus stop which is right there too. They would become a private thing, in decline in still waters, instead of public and vibrantly alive in the soil.

DSCN4670.JPG

In the garden there are also sunflowers, some open and dying, and others yet to bloom. Milkweed is tucked here and there attracting (yay!) Monarchs, the first I’ve seen in a long time around here. The leaves of the lilies persist vibrant green though the flowers have long since had their glory in profusion. They line one wall of the garden while the other wall is lined by lavender. It is rectangular this garden. Not big, just big enough.

DSCN4658

When I sit at the kitchen table, as I do now to write this post, I cannot of course see the downstairs garden but I can see my little upstairs indoor garden. And through the window I can see the the branches of the towering oak.  It grows on an adjacent small plot of land, its shade not interfering with the garden at all. I enjoy the dark green of its leaves. I think the acorns have mostly fallen or been eaten by squirrels and blue jays. When winter comes and those leaves are gone, if I am still here in this place, I will be able to plant a whole new indoor garden in the hallway because  light will stream in past the then-bared branches. My microgreen sprouts await, their seed packets tucked in a cool corner, awaiting their chance to thrive before I harvest them to add some spice to some winter soup or such.

DSCN4690.JPG

In writing this post, I am procrastinating. Arrayed around me on the table are books and papers and pretty markers and a calendar or two. I have deadlines to meet on several writing projects. That’s a whole different side of my brain than the one I use for photography and design. That work is more free flowing. The writing has to be structured and I struggle to be in a structured place at the moment. I want to sway like the cosmos, go where the wind takes me but … I need to plant my feet (or actually my bottom to this chair) and focus. My writing deliverables are clear and to be honest not that hard to complete. I just need to do it, and stop contemplating about public and private spaces or the tumult that is this present world. And most of all I should not try to track down my crusty watercolors and try to paint purple cosmos and yellow sunflowers. At least not today. Alrighty … back to work. 🙂

Read Full Post »

IMG_20180718_150102607

a calm spot before a later storm

It always happens at this particular intersection in Somerville. It’s where I  cross the street to make the final leg of my journey home. It is a one way street with two lanes of traffic, a dedicated bike lane, and a complicated long walk signal. Great for me as a pedestrian. Tough on drivers. I have become used to impatient drivers inching into the crosswalk, hoping they can catch a gap in traffic, so they can make a quick right on red. With an exaggerated sigh, I usually walk behind those cars because at least I know the drivers behind them can see me. Hopefully I can cross the street before the light turns green and everybody hits their gas pedals. A familiar sequence of events. That’s almost what happened yesterday.

There were two cars to the left of me blocking the crosswalk. I stepped behind them. But something was odd. There was a gap in traffic. One of the drivers blocking my path could have taken a right on red. Except she was too busy yelling obscenities at the driver of the car next to her. Now, I’m used to the obscenities flung around by Boston area drivers but this woman’s words were different. They stopped me in the middle of the street.

Time slowed. I scanned the front of the screaming woman’s car. There was no body damage. If the person in the other car had tried to go around her to make a right on red (which happens in that intersection), a simple “F*** you!” would have sufficed, and often does at that intersection. But this woman, a brown woman, chose to shout into the other person’s car, and I’m editing just a bit, “You, wetback, go back to your own country!”

And she kept repeating it, with such vociferous pounding anger that was so out of context to whatever fender bender may have happened, that she had silenced the drivers around her. An unusual feat in Boston. Not a car behind her honked. It was just her voice ringing in the air. I could see the muscles of her jaw as she strained to shout these ugly words at a stranger over and over and over again. That African American was no different than the young white men in Charlottesville carrying the tiki torches. No different. Hate is hate.

Then I became angry.

Sad, too, but mostly angry, and I mean really angry.

I wanted to rush up to that woman and say, “What the hell are you doing? What are you, a black Trump? Do you realize if white supremacist leaders could see you now they’d just sit back with a big smile as you display your stupidity? How dare you give into racism. Don’t you know your own history? Have you no respect for yourself? Why put down another human being that you don’t even know?”

In the end, common sense won out. I remembered that I am not 6’5,” simply 5’3″ and I could tell that the woman was a bit bigger than me. And while I remember just enough of my karate training to probably take her down, to what end? Getting physical would not have ended her ignorance or increased her empathy. Both drivers remained in their cars. No children were in danger that I could see. I had to acknowledge that I was standing in the middle of a street, the light about to turn green, with two cars to the left of me and two cars to the right of me. It would not have deescalated the situation for me to move forward … though clearly my first reaction was not to deescalate anything. The only weapon the woman brandished were words, though she did have that car. She could have backed over me. She was that irrationally enraged.

Time resumed its normal course. The light turned green. The two cars sped off. I finished crossing the street, continued my walk home, my thoughts full of disparagement. Phone calls with family and friends calmed me down. They all brought up “ignorance.” Ignorance is no excuse for such behavior. Just as there is no excuse for racism by anyone toward anyone.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »