Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week in Seven Words #39

Golden bars of sunlight on deep green grass.

When I learn with her, and we're sitting with our books in front of us, we tend to laugh, sometimes a lot. It seems that the laughter is what I remember the most afterwards.

Infants are often thought of as amoral; they might squirm, smile, cry, babble, explore, but making a judgment about another person's actions might seem to be beyond their capacities. As it turns out, there's evidence that infants younger than a year do show preferences for people (and characters) who are helpful and kind to another person over those who hinder and thwart; from what I recall they also prefer people who remain neutrally uninvolved to those who actively undermine another person's efforts (and prefer those who actively help to those who remain uninvolved). Rudiments of morality, good deeds and a sense of justice are there, even before they can speak.

He speaks quite eloquently about love. Not love in the sense of falling head over heels, or getting swept away, or any other conception of love that involves losing one's mind or will to passions that are beyond personal control. He speaks about love as a choice and commitment, as something that deepens and grows throughout life, that glows inside of a healthy self and spreads outwards in ever-widening circles.

A son of one of the Bielsky brothers talks about his father's and uncles' experiences leading a Jewish partisan group against Nazis and Nazi collaborators in Eastern Europe and saving over 1200 Jews (young, old, healthy, sick, men, women, and children). Several thoughts come out of the talk - the human spirit and human courage are amazing; heroes are flesh-and-blood imperfect people; and what's it like to live with this family legacy, to be the son and nephew of people who did things like that? (From this speaker I sense deep pride but also, especially when he was younger, a need to prove that he too has guts and can live up to the family name.)

Friday afternoon. People's primary concern seems to be whether there's any coffee or cookies left.

Yellow leaves on slicked pavement.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

One Reading of "The Broken Sandal"

This is how Denise Levertov's poem ends:

Where was I going?
Where was I going I can't
go to now, unless hurting?
Where am I standing, if I'm
to stand still now?

The speaker has dreamt that her sandal came apart, and now she has to stop walking and actually consider the conditions of the road she's on - the dirt, the rocks - and where she is and where she's going.

It's a short poem, and abrupt like the thong of the sandal snapping, but like with any good poem there's much in it. Yesterday I read something about the tendency to sleep-walk through life, and the poem stirred those thoughts up too - how it's easy to fall into a direction or rhythm that we don't think about too much, make choices small and large in a similar way, until something finally arrests us. Comfort, complacency, a numbed mind then give way to uncertainty and agitation. We wonder where we are, where we're headed to, and how we'll deal with it all; things we assumed would last are absent, our previous state of mind has fallen apart. We look around us and wonder how we even got here.

What's also interesting is that the poet isn't describing an actual event - that the sandal did break - but that she dreamt it did. She's anticipating these events, thinking about life and what she's doing with her life even before circumstances might force her to. And as a poet she's calling on us to have that kind of dream too, to imagine our travels stalled, difficulties cropping up along with insistent questions about our purpose. How would we begin to answer?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Week in Seven Words #38

It's like reading The Jabberwocky, only no fun at all - a highly technical book with lots of (to me it seems) made-up words. I go galumphing through the text in search of mental toeholds.

Many parched hours, punched-through with doubt. A reminder that I'm weaker than I hope to be.

Pale green comforter. Pale blue pillow. Crawling under, curling up, hoping that a restful sleep will come.

On the sidewalk, leaves scrape and tumble across the flickering shadows of the leaves that hang overhead.

In one building, the people I encounter include a chef, several cadets, a guy who bangs out Gershwin in a room by himself, another who's happy I'm his guide for a half hour, and a girl who's polite and faintly homesick.

It's a mild afternoon, full of warm sunshine and a breeze that feels benevolent. Every bench I walk by beckons me to sit for a while. I wish I could; instead I'm headed to a place where computers glare, copy machines whir, and a smell of stale ink hangs over everything.

Little kindnesses ring true and ripple out into the world - a smile, a door that's held open, a sincere compliment that isn't held back, a word of encouragement or love. These seem like small things but they're not; they spread from one life to another to another. They restore, repair and heal.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The River Ouse

From my work-trip to York in early September, some pictures of the River Ouse.




Saturday, October 16, 2010

Week in Seven Words #37

Things that get put off and delayed do not go away. Why do I keep letting myself think they do? Though I turn my mind to other chores and tasks, the things I've tried to put off still sit there (I can see them out of the corner of my eye) siphoning away my concentration until at last I just have to deal with them.

I don't want a human life to go by unobserved. The people who seem invisible, unloved, and unwanted by others - I used to think they're ignored in large part out of a lack of time and willingness, also an indifference and callousness (life's busy, so much to do, can't stop to look, and are they worth it anyway?) but there's more to it than that. There's an underlying fear too, that anyone can slip through the cracks.

Maybe it's the colder weather, because I get a craving for pasta this week; I like the way it bubbles in the pot, the billow of steam as I tip it into the colander, and the plentiful plate of it drenched in tomato sauce, garlic, basil and mozzarella.

A new week, and new ideas rise out of the unceremonious ashes of old ones.

The world is overrun with cold water. Every step is a squelch, a splish, a spatter.

I want them to understand. I point, repeat, stare at them with a desperate encouragement, ask questions, try to urge them out of a state of passive absorption. I wait for the light to flow into their faces, the glimmer of comprehension, that tells me they've learned - and that even if they don't grasp everything, that they want to at least struggle with the material, to lean forward in their chairs and puzzle things out, ask questions, throw suggestions out there without a fear of being wrong.

The nurse administering the flu shot asks me if I'd like her to tell me when the needle is about to go in. I tell her it's not necessary, because I'm going to watch. Ever since I was a kid, I've never taken the suggestion to look away during a shot. Much as the sight is unappealing, if I don't look I'll tense up; maybe when I look, it feels less like something is happening to me that I have to just passively take.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Extracts: a peek into Bleezer's Freezer


And there's more. Click on the link to the get the full Bleezer's Ice Cream Store experience.

I've lost count of the number of times I've read this poem. I love Jack Prelutsky's absurd, brilliant confections.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week in Seven Words #36

The sky is a crisp blue, the air is clear and cool, leaves crackle across the cobbled paths; I sit on a low stone ledge with a notebook on my lap and a mind full of contented thoughts.

He holds my idea like a leaf between his forefinger and thumb and lifts it up to the light. It looks papery and dry. He rubs his fingers together, and it disintegrates slowly.

Life can feel like a game of Tetris; if I get too distracted or take too long dealing with any one thing, every obligation, burden, assignment, and duty just piles up in weird insurmountable towers.

It's worth it, to put the book aside, the article, whatever it is that's due soon and demanding time, and just sit and talk to good people; one of them in particular, known mainly for his jokes, shares a beautiful serious story with me.

Autumn mutters to herself and shakes raindrops out of her rags.

I wake up in the middle of the night, strangely keyed up and unwilling to turn over and try to sleep again. Like a mouse scrabbling around in the dark, fixing up her nest, I spend a couple of hours sorting the piles of paper on and around my desk, slotting them into folders, drawers and piles, throwing some out, tidying them into short neat stacks.

As the silence stretches on, I feel the need to supply conversational filler. It's like stuffing styrofoam chips into a shipping box; if I leave too much space unfilled, the fragile object inside will break.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Week in Seven Words #35

The administrators who help me out are kindly, good-humored and tolerant of my anxious queries; I'm grateful they don't resemble stereotypical bureaucrats, the ones who idly bat you from paw to paw like bored cats.

I tense up in situations like these, stepping into a crowded space where I can't spot a familiar face and everyone seems to be clumped together already with their cups of sangria and their little plates of veggies and cookies. I guess their behavior reassures me to some extent as well, the fact that they're already in bunches and pairs, because it shows that I'm not the only one who feels awkward about being a lone floating atom. At last I find my way to one small group, which broadens slightly to admit me, and we stand in a little sangria-clutching circle, making introductions, searching for things we can all talk about and briefly bond over.

Some of the dancing is dignified, as when we make slow turns, our palms pressed together and our skirts flaring out and then subsiding against our legs. Other times it's happily undignified, like when I'm turning in circles with a young child who is convinced that he can dance without his feet touching the ground at all.

Leaves, gold brown and orange, whip around and batter the window like snowflakes.

She brings me a lovely new skirt the color of honeycombs and evergreens, and along with it a package of snickerdoodle animal crackers.

They're strewn among the tea lights - charred and scarred canoes floundering in a calm flickering sea.

When I have a cold, the world feels like it's coming to me through a layer of cotton balls. My mouth is limp with cherry-flavored cough drop numbness.