Tuesday, July 29, 2014


This collage of mine (with elegant blue stripe added by a friend) is currently on display in the rotunda at Stanford's Green Library, at the top of the grand staircase.  It feels honored to be there, and is in illustrious company.

The composition was a long, organic process.  The collage started as a postcard, sent forth and back through the mail.  The bit on the right, escaping the frame, is from an old Larousse dictionary.  The lovely alphabet with blue stamp is from a Griffin and Sabine calendar I'd had in a drawer since working on campus.  The ancient masking tape along the top held a photo on the matboard in the reused frame, a long-ago picture of me seated romantically on a stone wall in Borghetto sul Mincio.  (Probably more or less where poor Gilda went, singing, in her canvas sack, into the river.)

My artist's statement that accompanies the collage reads thusly:

In Art as Experience, John Dewey writes
“There are things inside the body that are foreign to it, and there are things outside of it that belong to it . . . that must, that is, be taken possession of if life is to continue.

Whatever its medium, my art has at its heart the journey out, and back, retrieving vital things—
  • what’s slow, and takes its time
  • what sings to me
  • what’s quirky (quietly), quizzical

There’s always joy in it, and learning.  Liminal spaces, distances, the shimmer of mirage in a long swath of sand.  The play of light and time.  Fossilized pine tree resin, holding ancient life within it and worn, warm, against the skin.

All that is old and spiritful—the word a gift from an Italian friend.

A thumbmark in red clay from up the canyon one school day;
the frogs and campanile bells outside the open windows of the letterpress studio;
Albinoni playing as we (playing archaeology) explore inscriptions and sacred old bones.

Whole constellations of wonder, the stories in the stars. 

Belief in God or gods.
Belief in children and the grace of age.
A love of charred spring onions, Greek coffee, oregano.
The whimsy of oranges and priors and the cold noses of dogs.
The temple bell never done sounding and resounding
       in the inmost reaches of the human ear.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Paleography

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Let There Not Be a Hair's Breadth

“Words are the closest any of us can come to making something from nothing at all.”
—Danielle Ackley-McPhail 
So what am I making, from the words that are the insubstantial stuff of my sandcastles, castles in the air?

At the moment, besides coming to the end of my mystery set on the St. Bernard Pass, I’m weaving a new tale that will include Queen Mab, the Christ in the Desert Monastery, symbolic logic, three pepper brioche, a maker of masks, a room painted Regatta Blue, the road in Santa Fe called Escondido (hidden); choral works and thievery and making chili pods into sauces (a holy ritual); people I like on first acquaintance, and mean to load with worthy causes, ideals, beyond their quirks and foibles and onyx chess sets.

These things are in me, of me, making me as surely as those in my story.
“When composing a verse let there not be a hair's breadth separating your mind from what you write; composition of a poem must be done in an instant, like a woodcutter felling a huge tree or a swordsman leaping at a dangerous enemy.”—Basho

image:  She Who Is

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Kind of Holiness

"But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it's done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive."
(Mary Oliver)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Books for Hammock and Tea Caravan

Besides a bright bouquet of café tables set out around it, my tea caravan would have bookshelves, well-stocked with summer reading—small, delicious bites.
  • George Booth’s Think Good Thoughts About a Pussycat (delightful dog cartoons)
  • Thurber’s Fables
  • Light-Gathering Poems
  • Marcovaldo
  • Virginia Woolf short-shorts
  • Sudden Fiction short-shorts
  • a whole shelf of Billy Collins
  • J.D. Salinger’s classic Nine Stories (with “DeDaumier Smith’s Blue Period” bookmarked)
  • Italian book of saints in art (a saint a day, in gorgeous color)
  • Rilke’s Book of Hours
  • The Pollen Path (Navajo stories)
  • Barbara Kingsolver’s essays, Small Wonder
  • Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking
  • Aldo Buzzi’s The Perfect Egg
  • Sue Bender’s Everyday Sacred
  • Gail Sher’s Four Noble Truths for Writers:  One Continuous Mistake
  • Eudora Welty’s collected stories
  • John Cheever’s collected stories
  • Pierre Bonnard:  The Late Still Lifes and Interiors
  • a little Ogden Nash
  • Harriet Doerr’s The Tiger in the Grass
  • Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples
  • The Tao of Pooh
  • The Little Prince
  • Green Eggs and Ham
  • and, of course, Eloise

image:  summer reading, France d’art et de lumière

Friday, July 18, 2014

Undoing the Damage of Haste

“Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste.  It's what everything else isn't.”

(Theodore Roethke, On Poetry and Craft:  Selected Prose)

As I scurry around at lunchtime between the office and coffee roasters, market and bookstore, office again, I’ve been reminded of my constant desire to move more slowly, to stay put.  To put together a “Slow Writing” program.  To get a letterpress someday, and go back to setting  and printing poetry by hand.  To write a story called “The Man Who Loved Mozart,” with no plot and no hurry whatsoever.  Just loving the words.

I’m reminded of old summer days wearing an oversized shirt over jeans as painter’s smock and copying the drenched purples and yellows of violas from below the back wall onto fine-grained watercolor paper.  Revelling in the colors.  In the little fluid movements of the brush.

I’m reminded of the silent mounding of the thunderclouds against the mountains as the afternoons wore on, as sauces simmered on the stove for hours for the eventual evening meal.  Confiding their herb-laden fragrances, and tempting me into the kitchen time and time again to taste.  And then, after the brooding light, the portentous and rain-charged air—the drama of the thunderstorm.  Bringing the clothes in from the line, the canvas chair covers, and any shoes left out.

Slow days, in which were health and wealth.  Slow days, whose memory too, revisited in slowness, heals.  Slow days, that art commemorates, allows.  That are an art unto themselves.

image:  Christie B. Cochrell, Pottery Turtle, Taking It Slow

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Willing To Be Dazzled

"Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world."

(Mary Oliver)

image:  Greece Art & Architecture

Monday, July 14, 2014

Le quatorze Juillet

Today I’m celebrating all things French (though lunch was at a favorite Italian place).

I do keep fancifully imagining that our family comes from a dynasty of Calvados-makers in Normandy (Coquerel), living among the apple-orchards, walking to market along the Seine past Giverny, past Bonnard’s Vernonnet, past all the landscapes of the French Impressionists, so exquisitely color-drenched.  So I feel as if I am a sort of citoyenne, at least an honorary one—my heart in the right place (if on the left bank).

Some of my favorite summer reading has been Marguerite Duras’s Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia, The Sailor from Gibraltar.  And then Jean Giono’s pastoral Pan trilogy, set in Provence, in a wonderful edition with full-color illustrations, borrowed from the Stanford library and kept for several years on my shelves.  And now, a French translation, The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles.  I’ve been thinking of the book- and print-sellers in Paris, and their ever-tempting stalls, and how I’d love to wander there, and after, find that perfect simple café near the Bastille and what I am surely wrongly remembering as being called the site of d’Artagnan’s stable—worn gray stone, an inner courtyard and an arch.

And too, I’ve been remembering a summer visiting in Santa Fe, when I read Colette and sat in the shade with my father pitting tiny cherries from the trees behind the patio back by the clothesline, so my mother could make tart.  I walked up Canyon Road later to one of many galleries with wooden floors, to see the photographs of André Kertész, photographs of Paris, adding to my nostalgia for France.  My feeling that I was, in some strange way, practically there.

image:  Gaston de Latouche, L’Intrigue Nocturne

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Things I Am Grateful for Today

  • the gentle blessing of the still-moist bathroom air smelling of shampoo, soap, freshness, after a shower, as I enter in
  • the heartbreaking reminder of an old elephant’s tears
  • the morning quiet, after the threat of a big construction project at the synagogue next door
  • my new hand-made, hand-painted mug that traveled to me all the way from Italy
  • the purple flowers pressed into my notebook back in February, March, now at home on the stone table
  • citrusy Russian Earl Grey tea from Santa Fe
  • the good chicken I made last night with herbs and lemon slices and cherry tomatoes—now in season!
  • the long strand of glass beads, the green of a forest of northern Douglas fir
  • a colleague who goes out of his way to say thank you
  • the thought of Paris, its bridges and flowers and cheeses and book stalls

image:  Haven in Paris (My French Country Home)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day After Independence Day

Happy day-after-Independence Day!

What one does with one’s independence, after all, counts every bit as much as the winning of it.  Being enduringly, defiantly oneself, against all odds, as days and years go by; in sickness and in age; in poverty of means keeping one’s spirit rich—that matters more than fireworks and grand parades.

When I think independent lives (or stolen moments), I think
  • Pippi Longstocking flipping pancakes
  • a Henry James heroine gathering Italy into herself; and Strether eating his perfect small omelette in Paris before returning to his airless life
  • Shirley Valentine, of course
  • Georgia O’Keeffe sitting on the roof of her Ghost Ranch home, even in her 80s
  • James Merrill setting off against depression on his little green scooter (see right column:  "about Green Scooter")
  • a dear friend chewing food for its flavors when he could no longer swallow

Independence comes in all shapes and sizes, takes all forms.
  • Having a fence built; having a wall (even THE wall) torn down; painting a fence or wall or house or room of one’s own bright yellow or the white of beginnings, inspiration, calm.
  • Rose Macauley setting off from Istanbul; or someone quietly reading Hildegard’s Healing Plants before work.
  • Wearing a hoopoe feather in one’s cap, or sticking it in a poem.  Or just admiring the word, hoopoe.
  • Learning archery on one’s 60th birthday, or chalking out hopscotch squares.  (Or in the case of Walter Matthau in the movie of that name, cheerfully defying the CIA, driving between one country and the next singing Figaro, Figaro at the top of one’s voice.)
  • Swimming the Hellespont, or looking through a box of used cookbooks for a recipe for Green Goddess dressing.
  • Planting rue, or (my own coming-of-age, coming-of-self story) choosing to listen to cellos and violins.
Be fearless, defending what you’ve gained.

But here’s a thought to mull over:  Choosing to be less than oneself, from love, compassion, kindness—does that make one still more?  What if one chooses not to be free?

image: Georgia O'Keeffe on the Roof, Ghost Ranch House, 1944.  Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (housed where my father’s office used to be)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Refrigerator Magnets

While waiting for the muscat oolong tea to brew this morning, I stood at the stove and took note of the magnets and the messages they hold at eye level on the side of the fridge.  An assortment typical of me.

The calendar page I sent to my mother and she kept on her own fridge for years, until I brought it back again:
“In walking, just walk.  In sitting, just sit.  Above all, don’t wobble.”  (Yun-Men)

Keeping the page from wobbling, Matisse’s genteel onions.

A magnet from Sambo’s on the beach in Santa Barbara, a favorite place in college which two friends and I would visit after driving down the coast all night.  I was surprised three years ago to learn it’s still there—the last of the Sambo’s line, surely, after the name and its namesake became un-PC.

The “traffic jam in Teesdale” magnet, showing a herd of amiable northern English sheep blocking the road.  That from my summer doing archaeology (and visiting castles and Lindisfarne) up near Hadrian’s Wall, before discovering Yorkshire curd tarts.

John Lennon in a t-shirt with “New Mexico” slyly laid over it.

A postcard of a lovely blue-footed booby.

A magnet of one of Joseph Cornell’s parrots.

A magnet of the Venetian lion with wings and book.

Too many more to number or recount.

image:  Henri Matisse, Still Life with Pink Onions

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Drowning in the Noise of Others

What does not feel like home—
Crowds that I can’t get away from.  Even several extroverts, or one, someone with frantic energy, someone who keeps me from my thoughts.

I remember visiting a lovely farm in Wisconsin (maybe Appleton, which sounds like orchards and a rural air), and getting to spend time with people who welcomed me, and dogs and horses, and to sleep in a converted barn—all those things that appeal to me.  I probably ate berries, cobbler or crumble, and other summer things.  A child’s delight.  But the family had seven children, and each of them friends, and there were just too many people around all the time for me, the only child.  Despite the horses and the many other pleasures I lived only for the moment when the lights would go out and I’d finally be alone, just me, able to find myself inside my head.  Able to find myself again, not having to talk, respond, and in that vanish, anymore.  Able to be me.

“Sometimes you need to sit lonely on the floor in a quiet room in order to hear your own voice and not let it drown in the noise of others.”

—Charlotte Eriksson

image:  Umbrellas in the Rain, Maurice Prendergast, 1899