Thursday, April 23, 2009

All or Nothing

As I try to finish up packing and have boxes stacked all over the place but at least nearly empty closets, I think about the story I heard back in college of Diogenese of Sinope who was a Cynic and thought we needed almost no worldly possession. He supposedly lived in a large tub with few other possessions, perhaps happily and by choice. The story I remember is that the young Alexander sought out the old philosopher asked, "What can I do for you?" Diogenese said "Stand out of my sun." Alexander moved aside and muttered, "If I were not Alexander I would wish to be Diogenese." All or nothing appeals to certain kinds of people.

At the moment I'm thinking there would be satisfaction in having -- well, not nothing -- but very little. It IS possible but in society as it is and with all I've experienced, I know that all or nothing really would not be satisfing to me. But perhaps with this move I'm effecting, I will gain a bit more balance. Lots of things, most especially previously read books, are disappearing from my surroundings. I will live a bit simpler and perhaps strive to live more simply going forward. That, in fact, seems a part of the natural progression of lives as they are lived in our society. Older people move to smaller homes, with less busy work keeping up their former lives. Feels right to me. Let a little more Diogenese into my life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ships in the Night

Now that I am packing up and actually giving away books -- not all! But many. -- a number of people ahve come to my apartment sale. I've had wonderful conversations with several people. I wish I could have known them before. In particular a couple, he from Columbia, she from Russia, she's a poet and composer, I'm not clear what he does. They took most of the poetry books -- how rare to meet someone who even reads poetry! Let alone has published and loves discovering new poets. She gave me a copy of the play evolved from the libretto of an opera she is writing and it's fascinating, imaginative and visually vivid. And then there is a photographer who took almost all my travel literature books [I don't mean guides, I mean the travel records/stories/journals thoughtful travelers write and which I read voraciously.] We had a great talk last evening -- if I were 30 years younger I'd have flirted with him.

I don't imagine that I'd become regular friends with these people, but a friend who chats a bit occasionally would have been very nice. When one has nontraditional tastes and intellectual passions, it is very exciting to meet like minded people and share your interests, experiences, enthusiasms. I know some of those people will live on Cape Cod; I don't know how to meet them, but perhaps with serendipitously -- or with some attention to opportunities -- it will happen. I hope so. At this point in life, good conversation is a joy -- I'm not interested in parties or playing golf, sailing and such, just sharing experiences and learning from others like things I learned from those people.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Saying good-bye

Neckties and silky dress fabrics were used in the 36x36 quilt that I made many years ago, it was one of my first uses of embellishment I included beads in the rows of hand quilting. I had forgotten about this quilt and about another two-sided quilt I made using ties until yesterday when I got into the top most shelf of a closet.

Today I gave this quilt to my long time friend, Adrienne Kennedy, the playwright, who is a neighbor and whose plays I typed for her during a certainly period of our aquaintance. She is a very lovely and thoughtful woman. We tend to talk about both writing and about what growing older and being grandparents means, and about money as well and making ends meet. I went to say goodbye, although that's not a word she wants to hear. She thinks of living with or near her youngest son but feels it's not a good thing for her, we discussed what being near family means when ou are older.

She pointed out that we have known each other since 1984 -- which is 25 years. Lately as we both go into different life phases we have not seen or talked to each other often, but a warm bond is there. She is a unique writer first and foremost, as a woman who seems fragile -- she has severe asthma -- but, in fact, is a strong person and has persevered with her very personal and poetic writing against the odds of being both a woman and a black person in a theatre world that has not welcomed and rarely understood either. She has been enormously encouraging to me and has often asked to read my work, as almost no one else has. Just the asking is generous far beyond the usual. I have appreciated that very greatly. This is a good-bye that I will keep on thinking about for some time to come.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Enjoying Alone

As I promised myself, I went out to take advantage of a glorious day, the flowering trees abundant with white/pink/ greenish blossoms in Riverside Drive park and down along the river as well. I walked alone, enjoying trees, sun, river, flowers, others doing their things [many people grooming their dogs today]. The chattering monkeys of the mind were busy -- I keep thinking I'll learn to focus through meditation but I procrastinate. So the monkeys are loose and noisy. Still walking alone is wonderful, one does see more, feel more, experience more, I think, alone although I've certainly enjoyed walks taken with other people. The monkeys were busy remembering many times and places when I walked alone -- in parks, in city or village streets, in forests, in deserts, on high Himalayan plateaux. So many, many good, good memories walking with me under the flowering trees.

I traveled with a group of 14 in Peru in April a few years ago. At the goodbye dinner one of the men said to the group, "Tell me your most vivid moment." His was when he chose not to go white water rafting but, with 2 or 3 others was taken to the terminus in a van and left alone to wander a town and then walk to the river to meet us. Mine was waking very early to get the first shuttle up to Macha Pichu where I walked through the morning mists alone except for a grazing alpaca and some birds I did not recognize pecking their breakfast along the ancient stone walkway. From the high point I reached I could look down on the great complex and into the misty mountains beyond. Everyone at the table mentioned moments like the questioner's and mine, moments when they ventured somewhere alone. Even in group travel there are hours of free time. In a foreign country those walks in unfamiliar places become acutely etched in our minds. Many of them came to me as I walked today.

Often people say, Oh, I would go out if I had someone to go the park with me, if my children were not in school we could go to the river and play in the sand, if, if, if -- but I don't want to go alone, so I'll finish this job, wash the windows, plant the garden. Not to be morbid, but who knows if they will be here to enjoy next spring? And why do you need someone? The joy is in you. Sit for a while on a bench as I just did and watch the old dog carefully lower himself to a lying position, watch the bikers go whizzing by and wonder if they are enjoying it, listen to the children in the playground shouting. And, wonderful -- but only here, as far as I know -- look at the glorious community garden and hear an Amtrak train rumbling northward, a few feet below -- for all of Riverside Park lies atop the train tracks -- a blessing I think we owe to Robert Moses if I have my history straight. But the sun and the blue sky and the pleasant wafting of breeze we owe to Mother Earth herself. A beautiful day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pacing Myself as I Pack

I cannot just work nonstop, I have to pace myself -- pack, do errands, make phone calls, stop and check emails, read while I have lunch or tea. It's working, I am tired but I am not straining myself. I am catching up with magazines, of which one is Shambala Sun, a fine Buddhist magazine from Canada. In general the Zen practitioners interest me less than others but an excellent article about Roshi Joan Halifax [above] was fascinating. She radiates serenity and an inner beauty; her emphasis is on working with those who are dying. It's an area that frightens so many people, partly because we know we must face it but resist with all our might even thinking about it. As we grow older it can't be far from our minds. I'm at a point where people I know are disappearing from life -- just this week a high school classmate, the third in about eight months [all men].

The article I read quoted Roshi Joan quoting Annie Dillard, an essayist and novelist, saying something difficult to think about and yet, it seems to me something we need to think about. [Annie is the blond here obviously]. "There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end ... and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage." To which Roshi Joan Halifax said, fiercely, "I .. won't .. HAVE IT." She wants none of this itsy-bitsy business. She wants us to take our lives seriously. Then we can approach the end with some equanimity instead of rage.

This is a serious thought here in the middle of my muddle of other thoughts, but magazines, thoughts, ideas, come into our lives when they come and we need to pay attention to the hard things to look at.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Packing memories again

When I travel, as I've done a lot in the last 30+ years I prefer to buy souvenirs that are small, useful and not very expensive. I've acquired a few small Tibetan statues but mostly I've purchased earrings, or rings, scarves, useful jackets. I do not purchase gems or gold so I cannot speak of "jewelry". I am not one to lug home large carved statues or intricate baskets -- I did get talked into a small rug in Turkey. [The Turks can sell camels to Eskimos.] I have many pieces that are dear to me because I remember the shop where they were bought -- often with a certain amount of bargaining. A couple of silver rings were discovered in store windows and happily fit me, other items were found in bazaars, sometimes from pushy venders competing with their pushy neighboring venders. Every piece has a story in my mind, and often the face of the seller because it often was a lengthy exchange.

There was a vender of embroidered jackets in Kathmandu who ran down the street after me when I refused his "final" price. There was a bronze hand in a Shigatze, Tibet bazaar that I wanted instead of the bracelet the woman vender was pushing onto my arm. The hand had been on a Buddha statue, destroyed, no doubt, in Cultural Revolution. There was is a leather coat bought in a Turkish shop where the salesman plied me with his "Mama's" wine from the family vineyard -- and he gave me a bottle to take home after talking me into the coat, which I have been wearing the last couple of weeks in this changeable spring weather. And there was a large silk scarf I chose after a vender covered the floor of his small booth with scarves in all the colors of India. And so much more, memory after memory, each as I sorted and arranged pieces; memories that return every time I use the items and I DO use them very often. These are things that cannot be left behind ... and they are small. They did not cost much but they are also priceless. These I love packing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fingering one's past

This bookcase is only an example of the problem I'm facing all over this apartment. By NYC standards it's a large one bedroom, and I've used all my space fully the book case shows. This seems to mean I've got about four normal rooms of stuff packed in here. So I'm paring as I'm packing.

I know a time comes when energy flags and the attitude is "oh, just chuck it." I'm trying to avoid that and make reasonable judgments. What do I REALLY want/need? Of course I think of Diogienese who lived in a barrel which served as house and clothing. No, I need more than the barest basics. I am spoiled as most of us are in that sense. I want the piano and the music books, also the many, many books - but by no means all of them.

Today's packing was mainly the manuscripts I've written in 30 years. One copy of each -- is that wise? Well, it has to be. It's not deathless prose but precious to me. There is much involved in each and simply handling them, remembering or wondering why I don't remember ... it's been an intense day with as much repression as vivid remembrance. I could write at length about a writer's regrets ... it doesn't help that even as I write I know Joyce Carol Oates is at a Barnes and Nobel at Lincoln Center pushing a new book. She is a near age mate who has been on my "horizon" since our late teens when she got an auspicious start and I watched and envied. She had a literary life, I had a different kind. But she is a high water mark for me, one I could not attain. So the day has been full of that kind of thought. Not very pleasant but also not remorseful, more an acknowledgment that each life is individual and has it's arc, it's regrets and satisfactions. There are satisfactions in those manuscripts that possibly no one else will read. Still they are not going to be destroyed, not by me. And they must be moved -- alas, there's the rub.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Penny Pincher

A picture of many pennies is a couple of posts back -- this was only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. For at least ten years I've been throwing the extra pennies from my coin purse into cheap wine carafes. Yesterday I finally took a plastic container of them [marginally lighter to carry than a glass carafe] to a coin counting machine at a supermarket -- perhaps a quarter of the pennies I have. I had over 1200 in that one trip.

What I want to say is not about penny pinching really, for that's not much money and I wasn't saving them to be frugal, just to avoid a heavy pocketbook. The coin counting machine was the most user-friendly machine I've ever seen. Yes, ATMs are easy but this one asked as soon as I hit start button on the touch screen, "Have you ever used this machine before?" I hadn't so it gave me extremely easy steps -- which were also available in Spanish. It's certainly not a complex contraption but the instructions were straight forward and the buttons well placed. At one point a message flashed, "You have a lot of coins. Please pause a moment and let me catch up." The personalization was okay with me -- it was like a friend counting my coins for me.

As a person born long before computers, and late coming to using them, and still afraid of many applications, still learning -- I'm off to another one-to-one session at the Apple store this afternoon -- I have a lot of frustrating moments on the internet or using various programs. To have an easy and very satisfying "relationship" with a machine is pleasing -- especially since I think I'll have three more coin counting sessions because I can comfortably carry only the plastic container full of pennies. Those babies are a lot heavier than they're worth! It'll be round about $50 finally, which is nice too.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Poetry Month -- a Poet Contemplates

[Picture is Hathaway's Pond on Cape Cod where Rachel and I sometimes walk the dog.]

April is National Poetry Month and I have been reading not only poetry but also about poetry. A good stretch for the mind. Also I have traveled a great deal, not only to the famous cities and a few posh places [very few] but to the empty, or nearly eempty, places, behind the Annapurnas, into the steppes of Mongolia, into the Gobi and Sahara ... I do not believe anyone has a bone deep sense of how big the world is without having seen some of its vastness. I read so much that doesn't take into account how big the world is, and how various written by people who do not know how narrow their field of vision is. Earth Day is coming, perhaps this shuold have been saved for then.

I discovered this note from Wallace Steven's notebook and was happily surprised to find the straight laced Yankee insurance exec had a truly wide perspective there in Hartford, Connecticut -- some people have the imagination and humility to look far and wide. I wish more had that ability. Ponder what Stevens wrote -- "I thought, on the train, how utterly we have forsaken the Earth, in the sense of excluding it from our thoughts. There are but few who consider its physical hugeness, its rough enormity. It is still a disparate monstrosity full of solitudes + barrens + wilds. It still dwarfs + terrifies + crushes. The rivers still roar, the mountains still crash, the winds still shatter. Man is an affair of cities. His gardens + orchards + fields are mere scrapings. Somehow however, he has managed to shut out the face of the giant from his windows. But the giant is there, nevertheless."

This struck a chord and I've read it over a number of times. This is the mind of a poet who did not "look" like a poet in his every day pursuits. But few others think this broadly. Perspective is the point. So much individual misery is the result of not being able to see beyond the tip of one's nose.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Checking Off To-Do List

The list of things I want to do before I leave goes through my mind most mornings before I get out of bed. It's dwindling. Last weekend I walked through Strawberry Fields in Central Park and then along the rowboat lake -- beautiful day, beautiful walk. Wednesday I went to a program on memory at the Rubin Museum and will try to go to another program next Wednesday -- they're doing a series called "Brainwave." They did a similar series last spring and I was disappointed but this one was interesting with a good discussion afterwards.

Yesterday was another lovely day -- so far the lovely ones are wedged between cold, wet ones -- so I went to the Conservatory Garden in Central Park, one of my favorite quiet places. Pictures are from there, the pansies lined a bed of still closed tulips. The St. Gaudens statue of The Three Graces Dancing is one of the most graceful and purely delightful public statues I know of -- it's even better when they have turned on the water in the fountain of which it is the centerpiece, but never mind -- they were framed by beautiful flowering trees with a blue and white sky above. As usual the park was full of quiet people, lunch eaters, parents with kids, couples, tourists of many varieties, people like me.

Another couple wet days are predicted but I may get to a museum -- after spending a fair amount of time here sorting and packing. Sometimes "sorting" is more the operative word. That's good too. I'm in the midst a major change and a time for taking stock and sorting, getting rid of the dust bunnies of accumulation [and quite a few of the under-th-bed kind too].

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Paternalism -- alive and well, maybe good

Michael Bloomberg has all the hubris of a very rich man who knows how smart he is and believes he knows what is good for New York and for New Yorkers and by extension, really, for everyone. What does rich have to do with it? Well, the self-esteem, which includes a kind of arrogance, is only possible after earning that kind of wealth through a bright idea and a lot of hard world. He IS smart, of course, and, I think, better than most men in poliics. He seems not to hang out with prostitutes and is not embroiled in the Wall Street mess; he's on the moral high ground. And he's probably right in his various health initiatives, which is what I have in mind today after an article in the NYTimes about his latest initiative was announced.

He was no sooner Mayor than he got smoking banned in all public buildings. Of course people still smoke but it is by no means as prevalent as it once was. I have never bought the second hand smoke line of reasoning and always thought making smokers pariahs was a breach of civil liberties. Be that as it may, some years later transfats were banned from restaurant and public venue cooking. This made sense although if I wee a restaurant owner I'd still be unhappy about my civil rights having been denied me once more breached.

Then came calorie counts prominently displayed by fast food restaurants. About this I hav a love/hate feeling. I hate knowing that a muffin in Starbucks -- undersized by usual NYC standards -- is 450 calories. At the same timel I love knowing it. I can decide not to eat so many calories all at once -- as a snack. I haven't actually eaten a muffin in many months. Man people need to know the relative calorie counts of a banana and a scone -- to their shock sometimes. This seems a helpful publication of long hidden facts. Leaving consumers free to make their own informed choices.

Today's long article complained because Bloomberg wants to see that salt use is cut in halef in ten years. Chances are he'll save medical costs, and, best of all, possibly save many people from stokes. The writer was incensed about the unproven stats of lowering sale intake although it's been a part of blood pressure prophylaxis for decades. I have personally, not at a doctor's recommendation but because I felt it would be healtier, stopped salting a lot of my food -- and I am from the part of the midwest where food was salted in cooking and again, lavishly, at the table [along with lots of black pepper usually] and not only on meat and vegetables but we salted, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapefruit and apples [and peppered the cantaloupe]. I no longer salt most vegetables and add only some to meat and fish. Since much is cut out, I don't mind if I add salt to selected items.

Most people, being creatures of habit, will make few changes in their diets, and rarely bother informing themselves about things like the transfats or amount of calories or transfats without the overbearing papa figure insisting the cooks present what he thinks is best for us. We actually don't know, as the article writer pointed out, if it will make us feel healthier. Bloombeg believes it's healthy. Statistics will tell in the future. Just as smokers can and will still smoke and I believe they have the right to that choice, people will cook at home as they please. If we have a marginally healthier population, that's a good thing. If people's consciousnesses are raised, that's probably an even better thing. While, as a serious feminist I deeply despise paternalistic attitudes and actions, there are good father and bad, stupid and intelligent. I will not rate Bloomberg on many areas of his politics but in this one I'm glad he's doing it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Retiree's recipe

The receipe for enjoying retirement seems simple to me today -- I don't know how long lasting this perception will be. However, days like today seem the perfect way to live whatever one is doing -- although they are nearly impossible if one is stuck at a job with rigidly defined hours and duties.

I awoke cheerfully with a list on things in mind I hoped to accomplish today. After breakfast and getting dressed I got started and finished of a couple of the shorter tasks, then embarked on a long one -- finishing piecing the border of a quilt. I was well into it when a brilliant shaft of sunlight fell on my sewing table. This has been very rare during the winter and the angle and intensity has not happened for months. Enough, let the border wait. The radio predicted rain tomorrow. Carpe diem! Yes. That's an appropriate motto. So I put on shoes and socks, earrings and coat and went out to seize the day. What a day! Beautiful as spring can be. The flowers have burst open. In Central Park the row boats are being rented to young lovers and whoever else. The birds are hopping about finding insect snacks. Tourists are taking rides in the bicycle rickshaws that have lately spouted all over the city.

On my way out of the park I walked past the wonderful magnolia above that over many years I have seen to be the first flowering tree to spread it's petals. It is in a sheltered spot where the park drops down from Central Park West between 88th and 89th Streets. It is huge and next to it is a junior version. They seem to be the queen and her daughter, the princes, who hasn't quite got the timing and stamina of mama yet.

To work at something you want very much to do, and to have the freedom to get up and go out and enjoy the day -- that is the recipe. To be involved with something important to you and also able to stay in touch with the larger world -- a recipe I hope I can continue to follow for a long time.