Jesus of the Telephone Pole

March 24, 2023

There is an abandoned telephone pole in my back yard. The window on the upstairs south wall frames the aged post and its crossbeam quite nicely. It has no hardware or old porcelain insulators, no evidence of a past life beyond nail holes. Wildflowers grow around the base and behind it is a tangle of overgrowth that is decorated with the occasional bloom of a too tall lilac bush. Where there once were cables, vines now grow, and trees of all varieties stand behind it. The whole rustic scene, in all its unkempt splendor, looks like a shrine. A giant old rugged cross in my back yard. Jesus of the Telephone Pole.

I mean no disrespect, just a little irreverence. Jesus and I are OK. While it is hard to get too far from Christian symbology in this culture, I find it in my line of vision at the most curious of times. When it comes to religious dogma, I was not raised by absolutists. There was the Golden Rule and then there was everything else, from everywhere else. Jesus was not my mother’s lord, but the Sermon on the Mount was a consistent source of discussion and the moral footprints we walked in. The Bible sat openly on the coffee table, along with a book on world religions, and there was a dark and abstract rendering of the crucifixion on the mantle over the fireplace. A local artist created the painting and my mother believed it to be good art. The many bookshelves in the house contained the writings of the world’s great philosophers and thinkers, artists and poets. My mother was a secular humanist consumed with a passion for the existential. A paradox in most peoples’ eyes, and it was hard to ignore Jesus of the Mantle. My mother moved the painting from the mantle to her bedroom eventually, saying it was too dark for most folks, but that was years after I left home. When she passed away, I tried selling it in her estate sale, but there were no offers. It ended up following me back to New York because, well, you can’t leave Jesus at the Goodwill. The painting found its unceremonious home in a handy tie bag in the back of a closet for a year or two. It was resurrected recently, and now resides on a shelf in my studio.

Jesus of the Studio. Jesus of the Telephone Pole, Jesus on the TV and the radio. I wish a lot of folks would pay more attention to the message of Jesus (and Buddha, Muhammad, etc….) and less to making sure we all believe in him, and whatever interpretation of “him” is considered acceptable in their eyes. Personally, I am having a hard time avoiding it, the Sermon on the Mount, that is. It comes to mind whenever I hear the voice of the angry believer. We have entered a phase in history where it is more important to be “right” than it is to do the right thing. I am angry now as well, and I am weary of the persistent presence of self-righteousness. I was taught that you love everybody, and you go from there. Everything else is secondary. So here’s to you, the non-tolerant believers. May love reign over you, open your eyes and your heart, and lift the burden of judgment from you. God bless me, God bless you, God bless everyone. Here’s my song, from my 2010 album and the musical, Pokegama Hotel, “The Fall. ”


Flip the Day

March 17, 2023

A small something fell into a small place this morning shortly after I got out of bed and the litany of negative thoughts that followed caught my attention. “Wow,” I said, “already?” I had been awake a mere ten minutes and the negative train was moving down the tracks. The TV was on and a motivational speaker on PBS was talking about changing paradigms, about looking at life through a more positive lens. I took pause. I thought, “Well, there’s some cheesy irony.” Apparently, though, I am a cosmic snob. I expect my road signs to be a bit more unique. I chose to ignore this one, but it wouldn’t leave me alone all day and it led me here. Flip the day.

In the realm of the what we perceive as mundane, it is easy to forget the power of little events. We spill coffee, drop a small something into an inconvenient space, and we surround these blips with all the irritating junk we have experienced in recent history. They become a reflection of a cosmic scheme, part of what we perceive as the general path of our lives and follow the thought pattern that says, “Of course something bad happened to me.”  Conversely, when something positive occurs, we view it as an anomaly, an unexpected gift, a surprise. We take for granted the small joys like a hug, the good morning, the privilege of simply waking up, and most profoundly, the consistent presence of love. We instead focus on the little annoyances and make them global, a part of the negative conspiracy. While I suspect that these annoyances are not going to disappear just because we will them to do so, I do believe it is time to surround the everyday positive things in our lives with the same level of attention as the junk. I am flipping the day. 

Here’s my song:


Five Geese Flying

March 8, 2023

Stay with me, I have a story. It’s a long one. 

I keep a little goose Beanie Baby in my car. That’s where it lives. Always.  When geese fly overhead I say, “My kin.” I stop what I am doing and I watch them. I fly with them. A suspended moment spent with something that has no sense of the linear. It is time out of time. Growing up in the bitter cold and the long winters of northern Minnesota, the return of the geese was always, and still is, a cause for celebration. A sign of the big spring. Life’s spring. A metaphor for the relief that comes after hardship, like…a rainbow. I moved to New York in 1983, but the geese came with me and this metaphor is one of my life’s guideposts. 

My grandmother Adeline Ellen Flaskerud Haverland, passed away in 1996 at the age of 90. A child of pioneers, the wife of Adolph, and mother to seven girls and two boys in depression era northern Minnesota. The backbone of my mother’s family. It is hard to describe the spectrum of this family in a paragraph, especially my seven aunts (eight if you include the oldest cousin Loretta, who was basically another aunt). My heroes, my role models, mothers to my best friends. Big hearted, intelligent, independent, opinionated and a little crazy, outgoing women. 

Big family gatherings were routine at our house. Aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma, Grandpa, friends, 15, 20, 30 people all talking at once while my dad, my brother, myself, and cousin Loretta conducted a sing-a-long. There was always a ton of food, a ton of beer, rum for cousin Retta and Aunt Ann, some kind of competition, and a controversy or two. Walking into my parents dining room on these nights was overwhelming and yet incredibly inviting. You were sent into a loud, smart, smokey, boozy, musical, quirky world of loving souls having a good time and enjoying each other’s company. It was, and still is, the most cherished part of my upbringing. 

However, in May of 1996, all of these folks lost their matriarch. There would be a family gathering, including all the accoutrements, the joy and music, and it would be fun, but with a filter of grief. The ominous specter of mourning coupled with the anticipated party, the cigarettes, the noise, and the tears put me in a state of edgy anticipation, like it would be too much. But this thinking made me feel selfish in the face of my grandmother’s passing. It’s not about me. I put it aside and got ready for the trip.

At that time, my daughter Cecelia was 6 years old. I would be traveling alone for this trip and I had never been away from her overnight. Again, it felt self centered having anxiety over something other than my grandma’s passing and again, I stored it away. She and her dad would be just fine. So, I reserved my flight to Minnesota. I packed with anticipation of mosquitos and temperatures anywhere from 20 to 80 degrees, and I tried to get a good night’s sleep. The morning came, I got up, I got ready, and I called a cab rather than go through a dozen goodbyes before the flight. Again, more guilty anxiety. But, it turned out to be a beautiful morning and Cecelia, her dad, and I waited for the cab on the front porch. I was holding her, hugging her, walking around, and generally fighting off all the concern. About two minutes before the cab arrived, five geese approached the southern horizon and flew right over us, honking and moving north. Cecelia got really exited and exclaimed, “Look Mommy! It’s geese! They are going to fly with you to Minnesota! Look!” As she was pointing at the five geese, the cab turned the corner towards our house. I held her and said, in my best patronizing Mommy voice, “Of course they are! Isn’t that awesome? And look at that, there’s my cab, just in time to go with the geese!” I hugged her, kissed her, passed her off to my husband, hugged him, and jumped into the cab. We waved at each other, blew kisses, and I was off to the Albany airport. I pondered the geese for a moment. An odd number of geese in flight is not the norm. Not unusual, but not what you usually see. I though about Cecelia’s prediction, smiled, but returned to the nervous anticipation – did I save my flight info, did I pack the right stuff, will Cecelia miss me? My mom’s mother has died.  

The flight to Minnesota was uneventful, mostly me just ruminating and driving strangers nuts with my need to chit chat. I arrived at the Minneapolis airport, rented a car, grabbed a few sodas and headed north. 190 miles. 

I turned on the radio and after an hour or so of flipping from channel to channel, the Prairie Home Companion Joke Show mercifully appeared. I gave a nod of thanks to the universe, turned off my brain, and made my way up highway 169 to the big swamp that is Northern Minnesota. Somewhere along the way my mom called, worried about me, just needing some confirmation, wishing I was already there. I could only imagine what she was going through. Being in charge and being in such grief. My mom. The family super hero. 

My home town is on the Mississippi River where she bends east to west to meet her source about 60 miles up the road. There are two ways to arrive at my childhood home; drive through town, cross the Mississippi and head out of town, or take the back way past the Isaac Walton park, cross the Mississippi and head on up the hill. Normally, I would take the back way and stop at the park to say hello to the river I spent my childhood on, put my hands in her waters, but I kept thinking of my mother’s phone call. I needed to get to the house as quickly as I could. Never mind the river. But as I approached my hometown, I felt a tug. A need to stop and ground myself for a moment before facing the crowd of benevolent chaos. Five extra minutes would be OK. I took the back road to the Isaac Walton Park. I pulled in, got out of the car and walked directly to the river and stood there, breathing the air like it was medicine. I stooped down and put my hands in the river, closed my eyes, and connected to whatever force it is that kept me grounded as a kid. I heard geese calling in the distance and looked up to see a small gaggle approaching the river. They circled and landed right before my eyes, about 50 feet in from of me. There were five of them. Five geese. All the way from New York. Cecelia was right. The geese had followed me. I jumped up from the water and stood there, astonished, counting and recounting the geese. They just sat there, quietly floating. Looking at me, smugly, as if to say,” I told you so.” 

My grandmother’s funeral was a blessed event. Beautiful, irreverent, full of every piece of discomfort I had anticipated, with my mother being the brave person that she was. But it was OK. I had witnessed a cosmic coincidence, a sign. I received a hug from my grandma. From God. The geese, my perennial sign of hope. And now, something so very profound. I have always been blessed with road signs. I have always looked for road signs. For love. It has never stopped me from failure, never stopped me from embarrassment, or from falling. They just simply show up and say, “You are loved, get up.” And that, my friends, is everything.  

Here’s my song: