Tuesday, September 28, 2021

As My Mind Dulls

I reflect on what's left.

I can still goof off.  I can still eat.  I can still walk.  The trifecta!  

I underrated all of these things early on, but I particularly underrated goofing off. I treasured my smarts; I valued my writing skill and my ability to perceive what's beautiful. I did not ascribe much importance to the fact that, most of the time, I'm ready to laugh.

But honestly, if we can't liven up our trek through the great steppes of existence by cracking a few fart jokes, then what is the point?  Surely, laundry is not the point.  If I find out, in the afterlife, that I am to be judged on the quantity and quality of my laundering, I am in deep, deep trouble.  I do not separate my darks from my lights (spoiler alert: no one has died).  I have never cleaned, and do not aspire to clean, my dryer vent (dicier; consider this my suicide note).  

We don't know, in the beginning, what to value about ourselves.  We prize what we lack, or what others praise us for, or what we are acculturated to want.  Especially when you're young, it's difficult to perceive within yourself the outlines of what will sustain you.

Legs.  Teeth.  Diaphragm. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Six Words

Summer past its expiration; still breathing

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Dog Daze

I associatie summers with sweat.  Not hard-working, out-of-breath, honest-labor sweat, but unearned sweat, windfall sweat, the kind of sweat that appears on a milk glass when you pull it out of the fridge.

You step outside.  You stand perfectly still.  And you sweat.

Maybe it's not even sweat, just a kind of genera summer effluvium, like dew on morning grass. 

Or it's freedom, not sweat, a byproduct of the chemical reaction between your life's routines and warmer weather, the customary gone liquid, wetting the back of your neck and knees, running in rivulets down the small of your back.

I love these sticky days.  The cicadas swarm and the crickets chirrup and every hour lasts longer than you think it can.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Powerless

The power was out for 62 hours.  During that time, the full extent of my weakness, my mewling softness, was laid bare.  During the day, the sticky heat of the house sapped my will; at night, it stole my sleep.  And instead of flowing smoothly, the hours lurched and heaved their way forward like something out of a second-rate zombie film. 

 Or maybe the something out of a second-rate zombie film was me.

With no refrigeration, no stove, and no microwave, meals were sad: peanut butter sandwiches and takeout.  There was no coffee. There was no tea.  The dirty dishes multiplied and the mounds of laundry grew.  My work- Internet dependent- piled up undone, rendering me both restless and sluggish.  There were no movies.  There were no crosswords.  The only unread book I'd previously downloaded to my Kindle was a turgid legal potboiler of astonishing joylessness.  

Yes, my forebears walked sixteen miles in the snow to draw well-water, bearing their chilblains with good grace.  Yes, there are worse things than a dearth of reading material.  Yes, yes, yes. 

But I don't don't want perspective. Let there be light.  

Friday, July 30, 2021

In Praise of Weak Ties

Several cities ago, I would head out the door every morning at 6:15 AM to “run.”  Daredevil that I am, I took the same route every day, gallumphing in a loose, clockwise square around the limits of my neighborhood.

And every morning at 6:25, I waved to the dude who ran counterclockwise.


I never did learn his name.  Counterclockwise guy was probably in his late fifties, with the businesslike gait of someone who had spent time in the military or a college-level sports team.  He ran faster than I did but not a lot faster, and he favored light-colored tee-shirts.  That’s about all I knew about him.  


Yet we greeted each other day in and day out, exchanging pointless but satisfying commentary about the sun or the heat or the wind.  I noticed when he went on vacation.  He figured I’d had my baby when I disappeared for six weeks.  When I left town, I’m sure he wondered where I’d gone.  And I  wonder about him every now and again– if he’s still running.  If he ever reversed course.


Sociologists call this kind of bond a “weak tie.”  It’s an interaction with another human that is glancing and brief, the nod to your neighbor or greeting your bank teller by name. Weak ties are relationships that are, by definition, shallow.  


Along with many other things, Covid has shredded weak ties.  It’s hard to maintain anything but the most essential relationships when you’re stuck at home.  And worrying that your fellow humans might kill you if they breathe on you tends to put a damper on casual conversation.  


It might not seem that way at first blush, but that’s a deep loss.  


For me, the loss is both societal and personal.   Although I’ve been informed that, as an introvert, I spurn casual interaction in favor of intimate, meaningful communion, the truth is that I’m a weak tie junkie.  I would be delighted to discuss last night’s storm with you, or the agonizing pace of the DMV line, or the vagaries of middle seats.  Do you want to vent about yesterday’s game?  I am here for you!  Care to kvetch about the coffee maker?  Hit me up!  


I truly value these fleeting, freight-free moments of connection.  And you should, too, because, stitched together, they make up the fabric of civilization.  


I don’t think this is hyperbole.  When you raise your hand to wave at your neighbor, when you stop to chat with the receptionist, when you exchange eye rolls at yet another gate change, when you joke with your waiter, you are saying  I see you. You are a human being.  We are here together.


Acknowledging another person’s humanity, even if– especially if– you don’t know that person particularly well, is powerful.  It is profoundly healing.  It allows us to be more than a swarm clans competing for resources.  And, sadly, it is out of fashion.


Covid might have dealt them the coup de grace, but weak ties were beginning to fray before the pandemic.  The Internet is many things, but a raveler of human souls it is not. And  2016 both capitalized on and turbocharged the unraveling.


Whatever the reason, we’ve entered an era in which, to more and more of us more of the time, other people’s humanity is contingent.  It is something others earn rather than something they are.  In order to be worthy, you must be right.


And that is a very, very dangerous world in which to live.


Have you ever walked into a grade school classroom?  I’ve walked into more than I can count, and I can tell you that there will always, always, be children who choose to do the wrong thing. Ineffective teachers view these children as problems or obstacles or pains in the ass.  Effective teachers view these children as human beings.  They acknowledge and connect with each and every child every day, regardless of what that child did or said. Effective teachers set and enforce boundaries, but they never treat any child as less than fully human.  It is an immensely difficult thing to do– and it is transformative.


Human beings are often wrong.  We are often, to varying degrees at various times, petty and small-minded and gullible and mean. But we are all, every single one of us, worth saying hello to on the street.  


How’s it going? It’s a hot one today. 


Friday, July 23, 2021

Rest

I went for a walk today, near noon, in a park just beyond the city's ring road.  It was spectacular.

Putting one foot in front of the other always is, to start.  Ambulation is pretty startlingly terrific.  As babies, we crave it as soon as we see it, and immediately throw all our small selves into the act of getting from one place to another.  Both of my children dragged themselves across the floor on their bellies for swathes of their infancy.  Movement by any means necessary.  I was sympathetic.  And though I often forget that every strike of my soles against the dirt is its own firework, I shouldn't.

But also the time: an hour before the apex of the day. A weekday no less, most people shuttling through the Rube Goldberg of the American work routine.  And it was hot– high summer in Missouri is not for the faint of heart.  Sweat under my ears and down the back of my neck, dripping across my collarbone, collecting in the creases of my elbows and knees.  Cicadas hummed in the oaks.  A meek breeze teased the smells of pollen and horse manure, loam and and blacktop.

 The park wasn't empty- deep in suburbia, this particular park never is.  But there were only a few humans straggling along the trails, trailing dogs or children or both.  And so I felt that particular freedom I always feel when I manage to slip the boundaries of routine, as if I've punched a hole in the sky, only to realize it's made of paper.  I feel lucky.  And clever.  But mostly just lucky.

I am.  


Monday, June 21, 2021

Solstice

 I want to live here; I can't.  I bore myself.