Happy Holidays

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I’m not sure how to start this. Purple ribbons are up in our yard, all around my neighborhood and down the main street of my town. We went to a funeral yesterday for a 16-year-old friend of my children who died suddenly and unexpectedly.

The purple ribbons are a symbol of how she touched our lives, and a way to show her family that the community shares their loss. Purple was her favorite color, and purple is the color of Advent.

Any time a life is cut short at such a young age, it’s heartbreaking. At this time of year, it’s especially difficult. But this young person meant so much to so many. She was the most cheerful person, full of laughter, always smiling. She made an impression on everyone who met her. She radiated joy and passed it along. She had special needs, and the real challenges that come with that, and her life, short as it was, was one of the most affirming and positive I’ve ever seen. She was a far better person than most. She was a gift.

She wasn’t mean, she wasn’t greedy, she wasn’t selfish, she wasn’t rude, she didn’t sow discord or division, she didn’t exclude others, she didn’t hurt others, she didn’t take from others so she could have more. She saw good in everything and welcomed everyone as a friend. She beamed with joy. She was alight with it. She was full of affection. Her character, her demeanor, her smile — all were gifts.

In some ways, this is the season of gifts. But I’m reminded that the real gifts have been given to all of us already, and we can share those freely every day. That is something to celebrate. I wish everyone a healthy holiday season, filled with love, peace, warmth, light, and comfort and joy.

Music Break: MLK

On this date in 1964, the Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to Martin Luther King, Jr.

This beautiful little song was written by M. Ward for Mavis Staples, based on a King speech called “The Drum Major Instinct,” which King delivered on February 4, 1968, exactly two months before he was assassinated. The speech is about following Jesus’s teachings by aiming to serve others, rather than seeking recognition or fame at the head of the parade.

As he winds up his speech, King says that, in that light, he’s been thinking about what he’d want said at his funeral. “Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important…. I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.”

The great Mavis Staples is a Chicagoan who has performed since childhood, now with her own band but in her early years as one of the Staple Singers, a legendary gospel, R&B and soul group. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a friend of her family. Mavis Staples says she had to stop at times while recording this song, because it was as if she could hear and see him.

Today, I want to remember King. For the Nobel Peace Prize, but more as he wanted, as a person who tried to serve others. (As we all can.) That he tried to love not hate. (As we all can.) That he helped somebody as they passed along. (As we all can.) That in the crawl for justice he helped somebody run; that in the walk for the hungry, he fed someone; and that in the march for peace, he played the drum.

Department of “No, Just No”

“Inktober.”

Gah. (Not the project, which I’m sure is fun. Just the abysmal name. The hackery, the butchery. The base assault on the language of Shakespeare, Milton and Austen, of Dylan and Ishiguro, too. Of far humbler wordsmiths who still take the time to write and rewrite, to find the perfect word, to hew the soundest sentence.)

Sure, at first I just ignored it. As one does. As when your brother-in-law talks politics at Christmas. But after only a few days, it’s un-ignorable. The merchants have seen this opportunity, and cannily jumped in. Instagram has been infected at levels last seen in the movie Contagion. And October is 31 days long.

So sure it’s going to be hell, but at least it’s an extra long month. Gah.

What I’m Doing on my Summer Vacation

I’ve been taking some time away from the blog. Because it’s summer.  Here are some things I’ve been doing instead.

1. Anything but pens. I haven’t picked up a fountain pen for more than a scribble in weeks. I’m just not feeling it. No inspiration to write. No real interest in pens, either. I’m recharging. I might start a different writing project.

2. Pen Show. Actually, I have been doing pen things, just that they all relate to the Chicago Pen Show. That’s of course the 2018 show, which sadly isn’t until next May. We’ve got some fun things in the works, though. Everyone should come.

3. Gardening. I’ve been gardening a lot. But not genteel or picturesque gardening. Rambo gardening. While redoing one of the borders, I scratched up both arms muscling a Zebra Grass on a day that was so hot I couldn’t wear long sleeves. Teaching me that there is no day in the garden so hot that I shouldn’t wear long sleeves. But that wasn’t the best part of the Zebra Grass Battle. The best part was when I realized one large clump of Zebra Grass was actually too firmly rooted for me to divide it with a spade. Even standing on the top of the blade didn’t provide enough oomph. It was so hot, too. I considered just lying down on the lawn and expiring from weakness, right there. The dogs would have found my remains. And everyone would have felt badly. “Why didn’t we think to bring her an iced tea? Or help out? We’re monsters!” That would have been good.

4. Bunnies. Nothing makes you realize, “I’ve lost the innocent bloom of youth,” like coming to see Mr. McGregor in a completely different way, not as the villain of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but as the everyman hero. Because no matter how cute bunnies seem when you’re little, when you grow up and begin to till your own small square of earth, you realize rabbits are voracious eaters and rapid breeders, and the enemy of all plant life. If not all life on earth. So every summer, I battle to humanely protect the plants they target. And every summer, I lose. Plus, our younger dog, Gus, is an avid hunter, and not humane, so every year I’m also battling to keep him away from the baby bunnies. This year has been especially grisly on the Gus front. But there’s a little baby bunny out there now, who’s somehow survived. He’s an adorable little sprite who just hopped out and obliviously began munching on our back lawn the other day. Right in front of our french doors. While on the inside, my dogs howl at the tiny, blithe provocateur and hurl themselves murderously against the glass. I know, one way or another, this is going to end badly.

5. Movies. We’ve been watching a lot of movies. There is no hockey in the summer. This is the only bad thing about summer.

6. Books. I’ve been reading actual books. All the way through. Yeah. Next step, world domination.

7. Cursing Photobucket. Without warning, or even after-the-fact notice, @$&*%$# Photobucket cut off all photo-links, unless you want to pay some blackmailishly high annual fee. As a result, many photos on this blog were disappeared, and I have to try to figure out which ones, then try to find them on my computer, then put them back. Great use of anyone’s spare time. Photobucket can be rhymed with some pretty bad words, let me tell you.

Song of the Day, Part Five: Gloria Gaynor, I Will Survive

Because I was challenged by my friend Diane at Ladies Who Lunch blog, for this Song A Day Challenge, I’m supposed to post the lyrics of a favorite song for five days in a row, and explain what the song lyrics mean to me.

This fills both the “seventies slot,” and the “disco slot.” I really wanted a hip-hop slot, but I try to keep the blog suitable for work. Because what should my readers be doing on the job other than reading Fountain Pen Follies?

I am sure I don’t need to explain this one. It’s an all-time classic disco hit, from 1978. They even play it at the end of the movie The Martian, and let me tell you, it fits there.

This is my favorite video of this song. Gloria Gaynor looks so classy and grown-up, like she just wandered from a nicer party into this television dance show. And I love her band and their outfits. Requiem for the powder blue suit. But more than anything, this video makes me wonder, Why can’t I have backup singers and a horn section following me around? Everything would be better with that.

Well here are the lyrics, at least the start. I’m just going to play the song instead.

At first I was afraid, I was petrified,
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong,
And I grew strong, and I learned how to get along.

And so you’re back from outer space.
I just walked in to find you here with that sad look upon your face.
I should have changed that stupid lock
I should have made you leave your key
If I had known for just one second you’d be back to bother me.

Go on now, go. Walk out the door.
Just turn around now ’cause you’re not welcome anymore.
Weren’t you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye?
Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?

Oh, no, not I!
I will survive.
Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got all my life to live.
I’ve got all my love to give.
And I’ll survive,
I will survive, hey, hey.

Song of the Day, Part Four: TV on the Radio, Dancing Choose

Because I was challenged by my friend Diane at Ladies Who Lunch blog, for this Song A Day Challenge, I’m supposed to post the lyrics of a favorite song for five days in a row, and explain what the song lyrics mean to me.

I usually don’t listen to lyrics much, but this song actually does have neat ones. The song is from TV on the Radio’s best album ever, Dear Science, from 2008. It’s one of those rapid-fire songs with a lot of words, like R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

I just like the way the words sound here. I like the staccato flashes of thoughts, phrases and nonsense. The rhythms are really cool. And I like the words themselves; they are sometimes like snatches of found poetry. Certain phrases have lodged in my head. Like, “He’s a what? He’s a what? He’s a newspaper man.” And  “foam injected Axl Rose.”

But the chorus is stuck in my head for a different reason: because I think it’s beautiful. “In my mind I’m breeding butterflies,/ Broken dreams, and alibis / That’s fine / I’ve seen my palette / Blown to monochrome / Hollow heart / Clicks hollowtone / In time.”

Well, I like the whole thing. This is “Dancing Choose,” by TV on the Radio.

He’s a what?
He’s a what?
He’s a newspaper man
And he gets his best ideas
From a newspaper stand;
From his boots to his pants
To his comments and his rants
He knows that any little article will do

Though he expresses some confusion
‘Bout his part in the plan,
And he can’t understand
That he’s not in command;
The decisions underwritten
By the cash in his hand
Bought a sweater for
His weimariner too

Now I’m no mad man,
But that’s insanity
Feast before famine,
And more before family
Goes and shows up with
More bowls and more
Cups and the riot for the
Last hot meal erupts
Corrupts his hard drive
Through the leanest months
Shells out the hard cash
For the sickest stunts;
On aftershave, on gasoline
He flips the page and turns
The scene

In my mind I’m drowning butterflies
Broken dreams and alibis;
That’s fine.
I’ve seen my palette blown
To monochrome-
Hollow heart
Clicks hollowtone,
It’s time.

Eye on authority,
Thumb prints a forgery
Boy, ain’t it crazy what the
Lights can do
For counterfeit community;
Every opportunity
Wasted as the space
Between the flash tattoo

And the half-hearted hologram,
Posed for the party
Now he gloss full bleed
On a deaf dumb tree
Cod liver dollar signs,
Credit card autograph
Down for the record
But not for freedom

Angry young mannequin
American, apparently
Still to the rhythm
Better get to the back of me
Can’t stand the vision,
Better tongue the anatomy
Gold plated overhead,
Blank transparency
In the days of old,
You were a nut
Now you need three bumps
Before you cut
Not that I should care about,
Nothing I ain’t scared of, but
I guess you had to be there.

In my mind I’m breeding butterflies,
Broken dreams, and alibis
That’s fine.
I’ve seen my palette
Blown to monochrome
Hollow heart
Clicks hollowtone
In time.

I see you figured in your action pose
Foam-injected Axl Rose,
Life size
Should something shake you
And you drop the news,
Lord, just keep your dancing shoes
Off mine

Song of the Day, Part Three: Vampire Weekend, “Unbelievers”

Because I was challenged by my friend Diane at Ladies Who Lunch blog, for this Song A Day Challenge, I’m supposed to post the lyrics of a favorite song for five days in a row, and explain what the song lyrics mean to me.

This song is here to occupy my made-up category of “a song by my favorite band.”

Vampire Weekend is my favorite band, even though they are, technically, sort of broken up. In January 2016, the guy on the left, Rostam Batmanglij, said he had quit Vampire Weekend to go solo. This song, “Unbelievers,” is from the 2013 album Modern Vampires of the City, their most recent album.

What do these song lyrics mean? That’s a toughie, but I’ll make a stab at it. I’ve read that this song is about being Jewish, as the lead singer, Ezra Koenig, is Jewish. And I can see that. But I think I see something broader in there, as well.

Personally, I interpret the song to refer to zealots of any denomination or credo, religious or political or otherwise, who can come to be intolerant and can be made to lash out violently and murderously at others.

However, counter to that interpretation of what it means to be a true believer is another — the idea of extending grace, or charity and goodwill to others. And the singer questions whether that extends to everyone, even those who aren’t members of a particular group.

But I didn’t write it, so I don’t know. Pop music lyrics are elliptical, and often we can pick our own story.

So here is “Unbelievers.” Much better played than read.

Got a little soul
The world is a cold, cold place to be
Want a little warmth
But who’s gonna save a little warmth for me?

We know the fire awaits unbelievers
All of the sinners the same
Girl, you and I will die unbelievers
Bound to the tracks of the train.

If I’m born again I know that the world will disagree
Want a little grace but who’s gonna say a little grace for me?

We know the fire awaits unbelievers
All of the sinners the same
Girl, you and I will die unbelievers
Bound to the tracks of the train.

I’m not excited, but should I be?
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?

I know I love you
And you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

See the sun go down
It’s going on down, and the night is deep
Want a little light
But who’s gonna save a little light for me?

We know the fire awaits unbelievers
All of the sinners the same
Girl, you and I will die unbelievers
Bound to the tracks of the train

I’m not excited, but should I be?
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?

I know I love you
And you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

I’m not excited, but should I be?

Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?

<p”>I know I love you
And you love the sea
But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?

Song of the Day, Part Two: Beyonce, Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)

I love this song, and the video, so here is a very happy Day Two song. The backstory is that I was challenged by my friend Diane at Ladies Who Lunch blog, for this Song A Day Challenge, I’m supposed to post the lyrics of a favorite song for five days in a row, and explain what the song lyrics mean to me.

The meaning of the lyrics. I can ace that: Don’t mess around too much, or take us for granted, guys. We have options, too. Treat us right. If you don’t you’ll be alone. Wuh oh oh.

I like the inversion. And I love Beyoncé.

As for the music, and even the video, to me, it’s pop genius. One hundred percent fun. If you press “play” up there and don’t immediately start dancing, or at least tapping your feet or shimmying your shoulders, you better have someone call an ambulance, because you may be dead.

So here it is:

All the single ladies (All the single ladies)
All the single ladies (All the single ladies)
All the single ladies (All the single ladies)
All the single ladies
Now put your hands up

Up in the club, we just broke up
I’m doing my own little thing
You decided to dip but now you wanna trip
Cause another brother noticed me
I’m up on him, he up on me
don’t pay him any attention
Cause I cried my tears, for three good years
Ya can’t be mad at me

[Chorus:]
Cause if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it

Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh
Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh

[Chorus]

I got gloss on my lips, a man on my hips
Hold me tighter than my Dereon jeans
Acting up, drink in my cup
I could care less what you think
I need no permission, did I mention
Don’t pay him any attention
Cause you had your turn
And now you gonna learn
What it really feels like to miss me

[Chorus]

Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh
Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh

Don’t treat me to these things of the world
I’m not that kind of girl
Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve
Is a man that makes me then takes me
And delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond
Pull me into your arms
Say I’m the one you want
If you don’t, you’ll be alone
And like a ghost I’ll be gone

All the single ladies (All the single ladies)
All the single ladies (All the single ladies)
All the single ladies (All the single ladies)
All the single ladies
Now put your hands up

Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh
Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh