Stormy weather

narranara2

We drive slowly through the narrow lanes, past Newport’s piers and shops, and once again admire the old Rhode Island town’s historic sea captain’s houses and millionaire’s mansions, then head out onto the scenic road that skirts Narragansett Bay.

The bay is hardly visible, as fog has swallowed up familiar scenes. One of our young companions looks out and observes, “It’s like the Newport Bridge never even existed!”

And so I am preoccupied with thoughts of bridges lost and drifting in the fog, of sailing ships and whaling ships, of those who must go down to the sea, of bodies and souls both tempest-tossed, of swirling surf and wild waves, of cabbages and kings.

Just then a snowy egret takes wing before my very eyes, bright pure holy white against the churning dark sea.

This day near the ocean is harsh and howling, its energy chaotic and its strength overwhelming and its roaring message sounding like a warning…It is a lovely day.

A Blue Ridge Mountains morning

What with this powerful storm galloping toward the East Coast like the Four Horsemen unleashed, I decided this morning to do something I’ve meant to do ever since my first stay at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, which is located in the Shenandoah Valley in Amherst, Va. — to check out that hazy blue vision hovering in the western sky, the remarkable Blue Ridge Mountains.

Heading toward the Blue Ridge Mountains along westbound Highway 60.

So I drove westward along Highway 60 — through desolated abandoned hamlets at lonely crossroads, over whispering streams and flowing rivers, past green cow pastures and through deep autumn woods, up roads that kept swerving and curving higher and higher on a seemingly endless climb, as I glanced nervously at steep roadside ravines and gazed up in wonder at the soaring forested mountainsides.

I never made it to my destinations — the towns of Buena Vista and Lexington –because, by accident, I stumbled upon a most beautiful spot that is at the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway and crosses paths with the famed Appalachian trail. I pulled over and got out of my car, and this is what I saw from my mountain aerie perched just beneath the clouds:

It was so beautiful up there that something magical apparently happened and my soul has been possessed by the ghost of John Denver, which is compelling me to include one of his most famous songs…OK, I know, I know, but he does mention the Blue Ridge Mountains, and fondly and quite sweetly, even though he apparently didn’t know that tthey’re in Virginia, not West Virginia.

Laurel and Hardy and Iggy

Yes. Of course. Laurel and Hardy meet Iggy Pop. Iggy sings “The Passenger.” And Stan and Ollie dance!

A high note for the holidays

This video’s making the rounds of cyberworld…chances are you’ve already seen it…last I read, the YouTube views were approaching 20 million…it’s a flash performance of Handel’s “Hallelujah’ chorus performed at a shopping mall food court in Canada.

It’s wonderful…and my emotions are very close to the surface these days…and the performance is so joyful and loving that every time I see it and hear it, it brings tears to my eyes.

Apparently the idea of the “flash mob” rendition of the holiday classic has spread throughout Christmas nation, as other groups of performers have been gathering unannounced at other shopping mall food courts to stand up on heir plastic chairs and belt out “Hallelujah!” God bless us, Everyone!

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Peak performances atop Mount St. Angelo

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts...my studio is at the far left

The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains was spectacular. The setting, high on a hilltop called Mount St. Angelo, set way off the highway connecting Lynchburg, Va., and Charlottesville, Va., was perfect, complete with a bluebird and cardinal who appeared outside my studio window every morning to flit and flutter in the first weekend’s snow, complete with a freight train which rolled through the valley every few hours (complete with beautifully haunting train whistle in the silent moonlit Virginia night).

And I managed (despite those happy distractions — and many more, including one or two that were even more happily distracting) to add a big chunk of words (more than 10,000 words during my two-week stay) to my novel-in-progress, “City of Gracious Living.”

Even though I’m glad I left just in time to avoid the devastating snow storm which paralyzed that part of the country, I wish I could have stayed forever in my beautiful little studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Two of the highlights of my visit: Encounters with artist Melora Griffis and jazz trombonist J. Walter Hawkes. Melora’s paintings are provocative, haunting and beautiful. Plus she’s nice, interesting, smart and unpretentious. Walter’s soulful and skillful solo jazz and blues performances on the trombone and the ukulele are a sight to behold and sound to be heard in person to truly appreciate his rare talent.

The highlight among highlights for me during my stay with a few dozen other VCCA “fellows” had to be the next-to-last-night of my stay, when Walter and I collaborated on a reading/performance, with me reading a chapter from “City of Gracious Living” and a chapter of another of my novels, “Half Moon,” while Walter expertly improvised jazz and blues and big-band riffs before, during and after my readings. It was a true honor and a certifiable thrill.

Thanks, Walter. Thanks, Melora. Thanks to all of the other talented artists and writers I met at the VCCA — sharing excellent meals and excellent conversations. And thanks most of all to the VCCA for giving me such a wonderful two weeks.

“Love’s Compass” — Life takes a new direction

Yes, I’ve got a personal interest. But I wouldn’t say this if I didn’t really believe it:
The just-published novella “Love’s Compass” by Mary McAvoy is a book you should buy and read.

Mary’s got a knack for story-telling, and her well-crafted novella offers deceptively simple but intriguing themes and elegantly-wrought motifs to explore and enjoy, and the book’s also an engaging, thoughtful and provocative look at our society’s social mores and changing views of love and marriage.

Added bonus: The book title derives from the great poem “The Circus of the Sun” by my friend Robert Lax, the great mystic poet. “Circus” begins with this phrase: “Love had a compass…”

Here’s a synopsis of the plot of “Love’s Compass”:

As her young adult children depart from the nest, Liv finds that her husband is drifting away, too. What is pulling him from her at a time when they should be enjoying their lives together? Feeling abandoned and alone, Liv meets and falls in love with another man. “Love’s Compass” tells the story of love discovered at a time when new love is not often experienced. It explores a husband’s quiet exit from a marriage. It examines a woman’s thoughts and feelings as she tries to find her footing in a place that she never expected to be at this point in her life. Love’s Compass is the story of love lost and love found.

Mary has built a web site about “Love’s Compass.” It includes an author biography, links for purchasing the book online via Amazon or Barnes and Noble, and other features. The Amazon site also includes the “Look Inside” feature with actual sample pages of the book.Book-signings will be scheduled in Boston and in the suburbs north and west of Boston (the book is set in Boston’s colorful, artsy and slightly funky South End) – as well as one being planned in Highland Park, N.J.

In the mean time…you know I wouldn’t steer you wrong or point you in the wrong direction. “Love’s Compass” is well worth reading …I hope you’ll order a copy — and then, if you like it, tell your friends (or maybe even order them their own personal copy). And while you’re waiting for your  copy of “Love’s Compass” to arrive in the mail, visit Mary’s new blog site and also check out Mary’s elegant and lovely nature essays and photos.

It’s Todd’s Show! (And two of my friends are in it!)

They’re my comrades, colleagues, collaborators, co-conspirators: Laura Swanson and Keith Strunk, founders and principals of the great River Union Stage theater troupe in Frenchtown, work with me on the annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival. Both are extremely talented practitioners of the thespian arts — acting, directing, producing, stage design, lighting, sound, you name it they do it, including an extremely funny episode from the increasingly popular and absolutely hilarious Web series titled “It’s Todd’s Show.”

The show features two talking dogs and their interesting opinions of the humans they are forced to deal with in their lives.

Here’s the link to the episode starring Keith and Laura:

After you watch the hilarious performance by Keith and Laura (actually Keith isn’t acting — that’s the way he is in real life), go to the show’s Web site, click on the video tab, and find the short clip of the laughing dog, which will either creep you out or leave you in hysterics, just like the dog — and just like me.