Sunday, October 4, 2015

Savouring your life

I will immediately admit that I'm being a copycat.  I love the photographs take by Barbara Judge for her blog, Folkways (see and click the side bar here).  She has a marvelous gnarled apple tree picture.  I took this and another picture of the same gnarled tree during my walk at Long Beach.  I don't know what kind of tree this is. I think it was nearly uprooted and blown over on it's side in some gale. But the roots that remain in the soil are keeping it alive. I  walk by it often and sometimes think about the complexity of its roots and branches as being something of a metaphor for the human brain. It doesn't make quiet enough sense, really, for me to find a poem here. At least not yet.

Instead I am writing a poem inspired by a blog by Brian Alger, a psychologist who writes about aging. I find I cannot give you the link. I don't understand how he's got his blog set up.  Anyway, he wrote about savouring -- meaning taking time to enjoy.  Mostly he wrote about savouring intellectual activity but I have begun a poem thinking about savouring the way small children do an ice cream cone on a hot day.  Hasn't everyone see the kid slowly licking the ice cream as it melts and runs down his hand and onto his clothes and his mother tells him to hurry and eat it because it's melting?  I'm sure I've been that mother.

Most of us un-learn savouring from that kind of sensible adult intervention. Don't linger over the delicious or lovely thing.  Get on with whatever is next.  Being a walker on a beach in the summer I observe that some people know how to savour the sun, they come early in the season and stay late, they find a spot a bit sheltered from chilly breezes and soak up the warmth.  These are a few, not the many.  Slow eaters, like the child and his ice cream, take time to chew and taste whatever is on the plate.  Oenophiles and gourmets make a point of enjoying, sometimes so loudly one wonders about their sincerity.  Gardeners fuss over their plants, stand at their doorway and thrill at the colors and arrangement -- those who do the work themselves. On that same walk to the beach I pass many large, expensive houses. All summer long, I see the landscaperrs planting, mowing grass, trimming. I suppose those home owners are pleased and possibly proud of their tasteful and beautiful plantings. But I think the gardener, the one who visits nurseries and reads seed catalogs in January, who savours the color and scent, not to show their wealth but because they love the flowers and plants.

Mr. Alger was not writing about this, really. He was writing about savouring our intellectual life. That's different.  I think the members of the poetry class I take savour the experiences they write about. I am trying to encourage people in my writing class to "read like writers" and savour good writing -- clear, meaningful, graceful writing, some with a sense of humor, playing with words and metaphors and similes and rhythm and even rhyme -- the last two not the sole province of poetry.

But beyond that Mr. Alger is urging people to savour the joy of being alive in a moment, whatever, wherever that moment is.  He does not mention Zen but I think Zen is what he is talking about, being present whether we are having a fascinating conversation with a friend or walking alone on a beach, past gnarled old trees or watching your dog dash and cavort when you let him off leash on that beach, knowing inside your own being just what those moments of  unusual freedom feel like. Molly, my daughter's late dog, almost always did a little dance when she went out into the yard, knowing she was going for a walk and I always understood, I think, the wordless joy of freedom.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Bumpy Learning Curve

I'm back to square one in many respects and have been assured that soon I'll be totally happy with my new MacAir.  I trust that will be true, but it's not yet because I am a kid in maybe the second grade after a  rather bad summer who as forgotten  the alphabet and the  numbers.  I was chugging along okay, but with a very irksome modem problem for which I blame Verizon.  Then I discovered my email contact list had been lifteed and possibly hundreds of people were getting a disgusting scam that was not even a new one -- months ago I got the same message supposedly coming from a past neighbor  with whom I may have corresponded by email  twice.   It was an obviously  sob story: I'm in the Philippines (which was misspelled) and lost my wallet and had to have  $1950 to get out of the country and come home.  I suppose if anyone fell for it they would have been told to send money to some bogus account, certainly not to me.  I hope no one did.

I disocovered that I have many concerned acquaintances and friends who told me about having received this email.  For all the nice people who wanted me to know, there were probably ten times as many who simply deleted it -- which is what I wish everyone had done.   This went on  for a couple of weeks,  I recovered my contact list and then it was lifted a second time and a second round of emails were sent, many to the same people.  It was embarrassing but beyond my control.  Fortunately I do not bank by mail and, yes, I occasionally buy books by mail from Amazon with a credit card but very little else.   I quickly talked to my bank and my  credit card  company.

The whole thing brought up the thought I've had for a couple of years: my computer was over 10 years old, it was getting slow; I didn't have various updates.  I was going to have to get a new one soon  I went to talk to the very nice people at the local Mac store and bought a new one.   It's a marvel.  I cannot believe something that seems too thin to c containmore than a tissue paper, actually has the computing and storage power it has.  But there's the catch.  Much has been changeed and I don't adapt quickly to new  things.  AFter all I'm in my 70s, that's my excuse and I think a valid  one.

So I just discovered I don't know how to access my photos except those on the desktop display to put on a blog.  I love the picture of Stella above but it wasn't what I meant to put on this post,  The MacAir has a program called Pages that emulates much of Microsoft Word but it's not the same and I have much to learn ... MUCH ...  it is the program I use most, like a few times every day. I am frustrated.  Old dog, new tricks.  Gotta happen   It's a great little laptop and I'm going to be happy with it .... in the fullness of time.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Back to School

Most of the week has been the kind of blue sky days that come at the end of summer; just before the autumnal equinox. Beautiful and turning just a bit cooler so one can sleep with a light quilt -- so welcome after the sticky humidity, twisting and turning with sheet scrunching around and off you.
With Labor Day late, the ALL classes started on a later date than usual. I was very ready for the more structured weeks they bring. I LIKE structure and understand that many retirees are lost without it. I make structure when I don't have the schedule of classes -- my morning walks on the beach, the 750 words in the morning, checking the email, often some writing, reading blogs. I have quilting to do, writing to do, submissions to journals. Plenty to feel busy.

But the return to class schedules is very satisfying, especially my new class of writing students. Everyone is over 50, many WELL over 50, but I couldn't help remembering singing in grade school, "We're all in our places with bright shiny faces. Oh, this is the way we start a new day." I looking at the 16 or 18 people in my "Writing: True and Right" class, several of them familiar, several of them new to me, and felt that elation I used to feel in grade school -- because I LOVED school.

But it was a special day, Friday, a day to remember, so the first writing exercise, which I offered with some trepidation because I didn't know what emotions it would trigger, was to write about when you heard of the attack on the Twin Towers. I was in NYC, and I knew Lynn had been. I knew Suzanne had been in Washington, I supposed most others had been in New England. I was pained to discover one woman had lived in New Jersey and was close to several people who lose loved ones that day. But, all in all, I think it was good to do such an exercise.  It has been 14 years and, as my daughter pointed out to me, the in-coming freshmen at the high school where she works were infants, or perhaps only about to be born. They have lived in a world in which the news has regularly been full of stories about terrorism, with a war in the middle of it, spilling in a sloppy way into over areas. 

I remember clearly what a bright blue sky morning it was as i went to work and that, when I had to walk the three miles home, passing through a nearly empty Times Square (unimaginable! but it was true), the sky remained that same placid blue for I was walking uptown, my back turned to the chaos that continued at the south end of Manhattan.  Among the brief pieces of writing the students read only the woman from New Jersey spoke of very personal fear -- her grown children were working in the financial district. Not in the towers but, for all anyone knew at the time, perhaps vulnerable to further attack.  They will finish their short pieces of writing and read them next week. These students are of an age when they have grandchildren who will turn to them asking "what was it like?"  We all carry a burden of history, however involved or uninvolved we were in its events; it is our duty to answer those questions with honestly and as much clarity as remains in our memory.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Wyeths, and more

This is a typical Andrew Wyeth watercolor, perhaps a bit more dramatic than many with the dark wooden post on the right, but a typical New England house on a lonely beach  in the other two-thirds of the work.  We did not see this one today at the Three Wyeths exhibit at Heritage Plantation's small museum, but we saw, I think 15 by each Wyeth -- RN the illustrator/painter from the 1920s+ pater familius, mostly seen in Saturday Evening Posts, often illustrating patriotic stories and poems.  It is easy to say "meh!" but some of the works show his artistic self, a picture of Washington and his soldiers at Valley Forge, has the chill of winter fairly surrounding the whole piece. 

Andrew is my favorite, I see meditation and silence and rigor in his well known works. I've seen many and I do not see the "violence" that his son James is quoted as describing. But maybe he knows more of his father's personality than I.

I found no pictures to put in this post from James (known as Jamie), I had seem the short video of him painting his gull picture called Seven Deadly Sins, 1, which was in this show.  All seven were in a show at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston last summer when Rachel and I were there. All contain gulls, not the indolent, slightly skittish birds I see when I walk the beach, but powerful, screaming big birds. The video shows Jamie painting very tactically -- using his fingers, the side of his hand, his own spit on his fingers to get the subtle effects he wants with the watercolors, straight from the tubes, mixed sometimes with his fingers. 

We went to see the art, but we took time to see the Plantation, at least a good part of it; we had all been there several times before.

We were not too old to ride the carousel although only Lexa
had a full enough skirt to  get on a horse.
And Miriam played the drums when there were no kids around eager to make their own music.

The Plantation is at its floral best in the spring at rhododendrum and azelea time, there were few splashy floral displays today but some big white-ish hydrangeas and lots of interesting hostas.

It was a beautiful end of summer day and many kids of the grade school variety were around, so were some retirees, like Lexa  and Miriam who spent their careers serving children as librarian and school administrator/teacher.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Take a rest, Woody

Irrational Man is Woody Allen's newest film.  The matinee I attended was nearly empty and I walked out wishing I hadn't wasted part of a nice afternoon.  Joachim Phoenix is a depressed philosophy professor -- I supposed about 50. Posie Parker throws herself at  him and lovely student, Emma Stone, falls hard ... what do you expect in a Woody Allen film? 

The plot rang bells of more than one novel or short story I've read starting with Crime and Punishment (the cathartic effect of murder). The murder is absurdly easily carried out, and absurdly easily figured out by Ms. Stone, the final twist was so far from a surprise I walked out of the theatre shaking my head that anyone bothered to make the movie. I saw a review that called it a "dramedy" -- no.  Not really drama and no comedy.  Boredom, plain and simple. How old is Woody?  86? or older?  It seems a good time to concentrate on the clarinet and stop giving us "older" men with younger women falling for them. Been there, seen that. Yo-humm.

What I'd love is a good movie (no hokyness) about an older woman (and I mean over 60, not over 40 which has stopped being "older" to everyone except a certain type of man), who attracts a devoted younger man. I think of Georgia O'Keefe who spent many of her last years with a much younger man. I don't know just what their relationship was but it was a lasting and apparently mutually satisfying one. I'm sure it happens, perhaps more than many of use know.

A couple of weeks ago I saw Mr. Holmes.  An old fashioned movie (British style) but with "British style", well written script, layers of story and wonderful acting from Ian McKellen and Laura Linney.  I left thinking "plain old entertainment doesn't get better than this."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A gull-full summer

When  something becomes a habit, one begins to know other people with similar habits just because you're in the same place at the same time. Thus it is in the summer when I walk on Long Beach every morning approximately 8:30 to 9:30. My "familiars" are Stephanie and Ross. Ross works and is only there on weekends but S. is a regular and is now known to me and many other regulars are the gull lady. 

Last summer she began feeding an adolescent black back gull that she felt was possibly retarded (or cunningly lazy) because he was still being fed regurgitated food by his mother when he was big enough to fend for himself. If there isn't an adage, there should be that says "feed one gull, feed them all." Soon S. had a flock of gulls surrounding her beach chair. They watched for her and sent out the word to friends and foes. As soon as she appeared, so did the gulls.

Last year she occasionally had three dozen gulls around her. Sometimes she fed them bread, sometimes nuts. sometimes rather expensive kitty chow, sometimes rice cakes. They would eat anything and fight over it if it landed on the sand and not in an opportunist's beak.

This year the gang is larger. It was a hard winter for all wild life and for gulls too. That probably triggered a reproductive spurt. At any rate there are many, many young black backed gulls and others as well (also a super congregation of young crows). The lone bird above is an adolescent - I think his feathers are gorgeously patterned. They will be shed and he will become black backed.

One morning I was quite early and I saw not one gull at S's spot on the beach. Not one.  A long gull -- maybe a watcher, a scout, was floating in the water about ten feet out. I walked on up the beach. When I came back I knew S. had arrived, the flock was gathering, I saw a few winging from a distant shore.  This morning she had only recently arrived but I saw nearly fifty floating within sight of her and probably another three dozen on the sand waiting  for her to stop chatting with Ross and get to the serious business food distribution. She complained, when we talked, that they were now lazy.  The water was clear, they should have been fishing for crabs.  It seems crabs are scarce this summer and I think it is in the nature of a gull to watch for freebies when there is promise of them.

It's a part of the summer's entertainment.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

High, Hot Summer

For the last month Rachel's yoga teacher has been doing free and informal yoga sessions on Kalmus beach from 7:00 to 8:00 which means from when the sun is about to set until we get a sunset like this -- not the spectacular one seen from other vantage points, the  Beach Club house is in the way. But the sky becomes very wonderful, the pink actually is often caught by clouds all across the sky. 

The header picture I've just put up is  near the edge of the beach where we gather for the class.   The first class, a month ago, and last week's class, were at (almost) full moon time so as we were finishing the  asanas before relaxing and just watching the sunset, a white, nearly full moon arose in the east. Plus a couple of evenings kite flyers were on the beach which added its own magical touch to the quiet time.

This week has been hot and most of the time humid. I don't like humidity (does anyone?) so I go to Long Beach (about a quarter mile beyond the structure seen here. It is a nature reserve, not a big public beach -- not private, those who know about it are happy not to share it with too many others. At about 8:00 AM it is nearly deserted, a mile-long  peaceful stretch where I walk and do Tai Chi East and feel ready to face the day even if that means sitting here at my computer a large part of the time with the fan cooling me. I love summer. Being bare foot most of the time, wearing very little -- flowers, no jackets ... I love it!