The Archive of Days Past: 1

April 8, 2020 § Leave a comment

One of the ways I have coped with this scary, uncertain time is to randomly read a day from one of my old journals. Whether bad or good, that day is safely in the past—I know the thread of my life continued to unspool after it passed—and some of the entries cheer me up, like this one.

October 9, 1997

I’ve been wearing a pair of black tights Josie calls my “elephant tights.” They bag around my knees and bunch at my ankles. They don’t snap tight against my legs in the way the word “tights” leads you to believe they should.

I am, in fact, suffering a general elastic failure. My underpants too slosh around my hips as loopy as a sombrero. I have not shrunk. My clothes have grown. Every band of elastic has let out its breath, given up.

At work, I stepped out of my half-slip carrying cardboard to the recycle bin. Perfect timing. Had I been anywhere near Howard (desk to my left) it would have ended up on my tombstone. But perhaps that old slip was showing loyalty. I’ve had it since high school. That’s 28 years of keeping my skirt from walking up my legs.  Such service! A slip worthy of being bronzed.

When you keep clothes as long as I do they seem more like companions than fashion statements. The staunchest among them have a greater life expectancy than most large mammals, and all birds with the exception of parrots.

Lately I buy nothing but secondhand clothes. The original owner washes the stiff out, then gets bored, and bags the garment for Goodwill. But when I buy it for cheap the dress or shirt is still up for long years of useful life. Some fabrics, like denim, improve as they mature. They stay strong but grow supple. They get familiar with the physical shape of the wearer. Me.

Shoes have a shorter life span. Especially shoes taken for regular walks and worn daily, like mine. They still last, but over time you have to cut those shoes some slack. The rubber pad on the bottom of the heel wears away first, giving you a peek at the honeycomb construction inside. The honeycombs pick up pebbles and sand when you take those shoes for a walk, and deposit little heaps when you walk back inside.

If your every-day shoes are black, and if you have polished them semi-faithfully, they will have developed handsome, intelligent wrinkles across the insteps. They will have the wizened sheen of salted Italian olives.

Following heel failure, the sole will begin to separate from its uppers. At about this time you will start feeling sorry for your shoes. You will refrain from putting your feet up, concealing their decrepitude, but they’ll be awfully comfortable. And they will be old friends. And you will think, they’re not so bad. Not completely tragic. Think I’ll go for a walk.    

Note: The shoes in the photo are current. My daughter is still embarrassed.

Doing what’s in front of me.

April 5, 2020 § 8 Comments

In different times, the activities I am about to describe might be called Zen. In these times these tasks are my way of dealing with being stunned, dazed, and in free fall. What do I do?

The thing that is right in front of me.

It is usually a physical thing, something done primarily with my hands. I knead bread, sew on a button, play guitar, hang the laundry, wash the dish that is in the sink.

As I do each thing I concentrate, doing the job meticulously and well, as if it is the only thing needed from me.

Maybe one thing is all I can handle given the enormity of what we are going through.

Maybe I need the sense that I still control something.

And maybe, as most of the tasks create order, I do them because I need to believe that I can impose order on the whirlwind.

With this process I fool, prop up, and encourage myself.

Each morning I create a list; not an overwhelming list, but not one that is too easy to be taken seriously, or one that is too scary. In this time of the pandemic the list could be: breathe in, breathe out, stay in the house, breathe in, breathe out…   Instead I concentrate on things I can accomplish, none too easy or too hard (this sounds like the story of the Three Bears, right?).

The goals are concrete and limited so I can achieve and cross them off in a day.

Perhaps my creative right brain is placating my logical left. My right brain instinctively knows my logical left would freak out if it realized it is totally adrift and lacking control, so my right brain is cheering it on, “Look at you, getting the laundry folded so neat and orderly, you go!”

Maybe my logical left is reassuring my scattery right, “Don’t worry, I got this. You know I always do.”

Or maybe they are two wounded soldiers leaning against each other as they limp through a mine field toward safety as far away as the horizon.

Whatever is going on, each time I cross something off my list I feel a disproportionate sense of joy—way to go, me!

Then I shift my gaze to the next task on my list.


October 6, 2019 § 1 Comment

I’ve always hated that label, especially when it is used in a context that has nothing to do with consuming. But as the earth signals, in less and less equivocal ways, that we are driving its natural systems to the point of breakdown, I see that, in all contexts, we are consumers, and that we are consuming the very things on which our survival depends.

And we are doing it so casually, so thoughtlessly, because this is how it is. This is what we do. This is our normal, and heck, everyone does it.

As the elasticity of the ecosystems we take for granted disappears we have to look at “normal” with new eyes. Here are four ways to do that.

1.Think like an alien, one who can see the evolving disaster that threatens all life on this beautiful blue planet. Then observe the behavior of the dominant species.

What? These humans use 1.6 gallons of potable water to make a few ounces of urine go away, eat one meal with a plastic fork that will outlast the person using it, bulldoze a stand of trees and build a dollar store?

If you were seeing human activity as an outsider, would you see reason or madness?

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The rock and the ripple.

September 21, 2019 § 1 Comment

Xfinity’s ad is running over an instrumental version of Here Comes the Sun. So many who see the ad are too young to have experienced the cultural tsunami known as the Beatles.

Still, the tune will insinuate itself into their heads.

Context gone, the melody (that beautiful melody) persists.

The things we create get braided into our collective sense of what-is. They become the commons we all take for granted, the corners of the picture frame that encloses life.

The process begins with an event: George Harrison writes Here Comes the Sun. The record comes out (that is the rock dropped into our collective awareness), and teens all over the world go wild!

Those teens grow up, grow old, but they carry the melody with them. It would gradually die out as they die out, but one day it is re-purposed. And the ripples spread…

After a while the rock and the ripple lose their association. For those who were not alive when the rock was tossed all there is is the ripple, which has taken on a life of its own.

Creativity comes in many forms: music, literature, science, fashion, art, language, politics. Our collective commons are always changing. The Beatles, Einstein, Hitler, Jesus Christ–each dropped a boulder from which the ripples are still spreading.

Most of us have little more than a pebble to toss, but however small or large, each of us creates ripples. And who can say, which will travel far, nudging generations to come?

Stripped of lyrics and those four mop-top lads, that melody (yes, that beautiful melody) takes root in a million young minds.

And the beat goes on.

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Mary went for a walk.

September 9, 2019 § 4 Comments

My husband and I were driving home from Jacksonville after riding Amtrak down the coast from Trenton, New Jersey. We were tired when we pulled into the I-10 rest stop, ready to be home. The poster about the missing woman was small and faded, easy to walk past without a glance, but what hung there was a story, so I stopped.

It was 2015 when Mary went for a walk.

She was born in ’53, so she was younger than I am by a couple of years, but her walk and the walks I take are different. I always know where I am.

Mary didn’t.

According to the poster: “Mary requires medication and suffers from dementia.”

Her face on the poster looked like the face of a third grade teacher. It was an ordinary, sympathetic female face, one that has not been seen by her family or friends for four years.

The poster persists, appealing to random strangers: have you seen this woman in your travels? Do you see her even now, or do you just need a quick stop in the restroom and something from the vending machine before getting back on the road?

What are the odds of a butt-weary traveler stopping, looking, and recognizing Mary, who went for a walk in 2015?

Mary is a needle hidden in the haystack that is the world.

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The weight we carry.

September 1, 2019 § 3 Comments

Does time have weight?

Do we store it in our bones,

or carry it, unwieldy,

in our arms?


Is it the accumulated

weight of time that

wears us out,

makes us old?


I wonder…

can we set that burden down,

travel light again like

a child who lives

in the splendor of right now?


Can that newness be

snuck up on and captured

like a firefly

in a jar? « Read the rest of this entry »

What I’ve figured out so far: part 2

August 18, 2019 § 1 Comment

Give and take only works when there is some of each on both sides. As acts of kindness and material help flow back and forth, we come to know each other, invest in each other, care about each other. When the flow is all one way there is no connection, producing moments that look like this:

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Most of the important things in life happen by chance, not choice. We are far too small and impotent to dictate what comes next.

We label people, then feel we know and understand them, but often all we see is the obvious. I bring food to an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman. That is the label I pasted on her in my mind, a label I learned was inadequate when she told me she used to be an international detective. A cleaning woman I worked with at the Baltimore Zoo revealed that back in the day, she was a blues singer who performed with Billie Holiday. We sum the person in front of us up with a snapshot taken at one moment in a long, complex life. Our quick assessments are far too simple; you never know who you are talking to.

Our words are influenced by what we think the listener wants to hear and the self we wish to project. Each of us has a secret self only scantily visible to others.

Most people are good individually. It is humanity in the aggregate that screws up.

The body has its own form of consciousness that operates independently. We become aware of it at times of danger when a gut reaction stops us in our tracks, but that unconscious thinking is always there. Maybe the conscious mind is just the mouthpiece for the mute body, where a deeper, more primal form of thinking is always in progress. Our most important decisions are made below the level of conscious awareness. It is in the act of justifying and explaining, that the mind takes ownership. As the mind translates the unconscious decision into words, it becomes convinced it is the originator of the idea.

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