Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Countdown...

...to something, I think.

All sorts of obstacles are popping up in the way of my planned departure for the west. Best Case Scenario? Leave Thursday. Worst Case? Leave Saturday, and then my leisurely 5-night drive becomes a mad sprint.

I picked up some super-sized doggy downers for Large Dog, just in case we do the latter.

To all you dog lovers out there...have any of you ever driven 2200 miles with an 80 lbs. bundle of energetic affection? I inherited a crate from my sister-in-law's GSP when we adopted Large Dog, and I'd planned to secure it in the rear of the mom-mobile I'll be driving, but this afternoon I took a good look at the dog beside the kennel and there appears to be too much of the former and not enough of the latter. I don't know where to find one of those barrier gates (much less how I'd get it installed in time), and I'm not sure where it would go with the van's back seat stowed.

Any ideas would be welcomed.

The frenetic pace of preparation is taking up time and energy I'd rather spend writing, but whattcha gonna do?

I'm hoping to get a USB wireless antenna for Miss Mac so I can be in touch from the road. Anyone used one with a Mac?

I shall now hit post, and wait for the excellent advice to flood in.

Or maybe I'll just pour a drink and fold clothes.

Postscript: I was able to leave on June 1, but I only made it to Wichita Falls on day one - I ran into a giant thunderstorm around dark-thirty. Who knew it was going to be the start of the deluge? From then it was on to Raton, Laramie, Salt Lake City, and Lakeview.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sandwiches I Have Loved

I’m a dog with a bone when it comes to metaphor. I just can’t let it go; it’s the English major’s curse.

So, tonight, I’m thinking about sandwiches and their boundaries.

Last night, I played around with the conventional definition of “Sandwich Generation.” But what of other sandwiches?

I think several of you might find some resonance in the idea of a sandwich with mismatched bread. Mine looks a little like this: one piece of bread is rich, yeasty-sweet, earthy-dark whole grain…hearty but not dry, complex in its flavors and nutritive value. The other is that bastardization: “whole grain white.” Its essence – its breadness, if you will - is subservient to conventional tastes; its nutrients are masked, hidden, sneaky.

Another image that pops into my mind? One slice: the crust perfectly trimmed off, destined for a ladies’ luncheon, utterly controlled and presentable. The other? Ripped from a luscious baguette, with a light but crispy crust and a soft, airy center. One side came home in a luxury car, the other in a bicycle’s wicker pannier.

Or what about this? You sit in a restaurant and listen to two diners as they order. One chooses turkey on sourdough…or maybe roast beef on white. The other chooses hummus with pita chips, a sandwich that requires participation and effort. How can these people get along? Make a marriage? Sustain a friendship?

That’s all a bit grim, so let me tell you about a few of my favorite non-figurative sandwiches to lighten things up. Interestingly enough, I seldom order a sandwich anymore; what follows are the reasons why (and then, of course, there's the fear of a King's Death).

Geppetto’s, in Ashland, OR, does amazing things with bread and meat (or its substitutes). If I order a burger, I request fagazi (sic) rather that a traditional bun. Amazing results. The menu always has “sandwich on today’s special roll.” I yearn for sliced leg of lamb on a rosemary/olive oil roll. I wince at the memory of locally caught steelhead on whatever bread they chose to use.

In Hanover, NH, two sandwiches come to mind: anything with boursin at Peter Christian’s ("Peter’s Favorite Fantasy" is a good pick) and the burger at EBA (Everything But Anchovies); the latter makes its own buns…some kind of Portuguese thing that I’ve never seen replicated. It’s been 15 years since I’ve been in Hanover, but I can still taste this food somewhere deep in my brain. I’d mention the lobster and steamers at Blood’s, but this is about sandwiches, damn it!

Many people think you need to visit the East Coast to get a real deli corned beef or hot pastrami sandwich. I’m sure those sandwiches are wonderful, but I’ll always love Gilbert’s in Dallas (this review is based on the old location at Preston/Forest. I fear they did not survive the move to Addison.), where the thinly sliced cured meat came almost three inches thick.

I’ve obviously veered off course…classic defense mechanism.

Please share your sandwiches, be they reality or metaphor.

I’m hungry for both.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Between the slices....


Ah, reality. The mundane. The quotidian.
Whatever you want to call it, I’ve hit the blogging version of what my friends and I used to call The Twenty Minute Lull. It’s the point in a conversation when anything interesting stops, and everyone wonders if it will ever start again. My daily comings and goings (none of which would interest 99.9 percent of you), combined with some personal surprises, have kept me from writing. And yes, I know, nothing should keep me from writing. I’m aware of that, so shut your pie hole (this last imperative applies only to certain readers, and you know who you are).

As you can tell from the date/time stamp, I’m enjoying my usual exciting Saturday night. Here’s what’s on my mind.


I used to laugh at those popular culture labels…that is until I found one stuck on my shirt: The Sandwich Generation. Perhaps the term would have been more precise if it had been coined thusly: The Shit Sandwich Generation.

Without revealing too much personal (i.e. boring) detail, I’m slap in between the slices and I feel like excrement. My mother, who is 85, has been holding her own against the inoperable Stage IV cancer that was discovered, by fluke, in her otherwise healthy body exactly a year ago. She was given three months with no treatment, maybe as much as a year with palliative chemo – that is, if she responded. She did. I hope every day that my genetic lottery card will reveal such vigor when I get around to scratching it off in old age.

But in a Groundhog Day flashback, at yesterday’s oncologist appointment – the one I was hoping would ease both of our minds so that I could hit the road to Oregon this Wednesday and she could hit the skies to California for her usual summer visit in July – we did not get the best of news.

That’s one slice of bread.

The other? My seven-year-old child, brimming with life, who missed the summer in Oregon last year as a result of the diagnosis, has been counting on this summer’s trip for 365 days, and who may very well miss it again this year.

What’s in the middle of the sandwich? Me, feeling alternatively altruistic and selfish, wondering where my obligations lie. Mother or child? Behind or ahead? And dare the poop consider her own needs?

What I wouldn’t give for a crystal ball. I suspect many of you are in the same boat.

Of course, the obligations toward Mother can easily be read as obligations toward Child, as well. Last year, when my mother apologized for our change of plans, I told her not to be silly. I told her that, in a way, she was giving her grandchild a gift through her illness. I very much remember the deaths of the two grandparents who died in my early childhood. I remember sitting in hospital waiting rooms. I remember seeing old people in extremis. Both of my grandmothers lived with us, at different times (I even shared a room with one for a while), and I saw what it was like to be old. I remember families coming together. I remember figuring out that life goes on, and that death need not be scary.

Now, many of my child’s friends’ grandparents live far away. If they live nearby, their aging has been managed and ameliorated, disinfected. Ill grandparents seldom come to live in a child’s home. Illness happens behind closed doors, ones behind which children are not welcome, usually in big scary hospitals where no one would dream of taking a child.

If we could manage to normalize death and illness, I told my mother, we would be giving my child an advantage her peers would not have. We could give her an idea of humanity writ large. And this indeed came to pass to a degree, but not with the drama I’d anticipated. We’ve been very matter-of-fact about everything. For one thing, my mother never spent a day in bed, not even during the worst of chemo. When she began to lose her hair, for another, my child and I took her to have the remaining patchy strands shaved off. It was a surprisingly upbeat event. We made what could have been traumatic commonplace.

My mother would be the first to tell you that she has had a long and wonderful life; she does not want to disrupt mine. If I am brutally honest, I don’t want my life disrupted. I could head west and fly home if things take a turn for the True Worse.

But that does not seem like the right thing to do.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Summertime...

Today brought two harbingers of summer. Bluebirds? Lazy swims in sun dappled ponds?

Where do you think I live...paradise?

No, today I had two experiences that made it very clear that the hell season is about to descend with a vengeance.

1. The inevitable school awards assembly at which students are awarded for such things as showing up and doing push-ups. Academics? Huh? Can't mention success there. It makes the other 90% of the kids feel bad about themselves.

2. While I was enjoying one of the few remaining evenings al fresco before the bone-crushing heat arrives, I was feasted upon by both mosquitoes and fire ants. My child has already had the initial encounter with chiggers. Those from 'round these parts know how pleasant that is. Those who dwell in more temperate climes - count your blessings.

Yes, it's time for sunscreen, bug spray, and air conditioning.

But, if all goes well, Large Dog and I will be hitting the road next week for a long visit in the NW. I am fortunate, indeed!

Back to substance soon!

My traveling partner:


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Unscathed "Service"

Over the years, I’ve volunteered with and served on the boards of several non-profit organizations. I also volunteer at my child’s school. Recently, each group –and I mean each and every group– has had difficulty finding individuals willing to serve as officers and difficulty building membership. And fundraising? That has gone beyond difficult to nearly impossible.

Today’s hypothesis? Community mindedness is not an identifying feature of The Unscathed Generation.

Don’t get me wrong. We give money and time. But, at least in my experience, that giving is motivated by one of two things: tax benefits and the possibility of a direct, positive effect on the volunteer’s/donor’s live.

When I look at the plaques that grace the entrances of public buildings here in my city, the names of board members or capital campaign leaders are usually familiar ones. But those names belong almost exclusively to our parents’ cohort. These men and women apparently put a great deal of effort, when they were close to my age, in making sure that those less fortunate had access to the kind of facilities and services that they took for granted.

Now I’m not totally na├»ve. Their service paid off for them in tangible ways: increased business, prestige, political capital. And it certainly wasn’t a function of their liberal political leanings as the vast majority form a solidly conservative voting bloc (despite their disapproval of the Republican Party’s subservience to the religious right). I’m also aware (although I don’t entirely understand) that, at the time most of these buildings were built, economic factors were far more favorable to such projects that they are now.

Family structures were different, as well. Kids had one, maybe two, after school activities. Our parents did not have as many balls in the air as my friends and I do (three kids can equal up to six sports leagues’ practices and games, three or more music/dance/art lessons, church activities for those who participate in a congregation, tutoring, etc.) Fortunate families often had close to full time help; women did not have to work to keep things afloat. And, yes, I know that a good part of this was directly related to economic realities and social mores that were, at root, unjust.

But, somehow, community building was a responsibility this generation took seriously.

Why don’t we?

Some see the social and political consequences of me-attitudes that took root in the Reagan Era and spread like kudzu. And there’s truth to that. But I believe a larger part of the answer lies in the lack of community identity I wrote about last night. I know that my life feels increasingly rushed, isolated, and compartmentalized. People seem to choose one smaller community, of which they are members, and focus entirely on improving it; in this part of the country it is a church, more often than not. Energy that, in the past, might have resulted in a state-of-the-art YMCA, open to all, leads instead to six different congregations boasting “Family Life Centers” bursting with gyms, media rooms, and amazing kitchen facilities enjoyed only by members. It seems to me that every hour spent serving a closely defined community to the exclusion of those with no access to its benefits – even if that lack of access is a function of choice rather than explicit exclusion - is an hour of self-interest.

I am guilty as charged. In fact, I’m about to resign from a board as soon as I finish this entry. My 85-year-old mother is ill, and my seven-year-old child is vigorous. Without the energy of a twenty-something and daily household help, I must choose between home and the greater community where service is concerned. The best I can do is find an outlet where my efforts will have a positive outcome for other families, not just mine. Right now, that means I spend a lot of time at the elementary school and on committees related to school district issues. My heart longs to spend time with Planned Parenthood and the local library. But my clock doesn’t have enough hours.

Does yours?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Warning: Generalization Ahead...

The Greatest Generation. Baby Boomers. Gen-X. Gen-Y.
But where, oh where, oh where am I?

Poetically, that sucks an incredibly big one of some kind or another. But, I think, the question is sound.

My friend Freebird’s 50th birthday has me thinking about more than the fact that mine will follow in one year, seven months, and six days (not that anyone’s counting). If I were going to “talk about my generation,” what would I put in the conversation (and, yes, I feel like a poseur for quoting The Who)?

When I was out walking Large Dog this evening, I let my mind range over the group of folks I’m fortunate enough to count as friends. Just exactly where do we fit? What is our defining moment? What are our catalysts? What gives us meaning, both personally and socially? I am not in the slightest bit qualified to issue an opinion that isn’t based entirely on anecdote and observation but, hey, this is a blog…not hard social science. So here goes.

Let me offer myself as a case study. I was born in 1958, at the midpoint of Eisenhower’s second term. My father served in the Army briefly before WWII, then in the Navy during the war. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. Neither parent completed a college degree. My two sisters graduated from high school in 1962 and 1968, respectively; this puts them solidly in the Baby Boomer demographic, although neither of them fit particularly well into the stereotypes of the time. Sister One certainly never cruised the strip a la American Graffiti, and Sister Two lived a totally non-countercultural life. Civil Rights? Watts? Either Kennedy assassination? Kent State? I can assure you that I, at age 10, was more engaged in debate on those issues than the rest of my familo.

I finished high school in 1977. All those years  - observing societal complacency - I’d waited for my majority, ready to step up to the activist’s plate on some burning social issue. I’d grown up hearing about The Great Depression (my parents were older than most) and The War Years. I’d watched all the great “moments” of the sixties on television. I’d pasted peace signs inside my bedroom closet because my conservative father didn’t approve of them and gazed longingly at my life-size poster of Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (humorous note: my father had no problems with the poster. He hadn’t seen the movie but he heartily approved of Henry Fonda – or at least of the packaged image Hollywood pumped out. If he’d known the truth about any of the Fondas, that poster would have been off the wall in a second).

At eighteen, I stepped out into the world and found…. Saturday Night Fever and Star Wars. And I’ll admit it: disco was danced.

We'd try to be socially conscious, but something was always a bit off. We were impostors, children in too-big shoes. The great battles had been waged, if not won: civil rights, Vietnam, feminism and reproductive choice. I was reaping the benefits without having done any of the work.

The picture in my college yearbook, senior year, of me with my little preppy hairdo and "Women Against Reagan" shirt says it better than I ever could.

All right. Now you know more about me than either of us really wants you to know. Where’s the meat of this post?

I am hereby anointing my demographic "The Unscathed Generation." You heard it here first.

Don’t get me wrong. We are not without our scars. But they are personal rather than collective ones, and for that very reason they may, in some ways, be deepest. We bear them inside. They are specific to our individual lives. We’ve buried parents. And spouses. And children. We’ve suffered tragic accidents, disability, economic adversity, addiction, and incarceration. We’ve anguished over sexuality and seen the lives of those we loved - or might have loved - lost to the ravages of AIDS or the searing grief of an elective termination.

Earlier generations banded together in response to threats foreign and domestic. Our threats come to us in isolation. Any community we form is dependent on self-revelation. We cannot seek comfort in common experience.

We have no shared text.

I welcome, and hope for, comments on this issue. My thoughts are still brewing on this and I plan to come back to it tomorrow or the next day on the implications for our society now that we, The Unscathed, are reaching middle age.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ruminating...

...on birthday parties and trips ahead.

I started an entry tonight, out on the patio, right after Large Dog took a big, uninvited slurp out of the pear martini I'd carelessly placed on the chaise lounge. An old friend turned fifty yesterday and I wanted to do an entry-as-homage. I could not, however, find a way to make it interesting to anyone but a small circle. So I set it aside and will work on something that all those new readers DYR sent my way might find vaguely entertaining.

But for now, if you're out there...

Happy Birthday, Freebird!

Wish I could be there to celebrate with you and yours.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Work product!

Thanks to DYR for sending this lovely photo of the collaborative art piece my friends and I did the first evening of our getaway weekend! Seven women, one cool installation.

The next morning, one of our number departed early. Those who remained decided that, rather than visit the Body Worlds exhibit or hang out by the pool, we would do another group painting as a gift for the woman who'd left early; she is moving east this summer and we thought a painting would be a tangible representation of our friendship she could hang in her new house.

I'm not as crazy about the second one, as I don't think it has quite the spontaneity of the first one. But we did have a wonderful lazy morning, talking and painting. DYR was kind enough to come over and photograph the piece, although my living room floor is decidedly inferior to an unfurled room service menu in terms of backdrop:


EACGP reports that her husband has spent a good deal of time analyzing and attributing the sections. Feel free to do the same!


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Immersion

For years, I was a vocabulary nerd (“Was? WAS”? I can hear those of you know me shouting). I’m sure this is some genetic quirk, which bloomed into full blown disease around 1974 when I began Latin classes and my sophomore English teacher began her own personal mission to turn us into SAT champions.

Ahhhhhh…I dream about those pre-No-Child-Left-Behind days, when teachers could actually give their students what they needed rather than what the state thought they needed. We actually were held accountable for what we were supposed to learn; no retaking tests until our grades were high, a practice my buddies with older children inform me is rampant.

My friends and I would sit around my dining room table, trying to trip each other up. Those teachers were like drug dealers; that vocabulary workbook and those declensions and conjugations were my gateway drugs. Next thing I knew it, I was an English major…and you all know where that leads.

Anyway, a whole mess o’ words ended up in my head, and their meanings became specialized with additional training. Along the way, I developed an intense loathing for jargon (I had kind of a rumspringa in grad school, but we all need some youthful rebellion). To this day, terms like “network” used as a verb set my teeth on edge as surely as a Styrofoam cooler squeaking in the back seat. But every vocation has its own language, and I became proficient in mine.

This is all fine and good, until you find yourself in what I’ll call The Land of Missing Vocabulary (insert diabolical laugh here). I first ventured across its borders in a precalculus-type class when I encountered the term “function.” I simply could not get my mind around that word’s mathematical meaning. I dug in my heels after that year: no more math for me. I was staying at home.

Fast-forward 30 years. Last weekend, six of my friends and I headed south to The Suburbs of the Big City for a couple of days of self-indulgence involving a spa, long meals, some killer caramel corn, and a reasonable amount of alcohol. All was going well until two of them entered the suite we were using as a gathering place, brandished some shopping bags, and announced, “We have a wonderful idea!” They proceed to open the bags and then dropped onto the table - right in front of me -

Paint. Canvases. Brushes.

“We’re each going to make a painting,” announced European Art College Graduate Painter (EACGP). “Then we can arrange it and I’ll hang it in my house.”

The two of them looked at my increasingly pale face.

“Come on. It’ll be fun,” chimed in Talented Painter II (TP2). “You can do it.”

“What a great idea,” chortled She Who Makes Amazing Assemblages and Altered Books, also known in this blog as DYR.

Luckily, there were seven of us and only six canvases. I pointed this out and said, “That’s okay, because I haven’t the first idea what to do.”

“Nonsense. You simply can’t screw up. These are acrylics. They’re very forgiving. You can split a canvas with someone,” said EACGP. And the die was cast.

Resigned, I picked up a brush.

About an hour in, it hit me. I'd wandered across a border into a group of natives, people who know the meaning of “gesso.” And the following words came out of my mouth, “I know what I want to do, but I can’t describe it or translate it onto this canvas. I just don’t have the vocabulary for this.”

The native speakers were helpful. TP2 offered a couple of technical hints. EACGP told me to just keep going. We had a marvelous time, and the final product was amazing. Somehow my half of the canvas didn’t embarrass me.

On reflection, I realized I’d been through two hours of the painting equivalent of language immersion. I remember walking into the first day of college French class and walking out without having understood a single word. By the end of the term, despite my inability to get the “R” right (you can take the girl out of Texas…), I could exchange a couple of sentences with a native speaker. It took going underwater, a place where I am not comfortable (at least not without scuba gear). But it worked.

This last week, I bought my own set of paints and brushes. I ordered some books. I’ve decided that it’s not too late to learn a second language. Most likely I'll never become fluent. But you never know. My friends and I are going to spend the next few months sharing our various talents and trying new media. Maybe one of these dialects will suit my ear.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Brewing..

I'm busy cooking and thinking about what I'm going to write about next.

I'm considering pears, pretension, and missing vocabularies.

Keep watching this spot!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Found Poem

What am I like now?
I’m thinking about those bugs that skate on top of the water.
Or do they skitter?
Hell, I can’t think of the word.
I never can any more.
But you know those bugs?
The jerky ones?

Once, I filled my lungs
With luxurious breath
And slipped below the surface.
With infinite time
I circled, languid.
My hair swam past my face
But I felt no need to swat it away.
The current would do.
My words would do.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ego, Superego, and the iPod...

When Sigmund Freud arrived in America for a speaking engagement in the early 20th century, he uttered the following words: “I am bringing them the plague.”* This happy, joyous statement is one of my all-time favorite quotes. Years ago, a good friend who shares my sense of irony gave me a little pillow – crisp, pristine white cotton cover; a ruffle, edged in pink, all the way around; a minute sprinkling of tasteful pastel flowers in the corners – with those words embroidered in baby blue. I love to see people pick it up, expecting some sweet sentiment; it’s always amusing to watch their expressions change.

Freud’s terms are bandied about with great regularity by folks who have never read a word he wrote; I admit up front I’ve read only a small sampling of his work, enough to insure I didn’t appear stupid when discussing or reading psychoanalytic criticism and to insure that I would appear moronic to anyone with a serious grounding in Freud, Jung, or Lacan. But like Marx and Marxists, Freud and Freudians are separate things altogether. People have a tendency to take source theory and muscle it into their own agendas. They become infected with the plague of self-importance and groundless certainty.

But I digress. This isn’t an entry about Oedipus or how a foot fetishist (or a political extremist on either end of the spectrum) is born.

What is it about? Rorschach tests or iPod playlists, the 21st century version of the inkblot.

I’m a literal person. I am, to my knowledge, un-hypnotize-able. I have trouble with traditional forms of mediation. Am I a control freak? I don’t think so (although others who know me may disagree). Am I fearful? Maybe…fearful of misinterpretation. I tend to choose consciously. Or at least I think I do. Dr. Freud would likely disagree.

My iPod holds several playlists. Those of you in my age group may remember making mix tapes. Playlists are like that. I agonized over each of them, choosing songs very carefully, vetting lyrics. I once had a playlist ready to send to a friend, but threw the entire idea out because one song out of twenty - Billy Joel’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Light as the Breeze” - had the phrase “[t]here is blood on every bracelet” and I’d just learned about a suicide attempt in his family. I was terrified he might think I was making some kind of “statement,” when the truth was I’d just picked the song because I liked it and I thought he would, too.

A couple of months ago, however, I thought I’d try something different. I opened a playlist – I left it labeled “untitled playlist” on purpose – and began to scroll through my iTunes library, picking songs without much thought, simply because they appealed in the moment. Sixty-eight songs and a few weeks later, I decided to look at the songs and see what they told me.

I’ll keep my conclusions private (although I was, for a moment, surprised by the many lyrical references to water), but I will say that letting go of a script and letting my heart make choices led to an entirely different set of songs. They told an interesting story, a surprisingly accurate depiction of my current state of mind. For once, I saw a story in the blot of ink on the page.

In my last entry I wrote about my inability to create visual representations of things (more on this in a future entry). I’ve also mentioned the tendency toward self-censorship that has inhibited my writing. Not to overdramatize, but this particular playlist represents, I think, a tiny breakthrough.

It is nothing if not an aural collage. I had to cede control, abandon a plan, and merely move songs from one place to another as fancy directed. What resulted was beautiful. And, more importantly, fresh and liberating.

Which brings us back around to Freud’s “plague.” I know I’m guilty of the kind of theory appropriation I derided early in this post, but perhaps the plague is introspection. It can make you very ill. It can cripple you in a cycle of endless navel-gazing and prevent you from living. If you avoid it, you trap yourself in a surface existence. But if you use it, inhale awareness into yourself and exhale it into the world, you emerge from the illness stronger, with your immunity enhanced.

After all, the Black Death left some survivors.

* I am a stickler for documentation, so I am compelled to say that I no longer have the source document. My recollection is that Freud was speaking to a colleague in response to an American audience’s enthusiasm for his theories. The full quote, I think, is “They do not know I am bringing them the plague.” While I’m not sure on the year, I’m almost positive it was either 1909 or 1913. Mea culpa.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

My Damn Brain...

I’m a great believer in figurative language. It’s much easier for me to describe something – particularly a situation or a feeling - with a simile, metaphor, or image than it is with a long string of adjectives. I can write analytically with great precision. But when I try to produce a verbal description or explanation, my brain responds with – and here’s a great example of my inability to describe – something between a snapshot, painting, and movie. For example, when I consider how to understand bad news or some personal setback, I see/think “river.” With that one image, I remember that the current will remove an obstruction and, if I can just be patient, the stream will again flow clear. But it takes so many words, so much explanation, to communicate that simple picture to someone else.

One of my fascinations with neurology (it’s my secret twin’s fantasy career) is my brain’s inability to communicate thought processes, succinctly, in words. I guess it’s that hemispheric conflict between linear and spatial. The part of my brain that could create visual art, or even fiction, has a glitch somewhere between origin and expression I guess.

In literature, they call this the “objective correlative.” Here’s T.S. Eliot explaining it far better than I could:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

If you want to see this in action, read Hemingway’s short story “Cat in the Rain.”

Yesterday, the phrase “I’m just barely hanging on” and its variants (“by the skin of my teeth,” “by my fingernails,” “end of the rope,” “on my last nerve,” and so on) kept popping into my head. These all imply that the failure to “hang on” would cause the subject to plunge into some undesirable state or situation; the “hanging” prevents crisis or destruction.

The visual image that came along took a totally different spin. The person in that picture was not hanging on to something or off of something with her hands. No, not at all. She was hanging on with her toes. And the abyss did not threaten chaos. It offered relief.

Think of the pools of your childhood. Remember what we called the “high board?” Think of your toes gripping the end. Or being perched on a cliff, grabbing the edge of the earth with your feet. Now you’re with me.

The high board always terrified me. The jumpers were having so much fun. They squealed. They laughed. They popped up like corks and climbed again for more. Me? I sat there stewing, wanting to climb but knowing it wasn’t going to happen. This had nothing to do with fear of heights. It was all about the fall, the impact-driven submersion. It was, I suppose, fear of a plunge into bliss.

I have this friend (am I talking about myself here or about someone else? Doesn’t really matter; it’s a convenient construct) who is gripping the edge with his toes. The water below looks delightful. It’s clear and deep, and the current is slow and gentle. He’d like to think of the fall as a slow-motion plunge through soft summer air, the submersion as a clean knifing into an altered world, the result as a back float down a sleepy river through dappled sunlight. But what if, what if, what if….?

Feel the grit of the board on the balls of your feet. Feel the pads on your toes as they grip the smooth front.

Why can’t you just uncurl and let go?


If you'd like to read T.S. Eliot's essay, "Hamlet and His Problems," go to this link: http://www.bartleby.com/200/sw9.html

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Relief, at last!

I've been silent for a few days thanks to computer woes. Now she's back, my Mac, with all sorts of new things inside.

I drove home from the Apple store with my iPod on shuffle, singing at the top of my lungs. Now that everyone has one of those bluetooth thingies in his or her ear, no one in the cars alongside looked at me as if I were mad, alone in the car with my lips moving.

And I'm headed south for a weekend of relaxing with my friends. On the way, I think I'll listen to Court and Spark straight through.

All in all, things are looking good.