Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Frankenfest and Mary Shelly, of course!

The rain falls with the first cold dampness of the season. I shut off the lights, light a lantern and pick up a pencil. With my eyes shut night, so tight that red blood vessels seem to pop inside my eyelids, I see her. 

I see her young, smooth hands quickly race over the tattered notebook with her pencil. I see her pick up the pencil and put it behind her red hair or between her teeth as she searches for the next line, the next thought, the next image. She does not smile as she writes. There really is nothing to make her smile. Her mother died during her own birth. Her father disowned her after leaving home with a married man to have her own relationship. The baby she carried in the womb, as she traveled by foot and by donkey from Paris to Switzerland, is buried somewhere in Europe. The man she loves disappears from time to time. Her mind is too advanced for her time, especially for young women. She cares not for frocks nor frivolous trinkets; instead, she carries books of chemistry and German poetry.

Her name is Mary Shelley, as you might have guessed. She has lived with me for over a year and a day, and every day I am amazed by her.

When Carolyn and I headed down to Indianapolis for the Indiana Humanities “Frankenfest” event, we had absolutely no idea we would come back with a year of study, activities, and adventure ahead of us. I guess one could say that often life simply chooses for oneself, and that is the case here.

One week from today is our own version of Frankenfest, and if you have not heard about it by now, well, then, you are hearing about it now! Starting at 9:00 at Cahoots Coffee Shop, we (not specifically me and Carolyn, but community members) will be reading the entire text of “Frankenstein” from beginning to end, which should be around 5:30 or so. Stop by, have tea, follow along, let your children color while they listen. At 10:00, you and your family can participate in the Franken-Walk beginning at Selman Timber Frame. Wouldn’t it be fun to dress up for that one? The Cline Museum will host a meet the characters at noon with lots of interesting talks and pop-ups spread through the museum. (And, yes, you can access the museum by way of Gilmore Street, just follow the signs.) Back in town, almost every shop is having a special event from making your own green fingernail polish to cookies to filling out passports for buttons and other surprises.
Trine University is also participating with a showing of the film, “Mary Shelley,” on Thursday evening at 7:00 in Fabiani Theatre! My own show of “Mary and Her Monsters” will have a two evening run on October 12 and 19 in Wells Theatre. Jacob McNeal will be joining me in this one-hour fringe performance beginning at 7:00. Please come early, as seating is limited. 

So, you have not read “Frankenstein” yet? There is still time, and if not, you know of the book and the enjoyment of the day will not be diminished.

I want to tell all of you this year has been a year of great learning. Someone asked me the other day, “Why did you do this?” I had to laugh…I had no choice. I had no choice. 

A young girl full of her own grief and monsters wrote “Frankenstein”. Her story is as riveting as anything anyone could write. I felt I had to tell her story. As for Frankenfest and why did we do that? Carolyn and I both would attest to the knowledge that we live with our own monsters among us. What have we built, made, colluded on in our time that has turned into a monster without us knowing or planning it. This book is as important to our current culture just as much as it was during the life of Mary Shelley.

We encourage you to participate. Come say hello. Paint your nails green. Listen to a chapter of two. See a pop up on the role barbers played during this time. Stop in at the library for games and to look at all the creative artists in our area.
Sadly, Frankenfest will happen only once! 

As for me? I am sure Mary Shelley, and all her stories, will live parallel with me as long as we both shall live.

Lou Ann as Mary Shelly

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A stroll through my garden...

Photo credit by Kumico Kim
The Autumn garden stroll has begun. I put on my tall water-proof boots alive with color, and head out in the early morning. The dew is thick as I saunter through the gardens. This walk is different from the spring and summer walks, it is the beginning of the ending garden walks. 

Colors of gold, burgundy, and deep orange are now the norm as I go from bed to bed. Chrysanthemums are rich in foliage and fill the vases in my house as well as the garden perfuming each inch of this old house. The summer sunflowers are heavy with seeds and are already in use by the blue jays. 

The potatoes have long been ready, yet wait for my gardener’s spade to pull them up. Perhaps today as my curiosity cannot wait any longer to see how well they grew down under the ground.

The grass is littered with leaves from the old maple tree, which is the crowning jewel of my backyard. Soon I will pull out the rake and put those rich jewels onto the tops of my flower and garden beds. I only wish we could still burn leaves as my sensory memory aches for the smell of burning leaves. Hopefully a drive through the country will satisfy that on a late fall afternoon.

It is chilly. Not cold enough for the heat to come on, but that chilly refreshing feel of adding an extra blanket and the flannel sheets. Soon that will be the case. As for now, I add an extra sweatshirt and put the kettle on. With cup in hand, my love for gardens extends cross the miles and I remember other gardens. My grandma’s gardens rich in flowers and raspberries and acres of green beans. My own farm garden with rich land and space to plant anything and everything, and I did. However, on this morning I am remembering another garden.

I arrived early. My arrival time was to be 9:00 a.m., but the taxi was quicker than I thought and I found myself wandering around at 8:30 in the morning. There were small lights on inside the house, but I simply sat on the front porch. I remember being chilly as we were deep into the heart of Autumn so I decided to take a stroll through the dew-filled gardens. They were similar to mine…chrysanthemums, marigolds, asters. By 9:00 I was back at the house and I promptly knocked. I was expected. I was invited. The door opened wide and two women opened the door. I stepped over the threshold and burst into tears. This was no ordinary house. This was no ordinary garden. It was the home of Emily Dickinson in the heart of Amherst, Massachusetts. 

I was not there because someone had sent me or I was preparing a research paper, but I was there because I had to be there. The women were a bit surprised by my outburst of tears, but told me it does happen occasionally.
This lovely day did not happen without great research, however. I spent over two years reading all of her poetry, reading everything she read, and reading as much as I could about her! (This is how I do all my own research!) Therefore, I was prepared with questions and possibilities. The docents let me lower her basket out of her bedroom window. The basket that once held gingerbread for the neighborhood children. They would reward her in return with small notes and flowers. They let me sit up on the landing where Emily sat watching and listening to company when she did not go downstairs. I sat on the same stoop, but the docents said they could see me. I was confused. Emily said no one could see her. Then we realized the house had been electrified, and with the lights out, I was invisible.

I followed the pathway of her coffin down the hallway, out the back door, into the alley, and into the graveyard. I knelt by her tombstone that simply says, “Called Back.”

One last stroll through the gardens with the part time gardener. He told me about great plans to resurrect her orchard and other newly discovered flowers. He leaned again the hoe on that late day in Autumn reciting poetry to me. 

“Besides the autumn poets sing
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the Haze.”

Yes, indeed, it is Autumn in your garden, and in mine. 

(This column was first published in last week's KPC.)

Monday, September 24, 2018

Equinox and Harvest Moon

Maybe it is Mary Shelley or Percy Shelley or Lord Byron, but whomever it is, the words of John Keats just will not leave me alone this week. “Hedge- crickets sing; and now with treble soft, the red-breast whistles from a garden-croft.” When Percy Shelley’s body washed to shore in 1822, his body was only recognizable by the book of poetry by John Keats in his pocket. I wonder, was this poem, “To Autumn” in his pocket?

I have been chatting up this poem all week…to students, to guests, to Jonah (who is staying with me this week) or to anyone else who will listen. And why not? Today is the first day of Autumn. Precisely at 9:54 this evening. I love the Autumn Equinox. Is today my favorite day? Well, until tomorrow, I say.

The summer’s heat is finally behind us, and we welcome this day of extraordinary cool beauty. With dipping temperature’s the frost will soon be on the pumpkin and the leaves will turn the color of the queen’s gems.
Robert Burns once wrote, “The Moorcock springs on whirring wings, among the blooming heather…”

So, what exactly is the equinox? The equinox…both spring and fall…occur when the sun’s direct rays have hit the equator and the hours of daylight and darkness are to be equal, which is 12 hours and 12 hours. This is the day you are to stand an egg up on end and let it balance. (Go ahead and try this out, and let me know if it worked!)

For us in the northern hemisphere, it is the time of harvest and barn dances. Yes, there are still barn dances. I know, as I will be calling an old-fashioned hoe down tonight in an old barn on Lake George! It used to be in the barn dances that the men would shuck the corn and if a red ear turned up, he got to kiss his girl. I doubt there will be much corn shucking tonight, but a good thing to remember!

James Whitcomb Riley once wrote, “The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn..”

I often wonder about ancient times without Google and smart phones. How did they know for sure the sun would come back? Did they occasionally worry that the world would end and go to complete darkness forever? Perhaps that is why festivals were held in ancient times. The Greeks celebrated in Eleusis with names we all remember from mythology classes: Demeter, Hades, and Persephone. The Romans celebrated the festival of the Cerealis. In England, the ritual of Autumn was the Harvest Home. My favorite celebration belongs to the Scots with the harvest maiden taking on the form of the hag or witch depicting the end of summer’s harvest and the beginning of winter.

We celebrate too. Pumpkins adorn our stoops and doorways. Gourds and dried corn stalks flaunt our garden gates. We want fresh cider in our fridge and ripe apples in white bowls on tables. Perhaps we have a bit of ancient celebration in our bones, even if we do not realize it. 

Not only do we celebrate Autumn this week, but also the full moon on Monday night is the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is always the full moon closest to the equinox. There is astronomical significance in this moon as the time between the moon rises shorten after this moon. To be exact, the full moon will occur on Monday at 10:52. Perhaps you would like to go out and dance in your own garden?
With Jonah visiting this week, not only are my pockets full of poetry, but so is my breakfast table. I recite the above poetry to him every morning by candlelight as he sits down to a breakfast of fresh eggs and pumpkin bread. He is patient as he hears me prattle on about words and poems and traditions of life. What will he remember from these mornings when today is a long time ago? I am not sure, nor will I be here to find out, but I can plant the harvest seed for him.

As for you, if you see me out and about this weekend, be sure to ask for a poem, I will carry Keats, Riley, and Burns in my own pocket. You can have your pick of poetry.

Just as the equinox slides into town, I will be calling dances in that old barn. And that, my friends, is a good place to be.

Kumico and me at the hoe down!