Friday, October 20, 2017

Still Life with USB Cords

I was thinking today as I pulled a phone charger out of a drawer that I basically live on about one one-hundredth of the things I own. Heck, it may be more like one one-thousandth!

This phone charger was lying on top of a tangle of wires and cables that date back to my house's Paleolithic Era. On the top are a few USB cables but underneath are old Walkman players, ancient cameras and ... a pair of binoculars.  Ah, so that's where the binoculars are.

It's the same in my chest of drawers: Three pairs of wearable pants on top of five pairs that are too old or don't fit. Plainly a purge is in order. But purging takes time.

I don't get rid of stuff as quickly as I could because I think the stuff may some day come in handy. Those old jeans will be fine for painting and the Walkman could be pressed into service if my iPod breaks ... and ... well, you get the idea.

So the stuff remains, and I live on top of it. Makes me feel pretty silly, if you want to know the truth.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Around the Edges

I started to write a post early this morning ... then work intervened. I'm writing it now on a 10-minute break between other tasks.  It makes me think about how often my creative work must fit itself into times that are not otherwise occupied.

This means early in the morning, late at night, on the bus or Metro, or on weekends when I'm not doing something else.

This is how it is now. And, truth to tell, the other way scares me. The way of waking up every morning with only my own work to do.  I hope that will change in time, but I'm not there yet.

So for now, it's this blog ... and the writing I do around the edges.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Land Lines

I almost called the old number last night — 253-0163. I didn't, but I thought of it. My fingers were ready for those digits, itching to play an old tune I once knew by heart.

It was an easy number to remember when I learned it, had a brisk pace and memorable cadence. But 253-0163 had nothing on 266-8078, the land line of my youth. I knew this number when we were both still wet behind the ears — when it was only 68078. It was the number I lisped as a preschooler, the number I called from college (only for minutes at a time, long distance costing what it did in those days).

I'm convinced these numbers will be some of the last things to leave my brain. Which is why I can't give up on 620-6118. It's a land line, too, of course. And though you can't text it, the number has many things in its favor, chief among them being that it belongs to a house and not a person.

An old-fashioned view to be sure, which my resident millennial reminds me of all the time. But I like how it works when cell numbers don't. I like its continuity through years. And so, even though it's fashionable to fly solo, I think I'll keep it.

(Photo: Wikimedia)

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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

First and Last

Two years and a day ago I was coming home from work, switching from the Red Line to the Orange in the dark underground of Metro Center station, when my phone rang. It was Ellen. "Mom sounds a little stronger; I'll put her on."

For the past six days, Mom had been in the Annapolis hospital with Ellen, my doctor sister, keeping close watch. I'd been there for all or part of most days but had worked in the office all day that Friday and planned to spend the weekend in Annapolis.

"Hi," Mom said. "Hi, hi!" Her voice was girlish, almost giddy. 

"Hi," I said. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mom." 

And I would see her. But she wouldn't see me. By the time I got there early Saturday afternoon, she was slipping away. It was October 17, 2015. 

I no longer switch from the Red Line to the Orange Line, but the other night coming home from an event I found myself in the exact same spot where I last heard Mom's voice. 

"Hi, hi," I heard her say.  And I wonder now, have thought often since then, could those words — the last she ever said to me — have also been the first?

(Mom with her namesake, my oldest daughter Suzanne.) 

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Certain Smell

My cousin Julie lives in Santa Rosa, California. She lost her home in the California wildfires. She and her husband escaped in their pajamas. Everyone is fine, but everything is gone.

"Our house had a certain smell to it," said Jennifer Pierre in an article in yesterday's Washington Post. Pierre's house was also destroyed in the fire, even though houses another street over were spared. A sudden shift of wind.

"It was our house. When you come home it has that smell. How can I replicate that smell for my kids. Or is it gone forever?"

When I read this I thought of Suzanne's friend Katie. One day Katie walked in our house — this has been years ago now — took a long whiff and said, "Your house smells like ... West Virginia!" Quickly realizing that this might not have been a compliment, she added that it smelled like West Virginia in a good, spending-a-week-in-a-cabin sort of way. I laugh about that still. What it meant to me was that the house smelled musty. But musty or not, it was one of the few times I heard anyone directly address the aroma of our house.

What would I do if it was gone forever? How can we comprehend the enormity of it all?

In another excellent Washington Post article on the fire, the author Michael Carlston wrote:

We're trying to function, but it's difficult when you lived in one world, and now it's totally different. There's before, and there's after. My wife and I are two active and directed people, but we find ourselves sitting and staring in confusion. When everything is lost, what do you do? What are the rules?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Chasing Daylight

Yesterday evening I arrived home at my usual time, but it was almost dark. Some clouds had moved in and mist was making it worse, but these were footnotes to the main event, which is that we have far less brightness to go around these days.  My after-work walks are all about chasing daylight.

To find the time I must plot and scheme. If I leave the office right at 5, I get the 5:10 bus, which puts me in Rosslyn at 5:20, which means I'm on Metro by 5:30 and to Vienna by 6:00, then home by 6:20 or 6:30. That gives me 15-20 minutes before total black-out.

There's the morning, of course, but that means walking in the darkness and the cold — before the eyes are open and the air is warmed. And then there's lunchtime, but if I want to leave at 5 I can't take a lunch.

I can fold walking into my day, get up and move around the office more, walk up and down the stairs, all of which I do. But I miss my long, stretch-my-legs rambles.

Just one thing to do: make the best of weekends and work-at-home days and shuffle around the other constraints as best I can. In a little over two months, the days start getting longer again.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Hot Lunch

On a lunchtime walk through the neighborhood yesterday I smelled what I imagined was a hot lunch bubbling away on a stove. It smelled vaguely tomato-ey, and made me feel cozy and warm, as if I would soon stroll into a kitchen, pull up a chair and dig into a plate of spaghetti.

Instead, I ate my usual salad.

What is it about the hot lunch? It's old-fashioned, for sure, because someone must be home to cook it.   In fact, it extends further back than I can remember, to a time when people worked close enough to their homes to eat lunch there.

It implies small towns, then, or the Venice of Commissar Brunetti mystery novels. Guido Brunetti often eats lunch at home, if I recall, but he (in addition to being fictional) lives in a place that builds its society around the big lunch and the long siesta.

That will not happen here, I know. But a walker can dream.

(Photo: wikipedia)


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Cats and Dogs and Beauty

Dancers are satisfied in a way that dieters and exercisers are not, writes Ursula Le Guin in her essay, "Dogs, Cats and Dancers: Thoughts About Beauty," which was summarized in the latest Brain Pickings.

Dogs don't know what they look like, where their bodies are in space. Cats do. Le Guin describes a pair of Siamese, one black, one white. The white one always lay on the black cushion and the black one on the white cushion. "t wasn’t just that they wanted to leave cat hair where it showed up best," Le Guin writes, "though cats are always thoughtful about that. They knew where they looked best."

Dancers, too, are exquisitely aware of where they are in space, she says. And I think about my tap teacher, Candy, still jaunty and perky in her 60s, knowing exactly how to move her arms, to hold her shoulders, so that every angle and line was a pleasing one.

From these observations, Le Guin takes us to a place of pathos and love. She talks about aging, that it's not just the loss of beauty that dismays her ("I never had enough to carry on about"), but the loss of identity. It's that the person she sees looking at her in the mirror isn't her — it's an old woman.

Death, though it is the great equalizer, can also illuminate the essential beauty of a person. Le Guin uses her mother for illustration here, and I will use mine. Because even in death Mom was beautiful: the essential beauty, which lives in the bones, never left her.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy Birthday, WCSP!

On a late walk yesterday I learned it was the 20th anniversary of C-SPAN radio. It began on October 9, 1997, and one of the first interviews aired was with Rep. Jay Johnson (D-Wisc.), who, in addition to representing Wisconsin in the U.S. House of Representatives was also a former disc jockey.

The first time I remember hearing C-SPAN radio was in the car taking Suzanne to a ballet recital at Children's Hospital in D.C. It was December, 1998, the Clinton impeachment hearings, so the radio station had been on the air for more than a year already. But it was way down there on the left end of the dial (90.1, WCSP FM), and easy to miss if you were doing a quick scan.

What was notable about the timing was that Suzanne and the other members of the Center for Ballet Arts were performing scenes from the "Nutcracker" not just for the children in the hospital but also for then First Lady Hillary Clinton. I imagined what she must be feeling at the time, what it took for her to show up anyway. Turns out, that was just the beginning.

Anyway ... driving past the Capitol on the way to the hospital that day gave me one of those "only in D.C." moments that I've never forgotten. But C-SPAN radio with its gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and Senate makes you feel like you're always "only in D.C." — but in a good way.

I'm no policy wonk, but when you can slip in the ear buds of your 10-year-old iPod radio, tune to 90.1 and listen to the Sunday talk shows while you're walking ... well, no secret to why the radio station celebrates two decades (and the television station even more).

Happy Birthday, C-SPAN Radio. Wishing you many happy returns of the day!

(Photo: C-SPAN)


Monday, October 9, 2017

Wrap Season

The rains have finally come, and I left the house with something I haven't had in months — a jacket. True, this is a lightweight rain jacket, hardly a warm winter coat, but still it seems like the end of something — the carefree habit of walking out wearing only what I have on inside.

I thought that this morning when I hung up the jacket in my coat cubby that I haven't used this in a while. Even last week, with morning temps in the 40s, I got by with a sweater and a warm scarf (both of which I needed to wear in the office since they keep the blasted place so cold.

But today marks a sea change; it's the first day of the Wrap Season. (Not the "It's a Wrap Season," which sounds much more interesting.)

I console myself as I always do on issues of weather and climate. At least I'm not in Chicago, where the Wrap Season lasts from September through May.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Long Dive

As I mentioned last month, I've been dipping into journals I kept long ago. This morning's adventure was like a long dive into a long-forgotten stream. It was my voice, my way of looking at the world, but applied to a completely different set of circumstances.

No children yet, not much of a job, I was cobbling together an income from odd jobs and transcribing tapes. It was one of those times that was terribly difficult — except just surviving it made me feel whole and strong and capable.

I'm trying to write about this time, write clearly without remorse or false cheer.

The journals help.

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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Around the Yard

Whenever possible I like to step outside in the middle of the day and walk "around the block" — the block being an unconventional one that includes the service road behind conjoined office buildings, one of which I work in.

This gives me a chance to stretch my legs and clear my head.  If a story I'm working on has been giving me trouble, the walk will often show me the lead, transition or conclusion I need to wrap things up.

But lately, I don't even have time for a walk around the block. So I've begun what I call (in my mind) a walk around the yard. Just as there is no block here, neither is there a yard. But there is a plaza in front of the building, picnic tables, seats, an arbor.  On warm days people play ping-pong or take a zumba class (only the brave souls who don't mind an audience).

Even a five-minute stroll can loosen the old gray matter — and often does.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Brake for Birds

I heard them in the flower hedge, a bank of New Guinea impatiens aglow at summer's end. Sparrows, I guessed, or one of the other nondescript birds.

They were chirping and chattering, calling to each other. Maybe they were squabbling over a crust of bread or a late-day worm. Maybe they were planning their winter escape. Or maybe they were just commenting on the perfect air, the weightless wonder of the afternoon.

I stopped. I listened. I didn't care who was behind me, who might have had to stop short.

I brake for birds. That's all there is to it.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Telling Numbers

In Vietnam we learned the battlefield could be anywhere: in a rice paddy or a house full of children. So we should not be surprised when the bullets ring out at elementary schools, college campuses, nightclubs, restaurants, amphitheaters and now in the most unreal of all unreal places, the Las Vegas Strip.

Violence is always unreal, until it is not.

So the children and grandchildren of a generation defined by "four dead in Ohio" have ...

59 dead at Mandalay Bay
49 dead at Orland's Pulse
32 dead at Virginia Tech
26 dead at Sandy Hook.

When will it stop? I think we're all afraid that it won't. So we say prayers, light candles, hope the next time never happens — even though in our heart of hearts we know it will.


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