Confessions of a Transplant: SXSW

When I first saw the initials for South by Southwest: SXSW. . . well I didn’t get it.  But I got it now!   This is my 12 year!  And some of what I write here is accurate to my experience and at hand knowledge.  And well, it’s my story.

The conference known SXSW ( started like all things small in a small city. It is now an international multifaceted, whole she-bang, big deal.  But it’s not a festival like New Orleans Jazz and Heritage, it is and was created for the folks who get things going for artists of many sorts: the one who write PR, and book acts and producers show off their talent. .. and the other stuff like Interactive, I don’t really know. I’m married to a musician and our first SXSW was 12 years ago and we came down from Boston because a band, Stan Martin’s Band, got a SX showcase.

The other side of the story is that I was accepted for the MFA program at Texas State, just 30 miles south of Austin.  We lucked out big time, that year in a way we could not have understood until we got here.  A young woman who had been a work-study student in my department at Boston University, had come to Austin for her Masters in Speech Pathology.  We had stayed in touch and she offered us her apartment to stay in because she was leaving town for spring break.

(It seems to me that all the schools in Texas, I mean ALL, take the same week off in March. So SXSW is always during spring break.)

Well this apartment was two blocks off South Congress. 12 years ago,  Congress still had a mechanic’s called Doc’s, (now a burger joint) on the corner of Academy. . .and up the hill, heading south, was . . . you know it’s easier if I just say, that when we came to Austin, SoCo still had a used car dealership where there is now expensive clothing and food.  There was a Baptist Church were a hotel is going up now; there was a pet store where you can buy a nice hat.  There was no side-walk in front of the old houses on the east side of Congress.

Oh but it was wonderful to come down during dreary March to sunshine and a city that was pretty in its mix of homespun twang, music spilling out of the Continental as we walked by. We walked up to The Magnolia Cafe, our first food. . .it was what it still is: eclectic, veggie forward, funky with the biggest glasses of water we’d ever been served.  And we gulped it and munched. And walked down hill to the apartment. . . picking out shops to visit and waiting to hear from the band mates.  And I believe we didn’t have cell phones. . . well I know I didn’t.

The first night, we went to the Broken Spoke. And I got my first sense of a true dance hall. And the band was working with some other folks who were DJ or promoters. It was rather thrilling, to be in this arena. It was great to see my husband and friends being treated seriously for their craft. And it was at the “Spoke” that I first saw my friend Deb two-step, dance.  She was married to a guitar player in another band, and well, she danced like the joy it should be.  Blond, tall, all legs and smiles.  Generous and smart.  Over the years she and I became very close friends and have supported each other in ways that are sister-like.  Never would have thought that, on that first day in Austin.

SXSW is a series of showcases at night, produced and handled by SXSW only. During the days  music venues, and venues, private homes, and such become places where radio stations or record labels strut their stuff.   And even only 12 years ago, it was more intimate. I also didn’t know about the film and the digital-interactive areas that SXSW covers and embraces.  I was along for the ride with my husband but more than that we were looking at Austin as our next home.

And “nothing succeeds like excess” as the Dowager Countess said on Downton Abby. The excess of SXSW that first year seduced us. The smell of BBQ smoke floating in the air, the ‘real’ Mexican food (Boston, remember?)  and sky, so much sky.  We took a trip to see the campus where I’d do my graduate work. We visited the Katherine Anne Porter House along the way, not knowing it was attached to the MFA program.

Over these 12 years I have been a volunteer for SXSW, working back stage and meeting wonderful and ‘famous’ musicians.  I have hosted people in the house, which is fun. . .and we’ve loaned out hubby’s studio so ‘famous’ folks could rehearse with Austin based musicians who are ‘famous’ in their own right.  This year I rather wish I’d left town for the charm is gone.  I thought the traffic would be worse, but then again, I have not gone where the hipsters reign.

My very happy moment this year is my son saying: “Mom, I saw on So&So’s Facebook page, that you heard Jorma Kaukonen at a coffee shop yesterday!”  I admit, I will thank all those who made it possible for Mr. Kaukonen to be in Austin for SXSW, for after 34 years, I am still a ‘cool mom’.  My son is in Boston, with all that snow and cold. Next year, I’ll fly to Boston and mind my grandson so my kid can see all this, that is called SX, for himself.

(And for those who are still reading. . .writing this made me feel very proud of my family. . .and the many people, who are now friends, or even no longer friends. . .well it’s made Austin our home.)


55 Random Things about Me On My 55th Birthday

I never lie about my age.

I was a single mother for 12 years.

I never knew how strong love is for a grandchild, until now.

I sing everyday at full voice.

I play the guitar.

I play the mandolin.

My parents called me Tinker.

I didn’t know I would come to love Texas.

I miss my pre-cancer treatment body.

I am fortunate to be alive. (for reals)

I love tea with milk and sugar

I eat eggs every morning.

I can’t believe I’ve been with Charlie for 22 years.

I read everyday.

I like watching people walk their dogs by my house.

I love my cat.

Unconditional love cures just about any thing but take your vitamins.

Having a spiritual practice makes my days easier.

I live with chronic pain.

I miss the #39 bus in Boston.

I drive four hours, one way,  to see great art.

I drive across the bridge to see great outsider art.

I love “Downton Abby” as well as “Firefly”

I love New York City.

I need new cowboy boots for two-stepping.

The first birthday gift from my hubby was the OED, Shorter.

We both use the OED at least once a week.

My mother’s passion for photography inspires me.

I dream of vacations with my son, his wife and son, and husband.

I have a very hard time saying no to small children.

I miss being prolific.

I wish I could figure out how to make money at things I already do.

I can’t do arithmetic in my head.

I like Irish whiskey and California Zins.

I am more easily hurt than most will ever know.

I still cry during the “Sound of Music”

I want to get work done on the Yellow House this year.

I collect rocks.

I wrote my first poem in first grade.

I’ve been cooking since I was 11.

I’ve been making Julia Child’s salad dressing for 42 years.

Someday I’ll finish my novella.

I am the only person in my immediate family NOT born in Fall River, MA.

I love how the ocean feels.

I stand up for those who feel voiceless.

I love bowling because I’m really bad at it.

I love an old-fashioned spaghetti dinner.

I talk to strangers.

I read real books in bars with a cocktail.

Being married is a great roller coaster ride. Hang on.

Being married to a musician, in Austin, is a different kettle of fish entirely.

“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” has very special meaning to me.

I’m not always nice but I do try to be kind.

I’ve god a gawd awful loud laugh.

I’ve been praised for my looks more than my intellect or talents.

I don’t think much of my looks other than the fact I got the good side of the gene pool.

When I’m insecure, it appears I’m arrogant.

Anxiety/Depression disorder is serious and all in your head. Get help.

I can’t believe how much I love life.


brklyn fountain triton waterbrklyn fountain hand waterCooper Square Sunset7th Ave Downtown Platform

Keeping Promises. . . OH! Hi! I’m back!

March forth on March first!

I had to stop writing because I couldn’t. So for over a year I read and read: Lots of books and lots of genres. One day last year I went to my husband’s studio and, with all kinds of drama, I rambled: “Tell me you will love me even if I never write another word. Will you love me if I”m not a poet?” And he said what any spouse should say, “Of course. But I’d miss it”.

I took myself off the hook, down from the cross, out of the fire and delved deep into words by others. Images of others and by others. I looked on the cast side of Rodin’s busts in Fort Worth. I felted. I crocheted. I revived old furniture. I held children for whom the world was too much for a scraped knee or a tumble off a bike. I rode carousels and climbed trees. I swam in clear creeks and cold oceans. And in and around this I helped a woman fight lung cancer and watched her madness bloom. And she was mentally ill. And spiritually depleted and then I undid her hoard when she died.

Terry Lee Schutte is a story for another post. But here beside me is the markings of where it began: a magazine I bought to inspire my blogging, as I recuperated from a cholecystemtomy. Terry’s phone number, the number to the agency purported to help seniors get to treatment. Here it is “Artful Blogging”.

The magazine revealed itself to me at the beginning of this year, 2015. And I promised said spouse I would start blogging again this year by March 1st. And while I do not know anything at this moment. I know on Thursday I turn 55. I’ve done my time in the shadow or recurrent cancer, the rest of my time will always have this shadow and that is a story in of itself. One that I don’t really truly tell.

So I did. I will. I am. And I am grateful. Here’s what I hope to do: post poems because I write them (again!) and photography (cause I love it and have being doing it forever) and music. . .and food. I cook. I love food.

Gonna keep these promises, for me.

Friday’s Goods

Mary Oliver has been taunting me. At first it was just the line ‘one precious life’ mixed with ‘what are you doing?’. The words were small voices at first and then formed in my mind to the point where it reached my poet brain. And then at night when sleep is what I desired, I listed poets and felt the words in my mouth until Mary Oliver made sense.


The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


And yesterday I found the poem and the lines. Why is it important because every night for the last few weeks, in the ritual that usually leads to sleep, the question begs me: what else could I have done?” And I answer: “Almost everything”. “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” And I am wordless. I am failing.

This is how I figured out my Celexa (anti-depressant) was no longer working. I have been coping with anxiety/depression for four years and the meds do not make me happy, they keep me from falling into a bleak-dark mind-space.  It steals my creativity, it steals my energy and it steals my nature.  Then the switch flips and I am scared to leave the house, but I do. Brave face and years of single-motherhood gathered up and I go. Out. And when I return, I put my nose in a book, my eyes on a re-run or pretend I actually care about anything on Facebook.

I know in that clear logical almost Vulcan part of my brain that I am fine. I am cancer free. I have a dear husband (normal squabbles, lots of kisses). I have a good son and daughter-in-law and a adorable, brilliant grandson. I have friends who care.  However when my meds don’t work, as I know now, I don’t feel this. I save some inside part of me away from anything that can hurt me for I know I cannot rise any higher. For now.

In the light and dark of the world’s turning, I am off my own axis. I count the days until I see my doc. And I thank all the Gods and all the stars for poetry.

Four and a Half Years

Most of the time I cannot feel the sides of my hands,
the pinky sides. Sometimes I realize I am not feeling
the sides of my feet, the piggy toe side. And then
I remember than I cannot remember the face
of the person standing in front of me and she
is happy to see me again and I don’t know her name
and I’m trying behind the awkward smile to recall
the place we met perhaps something will rise.

She knows me. She doesn’t know me, she assumes
some idea of me that I once was; consternation
folds her brow because I don’t remember. And she
is walking off, in something of a huff, and
I know my lack has hurt her feelings. I shrug.
It has taken four and half years to shrug
because before now, I blamed myself.

I blamed myself for not getting over cancer.
I blamed myself for not remembering names.
I blamed myself for forgetting and time slips
through my mind unnoticed and I’m late again
and again, so tell me the time I’m supposed
to arrive, again. No tell me the time
a half hour early and then I won’t upset
the apple carts and you won’t walk away

and all the apples are there bruised, at my feet
that I cannot feel, really and there are times when
I seem to be drunk because I am wearing clogs
on cobble stones, and while my feet no longer hurt
I am unstable. I am unstable and another says
it’s menopause and I say yes. Of course it is.
Of course and I abandon myself. Why –

Why did you? Why don’t you? Why not and
why can’t you, and I cannot answer for I never
ask this of anyone else. I snap don’t ask me why.
I don’t ask why there is no why
there is only words I used to know, there is only
four years of trying to learn a new trade, a new talent
a new life and the why you ask is four years old

twisting knots in my being, hot fear of losing
another hope and link to a life I want to have.
And why only serves the one who questions.
I’m sorry I don’t live in my head, that unfriendly
neighborhood that remembers the dream job
and the childhood summers with salt water tides
and how it is to sit with a dead girl, who’s heart
has just stopped as I washed her face. This before
my diagnosis, mere months between. I’m sorry

I did not return as I had been. I did not return as me
and I waited, and I worked and I fell so many times
into pieces, a broken clock brain, flagging spirit.
How do you tell another you cannot walk into a room
full of people alone? How do you tell another, please
remember this for me. So many drop away into
Cheshire cat smiles, with crocodile tears.

For three months this year I was pain free.
For three months I didn’t hurt inside and I smiled
just for me, for the relief, and then another part
goes bad, another intubation, another set of scars,
and another set of meds. For three months I was
pain free. This is what I hold on to in the dark.

Memory’s Patina

Major events are remembered. As if the event goes from the short-term memory dock to the long-term without lingering.  But I see in my minds eye, me, on September 12th, 2001. I called my son and husband on a hardwired phone.  But it was this day that the power and speed of ‘the internet’.

I was living in Boston then and worked at one of the major universities there. A co-worker ran down the hall, poked  her head in my office and said: “get on Washington Post dot com. . . a plane hit the world trade tower.” And for some reason I got in and watched the second plane. And I watched it again. Called my son and husband just to hear their voices. Then watched again. . .

But it’s the still images of photography that I return to.  Memories grow fat or thin over time. We conjure them up on the date and they rise with a patina or tarnish.  Raised by a documentary photographer, I learned early the drama of black and white, to dodge and burn, to manipulate an image.  Perhaps this is how I remember to remember.


The Photographers’ Stories






Monday Poem(s) by Aliki Barnstone, with introductions by the poet.

The following poems have short introductions by the poet, Aliki Barnstone.  I asked permission to re-print these posts for the timeliness as well as the thoughtfulness she puts into all she writers.


“Here’s a poem, “You Pray to Rain Falling on the Desert” (from my book, Bright Body), that I wrote just before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I read it at the celebration of the 85th anniversary of the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact, on August 27. I said in my introductory comments that I hoped one line was not true for the present moment. That line is “It is the eve of war.”  — ab


You Pray to Rain Falling on the Desert

because it is a Sunday where the sky is blue nearly every day
and you might forget to be sad.

Because you don’t sing with a choir, except the quiet
rain intoning on the backyard patio—
and the raindrops outside are not the human voices
you must listen to.

Because in March rains wake up desert flowers
and globe mallow blooms everywhere—burning bushes
in the Valley of Fire and vacant lots waiting for gas stations.
You will see their orange blossoms flaring through your windshield,
and no voice will say I am.

Because the rain will swell Lake Mead with our water for drinking
and bathtubs and gardens full of thirsty grass, roses, and oleander.
Because the fatal bacteria will die in treatment plants.
Because there are no mosquitoes here, no malaria.
Because the Children’s Hospital is stocked with medicine.

Because the rain will wash away dust and misery
and channel toxins from spent bombs into the ground water.

Because your daughter wanted to walk instead of drive
and she spun in her orange dress, pointed her pink-sneakered foot,
and curtseyed in the driveway
because rain on the desert is a multitude of tender hands
applauding new life.

It is the eve of war
and you don’t believe the broadcast on radio and on television:
I will rid you out of their bondage
and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm,
and with great judgments.

Because the rain keeps you inward, attending
to the outward hiss of traffic on boulevards.
Because the rain is unclear, a vast gray erasing demarcation.
Because the rain makes you tired of the word because,
tired of causes becoming effects, tired of causes, tired of tired reasons.


* * * * * * *


“In honor of the pundits, the media, the statement the president is about to deliver from the rose garden, I offer this poem from my book, Bright Body. It makes me sick that I have so many poems that apply to these days – only difference is that this time around the propaganda is coming from an administration I helped elect, twice, and that ran on a peace platform.”  — ab

Photo Op

I have a headache in this photograph
though I am gazing upward like a saint
in rapture, listening to God’s blurry words
written with cigarette smoke, ornate deadly font.

Okay, so I hold a lily in one hand
and an apple balances on the other palm,
but it was for effect, so forget
you saw the poet with the lily and the apple

even as a joke. My picture
needs some underlying fear.
As if in prayer, my hands are folded
on newspapers and magazines

arrayed across the table as if in disarray,
a bit out of focus, yet working
on you just the same. Notice
the open-mouthed head stilled above me

on the TV, the frames within the frame
that inform you, the orange terror alert
and the headline ticker scrolling along
the bottom of the screen—

news, weather, stock prices, pollen count—
everything fit for you to know,
familiar and alarming.
See, in this shot my pen is poised just so

and in my expression you might detect
I’m a bit proud to say—“ouch, my head
hurts from looking at God knows what—”
the emblems dovetailed with feelings so deftly,

we can’t help the tears or wanting to kiss
the icon or the idol, can’t help anything at all—
the composition is crowded with too much:
radiant graininess where I dusted for evidence

of the maker’s fingerprints, the extreme wide angle
revealing my background, halos inlaid
around the masses pressing toward heaven,
though their feet tread on the heads

of the wretched who carry their few worldly goods
in a cloth sack, and a thin baby,
or pull on the hand of the knock-kneed child
who stares you down no matter where you stand—

you’ll find them here, in the bottom corner,
turned away at the border, where smoke rises,
whether from the fire of war or holy incense,
impossible to tell, there’s too much damned noise.


For more information on the work of Aliki Barnstone:



The Little Fur Family makes the big move

A lovely family story.

The Adventures of the Little Fur Family

Once upon a time, there was a family.  This family had three little bears.  Orson the Daddy Bear, Honey the Mamma Bear and Teddy the Baby Bear just started a whole new adventure — they have moved from the United States all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to The Netherlands.

Work brings us here, but we hope to make the most of exploring our new habitat.  We’re a trio of travelers, having moved around the US quite a bit in the last year: Colorado, then Texas and at last to our original home state of Massachusetts.  Now we are on the other side trying to figure out how to make a new life for ourselves in this cozy new place.


The big trip went relatively smoothly considering Teddy is only 2.5 years old.  He slept for much of the plane ride.


Getting our luggage — all our worldly possessions…

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