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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Michigan Seems LIke A Dream To Me NOw

When I finished teaching and got on the plane to come home, I fell into a deep sleep. On the drive home various moments from the day sifted back to me. The woman in a white sweater taking copious notes. The young man behind orange tinted glasses with a strange story about a ghost. The man in blue denim shirt in the front row who never spoke. The woman with black hair and a distinctive part and nose earring, whose questions were sharp and pointed, and I nicknamed her Dragon Tattoo.

I worked hard to make them laugh (what is this, Comedy Central?), and most difficult of all, to send a positive message. I so wanted the students to take something good away. Some shard of hope, some spark of inspiration. I  looked out and saw half a handful of kids with their eyes at half mast. Some, eager sardines. All that you bring to the river, all that you write, all you know in your heart to be true, this is what matters, this is your art, this is your life. Others were thinking about lunch, or bunions. I myself went into a mini fugue state. Did I buy dog food? Should I leave therapy? Where did I leave my phone? Is that your umbrella? The long hand of the clock stood still. I lifted my eyes and the room appeared as a garden of marigolds, and I reached for one.

45 Responses

  1. If you were in Michigan, I wish I had been there!

  2. Teaching writing is like being a priest. Sometimes my students get it, sometimes they don’t. I try to make them understand how important it is, what we do, how ancient and primal. They think it’s just stories and words. The younger they are the more they understand, because they still remember a time when stories were not separate from the world.

  3. Shards and sparks make me think of broken things.

  4. Gorgeous image of marigolds. How old were these kids? How pathetic; their behavior reflects the nearly universal obsession with electronic media. Thanks for the vivid portrait.

    (sorry excuse for segway)

    Does everyone else instantly recognize the song lyrics referenced in Betsy’s posts? (Today’s is from Paul Simon’s “America.”) Intense but beautiful tune.

    Is anyone else not totally focused on the Superbowl? To me, it’s just another annoying distraction one must face when leaving home. Like Christmas songs, television news and presidential politicals. Opiate of the masses. (And I live in Boston.)

    Cheers!

    • Superbowel ?
      What is this Superbowel of which you speak ? We don’t care about that in Australia. Although recently, our one wonderful Book Show, 5 days a week on radio, was replaced by a Books and Arts Daily show. And a few days in, one segment was about the Fashions in the American Presidential Something Or Fucking Other.
      I wrote a letter of complaint and didn’t get a reply…
      I didn’t even call them names in the letter, or tell them we don’t care what colour suit shit wears, or shits wear.
      I only asked why they took that precious radio time from Books, and gave it to Nothing.

      • In America, we have a Superbowel movement every year, where we gather in clumps and fits and starts all across our great nation and celebrate being full of shit. It gives our lives meaning and is less expensive than opium.

    • The Superbowl? That’s football, right?

      • Seriously, Tetman, I have to tell you, I do not LOL.
        But lately, sometimes, I actually have laughed out loud, and when I have, the words have had Tetman written above them.
        Sincere thanks for that, where would we be without laughter…

  5. And when you woke, had you found contentment with your lecture? Despite the listless few and the ominous drapery pleats, I sense this was an enjoyable trip – so long as the man in the denim shirt doesn’t show up in NYC – but like Dorothy, you longed for home. Hope you received a warm welcome when you walked inside!

    ps to V.V.: unless our home team is playing, I have a ga-gillion other projects to keep me away from watching the Superbowl. I’m sure most of my poetry group will show up tonight, too. Saw Eli play HS football, though – even at 18, he looked like a pro.

  6. I’ve got a marigold for you.

    The 6’4″ foster boy I taught last year is: still writing poetry and nonfiction, is a full-time community college student, works full time, and is living with his girlfriend’s parents (who happen to be teachers). Abandoned by his addict mother, no father, sent to wilderness camp, and kicked out of foster care 3 months before the end of high school because he’d turned 18.

    On Tuesday night he’ll be the opening act for a performance by the poet laureate of Santa Clara County.

  7. “Shard of hope” says it all.

  8. Welcome home, flower child.

  9. My daughter is looking at the two UT programs for grad school. I’m torn between asking (begging?) her to pursue something safe rather than getting an M.F.A. But then – what’s safe?

    • She should go for what she wants. If she takes the safe route, she better make a hell of a lot of money. Even that won’t be enough, doing what you enjoy is worth more than anything they can pay you.

  10. Eager Sardines…

    If I ever form a heavy metal bassoon-melodica-triangle-tuba-zyll band, that will be our name.

  11. “…The room appeared as a garden of marigolds. And I reached for one.” And I found the flower was cool and sweet in my hand. The stem, strangely, like a tiny tube of velvet, I don’t know how. Marigolds, I know, repel the bugs that would eat the tomatoes and the squash and those warm weather cucumbers. And I thought, okay, this day was worth it, I was alive; the fugue state fell away. And later, I think I will be courageous enough to reach for another flower on another day…maybe a pansy this time or a geranium. Who knows? Maybe I will actually reach for the rarest of flowers…the orchid. Maybe the woman in the white sweater will look up from her notebook and be amazed.

  12. I loved your post today. It’s put me in a good mood.

  13. We have a Super Bowel in the UK. It’s called the Olympics. Sorry if you’re a sporty, but it’s poo-ing out money we don’t have. Millions and millions in fact. We’re a tiny place and we’ve had to cough up at a time when we’re already coughing!
    The marigolds are lovely, Betsy. Did you pick one?

  14. To shards of hope and sparks of inspriration

  15. That wasn’t a post, it was a poem.

  16. I went to an introductory meeting for my kid’s middle school last week. There was a mother sitting next to me, her fingers wrapped around a pen as if it were a joystick, scribbling never-ending notes, as if she were in a race and stopping would mean she had lost. I couldn’t help but wonder what she was going to do with these words. Would she go home and type them out? Reread them to her about-to-be-sixth-grader? Stick ’em somewhere and just as easily forget them? Or maybe it was simply the way she learns. We all have our ways, don’t we?

    • I just die when mothers take notes. What the?

    • Was she truly taking notes or actually using the time for her WIP? I’ve caught myself abandoning meeting notes for a burst of (sincere) creative writing.

      • Nope. I spied. She wrote the entire 45 minute speech out verbatim. I couldn’t stop looking at her fingers, curled around her pen, wondering how it was possible they weren’t cramping up.

  17. And the marigold smiled and reached back to me. All the marigolds reached towards me and pulled me among them. I felt myself floating. I was floating, moving forward in a stream of what seemed like kisses – marigold kisses. I no longer had my clothes but was not aware of being naked. As I looked about me, I saw that I was no longer in a classroom, nor even a field as one might normally think of a field, but a vast expanse of flowers of all kinds showering me with kisses. I could not understand this as they all seemed not close enough to kiss me, and yet they did. In the marigold stream I kept floating forward, towards what I could not imagine, and I was not afraid but felt joy. The air was sweet, like honey and I filled my lungs with it. Beyond joy, I sensed what I thought might be delight, but I knew that it could not be delight, but something close.

    Out of the expanse appeared a great, shining, golden door. It was not harsh metal, like earthly gold, but warm, radiant and welcoming. The door opened, and the marigold stream swept me through into a great hall, wherein stood a multitude. I had never seen them before, but I knew them. They were my brothers and sisters. I knew them by the flowers in their eyes. And I knew that what I felt was not delight, but love.

  18. You little gardener you, Betsy.

  19. I’m thinking there’s the flowering top of a cannabis plant in the lower left of the photo, maybe a weed among the flowers, it too searching for America. Probably just wishful thinking on my dreary morning part.

    • Wishful thinking, Mike. Marigold leaves might resemble cannabis at first glance, cut a closer look quickly reveals the differences between the two plants. Not that I know a whole lot about marigolds.

  20. And…which one did you pick?

  21. I went to the Crayola crayons factory in Easton, PA a decade ago. I wanted to see how my favorite perfume (scent of new crayons) was made, but they don’t actually let you in the factory — they give you a guided tour through a facsimilie factory. And there was a mother, with two kids, in the tour group, taking notes. Because Crayola also makes Flair felt tip pens and the tour guide was explaining how felt tip pens will dry out if you leave the cap off. I was disturbed that this lady had to take notes about that. Because people who don’t know enough to not leave the cap off a Flair felt tip pen should not be raising kids, is all I’m saying.

    Come to think of it, there wasn’t a whole lot about that whole experience that wasn’t disturbing. Have people become so used to second-hand, mediated experience that Crayola thinks it’s OK to give us a tour of a fake factory? Or is touring a fake factory a real experience of fakeness?

    I think the Super Bowl is the last real thing that brings Americans to the virtual hearth, where we all sit around and experience the same thing in real time. And I’m impressed that Madona can still do a cartwheel, in high heels.

  22. You know, you could always return to Michigan.

    Lovely post.

  23. God, that was gorgeous. I don’t know what it’s like for you to come to this blog on a daily basis and think of something to say to us wannabes and addicts but can I tell you that if it every feels like an absolute drudge, a waste, a joke, a shallow PR obligation, a rope around the neck, you should know this–it is a miracle. This post sent a chill up my spine, put a lump in my throat, and fogged up my contact lenses. This post smoothed out a nick in my soul and untangled a memory that’s been twisted around my heart for decades. This post will get my to write today. How can I ever thank you?

  24. Beautiful post Betsy. The marigolds came out of nowhere and dovetailed, I’ll say it again, beautifully. Blocked 4now, your reply is gorgeous too.

  25. I sense that the way you teach is similar to the way you wrote your book, “THE FOREST FOR THE TREES.” The positive message and a chuckle (or two).

    I don’t get out here to this blog everyday, but when I do, it’s like having a backstage pass of sorts, where we get to see the “real Betsy,” and where you say what you really want to say.

    I always trace backwards to catch up and read your posts and how everyone responded. Sometimes I jump in (like today) but, most of the time, I like to read and then go off and think about what everyone has said.

    I don’t know how I came across the site, but I’m glad I did. I’ve gotten used to certain names who post regularly and it seems like a very cohesive and loyal group.. Best of all are the occasional blistering rants that always makes me laugh.

    I have to wonder though, back to that class – why would some purposely attend a class – then manage to not tune in? I mean what would be the point in that? Maybe I’m too much of a rule follower. If I sign up for a class then, I’m going to get the most out of it. I’d be the one at the front with her hand raised to ask the non-stop questions or the one going, “oooo, oooo, I know the answer!” (you know, the one you’d want to slap)

  26. in my 13th year, there were marigolds planted beneath my bedroom window. i’d lie there, trying to sleep in the sweltering summer heat, the smell of marigolds riding the ragged line between pungent and nauseating. my older brother was going out with a girl named Cheryl, and it was serious. one night, she dropped him off at the house. they sat in the car in the driveway and talked. naturally, i eavesdropped. she wanted to get married. he didn’t. she kept asking why. “too claustrophobic,” he said, then broke up with her. ever since, i’ve thought of the scent of marigolds as claustrophobic.

  27. Come back to Michigan. I’ll buy the first round.

  28. I meant to say that I love that song.

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