Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Light Is Like a Spider

I was reminded by NPR that National Poetry Month is almost over. A good exercise for me is to seek out a poem I've never read before that has meaning for me, so here is the result of an instinctive and spontaneous search that resulted in something very lovely. The author is Wallace Stevens.


The light is like a spider.
It crawls over the water.
It crawls over the edges of the snow.
It crawls under your eyelids
And spreads its webs there—
Its two webs.

The webs of your eyes
Are fastened
To the flesh and bones of you
As to rafters or grass.

   There are filaments of your eyes
On the surface of the water
And in the edges of the snow. 
Rockwell Kent (1882 - 1971), "Home Port," 1931

For D.

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I went to the wake of a distant relative yesterday. Well, I suppose not all that distant, as distant goes, but not close. He was my father’s second cousin. What I found out from some research my sister did before I went is that their fathers were first cousins, and those men’s fathers were brothers.

My father always referred to him simply as his cousin Denny. I don’t think I ever met him, even though he and his wife lived just outside DC in Virginia (I grew up in the Maryland suburbs). What I knew of him was that, for as long as I can remember, he’d call my father on the occasional Saturday or Sunday afternoon, usually to talk about genealogy—some new fact he’d uncovered, or a question that my father, who also dabbled in family history, might know the answer to. But he had a tendency to go on and on, and inevitably Dad would be rolling his eyes or mock-dramatically shaking his fist at whoever had handed the phone to him. These calls could, it seems now, last an hour or more.

Denny and Dad's contact was mostly by phone. But sometime in the last 10 or 15 years, Dad went to an anniversary party for Denny and his wife—I remember because it was in a distant Virginia suburb and involved a combination of driving and the subway and walking, plus bringing my mother, who was already showing signs of dementia. An ordeal, in other words, from Dad’s perspective.

Denny continued to call after my father moved into assisted living. The last time I remember him phoning was probably close to a year ago, when I happened to be visiting. At this point, no one called my father anymore outside of his kids—it was just too hard to carry on a conversation. But Denny did. I don’t even remember what they were talking about (inasmuch as I could make any of it out from Dad’s side). All I recall was hearing Dad repeat the same questions over and over and over again, creating a circular conversation that Denny—with many years of experience in keeping someone on the line—stuck with until it was time to say goodbye.

At the wake yesterday, I met Denny’s wife. She was charming and sharp and remembered my parents well—I should have realized they had a whole social history, dating back 50 or more years, long before the genealogy phone calls began. I told her how much my father enjoyed the calls—which I actually think he did, despite the eye rolls—and how we as a family especially appreciated Denny’s contact in later years.

Also at the wake were several of Denny’s nephews and nieces and their spouses (he didn’t have kids of his own), all of them about my age or a bit older. We talked about my tenuous relationship to their uncle, how I wanted to be there in Dad’s place to pay my respects because he's in "memory care" now (with no phone at all) and isn’t able to get out. We small-talked about our  traditional Catholic names (Michael, Patrick, William, Matthew, Katherine, etc.) and how different young people’s names today are. They were very friendly and welcoming, but I was so nervous—my hairline was dripping with sweat in that way it has, and I don’t even have hair anymore! I was at the wake for a total of about 30 minutes, then I had to get back to work.

On the Metro, it struck me all at once that I was related by blood to probably half of the dozen or so strangers in that small room, and the realization practically took my breath away.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Spring is slow in taking hold this year. 
It's been quite chilly, so much so that the last couple of evenings I would have lit a fire in the fireplace if P. (the dog, for anyone who needs a reminder) and I hadn't gravitated to the bedroom both times, as that is where she seems to prefer to hang out. When I can—which is not always, as I have things to do—I indulge her and we stretch out on the bed together. Or I work at the desk nearby (tonight I needed to file amendments to my tax returns, as I discovered an error in my favor).
Last summer I actually started running shirtless. Yes, you heard me. Mostly at night, with the illusion of darkness (I run on brightly lit city streets). But sometimes during the day I would run in the park, with the illusion of anonymity.
The sensation, both physical and otherwise, was one I'd never experienced before in my life. Air on my torso somewhere other than on the beach. (And eyes. There was that.) It was addictive, thrilling. I ran and ran, more than I had in years, both in frequency and distance. So much so that I gave myself sciatica, which I'm still dealing with.
I'm waiting for the warmth to return.

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Validation Is Always Welcome

I thought this recent article on men who shave their heads was surprisingly behind the curve for the trend-conscious New York Times, but I enjoyed it anyway—including the pictures. (This is not one of them.)

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Monday, April 23, 2012

Getting to 50 . . . and Beyond

This is cheating, but I can't think of a better way of summing up what my folding bike means to me than what I said in my Christmas letter in December:
"On my 50th birthday [in September], I bought a bicycle. I haven’t owned one since my Schwinn banana seat. A bike has been on my mind for a long time (D. and I ride every summer on Cape Cod, where I’ve rented mine), but it’s taken me a while to admit it’s okay for me to have one. (Don’t ask—it’s like the contortions I went through before I gave myself permission to move from the Maryland suburbs to DC 16 years ago.) This bike has changed my life. It’s a folding model, perfect for my tiny “urban cottage” (D.’s second home, mine being his lovely house in, guess where, the Maryland suburbs). I had no intention of using it to commute, but within a month I was riding to work, mostly on bike lanes, weather and other factors permitting. You’d recognize me—I’m the one who obeys traffic signals. The obvious feeling is freedom, but it’s not the main part. For years I’ve had dreams I’m on a bike, but the sensation is the accomplishment of getting somewhere on my own power. I wake up feeling, Wasn’t it cool how I got there?"

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Good Wood

This is a picture of a recent purchase I love. I call it my Amish high-tech device—a wooden iPod speaker. Is the sound quality great? No (it's the primary complaint in the few reviews online). But it's perfect for my needs (which says a lot about me).
I actually rarely listen to the music on my iPod. What I listen to when I run or am taking the bus to or from work is public radio. My favorite shows include All Things Considered (I listen to Morning Edition, but too often it feels like medicine), The Splendid Table, The State We're In (consistently excellent, with the superb host Jonathan Groubert), This American Life, On the Media, The Moth Radio Hour. I also spend a lot of time in the car—well, actually I don't by American standards; the last time I took my car in for servicing, the guy said, "You don't drive very much, do you?" But the drive to D.'s house can take anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, and it's at least a half hour from my place to see my parents, so when I am driving it's usually for longish stretches.
Washington radio, except for the public stations, in particular WAMU, is terrible. I guess all commercial radio is. And I often find myself driving or going for a run when one of my favorite shows is just ending, or when I have to get out of the car mid-show, or when the show isn't even on, or—more important—when my least favorite public-radio program is on. Etc.
So I finally took a chance on this little device from the Museum of Modern Art, which I'd seen in New York magazine probably a year or more ago. Now I listen to podcasts as I drive and don't miss a thing.
And the cuteness is through the roof.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

"Passing on Your Left"

Today I searched for a post from five years ago because I thought it might trigger an idea for an essay. It didn’t, or hasn’t yet, but I ended up reading a number of entries from the summer of 2007—I haven’t gone back to read old posts in the longest time—and I was pleasantly surprised to see how witty and fun they were. Not that I didn’t think they would be; I just had lost touch with that whole habit. 
I had quite forgotten what it was like to ramble on about this and that in my life, and how comfortable I seemed doing it—all the weaving back and forth in time and from post to post and link to link. I think I trusted myself more in those days to let my mind go where it wanted to. That might be a healthy place for me to get to again. 
So I didn’t get inspiration for an essay (the story is five years old, after all), but I did get inspired to write a new post, which you (someone? anyone?) are reading now. The last time I blogged was in January, and I thought this time was really going to take. Sigh. 
Maybe I was meant to be led back here today by thinking about that lunch with an old high-school classmate in 2007. 
Today might be the quintessentially beautiful Washington spring day. Clear blue sky, ’70s. I spent time in this park again with a vegan cupcake (the best vegan cupcake in Washington) and cup of coffee after eating lunch at my desk. 
I’ll bike home on the folding bike I bought for my 50th birthday last September. I really should have blogged about that when it happened. It’s one of the greatest additions to my life, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I would have blogged about five years ago. Perhaps I will at some point. 
I came across this delightful blog (or really blogs) today and want to visit it more. Part of it is something called the Betty Crocker Project, an admitted rip-off of (or riff on?) Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia thing (I know that was the book and movie name; can’t recall her original blog title at the moment), but this couple is creating vegan versions of every recipe in the Betty Crocker Cookbook. They have their own cookbook coming out next year; I read about the blog in the publisher’s catalog. 
I just thought of a bunch of things to blog about. What does it mean when you have to make a mental note to put something into words at a later date? One thing it means: The bike lane awaits.

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