Bigsley and Bernadette: Road Side Attraction

Be reasonable, would you? I mean, what's the rush? Do you realize that birds all over the world would give their right wings to be able to tour House on the Rock? And who knows, maybe there's some rooms available. Well, it probably isn't your style Herman, so I'd advise you continue on, but Bernie, trust me. You are going to forever regret if you don't stop and check this out.


Power of Suggestion

I recently learned 
that my mother thinks it's distasteful, 
all these people always photographing their lunch.  
I don't know why she thinks this.  
Maybe it goes back 
to some ancient Jewish code of conduct.  
Maybe she heard someone she admires
 saying the same thing.  
Maybe she has no good reason to feel this way, 
but just does.

I had never given it any thought 
until my mom mentioned it.  
Now, whenever I find myself photographing my food, 
I feel a little ashamed of myself.


Three Happy People

Annie Dillard, 
at the onset of Pilgram at Tinker Creek, 
"three happy people."

"One collects stones.  
Another -- an Englishman say -- watches clouds.  
The third lives on a coast 
and collects drops of seawater 
which he examines microscopically 
and mounts."  


Bigsley and Bernadette: Twist My Wing

Okay, quit your begging already!  I'll migrate, if that's what you want.  But I like to make good time. No stopping for historic markers, cave tours, or corn palaces.  If I'm going, we're gonna do this right. And Herman, no podcasting.  This is supposed to be a vacation!


The Wheel of Righteous Indignation

A) Any exasperated assertion of a loved one's weakness:  "Why doesn't he ever turn off the lights?!"

B) Justification of assertion with damning evidence:  "He's 'Mr. Sustainability' and he leaves lights on in every room in the house!"

C) Smug assertion of superior moral position. "But I will turn them off and then let it go."

D) Justification of moral superiority with a superior act. "I will accept him for who he is."

E) Inevitable conclusion. "I am better than he is."


Yiddish Lesson #6: Kvetch

"Does she have to keep it so hot in here? I should have worn my bikini. Can you believe the fuss she makes every year? I don't know why she does it. Imagine the expense! Just like a goy. And a wreath?! She's loosing her mind. For New Year's, she's going to some nudist hot springs in California. Believe me, I know. It can only end badly. Have you ever tasted latkes so greasy? And my God, this wine!  It tastes like a sponge. She's my only living relative, that's why. She feels obligated to invite me. Every year it's the same thing. 'Could you pick up some low fat sour cream? Remember, buy the all natural apple sauce. Don't forget the folding chairs like you did last year!' What a kvetch!  I've known some kvetches in my life, but she tops the list. Nothing is ever good enough for her. You bring over crackers and the first thing she does is read the ingredients. She claims certain oils are bad for her. Well, I've been eating those oils all my life and look at me! Healthiest one in the building. I don't go to the doctor more than once a year, thank God! But not her, she runs to him for every little ache and pain. 'My doctor says I shouldn't eat this, my doctor says I should only eat that!' It's enough to make you have to go to the doctor yourself. And the doctors these days, I'll tell you. It's all about money. Not like when we were young and the doctor was a member of the community. A solid citizen. I don't envy the young kids these days, absolutely not. The way the world is going, I'll be glad when my time comes. Unlike some people I know who think they can live forever. As if plastic surgery and crystals and flax seed can bring ever lasting life. And don't think you are going to get any dessert around here. God forbid some refined sugar should cross her lips!"


Thoughts about People #1,776,943




Bigsley and Bernadette: Cult of Herman

"Acapulco?!" choked Bigsley.  "Why not be honest with yourself for once?  You migrate because of peer pressure.  With the advent of modern conveniences, why would any logical bird do it?  It's old school, Baby.  Just surrender to the moment and admit you would rather stay here snuggled up with me and my satellite dish."

Bernadette explained that there are lots of reasons to migrate, the exercise, the change of scenery, the opportunity to mingle with birds of other species.

"And let me guess," interrupted Bigsley.  "It's spiritually enlightening."

"As a matter of fact, it is."

"Well, how about that folks?  She's been brainwashed!"


12/12/12 @ 12:12:12

Twelve ideas,

Twelve reasons,

Twelve seas by the seasons.

Twelve times,

Twelve finds,

Twelve special friends of mine.



There are never any pens in the junk drawer because every time I leave the house, I grab one.  Or two. Or three.  Last week I cleaned out my purse and found fourteen pens.  This is not unusual.  I buy pens in packs, like wolves.  It feels ridiculous to buy so many.  And yet, I often find myself searching for a pen.  Obviously, I am not the only pen hoarder in the house.  I have my suspicions.  Others suspect me. Just last week, two members of my family confronted me about the pen situation.  I blinked at them, hoping they would go away.  I don't like to share pens because not just any pen will do.  Cheap ballpoints suffice for grocery lists or reminders to walk the friend's dog.  Those I generously share.  But Uniballs, Zigs, or APs I do not lend out, even if they were lent to me.


Stories Shared at the Holiday Office Party

A man attending a very fancy affair popped a cherry tomato into his mouth, only to realize, too late, that  it was far too large for his mouth.  Not knowing what else to do, he bit down.  The innards of the tomato squirted out of his mouth and across the table, sewing a line of seeds all the way up an older woman's elegant white dress and onto her naked neck.  This was years ago.  When his colleague inquired whether he had paid for the dry cleaning bill, he paused.  "I never considered dry cleaning," he admitted.  He did though say he was sorry.


A very shy woman was invited out to dinner after work with some colleagues and their boss and their boss's boss.  This was back in the day when people wore suits and ties to work.  And because it was Wisconsin, the dinner was a bratwurst fry.  The very shy woman was seated across from her boss and boss's boss, not the place she wanted to be seated, especially when presented with the prospect of having to put her mouth around a very large brat (as brats in Wisconsin tend to be).  But not knowing what else to do, she picked it up with both hands, put it to her mouth and bit down.  Hot brat grease squirted out the back end of the brat, splattering her boss and boss's boss.  To this day, at all brat frys, she ops for the salad.


Before his high school prom, a man was invited, along with a group of his friends, to his date's house for dinner.  His date's mother served fondue.  The young man had a skewer full of meat on his plate, freshly dipped in barbecue sauce.  When he brought his hand down, he accidentally hit the end of the skewer, flinging the barbecue slathered meat right onto his date's dress.  She was immediately whisked upstairs where all the women disappeared for a half hour.  The guys, not knowing what else to do, continued to fondue.


Bigsley and Bernadette: Preparing for Winter

"Let me guess," said Bigsley.  "You are trying to look silly in order to be ironic."

"What I am doing," replied Herman, "is preparing myself for migration season, something you might benefit from yourself."

"You're right!  I've got to remember to call the satellite guy and get my hook-up before the snow flies."

"I'm talking about getting out of the house for the winter.  I bet you've never been to Acapulco."

"Who needs Acapulco when you've got Oshkosh?"


Yet Another Thing That Seems Like It Should Be Easy But Isn't

Why is it so easy to tell a friend a story, the story say of being seventeen and driving to meet a guy, late for your first date, when into the road jumped a flashing orange stick and your heart slammed into your chest because it didn't make sense until you realized the stick was attached to a man, and the man was signaling with the orange stick to drive into a parking lot where a policeman was waiting to give you a ticket for driving 20 mph over the speed limit.  Of course, you said you didn't realize you were driving that fast, and now it's been so long that you can't remember if you really didn't or you actually did but just said you didn't, though that detail is so unimportant, it doesn't even come into the telling of the story to your friend.  You do tell how you were so scared, you cried.  Instead of the $250 ticket, the policeman offered you, as a first offender, the option of taking a defensive driving class for $75.  It was summer and the class was held downtown and so you cooked up a lie to tell your parents, that you were going to go golfing with that guy, the same one you were going to meet the night you got the speeding ticket, the guy who had since become your boyfriend. (Your friend interrupts the story to laugh at the absurdity of the lie.)  But oh how you would have rather been golfing on a beautiful summer's day, instead of sitting in a bland windowless room in downtown Omaha with a lot of stale looking adults, watching films of fatal car accidents.  Mostly, you were worried about running into your dad who worked downtown, so you skipped lunch and ate a candy bar out of the vending machine.  And when you got home and your mom asked you how was golfing, you said "great" in that same bored way you answered most every question she asked, so she didn't suspect a thing.

Why is a story like this so easy to tell, rolling out of your memory onto your tongue, but when you go to write it down, the story slithers away and in its place arises all kinds of diversions and abstractions, that in the breathless moment of creation appear pithy and interesting, but in the reality of the reader's mind are dizzying and incomprehensible at best?


Story of The Talker

Everyone knew who The Talker was, but no one really knew him. His voice was soft and quiet and he said mostly pleasant things, so everyone liked The Talker.  But no one really loved him.  

He lived by himself and had no family, no friends to speak of, and yet, he received many invitations. He was something of an art house piece. He strolled through any gathering, talking to everyone and talking to no one. Newcomers found him curious, then angering, and then, for the most part, amusing. He laughed at himself right along with everyone else, which made us come close to loving him.

But, he woke talking and fell asleep talking and talked every moment in between. He talked while he ate, while he drank, while he peed. He even talked in his dreams.

Then, at the coffee shop, one ordinary morning, right in the middle of a sentence, just like that, he stopped. He had finally reached his quota. His eyes grew big as he tried to speak. But he simply could not do it. Everyone stared, not knowing what to do, while he turned pink, then purple, then pale. He died standing up, with his mouth open wide, and not a single word left in him.  

And so it came to be that no one could stop talking about him, the talking man who was at long last, silent.

*Voice bubbles by Eleanora


The Photo of Balpreet Kaur

A man took a photo of a young woman he did not know and put it on the internet.  At the time, the young woman had been standing in line and texting and did not notice that someone had taken a picture of her.  (Even if she had been alert, she may not have known.  I've heard there are now glasses frames with hidden cameras that can shoot video.)  The man posted the photo of the young woman to a popular comedy chatroom.  The photo generated an avalanche of comments and soon the photo was forwarded around the internet, generating more comments, generating more forwards.  And then, one day, the young woman discovered that a photo of her texting while standing in line was being sent around the internet.  Many of the comments were mean-spirited.  But the young woman was not mad. She did not reflect back the derision that was directed at her.  Instead, she smiled.  She understood that people are conditioned by their culture to think in certain ways.  She visited the chatroom where so many strangers were howling about her, and she wrote:

Hey, guys. This is Balpreet Kaur, the girl from the picture. I actually didn't know about this until one of my friends told on facebook. If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled :) However, I'm not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it's who I am. Yes, I'm a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body - it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn't reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying 'mine, mine' and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it? When I die, no one is going to remember what I looked like, heck, my kids will forget my voice, and slowly, all physical memory will fade away. However, my impact and legacy will remain: and, by not focusing on the physical beauty, I have time to cultivate those inner virtues and hopefully, focus my life on creating change and progress for this world in any way I can. So, to me, my face isn't important but the smile and the happiness that lie behind the face are. :-) So, if anyone sees me at OSU, please come up and say hello. I appreciate all of the comments here, both positive and less positive because I've gotten a better understanding of myself and others from this. Also, the yoga pants are quite comfortable and the Better Together tshirt is actually from Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that focuses on storytelling and engagement between different faiths. :) I hope this explains everything a bit more, and I apologize for causing such confusion and uttering anything that hurt anyone.

The man who took the picture and posted it to the internet had been gleefully following the activity his photo had generated.  But when he read the young woman's comment, he felt the deep sinking of shame and embarrassment.  Only in the face of courage did he wonder, how could he have been such a coward?


Sylvia and Lil: Senior Moment

Sylvia and Lil stopped and watched the fledglings chirping and fluttering.

After a while, one flapped, and flew off.  Then the other two followed.

"Too bad," said Lil.

Sylvia agreed.  "Those are tasty."

They stared at the spot where the fledglings had been.  After a while, they forgot where they had been going.  Then they forgot where they had come from.  So they went back to staring though they couldn't exactly recall what they had been staring at.  

"Too bad," said Lil again.

And Sylvia agreed.


Thanksgiving Traditional

Dearest Relations,

Thank you for traveling so far to eat with us and our children.  We all benefit greatly from the tradition, reaffirming that indeed, our family lines both are crowded with kooks.  When you get old like us, you realize that these are not good or bad things.  That things simply are the way they are.  No matter how firmly we try to deny it, that is the truth we have learned.

We love you all, though we may not appreciate you always.  We are trying to get better at all things we do.  We are prone to much failure.  But failure, we have also learned, promotes our growth.  So, we try to call those successes.  This mostly feels very silly even though we understand the meaning of the exercise, failure always feels like failure.  

Fortunately, we have all you good people on our sides and it's for this that we thank you.  Because life is an easier journey when you have people there to encourage you to continue on your path.  Yes, this sounds silly too.  But these are the words that are currently in vogue for expressing gratitude. So those words come most naturally for us.

We continue to love you, 
Frida and Freddy



When A. was gone in Puerto Rico, 
I noticed that on the back of our son's bedroom door, 
there were the two signs I had made for him plus one I had never seen before.  
I couldn't wait to tell A.

After A. got back from Puerto Rico, 
I told him about the sign our son had made and how touching I thought it was.
And he asked,
"Would it still be just as touching if you knew I wrote it?"


Bigsley and Bernadette: Fledged

"Gone?!  What do you mean they're gone? I was just getting used to them.  When are they coming back?"

Bernadette explained that they wouldn't be back, that they grew large enough to fly and that now they could take care of themselves.

"And that's it? Not even a good-bye, sayonara, see you later, Sucker?  Where's the love?  Where's the understanding?  Don't they even care??  How can you be so calm in the midst of tragedy?"

Bernadette told Bigsley that's just the way life is, that chicks weren't meant to stick around the nest after they could fly.

"But think of all the work!  All the hours of attending to their every need?  What about that?"

"I suppose it did the trick," said Bernadette.

"You are even more cold hearted than I originally thought," said Bigsley.  "Now you're probably going to tell me you're getting ready to migrate."

"How did you know?"


Fortune Teller

When I was a girl, I had a little red chair.  
The little red chair sat in my room,
And on the little red chair sat big Raggedy Anne 
Holding little Raggedy Anne in her lap.

I sat on the little red chair in Omaha.  
My kids have sat on the little red chair in Tucson, Santa Fe, Chippewa Falls, and now Appleton.

The little red chair turns up all over the house.  
Tonight, I found the little red chair lying on its side under the kitchen table.  
I hauled the little red chair out and happened to see the label on the underside of the seat, 
something I had studied as a child, 
but haven't really looked at in years.  


Street Wise

In Madison, on State Street, an older black man is selling StreetWise.  Sometimes I buy StreetWise and sometimes I don't.  I never know exactly why I do or don't, even if I think I do.  Today, I veer towards the Overture Center, away from the vendor, when I see a younger white man, tall and rough looking, with a cigarette and black leather jacket.  "I'll take one, Man.  You got change?"  There is something about this scene that makes me stop.  It is touching that this guy is buying a StreetWise.  If he can make the gesture of support, why can't I?  After all, I'm about to go into the book festival and will probably drop 25 bucks or more.  I stand while the vendor makes change for a five dollar bill.  He smiles, somewhat embarrassed, while the tough guy frowns, puffing on his cigarette, his hand out waiting for his change.

Is it something about how the vendor says, "Thank you very much," after I give him fifty cents and he hands me a paper, or just some energy in the air that gives me pause as I'm heading through the doors of the Overture Center?  I turn back and the StreetWise guy is still watching me, smiling, nodding.  I crane to see the tough guy standing on the curb, a few feet off, his back to me, frowning at some distant something.  I walk away, out of sight, and then sneak back in time to see the tough guy slapping the vendor on the shoulder.  They smile at each other, exchange a few words, and then the tough guy slides his paper back onto the stack.


Bigsley and Bernadette: Healing With Herman

"And friends, always remember that by opening ourselves up to the possibilities of the universe, we all find love.  Muchas Gracias, Au Revoir, and Namaste." Herman concluded his popular weekly podcast with a self-satisfied fluffing and perched outside his doorway waiting to hear from his listeners.

"You think you can out namaste me, do you?" called Bigsley from his house.  "The only way you'd have a chance is if you attend one of those 10 day silent meditation retreats.  I know just the place.  That peacock down the road told me about it.  And it's only a three week flight!  I know you'd love it.  I'll tell you what.  You head on out and I'll take care of all the details from here."


Pipe Dream

David Byrne and his big suit. David Byrne and his spastic movements. David Byrne when he dressed preppy. David Byrne at the kabuki theatre. David Byrne stripping songs of all conventions. David Byrne in Bali, riding a motorcycle, searching for gamelan.  David Byrne dressed in a jumpsuit.  David Byrne dying his hair like David Bowie.  David Byrne making an album with Brian Eno.  David Byrne touring with a Latin ensemble.  David Byrne at Joslyn Art Musem.  David Byrne hiring me as a back-up singer.


Portrait of a Marriage

A long time ago, we were leaving a holiday office party, and a man (the husband of a woman who worked at the firm), fueled with an undisclosed amount of alcohol from the open bar, started talking for the first time that night.  We stood in the parking lot, a small gathering of us, and the wife, who in broad daylight would have panicked at the prospect of her husband opening his mouth around this crowd, (she didn't want to get fired!) was herself fueled up enough to just lean back and listen.  And the man told lewd and offensive stories that everyone loved, all inching closer to hear every detail while staying as far away as possible. And the man, obviously enjoying making these squeaky cleans squirm, went on and on with the guns and the carcasses and the maggots and the gasoline and the explosions, and the dead bald eagles. And while the crowd gasped, the wife just smiled.


The Making of an Artist

Monkey see, monkey do.

I am going to copy you.

Monkey see, monkey do.

Until I've had enough of you.


July 2, 1937

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly,

To Howland
To Howland.

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly,

1000 feet high.
1000 feet high.

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly,

The ocean rushing towards the sky
The ocean rushing towards the sky.

Fly Amelia Earhart Fly.


While Hanging From the Tailgate

I daydream about how I used to daydream on the trip between Bangui and Carnot nearly two decades back, in the western quarter of the Central African Republic, four degrees north of the equator. On transports we were crowded like cattle, jostled and lurching over the unpaved roads, choking on billowing clouds of orange earth, scorching under the brutal sun or freezing in the hours before dawn. No one knew how long the trip would take or what we might encounter: rain, police, herds of goats, flat tires, delays in towns where the driver inexplicably disappears.  For a while, I suffered.  But then I noticed that the Central Africans were trance-like on these journeys.  Women's heads gently swayed, their eyelids half-closed over their fierce gaze.  Children watched with wide eyes until they fell asleep against their mamas.  Men sat, their eyes slitted at the road.

They inspired me to daydream.  For hours I watched my mind wandering forgotten paths, foraging new ones. I reminisced about old loves, recalled the details of winter, contemplated the strange reality of being an American woman born in 1971 Omaha, Nebraska, the odd coincidence of finding myself again, smack in the center of a continent.  I must have dreamed about the future, about someday marrying a man I love, about having children, writing books, traveling the world.  But what lingers is the sensation of diving under a warm sea, swimming without goal or destination, without needing to come up for air, floating with the currents, humming with the wind, marveling at the clouds above until we reached our destination.


Bigsley and Bernadette: What's the Deal?

"You know, it really seems like you're ignoring me," said Bigsley one morning, "and I want to know why.  Don't tell me it's Herman.  The guy got tagged!  Do you realize what that means?  Besides the fact that he's an ignoramous, it means they are watching us.  Listen to me Baby.  I'm talking about the DNR here.  They probably got their binocs trained on us right now.  If that doesn't make you paranoid, it's time you visited the shrink."

Bernadette said something in reply but Bigsley couldn't hear what because of the chipping chicks.

"Don't you think it's about time they fend for themselves?" Bigsley continued. "When I was that age I was stealing worms from fishermen.  I was setting booby traps for tom cats.  I was staging jail breaks at aviaries.  How are these kids ever going to amount to anything if all they know how to do is whine?"


Assignment #19 - The History of the Sacred Object

We never think about it, except when we need it.  Then it is never where we think it should be.  We curse it, saying things like, "Where did it go? Why is it never where it's supposed to be?"

We have stepped on it, kicked it, thrown it in the trash, retrieved it, laughed at it, carried it, forgotten it.

No one remembers where it came from.  Undoubtedly, it was once new and shiny, though now, cracked and dirty, why bother recalling that?

Behind glass, a thousand years from now, when it is no longer useful, it will finally become the sacred object we never knew it to be but that it always was.


Assignment #18 - Discover What Goes in the Box

Small figures, small foxes, small dreams I can't remember.  
Small odors. Small feathers. Small sirens from the corner. 
Small hungers, small aches, small changes in the way I think.  
Small minds. Small bodies. Small makings for small funerals.
Small books, small pencils, small accomplishments, small failures. 
Small families, small streets, small flies in my drink.  
Small houses, small talk, small cities, small frowns.  
Small specks of dirt on my thumb.  
Small countries, small planets, small universes, small worries. 
Small itches under my arm.


Entering the Marketplace - Ten*

She is no longer fettered.
One place is all places.  
Her wanderings are purposeless.
What she encounters, she does.
What she discovers, she loves.
She is free.


*John Cage is one of those names that repeated emerges, so one day, I looked him up at the library. One of the books in the stacks was John Cage: Zen Ox Herding Pictures.  The book is illustrated with the paper towels John Cage used at the Mountain Lake Workshop in Virginia to test his brush and practice new watercolor techniques.  His friend Ray Kass found the resulting test sheets appealing and saved them for almost 20 years.  In 2007, Kass met Stephen Addiss, an artist, musician, and historian of Japanese art.  Addiss had studied with Cage, so Kass showed him the paper towel collection which they decided to use as illustrations for a zen ox herding series, something Cage liked and related to. Addiss then chose text from Cage's writings to accompany the images.*  

In the introductory pages to the book, Stephen Addiss writes:

While the ox has long been a symbol of fertility in China, in Zen it also represents the heart-mind unity.  In Chinese and Japanese the same character (for ox) has both meanings, so searching for the ox can be understood as searching for one's own true self.  As a metaphor for the path to enlightenment, the ox-herding poems and paintings form a spiritual narrative, making them part of a great tradition: the journey outward that leads to a journey inward.

*I talked to my mother today, and she insisted I clarify that John Cage's paper towel collection and accompanying text appears in the book I checked out of the library (and returned late).  The ink marks and text that appear here are my interpretations of the zen ox herding pictures.  10/25/12


Bigsley and Bernadette: Nessum Dorma

Opera?  Face it Herman.  You're a cliche.  Why don't you try something a little more avant-garde? Like John Cage's 4'33, perhaps?  It's not as easy as it sounds, staying silent for 4 minutes and 33 seconds. You'll have to practice.  How about you start right now and in about six weeks or so, I'll let you know how you're doing.  Trust me on this one Herman.  The chicks go gaga for dada.