Sunday, May 27, 2012

Tiny But Mighty

This little beastie, a member of the spider family, is the locally infamous deer tick. It has been magnified 600 time which is to say when it's sneaking up your leg it is impossible to feel and almost impossible to see.  But package a nasty bacteria that attacks the victim's white blood cells and wrecks all sorts of havoc in the body starting with fevers, headaches, weakness and disorintation.  I have been walking in their territory for four years not and we had had interactions.   Until the past few weeks; It took a bit of time for the nefarious bacterial to accumulate force but this week it announced it presence in my blood.  I fainted on Wednesaday and Thusrday became so weak I could not get out of the bathttub.  That accompanied by head achhe, shoulder ache diarrhea, loose of appetite was horrid enough for Rachel to say "we're going to the ER.  My though exactly.  That was Thursday evening, on Sunday evening I'm still here. Without a first diagnosis I'm being treated with every antibiotic show to work on the tick.  There are a variety, none of them nice un treated.  Each day when I hope to go home I'm told another test result is expected.  With knowledge of the specific bacteria I shouldn't have to undergo the shot gun approach.

My original fever is mostly down.  I can eat. -- lightly and sleep, sort of -- who can really sleep in a hospital? I'm getting stronger.  I have faith it will be cured by the end of summer and I'm growing philosophical about the ways the human mind handles problems.  I have never had systemic illness,  had not idea how some systems try to shut down.  For instance the ability to find the letters on a keyboard, a skill I've had since age 16 is trying to slip away.  I WON"T let but finding the keys to write this has been frusratingly slow -- something I thought could happen on with a strong.  I'm contemplating my way planning each day and the fantasies that come to me in the middle of the night.   I don't like this experience  but I will find usefulness in it.

Pardon types a bad sentence structure, I have'nt the energy to read this.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Happiness, not all good

Happiness may be the same as serenity which I wrote about yesterday -- but most people would not think so.  Happiness as we Americans  think about it, write about it, talk about it and pursue it is something we think is an inalienable right.  Not.  Nor is it, says the article I just read here, always a positive nor the best state of mind for the circumstance.

I knew that.  A lot of people don't seem to get hung up on words and their meaning the way I do.  Happiness, love, freedom, liberty, fairness  -- and a lot of bigger words that in most cases are less complicated to define than those relatively short, often used ones -- they all make me pause now and then and realize my definition probably isn't yours.  Ever since Tom Jefferson, et al, wrote that nine lettered word and made it a standard for this country the idea has, in a sense, been taken in vain, as once people did the names of deities.  June Gruber, the author of that relatively short article from a Berkeley publication called Greater Good Newsletter, explains that the current spate of articles and books about the necessity of raising happy children, as well as being happy oneself, is really another media hype. Yes, I knew that.

For most of human life the concept of happiness probably didn't exist.  I think contentment was once sought after and could be attained with a full belly and a nice warm fire and maybe a few animal skins to wrap oneself in.  When those basic conditions were met, humans would have purred like a kitten if purring were part of our vocal mechanism.  As civilizations advanced we made up a lot more words but I wonder how long it took to come up with "happy" also with "love." Surely "freedom and liberty" came much, much later.  And "serenity" -- oh that's a complex one beneath the surface, isn't it?  Not to get into this too deep, let me just wonder which of those words mean the most to the senior citizens like myself -- by the way I haven't used "security." -- that underlies most of the others, doesn't it.  Security, I think is quite a late comer to our group of generalities, and most seek it much harder than any of the other biggies.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Foggy Day Serenity

Foggy days can be very irritating when they interrupt one's plans.  But all my plans were indoor ones today, except for going to the post office and returning a library book.  I've found the gray indistinctness serene and very lovely today.  It began much as it is now, not very different from the photo above.  When I went out at midmorning it was not raining but the air was so wet I became wet between house and car.  Later in the day it rained, once lightly, seemed to rest a bit, and then rained quite hard for a while.  Now we're back where we began.  The whole day was quiet.  I had writing time and quilting time and emailing time and reading time.  It's 7:30 and not dark yet, just a blue-gray-violet kind of sky and a grayed-greenness in the trees.  The day is drifting into the kind of evening when a lazy hot bath leads to reading, possibly in bed.  The week gets busier tomorrow; that's okay.  Today the gray had a feeling of gentleness that was very satisfying.  The truth is I really like weather.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


We spent an afternoon in Wellfleet last weekend, enjoying the summer-like day -- after we decided that "no parking" sign could be ignored -- a snow storm seemed unlikely.

To us Wellfleet is the quintessential Cape Cod town. It has an active fishing harbor, near-by  is Great Island, a part of the National Seashore, a wonderful place to walk beside a dramatic shoreline.  In town are some of our favorite art galleries, especially the Left Bank which has so many wonderful painters and sculptors plus a room with smaller artisanal work, pottery, small decorative pieces, etc.  At the edge of town is a long wooden bridge over the marsh to Tim's Island, with a few houses and fir trees in the sandy soil.  For all of us this early May day was the first real taste of summer.  We ended it later with dinner at a restaurant overlooking the marsh where birds were busy not far from the large windows.  For a day we were being in our own area before the summer tourists arrive in just a few more weeks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Perspective

A bit of  twist on the usual reflections about Mother's Day.  At our family gathering yesterday we were four generations and mine was the "view from the top."  For over two years I have watched my daughter [in this picture] enjoying grandmother-hood in a way I neither had the opportunity, nor the temperament to do.  Here she is with the newest of two grandsons, clearly they are enjoying one another.  Her daughter (the baby's mother) is enjoying the support and sharing that neither of us had since I did not live near family at all when I had small children, and I lived far enough away to be able to visit only a time or two a year when she was raising her three children.  It's fascinating to think about the different methods of parenting, and the differences that evolve within families.  All the stories are different, of course.  I don't believe there is any stereotypical American family nowadays -- those all seemed to belong to the  Norman Rockwell era which began vanishing in the mid-20th century.  As we rush on through the 21st century we are a very different country.   Mother's day has become both a time for knee jerk public sentimentality and for florists to make a lot of money.  For this one family, with this tiny four and a half year old member it is a  unique moment in time.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Drinking milk

I grew up on a small family farm in Southern Indiana. We had the usual mix of animals and crops: cows, pigs, chickens (and horses until Dad could afford a tractor in the early '40s), wheat, corn, hay and sometimes soybeans, plus Mom's vegetable garden,  and a grape arbor.  We all drank milk, most milk was sold to a local dairy that send a truck around to pick up the cans that were kept cool in a tiny building called the "spring house" which was, in fact built over a natural spring.  When I was about ten the U.S. government issued a law that all milk sold commercially must be pasteurized. The local newspaper an article about it explaining that raw milk was associated with tuberculosis and that cows producing milk must be tested at certain intervals.

My parents tried to be "modern" in their farming.  They belonged to the Farm Bureau and they read pamphlets issued by the state Agricultural Agency.  My mother decided to take no chances with our milk even if the cows were tested. She began buying pasteurized milk for us to drink and for cooking.  I remember hating the taste of the pasteurized milk and I have not had a glass of milk since.  I do not even like milk or cream in my coffee.  It tasted wrong and I wanted to assert my taste.

Yesterday I read an article in the current New Yorker Magazine about the fight mainly, in California, for the right to produce and sell raw milk.  Apparently there is a strong raw foods movement that includes meat, vegetables and fruit but which centers on milk.  Those who consume and produce raw milk declare it tastes far better than any processed milk. Some have been willing to pay up to $40 a gallon on what is amounts to a black market.  The FDA seems to be waging a war to shut down the few producers and distributors of raw milk -- and other raw foods as well.  Many see this is more Big Brother-ism and I'm inclined to agree. 

So much of our food is bland, tasteless, and fruits are especially disappointing because it's nearly impossible to find truly ripe fruit anywhere.  I have a serious sweet tooth and clearly remember the joy of strawberries from the patch, ripe peaches and plums and even grapefruit (when I visited in Florida) that were sweet.  I'm not going to seek out raw milk to see if it's much better because it's been so long since I've had any kind of milk except in cooked dishes that I have forgotten the taste.  But I'm always on the side of individual rights.  Milk is not subversive, milk is our first and most basic food. I think we should have a choice between whole, skim, 2% and 4%.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wagner's Ring Cycle Documentary

A great fan of stagecraft, I found the documentary about the Metropolitan Opera's new Ring Cycle -- Wagner's four four-hour long operas based on myth replacing the reign of the gods with the Age of Man -- entrancing.  The odd thing in the photo here is the set in one of it's many, many permutations.  The set is made up of heavy planks on a computer (and human) controlled mechanism that can be arranged many, many ways to depict the floor of the Rhine River in the first opera where the Rhine maids swim about as they sing, or the entrance to Valhalla, or the fires that encircle Brunhilde as she awaits the human who will save her, or any of the many other settings needed for these operas -- the same massive structure serves all of them, it weight 90 tons, so much the floors and underlying supports had to be strengthened.

The documentary emphasized the set which is startlingly new for any opera but it also covered most of the other aspects of the two-year introduction of the four new productions, from Deborah Voight's first time singing Brunhilde, to the sudden need to replace the heldentenor who was going to sing Seigfried with a wonderful Texan whose name I don't have at hand.  It showed the back stage work, the costumes and wigs, the patrons buying tickets, the opening night audience with such recognizable patrons as Henry Kissinger.  It showed computer problems and Voight's stumbling on the set her first night.  Peter Gelb the Met's manager was the worried producer and the beloved James Levine, the conductor, had to drop out for back surgery.  It was a very human story but at the center was an amazing amount of imagination and the one organization, perhaps in the world, that could put the resources into such an effort the the sake of opera -- not the most popular art form in the world and the Ring is certainly not the world's most popular opera(s).  Wagner had a vast imagination and the documentary shows that this may be the first time a team with aspirations great as his has tackled this challenge.  I find the effor, the creative teamwork, thrilling ... to me more thrilling than actually sitting through 16 hours of opera.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ethics of eating meat

The NYTimes "Ethicist" column initiated a contest a few weeks ago for 600 word essays about why it's ethical to eat  meat.  The topic inspired lots of emails to the Ethicist, including remarks about the judges for the contest who were all men.  Today they printed excerpts from several replies and the winning essay as well as a column four times as long as usual.  Like a great many respondents, it seems, I cannot think of a reason why it is ethical to eat animals.  Once, and still in a few societies, I believe humans needed to eat animals because they lacked sufficient nourishment otherwise.  That is far from true for most of humanity today.  Many people cited the inhumane, greedy and ecologically destructive methods used by "factory farming" of animals. Some optimists seemed to think this replusive practice is waning, I don't think so. Animals are treated as if they were plants, not sensate creatures.  That is greedy, ignorant, and horrible.

From the article I learned only that NYTimes readers, as I knew anyway, tend to take the ethical high road.  There were, apparently, plenty of wisecrackers who point out that carnivorous animals don't think about ethics.  Duh!  The wonderful, late Wislawa Szymborska wrote a poem saying that only animals live with a clear conscience -- because they are incapable of ethical questioning.  Taken a bit further it seems to suggest that those who eat meat without compunction are, in some respects, no better than, say wolves or hyenas.  I love these tempests in a teapot that are now and then set to boil in editorial sections of the Times.   

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Pair of Biographies

I've read in the last six months two biographies of a man barely known -- although I know a great deal about him.  A cache of materials have at last become available and have been sorted and are enticing to writers curious about Buddhism in America.  Theos Bernard went to Lhasa, Tibet at a time when it was considered "impossible/forbidden."  He was, in fact, the only American ever invited by the ruling counsel to come as a religious pilgrim.  I have known this for about fifteen years because I worked for an elderly woman who, in her younger years, had been his wife and had supported him in his journey.  When he returned, "changed in every way," said she, he promoted himself as the first White Lama which became the prominent part of the titles of both books.  The first, last fall was by a journalist, Douglas Veenhof; the second which is just out, is by a religious scholar from Columbia University, Paul Hackett.

I know that both had to do huge amounts of research to sort of out complex life, embedded in a complex family.  They had to understand politics of the 1930s in India and Tibet as well as how wealthy Americans were living while the rest of the country was in deep recession.  They had to understand practitioners of tantric yoga and Buddhism during that period when those philosophy/practices were only beginning to be known in America.  Both men clearly put their shoulders to the wheel, did a great deal of traveling, read reams of material and dug up a lot of information I had not gleaned from his ex-wife and the letters and materials she had, many of which I sorted and arranged for an archive about him.  I tracked down a copy of his complete diary from the time in Lhasa and was the first to read it in over 50 years.  So I was fascinated to read the two books.

They are very different.  Veenhof's is the more readable as he set out to tell a story.  Hackett is searching for truth about the philosophic findings.  Veenhof sees a heroic adventurer with quite a few flaws.  Hackett dwells on flaws -- inflation of truth, egomania, arrogance and money grubbing, taking advantage of rich women, and more.  I'm fascinated by both men and their approaches.  But I do not find a real person in either book.  I think that is because each writer wants his own Theos -- I think Hackett wanted a much finer man and is writing like a very disappointed lover.

I think of Theos Bernard as the man the woman I worked for fell in love with when they were both young and idealistic. Yes, he used her money but she was a genuinely generous person, she sincerely believed in the quest that she felt they both had embarked upon.  I believe he truly loved her, perhaps she was the only one he loved as he said later in his tragically short life.  But there were family flaws, and innate personality flaws.  I don't believe either of these fairly young writers were able to image the complex person Theos Bernard was.  What I have learned from reading their books is much more about the world he was dealing with, the people he knew, some of whom manipulated him, others he manipulated.  I have great respect for the work of biographers but these two books show just how carefully a reader has to weigh what he is reading.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Anxiety -- feeling bereft

For twenty-four hours, 10 a.m. yesterday to 10 a.m. today, I felt anxious, bereft, desolate.  And it was ridiculous!  I knew it, I hated the fact that those were the feelings but they were undeniable.  My computer ws in the shop being "spring cleaned".  The clerk who took it said he would tell the guys in the back room that I was undergoing separation anxiety and to do their work quickly and efficiently.   I was convinced I'd have to call about 3:00 this afternoon begging for it back. But, no, they called about 9:30. I felt like Noah seeing the dove with the olive leaf.

My excuse is feeble but makes complete sense to me:  this little mechanism about 12x8x1.5 inches is my connection to many parts of the world.  I have an old fashioned land line that I do not use often.  I have not succumbed to cell phone yet -- I'm a bit of phono-phobe, have been all my life. But more than that, everything I've written -- that I didn't delete -- for the last five and a half years resides in this little container. How that's accomplished I do not understand but I know it's so.  Yes, it's also on an exterior hard drive but I can only get to  it sitting as I am now with my fingers on the keys. Well, yes, quite  a bit of it is in hard copy.  And that's a bit of a mess, in folders here and there.

The anxiety and desolation was about not having that material at hand and about not being able to access sites and people I am accustomed to reaching with a few twitches of the digits.  This would have been beyond my imagining 50  years ago.  Now I feel like a tiny lizard in that vast landscape in the photo above.  Or I did.  NOW everything is copacetic again.