Friday, September 2, 2022

Fish Pudding, 10/4/83


Reflecting on the many experiences that led me to this moment has let me air-out a lot of my dirty laundry. In this case, writing about my hubris of producing a literary atrocity such as the one I'm now sharing is beyond the stink of stale yoga pants and sweaty boat clothes. It's brutal to the point of hilarity.

Read the poem below. It's a hoot. Like a blooper reel.

Pointing to the obvious mixed metaphor of dead fish and mixed desserts provides enough grist to grind this poem to dust. But the fact that I actually submitted this as an assignment makes it all the more nuts.

This untitled poem was written in the fall of my junior year in college. I was deep into the requirements of major, (creative writing---eek!), and somehow I lifted my noggin from the booze and the recreational stuff to drop words about a guy being like stale pudding in the fridge. You'd think my debauchery would have reared something raw and inexplicable, not just base word pollution on the page. Bacchus was never my muse. Maybe this poem is somehow about him.

If I could start my education over, I likely would have studied herbology, textiles or culinary arts. I would have used my writing to promote a yoga business or pen volumes about feminist philosophy. I can't allow myself to sink in disappointment at how my life is going since I live like a boss on a vintage sailboat in the tropics with the man of my dreams. Maybe I could have turned out way cooler, like an international traveling urban beekeeper or a niche cheese producer who pairs wine and chocolate. Those peeps are fire. But I have this silly poem as an armature for my musings and it makes me smile.

So instead I inspect the tatters of my college projects and attempt my big thinks. I try to make sense of the craziness and find that it's okay not to be brilliant or stellar or, well, special. It feels just right to be in my own skin in this moment. What a life!


One day he might belly-up
Fishlike, bloated and dewy
Floating and dwindling like marshmallow in hot chocolate
That by virtue of its sweetness blends into
The rich brown.

Or one day he might dry-up
And cover the top of the parfait dish
And grow tougher with each day in the refrigerator.
He might be old pudding left uncovered.
He might be old pudding.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

A Letter from Francine/Soothe Francine

When I was a youngster, I conjured an invisible friend that I called Francine. My parents cultivated this distraction, likely because our family was slightly lopsided: my two siblings were over 3 and 4 years younger than me and therefore I was typically in a different state of development and our house was hectic. Francine was a ready caretaker for some of my needs. I cannot completely produce authentic memories of us together, since much of what lasts about her comes from my parents talking about my imaginary friend rather than my own pretending.  

My girlhood was peppered with all kinds of social and civic activities. I attended summer camps, played sports, retained membership in Camp Fire Girls through high school and participated in Methodist Youth Fellowship. These were great ways for me to immerse in friendships that were based on activities. Even today I sometimes have trouble just hanging-out with even the coolest people and I am eager to do something. I'm working on being more present, both as a yogi and a person.

The two Francine poems were written in Marrakech, when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer, 1986-88. They go together because one is written to Francine, and the other from her. It's interesting that Francine voices an Eastern philosophy that I lifted from TS Eliot's The Waste Land. "Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata" comes from the Upanishads, and I find that it translates to "Give, Sympathize, Control," which horrifies, given Eliot's Nazi connections. Oh, to know then what I do now.

My earlier iteration was trying to sort out my feelings about social groups and my own need for solitude. Francine was telling me to be more giving but I sense she was also stuck in ancient dogma and male-domination. I am finding myself compassionate toward the naivete of my early 20's in these two texts and I reflect upon some of the prophecies in her words and those of Francine.

Soothe Francine

You played with me at the well, me telling
you things and you listening, endlessly.
It was you who fell, and me, promising
hickory nuts, shelled on the sidewalk with
a hammer or rock, who soothed. You were m
friend, quietly, and my confidant, scapegoat, 
and means for me to hear my early voice.
Are you as old as I am now? Or do
imaginary friends shrink into time
necvr growing once they're dispelled: I think
you've never left me although the well looks
smaller and hickory nuts fall unshelled
on the new grass. Please, let me tell you things
again, and listen, Francine, endlessly,
because I want to soothe you back to life.
I need a means to hear my later voice.

A Letter from Francine
(Datta, Dayadhvam, Damyata)

Dear friend, your demands of others, tangled in words,
should be given freely in the meaning of your
deeds. Give them consistency, clear light, kindness and
repose. You observe. you record. You react. Give.

New people disappoint you, sister, why? You know
guilt, pain, frustration and anguish. You feel. You feel!
But sympathize. Elude duty; perform and lurk.
Feel suchness elsewhere, a redirected scope: there.

But you do not think on these things, preferring to
scan those disappointing others, ('help me,') thwarting
your urge to stimy yourself in you own freely-
chosen, appropriae control. Who will help them?

Concentrate, search and hurt. Meditate, learn and know. 
Being and become. We are both such. Love, Francine.


Friday, June 10, 2022

Miss Judge

I've been thinking a bit about the Cult of Domesticity. The ideals of womanhood have always included dominion over home and hearth, not so much by authority, but more by obligation to feminine roles within society that dictate the allocation of women's energy and resources. Based on this implicit framework, women of the 19th century had a moral responsibility to focus on families, household matters, upholding virtue and exhibiting a well-mannered performance. Historians refer to this as the Cult of Domesticity, or the Culture of True Womanhood. 

Some modern thinkers link the Cult of Domesticity to homecraft, such as culinary arts, crafts, gardening, home decor and childrearing, all of which are certainly worthy pursuits for any gender. TicTok today is chock-full of picklers, urban homesteaders and clothing upcyclers, all of whom harken the frugal and functional nature of COD behaviors. Through the COVID years, countless social media influencers shored-up their digs across the land, constructing outdoor pizza ovens and hyper-decorating laundry rooms. There is a resurgence of homecraft and even a push for bringing DIY game.

I am proud of the younger generations who aren't afraid of starting their own home-based businesses or engaging in lost arts. Etsy, Ravelry and Instagram show many crafters and collectors e-tailing hand-tatted handkerchiefs, homemade herbal remedies from foraged materials and explicit procedures for canning milk. Anyone complaining that the younger generation doesn't want to work is missing the point: they don't want to work for us, Boomer, clocking 40 hours or more a week for the man, shackled to a sub-standard health insurance plan and enemic 401K with a vague promise of future reward if they can survive into their retirement years. The now-vampires demand obedience to a flimsy system that counts on us dying before we can collect our social security payments, a lifetime of eating shit sandwiches our ultimate reward for our efforts. Moghuls rocket to outer space. Both of my parents died before they collected much of their social security. That lesson wasn't lost on me.

My poem "Miss Judge" is part of a Series of Misses, (with catchy titles,) that I submitted for my senior project in 1985. It strikes me that the piece has a kind of cycle to it, much like the COD coming in and out of style. There is external motivation for change, but at what cost? What if I actually enjoy knitting and baking and mothering? Can't I still be a feminist? Does the patriarchy minimize the importance of domestic tasks to shunt women's power? Is anyone sorry about this? My own opinion is that working for the military-industrial-complex (most jobs, right?) robbed me of my health and well-being, buying into a hierarchy that never made sense. Working on my own paid or unpaid projects is so very satisfying and healing that I never want to go back.

Miss Judge
We had it registered for its own good.
We changed all that it had been before.
We had it both neutered and spayed.
We had it plucked and shaved and its skin
painted another color.
We had its claws and whiskers removed and
its wings clipped and its fangs filed.
It had been so long, we'd forgotten what it
But then someone remembered.
And it wasn't so bad.
People liked it.
It came into style.
They became jealous that we had it,
and we became proud of it.
We decided that we loved it, and let it go
back to the way it was.
But then it left us.
And we miss it.
And we're so sorry.
In the mid-90's, I met a work colleague who had come to Vermont in the 70's to live in a commune with her husband. She said that the men used to sit around and smoke cigarettes, bragging about how many jars of tomatoes their wives canned. She'd explained it was just part of the men gaining status through the efforts of their partners, and it didn't feel communal or supportive at all. She'd been divorced for 15 years or so, and was restoring a home with her second husband. I'm not certain she was any more pleased with her most recent lifestyle. It seemed like she was under the burden of a time schedule to get the renovations done, all while working full-time and limiting her other interests in support of a man-initiated project. She loved to cross-country ski. I wonder how many days she got out on the trails.

This past year on the boat, I learned to make terrible wine that gets you shit-faced. I finished an afghan that I started 12 years ago for my son. I knit my daughter a pair of mittens from an intricate pattern, and I made my partner and myself light hats for cold ocean evenings. I even crocheted a bag from nylon fishing line we found on the beach as we made passage from the Bahamas. I cooked tagines and cakes, flatbreads and pizzas. I love these projects, without disdain. While I still remain a pitiful housekeeper and boat cleaner, I do appreciate good food and items I make myself. 

My hot take is that I do what I want. Sometimes I want to do what has been historically expected of my gender, and I want beaucoup kudos for it. I am so glad I have that in my life: my supportive partner, my attentive kiddos and my great friends. Life is good, people. 

Monday, May 30, 2022


Jam session with ukulele at Chat-n-Chill
beach in Exuma, Bahamas.
PC: Alison Buchanan

I used to spend a lot of time being what I thought others wanted. This strained my interaction with my body, soul and relationships. I hated my body and hid it, or minimized its importance, becoming unhealthy. In dissolving my connection to physical well-being, my energy was patchy and I could not give to some of my efforts. I had little sense of myself, reacting to stimuli and not taking charge of my own feelings and actions. In my career I often bent to the will of my employer over my own inclinations and as a result, I knew frustration and strife. Although I was often proud of my workplace achievements and even earned some notoriety, there was an emptiness because I perceived myself directed by outsiders. I didn't have a language to communicate my values, or a heart for speaking truth to power effectively. I continue to dislike conflict and find many situations cringe-worthy, causing me to perseverate and lax at letting go of the opinions of others. This takes work.

I harnessed as much of my energy as I could to mothering, even through considerable adversity. With the divorce of their father, I found more ways to have better conversations with my kids who were nearly grown by that time. My son and daughter are my great gifts to the universe and I am so happy about their worlds and wilds. Being their mom was a role that came naturally to me and I have no regrets about giving mothering my best shot, sometimes even declining others' ideas and opinions because I knew what was right. I am sad being so far from them, which I think about all the time.

Reflecting upon the poem I wrote when I was 20, "Thingification" seems like advice that I wish I could have taken earlier. As I have established a practice of non-attachment through my yoga training and considerable personal opportunities to "let go and let be," I enjoy reminiscing about my 20-something voice. I often cue yoga participants to contemplate a timeline in Warrior 2 pose, reaching with compassion into the past during gentle warrior, and then with curiosity into the future in side angle. Returning to Virabhadrasa II, I encourage being in this moment, now that we have addressed past and future. This layer has made me more mindful of my time on my yoga mat, and less attached to what is not now. It is very liberating.

The poem, written when I was 20, word-processed

Moonlight spares the building's 
corner from being lost in
the darkness.
the mitered squareness of
the edge more distinct
at night.
Inside a young woman clad
in underwear
curls her hair
and plans
to act more demurely 
than she did
the night before.
She had been outspoken,
hand-on-hip in
head stronger than
the mouth that
quickly lent
secrets and the tip
of a champagne glass.
And then she had been
hurried home,
Ladybug, Ladybug,
a plane hanging in
the dark air above
her like a blinking flashbulb.
Tonight she would try again,
smooth, neat and curled,
feigning the reserve
of one of Henry the VIII's 
wives for a man who
liked her better 
the night before.

I giggle inwardly at the stilted voice in the poem, describing the "mitered squareness" and name-dropping King Henry VIII. The plane that hangs in the sky "like a blinking flashbulb" seems so accusatory. One of the things I enjoy most about my life now is that I feel completely supported in being myself at all times, which is as much my growth as it is finding a beautiful partner who nourishes this. He would have liked me better the night before, too.

Photo credit: Dreamy Dale 
I hadn't expected that I would find love and acceptance at my age, (58 at the time of this writing, if you're curious.) I sometimes lead ecstatic dance groups and I find myself consistently announcing that "magic happens right outside your comfort zone," a vaguely Vygotsky axiom that might be more for my edification than anyone else's. I always claimed I wanted to be loved for who I am, not so much for what I do. I am new to living for myself, following my own curiosities and discovering love and beauty with a gorgeous man on a vintage sailboat far away from my beloved Vermont. Magic indeed happens out here.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Private Acrobatics, 9/15/1983

Too long ago, my priorities and creative energies shifted from written expression to other forms. Some of my pursuits manifested in mothering, teaching, studying to advance myself, identifying as career-achieving, and making domestic crafts. I also infused my social network presence with my ideas, rooted in feminism. I spent a lot of energy writing for work and creating for teaching. While I regard what I've shared with the world positively, others have over-lorded my expression to some extent for a long time. At this point of my lifespan, I want to generate my own art into the world, which mostly appeals to me through writing, knitting, moving, dancing, making music and exploring. I reserve the right to try new things, too.

To kick-off this introspective initiative, I am reviving my blog. I have plans to interact with photos of my creations, new and old, and address my memories and impulses in order to establish the parameters of my growth in this world. Reflecting on my artifacts might help me to make sense of myself as I am now and reveal the common threads and the raveled edges of this Hoffman experience.

In this piece I explore the poem Private Acrobatics, which I wrote in 1983. As an undergraduate Creative Writing major at Hamilton College, I had to produce a seminar of written poetry. My diligent professor worked me through a semester of reading and writing poems, providing me titles from mostly dead white males, the grist of artzygrrrl death of the 1980s. I took it as my own failing that I didn't usually connect with the presented patriarchal body of work and didn't often glean the central themes.

My parents gave me the middle name Frost for my dad's favorite poet, the big Robert. I look at RF now as a wonderful poet, as I have developed an adult perspective in rural New England and appreciate that fences make good neighbors. Another professor had advised us to write what we know, and so my poem developed from a child's voice:

Private Acrobatics

Typed copy of the poem, as submitted to my professor.

Who has left me alone again
for other things although I was
the first? Sure she is smaller and
more helpless perhaps but sometimes
I want to show you what I've learned.
Like I can crawl up on this rack,
look at myself in the watchful
mirror, the only probably
thing that always watches me and
never changes. The mirror is
as my own fun is. The mirror
will watch my sun acrobatics
even as I can watch myself
fall, swinging lower with the too
unbalanced audience as it
crashes to the floor. Each broken
piece of the mirror is a new
member of my made-up private
audience that is the only
probably thing that will always
watch and never change for other
things even though I was the first.

I was pretty chuffed in 1983 when I first produced this piece. Most of my suite-mates brought electronic typewriters with them to college, but my mom had insisted on purchasing a manual Royal unit, the 1980s version of her ancient machine of her youth. She'd advised that I should be able to type anywhere, like on a train, on a ship or on the road. Mom possessed not so much a romanticized perception of writing, but more a pragmatic one. Maybe she thought I'd go all Jack Karouac, and she wanted me to be prepared. One of my dad's classes at Syracuse University had met with JK at a local pub and Mom assumed I'd need to type anywhere. Current laughs as I type on my Chromebook at a bar in the Dominican Republic frankly a little day-drunk on a 22-oz local beer. How could she have known?

I wrote Private Acrobatics about breaking a mirror when I was a little girl. My sister was born in the car on the way to the hospital when I was almost 4 years old, and therefore her dramatic debut was my first cancel culture. My parents worked very hard to bring us up with opportunities that transcended theirs, so when my brother came while my sister was still soiling diapers, I required too much supervision for my hard-working mom, who worked nights as a nurse and took care of us by day with only naps to get her through the toil of mothering.

I climbed up the beloved hat rack with a marble drawer shelf topped with a semi-length mirror. My parents were proud of their antiques, and this hat rack was a rare example of something in good condition. When I climbed up on it to see myself in the mirror and toppled it, their dismay resulted in a lifetime of reminders about my behavior and their replacement of the ancient glass. I layered my feelings of independence and lonesomeness in my role as big kid in the house in this poem so to process having to share attention. I think my ongoing need for relevance comes from being the eldest child, and I certainly still do take challenges to see myself reflected. I am defined by doing, not by being. More about my becoming a yogi later.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Out with the old and in with the new!

Some have asked for details about Hoffman's Gap Year. Most have expressed support, and few have offered cautions. What a luxury to sculpt time and space so there's room to sort myself out and I am grateful. I want to really live instead of merely existing. I no longer desire conformity to the expectations that have restrained me in the past. No, Hoffman's Gap Year isn't a time-out; it's more a listening tour. Yes, I will try to learn as much as possible but I am also going to listen to myself and be true to my nature. I feel powerful.

I started this plan about a year ago with clarity that I was happier and healthier and SANER on a cozy sailboat in the Caribbean with the man I adore. I like to exaggerate that I fell in love with a man who sailed away from me, a story dripping with drama, but the reality is that part of me left forever on that first passage, stowed-away on the boat in hopes that my remainder returns. That spellbinding man and I have made a few other trips together since he retired to cruise the tropical waters, and the adventure means that I visit the missing part of myself along with the man who really gets me. This is about love for a man and a boat---but mostly myself---in ways that are new and profound. 

I've chased adventure my entire life with considerable ennui when I've neglected to take the path less traveled. The zest for fame and fortune leaves me confused and I love collecting experiences over consumer items. I am not entirely immune to the trappings of comfort and entertainment, so I have to out myself as financially fickle. I will learn more about the relevance of material things in the coming months.

I miss my grown kiddos. It's painful, sometimes, to know that they have their own lives and dreams away from mine. I never wanted to be a helicopter parent and I won't burden them. I can't rely on them to fill my time, just my heart. It's natural for us all to grow up. I want to keep growing by following adventure, even if it means that my arms are empty of the children I bore and raised. Our love is eternal. My son and daughter are my gifts to the universe and I know it is better with them in it.

But holy hell! Speaking of drama and adventure, how about embarking on a journey into the unknown in the midst of a global pandemic! What a time to take risks! The complications surrounding this era shape-shift and priorities dissolve and re-rank. I can't tell if this is the perfect time to leave my career, benefits and stability, or the worst? 

The first hour after leaving work for the last time, presumably right after my employer health insurance ended, I moved a cupboard into my back hall and dropped it on my head, splitting my brow and giving me a black eye. Adventure #1 for Hoffman's Gap Year! This is how it unfolds.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Horror

My husband and kids have always been drawn to horror.  As grade schoolers, my children moved from Goosebumps to Amityville Horror before they even hit double-digits.  While my daughter wore out our VHS copy of The Ring over her afternoon snack after middle school every day, I sometimes think that my son’s intense interest in film critique somehow erupted from watching Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which is one of my own favorite movies. Theoretically, I know a conscientious parent would never have permitted PG-13 movies until children were a chronological match for the labeled rating and content, but I could not produce enough fright to meet my family’s demand unless I unleashed the demons of hell.  Today I can count on my nuclear family to scoff at Paranormal Activity, but to adore The Omen.  As both children seem to have developed relatively normally, I guess we have not facilitated their entire developmental unraveling by permitting so much scariness at such a young age.  If anything, horror movies have prepared them for many of the unsettling conditions of this century.

For my part, I find war movies frightening and disturbing, and I tend to not want to view anything that is based in reality.  I guess my preference is fantasy horror, in which there is some kind of alternate reality: demons, ghosts, rituals.  I dislike gore, (I call films like Saw “Ghorror”,) and draw the line at torture.  I like fright and suspense. 

I am not really sure how to describe my bottom line on ghosts.  Like many, I have experiences that I cannot fully explain.  I still swear that I saw some kind of figure running from a stone memorial and hiding behind a tree at my college, but there are some likely explanations for my seeing something unusual in that my college brain sometimes had a little extra serotonin on board.  I also pledge that my mother’s house is haunted, but even the guys on Mythbusters would think the same---that’s a later blog entry.  Considering critically my actual ideas about ghosts, spirits, apparitions, I am pushed to admit that I believe on some level, but their existence doesn’t really intrigue or scare me.

In the late 80’s, my sister and I undertook a contract working in the Aleutians, the sweeping hook of an island chain off of Alaska in the Bering Sea.  We processed seafood, mostly crab and cod.  While the work was sloppy, back-breaking and relentless, we each had East Coast college educations that prepared us for the assignment.  We were poised to accept all duties when seafood wasn’t being offloaded and processed, and once my sister took a full 12-hr shift watching cement dry. 

The shifts were 12 hours on, 12 off.  I worked nights and my sister Lee worked days, which gave us some privacy in the cramped accommodations of the floating processing plant.  We shared a small cabin on a permanently docked barge that started out as a liberty ship, consigned to bring fallen soldiers back from the Pacific during WWII.  Ship gossip held that the barge’s abundant refrigeration system was originally constructed for a floating morgue. Our more creative colleagues described sightings of individuals in uniform roaming the decks, and many a beer was opened in libation to those souls originally transported on our barge.

Because we worked alternate shifts, and we bore a strong family resemblance, for a few weeks early in our contracts our colleagues couldn’t tell Lee and me apart and thought we were one woman working around the clock.  While we each felt like we were working endlessly, Lee and I were caught together over a meal in the dining hall to thundering remarks of, “Oh look everyone!  There’s two of ‘em!  That’s how they do it!!  Are you guys twins?  While I am 4 years older than Lee, I am sure we administered twin glares in response to the unwanted attention.  We have a family and gender propensity toward disapproving stares that still gets me in trouble.

The meals Lee and I could easily take together were breakfast/dinner, due to our day/night shift work.  The food at our company, UniSea, was excellent, and it was common to have a choice among duck stir-fry, prime rib, salmon, tortillas, coconut shrimp for the 6pm meal, and full breakfast, compete with sausage, eggs, French toast, fruit for the 6am meal.  There were many generations and ethnicities represented and the dining hall seated 50-60 workers coming and going to the round-the-clock work. 

One of these busy meals found Lee and myself in an exchange something like: “You know, when you’re working and I’m sleeping, I sometimes wake up hearing sneezing and snoring and sniffing.  It always sounds like it’s coming from your bunk.”

“That’s funny, when you’re working and I’m sleeping, I hear the same thing, except it’s coming from YOUR bunk!”

We laughed it off, possibly because it seemed extremely real, or maybe we were too disinterested to delve too deeply.  Listeners to our conversation explained that there was a long-told tale of a seafood worker leaping or falling to his death from the deck outside the porthole of our cabin, and the sneezing sounds we heard were probably him, lost to an eternity of sinus trouble.  Still others imagined the Sneezer was one of the officers originally occupying our cabin, because we were in the commanding officer’s accommodations.  It was certain that the bunks, safely space-efficiently build into the walls with drawer compartments beneath, hadn’t changed location, and therefore it would be easy for a ghost to always find its berth, head cold or not.  Somehow none of this was scary, and if there were a spirit haunting the room, Lee and I had nothing but compassion for the poor thing.  It was really sickly.

Today, I look more for signs than I do for spirits.  I like to notice hawks, because I really admire them and try to imagine what it’s like from their vantage point, and they remind me of my dad.  I put bees and wasps that I find in the house outside, safely, asking that they tell their friends that I am a kind ally and therefore they don’t need to sting me.  My husband, daughter and I compare sightings of our deceased cat, Eartha, whom we lost last summer.  Catching her just out of my field of vision is a great comfort because I feel she is still with us.  If there are ghosts about, I wish them well, and request that if they are bored and they have a little time, could they throw in a load of laundry or two, or run the vacuum?