Saturday, May 25, 2019

Six Words

Trains trains trains; trains trains sky

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Six Words

Well over halfway to death.  So?

Friday, April 26, 2019


After 4:00 AM, I don't mind losing sleep quite so much.  During the first part of the night, or the black middle, failing to drift off feels crushing, a deeply personal lapse committed against the backdrop of the universe's unstinting indifference.

But after 4:00 AM, acceptance creeps in.  You may as well get up, because you're not sliding back into unconsciousness anytime soon. Though it's still pitch dark, the birds are restive.

And you are alone.

I get up and pad as noiselessly as I can through the darkened rooms of my house.  The HVAC system is quiet.  The rain has lifted.  Everyone else is asleep.  Even the cat, who never sleeps and yet always seems to be some degree of comatose -miraculous in the commonplace way of cats- lies still.  In an hour or two, my obligations will snap shut around me.  But not quite yet.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Serenity Now!

Although it verges on trite, I am passingly fond of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

As the last line hints, making the distinction between changeable and immutable can be troublesome. 

But the difficulties don't end there, because, as so many bromides do, this one fails to account for, well, life.

To wit:

The non-binary nature of fungibility.  Alas, mutability is a continuum.  Many things can be changed- but only a little bit.  Or a thing can sustain serious alterations, but remain profoundly problematic.  Do you really still want to get out of bed and put on clothes in order to very slightly improve your relationship with your mother?  Which brings me to my next quibble...

Opportunity cost.  Say I can make a change, but only if I put forth Herculean effort.  Or effort that is less than Herculean, but is still effort.  I could have spent that time eating lemon cake.  I could have husbanded my emotional energy and therefore  had the fortitude not to snap at my coworker when she once more failed to note an important event in her calendar.  I could have taught my coworker to use her calendar.  I could have cured cancer.  Instead I staggered around trying to make a life change.  Ergo...

Unintended consequences.  Say you make your change, but then you don't have the energy to cure cancer.   Or say you make your change, but in making that change, you have created another, bigger problem: You may have cured cancer, but now overpopulation will decimate the globe.  You may now have enough pasta salad, but all your relatives are vomiting. Which means you will now spend an even greater proportion of your life than you had previously estimated cleaning up bodily fluid -an eventuality you could accept as unchangeable, but actually yourprobably could have changed your fate had you not embarked on your Quixotic quest to rip apart the fabric of the universe in the first place. 

I am not serene.  This is some false advertising.

Sunday, March 24, 2019


My father no longer consistently recognizes me.  I barely feel the sting of this; it is simply one more link in a chain of loss that stretches back, now, a decade and a half.  Loss upon loss, the whole thing still unfurling from my gut like a tapeworm.

I say "still" because this loss continuous and current- my father is still declining, and, lately, I've begun to feel myself tipping off the edge of my own cognitive plateau, beginning to slide.

But here is one new thing: After 15 years, the present is losing its grip on the past.  What I mean is this: always before, my father's debility leached backward, discoloring not only the man I loved as an adult, but the man I loved as a child and a teenager.  A letter he wrote to me while still cogent, a picture of him cradling my infant skull, a draft of the toast he gave at my wedding- these were agonizing artifacts, a reminder of the man who no longer was.

But finally, unaccountably, the present is receding, abandoning the past in its wake.  Going through my own tax records this year, I came upon an old return my father had filed for me when I was eighteen.  I do my own taxes now, just as he did.  I have opened college savings accounts for my children, just as he did.  And I am preparing for an uncertain future using what tools I am able to access- just as he was once able to.

The tax return is brief but assiduously completed; he used the numbers to open, and contribute to, my very first retirement account.  Here is another copy for you in case you want it, he scrawls across a duplicate form from 2002.

I know what he means: I love you.  I love you, and I always will.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

In Which I Lose a Student

The thing about being in a service profession, particularly one in which you have sustained contact with individuals over time, is that people eventually quit you.  They gain new priorities, tire of lessons, have life events, grow old, die.  Reliably, this hurts.

It hurts whether you've been expecting it or not.  It hurts whether you've been teaching for one year or twenty.  It hurts whether you enjoyed the person or not, though it hurts much less when you didn't.  It hurts whether or not you had a part in the departure, though it hurts more when you know you did.  And it hurts whether you've served the person for years or just a few sessions, though there's a clear correlation, for me, between length of relationship and degree of hurt.

I was expecting this latest departure.  The student had recently taken a voluntary break, which is a key sign of disengagement.  If a student takes an involuntary break, they may well return; a student who takes a voluntary break usually returns for a time, but eventually quits.  I enjoyed the student, and she was long-term; I also precipitated the departure by enforcing my cancellation policy.  I don't regret doing that, because the policy is necessary for my sanity and financial health, but I guessed when I enforced it that it would cost me my student.

So it hurts.

The specifics shift, but the loss persists.  In part this is because, in order for a student to end an existing relationship, they must formally reject you.  It makes the up front sting worse, but is a better option, over time, than the ghosting or disappearing a friend can do.

I know ending the professional relationship is hard for students, too, because I've found that many try to wiggle out of it: they "go on hiatus," or "take a break," and "forget" to return to lessons.  I find this gutless, and prefer it when students make a formal break.  Lately I've grown tired of letting the dodgers off the hook, so I've taken to forcing he issue- checking back in on my students who are on hiatus and making them commit themselves one way or another.  It's cleaner, and ultimately kinder.

For someone who fears rejection, I have ironically set myself up for a lifetime of it.

On the other hand, everything ends.  Every student I have will ultimately leave me, every connection I maintain will be severed, every single thing I cling to in this life will be taken from me.

So maybe it's good practice.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

In Which I View Art

I went to the city's art museum today. I usually thrill to art museums, and I am particularly fond of this art museum, because it is free, and because I believe a free art museum is a treasure without price, or at least without a price that I have to pay.

So I went.  But for the first time in as long as I can remember, I grew impatient.  Maybe it's because I had my family with me, and families are nothing if not destroyers of solitary joy.  At its best, an art museum is that singular combination of refuge and spaceship, harbor and port.  But maybe it only works like that, for me, if I am alone.

But maybe it's that I am middle-aged, and the middle-aged grow weary of trying to be people we are not.

Today, as I strolled around gazing at the art, reading the miniature disquisitions on intersections and interrogations and indictments and influence, all I could summon was irritation.  Does art-speak have to be so smug?  Have we really lost faith in the power of art to communicate without a varnish of insufferable prose?

I am glad, after all, that I did not enter academia.