Saturday, November 19, 2011



When I was about nine years old, I began to chronicle my life, writing chapters for each awesome and stunning event as it transpired. Nowadays, it might have been a best seller. I mean, who could resist a book with an entire chapter devoted to “Glasses”? That covered the time when I was ten and a school-sponsored eye test discovered my eyesight was definitely problematic. A subsequent diagnosis revealed I was near-sighted and had astigmatism. Glasses were prescribed to remedy the condition, and for me, it was an episode worthy of an entire chapter in my autobiography, along with enthralling accounts titled “Second Grade”. “Our Cat Midge”. “The Time I Joined in Teasing a Classmate and Hated Myself for It”. “Third Grade: Gosh, I Miss Second Grade!” “I Follow the Lord in Baptism.” And then, of course, “Glasses”.
I was so excited that I had been prescribed eyewear I figured everyone I encountered would share my enthusiasm. Of course they did not, and in fact, most of those within my circle of family and acquaintances did not even notice. I would preen, grin, blink wildly behind those lenses and fondle the frames to call attention to this new addition to my face. Beyond the occasional, “Oh, look, it’s Four Eyes” from cousins around my age, it soon became obvious that for anyone but me and I suppose my parents, who had to pay for them, glasses were not a pivotal moment in my existence. “Glasses” became one of the shorter chapters in my life story.
Another lesson I learned was that those who cared about me were few and far between. Since my autobiography generated so little interest, I took to writing the story of a spunky little orphan girl in the wild, wild west and the challenges she faced on stage coach rides, eluding bad guys on horseback, and chewing wax. Yes, chewing wax, which in my endless pursuit of knowledge I learned was what people did prior to the advent of chewing gum. Later on, I became aware of chewing tobacco, but of course my spunky-yet-righteous heroine would have disdained popping a wad of tobacco leaves in her mouth and chomping away. Don’t know if the word “yucky” had reached the lexicon back in those days, but I’m sure the term “ladylike” was well established by then. Remember “Godey’s Lady’s Book”? It set the standard for refined women of the era. Since the editor’s model was Queen Victoria, it follows that females chewing tobacco would have been greeted with horror and immediately ostracized from the social circles to which they aspired.
Thus it was that my little orphan navigating the wilds of the west popped wax into her mouth rather than a chaw of hoobastank, as the tobacco was also known. Other details of her life were carefully recorded in my narrative, but I confess that to this day, I do not recall her name.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on Letting Go

Recently I read an article by a Writers Digest editor on the topic, “Letting Go”. I was at once reminded of Philip Roth’s novel titled Letting Go, which I read eons ago and found to be a disturbing story with characters I could neither relate to nor begin to understand. A friend of mine, a college professor, had loaned me the book. When I finally worked my way through it, by then on the verge of a major depression, I asked my friend why the hell he recommended it. Or words to that effect. He replied that what he found so interesting was that here were these characters going through all these traumatic experiences and at the end of the book they hadn’t changed at all. In other words, what could have proven to be life-altering episodes made not a whit of difference in terms of the way they looked at or conducted their lives. Like I said—depressing!

At that time, the only other book by Philip Roth I’d read was Goodbye Columbus, which was made into a movie that got a lot of attention because of actor Ali McGraw’s scenes featuring full frontal nudity. Pretty shocking back in the sixties, for sure, but it is worth noting her co-star Richard Benjamin did no scenes in the same mode. Guess movie audiences weren’t ready for that, although I’m thinking it might have generated a lot more female viewers. The thing is, Philip Roth went on to write a lot of novels far more shocking and depressing than the two I read early on in his career. My college professor friend, who also loaned me Sometimes a Great Notion, another downer in my opinion, was no longer in my life and probably wouldn’t have recommended any more of Roth’s books anyhow. Fool me once, I guess. In one of Roth’s book the protagonist was so obsessed by women’s breasts that he finally turned into one. That alone made me glad I’d put him on my don’t-bother-to-read list when I did.

But I digress! Back to the WD editor’s article. He believes in the importance of letting go. His point is the importance of not holding on to stuff that holds us back from achieving great things. He listed tangible effects, such as junk, old food, clothes, books and toys.

He went on to include some intangibles, things you can’t throw in a box and haul to the dump—e-mails, expenses, and last but not least, grudges.

Regarding e-mails, the editor is right on target. We can delete e-mails with a click of a mouse, and he went on to say he regularly deletes e-mails from his deleted folder, because he believes in deleting things that have already been deleted. That makes sense, of course—clutter is clutter, and our cyberspace deserves cleaning out just as much as the space we occupy.

As for expenses, these days cutting them becomes easier and easier, most of all because the price of everything is soaring into the stratosphere. The reasons for this unchecked inflation that drives ordinary people into borderline poverty are too many to discuss here and besides they make me very-very angry. Suffice it to say, expenses can be cut, though some creative measures as to methodology are required. I’m finding this as depression-producing as a Philip Roth novel, but I must say the phrase Letting Go has often proved in my case to be life-altering indeed.

Now as to grudges, the WD editor states (and I hope I’m not guilty of plagiarizing here, but his words resonate with me), a lot of people have done a lot of horrible things to me over the years. But I know I'm not perfect—none of us is, come to think of it--and I’m sure I’ve stepped on toes and hurt more than a few feelings through the years. If you have trouble with letting go of things, I hope you can at least put some effort into this one. Forgive people who do you wrong. One of the saddest facts of our life on this earth is that all too soon the moment can come when mending fences, reconciling differences and taking actions that would mitigate grievances is no longer given to us. Death may be the great equalizer, but it also slams shut the door that might have been the way to knit together ties that have become unbound. Anger, resentment and regret are typical to us as human beings, and often justifiable in many ways. But grudges can be counterproductive and soul-sucking by their nature, and Letting Go is called for, if for nothing else our own good emotional health.

Again, I quote the WD editor, who ends his article with these words: Letting go of things can be scary and intimidating at first, but once you start releasing yourself from clutter, it can get addictive. It's totally liberating!

Words of wisdom that could prove indeed life-altering, Philip Roth notwithstanding!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yet Another Poem!

Once again, my Muse has directed me to wax poetic. This one has a story behind it. Well, first of all, as one might guess, it touches on the subject of a long-term relationship--not one that's gone bad, but rather has a firmly entrenched communication gap that is likely neither unusual when it comes down to it, but is certainly not intolerable. It is, as they say, what it is. The really cool "rest of the story" has to do with a workshop I attended several years ago conducted by Oregon's own (at the time) poet laureate, Lawson Inada. His poetry and writings are more than worth the read, if anyone has time, but this incredible man in one hour generated a level of enthusiasm and love for poetry I had not before experienced. When I registered for the workshop, the write-up about it said that Lawson welcomed participants to bring their poetry to share. Now--I'm no poet, as this piece doubtless confirms, but to my amazement, Lawson asked me to share my piece, and lo and behold, he decided we would read it together. Talk about a moment etched forever in my mind, one that never fails to bring a sense of joy and awe whenever it is recalled. Lawson read one line, I read the next, and while he did not pronounce it the best poem he'd ever read and declare I was the next Sylvia Plath (not a bad thing considering her life), I shall be forever honored to have shared that brief time "on stage" with him as together we read my words. So--that's it, folks. Nothing earth-stopping and certainly not a pivotal event in the history of mankind, but for me...well, it sorta was! So here it is, for your wondering eyes to feast upon:

Failure to Communicate

I've heard I'm from Venus
And you are from Mars
And while I'd love to think we're soaring
Out among the stars
I have this notion, for better or worse,
That more likely you and I live in a different universe.
While I aim for Andromeda
You plant your feet on Terra Firma.
I talk
You don't listen
I listen
You don't talk
Some days I think I'll just a long walk
Off this short pier we've danced on for 40 some years,
Put an end to all the frustration and tears.
It sounds appealing, release from the turmoil,
But I confess for me it's mostly internal.
It's been so long-standing, perhaps it's too late
To change it now, our failure to communicate.
So I'll plant my feet on Earth's solid ground
Keep my eyes on the future, the place where I'm bound
And maybe some day, out among the stars,
Our souls might just meet
On Venus or Mars.

Anita Lanning

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Aunt Hattie's Sucrier

For several generations, what we’ve always called Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl has been in my family. Aunt Hattie was my father’s aunt, his mother’s (my grandmother’s) sister. I have no clue as to how or when she obtained the bowl, or for that matter, how my parents came to possess it. At any rate, it languished, well-wrapped and seldom used, for many years. It is quite lovely, Aunt Hattie’s sugar bowl, with an attractive design and a lovely contour marked by two curved handles. The best way to describe it is exquisite. When I hosted my mother and father’s 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries, Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl graced the reception table. A few years ago, a friend who is an antique dealer agreed to check out its history. The only identifier were the words on the bottom of the sugar bowl: “T&R Boote Waterloo Potteries Burslem Staffordshire England Makers to Queen Victoria”. My friend learned that T&R Boote’s Waterloo Potteries had closed in 1906, after which they made only ceramic tiles, so the piece may have dated back to around 1900, perhaps even earlier.

Awhile back I came across a website of a company which, for a nominal fee, appraises antiques online. I decided to go for it, and e-mailed a photo of the sugar bowl along with the written information. Before long, I had my answer:

"Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl" is actually a T&R Boote Limited Waterloo Pottery Sucrier. Its date is Circa 1900. It seems T&R Boote Ltd was founded in Burslem, Staffordshire in the 1840s and this is a typical example of their wares from around 1900. This type of tea ware was produced in large quantities and so individual pieces are inexpensive at auction.

Its value? $10-$20

So—part of the mystery is solved! I still have no idea where or when my great-aunt, who I remember as being very kind to me when I was young, came to own the sucrier. But at least I know that it was one of probably a million such pieces, and therefore of little monetary value. I could shrug and say “it figures”, but value aside, this sucrier remains a family treasure I don’t intend to part with, and probably wouldn’t have even if its worth were considerably higher. I’ll keep it safe, and who knows? Perhaps one day my children will use it at their parents’ 50th anniversary. I’m glad I had the appraisal done, because it clarified what I think I’ve always known--the real value of Aunt Hattie’s Sugar Bowl is far more than monetary!