Posts Tagged ‘family’

reminders on how to breathe during an airborne toxic event

April 6, 2020

Salomon saith, There is no new thing upon the earth. So that as Plato had an imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Salomon giveth his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.

Francis Bacon: Essays, LVIII quoted in Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Immortal”



“How was class?” Denise said.

“It’s going so well they want me to teach another course.”

“In what?”

“Jack won’t believe this.”

“In what?” I said.

“Eating and drinking.  It’s called Eating and Drinking: Basic Parameters.  Which, I admit, is a little more stupid than it absolutely has to be.”

“What could you teach?” Denise said.

“That’s just it.  It’s practically inexhaustible.  Eat light foods in warm weather.  Drink plenty of fluids.”

“But everybody knows that.”

“Knowledge changes every day.  People like to have their beliefs reinforced.  Don’t lie down after eating a heavy meal.  Don’t drink liquor on an empty stomach.  If you must swim, wait at least an hour after eating.  The world is more complicated for adults than it is for children.  We didn’t grow up with all these shifting facts and attitudes.  One day they just started appearing.  So people need to be reassured by someone in a position of authority that a certain way to do something is the right way or the wrong way, at least for the time being.  I’m the closest they could find, that’s all.”

Don Delillo, White Noise


Babette, Jack’s wife and Denise’s mother, teaches a community class to the elderly in posture.  It seems just another layer of ridiculousness, but I’ve begun noticing how so many of us during this moment are doing … exactly the same thing.  It rather reminds me, sweetly, of the way our primate relatives pat each other in touching simplicity, sending the message that we are all in this together, that who you are matters to me, that your cares are mine and while I may not be able to make them disappear, I can utter familiar things that allay your anxieties for now.

Or as we murmur to each other and ourselves the ubiquitous expression, “You’ve got this.”

ringing in the year: a letter to friends, known and unknown

January 1, 2018

the wide, cold Potomac

Happy 2018.  I hope you rang the new year the way you wished to, in the company of one if not more of the people whom you’d like to include in many more joyful experiences as this year unfolds and the northern hemisphere moves into longer, warmer days.

Brr.  The Potomac here is too briny to freeze outright, but what’s fascinating today is that where the water level shallows, the waves, whipped to whitecaps in the center, slow down in a mesmerizing way kinda like those slowed down frames at the end of Taxi Driver.  In trying to describe it in my journal, my mind hit on the word “gravid.”  I’ve never once used it, but upon looking it up (don’t you love a dictionary?), I realized my mind had pulled out from all the clutter exactly what I needed.  Thank god something in there keeps chugging along!

As the most horrible year on my personal scorecard, 2017 just couldn’t end without one last scuffle.  Toward the end of last week I apparently indulged in the borderline-felonious illusion that my father’s wife might want to engage with me on a level other than the platitudinal.  Thus I committed what was apparently a heinous infraction of some invisible rule book by replying to her e-mail with one carefully expressing my recognition & gratitude for her love and support of my father while also noting that my experience with him had been much different.  Apparently this infringed well past her emotional boundaries, and the two of them both issued nasty e-mails to me telling me, with words undoubtedly served up by their separate laptops’ thesauruses, that I was intrusive and hostile.  blah blah blah.  A nice corporate-retirement touch:  they cc’d each other.

One interesting thing arising from this was when I called my mom to talk about it and she divulged a little tidbit from the workup to their second divorce: apparently my father, in his various nasty stratagems to reduce his alimony payments, had tried to float the idea that I wasn’t his child.  Nice.

That’s what I love about my dad’s version of family:  he always wants to have it both ways.  And the world, with all the arbitrariness of its ways, seems willing to let him do just that.  After many decades of searching,  he’s found a wife whose pension & savings not only pay the bills but who believes as fervently in his fantasies about the world & his participation in it as he adheres to hers.  True love.  Sigh!

Anyway, their behavior isn’t particularly upsetting, although at this moment in my life what I would prefer are fewer confrontations and more allies.  However, we don’t get a choice, and I haven’t got space for allies who are INSANE.  What is upsetting, unsurprisingly, is how much it makes me feel my solitude.  So few to turn to and ask, “Is it me who’s crazy or them?”  That was one of the bright spots of my relationship with my sister, another creature suffering the collateral damage wounding of that familial battleground.

It’s my hunch, however, that, just as my writing has allowed my mind better access to vocabulary words, so the work I’ve done on myself (all by myself) has strengthened my discernment to identify what matters to me, what I can accept as my responsibility, and what I won’t.  Jesus, I do hope that this hypothesis turns out to be true.  It won’t solve all or maybe any of my bigger, worldly problems, but if I keep paring stuff down to what I truly need, the baggage will continue to take up less space.  A very important criteria for nomads.

Well, thanks for reading this and sending out good vibes.  I know you’re out there beating back the craziness you’re encountering in your own ways.  That matters.  A lot.

At the river’s edge

October 15, 2017

After becoming acquainted with the ravens out west, I find the eastern crows as tiny as grackles.  Still they’re courageously obstreperous.  Outsized by the bald eagle perched on the branches of the hickory outside my window, they still insist on its immediately withdrawal.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love the bald eagles.  I can’t believe that I can sit here at the dining room table and watch them wheel through the sky or hop across the lawn that stretches down to the bluff over the Potomac.  Wherever I am in the house, I can hear their cascading cries.  This domain of water and raptors is a kingdom I’ve never known.

The crows, on the other hand, have always been with us, like the poor as the adage goes.  Like their cousins the ravens, they are among the smartest animals.  But its their bravery that’s catching my attention these days.  Sure, they know there’s strength in numbers, so they noisily call in their confederates as they make their cries for eviction, but even before the first reinforcement arrives, I see one tiny crow hopping across the branches toward that massive raptor and wonder what he thinks the odds are.

Power comes in all shapes and sizes.  Most often the destructive power we perceive, the power that threatens to crush us, isn’t emanating from one person, place, or thing.  It could be the institution that person represents or a bogey man we’ve built up in our own mental or bodily memory banks.  Someone, or a host of somebodies, who treated us as insignificant in just the same way and once again we are as powerless as we felt during that first, formative encounter.  The story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby is one that reminds me of how I need to be careful about wrestling with demons I perceive when all they are are sticky messes dressed up in tattered clothes.

Not all power is bad.  The eagles need every ounce of their power to survive.  So do people.  It’s when power is wielded without compassion or for the charge of watching someone vulnerable squirm that it’s reprehensible.  My former landlady wrote out an imagined dialogue as a cue card to help choreograph the event when she decided to end our rental arrangement.  It was like a bad scene spoken by a James Bond villain.  She imagined me whimpering at the news that in 2 weeks time I and my cat would have no where to live:  “Where will I go?” I was supposed to say.  Her response to my caterwauling confusion:  “It would have been wise to have had a plan B before you chose to defy the landlady.”

I’ll never be exactly sure what kind of deranged thinking was involved in her scenario, but it’s become clear over the past 3 weeks that it partakes in a degree of paranoia & bullying that’s rampant in the National Park Service.  I realize that in some ways I’ve participated in dressing up the bogeyman.  My parents’ early dismissal of my capabilities left me searching for validation through my job performance, awaiting recognition through the authority invested in a supervisor who may have received his or her position not through merit but through simple elimination of more worthy candidates.  Once I take away the hat and coat and refuse to wrestle with a ball of tar, however, I can only get so dirty.  I will preserve my power, persevere, and one day achieve my own victories.

At this moment in my life, I guess the crow-bald eagle tussle seems refreshingly free of the destructive properties of human fear.  I can wonder at a spectacle that has played out along these shores long before the first humans arrived and will continue long after I am gone.  Like so much in the natural world, it gives me hope that I will find what’s true and essential in myself and find others who have done the same work and have their own gifts to offer.  On a grey Sunday morning in mid-October, looking north across one of the world’s great rivers, it’s what comforts.


Stars, stars, stars, stars

September 14, 2015

Over the past few weeks, a bright star in the east has been shining higher, brighter and longer in the hours before dawn.  That’s our closest neighbor Venus who on August 15 met up with and then slipped behind the Sun and who will be gracing our morning skies all through the winter and spring until next June.  Last week I saw her shining with Mars and the waning crescent moon as I headed to work at the unreasonable hour of 6 am.  This morning I was able to watch her hang alone above the tall poplar trees in the yard until over thirty minutes after sunrise while I stood, cozy in my pajamas, warm cup of coffee in hand, marveling at her persistence in the brightening daylight.

All my young life I lived with a “Morning Star.”  My younger, and only, sister’s name, Danica, is the Czechoslovakian version of this phrase.  Only recently did my mother tell me that it had been the title of a Czech newspaper she’d seen during her brief residence in the heart of downtown San Francisco.  By then, presumably, my name had already been chosen from a Russian novel, so Danica was reserved as a possibility for the next baby, a girl born 2 weeks before my first birthday and 3 days before my mother’s twenty-third.  My sister grew to hate the uniqueness of her name, adding it to a growing list of injuries her mother had committed upon her.  Moving often made such a different name even more onerous, since each new person would mispronounce it, wonder at it, demand an explanation.  As an adult, my sister decided to rename herself “Jane,” a version of her middle name her parents had not given her, one plain and simple enough to require no explanation.

It’s probably not this slight coincidence of having a sibling named for a planet’s morning apparition that makes me love the night sky (does she feel a closer affinity for palm trees?), but it does remind me how closely we are kin to the universe, a helpful reminder since often I feel deeply separate from the lives of everyone else.  I derive such pleasure from seeing Orion’s belt from my front door or charting Sirius’s arc across the southern sky that I tremble to think of the day when I might return to an urban life and be unable to chart our planet’s turnings without the aid of the celestial globe.  As it is now, a long run of grey cloudy nights can leave me feeling unmoored.  As we turn from late summer into fall, it’s still possible to get outdoors at 3 or 4 am and lie back on the stone wall to gaze at the traces of Milky Way, the Great Square of Pegasus, and the beautiful cluster of the Pleiades and allow the anxieties that have awakened me to sift back down into the cosmic dust.  It’s comforting to know that Venus will be shining in the east before dawn, reminding us that we are in some deep way knitted together, making our various ways beneath the light of the stars, bits of stardust scattered far from home.

Here’s a Youtube link to a beautiful poem by Jo Shapcott about Callisto, the nymph turned into a constellation.  Punished for her pregnancy by the chaste and wrathful goddess of the Moon, Diana, Callisto was turned into a bear and torn apart by her own dogs.  Seeing her plight, the gods placed her in the sky as the Great Bear, Ursa Major, one of the few constellations that in the Northern Hemisphere never falls below the horizon.  Thanks to which placed the fabulous National Gallery by Frederick Wiseman for free viewing on its site where I first heard this.