Thursday, March 31, 2011

With Open Arms

Let's talk mugging.  And by mugging, I mean hugging between men.  Although being robbed is comparably startling, as I realized just now as I watched two men clinch and release on the street.  The sight was utterly galvanizing - a dead giveaway that it's not something you see every day.

Men, this is collosally unfair!  Women are forced by the long arm of the law (of the land) to embrace everyone and their mother and her dog.  We're supposed to hug profligately, multiple times per encounter, canoodling at the barest hint of acquaintance.  I met you in 1983?  You once tutored my father's sister's friend?  We had a single heartfelt conversation in the dentist's waiting room?  Come here, you!

For us last bastions of standoffishness -the few, the proud, the squeamish- all this hugging is ...constricting.  Like boa constrictor constricting.  Oh, sure, I hug.  It's not awful; hugging is within the realm of my ability to tolerate.  Often, I even go in first, the better to exorcise, efficiently, the specter of bodily contact.  But I don't enjoy it.

Sure, you could argue that the sight of men hugging should be more commonplace and less shocking, more de riguer and less riveting.  You could decry the dearth of emotional outlets for men in our society, the stigma associated with the overt expression of male affection. 

My line of argument is simpler: Men, if I have to be miserable, you should, too.   Get over here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gilding the Lily

Or, more accurately, snowing on the heliotrope.  Or whatever that flower is.  There's not very much snow this morning, but I went for a run in it anyway.  It drifted up my nose, down over the daffodils in sheets.  The juxtaposition was jarring, yet immensely satisfying.

See also:
  • Competitive spelling
  • Large men and kittens
  • Vegetable orchestras
  • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
  • Twin Peaks
  • Salted caramel

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Letter Perfect

So I tried to send this card to my friend L.  She'd mailed me a lovely New Years-cum-late-February missive, a postcard featuring a print she'd done herself.  I wanted to actually send something physical in return, as opposed to this all this electronic noisemaking.  It's not that I don't correspond by mail anymore: it's that I don't correspond, period.  Somehow, the immediacy of electronic interaction, the 24-hour free-for-all, releases you from the obligation of exchange.  Where you used to pass, like a torch, information between you,  now there's the fluorescent glow of Facebook.

I used to have correspondents.  Did you?   I owned a hand-sized, leather-bound address book containing the names of all the classmates and campmates and balletomanes from whom I could possibly wring personal information.   Over the years I crossed out some folks (don't throw water balloons and expect to keep your place in the J's) and penciled in others (all those girls from England, with their stringy hair and miscegenating letters and numbers for postal codes).  But, at least until high school, I had people upon whom to inflict my handwriting, my sticker collection, my loyalty.

My card to Lily was the first I've mailed in a while.  I stuck it between the teeth of the mailbox one morning and found it in the backyard five days later, wind-bitten and wet through.   I opened it up, dried it out, found a new envelope, and tried again.  I want to believe that, even now, even when we can travel without maps, announce without speaking, watch without being watched, we can still write to one another.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Fascinating snippet from the NYT about regret.  According to a telephone survey conducted by Northwestern/UI,

"The most common regret involved romance, with nearly one in five respondents telling a story of a missed love connection. The second most common regret involved family issues, with 16 percent of respondents expressing regret about a family squabble or having been unkind to a sibling as a child. Other top regrets involved education (13 percent), career (12 percent), money issues (10 percent), parenting mistakes (9 percent) and health regrets (6 percent)."

I'm an equal opportunity regreter, so why limit myself?  I've got regrets in each category!  I even manage to have parenting regrets, despite never having actually been a parent.  Why didn't I have babies early?  Why didn't I wear more sunscreen?  Why didn't I find my "calling?"  What about the one who got away, and, um, the other ones who got away?  Why didn't I find a CD with A HIGHER INTEREST RATE?!

No, but seriously, I find this list to be a clear indication that we watch too many movies.  Romantic missed chances are the top regret?  What, exactly, do we think would have happened if we'd made the Love Connection?  Would we have sailed off into a credits sequence, limbs entwined, stupefied with bliss?  More likely we would simply be picking different socks up off the floor.

But maybe this is cynical of me.  Maybe our choices DO shape, radically, our lives.  I mean, if I'd gotten a better CD rate, I could have an extra $1,000 by now, and think what a material difference that could make if I loaned it out through Kiva?  Not to mention that skin cancer is a bona fide killer.

And what about that one who got away?  Ladies, he's not thinking about you: "Women were far more likely to have romantic regrets, with 44 percent fretting about a lost love, while just 19 percent of men still had relationship regrets."

I say we get ourselves some SPF 45.

P.S. I can't really let this post go by without mentioning my favorite novel about regret, Anne Tyler's Back When We Were Grownups.  Read it.  It's awesome.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I Am Here

Raleigh-Durham, NC

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happity Hop

I'm not always a big fan of The Onion, but yeah, I found this to be incapacitatingly hilarious. The headline is "Grown Adult Actually Expects To Be Happy," and that pretty much sum it up.  Here's some elaboration, anyway:

"Despite possessing a fully developed brain and a general awareness of the fundamental nature of existence, sources said Peterson apparently continues to believe that achieving long-lasting happiness is somehow possible. "

I've long suspected that much of the rest of the world believes this, too, but it's still startling to see it in print!   As a card-carrying pessimist, I find positivists both bemusing and disturbing.  It's as if I'm watching a clown eat his own wig.  I don't understand it, but I can't look away!

I keep one eye trained on the antics of the optimists, but I do wonder if the Rob Petersons of this world can even conceive of folks like me.  One of my husband's colleagues recently came to him, brow furrowed, and commented that I didn't seem happy in Richmond and "we would have to work that out."

When my husband relayed this to me, I just blinked.  Of course I wasn't happy. But it had never occurred to me that I would be.  Eight months into a major move?  Far from family, friends, and the landscape of my heart?  Having exchanged a job I loved for one that was OK, a house I loved for one I tolerated, the culture in which I grew up for the strangeness of the South? Who, exactly, expects to be happy then?

The thing is, it's OK not to be.  Your teeth still work.  You still have cheese.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

G is for Grown Up

I'm just coming off a day in bed.  When I was little, I used to perversely enjoy these, but now, after just a single 16 hour-period devoted to lying around and reading/watching bad TV, I'm eager to do something.  Anything.  We're talking following-the-lettuce-harvest-up-and-down-California desperate here, folks.

My body hasn't fully signed on.  My throat still feels as if a nest of black widow spiders has taken up residence there, and I have the energy level of someone several decades further into this business called life.   My brain, foolhardy, thinks now would be the perfect time to join Academic Decathelon.

These days being sick -take-to-my-bed sick- makes me feel both childlike and acutely, painfully, divorced from being a kid.  I want the things sick children want -pats on the head, someone to feed me spoon after spoon of soup, someone to fuss over me and perform the rituals of temperature-taking, forehead feeling, water fetching- only, nowadays, I don't get any of them.  Instead I do it myself.  Root around in painful semi-consciousness for the thermometer; stare at the water cup and order it to fill itself; stagger out to find soup and then lie on the floor, too pathetic to eat.

The definition of adulthood is that you take care of yourself.  I'm not sure it was always this way, but these days, your adult days, you're judged on your ability to minister to your own needs.  Thus Japan, devastated by a series of earthquakes, has been, at least in the past, slow to accept or solicit foreign aid.  Thus, unemployment becomes a liability for securing future jobs; if you are accepting government aid, the logic goes, you are sub-adult, unfit. Thus, government employee pension plans come under attack: All you retirees, go take care of yourselves!

I wonder, at some level, if we aren't locked in a vicious cycle of capital-A adulthood.  Folks who have had to shift for themselves resist giving anyone else a helping hand.  Those who don't receive helping hands learn they must shift for themselves.  You don't scratch my back; I don't scratch yours.

Slowly, I'm coming out of it. Yesterday I wasn't able to write.  Today I might actually make lunch.  I'll get my own orange juice; hunt through the cabinets for my own bottle of zinc.  I'll even drive 100 miles round trip to teach a workshop this afternoon, not because I feel up to it, but because I am, for better or for worse, an Adult.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

And When the Poems Go

Photo: Ann Arbor
It's March, it's Lent, and I've just put down a poem.

The way that comes out on the page, it sounds as if I've killed it, shot an overdose of morphine deep into the poem's blood supply.   That's not exactly what happened, though it's true there is a violence to poetry, a way in which the words have been torn, with care but with considerable force, from their contexts.  I love it, anyway.

I love it, but I don't read it.  Or barely, in spurts, painful jags that remind me of the time I ate a whole sleeve of girl scout cookies.  Reading poetry makes me wish I had the time to read more poetry.  It demands of me point blank: Why aren't you writing? 

But Lent is perfect for poems. As a churchgoing nonbeliever, I watch, but do not typically participate in, the ever-onward march of the church calendar.   I have an amateur's eye for detail, an outsider's yen for plucking, from the forest, particular trees.  I can tell St. Andrew's Day from St. Anselm's (sort of), Epiphany from Easter.  I know the liturgical color for Pentacost, and the fact that there are no pentagrams involved.  I know that there's a feast day called Ascension, but not, disappointingly, one called Declension.

And I know about Lent.  40 days and 40 nights during which you are supposed to impose, upon yourself, discipline.  Usually this means denying yourself something: sweets, Facebook, soda, TV.  But it can also mean taking something on: reading verses of the bible, or praying, or whatnot.

I choose poetry.  A poem a day, until the kids go hunting for eggs and the churchgoers shriek alleluia.  There are a variety of daily poetry websites I could rely on here, but the truth is, I've got a lot of poems lying around the house.  I doubt I'll be crazy about all of them (one of my favorite poetry journals changed editorial hands a couple of years ago) but it's time to march my eyes across them, anyhow. 

Not sure who the saints are in this particular scenario, but I know there'll be music, at least.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Paper Chase

1) Open door.  Prepare to receive universe's daily offering of newsprint.

2) No paper.  Stand in open-mouthed denial, in PJs and in full view of neighborhood for one hundred and seventy two seconds.

3) Head back inside.  Close door.  Draw cleansing breath.

4) Open door.  Prepare to receive universe's daily offering of newsprint.

5) You are an intrepid explorer!  This is a scavenger hunt!  Search porch, under porch, trees, under trees, cars, passersby, crawlspace, dog orifices, shed, neighbors' gardens, neighbors.

6) Keen.

7) Head back inside and make tea.

9) Sulk.

10) Stick head out the front door and sniff hopefully for ink.

11) Close door.

11) Rock.

12)  Try reading paper online which is NOT AS SATISFYING. NOT BY HALF.

13) Try opening the door again.

14)  How will you survive without the liturgy of the unfolding of the pages?  The perusal of the National Section, the skimming of the Arts, the determined ignoring of depressing international news, the casting of yourself upon the pyre of the crossword?  How are you supposed to make it all the way to Sunday?!?

15)  Reflect on addictive quality of daily paper.  Decide to wean yourself from its evil influence.  It's a good thing the paper didn't come today, because you WOULDN'T HAVE READ IT ANYWAY. You are fully capable of rising and shining without reading that the sun is, too.

16) Break down and check the weather online.

17) Circle the coffee table thirty-five times while hopping on one foot and chanting the names of past editors of the NYT.  Yank that door open and embrace your...

18) Damn.