Tag Archives: writing

It isn’t full circle

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, when I find myself in a chair no one held six years ago when I was falling apart and people asked, “Was I doing okay,” but took it at mostly face value when I said yes, then let me fall apart and drop off the face of the earth, only to slowly scotch tape, duct tape, Krazy glue myself back together with no one’s particular help (no matter how much I did try to ask, too little too late, but still, I did ask and they vowed, marital, Hippocratic, parental, but still, they all failed, when asked they unanswered).

It isn’t full circle, I have to tell myself that, that I now sit in the chair that no one held six years ago and tell the truth I did not want to hear.  ”You are not doing okay,” I say, and lay out the hard options, which are take the time off which is some hardship, or take the exit and the door will hit you hard in the ass on the way out, and trust me, that will take longer to recover from.  I don’t say, “I’ve been there,” but I do say that maybe the time off will give them time to straighten things out, and if not, at least give them time to make a more graceful exit.  It’s hard to be kind, but if it’s not kind, it’s true, and it’s a truth no one told me and a tough love I had to learn all by myself (a love for myself I had to learn, too, when the people who owed me nothing didn’t bother to extend me anything, either).

So, no. It isn’t full circle.  It’s miles and loops and six years ahead of myself. And fuck yes, it’s hard, because I want to cry with them, too, and cry for myself, for who I was then and still always will be, just a bit, always a little raggedy-broken unevenly stuck to myself in places it hurts to detach myself from to sit in a different chair than where I ever expected to be— but that is the joy and the pain of learning and growing and doing something for others that no one bothered to do for you.

It isn’t full circle, it’s a line, and it’s a line going forward. That’s better.

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Snow more

We are at record snow levels in Boston; the last time there was this much snow in a month,  much less a winter, I was barely aged 4.  There are pictures (square, faded, and now I would have to crop and choose a phone filter to get that effect) of the snow piled roof-high against the garage.  I remember the snow slide, the kids on this block climbing up the side of the snow pile while kindergarten was cancelled to slip, down, down again.  It was two weeks of snow down snow pants and up jackets and inside mittens, and then running down the block to get sleds, the six-foot plus piles of snow on sidewalks piled like tunnels, way over our heads.

It felt cold and free then, and you could go in the house to get warm when it got (rarely) too much.  Who’d ever have known that now we’d have WiFi, and there’d be no such thing as an adult snow day anymore– just breaks to go shovel snow and uncreak your back from sitting at your laptop by wearing it out hurling snow into claustrophobic sidewalk tunnels that close in your car, cold and too much.

There’s another 15 inches predicted this weekend, and all I can think is I’m glad I already have the holiday off; I can space the shoveling out.

Feed the Flock


The squirrel isn’t baffled by the shape of the new bird feeders installed
inside the lilac; his tail flirts, second by second, a hummingbird’s cousin,
as he chases the pressure-treated T to grab millet and peanuts, then scamper away.
The doves do not mourn, they just bill and coo as they hop on the ground,
tip-head chicken-pecking at black oil sunflower seed, their preferred feed.
Their tails bob in weird counterpoint to their fat bodies and wee, tiny heads.
This year there aren’t any pigeons or seagulls, though come February or so,
I’ll resist the urge to chuck stale bread in inedible chunks from the porch so those giant pests leave some for the sparrows, the starlings, the other smaller brown birds;
that murderous want will remain despite how that late in the winter,
those unfallen sparrows are the fattest things in the county, almost too big to fly.
Their small, symmetrical shapes are a soothing roundness against the bright red fruit
they’ve disdained to eat from the ornamental crab tree,
the yellow points of rose leaves still twined against the grey-stained trellis
they perch on in hordes, their fat silhouettes clouding the top of the fence
the demented old neighbors next door are convinced is a declaration of war.
Dad hogs the pantry window, waiting for cardinals and blue jays, the woodpecker
with its red crest and habit of darting in at the suet.
He highlights those flashes of color against the now-drab of the yard,
the dormant raised beds and the mulch of spent seed hulls
and guano.  I like the blood-orange beak and dull coat of the lady cardinal myself,
the way she seeks cover, here and gone again if we have not done our job
of putting the seed far enough under a bush.  On any given day, though, I’ll feed
and be fed by whatever wings in.

The rose trellis

It takes time to rebuild what one tempest brings down.  (Tempest in literal hours or metaphor as months or years, pick your perspective.)  First, you’ve got to cut back the wreckage of roses, years’ worth of beautiful growth, heirlooms and hybrids, all tangled and thorny and a veritable reminder of what you’ve left lying dormant too long, then let it lie until the blooms have died back and you’ve filled all the vases all over the house with the beauty that still (still) is there, no matter the mess of it all.

And then, when it’s all been cut back, runners and canes gone to ground and all of the pruned bits are bundled and bagged and then (inspiration!) why don’t you have stackable trashcans for this (the old dog has tricks in her yet, because you may be a bitch but that term doesn’t mean anything here in the yard) it’s all set aside and you’ve even remembered the date for yard waste pickup (it feels good to be organized, like a real adult, yes it does) you’ve got to pull down the wreck of the wood you put up with some kind of “help” decades ago.  Now, power and hand tools and pry bars and sledgehammers at hand, your shoulders and arms ache in different ways than they did when the trellis went up the first time, when much shouting and swearing about levels and measures and the “right” way occurred, when really, roses don’t care as long as there’s some kind of solid support. Eight-five degrees versus ninety won’t kill a wild thing as long as the inches and feet all add up and the ends meet, more or less.  (Now your eyes sting with sweat and sawdust and your arms shake with effort, but you shoulder the support beams yourself as you pry them away where the masonry anchors are rusted fast to the wall, and that rip-crack feels good, in a way, saying something final the tempest did not.  Destruction can be good for the soul.)

And then it’s time to rebuild.  There’s the handheld masonry bit, your grandpa’s whom you never knew except through his tools and this house with its ancient wiring that holds, that and the set of your father’s chin, just like his dad’s in the photographs on top of the silent piano.  The chink of old iron against stone is satisfaction itself, the reverberation through your body from the bit/hammer/swing of your arm placing new anchors (ones that you bought without interference from dudes who may well have wanted to help, but you’ve got Storey’s Wisdom and the internet, too, not to mention a basement full of a dead master contractor’s bits, bolts and bobs and why not put history to your own use, this time?).  There’s a feel not just of power but of placement, creation, in the whir-grind-hot burr of the old (as old as you) Skil power drill, extended from the garage thanks to the trench you dug through the yard two years ago and the line you had laid out from the house (sometimes it’s okay to accept you have your limits) as the special concrete bits dig in and bite, take anchor and pull you forward as you push, cast your anchors in stone and then set your planks, two by four by eight hardwood cut to fit the wonky dimensions of mortar and stone.

Vertical struts go on first, drilled and anchored and screwed as the sun crosses the sky and hits your neck and shoulders around the crabapple tree (and today you don’t look up for Icarus, no, today you’re not flying too close or falling, not trying and failing, glorious in momentary success, today you’re just a gardener, because catching a fish feeds you one day, but fixing your garden feeds you for months in more than just the physical way), and then once they’re done, the horizontal slatwork, easy, compared, but un-anchored and needing more verticals to hold the whole rigging in place.  It’s a sailboat of sorts, though it’s a ship that sails with the seasons and sun, and not with the wind– at least, you hope not for a while, not like the last blow that brought the last bout of hard work cracking down.

And then last but not least, the oil stain, rubbed on by hand as the ladder teeters a bit underfoot– but it’s not far to the ground, and you’re not wearing wax wings, nor will you be hurt by more than some thorns (would that thorns were all that could hurt us), because you’ve been careful in your construction to pick up the nails, screws and bolts as you go, to be tidy and not leave too much scrap because as you’ve worked, the roses have already budded green, inches and feet gained back from the retraining you gave them at the start of this all.   There’s a moment of silence for the dragonfly who flew too close and was wing-splattered with stain.  He is still, stiff by the time you see him, resting on top of a thatch of Lillian Gibson’s regrowth, a fingernail’s worth of driftwood-colored weatherproofing forever stilling his flight.  It’s an unworthy thought, to think that some flies must die so that things bigger than them can live, but still, there’s something else, if not worthy, than worthwhile of acceptance:  even when you’re rebuilding a rose trellis with as much care as you can, you can’t look everywhere all the time, and there are bound to be splits in the wood, spots that you’ve missed, and tempests that you cannot predict, somewhere, off, outside the yard.

Too, it’s a comfort to know (grounding, it is) that just you, Storey’s Wisdom, a well-planned trip to Lowe’s, and the contents of your dad’s and grandfather’s basement built you something your roses, crabapples, and other things to be fruitful and counted-upon in the future, built this all by yourself, give or take five degrees.  You’ve taken a measure, and somehow, it fits.

Spines through the water

I’m reading reviews of the Godzilla film (film, like it’s art and not just a circus, projected onscreen) and thinking— boy, Anthony Lane just doesn’t get it.  Sure, snappy dialogue & good jokes would be nice, good acting too, but the point of any and every Godzilla film is Godzilla.  Period.  Exclamation point, even, dig in with the tips of one of the spines on his capable back.  If you get some token A-lists to chew scenery and one of them happens to know how to say the monster’s name with the “right” “Japanese” intonation, then, well, they’ve done their job.  Of course there’s going to be some kid in peril, some stupid sideline love story to propel the “action” along, a landmark bridge or three to threaten or wreck, a city or five that gets smashed.  You can throw all the ecological or cultural subjugation/appropriation or globalization or global warming or nuclear threat metaphors you like at the screen— heavy-handed dialogue about all the wasteful and stupid things humans do is all well & good, it’s not like it isn’t true, but the point of it all is this, at the end:

Spines, rippling through water.  Strong, scaly thighs stomping onto the shore.  A monster so big he re-defines awesome each time we see him, each time we re-do him in clay or plastic or hi-def CGI— he’s hard to grasp except in glimpses— lashes of tail, swipes of his stubby yet capable arms, that instantly recognizable (and always surprisingly higher-pitched than we thought it would be) roar that he has, as he throws his head back and says, in his way— move it, I’ve got this, this is bigger than anything that you can handle, and I’ve emerged, yet again, from the depths of your oceanic subconscious to defeat all the monsters— the Mothras, King Kongs, the aliens from outer space— that your small monkey brains can only shoot guns at, or nuke, when we all ought to have learned from the last dozen films that the nuclear option is not the end of the story, it’s just a waste.   When Godzilla roars, it’s just the buildup, and while he might go down, he always gets up— in the end, he rips off Mothra’s head and screams lightning down her throat, crisping her into insect BBQ that always has us roaring hooray, even as Godzilla himself thows his head back again to let loose that primal yell of “I did it, all by myself.”  Sure, the humans might have lit a nest of eggs on fire, maybe, but who’s to say Godzilla wouldn’t have gone back and done it himself once the real fight was through?  The point of Godzilla is this— the monster, rising once again from the dust and the wreckage, surveys the bodies of the more monstrous monsters strewn about, then snorts to himself in private amusement as the monkeys on shore cheer and he slides, once again, into the ocean, cool and home.  Godzilla, the king of the monsters who saves us from ourselves when we don’t know what to do.  Godzilla, Prince Charming, swims off to his underwater castle again, spines cutting through blue-green until it’s time to submerge, and we, a whole race of Princesses, wave from the shore, not certain when he’ll return.  We know one thing for sure; poets will tell tales of the deadly lash of his tail and the blast of his death-ray until those spines through the water are sighted again.

Ways of looking

I follow the English public thinker Alain de Botton on Twitter, and while I don’t always agree with him, he does provoke thought in his posts, books, and links, which of course is the whole purpose of being a live, working philosopher.  Yesterday, he tweeted about the “evils” of photography versus learning to draw and linked to an article in The Philosopher’s Mail about phone-photography versus sketching.  I don’t agree with the article, by and large.

The points I chose to take away from the article were:

1) we shouldn’t be living our lives through our gadgets, and that phone camera snaps shouldn’t substitute for being actually present in a moment, for noticing the minute details versus just collecting proof that Kilroy Was Here before we move on quickly, because there’s a (socially constructed and inherently false) schedule to keep to so that we can document to the next snapchattable moment, and,

2) by cultivating a “slow” skill such as drawing, especially when it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us, we learn to take in the world in a different way, to truly notice the depth of beauty all around us and all the fine details that we can breathe in if we just look,

3) the ability to look and perceive both the whole and its details is important.

I agree, fully, that there are too many of us who are distracted in our everyday doings, but it didn’t start with the camera– perhaps with the telegraph, or same day post.  The fact is, life is fast and has been getting faster since the invention of the printing press (darn that Gutenberg, he had no value for the small quiet value of hand-inked vellum), and “drawing” as a way to stop & smell the roses is all well and good as a metaphor.  It’s not so great as a general moral proposition.

The points inherent in the article with which I take issue are, if not legion, ones that have been brought up by people far more articulate than me–

1) that a camera phone photograph cannot inherently capture finer details,

2) that the takers of camera phone photographs are all rushing, rushing, rushing, rather than– pausing to notice and focus in on that detail– the cornice of that building, that tulip, that couple embracing,

 

3) that the takers of camera phone photographs do not take the time, later, to share that captured detail with other people later, either in print or on one of the many social media sites where photographers congregate to share photos, look for those details they personally find beautiful and worthy of documentation and sharing (Instagram? Flickr?  Twitter?  Does Mr. de Botton not know about photography social media platforms, or that photos can be shared on the platform he uses?)

4) that all the details & moments captured on camera phones are inherently “shallow”– selfies or fashion shots or pictures of expensive meals or other consumables rather than externally objective objects of beauty– travel, nature, animals, smiles, architecture, “what a wondrous thing is man” when he manages to capture a macro of a peacock feather– when, in fact, a review of any mobile photography website will show you the whole range of human and earthly existence,

5) that drawing is inherently and always better than phone (or any other) photography, and that photography is not, therefore, art, however “art” is defined,

6) that camera phone photography, as an “art” and a “skill” is something that does not inspire the doer toward improvement, toward other forms of the art, toward more technique or toward gatherings with like-minded persons who likewise seek to gather & appreciate the beauty out there in the world.  (One word/hashtag: #instameet.)  I didn’t start out with a camera phone, for my own self, but my little point & shoots, and my desire to improve my own naked eye shots of the things out there in the world have certainly caused me to read more about how to frame, how to compose, whether to upgrade to a DSLR (and I did) so that I could capture better, finer, more beauty than I had been able to heretofore.  I have met and know many, many, many folks online & in person whose “gateway” drug was the point & shoot or the iPhone, but now they go on photo safaris & print out real art, real beauty, real moments that reflect our world as it is– or as we’d like it to be.

I have no problem, at all, with people who have the time and perseverance to sketch, paint, or engage in other forms of non-photography art.  I admire the talent and ambition and stick-to-itiveness that it takes.  But it is an unassailable truth that life does move quickly, and all the slowing down and taking time to smell the roses (or sketch them, as the argument would suppose) doesn’t change the fact that in the every day churn of it all, sometimes we don’t have the time to stop and sketch, because we haven’t got the concatenation of timing, life circumstances and courage to choose to do anything other than get to work and take care of our selves and our loved ones in mundane, material ways.

It would be nice, lovely, ideal, to live a more artistic, more reflective life in more moments over the spread of a lifetime– but sometimes, realistically speaking, a camera phone shot and five minutes to notice whatever image you saw is all the time you have in a day to notice the beauty and humanity around you.

Five minutes’ pause on your way is better than none.

I also freely admit that there are a hell of a lot of pretty pictures of flowers and beloved children and cats of no particular artistic inspiration on the internet and in photo albums all over the world– though I would also argue that art isn’t always the point of a photograph, because it is also useful in capturing a moment, preserving a memory, and whether it does it with more or less technique or artistry is less important than the preservation itself.

In that regard, photography in its speed does what sketching (and those without patience or time or talent or any combination of those you choose to combine in your moral judgment) does not– it preserves a moment in time which, looked back upon, recalls happiness, even if it is done artlessly.

I’d also argue that today’s selfie might be someone else’s coup de foudre— art is at least partly subjective, after all, and however much sarcasm someone else might inflect the term with, to the aficionado, an iPhone shot of “nail art” has meaning and increases the general quantum of happiness– if some of it is at the shallow end of life’s pool, why does everything have to be deep? I’m not trying to say that there is no objective truth, or larger, important set of truths, but if a shallow happiness works for that person in that particular moment, or if something that seems trite to one person is meaningful to another– well.  I’m happy to wait while someone is standing on the sidewalk before me, taking a camera phone shot of something they find to have meaning.

 All pictures taken on my Google Droid phone, and uploaded to my Flickr, via Instagram & its various automatic filters.

 

Squirrel scramble

They’re wrestling, or maybe they’re mating, it’s hard to tell– they scurry and chase, bite, tumble and thump in the mud that’s just sprouting with green.  It’s an in-between season, and while today it could be high 50s, tomorrow it’s snow.  No wonder the squirrels are confused.