Black Friday

Elissa told me the story: After leaving India the year before, she decided she had enough stuff, or too much stuff. She made a pledge that for a year she wouldn’t buy shoes, clothes, purses, or jewelry.

I was impressed by her conviction, but she shrugged it off. “It wasn’t hard.” After that, I did some small-scale experiments of my own, giving up shopping for Lent for a few years. I was always surprised by how much better it made me feel. But it wasn’t until New Year’s Day 2017 that I decided to follow my friend’s example. At the end of 2016, our country had swung in the direction of gold leaf, an ecstatic celebration of unfeeling billionairedom that kept me up at night. I couldn’t settle down to read or write, and in my anxiety I found myself mindlessly scrolling through two particular shopping websites, numbing out with images of shoes, clothes, purses and jewelry. I was trying to distract myself, but the distraction left me feeling worse, the way a late night in a bar smoking Winstons and drinking gin leaves you feeling worse. The unspoken question of shopping is What do I need?, but I didn’t need anything. What I needed was less than what I had…

My few months of no-shopping were full of gleeful discoveries…Once I stopped looking for things to buy, I became tremendously grateful for things I received…

It doesn’t take so long for craving to subside. Once I got the hang of giving something up, it wasn’t much of a trick. The much harder part was living with the startling abundance that had been illuminated when I stopped trying to get more. Once I could see what I already had, and what actually mattered, I was left with a feeling that was somewhere between sickened and humbled. When did I amass so many things, and did someone else need them?

If you stop thinking about what you might want, it’s a whole lot easier to see what other people don’t have…. “I realized I had too many decisions to make that were actually important,” she said. “There were people to help, things to do. Not shopping frees up a lot of space in your brain.” …

The things we buy and buy and buy are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: we can see some shapes out there, light and dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss too many of life’s details. It’s not as if I kept a ledger and took the money I didn’t spend on perfume and gave that money to the poor, but I came to a better understanding of money as something we earn and spend and save for the things we want and need. Once I was able to get past the want and be honest about the need, it was easier to let the money go. It was like Elissa had told me when she first explained the benefits of not shopping: “Our capacity for giving is huge.”

Ann Patchett, from “My Year of No Shopping” in “These Precious Days: Essays” (Harper, November 23, 2021)


Image: Los Angeles Times: Best New Books to Read November 2021

And now in age I bud again

The only trouble with being born in 1961 is that in 2021 you will turn 60, something I did last week. It’s very strange to persist in feeling 22, even as every mirror — and every storefront window and polished elevator door — reveals the truth. Sixty is the point at which people must admit they are no longer middle-aged.

Lately it’s been dawning on me that I would not want to have been born even one minute later than 1961, either. Last week I mentioned this new thought to a friend, and her response was immediate, as though she’d already had it herself: “Because we won’t have to live through the cataclysm?”

Exactly.

Well, no, not exactly. On the days when headlines are full, yet again, with firestorms and catastrophic flooding and biodiversity collapse and endless pandemic and a depressingly effective disinformation campaign to deny the climate emergency — on those days, yes. Absolutely yes. On those days I am glad to be 60 because it means I almost certainly won’t live to witness the cataclysm that is coming if humanity cannot change its ways in time.

But that’s not the way I think on most days. On most days I am simply grateful for the 60 years I’ve had…

I have lived long enough to have learned, too, that what is beautiful and joyful is almost always fleeting and must never be squandered. That rejection rarely bears any relationship to worth. That whatever else might separate us, sharing a love for “Ted Lasso” is enough common ground to start the harder conversations. That life is too short to wear uncomfortable shoes…

A lifelong friend, one who will also turn 60 this year, sent me an email on my birthday. Her message contained a passage from “The Flower,” a poem by George Herbert: “Grief melts away / Like snow in May, / As if there were no such cold thing. / Who would have thought my shriveled heart / Could have recovered greenness?”

Who would have thought, indeed? But given enough time, we do go on, somehow. Like the stems and branches of springtime, our shriveled hearts can recover greenness, too. “And now in age I bud again,” Herbert wrote, and so it is with us.

— Margaret Renkl, from “I Just Turned 60, but I Still Feel 22″ in The New York Times (November 1, 2021)


Portraits: First: Margaret Renkl at Auburn University in 1983.  Credit…Billy Renkl. Second: WUTC on September 15, 2021 at 4:37 PM EDT

Walking. With All-Clear Signal.

6:00 am. yesterday. Twilight.  Cove Island Park morning walk. 528 days. Almost in a row.

Parking lot is full.  I mean fulland don’t like it. Daylight Savings Time ends November 7th. Spring Forward. Fall Back. It can’t come soon enough. Clear this park of its Humans.

Fall Back.

Fall Back.

Doctor’s Office. One month ago.

“Have you fallen down?”
“Sure.”
“Sure?”
“Yes.”
“What do you mean?”

Early morning walk. Right toe catches large stone on beach. Think Stop, Drop and Roll.  But without the Stop and Roll.  It’s Drop and Splat.  Entire moment happens so fast, I’m rattled. Laying face first.

He prods and pokes around my abdomen. Lifts my shirt. Slides it back down again.

“What’s this?”

Same morning. Still mostly darkish twilight. I’ve brushed myself off. I’m walking beside the break wall. The pokey end of tree branch, sharp, dry, catches me on forehead, an inch above my eye. My good eye.

“Hmmmmm.  Who’s your GP?” [Read more…]

Sunday Morning

But there’s not much in the Gospel about the afterlife—John is the only one who talks about it. And doesn’t that seem strange? If the afterlife is so important? When the rich young man asks Jesus how he might have eternal life, Jesus doesn’t give him a straight answer… But I’ve read those verses a hundred times. The rich young man asks about eternity, and Jesus tells him to give away his money. He says what to do in the present—as if the present is where you find eternity—and I think that’s right. Eternity is a mystery to us, just like God is a mystery. It doesn’t have to mean rejoicing in heaven or burning in hell. It could be a timeless state of grace or bottomless despair. I think there’s eternity in every second we’re alive.

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 5, 2021)

a promise of everything the day ahead might hold

Becky that morning had awakened before dawn… She lay in the dark and listened to the tick and wheeze of the radiator, the struggling clank of pipes below. As if for the first time, she appreciated the goodness of being snug in a house on a cold morning. Also, no less, the goodness of the cold, which made the snugness possible; the two things fit together like a pair of mouths…

When the alarm clock went off in her parents’ bedroom, one door over from hers, it wasn’t the usual cruel morning sound but a promise of everything the day ahead might hold. When she heard the faint buzz of her father’s shaver and the footsteps of her mother in the hallway, she was amazed she’d never noticed, until today, how precious ordinary life was and how lucky she was to be a part of it. So much goodness. Other people were good. She herself was good. She felt goodwill to all mankind.

Jonathan Franzen, Crossroads: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 5, 2021)

Sunday Morning

A sacrament is something holy happens. It is transparent time, time you can see through to something deep inside time… In other words, at such milestone moments as seeing a baby baptized or being baptized yourself, confessing your sins, getting married, dying, you are apt to catch a glimpse of the almost unbearable preciousness and mystery of life.

Needless to say, church isn’t the only place where the holy happens. Sacramental moments can occur at any moment, at any place, and to anybody. Watching something get born. Making love. A walk on the beach. Somebody coming to see you when you’re sick. A meal with people you love. Looking into a stranger’s eyes and finding out they are not a stranger’s.

If we weren’t blind as bats, we might see that life itself is sacramental.

—  Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking (HarperOne; September 24, 1993)


Notes:

Miracle. All of It.

For the purposes of the book, Robin, who desperately believes in the sanctity of life beyond himself, begs his father for these nighttime, bedtime stories, and Theo gives him easy travel to other planets. Father and son going to a new planet based on the kinds of planets that Theo’s science is turning up and asking this question, what would life look like if it was able to get started here? And what would that change in our sense of who we are and where we’ve been dropped down?

And they make this journey across the universe through all kinds of incubators, all kinds of petri dishes for life and the possibilities of life. And rather than answer the question — so where is everybody? — it keeps deferring the question, it keeps making that question more subtle and stranger. And I wasn’t sure where I would go with this ultimately in the book. And one thing I kept thinking about that didn’t make it into the final book but exists as a kind of parallel story in my own head is the father and son on some very distant planet in some very distant star, many light years from here, playing that same game. And the father saying, OK, now imagine a world that’s just the right size, and it has plate tectonics, and it has water, and it has a nearby moon to stabilize its rotation, and it has incredible security and safety from asteroids because of other large planets in the solar system.

Imagine that everything happens just right so that every square inch of this place is colonized by new forms of experiments, new kinds of life. And the father trying to entertain his son with the story of this remarkable place in the sun just stopping him and saying, Dad, come on, that’s asking too much. Get real, that’s science fiction. That’s the vision that I had when I finished the book, an absolutely limitless sense of just how lucky we’ve had it here.

— Richard Powers, from Ezra Klein’s Podcast Interview titled “This Conversation With Richard Powers Is a Gift.” (September, 28, 2021, The New York Times)


Notes: (1) The podcast and/or transcript is long but worthy.  (2) Post title Inspired by Albert Einstein’s quote: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (3) Photo Credit

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Experience one beautiful thing a day. However small. However trivial. Read a poem. Play a favorite song. Laugh with a friend. Gaze at the sky just before the sun’s final tumble toward night. Watch a classic movie. Eat a slice of lemon drizzle cake. Whatever. Just give yourself one simple reminder that the world is full of wonders. Even if we are at a point in life where we can’t appreciate things, it sometimes helps to remember there are things in this world to enjoy, when we are ready.

—  Matt Haig, with “One Beautiful Thing” in “The Comfort Book” (Penguin Life, July 6, 2021)


Notes:

It is a one-way trip

It is a one-way trip.

Each moment of life is a an irreplaceable jewel. If we could carry death on our left shoulder the way Carlos Castaneda suggests and treat every moment as the treasure it is, we would never waste our lives being angry, or petty. We would treat each encounter with a person or a place as the last one. Life continues to change, and with that change we evolve into something new. It doesn’t make what was before wrong but it is gone forever…

I think living here has for me been an opportunity to see this cyclic nature of seasons and yet every season is different. Certainly, I am different with each season.

At the end of my long life what I have discovered is that there are no ordinary days.

—  Jean Aspen, Arctic Daughter: A Lifetime of Wilderness (2018)


Find Documentary Video on Amazon Prime Video

Walking. With Someday & Soon.

479 consecutive days. Like in a Row.  Walking, at Cove Island Park.

~ 20 minutes before sunrise, and I’m walking the shoreline. It twitches. The surface stirs. Their bellies, silver flashes, mica flickering in twilight.

I look overhead. No gulls, no egrets, no herons. Enjoy your quiet time little people, while it lasts.

I keep walking. Multiple schools swirl ahead of me.

The Twilight Zone.

I walk.

Pages of James Tate Hill’s new memoir, Blind Man’s Bluff, turn. “It’s that meaning can rest in the smallest details, in every moment and gesture and line of dialogue.” 

The middle aged Chinese woman runner. Hardy girl that she is, running every morning straight through the winter months. She no longer runs on Weed Avenue, the main artery to the Park.  She ducks in and out of the side streets.  Fearing assault? Retribution for the Chinese Virus?

The Veteran Retiree. No sign of him in months. Visiting his grandchildren? Ill? Hospitalized?

Runner with Spandex and wired, Over-The-Ear headphones. He rolls on. Wired. With Over-the-Ear headphones. With Spandex. Luminescent disco blue. [Read more…]

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