Thursday, March 28, 2019

Week in Seven Words #456

The kitchen is dingy, and the cook keeps her phone and keys on the counter among spatters of sauce and grease. But the soup is pretty good, and so is the chicken sandwich.

Framed by the window, the cluster of buildings and lights resembles a computer motherboard.

As with other high schools, the architecture for this one evokes a prison. It's a slab of gray with the windows barred.

He doesn't read the book, just looks for answers on Quizlet, which his indifferent teacher will accept with an automatic checkmark.

His mind is roaming an elsewhere. He's shifting in his seat, and soon he'll hurry out the door to walk off his restlessness.

Buses slide out like tired slugs from the tunnel.

"The truth will set you free" is how the expression goes, but this freedom, whatever it happens to be, generally isn't quick or guaranteed. What the truth does is show you some of the ways in which you're chained. From there, you need to figure out how to unchain yourself, if you even want to, and if you even can.

Week in Seven Words #455

Two large stores that sell tons of electronics and related accessories, but no wrist rests for typing and no plans to stock any. I begin to wonder if typing is going out of style, somehow?

As if she's a dignified statue splattered in pigeon crap, she doesn't respond to the contempt they show her.

When editing another person's work, I have to carefully strengthen the text without changing the author's voice to my own.

A glaring sun, the relief of the wind, weeds among the basil and old tomato plants.

Her essay is disjointed, as if she has dropped it on the floor, gathered up the broken pieces, and spread them out on paper. This is what an early draft often looks like.

Though she's usually late, she usually brings cookies, so all is forgiven.

She periodically flies in from the Netherlands to volunteer around NYC and write about her experiences. It's an interesting way to observe some of the social dysfunctions in the US and the civic or altruistic efforts in response.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Week in Seven Words #454

I love the green and gold of early autumn, the faint chill, the lingering summer.

It's beautiful to give and receive uncomplicated goodwill.

Sometimes, I'll try to talk myself out of trying something new. Most of the time, setting aside my misgivings works out better than expected.

A buoyant nighttime walk, among people out with their dogs.

Browsing through planners and journals is pleasurable. I may not buy any of them, but it's fun to look at the elegant pages ready for notes, meetings, and goals.

They talk about their love of school supplies - fresh boxes of pens and pencils, pristine index cards, glue that will make its way to colorful posters.

I dance three times with the Torah. Even when I have it in an awkward hold and my arms ache, I love holding it. I want to keep that memory vivid, the sensation of the scrolls in my arms, the weight taken willingly and happily, and the unselfconscious celebration, surrounded as I was by women old and young, some full of energy, others going through a hard time in life, all of them present, singing, dancing, clapping, or looking on, a part of it all.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Nine Short Stories With Major Betrayals

Title: Dosas
Author: Edwidge Danticat
Where I read it: Tales of Two Americas

Elsie, a Haitian immigrant who works in the U.S. providing home health care, gets an urgent call from her ex-husband. Apparently, his girlfriend has been kidnapped in Port-Au-Prince. Elsie has already been betrayed by her husband and his girlfriend before, so she could just hang up on him. Instead, she hears him out and agrees to help.

As an immigrant, Elsie would have hoped to find a community she can rely on, with people she can trust. But she's pretty much on her own. In the course of her job, she helps another Haitian immigrant suffering from renal failure, but he's wealthy, and any sympathy he or his daughter feel for her is limited. Already, she has suffered profound betrayal in her personal life. Maybe she's willing to risk a lot to stay connected to people, because the alternative, a life of mistrust and loneliness, isn't bearable to her; she's already profoundly lonely. By the end of the story, she seems like someone baring her neck to vampires. And there are true vampires in this story, draining her.

Title: Family Man
Author: Annie Proulx
Where I read it: Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3

What's the legacy you've been left with, and what legacy do you leave to others? The main character is spending his final years in a nursing home, among people who watch a lot of TV and paint their faces. He comes across people he once knew, or thought he knew, but they've changed from how he remembers them. Who were they, and who is he?

In the course of the story, his granddaughter visits him and expresses an interest in his life. What he shares with her isn't inspirational, not the kind of story you're eager to pass from one generation to the next. His past contains a deep betrayal by his father. I don't want to spoil it all here. Suffice it to say that he had discovered a shattering lie that showed him how little he was seen as a person worthy of love and respect, and how much he had missed of the father-son bond a boy craves – to be uniquely his father's son and carry his father's name proudly.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Week in Seven Words #453

We've been deposited on a platform between two trains. We know that one is set to go south, the other north. But which is which? The Charlie Brown's teacher voice on the announcement system doesn't help us figure it out.

They talk at length about the tax deductibility of parking spaces.

One kid is crying about the absence of chocolate among the dessert choices. I feel for him.

It's a day of heavy rain. Indoors, the walls are leaden and smudged with shadow.

To keep the kids quiet, she assigns them clean-up duties. To make the clean-up duties fun, she has them pretend that the spills, discarded napkins, and strewn clothing are all clues in an intricate mystery. They're the detectives, using the evidence to come up with a story more interesting than "I spilled my juice and knocked my friend's coat off the back of her chair and left it on the ground until my mom told me to pick it up."

The ambiance of the room has changed. It used to feel like a lounge where people drink whiskey from cut glasses and smoke cigars. Now it's brighter and more colorful, with furniture that's easy to clean, like a lounge at a family-friendly hotel.

There are always fresh weeds among the plants you want to keep.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Mrs. Dalloway and Monet (an impression from Virginia Woolf's novel)

When I read Mrs. Dalloway, I had the impression of a Monet painting. At a certain distance, the characters are coherent. Close up, they don’t entirely lose their coherence, but you can see them made up of an animated patchwork of sensations, feelings, and unsteady thoughts, and abrupt switches between memories and the present day. They aren’t as solid or clearly defined on closer view, though they still have richness and texture.

(On Googling around to see if Woolf may have wanted to evoke something like an Impressionist painting, I found this essay on “Literary Impressionism” and the general push against 19th-century realism in novels.)

I enjoyed this examination of character. The characters in Mrs. Dalloway are given shape by the shifting contents of their own minds, and also the impressions that others form of them. In seconds, a character can go from being a well-liked companion to a strange, embarrassing figure, avoided in public and perhaps deserted for good.

An old woman knitting on a bench may evoke a mythical figure, because of her posture, or because the light hits her a certain way, who knows:
The grey nurse resumed her knitting as Peter Walsh, on the hot seat beside her, began snoring. In her grey dress, moving her hands indefatigably yet quietly, she seemed like the champion of the rights of sleepers, like one of those spectral presences which rise in twilight in woods made of sky and branches. The solitary traveller, haunter of lanes, disturber of ferns, and devastator of great hemlock plants, looking up, suddenly sees the giant figure at the end of the ride.
A reputable psychiatrist can embody a certain menacing spirit:
Conversion is her name and she feasts on the wills of the weakly, loving to impress, to impose, adoring her own features stamped on the face of the populace. At Hyde Park Corner on a tub she stands preaching; shrouds herself in white and walks penitentially disguised as brotherly love through factories and parliaments; offers help, but desires power; smites out of her way roughly the dissentient, or dissatisfied; bestows her blessing on those who, looking upward, catch submissively from her eyes the light of their own.
The textures of different characters overlap, as they brush up against each other throughout the day. Throughout the novel, the point-of-view slips around, as if a cloud of consciousness is traveling a corner of London and settling over people’s heads, allowing us a quick, intense look at each of their mental landscapes. The characters feel fluid and connected to each other, their lives all part of a living painting.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Week in Seven Words #452

I dream of popping out of an airplane to film it in the clouds, which are soaked in a deep orange sunset.

Her apartment is filled with light and has a fragile quality. She moves as if she's afraid to touch anything. A picture frame on the gleaming piano or the small blue vase on the coffee table can shatter easily.

She's convinced her 3-year-old grandson is at the synagogue. She keeps asking people if they've seen him. He must have run off somewhere. It doesn't matter that her nurse and some of the congregants gently explain that he isn't there – that the boy she's thinking of is an adult and not in town. She's certain he's run away and gotten lost. She insists that people look for him.

kavanah (כַּוָּנָה)
I feel pierced by the urgency of the prayers, and the melodies, and the moving, sobbing, joyful, singing voices.

The middle-aged man who shares the elevator with me sees that I'm going to the seventh floor. "Seven's a lucky number," he says. "Hopefully," I say. To which he replies, "It's a prime number." So I point to his destination. "That's a multiple of seven," I say, because he's heading to floor 28. "So it is!" he replies.

That evening, there's a large moth in the synagogue. Mostly it hops and skips among the lights. Sometimes it dive-bombs people.

"They try to be so helpful," she says, sorting through the holiday care package, "but as a pre-diabetic, I can't eat a lot of the food here."