Sunday, March 10, 2019

having just read “Little”

I am tucked in the world, into the smaller parts of it. I do not impose myself in any grandiose way.
Anne Marie Grosholtz, who comes to be known as “Little” in Edward Carey’s novel of the same name, is our narrator in this tale of her life, and she says this bit about being “tucked in the world” well into her story, a story in which she is, for the most part, a person indeed tucked away by the world, out of sight, shucked into the kitchen, the scullery, put into a closet with a dirty bit of straw for a bed, a dark cupboard at Versailles, often told to make herself scarce, to bow and to curtsy, to do her work and to do nothing else, told she has no life but that which pleases others, so please me, Little, that is your life, that is your job, and then go away, back to your cupboard, your nook, your cranny, and it is, after all, a life, no matter where slept, where dusted, where drawn, perceived, judged by others, by the world. Little becomes, in the end, as in real life, rather large, as she is Madame Tussaud, of wax museum fame, and Carey’s fictional account of Madame Tussaud, focused on this imagining of her mostly early years, is told in a style that is at once grandiose and humble, like Marie, worthy of Marie, I would say, as it wraps itself around history, people, wax, drawings—sketches and bits and portraits pulled from Little’s own sketchbook—with Marie at near every opportunity asking those whom she serves if she will be paid for all this work she is doing, when will she be paid, for all this work she has done, and of course—I will be paid now?

I had put off reading “Little,” which was published last year. I knew it was a fiction, a retelling, a re-imagining of sorts, of Madame Tussaud’s life. Having my own fresh image of her, I was not ready to let in someone else’s take. I did not want someone else’s jive intruding on mine. Then I reached the point in this wax book I am writing where it is about Madame Tussaud, and I felt, to be current, I must read “Little.”

I was not familiar with Carey’s work and nothing I had read about “Little” led me to believe that as soon as I opened the book I would be enamored. I tend to be a library book reader, or a secondhand book reader—seldom do I buy a book within a few months of its publication—but as I put my name on the wait list for a copy from the library, I headed over to Snowbound Books to take a peek. A secondary title page lured me in

and the next page’s announcement of illustrations—“In graphite, charcoal, and black chalk.”—sold me. As did these illustrations as I flipped through the book.

I bought the book. I read the book. I underlined passages.
Of wax and its subtle talents, they were entirely ignorant. They never properly comprehended the dignity and sadness of a stick of candle.
The book is a fine raveling of a story. I see Madame Tussaud as someone who is easily conceived as make-believe, even though her story, her reality, has never been hidden. Still, what we know of her, the facts of her, leave some room for the imagination, and the facts of her themselves, what Marie Grosholtz lived through, the French Revolution, and what she created, the wax figures, are a kind of fodder for the imagination. “Wax is skin,” according to Carey’s fictional Philip Curtius, and, later, Marie tells us
Wax, also, is privacy. Wax seals letters. Wax keeps all the world’s words where they should be, until the right hands come to let them out.
I must admit, another reason I kind of dragged myself to “Little” was its cover, which is awash in a hue, some shade of red, which I can’t quite name but which I surely don’t like. I also did not like the title (to me, Madame Tussaud loomed large and here was a book proclaiming her “little,” which in height she was, but still.) And, then, too, the typeface on the cover I did not like. I’m glad I got beyond that, cracked the book open, peeked inside the cupboard, found where the wonder lies.
Wax was ever the most honest of substances.
Now I can get back to the Madame Tussaud chapter of “A (relatively) Short History of Wax,” the recently rechristened working title of my book, the book which will always be in draft even if at some point I do print it, which I’m sure I will. Its attendant subtitle:

In which a search for truth leads to
nuns and gunslingers,
bees and whales,
candles and chemists,
mummies and smugglers,
shysters and soy nuts,
Dickens and Ahab,
the French Revolution,
Hollywood horror flicks,
a flicker of truth,
and then,
Einstein’s head.

is another reason I was happy to see that second title page in “Little,” as it bolstered my inclination to use words, as many as I like, wherever I like, which is surely a mistake at times, but. Like wax, words can often be thrown back in the pot, melted down, used anew, reformed.

So thank you, Edward Carey, for “Little.”

Wax sparrow.
As it continues to snow despite enough snow in the banks to last us,
conservatively, I would guess, through August.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

voice & free association

Give everyone a voice, so everyone has a voice.
Give everyone a voice, so maybe it gets noisy.

Josie’s voice. Photo credit: J. Allen.

Hearing lyrics in the morning: seven a.m.
And I don’t know who I am
But life is for learning
The radio is on: Good Time Oldies.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sing a Joni Mitchell tune.
Stephen Stills rejected—he was not right for The Monkees, Peter Tork took his place, so I heard and such is fate.

From a second story window.

Earlier, about six a.m., “zen” and “shoveling” in one sentence, or at least one thought, something like that, but the more I think about it, the fuzzier it gets.
But in case of emergency keep in your car a flashlight, a blanket, food, water, flares, a first aid kit.
And nowadays shenanigans –
so pack the cookies, a good book, moonlight, something to laugh about.

Don’t forget the shovel.

Eight a.m., snowfall begins.
This one predicted to be a doozy – so what were the others?
Isn’t it a bit early?
I have lost, or misplaced, a snow shovel.
The oldest of the three; certainly not stolen.
Perhaps it is buried.

And now through a glass door Josie sees a squirrel advancing on the bird feeder.
I open the door, Josie races across the icy deck (it was shoveled just yesterday).
Through backyard branches of spruce and maple, the squirrel escapes.
Watching this, there is nothing quite so funny, yet, oddly enough, I do not LOL.
Full of mirth, all is quiet.

Have I mentioned arsenic candles? A real thing.
Happened a long time ago.
Maybe next time.

But now Saturday, nine a.m., really snowing, more snow, a dog barks –
Yesterday, Josie walked where a week ago sled dogs ran, trotted, left town, came back.
We met a three-legged dog wearing a blue coat.

Who really knows what time it is?

Monday, February 11, 2019

when winter is beautiful: scenes from a backyard

a sky of ice

a flash of blue

a weave of sticks and snow

the cedars weep

the snow is deep

and that is all i know

Sunday, February 3, 2019

a crack in the ice

february 1, 2019, walking with jo along the lake

marquette michigan

marquette michigan

jo found a spot to investigate

i headed for one of my new favorite spots -

marquette michigan

- the north end of the boardwalk

marquette michigan

& then it was time to turn homeward

marquette michigan

with just one look back

marquette michigan

Sunday, January 27, 2019

writer’s block

a work in progress

Why do I not want to read what I have written?
(in order to get back into the wax book,
in which I fear my interest has waned,
for I have not been attending to it.)

– but, also –

Why do I not want to write, period (right now)
just, rather
about writing
this writing I intend to do
while sitting in this room
and meanwhile – what color shall I paint this room?
(mind goes a’ wanderin’, down its own path) – maybe a light amber?
(a path unknown to all others) – or the color of beeswax?
(unknown to me) – here we have Liquid Honey
(finding its own way, a’ drift) – and Glaze Gold
(shall I come along?) – Roasted Chestnut, Tuscan Yellow
(to follow or walk alongside)
in step, out of step
misstep, stumble
flow, glide
catch me, twirl me
leave me
come back

Why would I rather sweep the floor? Scrape old treads from the bath tub?
Or clean caked dust from the intake vent (for the heating system)
that I discovered – the dust, not the vent –
while putting up a bamboo Roman shade
(the shade of which was “Driftwood”)
from Menards. I dropped a washer (not the screw)
and it fell through the grid
(covering the vent)
into the vent
(which is under the living room windows) –
and it occurred to me that the house my family lived in
(before I was six)
had vents in the floor
because I remember these little painted turtles
bought at the pet shop
and that’s where they went,
down into the vents,
and maybe we should keep these little turtles in their bowls
under their plastic palm trees or how about just keeping our eyes open
when they are out for a walk –
so I went after the washer
(the metal grid lifts off)
and was able to retrieve it
(we rescued turtles, too, I am sure of it)
and for some reason my hand went deeper into the vent
(which runs parallel to the floor underneath the floor
and I had cleaned it – but only the part I could see –
two months ago)
and of course back there now
my hand was encountering
a half-inch layer
(or so)
of matted dust
laced with the silver tinsel of a Christmas (past).
I hauled out this concoction
along with some marbles –
two yellow and one orange cat’s eyes.
(Two months ago I extracted
two pennies, one acorn, a dusky blue button, some plastic beads.)
With a wooden ruler I extended my reach
and with a wooden yardstick
went farther then further,
gathering more dust,
gathering more tinsel.

I did not like the Roman shade after all.

I returned it.

I went to Lowe’s and got a cordless cellular shade that:
– cost less than the bamboo Roman shade;
– was easier to install, had no washers to drop;
– came without a designated color (though I think: “Driftwood”).

And –
I liked it.

Also at Lowe’s I got some screening with which to cover the vents
(there are three)
actually making a sandwich of
the grill, the screen,
the depths of the vent.

Yes, I would rather do all this –
Anything but write

even though I think and think
about writing (or maybe I’m thinking about not writing)
even while reading about reading.
It makes me think of how I write – or not.
Because this book, Reader, Come Home,
touches on how reading
affects writing and writing
affects reading and although
writing seems a dual process
of writing & reading
reading, I muse, is singular.
Just reading. Is it not?
But of course this book explains,
cites research,
reading + thought.
Reading is not innate.
Reading is learned.
Reading is a creation of our minds.
A capability
of our brains.
It can be shallow;
it can be deep.

And then there’s the digital world of reading and writing
and tell me:
Are you reading this in,

Are you reading at all? Are you getting it? Getting what you need?
(Surely it’s no coincidence
blowing through
at this very moment
Moby Dick – !)



Anything but writing!

Instead, I sit.
I dream.
Put up blinds.
Work a jigsaw.
Sweep the floor.
Chase down dust.
Take a walk.
Concoct a blog post.
Ponder colors.
Make a list.
Scrape at treads
stuck to a bathtub.

But wait! it’s true –
As all must wax,
all must wane,
And so must all wax again.

The color turned out to be Tuscan Yellow and a new chapter begins:

Ozokerite . In which we unearth Wax of the Wild West and “Gunplay” Maxwell.

Back in the saddle,
dust trails behind me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

5,705 pounds of beeswax

In January 2010 I saw 500 pounds of beeswax for sale on eBay. The seller was a Michigan beekeeper with a fairly large honey operation near Traverse City. I purchased the wax at $3 a pound. I avoided delivery charges by picking up the wax. It was a one-day, 600-mile round-trip. My two dogs went with me. The wax fit neatly in the back of the pick-up truck. This was my first large purchase of wax.

Over the next few years I made seven more purchases from that Michigan beekeeper, each purchase being from 200 to 500 pounds. I’ve also bought wax from a beekeeper in Iowa, each purchase again being 200 to 500 pounds, and there was one pick-up of 249 pounds of wax from a beekeeper in Wisconsin. Overall, over the past nine years, I have bought 5,705 pounds of beeswax, sometimes picking it up, other times having it delivered.

From my first beeswax purchase to my most recent purchase last week, the price has increased 76 percent. The largest single increase occurred between February and October of 2012, when the price rose by 50 percent, and that is what brought about that one trip to Wisconsin. The price I paid for the Wisconsin wax was a dollar per pound less than what my Michigan supplier was charging. But the quality of the wax was different. I was used to the Michigan wax and figured my customers were, too, so I went back to it. About this time I began having the wax delivered, as I had moved and the journey to Traverse City was 800 or so miles round-trip, entailing an overnight stay, which I did once, stayed overnight, in a motel with my then very old dog Buster, and that was a nightmare, so all in all delivery seemed more efficient.

In the spring of 2015, a second large price increase occurred, again about a 50 percent jump in a half-year’s time, and so again I looked for another supplier and found wax for sale in Iowa at a price that was just a 10 percent increase from what I had been paying. I purchased 199 pounds and arranged to pick it up on my way home to Michigan from California, where I had spent the winter. The pick-up was to be in April, a busy time for the beekeeper and I was traveling with an excitable dog and an unhappy cat in a fully loaded van, but all went well, and I was glad I was able to pick up the wax at the farm.

Since then, all the wax I have used has come from this beekeeper in Iowa, with subsequent purchases arriving by delivery truck. This January he offered wax at two prices based on the quality of the wax. Quality is somewhat subjective, but the higher priced wax was, for one, deemed “cleaner.” I went for it as over the years I have learned that the cleaning process the wax goes through before I receive it makes a difference, as the cleaner the wax I buy, the less cleaning of wax I have to do. (Starting with completely clean wax is, for me, cost prohibitive. And beeswax, before being used for most any purpose, must be cleaned of hive debris and honey, which can be accomplished in various ways, all ways using some combination of heat, water, and gravity, which I also use, melting chunks of wax in a crock pot with an inch or so of water in the bottom, then straining the melted wax through cloth to remove any remaining minute particles of debris and, as well, the occasional recalcitrant bee, stray wing.) The cleaner, higher quality wax being offered was just seven percent higher in cost from 2015, and 10 cents more per pound compared to last year’s purchase.

The wax I purchased last year, and now this year, was cleaned, I am told, in a “coffin melter,” and this is what makes the difference. I admit to liking the name, which relates, as I understand it, strictly to the melter’s shape.

Each lot of wax I buy dwindles down slowly over several month’s time. When the time comes to buy more, worrying questions arise. Will wax be available? At what cost? How much should I order? What will the delivery charge be? Will delivery go smoothly? Answers arrive swiftly at first, then more slowly—it all tends to play out over a week or two. Delivery charges can be a wild card, and I always mull the possibility of taking that road trip to pick up the wax, but, instead, I get the price of delivery, process it, and recall the time I picked up 500 pounds of beeswax in the van, and how I had to drive several hundred miles with the windows open, despite the weather, as there can be, indeed, too much of a good thing.

Yesterday, 500 pounds of beeswax arrived. The truck driver gave me a call about an hour out just to make sure he could get the semi down my street and get the wax unloaded without a lift gate, which I had said we wouldn’t need because in the past it never had been needed and a lift gate adds to cost. The truck driver moved the boxes of wax which were strapped to a pallet from the front end of the long long trailer to the back, slit open the boxes, and together we unloaded the wax blocks, about 15 pounds each, into some plastic bins I had ready at the end of the drive. About halfway through the second box I suggested we just let the box drop to the snowy ground, and that worked. The wax was unloaded. There was a fine drizzle, or mist, in the air. The truck driver told me about his beekeeping, just a hive or two (and its hard to keep those bees alive over winter), and how he and his wife also keep goats, a milk cow, not too far south of here.

The wax sat at the end of the drive for a bit, then a lucky friend who had just happened to stop by helped me move it to the shed. Turns out two old ladies can do this pretty easily, can move 500 pounds of beeswax down a snowy drive, especially if they have a “yooper scooper,” an item more commonly used to shovel, or push around, snow.

❄ ❄ 

Friday, January 4, 2019