About Me

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Since 1984, my light commentary, Marginal Considerations, has been a feature of Weekend Radio. Moving into the 21st century (yeah, I know - a decade late and more than a dollar short), it may be time to explore the format known as "the blog." (Still on the radio, BTW.) I am the author of A Natural History of Socks, illustrated by the late Eric May, You May Already Be a Winner (and other marginal considerations) and The Nonexistence of Rutabagas, plus maybe 1K features, essays, book and arts reviews in newspapers and magazines nearly everywhere, except perhaps Kansas. I live on Lake Erie one city to the west of Cleveland with too many musical instruments, several large plants and no cats. My front door is purple. I collect dust, take up space and burn fossil fuel. I kayak, knit, hike, sing, canoe, write choral music and play hammered dulcimer, but not all at the same time. I read too much and don't write enough, but what's new?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shopping for a hoodie

In Texas, driving north from the border that is the Rio Grande, I hit an INS checkpoint. The uniformed officer who flags me over is red-haired and freckle-faced. And young. She calls me "ma'am." Her eyes sweep over the chaos that is the interior of my car - tent, sleeping bag, carton of books, my backpack spilling over the passenger seat.

She asks me where I'm coming from, what was I doing there, have I been out of the country, am I a citizen of the United  States. I answer and she waves me on. She doesn't look under the quilt that's spread out in the back, a quilt big enough to hide two illegal aliens (three if they're petite). The quilt is covering only my cooler and a heap of laundry but she doesn't know that! She doesn't even ask to see my driver's license. I could be anyone!  But, of course, I'm not. I'm an aging white woman in a suburbanite's vehicle with Ohio plates, decreed to be totally benign. Which, of course, I am.

I know that I've reached the age of invisibility on the beach and that construction workers, if they whistle at anybody anymore, are not going to whistle at me, not that they ever did. That part's more than OK with me. I'm less comfortable with the assumption that, based on my appearance, I'm harmless.  I  don't think I like being written off that way.

I'm mulling this, wondering if I should do something - anything - to alter the image I present to the world - spike my hair,  get me some gangsta gear, wear bright blue fingernail polish (OK - I've already done that a few times).  As I listen to one more NPR discussion of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, I scroll through recent memory revisiting erroneous assumptions I've made about people solely on first impressions and think maybe I should buy a hoodie.

It might remind me not to be so damn judgmental (I am), and maybe I'll look just a little bit dangerous when I wear it (but not in Florida).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Where have I been? (Well, where am I now . . .)

Once again my blog settled in for a long winter's nap, so long that it dozed into spring. (I think it was sleeping with my muse; she hasn't shown up for a while, either.)

Why so long away? Who knows . . .  holidays, too many music commitments, friends' needs, whatever. Lame explanations with only one decent excuse: a chunk of this time was spent someplace warm and sunny, and a portion of that well off the grid.  But I'm here now, still feeding the dust mites, still taking up space and burning fossil fuel. Exactly where 'here' is, however, is under consideration.

Before I left for Costa Rica, which is where the warm and sunny was, I tried to look up the street addresses of two hotels in the city of San Jose. The first lodging was where I would be after some weeks of hiking and birding. The second was where I would meet up with seven other volunteers with whom I'd be working on a humpback whale study, the off the grid part. In between, I'd have some time on my own. Being more of a Spanish-mispronouncer than a Spanish-speaker, I wanted to have these addresses in writing ready to hand to cab drivers if necessary.

What I found for the first hotel was "5km from the International Airport, Paseo Colon," for the second, "south of Parque de la Paz." I called the travel agent who had helped set up the first leg of my trip.

I could hear her computer keys clicking away. "That's all I have," she said. "There doesn't seem to be any numbered address for either. But I'm sure any cab driver in the city will know where they are."

I learned that indeed any cab driver does know where those hotels - and everything else - is, as did the guy driving the bus for the birding group, even though there were few street signs and almost no names or route numbers to be seen on roads outside the city.

"We don't use numbers," I was told when I asked about this. "We go by landmarks." My source illustrated this with his former address: "Jaime T-C, behind the fruit stand, Sarapiqui."

What if the fruit stand closes? I wanted to know. Or moves across the street? What if it sells out to a gas station or is taken over by a chain store?

He laughed at me. "Don't worry," he said. "The guy who delivers the mail knows where we are." Well, the guy who delivers my mail knows where I am, too, but he has a street name and house number to give him some clues. Without those, I wondered, where is 'here'?

My address could be "300 yards from the city ball field behind the Discount Drug Mart." It might also be "thirteen doors from the railroad tracks on Avenue French." So far, though, the best Costa Rican-style address I've come up with is "two blocks south of the lake, next to the house with the singing greyhounds." If you decide to come visit, just turn down my street and drive very slowly until you hear the dog duet. They do really great harmony.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Emergency parking

I’m back from a few days book-ended by to and fro on the interstate highways of Ohio. Here and elsewhere, I’ve noticed small pull-out areas with signs reading, “Emergency Parking  2 hour limit.”
That strikes me as amusing (but then, what doesn’t?). Seems to me that if your emergency has continued for as long as two hours without an EMS wagon showing up, you’re in deep difficulty. Or maybe not.
Once upon a time (I was all of nineteen years old), in a land far away (on the PA turnpike somewhere between Pittsburgh and the Breezewood exit), I pulled off on the side of the road.
A trooper stopped behind me and walked up to my car, a homely Rambler passed on to me by my grandmother, a car my friends somewhat unkindly nicknamed “the bathtub.” 
“Is everything OK, Miss?” he asked, bending over to peer into my low-to-the-ground window.
“I’m fine,” I answered, scribbling away on a sheet of staff paper.
He paused. “You can’t stop on the shoulder except in an emergency.”
“This IS an emergency,” I said, no doubt with some degree of adolescent drama. “Something was playing in my head and I had to get it down before I forgot it!” 
I continued to write. “You know,” he said, both elbows still on the door frame, “I could give you a ticket.”
“I’m almost finished,” I said. “Really, I’m just about done.”
He sighed and straightened up for a moment. He bent back down to my window. “Don’t . . . ever . . . do this again,” he said, then walked back to his car and drove off.
It was a different age. Today he’d have run my license and registration through his computer and probably told me to step out of the car. And he probably would have given me a ticket. Unless, of course, I parked in one of those emergency parking places. Then, I would’ve had two long legal hours to work. I might have finished the whole piece right there.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Take my card . . . please

I met my friend Kathy for lunch today. No mere social outing, this. We had serious work to do. She had a short story she wanted me to pick over, and I needed help deciding what to put on my business card.
Not that I have a business. That would imply regular, gainful employment by self or other, but “business card” is a shorthand that everyone understands: a  2" x 3.5" printed piece with my name and contact information on it.  Plus, some hint as to who I am and what I do. Therein lies my difficulty.
What DO I do? Well, I do write choral music. I’ve had some pieces published, gotten several commissions over the years (money for art - what a concept!) and my work has been programed in more than a few places. I have some cards that cover that. I had them printed when I was headed for a choral music conference and needed something to hand out that made me look like a grownup. It reads, “Jan C. Snow, Music for Voices,” followed by my phone number and email address.  
But that really doesn’t do the job. Are we to identify ourselves only by what earns us money? Or by how we spend our time? How about by what gives us joy? I’ve made my living, for the most part, in journalism. “Writer” is what the occupation spot on my IRS form reads. And although it doesn’t say anything about teaching, I’ve wrestled down more than my share of writing workshops and classes. 

But I’ve also taught paper making and book making. (The journal-of-your-own kind, not the horse-racing kind.) The bottom of my refrigerator is home to plastic vats of paper pulp. And squeeze bottles of dye. I mess around with a variety of fiber arts, particularly shibori, a Japanese version of resist dyeing. Think tie-dyeing but somewhat more organized.
I’ve played piano all my life (well, minus three years) and two decades ago I added hammering a dulcimer to my skill set. I'd like to play my grandfather's fiddle but I keep forgetting to practice. I also draw. I make no claim to professionalism, whatever that means, but more to the point, I love to draw. I don't even care how it turns out; I just like doing it. And I think I’d like to try painting.
So you see my problem. Who we are beyond the pigeon-holes of endeavor? My late friend Jeffrey was fond of reminding me when I bemoaned my perceived lack of productivity that we of our species are dubbed “human beings,” not “human doings.” Jeffrey would listen to me whine for just so long;  then he’d tell me to go take a hike -  preferably through the park or to the lake.
So, besides, my email, phone number and the address of this blog, here’s what I’ve decided to put on my card:
     Jan C. Snow
        ink-stained wretch
                 multi-arts maven
                 mostly fabulous person

I think that about covers it. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The answer is, “Are these people on drugs?”

The clue, my friends, is “Wheel of Fortune contestants.”
Yes, it’s true. I have a TV. I got the set - and cable service - a few years ago so I could watch Cavaliers’ b-ball. (We will not discuss that period of my life. It’s just too pathetic.) I’ve since cancelled the cable. I can get PBS, plus four broadcast stations, and on evenings that I find myself at home, I’m likely to watch “Jeopardy” on one of them.
In this market, “Wheel” immediately precedes Alex and his blue-screen categories. If I’m a little too quick in switching over at the end of the sober PBS “News Hour,” I catch Vanna, the ultimate Stepford wife, turning over some letters. 
Not that I mind Vanna. She does her job well. In addition, she crochets afghans and lends her name to a line of inexpensive acrylic yarn. Who could harbor ill will toward anyone who crochets afghans? And smiles all the time. (OK, that part is a little creepy.)
I do find Pat Sajak kind of unsettling. His mostly blank eyes seem just a bit too close together. Or maybe slightly crossed. I’m not sure. Then again, that set resembles a Japanese pachinko machine, all flashing lights, crayon colors and manic movement. Imagine working in that environment day after day. It would make anyone’s glazed-over eyes cross. 
But the contestants on this show? These people clap like crazed seals and jump up and down like five-year-olds who need to go to the bathroom. (From the looks of things, they’re screaming as well, but I can’t be sure since I keep my thumb on the mute button.) The only explanation is massive doses of stimulants. Some assistant producer, one of those under-paid young women carrying a clip board, probably force-feeds them espresso shots for a good twenty minutes before they go on. 
What bothers me most about “Wheel of Fortune,” though, is not the totally cheesy set or Vanna’s frozen face with its forever smile. I don’t even mind the somewhat odd host that much. What really bugs me about “Wheel” is that I can almost never figure out the puzzles. How in the world these people manage to do so while clapping and jumping up and down ( and possibly screaming) is completely beyond me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ideas of Heaven (the poem)

(One amongst you heard me read this in some art gallery some years ago, and asked for it, spurred no doubt by the end of the world post. Here it is.)

Ideas of Heaven

My knees don't hurt, there's no opera or chewing gum
no one wears fur or smells of mothballs and nothing
makes me sneeze but
here's the thing - it's not crowded -
you can always find a parking space
even though everyone is here
all my friends, with banjos and dulcimers, not just harps
and no one sings off-key, not even
Amelia Earhart, who was excused from the training because
she already knew how to fly.

Dante and his surfeit of circles?
We are having a much better time. Of course
Mozart is here and Dr. Seuss
Michelangelo, even if (or maybe because) he was gay
Joan of Arc, Catherine, St. Francis with all his little birds
the usual suspects, but also - get this -
Hamen, Quisling, Stalin, Machiavelli
the whole constellation of one-name villains
and Svengali, just because I like to say it
even . . . yes . . . wait for it . . . Saddam.
And the fat boy who jumped me at recess
every damn day in the third grade because
in my heaven, everyone is redeemable.
Everyone. That's what makes it heaven.

Oh, and the hot tub.
Don't forget the hot tub.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

It's not the end of the world . . . but it might be heaven

Still here. The world as we know it did not end, as far as I can tell. (This is the second time that Family Radio's Harold Camping has specified a date for our collective demise: May 21, 2011, and yesterday, Oct. 21, 2011. Let's hope that the third time is not the charm.)

If the world did end yesterday, then heaven - or hell if Camping was right about the prospects of us nonbelievers - today looks a lot like my street in Lakewood, this one block of bumpy brick pavement lined with porch-wealthy homes of a certain age, most approaching centenary status.  They regard one another through half-shuttered eyes across a mini-veldt of bedsheet-sized lawns edged with bright flowers.

We like it here. We are a sidewalk neighborhood with the library at one end of the street, the bus line at the other, a heaven of small children with harried parents, dog-walking seniors and inveterate putterers, some out of ambition, most out of necessity given the vintage of our homes. (The possibility that heaven might be different for each of us has been explored in at least two contemporary novels - very sweetly in Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, and rudely but humorously in Daniel Pinkwater's The Afterlife Diet.  Who am I to argue?)

I will admit, sometimes life here is hellish, like a recent summer when virtually every home in our closely-packed enclave was being re-roofed after a punishing hailstorm. Or the year the aging water main broke repeatedly and we took to showering at the Y and setting aside jugs of water to be sure we could make morning coffee.

Right now, it's a nice time to be here, no longer so hot as to drive us into the air-conditioning and still warm enough to gossip on the front steps. (Once winter arrives, we'll wave to one another with mittened hands as we clear the snow from our blessedly short driveways and may not actually speak again until spring.) But pleasant though it may be, this lovely place is not paradise. Heaven, perhaps, but not paradise. If it were, my basement would be drier.