Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aftermath of Sandy

A sandy (pun inevitable), muddy mess on my favorite beach after Hurricane Sandy.  But for perspective: Hurricane Sandy barely touched Cape Cod.  The winds blew and some limbs and small trees came down, some people had power outages, rains fell intermittantly.  For me, it was a nonevent, my electricity blinked a few times which it's apt to do with any amount of wind.

I am over a mile away from the beach and perhaps high enough not to think much about flooding unless something of tsunami size arrives. Yesterday the weather was very mixed: sun, cloud, rain, temperature in the 60s.  In the early afternoon Rachel and I decided to see what damage "our" beach sustained.  After last year's glancing touch by Hurricane Irene we opined that the far end of Long Beach where we prefer to walk, might, in the next storm, be cut off and become an island.  A knob at the far end of it is normally mostly underwater at high tide. So we walked out  as far as we could and arrived at this muddy mess where a channel had been cut through the narrowest part.  It was high tide when we were there. We could see that at low tide the area would not be flooded and we could still walk out to the end -- which is not visible in the picture as it's under water but won't be at low tide. So that was the answer to our question for now. What the winter winds and storms will bring remains to be seen; it is in winter that the largest amount of erosion happens.

Walking the mile out there turned into a small adventure as we returned when it began to sprinkle  -- no problem, said we -- but then it began raining harder.  We walked fast -- faster than I usually walk. This was on damp but soft sand so walking was harder than on a firm surface.  Rachel is in great shape and walks fast, I kept up with her and was pleased to find that, although I was breathing a bit hard, I wasn't haven't any real trouble keeping pace.  Later in the evening various thigh and hip muscles told me they had been overworked; so a long hot soak soothed them and today I'm glad we had our little adventure.  We were wet, of course, when we got to the car, but happy a couple of minutes later when the sky really opened and the rain poured down. 

For us that's the end of the saga of Hurricane Sandy.  For my friends in New York City much distress continues and lies ahead.  The simple matter of transportation is stunning not to even think of all the water damage and the many needy people with no electricity, no working elevators, no safe drinking water.  An email for a NYC friend said she has experienced various transportation strikes, the Great Black Out and 9/11 and now this and she is convinced that, in times of great stress, people pull together.  That's what we always hear about the Londoners during the blitz.  NYC hasn't had that kind of stress but this is a really major one -- I think it's not Londoners or New Yorkers but people in general.  I read there is some looting but I'm sure hundreds of stories are unfolding of people helping people.  I believe most people care about others.    

Monday, October 29, 2012


I am taking a course at the  local Academy for Lifelong Learning titled "Uncertainty".  So far it's touched on matters philosophical, psychological and religious, even legal, medical.  In fact it has answered no questions at all and generally been an unsatisfactory course.  I even gave a presentation called "My life on the fringe of the lunatic fringe: a life of uncertainty." The themes were the many oddities I've explored from graphology to palmistry to the  I Ching to Buddhism. The latter has helped me believe that I can live comfortably with uncertainty about the big questions for which I think there are no discoverable answers, e.g., life after death, yes or no? Is the universe meaningless?, etc.  I'll only know the answer to the first after I die and I'll never know the answer to the latter nor to many other "big" questions. I live day to day and don't need those answers.

It's the little itches that irritate, the mosquito bites of uncertainty that come up in the course of the day: Today the uncertainty is not will Hurricane Sandy hurl wind and rain at Cape Cod -- it's already started and everything is closed today and probably will be tomorrow.  The uncertainty is when and for how long will I have to deal with a power outage?  I have sufficient food and many things I could do, but I need electricity for the things I want most to do, especially as my eyesight is not great and candle light (although I have sufficient candles) will not permit me to read very long.

If I find myself with many dark hours I could use that time to do yoga and mediate but I know that I would not do that a large portion of the time and I know I would not sleep a large portion of the time.  I could find people to talk to for part of that time, and perhaps I will.  But the question is: will it be just a few hours or will it be a day or two?  Last year's much smaller hurricane caused less than 12 hours of outage for me. No great inconvenience. But for some other parts of the Cape power was out for up to a week.  The power company says they are better prepared now. I hope so. Of all the world's many uncertainties, weather is, perhaps, the one most uncertain for more people. Weather is a force before which we must all bow our heads and admit we can only endure as man and beast has had to endure throughout all of earth time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Follow your passion

"Follow your passion" is  New Age-y prescription that usually makes my hair curl. It is the correct definition of the life of Kevin Clash who discovered puppets as a little boy, learned to sew puppets on his mother's old machine,  withstood bullying at school -- thanks to understanding parents who never disparaged his love of puppets, and went on to a life work that brought him, and millions of people joy and delight.

Kevin Clash lived in Baltimore and was so in love with puppets that he wrote to the people he admired and eventually had an opportunity to meet and then work with the makers of the Sesame Street puppets.  To his enormous joy he eventually met, and then worked for, and then became a friend of Jim Henson.  He became Elmo when Elmo was invented and traveled the world as Elmo, entertaining children everywhere.

This was the documentary we saw yesterday in my class -- "a light change after How to Die in Oregon" as the coordinator of the course said.  It was heartwarming and beautiful to see a person who knew what he wanted to do in life, was supported by his family -- a family of modest means, but one that was loving toward their children -- and succeeded.  Heartwarming too was the impression given of most of the people involved with puppets, not only the Henson ones but others -- people who have found work they love and share their pleasures with others, mostly children. Yes, emotionally rewarding work can happen, and possibly happens more than many people realize. Our media is mostly filled with unhappiness -- the positive seldom becomes widely known.  Because the emphasis is usually on the negative, far too few people even seek joy in the work they do.  They think work is drudgery and are always unhappy with their remuneration.   Very sad.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Die in Oregon

Last Friday's documentary class showed, How to Die in Oregon.  The movie is about the law in Oregon that allows doctors to prescribe a lethal dose of pills to persons with a diagnosis of less than six months to live. This was timely as Massachusetts has a similar bill that people will vote on in a couple of weeks.  It was a sensitive, very well done, relatively balanced documentary. The woman in the photo, Cody, had advanced liver cancer. She had a kind and understanding doctor, family and friends. She had a period of remission and so lived longer than the six months.  Being in control was very important to her and her family understood that.

The film showed other people who made a similar decision and also showed some people who were against the legislation.  I feel strongly that people who are of clear mind and definitely want to be in control should have this option. I'm sure I would want it.  In the movie we saw when Cody became very ill, the pain she was in before she made the decision. The movie maker did not show her final hour or so. 

The discussion after the movie was thoughtful and, as with this group of adults, open, honest and touched various sides of the issue.  I realized that really, even though I am quite healthy, I should have those important legal documents, a medical proxy, a living will and a power of attorney for my near-by daughter.  I know how I will vote on the question, and I am going to follow through with the paperwork I should have.  I think I've dragged my feet out of a mixture of (probable) overconfidence and denial.  I think many other people do the same thing, at least until they get a scary diagnosis.  The film was shown at Sundance and I think it can be attained several places. It's worth watching.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Coriolanus, the movie

 Coriolanus was one of Shakespeare's plays I had not read. I studied in some depth last spring with a very erudite retired professor at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. I did not like the play very much.  The movie directed by and starring Ralph Fienes came out in the spring.  The teacher saw it and hated it so I didn't go.  However, my son-in-law saw it somewhat later online and liked it very much.  Last night after dinner with daughter and son-in-law, we watched it. 

I hated it.  Not only was there what seemed an excess of blood and war scenes, the actors seemed too proud of speaking Shakespearean language, and too often indulged in fiercely whispering so that if I had not studied the play recently I wouldn't have had any idea what they were talking about.  Fienes was excellent as the arrogant soldier who knew only war.  And Vanessa Redgrave -- although she whispered and hissed too much -- was a magnificently awful Volumnia, the mother-monster.  I've seen her as Cleopatra and in many non-Shakespearean roles and deeply admire her talent and craft.

Having just written the poem in the previous post, to come face to face with another Shakespearean war story is the kind of coincidence that occurs every now and then.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ekphrasis on a Vanity Fair photo

I could not get the picture in the October Vanity Fair out of my mind. It showed Obama talking to his Security Council as well as VP Biden an Sec. of State Clinton.  We see a bit of Obama on the left, and a table with his advisers, mostly older than he. All the men have their hands over their mouths, the only face we see completely is Hillary Clinton with the most serious and dour expression I've seen in any photo in the last 15 years. This is the meeting at which Obama explained that they had enough information to send the Seals in to kill Bin Laden.  I was surprised a photographer was in the room, his name was not given in the article.  All the advisors knew the meeting was historic and anything they said would be in future books.  I wrote this ekphrasis yesterday afternoon when I was thinking of Shakespeare's kings, especially Prince Hal who, as King Henry, still had to deal with wars with the French despite his victory at Agincourt.

The Decision
Years ago he was the young king,
            The valiant hero who inspired the masses
            With hope of a finer reign, a more peaceful time
            Though he inherited a world wracked by his elders.
As years passed the worldly morass sucked him down,
            The de facto evil enemy lurked, hiding – where?
            The years dragged, until the time had come
            To thrill the populace who, forgetting revenge.
            blamed him for their personal miseries.
Assassination would finally right the balance, he thought.
            A hero needs a bloody corpse beneath his boot.
            The counselors came to hear the plan.
            Their fear of failure, their distrust of strategy
            They hid behind half-obscured faces.
Hands covered their tell tale mouths disguising uncertainty
            As thoughtfulness. They did not suggest capture.
            Only the queen mother stared openly, starkly challenging   
            Her face saying, Is this where our hopes have taken us?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Rain and Shine

It's half-n-half season -- rain, sun, part of the day some of each, some days all of one or the other.  Sometimes warm, sometimes chilly.  Nature's way of trying out her repertoire.  One doesn't know how to get dressed in the morning, when going out for more than a little while, what to wear: sweather, jacket, raincoat?  Take an umbrella? 

In the morning, after a rainy night but when the sun was out brightly and warmly I went for a short walk and found these mushrooms where not a hint of mushroom existed the day before.  A little later I stopped to admire these bits of sunshine in a front yard. As I write it's gray and damp again.  Nature's way of  making sure we're on our toes, never complacent about what the day will bring.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Beach in Autum

Is it too early for Indian Summer? Today was either Indian summer or one very find autumn day. I walked the beach barefoot thinking it could be the last time this year; but hoping tomorrow will be equally lovely and I can repeat the pleasure once more. The golden rod are out and I'm so happy I have no allergies.
The sandy walk was shaded and chilly on my feet but the sand, even the wet sand where the tide was lapping, was pleasant. There are tourists in town but those who come for the beach have gone away. The dogs were off leash, the people were locals who say hello to one another. I was up early enough to step outside and see Venus shining brightly and another half dozen. What a lovely day it was.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Controversial, but I Like it

"An Advocate of Weight Gain" said the headline on the obit of Dr. Reubin Andres in today's NYTimes. I had to read that obit, which I rarely do. Dr. Andres who died at age 89, was a gerontologist and has been clinical director of the National Institute on Aging since 1977. Dr. Andres believed that some weight gain in later adulthood, about 6 pounds per decade after the 40s, if I understand correctly) is healthy. Many disagree with him looking at cholesterol numbers and so on. But Dr. Andres is not talking about allowing oneself to become obese, his research and observation led him to believe that this amount of weight gain is the healthy normal. That makes sense to me; it seems to be what happens to people unless they are heavily influenced by the part of society that insists we should have a 20-something figure all our lives. I think the opposing doctors are more of the "camel's nose under the tent" mindset. If people allow themselves six pounds a decade its likely to get to be more like six pounds a year, and that way lies obesity. I find myself among many people in their later 50s through mid-80s; these are by and large well educated people who are active and generally healthy. Very few can wear the same size clothing they wore at 40; I think most have gained that 6 pounds and sometimes more, but usually not a lot more. I think my gain has been closer to 10 than 6 pounds a year and I wish there were 20 pounds less on my body but I think the unhappiness and stress of determinedly dieting to an arbitrary weight that the body resists strongly is an unnecessary burden. I'm happy to have found out about Dr. Andres' belief -- he had strong medical reasons for believing so, it wasn't a personal prejudice and he was studying the over-50s, which many other doctors don't study. Indeed we have far to much obesity and not nearly enough active people and there are many social reasons for that, it's not just laziness or gluttony as some might say. But, hey, let's enjoy life as long as most things are in moderation, including weight gain.