Saturday, March 30, 2013


Consider the egg. I will be considering dozens of them today. Consider its potential. Consider it theoretically, of course.

If left alone an egg would become a larger food, with more protein and heft. But instead it's consumed early in its life cycle. Which makes it precious. When Suzanne arrived in a small African village, her compound-mates offered her an egg. It's the food of welcome —and welcome food, too.

Today and tomorrow, eggs all over Christendom will be punctured, boiled, blown, colored and hidden. Some of these eggs will have their yolks lifted, fluffed, seasoned and stuffed back into their whites. And then they will be admired and eaten.

But this morning, early on this day of preparation, eggs are still in their cartons. They haven't yet been put to the test. They are still more potential than actual, which is what they always are, when you think about it.

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Friday, March 29, 2013

The Valley

On the way to Kentucky it's the prelude; on the way home, it's the coda. But whether coming or going it's never a destination of its own, only a blurred backdrop at 70 miles an hour.

Still, it's a pleasant one: broad fields, middling mountains, the eye drawn to that combination of height and breadth; to the purples, blues and browns; to the cattle grazing black against the green.

The Shenandoah Valley slices down the western side of the state, 200 miles of in betweenness. If it weren't for the pulse-pounding traffic of I-81 it would be a meditation. Some day, I'll pause and make it one.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

A School

To visit a hometown is to walk with ghosts. To look at streets and see what used to be. To peer in windows and imagine life on the other side of time.

A church, a house, a park, a store.

And here, a school. My first. Here in this hallway we waited for a drink at the fountain on the first warm days of May. We lit the Advent candle in December. We scuttled in with our new penny loafers and pencils and school bags the first week of September.

All so long ago now as to have been a dream. But it wasn't a dream. I have the evidence right here.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Arms and the Walker

A walk I remember, a man in front of me with his arms clasped in back, an image I recall now, weeks later.

Seeing him stroll like that brought to mind characters in Russian novels wearing great long coats; they held their arms like that, too. Is it the posture of thought?

The arms not moving in tandem with the legs in motion, but anchored, as if to keep the emphasis on the cerebral.

I think more freely when striding naturally, legs and arms in opposition. It's the rhythm of footfall. The arms are along for the ride.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Late-Season Snow

Winter won't let go this year. More snow here, white flakes on green boughs, and little icicles dangling from the low rafters.

The daffodils hang their heads. Too soon, they must be thinking. (Too soon being an occupational hazard for the daffodil.)

As the season lingers, I ponder its good points, the way it keeps me inside, with an internal focus. Not yet ready for the late nights of summer, the outward focus of warmth and light.

The flurries out my window are welcome. I watch them as they float aimlessly to the ground.


Monday, March 25, 2013


I finally read the book Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. Published in 2010, this is the story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic athlete and World War II airman who was shot down over the Pacific.

Zamperini and two other crew members drifted thousands of miles (47 days with sharks constantly encircling their flimsy raft) before being captured by the Japanese — and their real troubles began.

Beaten, starved, humiliated — but somehow never giving in — Zamperini survived the war and the first difficult years that followed. He has lived a rich, full life.

It's an old-fashioned good read, and it stays with you. Not the details of plot, but the lessons of character. Read a book like Unbroken and it's difficult to feel sorry for yourself.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

What We Look For Now

It's been a wild, wet, windy, snowy March — time to look ahead to warmer days.

To seek the spot of color in the still brown woods. The bright break in the clouds when the sun shines through.

The clutch of boats beneath the bridge, their hues out of place in storage but not when skimming the water.

Which they will do soon. We know this will happen. It always has before.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Double Duty

In the midst of a long-postponed office clean-up, looking through every file folder, feeling virtuous about the growing pile of to-be-recycled papers, I learn that my e-mail is being upgraded. Quick, I have to purge my electronic files, too.

Are we the only generation who will straddle this digital divide? What does it mean to live with one foot in the world of paper, books, interview notes printed and stapled, marked-up manuscripts — and the other in e-mail, text messages, tweets, jpeg and mp3 files?

Does it make us more tolerant? More inventive?

Or does it just make us more tired?


Thursday, March 21, 2013


In honor of Bach's birthday, a meditation on counterpoint, on two voices (or three, or four!) that sing alone — and together.

Two independent melodies, touching so lightly and so infrequently that they seem to be strangers — meandering up and down the scale alone, breaking into random song, complete enough to threaten each other, yet never doing so. Seemingly independent.

But they know each other, oh yes they do. And though they have their own motives and pace, when the end comes and they have made their own way through the measures, they pause, settle down happily and embrace.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Almost Spring

Spring arrives in less than two hours. I learn this not from feeling it in the air or hearing it in bird song but from looking it up online. Which is to say that it hasn't felt much like spring this March.

This time last year we were coatless and reveling in cherry blossoms. This year we're dodging "precipitation events" (what the weather folks are calling potential snow storms — just in case they go bust like the "Snowquester" did in parts of this area).

I'm not complaining about the cool temperatures. Last year was warm enough to be eerie. Spring will be all the more welcome when it arrives.

Not when it arrives at 7:02 a.m. When it arrives for real.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

March Sadness

This isn't my headline. I purloined it from an article about how March Madness isn't what it used to be, how a combination of big money, "one and done," the glamor of television and its preference for the slam-dunk over the mid-range shot -- most of all the steady encroachment of the spectacle that is football -- how all of this is changing the sport.

But that's not why it's March Sadness for me.

It's March Sadness for me because the University of Kentucky isn't in the NCAA tournament.

How's that for entitlement? But it's worse than that. Not only do Kentucky fans expect to be in the "big dance" -- they expect to be in the Final Four.

It's good that "Selection Sunday" was also St. Patty's Day. Thinking green helped us not to feel blue.

(A view of Lexington from the University of Kentucky Library.)

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Monday, March 18, 2013


On a walk the other day I saw a robin perfectly posed, a worm in its mouth. It was showing me its best side, with the worm in profile, and I thought about the great battle for sustenance, how it dominates.

Even in the suburbs, hawks circle their prey, crows haggle over carrion and squirrels horde their acorns.

We think we are immune, but of course we are not.

Our houses are empty from dawn to dusk, our children grow up in an instant —and all the while we are driven, too. The great battle for sustenance consumes, subsumes us all.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Irish Season

The travel agents call it shoulder season. The New Englanders call it mud season. I call it Irish season. The time between winter and spring. A time when anything can happen. Snowfall or sunshine. Bloom or bust.

I've only been to Ireland once, but it feels like more often. Maybe I live vicariously through the travel of others. Or I listen to so much Irish music that I fool myself. Or I feel such an affinity for the landscape that I see it wherever I go.

Or maybe I visit there every year during the Irish season.

(County Clare channeled through the hills of West Virginia.)


Friday, March 15, 2013

Does Not Compute

So this is the day I write about math, the day after Pi Day (Pi + 1). It's better than writing about the Ides of March.  Maybe only slightly better, though.

"Don't be afraid of math," was the cheery message at the presentation on math and journalism I went to week a couple of weeks ago. Spurn math and you'll cut yourself out of plum assignments. Spurn math and your accounts will be a mess. Spurn math and you'll miss the story.

Our lives run on numbers, whether we like them or not. Make peace with them. But that presupposes  one has numbers to make peace with. Here is a brief tally :

Number of math classes I've had since high school: 1

Number of real math classes I've had since high school: 0

Number of business articles I've written: 1

Number of times I've written about numbers in this blog: 2 (see also Seven Times Seven)

Number of times I have not: 953

Number of times since elementary school that I helped my kids with math: 0

All of which is to say that when it comes to numbers, the only way for me to go is up.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

New World

This was going to be the day I wrote about math. 3/14. Pi Day.

But then there was some news from Rome, and now it seems silly to write about math when I could be describing a small man on a high balcony asking people to pray for him. A man who didn't take the papal motorcade back to his residence last night but hopped on the bus instead.

I looked at the crowd of faithful in St. Peter's Square yesterday and thought about what a global phenomenon the papal selection process has become. The puffs of smoke. Habemus papam. The red shoes from Gucci. Everyone in my office crowded around a small TV.

The first pope named Francis. The first pope from the Western Hemisphere. First Jesuit, too. Conservative and progressive. New World and Old.

The looks on people's faces as they heard the news. There was excitement, of course, and something else. I think it was hope.

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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Power Walk

The more walks I take downtown, the more I compare them with my walks in the suburbs — the pace, the people, the places.

Yesterday's was an outlier but also an example: A helicopter buzzed the Mall, breaking through the music in my ears, annoying me. I vaguely wondered if I should be concerned. A truck bomb? A heightened security alert? (Do we do the colors of danger anymore? I forget.)

As I made my way back to the office, I found Constitution Avenue blocked. That phalanx of bicycle police I'd seen earlier, they were just the front guard. There were uniforms everywhere. No one would be crossing the street anytime soon.

You'd think I'd be motorcade weary by now, but I've seen very few and none for this president. So for five minutes I was a tourist like the others standing at my corner — only without a camera or smart phone in hand. And when the black cars passed, motorcycles in the lead, ambulances bringing up the rear, sirens blaring, all the trappings and pageantry — I wasn't listening to the music in my ears anymore. I was completely caught in the moment at hand.

I wasn't intending to take a power walk yesterday. But that's what I did.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Company of Writers

There were six people crammed into a booth in the darkest corner of a brightly lit pizza place off a busy street. There were two novels and an essay.

"Welcome to the writer's group," the waitress said. She's served these folks for five years and has a feel for their rhythm. Maybe she has a manuscript in the basement, too.

It didn't take long to feel at home. These are men and women who talk about transitions and character motivations and commas; who admit their dread of starting the next chapter; who spend much of their time with people who don't exist.

Except that they do exist. They live on the page, and they lived for us last night.

It was good to be in the company of writers.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Late Light

There is so much we will do with it, this light. Porch sitting, weed pulling, trampoline bouncing, bike riding, hammock swinging, night walking.

There is so much we will dream in it. So many long evenings not quite in this world or the other but squarely between the two of them.

The map of our summer has not yet been drawn, or even the map of our spring.

But the late light is here. The rest can't be far behind.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Wind, Flake, Flower

Yesterday, the soul of March. Brisk breeze, clouds dark and low, occasional sun, and every so often a flake or two of snow in the sky. 

Cold enough for winter, bright enough for spring. The snowdrops along the path hung their heads, stayed close to the ground. It was cold even for them.

In a few weeks we'll have cherry blossoms, daffodils, red bud trees. But not yet. There is a thinness to the light, a hesitancy in the air. The great drama is still playing out.

Will winter win, or spring?

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Friday, March 8, 2013

In and Out

To exercise at lunchtime I don't even have to leave my building. The health club upstairs is well stocked, well staffed and state-of-the-art. But two days out of three I put on my coat, slip in my ear buds and walk outside instead.

There are no weight machines, ellipticals or tread mills; no pool or spin class. Just pavement and people. But that's the combination that works for me.

Turns out, it works for many. Exercising outdoors is often better than exercising indoors, studies show. It burns more calories and tweaks more muscles.

It has psychological benefits as well — and that's what keeps me going. I come back inside after a lunchtime stroll tired and happy. The pavement is my treadmill, perspective my salvation.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Taking the Repeat

I'm not a musician anymore. I play the piano every few weeks. But I'm an avid listener, and sometimes when I hear a piece I knew from long ago, I can imagine the string bass part or I can see the piano music, the key signature, the caesuras, the repeats.

I always liked the latter. The vertical bars, one thick and one thin. The two dots. The permission it gave. Try it again, this time softer or louder or more legato.

Playing the same section twice had its challenges at times, especially if it was a difficult passage. But it also gave me, never the most confident of musicians, two chances to get it right.

Not a bad idea, in music or in life.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Snow-starved Washington is finally basking in a day off that is not due to sequester-related furlough.

The government, schools, offices — all closed. Students, teachers, bureaucrats — even lobbyists, I imagine — are staying home and letting the world spin on its own for a few hours.

As predicted, it's a heavy, wet snow — not so much falling as plopping from the sky. Or maybe it''s plopping from the white-coated trees. Or maybe both.

Today's photo looks much like yesterday's. But it's not from the vault. It's real time.


Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Will It Stick?

Here in the suburbs of D.C. we don't just argue about federal policies, we also debate what to call our snow storms. Though the Weather Channel calls the snow that's supposed to start tonight "Saturn," the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang has named it Snowquester. And it's not giving up the fight.

Putting aside the more primary question — which is why, since "Snowmaggedon," we feel we must name our snow storms? —this naming convention does reveal an interesting turf war.

Apparently, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang asked folks to send them storm names last Friday, and the winning response was "Snowquester." It's the perfect appellation for a March snowstorm in sequester-weary Washington. And much more apt than Saturn, people say.

Will the name Snowquester stick? More to the point, will the snow?

We will have to wait and see.


Monday, March 4, 2013

The Moon Before the Storm

Here we are thinking about the snow we might get on Wednesday, the snow I will most probably write about tomorrow, too. But today it is clear and bright and cold, and the moon, setting, was framed by the trees in our backyard.

A faraway moon this morning. Remote, withholding. Not round and jolly and close by.

A moon that is glad to be going.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Something Up My Sleeve

Spring is trying, but it's still winter here. Bare trees, brisk winds. I probably should wear gloves. But somehow I never remember, or I think I don't need them. So on most of my walks now my hands are balled into fists and pulled up into the sleeves of my old jacket.

This is probably against most exercise maxims: relax, keep your arms loose, shake out. But for better or worse it seems to be my style these days. And I like the idea of gloves at the ready, long sleeves (and this jacket has them) with a soft lining. Some sweat shirts these days are made with thumb holes so my hands are always warm — though wearing them makes me feel like a poorly paid Dickensian clerk.

Still, there is something to be said for being as portable as possible. Do I have something up my sleeve? Absolutely!

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Friday, March 1, 2013


Word came yesterday that the great pianist Van Cliburn died on Wednesday. Though his career did not fulfill its early promise, there was a time when his name was on everyone's lips. He was the man who so wowed  the Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow in 1958 that judges were forced to ask Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev if they could give him the medal. "Is he the best? Then give him the prize," Khruschev is supposed to have said.

Van Cliburn took not just the classical music world by storm. He was featured on the cover of Time magazine, given a New York City ticker tape parade. When I told my kids this last night, they said, "What's a ticker tape parade?"

I heard Van Cliburn play when I was a child, a young piano student. Not yet in love with classical music, I stared up at the ceiling of the concert hall, counting the beams or the light fixtures or something. Bored by the Chopin or the Rachmaninoff or whatever dazzling piece he was playing. Bored by my own lack of understanding.

Could I have that concert back now, please?


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