Saturday, February 23, 2013


My doodle!
 Yesterday, as I talked on the telephone with a friend in an extended conversation, I crossed the threshold of an exercise I hadn’t done in years – doodling. I looked at the doodle after I hung up, wondering why I had crossed that threshold since the conversation hadn’t involved a boring exchange; in fact, I had been intensely interested in brainstorming about the subject. For years, I’ve thought that when you doodled, you had a strong disinterest in the conversation, lecture, or sermon, and that doodling was a way of entertaining yourself when you were bored with the subject.

Doodling is associated with absentmindedness, and the origins of the word hark back to “fool;” thus the word gives readers the idea that the doodler may be just wasting time or dawdling, creating scribbles that are meaningless. Most of us can remember doodling in class and have dismissed it as a useless exercise, a way of daydreaming, rather than concentrating on the lecturer’s discourse. Not so!

According to experts on visual-spatial learning, some visual learners are doodlers and actually learn more effectively by doodling. Doodling reinforces ideas and has an effect on memory retention, helps the brain to focus, and actually keeps our minds from wandering! So if you’re a doodler you shouldn’t be ashamed of this useful exercise – you may be processing data.

On the negative side, the author Sunni Brown says that the most offensive definition of doodling that’s touted today is “To doodle officially means to dawdle, to dilly dally, to monkey around, to make meaningless marks, to do something of little value, substance or import…to do nothing…” Obviously, the author of this definition has no sketching ability and I might suggest, has a poor memory!

I’m not defending my doodle at the beginning of this blog, but when I looked at it, I entertained myself by attempting to analyze the picture, especially the lower part where I seem to be levitating, while my head has all these sprockets that look like the choices I was trying to make while conversing on the telephone. A friend saw the result and suggested that I keep it to remind me that I’m creative on days when I say that I have nothing creative to share with the world, or perhaps just to bring a belly laugh that we enjoyed while viewing the picture.

Famous doodlers include Thomas Jefferson, Bill Clinton, and the poet John Keats. Then there’s Sylvia Plath, the confessional poet, who ended her life by sticking her head in an oven and turning on the gas – which really isn’t a very reassuring example of a prime doodler.

Signature doodler
Signature doodlers represent another form of doodling. In fact, some signatures, particularly those of physicians, are challenging forms of scribbling and impinge on the definition: “meaningless marks.” Isabel, my neighbor and good friend in Iran doodled a self portrait each time she signed her name, and I am including that doodle signature to conclude this essay in defense of the activity of doodling. As a postscript, I read that mathematician Stanislaw Ulam developed the Ulam spiral for visualization of prime numbers while doodling, which is a good enough endorsement for me.
Happy doodling!

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Poets' paradise
 “You rock!” a friend on Facebook wrote to me yesterday. She was referring to my poetry reading with Brad Richard at Casa Azul Thursday evening, and I know Brad and I weren’t the only poets rocking and reading at this regularly-scheduled poetry night in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. The open mic featured three seasoned poets: former poet laureate Darrell Bourque, reading from his forthcoming book, Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie; poet Clare Martin, author of Eating the Heart First; and Patrice Melnick, owner of Casa Azul and a writer who is presently compiling her own collection of poetry. However, the performer who captured the limelight was Carol Rice, a budding poet who stole the show with her lyrics about a dead possum. It was a fun night, and I came away impressed with the work that Patrice Melnick is doing as director of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective in this small town (pop. 1000) in south Louisiana.

Patrice calls her work with poets “The Casa Azul Series,” a program in its sixth year that has attracted poets from throughout south Louisiana and further afield. The program also draws an audience that participates in the poetry reading when Patrice passes around a piece of paper with an unfinished line on it, asking that members of the audience add to the line. Since the series at which I read was held on Valentine’s Day, the line for this occasion read, “My love is as…” and the hilarious poem was read at the conclusion of the reading by participant Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The unfinished poem is a way of engaging the audience and furthers Patrice’s goal of building a community that supports poetry and the arts. She says that the engagement process has attracted professional and novice poets who read at open mic time, and it sometimes brings in poets who have never read their poetry for any occasion. Patrice has also established a documentary program, “Grand Coteau Voices: The Good, The Bad, The Complicated,” which features the stories of Grand Coteau citizens and provides a historical record of the townspeople’s lives. Chere Breaux began filming these stories in January, 2012.

Poets' stage at Casa Azul

Patrice migrated to Grand Coteau during a sabbatical from teaching English as an Associate Professor at Xavier University in New Orleans and moved to the “provinces” following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She was a former Peace Corps worker in the Central African Republic, worked at Pelican Publishing in New Orleans for several years, and has written a riveting memoir entitled Po-Boy Contraband, that includes chapters concerning her struggles with a debilitating disease and commentary about how important poetry, Reggae, Zydeco, the Neville Brothers, and other music has been in treating her illness. Concerning the music important to her, she writes in her first book, Turning Up the Volume: “Like drunks sliding quarters into a jukebox to draw out the voices of Patsy Cline, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas and Lucinda Williams; all those voices wail from the car radio, howl from the neon lit jukebox in the corner. Those voices call inside my head like richly-feathered, hungry owls…”

Patrice Melnick, poet, writer, director
of Festival of Words
 I appreciate the comment about my poetry reading from the friend who says I rock, but last Thursday I was just one voice holding forth in the back room of a small shop painted a vivid blue hue that sits on the main drag of Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Under the arching branches of old live oaks, Casa Azul rocks every Thursday evening, bringing in new and old poets, children and elderly participants who are happy to have a venue in bayou country for celebrating the work of the Muse.

Brava Patrice – keep on creating the space for us to rock!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Alex packing for trip
 It’s a gray Mardi Gras day in Louisiana, and if revelers in New Orleans don’t get wet, they’ll be lucky because the sky is hanging so low that when the rain breaks through, it’s going to be a frog strangler and a root soaker.

My Mardi Gras celebration didn’t include a parade and catching beads – I "passed a good time," as they say in Cajun country, with my two-year old great grandson, Alex, who has to be the brightest kid on the block. As you’ll notice, above, Alex is packing. When told by Martin, his father, (my grandson) that he was going to Nana’s house (my daughter Stephanie aka “Neeny”), Alex, without any provocation, ran into his room, got out his overnight bag, and started packing three important items – Woody and Bud LightYear of Toy Story fame, and his sleeping partner, a lamb security blanket that he calls “Lovey.” Alex already knows where his bread is buttered, where he’ll receive sweet indulgence, major tolerance, unconditional love, and undying attention –I’m speaking of Nana’s house because, sadly, mine isn’t “kid proof.”

When Alex comes to my house, he already knows where the good stuff is; i.e., the electric train that we ran only once for him at Christmas. Yesterday, he ran into the hall, located the closet where the train is kept, and beckoned for me to follow him. “Train, please, Momow (aka Great Grandmere).” He fluttered those long eyelashes imploringly at me, but I had to tell him “no” because I want the train to survive until he understands that you don’t snatch cars from the train while it's whizzing around the track.
Alex and train

A few days ago, I read that children his age have a basic vocabulary of 25 words, and if the child can say 50 words and string a few of them together, he’s going to be a good communicator. His dad says he already speaks over 100 words, knows his colors, recognizes some of the alphabet, and, in general, shows “promise.”

I have high hopes for Alex – hopes that someone in the family besides me will be a writer. I like to write, but the time is nearing for me to retire my pen and welcome a new scribbler. I tried reading Mother Goose to Alex, today but he is a boy. He was more interested in my wooden train (the only toy I have left in the house) and succeeded in removing a part from a freight car; however, he attempted to attach the roof to the engine that another grandchild had pulled off, each time saying dramatically, “Oh no!” and batting those eyelashes again. Maybe he’s going to be an actor So far, his skill with words is the feature that overwhelms us.

Overwhelms indeed! I remember when a librarian friend of mine told me, “Wait until you have grandchildren (and I’m past that). Fred and I used to watch television in the living room in the evenings. But since we’ve acquired grandchildren, when they come to visit, they get on the floor in the middle of the living room and all we do is sit and watch them.” She didn’t tell me how fascinating great-grandchildren would be.

Yes, children are mesmerizing, particularly when they learn to speak, which Alex has been working on for the past year. Here’s a poem from my chapbook, Post Cards From Diddy Wah Diddy that I wrote to commemorate those first sounds from Alex we thought were formed words:


because we are eager for conversation,
quick to translate his babble.
We hear “want it” bubbling on his tongue
when a fragment of ice is thrust at him,
the inchoate language of what we think he says,
a sign he has moved from solitude
to expressing desire for something,
the gymnastic voice of an infant opera singer
lifted, applauded,
the secrets in his mind expressed at last.

Mardi Gras is over, and I can’t boast about catching strands of purple, gold, and silver beads , but thanks to my infant Mardi Gras king, I do have a cow figurine with a broken leg to show for the celebration – “Oh no!” 

P.S. I'm only kidding -- his father saved the cow from injury several times during the visit.

Photos by Daddy Martin

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Beausoleil Broussard
Last week before the action between the Ravens and the 49ers football teams took place in the New Orleans Super Bowl, New Iberia, Louisiana buzzed with news about the famous singer Beyonce’ who would perform at the Super Bowl halftime and who mentioned having family ties here in the Queen City on the Teche. It seems that the famous songstress’s lineage on her maternal side dates back to Joseph Broussard dit Beausoleil, the leader of the first Acadians to come to the Attakapas area, which includes St. Martinville, a town approximately seven miles up the road from New Iberia. The mother of Beyonce’, a Louisiana Creole, descended from Beausoleil Broussard, so-named because his smile was as brilliant as the sun and whose courage was unequaled among his kinsman in Port Royal, Nova Scotia, the place of his birth.

Broussard Coat of Arms
in Meditation Garden
In Nova Scotia, Beausoleil led an armed resistance movement against the British in the War between England and France, and his superior shooting skills gained him widespread fame. However, he was eventually imprisoned with other Acadians in Halifax, Nova Scotia and wasn’t released until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, ending the war between England and France. In 1764, Beausoleil traveled with a group of Acadians on a ship bound for the West Indies. These Acadians became part of what is known as the Grand Derangement. In the West Indies, the 200 Acadians, who were unaccustomed to the relentless heat, decided to sail from Santo Domingo to New Orleans Louisiana, eventually settling in the Poste des Attakapas, now known as St. Martinville, Louisiana. At this post, Beausoleil signed a contract with Antoine Bernard d’Hauterive for cattle and land and was designated militia captain and commander of the Acadians of the Attakapas. Unfortunately, shortly after his arrival, the intrepid leader died of yellow fever before he could witness the remarkable growth of this Acadian settlement in the New World.

Pierre Vincent, back turned
Today, the arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana has been memorialized in a huge mural in the Acadian Memorial and the Museum of the Acadian Memorial/Cultural Heritage Center at St. Martinville. The mural, painted by Robert Dafford, contains figures that represent actual documented Acadian refugees who arrived in Louisiana with Beausoleil. Among those depicted in that mural and on the “Wall of Names” at the Museum, is one of my own antecedents, Pierre Vincent, a cattleman who, for some reason, has his back turned to the world in the mural! According to a chart of my family history, Pierre Vincent, Sr., born in Port Royal, came to St. Martinville and occupied a tract of land with fourteen arpents frontage. He owned seventy semi-wild beef cattle and thirty tame cattle and was married briefly to Agnes Broussard, who died, shortly after the marriage, in St. Martin Parish.

Vincent Coat of Arms
in Meditation Garden
Today, we visited the Museum of the Acadian Memorial, and I viewed the wonderful mural, “The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana,” for the third time, still pondering the reason that my ancestor has his back turned in the painting. We also walked in the Meditation Garden on the Bayou Teche, the backdrop for the Eternal Flame where a life size replica of the Deportation Cross of the exiled Acadians and mosaics of Acadian family Coats of Arms are featured. I’ve included photographs of the Dafford mural, the Deportation Cross, and the commemorative mosaics of the Broussard and Vincent family Coats of Arms.

Acadian Deportation Cross
An eighth generation descendant of Beausoleil, Warren A. Perrin of Lafayette, Louisiana, petitioned the British Crown in 1990, seeking an apology from the Crown regarding the expulsion of the Acadians from their native Nova Scotia. It was resolved on December 9, 2003 through the signing of the Queen’s Royal Proclamation. Beausoleil and his band of Acadians have been redeemed!

I don’t know if any of the Broussards in St. Martinville were musicians who passed on a singing gene to Beyonce’, but we think it’s great just to know that she has roots in our rich Acadian culture.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan