Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Week in Seven Words #393

The cart with her belongings clanks against the walls and comes to an uncertain stop at the head of the stairs. Twice, a neighbor passing by helps her move something down to the U-Haul. Another time, it's a homeless guy who makes five bucks for the box he carries.

She joins me at the synagogue that evening. I sit on a cardboard box at her left arm. The seats and floors are filled with people.

One of the stories we hear: A concentration camp inmate, given an opportunity by the Red Cross to send a postcard to someone, realizes there may be no one left who cares whether he's alive or not.

The storage facility reminds me of a video game where you need to adjust your speed and timing to keep from getting shut out and having to start over. The entry doors will stay open for ten seconds, the elevator doors for seven or eight. If you hit someone with your cart, you lose points. Lower level, make a right, then another right. If you hit the walls with your cart, you lose points.

Street after street, there are empty storefronts, evidence of high rent blight. To run a small business in this environment has become untenable for many.

Hanging baskets of flowers at the farmer's market, nuts and chocolates too. Only the meat and seafood seem suspicious in their sweating coolers.

On both sides of a narrow apartment building, there are sunny, vibrant gardens with raised beds of flowers, a small fountain spilling its melody, and a gazebo where a woman and her grandchild sit among piles of picture books.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Week in Seven Words #392

The post-and-rail fence has fallen apart and let a deer through. The gaps in the fence have also offered scaffolding to plants.

During a get-together at a friend's apartment, a married couple tells me not to live by any ideals because inevitably I'll fall short of them and become a hypocrite. I don't know whether they're taking their own advice, but they seem comfortable with themselves.

He tells me it's ok to be an asshole as long as you're upfront about it. It's honest that way. But I don't think he'd be fine if I were to act like one. Or if anyone close to him did.

Misfortune seems to shadow her, even in small ways. The bottom of her shopping bag opens like a trap door, and the cans of beans clink on the sidewalk, and the water bottle sprays her feet. Once in the car, she can't find her keys. She does, eventually, but only after running back to the store.

A photo shows a group of boys who are friends. They look alike, more or less - similar size, same clothes, all of them cute kids. Another photo shows a group of girls who are friends. Also more or less alike, dressed alike, all of them pretty and none of them too pretty.

Someone I'm used to seeing behind a podium as he commands the attention of a crowded room, his voice formidable, I now see in a grocery store one night, his face yellowish under the lights, his eyes tired as he pleads over the phone.

They don't know, and don't want to know, who they're raising. Maybe they'd hoped for someone else as their child.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Week in Seven Words #391

The pond reflects a mosaic of leaves.

If I'm not in front of them, do I exist to them? (Like an object permanence test, but for relationships.)

How much I've entrusted to computer systems I don't control, and the irritation and sometimes fear when they don't work for reasons poorly understood.

She takes her break at a picnic table, a mason jar of flowers at her elbow, her clipboards laid aside.

The water spreads across the harbor in overlapping sheets, the edges stained with sunlight.

They've brought what seems to be every kind of greasy, salty, sweet processed food to their picnic and the kind of folding chairs that cut your legs out from under you and make you give up on standing. We're in for a satisfying, sedentary stupor.

Coming across a small bookstore. Feeling wonder and a pang of worry, as if I'm in the presence of an endangered species.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Week in Seven Words #390

The loose grouping of historic buildings has the air of a ghost town. The grass in some places is unkempt. A mother and daughter fighting from opposite sides of a bench pierce the quiet but soon leave, as if they were spirits who hadn't known how to find rest. The crackle of bees from a wide porch, a cat sprawled on shaded gravel, highlight the absence of people.

When the buses aren't too crowded, they can be relaxing. They roll and curve gently, sigh when they come to a temporary stop. The other passengers tend to be quiet, mostly caught up in phones or in staring out the window. When in pairs or small groups, they talk only now and then. At one point, a mother, son, and grandmother climb on board. The son lolls in his mother's lap as the bus glides on.

A mistake following the trail takes me to a quiet, stifling pond, bright green with algae. The air is still and hot. I wonder what I'm doing here, where I can go next, when a heron unfolds and takes flight.

There's a fragile atmosphere in this home, as if a misaligned paper on a desk will prod an ugly argument to life and ruin the evening.

The real estate agent trots up and down the street, as she explains to someone over the phone that she's misplaced her car keys.

It's a tiny museum; the air is cool and smells dusty. If I knew more ahead of time about Tibetan Buddhism, I would understand more about what I'm seeing. There are labels, but few explanations. The shelves are lined with placid gleaming statues and ornate metalwork. The gardens, set on a hill, are walled in by trees and stone and lined with prayer flags.

The deer watches me in stillness, a question in its eyes. It retreats because it doesn't want to risk the answer I might give it.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Optimist's Daughter: Examining Love and Loss

She wept for what happened to life.
Laurel, the main character of The Optimist's Daughter, is a widow and now an orphan after her father passes away, years after her mother's death. She moved away from Louisiana a while ago, but returns for the duration of the book - first for her father's medical problems, then for his death and for a short time after the funeral.

Her parents' home is full of things she hasn't known about or hasn't thought about in a long while. It's also tainted by the presence of her father's second wife, Fay, a crass, insensitive woman who at one point gets compared to the weather, an uncomprehending force of nature that sweeps through people's lives.
For Fay was without any powers of passion or imagination in herself and had no way to see it or reach it in the other person. Other people, inside their lives, might as well be invisible to her. To find them, she could only strike out those little fists at random, or spit from her little mouth. She could no more fight a feeling person than she could love him.
The novel reckons with the costs of love. With love comes profound loss; how does one cope? Is the solution to live like Fay, who performs grief but doesn't feel much of anything in a deep way? Because she feels less, her survival in this world seems more assured; in this sense, she's more hardy than Laurel. But she's brittle in other ways. Laurel does survive, in her own way, relinquishing possessions and bearing memories forward.
The memory can be hurt, time and again - but in that may lie its final mercy. As long as it's vulnerable to the living moment, it lives for us, and while it lives, and while we are able, we can give it up its due.
One of the things I appreciated about this novel was the sensitive way it made the dead come alive in memory. They aren't fixed and silent images. Laurel, for instance, considers those who have died and wonders about them, why they acted as they did, and what they'd say or do now. Of course, it's not the same as them being alive, but they're a part of her world still. I think a part of her courage - to keep living, free, afraid, full of light - comes from thinking about her relationships with them and their relationships with each other.
Between some two people every word is beautiful, or might as well be beautiful.
While Fay lives in the realm of objects, just plain hard materials, Laurel has greater depth and so has more to lose. And yet, she's strong at the end, cut loose from her father's home and going off on a tide of spirit and possibility.

(I read The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty for the Classics Club Challenge.)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Week in Seven Words #389

Washington and Lafayette clasp hands, their differences in age and height smoothed over by the sculptor and by the shadows of the overhanging branches.

Throughout the conversation, she keeps pointing out how she and her husband agree on everything. "He and I never discussed this issue before, and look, we think the same!" She infuses her voice with hope. Her husband says nothing, keeps eating.

Each grotesque appears to have its own story and store of sly remarks. Each gives the impression that he's only pretending to be a sculpture; as soon as you leave, he'll scamper around on the window ledges. Some look drunk. Others are spies and thieves who will sneak inside when they're sure the building is empty.

He's come up to hike alongside me when I notice the quote on his t-shirt: "I would prefer not to." From Bartleby the Scrivener. I ask, but with a smile he prefers not to tell me why he chose this shirt on a day of vigorous movement.

As I talk, I watch my words slide off them. I'm a gentle rain shower passing through their evening.

By the side of the church, the pink and white flowers look like the lining for a baby's crib. Before a brownstone, buttery flowers melt open in the sun. Others spring, pink and broad, from a ceramic planter. Leaves cascade from an open window - a houseplant bent on escape.

By day, the bird bath is for the birds, usually no more than two at a time, each shivering and luxuriating in the water. At night when the birds are gone, a cockroach perches on the edge of the bowl, its antennae fanning.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Week in Seven Words #388

Baby goats press against the legs of the man who feeds them; they peer out from the folds of his trousers. Chickens walk around in their strange, obsessive way, making discontented noises.

The artists have set up studios in derelict homes. Most of the rooms are empty; some are papered in sketches. Here and there, a dash of paint disturbs a long stretch of dust.

With their bodies, they seem to form letters of the alphabet. Their spines curve, and their arms rise and bend. Their instructor walks among them and gently edits the poses.

A walk between downpours. Everything is soaked in the smell of after-rain.

The music growls and punches holes in the quiet.

The worm, freshly plucked, flops around in the bird's beak.

The fountain looks like it's juggling balls of foam. People sigh as they watch it; some record it on their phones. I like seeing this lack of jadedness. People taking pleasure in a simple, beautiful sight.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Funny Songs from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

I don't watch this show, but someone sent me the first clip, which made me laugh. It starts out like a typical inspiring song about facing your fears and goes on to become a series of terrible suggestions.

I found this second clip from the show - a hardcore electronic dance music video about someone getting ready for guests.

Week in Seven Words #387

Bored, he texts me from the party to list all the places where he could hide from the other guests. The shrubs by the pool provide good coverage. There's room for most of him behind the piano in the den.

I love an early Sunday walk when the light is soft and the streets are mostly empty.

I'm beaten badly by two children at Settlers of Catan. They rob me of all my resources. They laugh as I lose my lumber and ore.

There are different ways of saying good-bye. One is to avoid saying it at all, to turn away at the moment of parting and slip into another room.

She sits in a blanket nest on the bed and frets. I cup her cute bald head in my hand, and she calms.

A sulfurous odor leaks out of the pails of water he's set up in the basement for his plastic animals. He's lined some of the pails with dirt from the backyard, and without knowing it has invited new kinds of organisms into his collection, alive and bacterial.

I don't pay attention to the tendons in my feet, until one of them painfully, insistently reminds me that it exists.