Walking Cross Town. A Good Walk Spoiled.

Just another day.

Walking cross-town to the office.

Paddling in an introvert’s dichotomy soup – preferring to be held in the comforts of Home, of the Known, yet, nourished by the anonymity of the city. The City. Where I can walk for days, for weeks, and never be recognized, and never recognize anyone. Where you can walk for blocks in your own head and remain peacefully undisturbed, in your anxieties, your doubts, and flashes of unexpected wonder.  A small dog on a leash, sniffing, then pulled by the owner, both navigating through the rush hour throngs of feet. I watch them. The branches of a Japanese bonsai tree in a small green patch fluttering in a wind gust, as the hulking, soulless gray skyscrapers glare from above. I look back to carry it with me. A bird, or a small flock of birds, sailing in the wind tunnel of 46th street. My arms are pulled upward to sail with them. There are these few, so few, that rush to park upfront, for immediate recall.

So I walk. I’m left alone. Whatever the day, and no matter the weather. It’s my time.

It’s Tuesday. Same landscape. Same story. Same velvety cocoon.

Your name is called out.

You are sure it is a mistake.

You keep walking. You don’t acknowledge the shout behind you.

The call is repeated, a rude awakening from a deep sleep, in the midst of a beautiful dream.  This good walk spoiled. Shattered. [Read more…]

Driving I-95 N. Above the World.

Step out of the office. 15 hours and counting…

A slow walk down an empty hallway,

and a slower walk to an empty garage.

Ride home.

8:15 pm, cruising up I-95 North.

Traffic, frictionless.

Waze est. of travel time: 23 minutes.

David Crosby, “Carry Me” is on repeat.

Carry me, carry me
Carry me above the world
Carry me, carry me, carry me.

Waze: 10 minutes to Home.

Body races ahead

and eases into bed

slides under the covers

sheets, fresh, cool

seconds drip, unhurried

in ether, adrift, rising

above the world

Home, Home at last.


Notes:

Here I was, I thought, living.

Things were better at home when a chicken roasted in the oven or eggs cooked in a hot buttered pan… Cooking was a meditation, I thought. It anchored me in my body—here was my hand, holding a knife, slicing through celery. Here I was, standing on the black and white kitchen tile of my first apartment in Brooklyn, listening to records, making dinner. Here I was, I thought, living.

~ Sarah McColl, “Joy Enough: A Memoir.” (January, 2019)


Notes: Image: Better Homes & Gardens – Perfect Fried Eggs.  Prior Sarah McColl posts

when the decorations come down from the attic, time goes both ways at once

Every year when the decorations come down from the attic, time goes both ways at once…

All day long I’m surrounded by reminders of nearly a quarter-century in this house. Who I am and who I’ve been, and who everyone else I love has been…

Then the Christmas boxes come down from the attic, and time extends backward even further, beyond this house, and forward to a future in which the broadest outlines are already clear though the details are still unknown. Getting down the Christmas decorations is always a reminder of eternity, that unfamiliar space where past and present and future exist simultaneously — a space I can enter, even figuratively, only at Christmastime.

Here is the ornament in the shape of a baseball player from my husband’s boyhood years. Here is the little felt-covered drum my mother helped me make from a paper-towel roll. Here are the blown-egg ornaments my high school Secret Santa left in my locker and the gold-and-silver Benson & Hedges box a college friend hung on the tree in my first college apartment. Here are the metal lapel pins that proved I’d paid for admission at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the only “decorations” I could scrounge up when I was in graduate school. Here are the twisted-tin icicles my husband and I bought at a craft fair the year before we got married, already looking ahead to our own first tree. Here’s the little marionette Santa my mother-in-law won as a door prize at a Parkinson’s support group just before what turned out to be her last Christmas.

Most precious of all are the homemade ornaments from my children’s preschool years: messy, often unrecognizable figures — is that an archangel or Medusa? Rudolph or Popsicle-stick conceptual art? We hang them on the tree every year, ugly as some of them indisputably are. They remind my husband and me of that brief time in our family’s life when there was still someone at home small enough to jump up and down, clapping with glee, when the Christmas tree lights came on for the first time, even if it was only a test and the lights were spread out across the floor or still tangled together at the bottom of a cardboard box…

Last year when I packed up the Christmas decorations, I set aside our oldest son’s homemade ornaments in a separate box. He is on his own now, and I know the day is coming when he will have his own tree to decorate, his own holiday traditions to establish. He didn’t put up a tree this year, so his father and I are still keeping them safe, but we are also ready for whatever comes next.

For now those ornaments are back in their old familiar places, hanging alongside all the other reminders that the people who are gone from us are never truly gone, that the little boys hopping up and down with excitement are still somewhere inside the grown men who can set that homely angel in her place at the top of the tree without even straining to reach.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “The Christmas Time Capsule” (The New York Times, December 24, 2018)
 

Photo Credit

Sunday Morning

“She had described her home and her life in a way that had often returned to me during those years and that I could still clearly recall. Her description of the town where she lived – a place I had never been to, though I knew it wasn’t far from here – and of its beauty had been particularly tenacious: it had often, as I had said, returned to my mind, to the extent that I had wondered why it did. The reason, I thought, was that this description had a finality to it that I couldn’t imagine ever attaining in my own circumstances. She had talked about the placid neighbourhood where she had her home with her husband and children, with its cobbled streets too narrow for cars to pass down, so that nearly everyone travelled by bicycle, and where the tall, slender gabled houses were set back behind railings from the silent waterways on whose banks great trees stood, holding out their heavy arms so that they made plunging green reflections in the stillness below, like mirrored mountains. Through the windows you could hear the sounds of footsteps on the cobbles below and the hiss and whirr of bicycles passing in their shoals and drifts; and most of all you could hear the bells that rang unendingly from the town’s many churches, striking not just the hours but the quarter and half hours, so that each segment of time became a seed of silence that then blossomed, filling the air with what almost seemed a kind of self-description. The conversation of these bells, held back and forth across the rooftops, was continued night and day: its cadences of observation and agreement, its passages of debate, its longer narratives – at matins and evensong, for instance, and most of all on Sundays, the repeating summons building and building until it was followed at last by the joyous, deafening exposition – comforted her, she had said, as the sound of her parents’ lifelong conversation had comforted her in her childhood, the rise and fall of their voices always there in the next room, discussing and observing and noting each thing that happened, as though they were making an inventory of the whole world. The quality of the town’s silence, she had said, was something she only really noticed when she went elsewhere, to places where the air was filled with the drone of traffic and of music blaring out of restaurants and shops and the cacophony from the endless construction sites where buildings were forever being torn down and then put up again. She would come home to a silence that at those times felt so refreshing it was like swimming in cool water, and she would for a period be aware of how the bells, far from disturbing the silence, were in fact defending it.”

~ Rachel Cusk, Kudos: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; June 5, 2018)


Notes: Photo above & Book Review: ‘Kudos’ by Rachel Cusk deserves kudos indeed.  This book, the last of a trilogy, was named one of the NY Times Top 100 Books of the Year in 2018 and an Amazon Book of the Month in June 2018. Reader beware, imo, “Outline (Trilogy Book 1)” and Transit (Book 2) were preferred by this reader.

It has one of everything, so it is in a sense an ark

I felt at home, strangely, because it is a miniature world.… One manor house, one farmhouse. A vineyard, a field of potatoes, a field of wheat, a cherry tree, an orchard. It has one of everything, so it is in a sense an ark. It is like when you draw a place when you are a child. I don’t like large-scale things, not in architecture or evolutionary leaps. I think it’s an aberration. This notion of something that is small and self-contained is for me a moral and aesthetic ideal.

~ W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country 


Image: Cristiana Coucerio for The New Yorker,

Driving West Side Highway. With Chip off the Old Block (not).

It’s 5:40 a.m. An early jump to beat the morning rush to mid-town Manhattan. I’m in a 50 mph zone, and traffic is blowing by me as if I were standing still. No matter. I’m not chasing them, not today.  I’m on the West Side Highway. Manhattan condo’s tower overhead on my left. Hudson River flows silently on my right. Sun is rising and casting a dreamy glow over all things. Passages from Richard Powers’ new book (The Overstory) flick through consciousness:  It’s morning like the morning when life first came up on dry land.

And the mind panned from Now to yesterday. From Richard to Rachel. To my Rachel.

Rachel’s birthday was yesterday. She took the day off and came home. “You don’t expect me to work on my birthday do you Dad?” With Mom and Dad both working, she was going to spend the day alone at home. Now that doesn’t seem right.  I cancelled meetings, worked from home and scheduled lunch with Rachel at the Rowayton Seafood restaurant.

She orders the Lobster Roll (butter poached with lemon on brioche). Plus fries. Dad orders the blackened salmon on a bed of corn, tomatillo and asparagus. Plus fries.

Waitress asks her if she’d like a glass of wine with lunch. “No Thank you. Ice water would be great.” I watched her interaction with the waitress, her unfolding of her napkin and placing it on her lap, her straightening her dress over her knees, her ease in the surroundings, her comfort in her own skin. Wow. Look at what you’ve become. [Read more…]

Each small accomplishment completed brings me closer to…what exactly? The finish line?

katrina-kenison.jpg

All month I’ve been making lists, crossing things off lists, making new lists – grocery lists, to-do lists, gift lists. Somehow the act of writing things down and crossing them out calms me, as if each small accomplishment or task completed brings me closer to…what exactly? The finish line?

Of course, the idea of completion is an illusion. There will be to-dos until the day when there aren’t, and I’m certainly not in any hurry to get there. Nor do I want to look at December 25 as the end of some silly holiday race.

So my challenge today, and every day this season, is to simply relax into the day’s doings, whatever they may be. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the closer I stay to home and hearth during these short, dark days, the more peaceful I feel.

~ Katrina Kenison, from “Spicy Holiday Granola” (December 15, 2017)

A Journey Around My Room

In Lin Yutang’s view, you must possess the capacity to open yourself to seeing what’s in front of and around you all the time, not just when you are on a special trip. He gives us a sizable translation from a Chinese philosopher who expands on this, explaining that seeing the beauty and grace in the most majestic mountains means nothing if you can’t see beauty and grace in “a little patch of water, a village, a bridge, a tree, a hedge, or a dog….”

A travel book that takes this philosophy as far as it can go and then further is that remarkable little book: A Journey Around My Room. This is book was written in 1790 by a young French officer named Xavier de Maistre. […]

With nothing else to do, he wrote a guidebook to his room, visiting over the course of those weeks various bits of furniture, paintings, his bookshelf, letters he’d kept, and his own memory of a charming and slightly rakish life … De Maistre makes a case for traveling around his room as the truest kind of travel … “The pleasure you find in traveling around your room is safe from the restless jealousy of men; it is independent of the fickleness of fortune. After all, is there any person so unhappy, so abandoned, that he doesn’t have a little den into which he can withdraw and hide away from everyone? Nothing more elaborate is needed for the journey.”

Like all good travel writers, de Maistre begins his book by giving us the lay of the land and the route he intends to take:

My room is situated on the forty-fifth degree of latitude, according to the measurement of Father Beccaria; it stretches from east to west; it forms a long rectangle, thirty-six paces in circumference, if you hug the wall. My journey will, however, measure much more than this, as I will be crossing it frequently lengthwise, or else diagonally, without any rule or method. I will even follow a zigzag path, and I will trace out every possible geometrical trajectory if need be. I don’t like people who have their itineraries and ideas so clearly sorted out that they say, “Today I’ll make three visits, I’ll write four letters, and I’ll finish that book I started.” My soul is so open to every kind of idea, taste and sentiment; it so avidly receives everything that presents itself!…And why would it turn down the pleasures that are scattered along life’s difficult path? …

But when he wants to be awakened to what is going on in the world far from his window, and learn more about the human condition, there is another destination in his room that he can visit—his bookshelf, which is filled mostly with novels and a few books of poetry. These take him out of his room while allowing him to stay in it, and expand his experiences a thousandfold. He writes, “As if my own troubles weren’t enough, I also voluntarily share those of a thousand imaginary characters, and I feel them as vividly as my own.” …

After reading A Journey Around My Room, I vowed that I would take a trip to my room every few months, and these have been some of the happiest days I’ve spent. It’s an incredible luxury to be home and not sick, to wake up with no agenda other than to wander around the apartment all day. I can lie on the sofa and look at the light as it plays across a glass table. Or see the way it catches on a cracked ceramic vase. I can play with the shells I’ve brought back from the beach. I can admire our hearty little African violet. And I can visit my books, flipping through this one and then that to light on a passage.

This only works if I remain totally unplugged. The rules for such a day are simple—no electronics at all (except for music).

~ Will Schwalbe, from “A Journey Around My Room. Traveling.” In Books for a Living.


Notes:

Running. Around Gitche Gumee.

6:37 am, Sunday morning. Father’s Day 2017.  57º F, rain is falling. No, better depicted as the heavens opening up, c’était le déluge!

I’m running.

An eerie, fifty foot layer of fog hangs over Lake Superior. I’m looking out at the break wall at Presque Isle Park in Marquette Michigan. I’m alone on the “Island”, as it is referred to by the locals. The park is closed to car traffic.  Alone on a 323 acre island, my idyllic state.

It’s not November, but I start humming passages from Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald:

In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
In the maritime sailors’ cathedral
The church bell chimed till it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call ‘gitche gumee’
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

The day before, we walked this same two mile track.  Black flies were feeding on the leeward side of the island, Humans were on the breakfast menu. You don’t see a single insect on 47th and Madison in NYC with tons of auto exhaust and air conditioner coolant spilling into the atmosphere 24 x 7 – the invisible chemical mist numbing everything in its path. [Read more…]

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