Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Love is the Continuum

My sister wrote me an email recently, that gave me a lot of comfort. Contrary to her fears, I think there is plenty in this dream that will resonate for others, so--with her permission--I am sharing an excerpt here.


(Christmas 1986, Laceyland)
A couple of days ago, I got up at 5:00 AM, after almost NO SLEEP AT ALL, to see Tony off for an overnight trip. After breakfast, I tried to stay up, figuring that was the way to hope to sleep that night. But I couldn't do it: I gave up around 8:00 and went back to bed, where I remained, with a couple of bathroom trips, until 5:00 PM. I slept most of the day, with Eddie curled up next to me, and Bob and Ray playing quietly on the CD player... Late in the afternoon, I [dreamed] about James, and the dream has made a real difference to me. The story began without warning, just me on the dog couch at Laceyland, crying and crying and leaning into thee, also crying, saying again how much we miss James. Thy arms went around me and we sobbed for a few seconds, but then I opened my eyes to discover that thy flannel pajamas had changed into HIS flannel pajamas. And when I looked up, the hug was with James, and it wasn't grieving for anyone. It was just Christmas morning and we were settling down after breakfast, waiting for the others to come in and open presents. I looked to my left, and thee was on the other couch, grinning. And then in that miraculous way that dreams work, several other things happened--in succession or simultaneously. I saw Brian in the dining room. I heard Mom and Dad in the kitchen. I saw my darling friend Eileen, and she was meeting thee and James for the first time, but as little boys--the ages her boys were when Tony and I first met them--and she swung James up on her hip and said, "Someone needs a diaper change!" And he gurgled and we all giggled. And I could feel myself coming to the surface again, with a clear insight that I was trying to put into words. As I woke up, I knew that the closest I was going to get was, "All times exist at once. Love is the continuum." The dream seemed utterly explicit, for once in a goddamned long time: that love is linked to that love and linked to that love and linked . . . and everything is happening then, now, and forever. I know it wasn't a vision, as such. And I also know that a sad tired me could cook up any number of things in a dream state. But it matters so much to me, to have had that transformation--grief into joy--then into now--with all the anachronisms and impossibilities just part of the whole. I got up, got dressed, and wrote my precious wisdom or sappy self-deception down and stuck it in the zipper compartment of my purse, had something to eat, washed the breakfast dishes, read the mail . . . I am still so sad, and will be, but the comfort is real. Someone else's dream is so rarely any use to others! But I knew thee would get it, and I thought thee might like to know, especially since one of the photos on the blog mentions the flannel PJ's.

(Christmas 2002, Laceyland)

I don't really have much to add beyond "yeah, what she said." That, of course, won't stop me from babbling though, as most of you must realize by now.

This past year, and especially this summer, I've been relearning just what a force of nature love is. It's a word that has been cheapened from overuse, sentimentalized (or is it commodified?) by Hollywood, Hallmark, and Harlequin, but that's the problem with deep, archetypal forces. Because they're fundamental, maybe they're beyond our abilities to put them into words. Or maybe love is like oxygen; we're most likely to notice it in its absence, or its purest, most intoxicating form. In any case, I've had many opportunities to see love at work, in all its messy, clumsy, unrelenting beauty. Recently more of those opportunities have been in the form of a coming together of communities (weddings, births, reunions, anniversaries, memorials) as opposed to the passionate romance often identified as love at its greatest. I'm not belittling that expression of it (it's just a distant memory, boo-hoo, poor me, cue the violins), but I'm grateful for the other ways I've experienced it in the last year.

Yup, not really saying anything new here. Mary said it better already. Love transcends space and time. Whether it's evidence of a sentient higher being, an evolutionary tactic for propagating the species, or a universal force akin to gravity, I've been feeling its presence in palpable ways lately. I wouldn't say it's always been FUN, per se, but I'm grateful nonetheless.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Showing My Age

During a recent walk in Fort Tryon Park, I came across this squirrel hanging from its hind feet, cheerfully eating a nut. What does it say about me that upon seeing this, the first thought through my head was "wow, that would really stir up my acid reflux"?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Couple of Trips to the Highline

My main motivation for this post is to give Greg a little something to look at while he recuperates from his hernia surgery. All went well, he's doing fine, but he's been wanting my report on the new Highline Park for a while, and I figure even if he's not able to sit down for long, or if the painkillers make it hard to focus, he'll still enjoy the pictures. I know what it's like to have the attention-span of a fruit bat.

I first went to the park on July 9th. That day the weather was cool and breezy, the air dry, the light clear and beautiful. This week I went on Tuesday, when it was humid as hell, and there was a smog advisory. As you can imagine, most of the good shots come from the July trip. You should be able to enlarge all of them.

This is not actually a part of the park, but it's a building I liked about a block from the uptown entrance. I know nothing about this place. I just think it looks cool.

Here is the 20th St entrance to the park. This part of town was previously industrial and in recent years has been taken over by art galleries. I learned from my time at Pratt that landing a gallery in Chelsea is a big status symbol for artists.

Oh, perhaps many of you don't know what all the fuss is about. The Highline is a stretch of abandoned elevated train tracks on the west side of Manhattan. A few years back someone noticed wildflowers were growing up there and decided to turn it into a proper city park. Parts of it are still under construction, but a good portion of it is now available.

A viewing gallery, where one can sit and watch the traffic pass below. I'm not sure why this appeals to people, but it does, me included. Maybe the unusual angle is the draw. Or perhaps we like the sense of floating over something.

Melissa and I went in July; about a week later my friend Sian and I tried to go again, but since it was a Sunday, there were huge lines at the entrances, as if people were waiting to get on a roller coaster. When I went back this past Tuesday afternoon I was again able to walk right on, the crowds were noticeable but not oppressive, so for the foreseeable future I would recommend avoiding it on weekends.
Both times I've gone, the buzz of the crowd seemed more like what one finds in a theatre lobby at intermission, than what is typically in a park. One has to climb stairs or take an elevator to get to the location, then one's movements are limited to walking north or south, sitting, standing, or looking at stuff. The park is really the only reason to be there, and for now at least, it feels like an event as much as it is a location.
I appreciated being able to see some distance, and be up a little higher than normal in this part of town. In every city one pays extra for 'views' but New York, especially Manhattan, takes that to an extreme. In Seattle or San Francisco, for example, one can get some gorgeous scenery just by walking up a hill. Here, being able to see far distances almost always costs money, in the form of an expensive high rise apartment, restaurant, or club. The Highline provides a whole new set of vistas.
I appreciate the fact that many of the rails were left in place, with cement and plantings put in around them.

This is my most successful lying-on-the-ground shot, especially for Greg. Yes, that is the Empire State building. That's how you know it's really New York. A view of this or the Statue of Liberty is necessary to validate any image of Manhattan. I can also vouch that the Highline is truly a New York park, since no one cared that I was lying on the ground, as long as I wasn't blocking traffic. Here it is possible to block traffic, but so far people seem aware of that, and careful to avoid it. The flow remained constant and cordial.

The park provides a new perspective on an area in the later throes of gentrification. There are still plenty of abandoned-looking warehouse spaces (some of which probably are art galleries nonetheless), but one can also find very high end condos and high rises, often on the same block. On the Highline it often takes just a turn of the head to see both extremes.

I quickly learned that it's difficult to get angles that show you just how high in the air the park is. Often an image just suggests a well flowered parking strip, on street level. So finding ways to show the elevation became my goal.

This doesn't accomplish that.

Nor does this one.

This one comes close, doesn't it?

Yes, I believe that IS a Gehry.

I include this shot mostly for Greg's sake, since I am pretty sure that's the bar we went after Sarah and Danny's wedding. It was nice place after a great occasion, but I think it will particularly live in Greg's heart as the place where he was carded on his 44th birthday.

One of the best angles for showing the elevation, I think.

This is another public space, which I'll have to investigate at some point. And I figure anything looking down gives you a sense of being up, right?

This image gives me the willies. I had to share it. Not sure why it freaks me out so, but it does. I figure that was the goal, so, good work, somebody.

I'm always delighted when more greenery is added to an urban environment. Turning previously unusable space--with a minimum of fall-out for locals, I hope-- into a public park is inspired, I think. Next time you're in town, Greg, we'll be sure to go. I hope your recovery is speedy and painless.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Vermont Weekend: A Family Reunion

This Vermont Lake is where I spent my Saturday last week. It's been over two years since I swam in a freshwater lake, or swam much of anywhere at all. (I don't count the daily laps I swam in British Columbia last year around this time: indoor pool in a hotel with a South Seas theme, where the exercise was mostly an attempt to make sense of some big-time weirdness. Yeah, not the same thing at all.) I love swimming outdoors. Frankly I wish I could be amphibious, though at this point it's dropped down the priority list a tad. Got other things to do, ya know. Nonetheless, this day in the sun and water was good for the soul in so many ways. My suntan lotion application, or maybe reapplication, proved to be a bit spotty, literally, and my back still looks like I'm turning into some weird leopard snake, but even that didn't put a damper on the day.

The lake trip was part of my weekend with college friends in Vermont. For a brief period it seemed like Fate --in the form of a significant subway-stopping power outage, an incompetent cab driver, a faulty transmission (or was it a computer chip?), Hartford rush-hour traffic, a torrential rainstorm, serious road construction and more than one accident-- was conspiring to prevent me (and friends Cathy and Mitchell) from actually MAKING it to Vermont, but lucky for me C and M have overcome far greater crises, and refused to be stopped. We got there later than we had hoped, but we got there dry, safe, well-fed and in reasonably good spirits.

As beautiful as the surroundings were that weekend (trees, crickets, falling asleep to the sound of the creek in the backyard), they were only part of the pleasure. The Earlham College people have known each other for about twenty-five years now, so even the non-EC spouses are old friends at this point. It's been five years or more since I've seen some of these folks, and while that is too long a gap, it's nice to rediscover that we can simply pick up where we left off, like we just had coffee the day before.

While my old friends were clearly recognizable, their children were a different story. One boy wasn't even a twinkle in his parents' eyes last time I saw them, one boy had only just learned to sit up, and another was only beginning to consider the possibility of thinking about giving walking a try. Now, at ages five, five and seven, they're real people with distinct personalities. Don't get me wrong, I love babies too, but this transition to walking, talking people with likes, dislikes and opinions about more than naps and the virtues of mashed peas is always fascinating to me. Of course it's great fun seeing Beth's impish smile combined with Tim's hearty laugh in their son, or seeing Liz's beautiful eyes and Matthew's lanky build in their offspring, but it's even more fun seeing the kids being their own people, doing their own things, perplexing, surprising and delighting their parents in equal measure. The three boys all bonded well, and spent most of the weekend exploring the natural world in the same ways I did at their age, namely catching small animals and putting them in buckets. They maintained an admirable 'catch and release' policy however, which I don't remember following. I didn't kill things, I just wanted to keep them for longer than fifteen minutes. These guys are more disciplined than I was, clearly. Close examination followed by longer observation of a creature in its natural habit was their course of study. Very impressive.

It was also nice seeing how in their element my friends are as parents. I don't mean to belittle their struggles or fears, nor suggest that they have all the answers, but clearly parenting sits well on them. When I first knew them we were in our late teens and early twenties. Over many a late night pizza we debated everything from how we challenged the cycles of hatred and violence in the world to how we got that hottie over there to notice we even existed. (We didn't use the word 'hottie' though. That's very 90s. What did we say? Babe? Sexy Thang? No, we were far too earnest about breaking the cycle of objectifying others to use terms like that. On another note, is it just me, or do many of the most intense parts of college life happen after 11pm? Were we all just sleep-deprived? Was there something in the pizza?) Now many of those folks have children. Nothing else shows me the passage of time quite so starkly, and I couldn't be happier about it.

But I mustn't forget my friends Bryan, Molly (the only double EC couple) and their twin daughters. The girls were under ten last time I saw them, I believe, maybe around age seven or eight, so they had already fully made the transition to interesting people with distinct personalities. Now, at age fourteen, they startled me with another quantum leap in development. They're poised, grounded, funny, bright, fully engaged in the world through books, athletics, art, music, able to respond with equal patience to the concerns of young boys and the silliness of old folks (here I speak largely of my own silliness).

Their mother, my friend Molly, also happens to be my second cousin. One of the additional gifts I got from Earlham was developing close ties to many of my more distant blood relatives, including Molly, her sister and many other second cousins. Molly's dad is my mom's first cousin, and was one of her regular playmates at family gatherings. Mom remembers one summer that they formed The Good Deeds Club, and their first act -- she recalls with chagrin-- was to deny membership to their younger siblings. Ah, the pitfall of many a philanthropic organization.

What this meant in the case of my second cousins-once-removed E and K is, not only was I enjoying them for their own sakes, not only could I glimpse evidence of their mom and dad in their looks, interests and movements, I also saw echoes of lots of other relatives. That looked like cousin Esther's smile to me, but is that because it's actually their grandfather's smile or what? That serene stillness they possess, is that a genetic thing, a learned behavior from generations of Quaker relatives, or some alchemy of both? It was fascinating.

(Naturalists in action: Molly and K identify various dragonflies, while the boys examine their collection of frogs, salamanders and minnows.)
(Friends Matthew and Molly)
( Beth, Cathy, Russ (and Matthew, above) were all on my freshman hall. We've been friends since 1984. The kid is a total stranger, though I think he became comrades with our young frog-catchers.)

(From left: Mitchell, Bryan, Liz, Russ, Cathy, Beth. Missing from my photos is Tim, S and E. Peter and Justin came up only for the day, and hadn't yet joined us.)

Renewing old bonds and discovering new ones made this weekend a joy. These people are some members of my chosen family. I'm one of the lucky ones, I get to enjoy my biological and (extensive) chosen families. I know not everyone is as fortunate. As you can well imagine, such reminders are especially valuable right now. I've had lots of these events in the last year. I'm not sure they make very interesting blog posts; what's that opening line from Anna Karenina, about happy families all being happy in the same way, but all unhappy families are unhappy in different ones? I don't have a copy with me, and I'm not going to google it. But you follow my point, yes? My grief for James isn't erased by these reminders of loving people and close bonds in my life. If anything, it is sharpened at times. But that still feels right, and necessary. Seeing people I love getting on with the business of life, loving, arguing, cooking, baking, catching frogs, drinking wine, learning to dive (I'd forgotten that one HAS to yell "cannonball!" when doing one; it's like, ya know, a rule) and telling stories in all sorts of ways, it all reveals the bedrock of life to me again.

This weekend was only the most recent occasion for this reminder. My friend Beth (Bethia, not to be confused with Vermont Elizabeth: my life is rich in Elizabeths, Catherines and one Bethia) visited me in NYC, letting us pick up again our discussion of our life-plans-in-progress, including our firm resolves to be more spontaneous (seriously). At James' memorial a stunning blond bombshell of a woman came up to me, and it took me a second to realize it was my friend Mindy, whom I hadn't seen in over ten years. After we hugged, I said "you look fantastic!" She said "you look like shit!" We agreed I was entitled, even obliged, under the circumstances. A quarter of a century of friendship is nicely summed up in that interchange. Blogger friend Birdie came to visit during my time in Indiana, once again jumping into the deep end with my family, and paddling along as cheerfully as her name would suggest. This is by no means a complete list of all the acts of love and kindness I've experienced from people in the past two months. James' death has perhaps intensifed my internal debate between living in the moment and finding my vocation, but it's also made me pay attention in some valuable ways. The fact that I have trouble articulating all this leads me to suspect this is going to be one of those lessons I learn, forget and relearn on a regular basis. I'm adding it to the list. Is this what middle-age is, accepting what lessons one has to relearn regularly? Well, at least the company is good.