Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Competing for His Affections

When we first met five-year-old J, I thought perhaps I was imagining the spark when she saw Bill. But her father (a college friend of mine)  chuckled and whispered to me, " I think somebody has a crush." It was instantaneous and adorable. Bill loves kids, but often feels out of his element, doubting his ability to connect with them. It was obvious though that J was ready to take him in hand. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Favorite Books: The Charioteer by Mary Renault

This is another in a series that has been forming here over the years without me realizing it: musings on favorite books. Whether it's true or not, on general principle I will say that spoilers abound here, so if such things bother you, don't read this essay. I'll be talking about bird feeders, or dogs, or something else soon. The quotations in the essay all come from:

Renault, Mary. The Charioteer. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974


At one point in The Charioteer, by Mary Renault, Laurence Odell (Laurie, or Spud to his friends) is rereading Plato’s The Phaedrus, a book he has found deeply inspiring since adolescence. When a friend asks him to describe it, he is momentarily stymied for many reasons, but one of the biggest is “it had been a part of his mind’s furniture for years…” (p.108). This is as good as any description of my relationship with The Charioteer. It has been a touchstone for me since I first picked it up thirty-five years ago. Trying to describe that relationship, however, has proven elusive; I doubt I’ll ever be able to do it effectively. I suppose it’s like trying to describe any important long-term relationship. I've probably read it dozens, even scores of times, and almost every reading has revealed something new. I think the book is wiser than I am, with insights that wait patiently for me to see only when I’m ready for them. It has anticipated and marked key changes in my life and gave me hope at key points. I would even go so far to say it had a hand in shaping my ethics.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Pan Is Not a Gentleman

Pan is not a gentleman. Do not invite him in, thinking he will wipe his hooves. If you ask, count yourself lucky if all he does is smile, or chuckle a bit. The stink of him, a goat in rut, will settle like a fog and linger long after he’s gone.

He’ll bring friends too, will Pan. They will decimate your flowers, rummage through your compost piles and garbage cans, trample the inedibles under hooves and paws and claws. Their shit and piss will befoul your tidy walkways, burn your ground covers, erode your limestone accent rocks, and somehow always, always end up on your shoes. They’ll bare their fangs when you try to shoo them out of your prize-winning azaleas, chasing you back into your climate-controlled house, shivering, to seek out poisons or weapons. They’ll bite and sting, raising itchy welts that seep and scab, making you want to claw your skin off or lose a limb. They’ll chew away your foundations, infiltrate your kitchens, wander across your legs in the night, buzz against windows or your ear, and reduce your wooden porches to sawdust.

Pan is not a gentleman. He won’t care a bit for your Greek-inspired gazebos, your filtered water features, your decorative figurines of ducks and frogs. He’ll appreciate the gnomes a bit, recognizing them as tribute, but he’ll laugh at the bucolic dress, the pathetic attempt to hide his horns and hooves, his nakedness. 

He won’t break your rules; he will never bother to learn them. He won’t even know such things exist. Your boundaries and preferences, your focal points and accents, your easy access and parking lots, he won’t see them all. He’ll use them if he likes, and erase them if that’s better.

Do not ask for a little wildness, just around the edges of your life. There is no such thing. Vigorous roots will sink deep, vines will strangle your carefully manicured shrubs, lush, enormous leaves will sprout from branches or spring from the ground, soaking up the light and rain, draining all the nourishment from the soil, leaving your tender exotics to wither and desiccate. 

Pan is not a gentleman. He’s just life.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Remembering Heather Hughes: A Personal Snapshot

A year ago today, my friend Heather Hughes died. Chances are you all have gotten a glimpse of Heather once or twice, whether you knew it or not. If you ever saw the movie Singles, she's the redhead working with Tim Burton in the scene in the video store. Her work in that little scene made such an impression on Cameron Crowe, he asked her to be in the video for the movie's song (the Singles single, if you will: she's the bartender). 

Those two tiny snippets don't really tell you much about her of course, other than perhaps to show that she was, as our friend Kim said, equally at home being sexy or dorky (though the video clerk is probably more snarky than dorky). She's the first friend I've lost who could be memorialized in part by videos on Youtube, so maybe that's why I share them. The internet is a weird new facet in remembering friends these days. I'm not going to get into that right now. Take a look at the videos, and refresh your memories of the early nineties, if you like. 

Use Your Neuroses

I think it's Edith Piaf who is credited with the advice "use your faults." I've always loved that idea, but have rarely known how to implement it. This morning though, I woke up mulling over my own version of this thought. I've spent most of my life battling, or at least trying to hide my neuroses. I wonder what would happen if I found a way to use them instead? 

This idea hasn't triggered a specific game plan any more than Ms. Piaf's advice has. But I'm feeling hopeful. Have you ever found yourself using some previously hated part of yourself, and finding it effective? What got you there? And did success on one occasion make it easy to keep hold of the lesson, or is this one of those lessons one has to relearn regularly? God I hate those, but they seem to be what life, at least middle-aged life, is all about. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pipe Dream

I dreamed I went to a book signing given by Neil Gaiman. We got off to a bit of a rocky start when it was my turn to meet him; his hands were huge, but his handshake was distressingly limp. Once we got past that though, he was warm, gracious and seemed genuinely interested in connecting with me. I was going to be giving a five minute reading of my book at a panel later in the same conference, and though I knew it was a long shot, I invited him to attend. In the way of dreams it was instantly the next morning, I was doing my reading and there he was, sitting and smiling in the back row. Afterwards he came up and said some very sweet, complimentary things. 

Almost makes me want to write a book. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Meditation on Simple Pleasures

The Jersey house seems to be at the epicenter of a flock of goldfinches at the moment. Both feeders (visible from indoors) are hosting several of them, the autumn amnesty allowing them to eat together in big chirpy bunches. Earlier in the year mated pairs could share feeders, but would chase away any others of their tribe (house finches were also chased away). Now they crowd onto the feeders with relatively little objection. They occasionally form little dinner groups divided by gender. Yesterday I noticed there were five or six males gathered on the thistle sock in back, while the women folk shared the fruit and nut feeder in front. 

When I went out this morning with my coffee to inspect the grounds, I found several goldies feasting on something (I assume seed pods) in the cosmos/nasturtium/zinnia patch. I wouldn't have guessed the cosmos would support them, let alone provide sustenance, though I now may have an explanation for why some of the dried ones have snapped off at about the two foot mark. When I returned to the front door, I startled a flock of birds on the gone-to-seed sunflowers. Three walls out of four now have something to feed birds. I just wish this place had more windows, so I could watch without disturbing them. 

Looking out the kitchen window this morning, I was treated to the sight of a male goldfinch eating next to a male cardinal. I found myself wondering if there would come a time when those bright colors, separately and in combination, would cease to thrill me. This first year of regular visits to the house hasn't dimmed the pleasure yet, but surely after a while I'll get bored by it right? That thought made me a little sad; it seems ungrateful somehow, but the human ability to take common pleasures for granted eventually is well documented. Fortunately I had the good sense for once not to dwell on it. I love the sight now, why not enjoy it until I don't anymore, right? Why go to the trouble to imagine a day when the glass will be half empty, on a day when it is decidedly half full? 

Almost as if I were being rewarded for this 'be in the moment' thought, a chickadee showed up. And I got excited. I love chickadees, and unlike goldfinches, I've been watching and delighting in them since I was a kid. (My first memory of seeing a goldfinch was when I was in my thirties, so they still have a certain degree of novelty.) Chickadees are pretty common year 'round birds, so they lack the seasonal surprise that might explain why I have yet to lose my joy in fireflies, violets, autumn leaves, snowfall and thunderstorms (to name a few). Chickadees look like they were painted with Sumi ink, so it's not like there are bright, startling colors to delight my eye. But I love their plumage, and the jaunty air they seem to have. Even their chirping ("chicka dee dee dee") amuses me. 

I'm experienced enough with depression to know that one can lose appreciation for anything. But today, right now, it's comforting to be reminded that joy, even in simple things, doesn't always fade. 

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Spontaneous Phone Eruptions

A couple of days ago I noticed something odd on my phone. In the catalog of applications, right there on the first screen, there was one I had never seen before. You have to understand, I don't download new applications. This device already does more than I have ever asked of a phone, and occupies more of my conscious hours than I'm comfortable with as it is. It came with three pages' worth of software, most of which I've never had any reason to use. I downloaded an application once, when I realized I had forgotten the digital timer I need for work. So I felt confident stating that I had never downloaded this particular feature, and given its prominent display at the bottom of my phone's screen, I would not have failed to notice it before. It had found its way onto my phone some other way.