Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

All of us are a little untethered right now, which means a lot of projecting our own fears and anxieties onto other people. Sometimes, if we get really quiet—quiet enough to hear ourselves—we realize we know.

Emmanuel AchoIllogical: Saying Yes to a Life Without Limits (Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book, March 22, 2022)


Photo credit: Alessandro Gentile

Sea of Tranquility: A beat. A sip of water. Pacing is everything.

While (he) slips immediately into the same stasis that overcame him… It isn’t quite listlessness. He makes a careful inventory of his thoughts and decides that he isn’t unhappy. He just desires no further movement, for the time being. If there’s pleasure in action, there’s peace in stillness.

—  Emily St. John Mandel, Sea of Tranquility: A Novel (Knopf, April 5, 2022)


Notes:

  • Highly recommended.  Let’s just describe this as a Wow. (And if you can listen to book on Audible, a real plus. Excellent narration.)
  • NY Times Book Review: A Dazzling New Foray into Speculative Fiction From Emily St. John Mandel – “In Sea of Tranquility,” Mandel takes up existential questions of time and being…In “Sea of Tranquility,” Mandel offers one of her finest novels and one of her most satisfying forays into the arena of speculative fiction yet, but it is her ability to convincingly inhabit the ordinary, and her ability to project a sustaining acknowledgment of beauty, that sets the novel apart. As in Ishiguro, this is not born of some cheap, made-for-television, faux-emotional gimmick or mechanism, but of empathy and hard-won understanding, beautifully built into language, for all of us who inhabit this “green-and-blue world” and who one day might live well beyond.
  • Image via CBC

T.G.I.F.: Perhaps this is the time to take an extra slow sip from a piping mug of coffee

From where I write, the world is a storm of scars and grief, and somehow, of unexpected delight. This mélange isn’t logical. It’s a mystery. But perhaps now is the perfect time for such a thing.

Perhaps this is the time to take an extra slow sip from a piping mug of coffee, to let the steam melt into the waiting face and to savor the way that dark substance can invigorate the body. Perhaps this is the time to gaze at squirrels in the yard, those lucky rodents who don’t seem to realize—or care—that we’ve changed, those chipper squirrels whose routines continue with full gusto despite everything else. Perhaps this is the time to sit with someone you’ve grown accustomed to seeing each day, to stare at their familiar face under familiar light and look for the unfamiliar things that made you love them in the first place.

This is a time when one of the few things we’re certain about is how little certainty there is. We can scramble to find answers and do what we can to act in the midst of these swirling questions and trials, but this can also be a time to pause. Somehow, in the middle of all these current messes, there are still pleasant—even delightful—mysteries to be found. There are friends to check in on (from a distance), there’s astonishment to be shared. There are poems to be read. There is hope to be found, embraced, passed along.

The heavy blanket of fog in the yard has lightened so that it’s no more than a sheet. The baby maple, still alone, stretches up from its cast. Next year, it may be crowned with leaves, and someday, it will give us shade, like the ones who came before it. Somehow, in the midst of everything, it grows stronger each day.

—  Angela Hugunin, from “The Comfort Of A Poem: Reflections on Mary Oliver’s “Mysteries, Yes. ” (cvwritersguild.org, April 7, 2020)


Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Walking. On the Edge…

+ 6:10 a.m. Saturday. 41°. Calm, light drizzle. Cove Island Park Walk. + The Body is pulled to this part of The Cove, and it softens along the gentle, sloping embankment at the estuary of the Noroton River and the Long Island Sound. There is Something about this spot that’s magic. William Stafford in his book “Even in Quiet Places“, in his poem “Time for Serenity, Anyone?“, describes it: “It stretches out there shivering toward its own creation, and I’m part of it. Even my breathing enters into this elaborate give-and-take.” And there I stand. Soft rain falls on me, the Mind rests, and I breathe it all in.  + Speaking of breathing, COVID cases have surged in Connecticut, up 50%. This in a state where vaccinations and masks are religion. Fodder for the idiots spouting that masks and vaccinations don’t work, ignoring that 75% of hospitalizations are among those not fully vaccinated. NY Times front page story this morning: “Despair Sets In As Cases Bury Hospital Staffs. Medical Workers Feel Crisis Has No End.” Hospital workers back living on the edge… Aerosmith’s Living on the Edge: “There’s something wrong with the world today / I don’t know what it is / Something’s wrong with our eyes / We’re seeing things in a different way / And God knows it ain’t his… / The light bulb’s getting dim.” + I near the end of my walk. Gulls stand in low tide, in ice cold water, preening.  Something about this act of their preening that soothes me. These beautiful creatures, with their little heart beats, and wings that keep them aloft. Yet here we are. Seemingly grounded, as the world burns.  Patricia Highsmith: “Such is the human mind with no hand on the steering wheel.


Notes:

  • Photo: DK @ Daybreak. 6:23 a.m. & 7:05 a.m. & Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT. 41°. Calm. Light Drizzle.
  • Stafford quote, thank you Whiskey River.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

…We are trying to get off the damn treadmill so that we can remember the purpose and dignity that can come from the whole of our life.

So ask yourself this: Who would you be if work was no longer the axis of your life? How would your relationship with your close friends and family change, and what role would you serve within your community at large? Whom would you support, how would you interact with the world, and what would you fight for?

We are so overextended, so anxious, and so conditioned to approach our life as something to squeeze in around work that just asking these questions can feel indulgent. If you really try to answer them, what you’re left with will likely feel silly or far-fetched: like a Hallmark movie of your life, if you got to cast people to play you and the rest of your family who were well rested, filled with energy and intentionality and follow-through. Your mind will try to tell you it’s a fantasy. But it’s supposed to sound amazing, because you need to want it, really yearn for it, to a degree that will motivate you to shift your life in ways that will make the fantasy a reality.

Think back on a time in your life before you regularly worked for pay. Recall, if you can, an expanse of unscheduled time that was, in whatever manner, yours. What did you actually like to do? Not what your parents said you should do, not what you felt as if you should do to fit in, not what you knew would look good on your application for college or a job.

The answer might be spectacularly simple: You liked riding your bike with no destination in mind, making wild experiments in the kitchen, playing around with eyeshadow, writing fan fiction, playing cards with your grandfather, lying on your bed and listening to music, trying on all your clothes and making ridiculous outfits, thrifting, playing Sims for hours, obsessively sorting baseball cards, playing pickup basketball, taking photos of your feet with black-and-white film, going on long drives, learning to sew, catching bugs, skiing, playing in a band, making forts, harmonizing with other people, putting on mini-plays—whatever it was, you did it because you wanted to. Not because it would look interesting if you posted it on social media, or because it somehow optimized your body, or because it would give you better things to talk about at drinks, but because you took pleasure in it.

Once you figure out what that thing is, see if you can recall its contours. Were you in charge? Were there achievable goals or no goals at all? Did you do it alone or with others? Was it something that really felt as if it was yours, not your siblings’? Did it mean regular time spent with someone you liked? Did it involve organizing, creating, practicing, following patterns, or collaborating? See if you can describe, out loud or in writing, what you did and why you loved it. Now see if there’s anything at all that resembles that experience in your life today…

— Charlie Warzel & Anne Helen Petersen, from “How to Care Less About Work” in The Atlantic (December 5, 2021). This has been excerpted from their forthcoming book, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working From Home.

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

Sunday Morning

My father had died in a single-vehicle accident in California, far from those who knew and loved him. As I grieved, my father’s death brought a certain clarity about my calling as a husband and parent. If my relationship with my dad had been marked by brokenness, I wanted my relationship with my wife and children to be marked by healing. It also forced me to re-evaluate my career. Impressing other writers and academics ceased to be my goal. Instead, I would focus on using my words to find beauty and hope. I couldn’t write a different ending for my father’s story, but I could show that a different ending was possible for others.

Over the past year and a half, many people have experienced something similar to what I did when my father died. I am not the only one who has received a terrifying call that wakes us from our slumber and changes us forever. It may have been a notification about a loved one going on a ventilator rather than dying in a car crash, but the trauma is the same. This pandemic has left conversations and lives cut short…

All these changes that people are embarking on during the pandemic make me think that we weren’t that happy before the pandemic. What about our lives prevented us from seeing things that are so clear to us now? When I talked to friends and neighbors about this, two themes emerged. The pandemic has disabused us of the illusion of time as a limitless resource and of the false promise that the sacrifices we make for our careers are always worth it.

Before the pandemic, we knew we were going to die, but we did not believe it. Maybe we believed it, but considered it a problem to be dealt with later. In the meantime, exercise and a reasonable diet was the tithe we paid to our fears. We believed we had time…

We have had to consider our collective mortality. And we are now faced with the question of meaning. Like the biblical psalmist says, “We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.” (Psalm 124:7). Covid-19 threatened to capture us in its snare, but thus far we have eluded it.

What shall we do with this opportunity?

Dr. Esau McCaulley, from “We Weren’t Happy Before the Pandemic,Either.” Dr. McCaulley is a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois., (NY Times, August 21, 2021)

I want to believe.

I think in all likelihood this report will come and go, and with it the mainstream chatter around U.F.O.s, until definitive proof is exposed. A planet that can’t come together on climate change or a global pandemic might not pay much attention even if wreckage or an alien corpse is discovered. The culture wars alone might eclipse it, so rabidly are we in their grips.

But what if we had direct contact? With actual alien beings from an exoplanet who’ve traveled light years to seek us out? Who have answers to every question we’ve ever asked?

The result would unquestionably change the course of mankind. But would it change us?

I want to believe.

— Chris Carter, from “I Created ‘The X-Files.’ Here’s Why I’m Skeptical of the New U.F.O. Report.” (NY Times, June 25, 2021)


Image: IMDb

World Re-opening…


Art by Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğl, (from Istanbul, Turkey). Françoise Mouly: “When coronavirus quarantines were announced, more than a year ago, artists began sending in sketches about our new, locked-in reality. One of those sketches, from Gürbüz Doğan Ekşioğlu, who is based in Istanbul, looked far ahead, imagining the thrill and poignancy of a world reopening. Today, the pandemic is far from over, but many countries are finally exhaling, and it seemed apt to publish Ekşioğlu’s image.”

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call (& I-95 S)


(Snoopy going to work by Banksy) via Wait – What?)

 

T.G.I.F. Nope. Mr. Bingo.

Nope, Mr Bingo (via thisisn’thappiness)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call


I am falling back in love with myself, taking extra time each day to care for my African violets and orchids. How I plan to live my life moving forward: no more doing for others what I do not want to do. I am centering my attention on the things that give me peace.

—  Jeffreen Hayes, Chicago, from “Emerging From the Coronavirus” in The New York Times, April 5, 2021


Photo: Galaxed

What Your Mask Says About You (or how to judge a face by its cover)


See more @ The New Yorker (April 12, 2021): “What Your Mask Says About You (How to judge a face by its cover. Barry Blitt, a cartoonist and an illustrator, has contributed to The New Yorker since 1992. In 2020, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning.April 12, 2021

Survivor

I know I am becoming someone different. I just don’t know what that difference will be yet.

— Joelle Wright-Terry, 47, a hospice chaplain from Clinton Township, Mich., is a Covid survivor. She lost her husband to the virus last April. From “Emerging From the Coronavirus” in The New York Times, April 5, 2021


Notes:

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

I don’t know who I am becoming. I like who I am becoming, I just haven’t fully met her yet.  I don’t think I can go back to a “before.” I don’t think I fit into that life anymore. I’ve just grown and changed, and many priorities and values have shifted. My peak excitement right now is getting ready for baby ducks on the farm in spring. I like the slowness of things right now.

— Mary Fugate, 31, who works in higher education, moved home from Cincinnati to Punxsutawney, Pa., from “Emerging From the Coronavirus” in The New York Times, April 5, 2021


Photo: Paul Rioux

What is that weird, tingling feeling? Could it possibly be … hope?

But then the sun came out where I live this week, and I was alive again. Dunno if you’ve noticed this, but it’s been the longest year since records began, and the timing of lockdown restrictions easing this week coinciding with warm weather in parts of England – which the press was more than happy to call a “heatwave” – has me feeling quite hopeful. I can hear a bird tweeting as I type this sentence! The sun is in the sky! Life begins anew! …

There is a tingling, bright feeling in the air that feels alien to a lot of us – anticipation, maybe, the idea that lido visits will soon lead to pub visits that will one day lead to music festivals and cheap summer holidays. I have a haircut booked in for 12 April and, after a full year without anything to anticipate, it might be the most excited about anything I’ve ever been in my life. Spring is a season of green shoots. Being able to go to someone’s garden and interact with five other people who have spent a year forgetting how to make small talk finally feels like one of them.

— Joel Golby, from “What is that weird, tingling feeling? Could it possibly be … hope?” in “The Guardian” March 30, 2021


Photo: DK @ Daybreak, March 30, 2021, Norwalk, CT. 6:38 am.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call (Okay!)

“Okay!” said Dorothy out loud, stressing the exclamation. She retrieved the toolbox from under the kitchen sink and located nails and hammer. A change would do her good. She hung the mirror on the wall, horizontal-wise. She stepped back and noted with satisfaction that she could no longer see below her neck.

Christine Smallwood, The LIfe of the Mind (Hogarth, March 2, 2021)


Notes:

  • Inspired by: “A recent survey of more than 3,000 American adults, by the American Psychological Association, showed that 42 percent of those surveyed had gained more weight than they intended over the past year. The average weight gain was 29 pounds (the median amount gained was 15 pounds). Millennials reported the largest average weight gain – 41 pounds.” (via Food & Heath Facts)

Truth…

 


Source: N1ghtwander (via Your Eyes Blaze Out)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call (224 consecutive days. Amygdala to the rescue)

When there are discrepancies between expectations and reality, all kinds of distress signals go off in the brain. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday ritual or more mundane habit like how you tie your shoes; if you can’t do it the way you normally do it, you’re biologically engineered to get upset. This in part explains people’s grief and longing for the routines that were the background melodies of their lives before the pandemic — and also their sense of unease as we enter a holiday season unlike any other. The good news is that much of what we miss about our routines and customs, and what makes them beneficial to us as a species, has more to do with their comforting regularity than the actual behaviors. The key to coping during this, or any, time of upheaval is to quickly establish new routines so that, even if the world is uncertain, there are still things you can count on…

Routines, rituals and habits arise from the primitive part of our brains telling us, “Keep doing what you’ve been doing, because you did it before, and you didn’t die.”

…So the unvarying way you shower and shave in the morning, how you always queue up for a latte before work and put your latte to the left of your laptop before checking your email are all essentially subconscious efforts to make your world more predictable, orderly and safe…

…Our brains are literally overburdened with all the uncertainty caused by the pandemic. Not only is there the seeming capriciousness of the virus, but we no longer have the routines that served as the familiar scaffolding of our lives. Things we had already figured out and relegated to the brain’s autopilot function — going to work, visiting the gym, taking the kids to school, meeting friends for dinner, grocery shopping — now require serious thought and risk analysis…

But it’s mundane routines that give us structure to help us pare things down and better navigate the world, which helps us make sense of things and feel that life has meaning…

The truth is that you cannot control what happens in life. But you can create a routine that gives your life a predictable rhythm and secure mooring….

— Kate Murphy, from “Pandemic-Proof Your Habits” (NY Times, November 28, 2020)


Note:

  • My Morning Walk to Cove Island Park. 224 days consecutive days.
  • Photo: Daybreak. December 13, 2020. 6:53 am. 47° F. Cove Island Park, Stamford CT

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Or is this what being home is like: home as a place from which the entire world is suddenly possible?

Hisham MatarThe Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land in Between


Image: Let’s Eat Cake

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