Travel Tuesday: Listen to the Longing for Pandemic-Prohibited Travel in this Song by Novelist Kazuo Ishiguro

One of my favorite podcasts is NPR’s Fresh Air, in which host Terry Gross interviews all kinds of interesting people — writers, scientists, singers, film stars. Much like the PBS NewsHour and CBS Sunday Morning, Fresh Air almost always expands my mind, enriches my brain, or opens my heart. Sometimes, it’s all three. If you are not yet a subscriber/viewer, back up and click on those links before you read any more.

Seriously, do that.

Thanks for coming back. So, one of Terry Gross’ most recent guests was Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, the Nagasaki -born, London-raised novelist whose works include Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, and who won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature.

…who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.

2017 Nobel Prize for Literature press release.

I’d not heard Ishiguro interviewed before, so was surprised by his English accent and stories of his British youth. He was a sort of celebrity child singer of church music and thought he’d be a singer-songwriter in his youth, and “voice” continues to inspire writing.

I take enormous inspiration from listening to singing voices. I love to listen to Stacey Kent, whom I write lyrics for. There’s something almost impossible to capture in words about the quality of the singing performance.

Kazuo Ishiguro speaking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air

Terry concluded the interview with Stacey Kent’s I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again, lyrics by Kazuo Ishiguro. The song is sweet and the message is one so many of us feel very deeply, thirteen months into this pandemic. I wish I could go traveling again …..

Barry Goldstuck on YouTube, lyrics and images for Stacey Kent’s “I Wish I Could Go Traveling Again,” lyrics by novelist Kazuo Ishiguro.

Weekend Wildcard: Poet Kate Hutchinson’s Abecedarian Pandemic Poem

Today, I am sharing a timely and thought-provoking poem by fellow blogger poet Kate Hutchinson (bio below) as she looks back at the year of pandemic. It’s an abecedarian poem, a new term for me but a logical one: she takes a look at COVID, from A to Z. I found it inspiring my thinking back with gratitude, sorrow, and perspective.

It All Matters

Antiseptics. Air for our lungs and air hugs for our hearts.

Boxes of beans plus blue skies and bikes and bare feet.

Clorox on the shelf along with cat food, chocolates and coffee.

Doctors, yes, and drive-thru windows and drive-by birthdays.

Exercise, elastic waistbands, evergreen trees in the yard.

Facts over falsehoods . . . and Facebook. Food kitchens.

Gloves and newly-gray hair and grandparents on screens.

Hospitals full of heroes plus houseplants and hummingbirds.

IV drips, igloos outside restaurants. Vivid imaginations.

Jeans, jammies, jigsaws, Jeopardy! and Jupiter kissing Saturn.

Keeping our distance but keeping the faith. Kindness.

Libraries, leaves greening then falling on lawns. Love.

Masks and music and movies and mothers and miracles.

Nurses, oh yes. Newspapers and neighbors on the front porch.

Oximeters, ovens full of bread. Open minds, open hearts.

Personal protective equipment. Pets on laps and leashes. Poetry.

Q-tip swabs and questions on quarantining.

Remdesivir plus reading, reading, reading.

Steroids, sourdough starter, and solos on balconies.

Too much toilet paper and time on treadmills. Tireless teachers.

Ultraviolet light and unsung heroes all around us.

Ventilators. Vaccines! Vegetables from our own gardens.

Windows kept open and long walks and wine.

X-rays of lungs, experts who temper our expectations.

Yeast and yarn and yoga and yearning for normal.

Zoom gluing us together under zillions of stars.

~ Kate Hutchinson

The golden sunset peaks through the clouds above the horizon on Juno Beach, Florida last Thanksgiving. Photo: Jane Kelly Amerson López

From “Both Sides of the Window,” Kate Hutchinson’s blog:

Kate Hutchinson recently retired from teaching high school English, and she has on occasion taught poetry writing at a local university.  Her first chapbook of poetry, The Gray Limbo of Perhaps, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2012 and is available at their website (linked to the right). A full-length collection of her poems and prose-poems, Map Making: Poems of Land and Identity, was released by THEAQ Press (Rosemount, MN) in 2015.  It is available through Amazon or directly from the author upon request.

Kate has had poems and short essays published in many literary magazines and anthologies since she began writing professionally in the early 2000’s, and several of her pieces have earned recognition in local or national contests.  Her poem “Fowler Ridge Wind Farm,” winner of the 2010 Mobius literary magazine poetry contest, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  A second Pushcart nomination came in 2018 for a golden shovel poem written on the day of Elie Wiesel’s death, which uses the Emily Dickinson line, “Hope inspires the good to reveal itself.”

Blogging is Kate’s way of forcing herself to write and think about the deeper elements of life amidst the daily demands of job, family, and home.  

Wildcard Weekend Book Review: “The Beauty in Breaking” by Michele Harper

I have been broken many times. I suspect most people have. In practicing the Japanese art of Kintsukoroi, one repairs broken pottery by filling in the cracks with gold, silver, or platinum. The choice to highlight the breaks with precious metals not only acknowledges them, but also pays tribute to the vessel that has been torn apart by the mutability of life. The previously broken object is considered more beautiful for its imperfections. In life, too, even greater brilliance can be found after the mending.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

In her memoir The Beauty in Breaking, emergency medicine doctor Michele Harper draws on her experiences with patients to slowly address and heal the deeply-seated emotional pain of her traumatic childhood, chaos that landed her in an ER waiting room as a young teen.

All of us had converged in these hallowed halls for a chance to heal our wounds, to offer up our hurt and our pain to be eased.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

That experience led her to the decision that ER medicine would be her life’s work.

Unlike the war zone that was my childhood, I would be in control of that space, providing relief or at least a reprieve to those who called out for help … That would be my offering to the world, to myself.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

Harper offers us multiple opportunities to experience redemption as she reflects on the people in her care. The crushing blow of losing an infant makes way for healing.

After all, only an empty vessel can be filled by grace.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

A young Black man lies dying from a gunshot wound, crying for his mother:

… as he was absolved by the bright lights of the trauma bay.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

A woman in the psychiatric unit reveals an awful secret in a moment that feels like the shattering of a glass house:

We had trod mindfully over the shards and escaped with nonfatal wounds to a new freedom.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking

Over and over again, Dr. Harper sees the person, not the patient.

I read this book in the early months of my ongoing recovery from a near-fatal ruptured aneurysm while on vacation in Holland in 2019. I could see myself through Harper’s eyes — a woman lying on an ER gurney bleeding internally to death. I felt her “call down the gods of repose and silence, to take the measure of their power in the moments when I need it most” just as those ER doctors in Amsterdam did in finding and sealing the rupture, snatching me back from death.

It was a short-lived victory. I was in the ICU for another month as my body failed and failed again. But, at every turn, the Amsterdam doctors and nurses not only pulled me back from the brink, they held me and my family up with kindness and compassion. As I emerged from the fog and began to recover my wasted body, my OLVG caregivers continued to treat me as a person, not a patient. They filled my heart as they healed my body.

My story has been refracted a million times over by the coronavirus pandemic as compassionate, exhausted doctors stand between COVID and death around the globe. What a time in which to see the struggle through the eyes of this passionate woman and compelling author.

In life, too, even greater brilliance can be found after the mending.

Michele Harper, The Beauty in Breaking
Portraits of hospital workers by Steve Derrick. See his Facebook page here

NOTE: The photographs on this post are portraits of hospital workers by Steve Derrick of Clifton Park, NY, who was featured by CBS News some months back. See his Facebook page here to see more paintings and to learn how to purchase them.

Twas the Write Before Christmas

Liz Balsameda’s touching article in The Palm Beach Post tells us the story of Tom Gregory, a Palm Beach Gardens writer who has nurtured his daughter’s budding creative skills for many years. My father, too, was a word-smith, and he shared the delight of writing with me his entire life.

Letter from santa

Gregory conveyed his support in a letter from Santa ten years ago, using the meter and rhyme of Twas the Night Before Christmas. The jolly old man tries to talk the child into wanting traditional toys.

“Readers read, and thinkers think.” So flow the words from Santa’s red ink. “But writers, they are a different breed. They fail over and over before they succeed.”

Tom Gregory

The girl realizes that her letter has generated a unique response.

“If my letter to Santa a thought did purvey, then I must be a writer!” she did excitedly say. “Not just a writer who combines paper and ink, but a writer who writes so her readers can think!

Tom Gregory

Gifts from my father

Both of my parents encouraged the creative impulses of my sister and me. Susie took the lead in music and art — she is still a huge fan of all kinds of music and has a wonderful collection of art on her walls. I carved out a dancing and writing niche — I followed my mother’s muse with a brief dance career and a lifetime of teaching movement, and writing is still the drive that gets me up in the morning.

Mom shared her love of reading and Dad gave me writing tools. I learned calligraphy at his side with my own pen and ink set. Dad gave me the Roget’s Thesaurus that is never far from my desk on Christmas in 1966, when I was just 12 years old. That morning also revealed his gift of Clement Wood’s The Complete Rhyming Dictionary with the following inscription:

To Jane — We hope, through the years, when the muse appears, and you’re in the mood poetic, You’ll take this from the shelf while expressing yourself, and [… uh, magnetic? Frenetic? Come to think of it, why don’t YOU just look over page 383, and we’ll let this end with “yourself”] Dad

Today, let me finish the poem. “Let fly your skill genetic.”

Christmas wish

So Santa did say, On that cold winter’s night, “Merry Christmas to all, And to all A GOOD WRITE!”

Tom Gregory

Hey, writers: who was your special Santa?